Chesil Beach

This is a special beach, an hour or so down the road from us. It’s a beach that has been 6,000 years in the making, and like most beaches it’s still ‘in the making’. The pebbles may appear to be a uniform size, but as you go up or down the beach they become larger or smaller. And every century, the storms that batter this part of the coast push the beach five metres back. There’s plenty about this 29km long stretch of beach to interest the geologically minded. But for those of us who are less scientifically inclined, it’s simply a Continue reading


Adios Vulcan

In the 1950s, Britain decided they needed some shiny new planes to deliver the country’s nuclear bombs to carefully chosen locations east of Berlin. Britain was still a world  superpower of sorts. In the air, she was still the superpower. So in keeping wih that status, the decision was made to put in orders for three different aircraft. The Victor, the Valiant and the Vulcan. The V Force. At ridiculous expenses, hundreds of planes were built and put into the air just in time to coincide with the development of effective anti-aircraft missiles and the decision to house the nuclear deterrent inside submarines instead.

To understand why the decision was made at all, you’d do worse that watch the recent two part television series, Cold War Hot Jets – two hours of aviation history from a British perspective. One things that becomes quickly apparent – of the three types of bomber, there was one that represented the cutting edge of technology. It was the riskiest of the three projects. Ultimately, it was the most successful. Once anti-aircraft missiles had become an established and unmitigated threat, there was just one that was capable of switching from high altitude high speed flight, to speeding along just metres off of the ground, under the radar.

Luckily, it was also the most beautiful of the three planes. It was, of course, the Vulcan. If you’ve seen it in the flesh, you’ll never forget it. It’ll appear in silence. Then the noise from the four engines catches up. It won’t just deafen you. The ground will vibrate and numb your senses.Only the Concorde compares. Although Concorde had a slightly less deadly job to do. Not that a Vulcan was ever called upon to fulfil a nuclear raid. Indeed, for all the money spent on the V Force bombers, only one ever supplied an explosive delivery in anger.


Ironically, in 1981, the Argentines wanted to buy some Vulcans. The British government initially agreed to sell them a single bomber. A few months later, the Falkland Islands were invaded, and a Vulcan was duly sent to Argentina’s military forces. Albeit in a different manner to how they had originally planned to take delivery. One Vulcan and a fleet of refuelling aircraft flew from the UK to the Falklands, dropped some bombs on the runway and then returned home. It was the longest bombing raid in history until relatively recently, an there’s a documentary on YouTube that tells the story. Despite the successful sortie, the Vulcans were retired just a couple of years later.

There is just one Vulcan still flying these days, making appearances at airshows around the country. It is everyone’s favourite. Every year, there are fears that the Vulcan may not return next year. It is costly to keep airworthy, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep this 50 year old plane in the sky. But every year the money is found for another tour of air show duty. However, the end is now nigh, it seems. The owners have announced that this year is the final year of the Vulcan.

My home town of Bournemouth has one of the largest free air shows in Europe. I go every year. I pick my day carefully – which day does the Vulcan fly? I got a decent viewing point this year and snapped away with my camera at what was, possibly, the Vulcan’s final display over the golden sands of Bournemouth. Farewell old chap. We will miss you. Click here for the full photo set from last weekends show.



Most Conspicuous Bravery

On the 12th March, one hundred years ago, a young fellow from Bournemouth, Cecil Noble, rushed head first into German machine gun fire to cut through a mass of wire that was holding up his battalion. Noble by name, noble by nature. He succeeded, and so did his battalion when they eventually got to Jerry’s trenches. Cecil was awarded the Victoria Cross for his valour in the face of the enemy. Like most recipients of the highest military award that this country has to offer, he didn’t get to see his medal. His comrade that day, who accompanied him to the wire and was also awarded the VC, was more fortunate and lived to tell the tale. The photo below is of Cecil. And a Victoria Cross.


Bournemouth provided the British Army of World War 1 with two men of sufficient calibre to earn themselves a Victoria Cross. These aren’t medals that are handed out willy nilly. To date, 1358 Victoria Crosses have been awarded to 1355 men. The numbers don’t add up, obviously. Three men share the distinction of receiving the award twice. One can only assume that their balls must have been bigger and brassier than the ones shot at them by enemy cannon.

There won’t be too many further recipients in the future. One would hope that we’ll fight fewer wars in the years to come, thereby naturally limiting the opportunities to ‘win’ one. But regardless, the metal used to make the medals is running out. The bronze that is used to make the medals comes from the cascabels (no, I didn’t really know what a cascabel is either) of a pair of Russian cannon captured during the Crimean war. Although upon closer inspection, like so many things, they turned out to be made in China.

Whatever the origin of the cannon, there’s just about enough metal left for another 80 to 85 Victoria Crosses. What next? If I were a betting man, my money would be on a brand new medal, the Elizabeth Cross. Or perhaps, just to wind up the Illuminati conspiracy theorists, the Elizabeth ‘All Seeing Eye’ Triangle. It’s just a thought…


But let’s get back to the point of this post. As part of the centenary commemorations of World War 1, a scheme was launched to mark the bravery of each and every Victoria Cross winner from the war. A commemorative paving slab will be laid in the birthplace of each man, exactly one hundred years from the date of their act of bravery. For most, like Mr Noble, it will also mark a century since their untimely deaths. Cecil was but 23 years of age. That’s his paving slab above.

The slab was laid in the ground next to the Bournemouth War Memorial, an impressive white structure in Bournemouth’s Gardens. Next to the small river Bourne that gives the town it’s name. I couldn’t find it at first. I rather expected it to be laid inside the memorial. It turned out to have been discreetly placed outside, in the corner to left of the steps. Just in case you should ever want to pop along to take a look.


The stretch of lawn leading from the town centre up to the memorial has plenty of other slabs to take note of too. On one side are memorials of a happier nature, such as one to mark the birth of Price Andrew. Each has a tree planted with it to. On the other side are memorials of a more sombre kind. There’s a recent addition, marking the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I took a few more snaps of the memorial and surroundings which can be seen on Flickr by clicking here. You might wonder where lies the paving slab commemorating the second Bournemouth soldier to have received the VC? It doesn’t. Yet. His act of valour occurred in 1918, so we will have to wait 3 more years before his slab is set in the ground.


Bournemouth Fire Gardens

The Bournemouth Gardens Fire Show seems to be an annual event now. I missed it last year. But I was there this year, armed with my Fuji X-M1 to test its ability to shoot a little video. It’s not the most entertaining video you’ll ever see. I wanted to see how the camera performed in very low light. Fuji doesn’t really shout about the X-M1s video capabilities too much. It’s not its strongest suit. But I think it did ok.

The fire show itself is a rather bizarre event. Surreal even. It comes under the umbrella of the Bournemouth Arts Week something or other. I took a few photos too. You can have a look at those on Flickr by clicking here.





Just Because…


Bournemouth Air Festival 2014

The Bournemouth Air Festival has been and gone once more. As ever, it was a fantastic show. Photographically, this year’s show was not the best for me. Firstly, I haven’t yet received my free telephoto lens from Fuji. And to match the shots I achieved last year with the Fuji X-S1, I really needed a telephoto lens. Secondly, the weather. It wasn’t cold. It didn’t rain. But it was grey. Which always makes photography a little more challenging. And again, I needed blue skies to match what I achieved last year. So. Maybe next year…

But I did get some snaps. The one below for starters. The others are in a single album with all the photos I’ve ever taken at the Bournemouth Festival, from 2011 thru to 2014. click here. This year’s are at the bottom.



A Sunny Sunday Bike Ride

Summer is here, the sky is blue, the scent of freshly cut grass lingers in the morning air, the waft of BBQs fills the afternoon air and the evening brings a happy haze enveloping the woodlands along this part of glorious English coastline. It’s perfect for a bike ride! Come along for an evening cycle with me. And with Runkeeper.



Let me show you Coy Pond, full of carp. And Branksome Chine, one of many chines that run through otherwise concreted neighbourhoods down to the beach. Under the arches. Over streams and brooks. Till we reach the golden sands of Bournemouth’s long stretch of coastline. Currently densely inhabited by foolishly revealed and slowly burning flesh. Maybe it wasn’t the BBQs that I could smell….

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Bournemouth Wheels Festival

Bournemouth is not one of England’s ancient towns. Far from it. Little more than two hundred years ago there was nothing here but heathland. It’s grown somewhat since its founding in 1810 though, and stayed true to its heritage. That heritage is tourism. The first few villas built on the shores of Bournemouth were put there for visitors, mostly from London, to rent. Bathing in the sea was becoming popular as both as a past time and for its ‘medicinal qualities’. If you visit the area you’ll also notice an abundance of pine trees. They aren’t native to the region, and were planted by the towns founder to cater to the commonly held belief that inhaling the scent of pine was good for you.

Bournemouth isn’t a one trick pony, though. In more recent years, finance has become a key cornerstone of the local economy with JP Morgan, Nationwide, Liverpool Victoria and others investing heavily in call centres and offices in the town. There’s also Bournemouth University, which seems to be growing at an incredible rate. If you see a tower block being built or renovated in the town, chances are its for student accommodation. It’s an impressive story, given that it didn’t even officially become a university until the early 1990s.

This economic diversity is a good thing. An awful lot of England’s seaside holiday hotspots have died over the last twenty to thirty years as foreign trips became easier and cheaper to do. Some towns linger on, but quite frankly many of them should be booked into Dignitas for their own sake. But Bournemouth, along with Brighton and Blackpool, continue to thrive. I’ll argue that Bournemouth has been the biggest success story of the three of them. The town has advantages over both its rivals. It’s a lot closer to London than Blackpool and can feed off a larger and wealthier tourist base. And whilst Brighton is closer still to the capital, its beaches are of the stone variety – no competition for the golden sands a little further west down the coast.

Bournemouth is also a great base to set off from to explore castles, the Jurassic Coast and many fine stately homes. And despite the towns youth, there is history to be had as well. Lawrence of Arabia has a home and his grave a short drive away. Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, is buried in the town centre. There’s Stonehenge and Salisbury with its towering cathedral. For TV buffs, you could always go and see the resting place of Mr Selfridge and his wife near Christchurch.

But most of all, Bournemouth has turned the screw on its rivals with some flagship events. The feather in the town’s cap is the annual Bournemouth Air Festival which is Europe’s largest free air show. Nearly one and a half million visitors come to see the four day spectacle.  To supplement the end of summer airborne extravaganza, Bournemouth has this year introduced a start of summer festival that is more down to earth. The Bournemouth Wheels Festival. Vintage cars, super cars, race cars, monster trucks, stunt bikes and everything in between arrived in town for a three day show in the Bank Holiday sun. Assuming you went, like I did, on the Sunday. And not the Saturday or Monday. Which had less sun, more rain.

You can have a sneak peak at the show in the photos below, or see the full set on Flickr by clicking here. There’s definitely a full days worth of stuff to see and do, including a fireworks display off the end of the pier each night. I hope they bring it back next year. The town was packed, which is a good sign the weekend was successful, so I’m sure it will return in 2015.



Bournemouth Aviation Museum

The UK is littered with airfields and RAF bases, past and present. Mostly past. The majority were opened at the outbreak of WW2 and closed again at the end of the war. There were no airfields terribly close to my current residency in Bournemouth. There were RAF Stations nearby, as you’d expect on the south coast. Radar installations, watching out for Jerry.

Still, Bournemouth has become a destination for fans of flying, both civilian and military. There is a small airport offering cheap flights with RyanAir to places like Barcelona, Pisa, Faro, Malta, Ibiza and more. And in late August, early September the annual Bournemouth Air Festival draws huge crowds to see four days of aeronautical displays. It’s a fantastic show, especially when the owners of the last, creaking Vulcan manage to get that delta winged beast into the skies.

But there is a lesser known, almost hidden corner of Bournemouth’s aviation scene. The Bournemouth Aviation Museum. It’s just £6 for an adult entry ticket, and it’s situated, appropriately, right next to the airport. Perhaps the fact it has a children’s Wonderland park the other side is a hindrance. Or maybe it’s not. Either way, for those that make the trip, there’s a fascinating walk down RAF Memory Lane waiting for you.

First impressions aren’t perhaps that great. Museum or mortuary? There’s a lot of carved up jet carcasses littered about the site. Mostly cockpits. It’s as if an aircraft industry version of al-Qaeda turned up, decapitating planes left right and centre. But having said that, there are a fair few complete models to look at. And besides, this is very much a hands on museum. And if you can get your grubby mitts on any part of an airplane, then the cockpit is the place to be.

In the space of a few minutes I got to act and feel my ages. All of them. I leapt into the single seat of the English Electric Lightning fighter jet with huge enthusiasm and promptly demonstrated the mental age of a four year old, flicking every button and switch and pulling every lever in the cockpit. What’s this one do then? And this one? And this one? None of them, of course, did anything. But that didn’t put me off. I imagined life as one of the glorious few who got to fly this awesome piece of machinery, setting their sights on enemy MiGs. The Lightning was a phenomenal machine, Britain’s first supersonic jet fighter, capable of Mach 2+, the most ridiculous vertical climbs and the ability to fly high enough to intercept a U2.

Then I extracted myself from the plane, and all of a sudden I was no longer a youthful four year old, but a creaking 40 something. It wasn’t a dignified exit. There was bashing of knees and elbows, curses, a pained back, and I ended up crawling away on hands and knees. These jets have seriously cramped cockpits. I had been pleased to see I had the place to myself when I had first entered the park. I was doubly grateful there was no one else about to witness my ungainly departure from the Lightning. But nonetheless, it was worth it. Totally worth it. I repeated the exercise with a few other jets.

Each cockpit was a model of functionality. Very mechanical. These were not computerised fly-by-wire planes. Masses upon masses of dials and switches. With yards of messy, exposed wiring that would be enough to give Steve Jobs a nervous breakdown. It all seems delightfully primitive, in a 1950s and 60s way. Until you get to the cockpit of the Vulcan. You aren’t allowed to sit in the cockpit seats. Nor one of the three rear facing seats for the navigator and his two chums. But there’s an distinct step up in tech with the Vulcan. Still lots of dials and switches. But it’s a different beast.

You can see a few photos below. Click on one of the images for the gallery view. Or go see the whole set on Flickr by clicking here.



Old Harry Rocks

I’ve had a whole week off work, with no where specific to go and nothing written in stone to do. Which is why I’ve had time to write so many posts this week. It’s nice to just have time off to do with what you will. I’ve explored my neighbourhood a little, as per yesterdays post. And I’ve had the chance to get on my bike and do some exploring a little further a field.

Well, quite a lot further a field. As the graphic below shows. A round trip of 30 kilometres along roads, along promendades, across a harbour and over rough tracks and fields. With a very specific destination in mind. Isn’t it marvellous what you can do with a mobile phone these days. Track your route with GPS (I use Runkeeper, although there are many fine alternatives), take photos and videos and even earn a new badge on Foursquare. I am now the proud owner of the Great Outdoors badge. Is there a badge for tying knots? It’s like being in the Scouts all over again.


So, the destination. Old Harry Rocks. It marks the beginning of the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage site stretching along a fair old portion of Dorset’s rather rugged coastline. The rocks are so named because, according to local lore, the Devil once slept on them. Alternatively, according to another story, a local pirate called Harry Paye used to store his booty nearby.

Maybe Harry was the devil and there is truth in both tales? Who knows for sure. The rocks make an impressive spectacle, folklore or no folklore. But anyway, come for a ride with me and enjoy the view.

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You can have a look at all the photos I took on Flickr by clicking here. The snaps were all taken with my HTC One, which performs pretty admirably for a camera mounted on a phone. It takes videos too. I stuck a few clips together, overlaid a relaxing tune and posted it here to help you get a bit more of a feel for our coastline here. I thought about allowing the natural sound to play instead of music. But it was windy. Very windy.



Bournemouth Air Festival

Here in Bournemouth, we save the best for last. This is a seaside town, and summer is the money season, when city dwellers escape the smog and head for the pristine-ish beaches of the south coast. The carousel starts spinning in May for the early comers, the smell of fish and chips saturates the promenade, the sand disappears beneath a heaving mass of burning red human flesh and every Friday night there’s a big firework display off the end of the pier.

But like I say, the best is saved for last. Over four days at the end of August the Bournemouth Air Festival takes place. The roads into town become even more clogged than usual, and the sea sees more traffic than at any other time of year. I’d quite like to watch the show from the deck of a yacht myself. But I’m no millionaire one per center. Or from a balcony on one of the posh (but rather run down looking) art deco style hotels along the seafront? They go for a couple of thousand pounds a night, or so I hear. No, I settle for a perch on the cliff top. It’s free. And truth be told, it’s probably the best view anyway. They do say the best things in life are free, and here’s your perfect example.


A huge assortment of planes grace the skies over the four days. The Red Arrows usually open or close the show. They are the people’s favourite. It’s easy to understand why. They’re loud, they’re fast, they do cool tricks, but best of all they do all that coloured smoke. I like the Red Arrows. But they aren’t quite my favourite. Tricks and smoke are great, but when it comes to planes I’m a noise junkie. My favourite regular at Bournemouth is the Vulcan. It’s an awesome piece of machinery. Sadly, due to it’s age and the limited budget of its keepers, it’s also notoriously unreliable. It was scheduled for just one run this year but in the end failed to manage even that. A leaky fuel tank, I believe. Still, here’s a video someone shot during its display at Bournemouth last year.

But I’m not going to grumble. Us noise junkies weren’t entirely left disappointed. Not at all. We had a new visitor this year. Or at least a returning one, after something of an absence. The RAF Typhoon. Noise? You can feel the noise when this baby turns on the afterburners. I work in an office half a mile back from the beach. On the top floor though, so the view is good. The windows shook on the Friday when its did its thing during work hours. But seeing it close up on Saturday was better.

For those with a more historical interest in planes, there were a few flights of interest. Sally B, a B-17 Flying Fortress is a global superstar. If you ever watched the movie Memphis Belle, then you’ve met Sally B. There was a Meteor and a Vampire, two pioneering British fighter jets that flew at the end of World War 2. The multi coloured Miss Demeanour packs a full arsenal of history, colour and noise. And what British air show would be complete without a Spitfire and a Lancaster? None, is the answer.

If the images below aren’t enough for you, then you can see the whole set on 500px. Or you can go see my air show set on Flickr, which is home to the photos I have taken from the 2011, 2012 and 2013 shows.