When we first moved to our newly-built house in Devizes back in the late 80s, this was the view we had across the old cricket pitch at Le Marchant barracks.
No Crest development (Kingfisher Drive). No marina. No adventure playground. No Great Mills (Focus) DIY store and definitely no Lidl.
Just an overgrown abandoned cricket pitch complete with derelict pavilion and these magnificent Scots Pines. My intention was to photograph them forever, in all sorts of light and all sorts of weather.
Sadly they were snapped in half by the gales of January 1990. The same gales also flattened the double pair of conifers in the middle distance.
Late yesterday afternoon I had a meeting with a young woman from Wiltshire Council’s Countryside Team to discuss the future of our POS – Public Open Space – on the eastern side of Devizes.
Many years ago this space was the regimental cricket pitch for the army based at Le Marchant Barracks. When we first came to live in our new home, in the late 1980s, the derelict cricket pavilion was still standing – approximately where the hazel bushes are on the left of the photo.
The Crown/MoD owned most of the land around which was being sold to developers but the cricket pitch was protected under the local long term plan as POS. That didn’t stop the developers from attempting a greedy land grab by submitting plans for 90 houses on the cricket pitch and it took a huge campaign to make sure the plans were overturned by a council planning meeting.
Once the dust had settled after that, the council – Kennet District Council – came up with an excellent solution of halving the area into a close-mown area for play and a wild, nature area which would, with the right management, become a glorious wildflower meadow. Between the two they sited an adventure playground.
So, in 1996, the Le Marchant Conservation Area was born and nearly 1000 trees and shrubs were planted around the edges.
The recent local government changes in Wiltshire means Kennet DC are no more and so it was with great relief I finally met someone from Wiltshire Council who understands how good the conservation area could be, what needs doing and who could help.
And I’m still proud of the fact that those 90 houses were never built.
PS The ‘castle’ on the right hand side of the photo is The Keep. A Victorian folly tower which guarded the entrance to Le Marchant barracks.
The wonderfully named Watercress Line (although the Bluebell Line is even more wonderfully named) runs from Alresford to Alton in Hampshire. The first weekend in March brought the Spring Steam Gala: three days of steamy pleasure for all railway nuts.
The icing on the cake and the irresistible draw was the presence of the recently built A1 Pacific Class ‘Tornado’ amongst many other locomotives steamed up and pulling the passengers.
(below) A1 Class ‘Tornado’ approaching Ropley station
An ambitious timetable of a train every half hour proved too ambitious on the Friday when I was there. A signal problem first and then an event that was unexpected and almost unbelievable. The west-bound 12:51 from Alton, pulled by Gresley A4 Pacific ‘Bitten’ completely ran out of pulling power on the steep gradient up to the summit of the ‘Hampshire Alps’. Plenty of power from the loco but wheelslip slowed the train down to a complete standstill. Repeated attempts to get rolling again only succeeded in rolling backwards as gravity proved to be applying more force than ‘Bittern’.
(below) ‘Bittern’ is hidden in the steam as it tries in vain to haul the train up the incline
A long wait for some rescuing motive power ensued. And, as the stalled train was unfortunately blocking a stretch of single-track line, the whole day’s timetable was thrown by well over an hour. Southern Railway 4-6-0 ‘Lord Nelson’ saved the day and partnered ‘Bittern’ up and beyond the summit point before rejoining its own train at Medstead.
Nobody grumbled. People looked bemused rather than annoyed. If it had happened on a South West Trains service tantrums would have been thrown. It certainly didn’t spoil a grand day out.
London: 15th February. This doorway and its funny neon sign turned out to be one of the unexpected highlights of the day. The shop is in Old Compton Street, almost opposite the Algerian Coffee Stores*, where I’d just bought Brazilian Bourbon and Blue Sumatra coffee beans.
It’s the sort of shot that I wouldn’t have taken a few months ago but I’m feeling more playful and more confident in my visual ‘jottings’ now. I’m sharpening up the way I look at everything. [Despite this photo having camera-shake blur!]
Earlier in the day I’d fought through the half-term hoards of kids with their attendant mums, dads and pushchairs at the Natural History Museum. They were there for the dinosaurs. I was there for the Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition.
A magnificent collection of beautiful and thought-provoking images, some of them by very young kids too! It must be nice for a 10 year old to be able to say “I got a new DSLR for Christmas so I borrowed my uncle’s 400mm lens and managed to capture this image of a rare…”
The exhibition is on until 27 April 2008. Recommended.
* Algerian Coffee Stores: The very best place IMHO to buy fresh coffee beans. Beats any other place I’ve ever tried.