New season of garden events

I suspect that most of you who love the outdoors and getting into the garden are enjoying the signs of Spring and the prospect of British Summer Time right now! The garden season ahead looks set to be a really exciting one. Recently I attended the Garden Press Event in Islington, where businesses are able to present their new-to-the-market gardening products and inspire enthusiasm for the busy year ahead. I met with a number of the Garden Media Guild members to have a look around the products and ideas on offer, and to chat to the people behind them.

garden press event at the business design centre islington

Sunday 12 May is a date to set aside to celebrate Garden Day! Why not put together a floral crown and enjoy tea & cake in the garden with friends? These are the people behind the scheme, and also the app Candide, which is like an Instagram-style knowledge-base to share your garden photos, identify plants, and to ask questions or find solutions to gardening problems from other users. Download it for free on your phone or tablet from the App Store.

team from candide gardening app wearing floral crowns to promote national garden day

These parcel-in-the-post subscription boxes from Mud & Bloom are suitable for 3-8 year olds (Key Stage 1 – I used to teach this age, and the boxes are pitched perfectly!). Each box has some seasonal activities including gardening, craft, and garden quizzes, all designed to help children understand the growth cycle and seasonal changes. They start at £7.95 per box including free shipping, and I fully support their ethos of encouraging children to enjoy the outdoors, for the sake of their wellbeing and to have that thrill of having a hand in the raising of plants.

mud and bloom garden subscription boxes for children

There was a buzz around the pretty stand of Dalefoot Composts all day – based in the Eden Valley, Cumbria (which I know well), they produce organic wool and bracken based composts that retain moisture and encourage healthy crops. I’m currently raising some tomato seeds in the wool compost pots they gave me! There was a strong emphasis at this year’s show on organic solutions, as well as mental health and wellbeing benefits of getting out in the garden – keep reading below to find more announcements in this area… I must also mention Strulch who produce a mineralised straw mulch suitable for deterring slugs and snails (you might know this is my ongoing battle). I’m trialling their mulch which is also used at RHS Wisley, the Eden Project, and Alnwick Castle Gardens amongst others – so far, so successful!

dalefoot composts display stand at the garden press event 2019

I visited Hever Castle for their ‘Dazzling Daffodils’ displays, and although the weather decided to be grey on that particular week, the daffodils were bringing their own ray of sunshine to the gardens.

hever castle edenbridge kent in spring with daffodils

details of spring flowers at hever castle kent open gardens

Plus, how beautiful is this Clematis armandii ‘Apple Blossom’?!

clematis armandii apple blossom growing at hever castle kent

dazzling daffodils garden display in spring at hever castle childhood home of anne boleyn

spring daffodils and blossom at hever castle kent

camellia walk hever castle italian garden

dazzling daffodils seasonal opening of gardens at hever castle kent

This week, the National Garden Scheme launched their yellow bible, the Open Gardens Handbook for 2019. At the Press Launch in London’s Royal Festival Hall, guests were addressed by Lord Gardiner – of DEFRA – and Mary Berry, President of the NGS, while Chief Executive George Plumptre announced donations to charities totalling £3m over the past year. The NGS guest charity for 2019 will be MIND, aiding those with mental health struggles, and one slide showed a comment from a garden visitor that “visiting different gardens really helps boost my mood…not just the time that I’m at a garden but for several days after”. During the week of 11 – 19 May this year, the Gardens & Health Campaign will emphasise the importance of garden visiting as an act of self care, demonstrating the positive impact on our wellbeing of visiting, and being inspired by, the outdoors.

mary berry president of national garden scheme with chief executive george plumptre

The NGS will have 3,552 gardens open for visitors this year – 759 of which are new, or returning after some time. 34 of the open gardens will be allotments – something I’m really interested in as I aim to get my own dedicated vegetable garden up and running this year. 9 of the available places to visit are school gardens, and 14 are hospice gardens. There really is something for everyone, on top of which you’ll often find tea & cake being served and plants on sale. Do take a look at the NGS website and plan visits through all seasons of interest – you’ll be contributing to a considerable charitable fund for the coming year.

national garden scheme press launch for 2019 at royal festival hall southbank

Also announced was a £75,000 donation and 10-year support plan for Horatio’s Garden, who design and create the most beautiful accessible garden spaces for NHS spinal injury units. The idea of the garden as a therapeutic space was never far from anyone’s mind at the media launch for open gardens this year, and I hope that you’ll find joy in visiting one of these places in 2019. Here are Julia Palca, Chair of Macmillan Cancer Support, Martin McMillan OBE, Chair of NGS, and Dr Olivia Chapple, co-founder of Horatio’s Garden – the scheme is named in memory of her son.

charity trustees and fundraisers events photography for national garden scheme horatio's garden macmillan cancer care

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The light came back

“Every year, in the third week of February, there is a day, or, more usually, a run of days, when one can say for sure that the light is back. Some juncture has been reached, and the light spills into the world from a sun suddenly higher in the sky.”

~ Kathleen Jamie, ‘Light’ from her book Sightlines.

This is one of my favourite-ever quotes. I’ve hung onto it through winter for a few years now and it’s absolutely right and bang on time, every February. It always fills me with hope, when winter is dark, that the world still turns and the light will come back. So here we are, the second-half of February and the light reappeared as always. I visited the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens near Romsey because I’d been told how beautiful the Winter Gardens are. It really felt like an energy-giving visit, to see the colour and structure and texture of plants bringing winter to life.

sir harold hillier gardens hampshire grasses in sunlight in the winter gardens

Here the appropriately-named Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter fire’ looks aflame next to the creamy peeling bark of Betula ermanii.

cornus sanguinea midwinter fire and betula ermanii at the harold hillier winter gardens hampshire

a walk through the harold hillier gardens marked by acer 'gingerbread' planted by the Queen

Hellebores in their element on the woodland floor but I especially like the acidic-yellow of these Ashwood garden hybrids.

I always think witch hazel in the right winter light looks really eye-catching, but it’s more tricky to capture the details and bring out their best. I like the contrasty light and colours here.

hamamelis at sir harold hillier gardens hampshire garden photographer

I love the ruby-red peeling bark of Prunus serrula in our own garden – the pairings with golden grasses, the acidic colours of this witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Sunburst’) plus the ‘Black Mondo Grass’ (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigresecens’) makes for a stunning corner in the winter sunshine.

professional garden photographer at sir harold hillier winter gardens prunus serrula and hamamelis

galanthus at sir harold hillier winter gardens hampshire garden photographer

delights of light at the winter gardens, sir harold hillier gardens, hampshire garden photography

sweet box sarcococca hookeriana digyna purple stem evergreen at hillier gardens winter gardens borderLonicera purpusii ‘Spring romance’ – so fragrant…

Lonicera purpusii 'Spring romance' garden photographer surrey

I used the National Garden Scheme website to find out about snowdrop garden openings, and planned a visit to Welford Park near Newbury. These beautiful gardens open regularly throughout snowdrop season but this special ‘yellow book’ day through the NGS raised money for several charities, as well as having well-stocked plant stalls from galanthus specialists, Elworthy Cottage Plants and Foxgrove Nursery.

national garden scheme snowdrop open day at welford park berkshire

Snowdrops and winter aconites welcome you to the woodland walk.

snowdrops and winter aconites lining the way to the woodland walk at welford park galanthus open day NGS

Did you know that the leaves of snowdrop have hardened tips, to break through the earth while it’s still frozen solid? And that their sap contains a form of antifreeze? Amazing nature…

galanthus in the beech woods at welford park NGS

The beech woods had a thick, sumptuous carpet of galanthus. This spot by the River Lambourn provides them with their perfect growing conditions.

welford park newbury river lambourn galanthus snowdrops in the beech woods

A crew were filming a segment on snowdrop season for ITV’s ‘This Morning’, with Heather Skinner from the National Garden Scheme presenting the Puxley family with a commemorative sundial – a thank you for FORTY years of opening their gardens to the public!

national garden scheme heather skinner presents a commemorative sundial to deborah puxley of welford park

filming of ITV's 'This Morning' at Welford Park for the National Garden Scheme snowdrop open day

welford park berkshire in february beech woods carpeted with galanthus snowdrops

(Welford Park has also been home to the filming of ‘The Great British Bake Off’ for the last few years. Appropriately, there was an extended cafe area in a marquee for this open day, and I can thoroughly recommend the tea & cake!).



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  • Susan Banting - Beautiful photos showing how much colour can be found in a month usually thought of as drab.ReplyCancel

  • Melissa - Beautiful work as always, Julie! Such a feast for the eyes!ReplyCancel

Winter in the gardens

sunrise on frosted vineyard chilworth manor surrey garden photographerRound here in Guildford, it seems as though there haven’t been many properly frosty, frozen mornings this winter. Perhaps they’re on their way later than we’ve been expecting… The down-time of late winter brings a bit of a slower pace, which I enjoy more than I used to – I look forward to the return of the light, and the new growth in the garden. This is valuable replenishing time for people and plants alike! I wouldn’t be able to do this job if I didn’t think I was able to be useful to people, and so it gives me time to think about what I do and why, and to plan ways in which I can be productive and helpful through the year.

I used to think that there was little to be enjoyed through the winter, but – although they might not shout as loudly – there are plenty of quietly beautiful elements in the garden waiting to be found.

deep frost on winter vine

melting ice and frost on hellebore at RHS Wisley Gardens Woking Surrey

I was wandering around RHS Wisley Gardens when I spotted this hydrangea skeleton dripping with melted ice like the most beautiful chandelier… I am obsessed with it <3

melting ice on a hydrangea skeleton seedheads with frost in morning sunlighthydrangea skeleton with beads of melting ice macro garden photography

A morning photographing around the gardens at Chilworth Manor found a few wintery delights too. I love the contrast of textures, light and dark in this picture.

snowdrops with fern garden textures in wintersnowdrop galanthus with melting ice and frost, hydrangea seedhead in sunlightwitch hazel caught in a shaft of winter sunlightcatkins in a woodland garden in Guildford, Surrey garden photographercream hellebores on woodland floor detail of hellebore flowers in sunlighthydrangea seedhead caught in dramatic sunlight in winter

The dormant vineyard at Chilworth Manor still has spectacular structure in the winter.

A viticultural demonstration to teach about checking for vine health.

(By the way, a flying visit north didn’t yield any snow either – appropriately, a morning at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead offered fairly Baltic temperatures outdoors, though!).

view of the tyne bridge Newcastle at sunset from high bridges, millennium bridge towards BALTIC centre Gateshead with frost

  • I am a Guildford-based member of the Garden Media Guild and the Professional Garden Photographer’s Association – if you’re looking for a garden photographer to capture images for print, publication or media in the Surrey / Sussex / Hampshire area, please contact me here.
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Florence flying visit

While we’re in the depths of winter, I wanted to show you some of the pictures I took in magical Florence during a visit with friends last autumn. A small group of us from both the UK and Europe enjoy meeting up for what has become a Photography, Food and Friends time that we all look forward to! Florence wasn’t somewhere I was familiar with and, with the focus on spending some time making photographs in the city, I think we probably missed a huge element of art and history by not wandering around the numerous galleries that visitors flock here for. So, we stuck to places where photography is permitted, ate very well, drank a lot of Yogi tea, particularly enjoyed a surprise rooftop bar one lunchtime, wandered the streets looking for interesting light at odd hours, and laughed and talked…

early morning cyclist by florence cathedral italy travel photography

The view from our AirBnB apartment window. Should come with sound so you can hear the opera singer buskers every evening…

airbnb apartment view from window in florencesunlit florence street with mopedschandeliers in a lighting shop florence italycourtyard and cafe in the backstreets of florence tuscany travel photographycouple holding hands walk in sunlit backstreet of florencea carriage driver takes a break in florence italybell towers of Florencevisitors to the Piazza della Signoria with ice cream, cameras, statues and pigeonsreflection of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florencepitti palace palazzo pitti in the boboli gardens florence

As a Garden Media Guild member, I was really interested to see the Boboli Gardens and the Medici’s Palazzo Pitti – more of a home to an extensive sculpture collection, with less planting than we’re used to in UK gardens. However it did have wonderful views of the city and the Tuscan countryside. Sadly this little planted garden was inaccessible and I had to take a picture through the locked gates!

tuscan countryside viewed from a planted area in the boboli gardens florencethe pitti palace and hills of tuscany

Sunrise on the ancient Ponte Vecchio is the only time you’ll catch the bridge without throngs of people.

ponte vecchio early morning at the Cellini fountain with love locks on the railingsearly morning sunrise glow on the 14th century ponte vecchio with moored boatsearly morning sunlight on ancient florentine stepsearly morning commuters and tourists in florence italyearly morning activity Piazza del Duomo Florence Italysunlit morning cycle ride at Piazza del Duomo Florenceview over Florence and the River Arno from the rooftop bar at SE-STO on Arno Westin Excelsiordesigner shop windows of florence prada gucci

The breathtaking 14th-century basilica of Santa Maria Novella is a sanctuary from the busyness of the city.

santa maria novella basilica florence artwork frescopanoramic view over florence at sunset from piazzale michelangeloantonio stradivari viola and violin in the museum of musical instruments florence

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Autumn visit to Hillier Gardens

One of my favourite outings in the autumn was to meet up with Garden Media Guild members to be shown around the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens near Romsey. It was my first time meeting fellow Guild folks in person, and we were rewarded with the sort of couldn’t-be-more-perfect weather that October likes to pull out of the bag on occasion. On top of that, our guides for the day were David Jewell – Head of Collections – and the warm and funny garden encyclopaedia that is Roy Lancaster CBE – patron of the gardens, former curator, passionate plantsman, and with a story for every plant that we stopped to look at.

We spent a good amount of time at the Centenary Border, where many species that had once been collected and trialled at the Hiller Nurseries now grow. The wide central lawn has had the addition of paving so that it’s now fully accessible for wheelchair users. The variety of grasses – especially viewed in autumn sunshine – drew everyone’s attention. I’m keen to visit again in the depths of January to see the Winter Gardens; David’s enthusiasm for this area, particularly when you’re looking for interest and colour in the winter months, means that I’m looking forward to some more garden inspiration in the new year.

The Sir Harold Hillier gardens cover 180 acres with over 12,00 species of plants, and many plans for further conservation and educational schemes. The wonderful arboretum is a joy to wander around. The Japanese practice of ‘forest-bathing’ – shinrin-yoku – is worth bearing in mind if you need to reduce stress hormones, strengthen your mental wellbeing, reboot and breathe deeply. When did a bit a nature therapy not do you the world of good? This might just be the place you’re looking for!

garden photographer surrey backlit grasses

centenary border at Sir Harold Hillier gardens

october border in hampshire garden photography

harold hillier gardens romsey hampshire

collections of grasses at the sir harold hillier gardens hampshire

miscanthus in autumn sunshine

side path from the centenary border in autumn harold hillier gardens

the centenary border in autumn, harold hillier gardens romsey

surrey garden photographer autumn border

surrey garden photographer autumn border inspiration grasses

professional garden photographer backlit dahlia

autumn sunshine backlit leaf sir harold hillier gardens

astrantia in the centenary border sir harold hillier gardens romsey hampshire

perennial Ophiopogon planiscapus Nigrescent black grass at Sir Harold Hillier gardens

Head of Collections David Jewell at Sir Harold Hillier gardens

roy lancaster and david jewell guiding visitors around the sir harold hillier gardens

Roy Lancaster and David Jewell guiding visitors through the plant collections.

sculpture of sir harold hillier at the garden collections in hampshire

cyclamen in the arboretum at Sir Harold Hillier gardens

Sambucus cerulean blue elderberry at Sir Harold Hillier gardens

Rarely grown Sambucus cerulean / blue elderberry

euonymus myrianthus rare eastern evergreen shrub

autumn at the Sir Harold Hillier gardens Hampshire

prunus serrula tibetan cherry with peeling bark planted with bright yellow grasses

I have a prunus serrula (Tibetan cherry) in my own garden and am now inspired to pair it with some bright grasses beneath…

roy lancaster guides visitors through the arboretum at Sir Harold Hillier gardens

the garden media guild are shown around the Sir Harold Hillier gardens by Roy Lancaster

abelia x grandiflora 'Canyon Creek'

Clematis terniflora sweet autumn clematis with sugar scent

The sugar scent of this clematis terniflora (sweet autumn clematis) is really something!

perovskia blue spire

garden spider in autumn sunshine harold hillier gardens hampshire

You can view my profile with the Professional Garden Photographers Association, as a Surrey garden photographer, here: PGPA Julie Skelton.

Opening your garden with the National Garden Scheme in 2019? I’d love to come and document your preparations in pictures – do get in touch!

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Launch of The Blend Academy Winchester

This autumn has seen the launch of a fantastic new gin-making experience, from the founder of Winchester Distillery and based in the heart of the Hampshire town. I’ve been along to photograph both the launch party, and a full gin-blending session – learning a fair bit along the way, about the history of gin, its renaissance right now, and seeing how Master Blender Paul Bowler is able to guide attendees in achieving a perfectly balanced set of flavours to create their own unique gin. Once you’ve been guided through some taste samples, and worked out the flavour direction you’re interested in, you set of to nose some of the distillates of flowers, herbs, fruits and roots among the shelves of the ‘Blending Library’. You’re then let loose amongst the botanicals, measuring tube at the ready to concoct your own juniper-based recipe – and you get to take home your own full-sized bottle with personalised label, to enjoy your one-of-a-kind gin at your leisure. Not only that, but your unique flavour ratios are kept on file by The Blend Academy so that you can reorder your personal gin blend again in the future.

surrey commercial photographer food and drink blend academy gin

A selection of these photos have featured in the society pages of Hampshire Life and in the winter edition of the Winchester Magazine.

If you are quick, you can enter into this competition courtesy of Hampshire Life, to win a blend-your-own gin experience for two: WIN.

The Blend Academy Winchester launch to make your own ginBlending Library of flavour combinations at the Blend Academy Winchestercommercial photography Hampshire stocked shelves of the Blend Academy

Paul Bowler of Winchester Distillery blending flavoured gin at the Blend Academycreate and label your own flavoured gin at the Blend Academy Winchestercommercial photography for the launch of new gin making experiencetaste testing commercial photography in Winchester Hampshiregin making experience and learn tips at the Blend AcademyThe Blend Academy blend your own gin experience in Hampshiregin cocktail bar as part of a blend-your-own gin experience in HampshirePaul Bowler of Winchester Distillery heads up the gin blending experience at the Blend Academytable laid out ready for guests at a blend-your-own gin experiencetaste testing from the shelves of flavourings at the Blend Academy gin experiencenosing distillates and sampling flavours at the Blend Academy gin experiencepicking flavours from shelves to blend your own gin in Winchestersampling distillates as part of a gin blending experiencenosing distillates in the blending library at Blend Academy, Winchesterbespoke labels on sample blends at a gin making experience in HampshireThe Blend Academy cocktail bar with sample bottles of ginthe Blending Library shelves of distillates at the Blend Academy in Hampshirea gin and tonic garnished with grapefruit using Winchester Distiller's 'Twisted Nose' watercress ginnosing the distillates among the shelves at the Blend Academy Winchesterevent photography for the launch of the Blend Academy gin blending experience in Winchester Hampshirelaunch party event photography, the Blend Academy gin blending experience in Winchester Hampshirethe mayor of Winchester plus local councillor and MP at the launch of the Blend Academyevent photography for the launch of the Blend Academy gin blending experience in Winchester Hampshireevent photography for the launch of the Blend Academy gin blending experience in Winchester Hampshirecommercial photography at the launch party of the Blend Academybespoke labels on bottles at the Blend Academy cocktail barPaul Bowler of Winchester Distillery headshota variety of drinks offered by Winchester Distillerysmall copper still to demonstrate the gin making processkilner jars and sample flavours for gin blendinglibrary shelves of flavourings at the Blend Academy



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Autumn planting at RHS Wisley

After a hectic summer, I’m enjoying the creative time to make some of my own photographs. I was fortunate to be accepted into the Garden Media Guild and Professional Garden Photographers Association this year, and I’m looking forward to doing more of what I love in 2019 – visiting public and private gardens, meeting horticulturalists, working alongside other Garden Media members, and creating portraits of gardens and gardeners alike.

These are a handful of images from one October morning when I took a walk around my local RHS garden at Wisley. It was the perfect sort of autumn day, when the leaves look as though they’re on fire and the sky is that perfectly complementary blue. Delicious light!

autumn morning at Seven Acres, RHS Wisley Gardens, Surrey

acer palmatum backlit by morning sun on Seven Acres hill, RHS Wisley Gardens

Acer palmatum var. dissectum

The Glasshouse at RHS Wisley Gardens, professional garden photographer Surrey

morning of autumn colours at Seven Acres, RHS Wisley Gardens

waterfalls and ponds with autumn colour, saxifraga, hosta, acer

Saxifraga fortunei leading the eye in at this peaceful water’s edge

details of Seven Acres at RHS Wisley Gardens Surrey garden photographer

giant gunnera backlit by sun

Gunnera manicata meets magnolia in the morning sun

gentle pink autumn hydrangea at RHS Wisley

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Unique’

pink autumn flowering hydrangea

macro detail of pink autumn flowering hydrangea paniculata

macro details of hydrangea Surrey garden photographer

macro droplets on fallen leaf

Morning dew & autumn light, fallen leaf resting on sedum

small tree with toffee fragrance in autumn

Toffee-fragrant autumn leaves of Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Boyd’s Dwarf’

autumn appearance of lunaria rediviva or perennial honesty

Lunaria rediviva / perennial honesty

perennial borders in autumn

Autumn planting at RHS Wisley Gardens

Leonotis leonurus / lion’s tail

purple asters in the autumn perennial border at RHS Wisley Gardens Surrey garden photographer

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’ / New England aster

salmon pink rose in the Bowes-Lyon rose garden at Wisley

Rosa For Your Eyes Only ‘Cheweyesup’

dahlia border with grasses autumn planting inspiration

Dahlia ‘Foxy Lady’

helianthus reaching for the light at RHS Wisley Gardens

Helianthus x laetiflorus

dahlia karma naomi autumn planting inspiration with fountain grasses

Hints of deep red in fountain grasses picking out the rich colour of dahlia ‘Karma Naomi’

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Guildford and Ramster Hall spring wedding

This beautiful Guildford and Ramster Hall wedding is one I’ve been looking forward to sharing. From the groom’s reaction to his bride walking in, to the fun and evident joy of two families coming together; from the groom’s sister leading the singing in church, to his brother’s inspired Tim Vine-song best man’s speech; from the groom’s dad conducting the marriage ceremony, to the daffodils at gorgeous Ramster Hall gardens, so fitting for a Welsh bride, to her bride-and-father dance that had me welling up – the whole day was happiness personified. (I even climbed a ladder onto an indoor roof to get the full-group photo as requested – you’ll find a sneaky selfie appearance in this post too!).

S&S held their wedding ceremony at Grace Church, Guildford and after a tea & cake reception there, headed over to Chiddingfold to the gorgeous Ramster Hall – always such a warm welcome! I love being able to take couples into the gardens there for a moment to themselves, which gives me an opportunity to get the natural and relaxed photographs of them together that I hope will be really precious to look back on. What a privilege to be able to document all of this for them!

relaxed documentary photo of Guildford groom waiting for wedding ceremonyGuildford wedding bridal bouquet and father of the bride's buttonholedocumentary wedding photography groom checking the time before wedding ceremony wedding photography Guildford groom awaits arrival of the bride for church ceremony bride arrives for wedding ceremony church in Guildford documentary photographygroom reacts to bride's arrival for wedding ceremony Guildford wedding photography documentarybride and groom are congratulated on their marriage in the ceremony at a Guildford churchJulie Skelton wedding photographer Guildfordramster hall chiddingfold wedding venue photography Guildfordbride and groom in the spring daffodils at Ramster Hall gardens Chiddingfoldblack and white portraits of bride and groom at Ramster Hall wedding ChiddingfoldRamster Hall wedding bride and groom portraits in the spring gardensRamster Hall wedding bride and groom portraits walking in the gardens in springcouple portraits in Ramster Hall gardens Chiddingfold wedding photographerwedding couple by yew tree in the gardens at Ramster Hall ChiddingfoldRamster Hall wedding details in the Great Hallsalt and pepper bride and groom decorate a wedding cake at Ramster Hall Chiddingfoldbest man wedding day speech at Ramster Hall Chiddingfoldfirst dance wedding couple bride and groom at Ramster Hall Chiddingfold

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Summer engagement photography Oxford

In the middle of preparing for their Hong Kong wedding later this year, Lorraine & David made a summer trip to the UK and planned to have their pre-wedding photographs taken somewhere historic, beautiful, and very recognisably British. We settled on Oxford as the perfect place to show them around some of the beautiful parks and buildings here. I met up with them at the Old Bank Hotel on the High Street and got to know them a little as we walked around. In spite of being nervous about a first official photo shoot as an engaged couple, I think they knocked it out of the park with their happy, sunny natures shining through!

They decided to have two sessions, one in the warm evening sunshine and another early the following morning as the city was just waking.

old bank hotel oxford wedding photography engagement pictureshigh street oxford couple taking tea in an English cafeoverseas couple enjoying the summer gardens at Christ Church, Oxforddestination engagement photography at Christ Church College gardens, Oxford universitycouple celebrate their engagement at Christ Church college gardens, Oxfordcouple holding hands by the wooden door of Christ Church College Oxfordengaged couple chat on the steps of Christ Church College Oxforddestination engagement photography couple sitting on steps at Christ Church OxfordOxford University engagement photography couple relaxing on stepsblack and white photograph of couple enjoying the evening sunshine at Christ Church Oxfordsilhouette of engaged couple smiling by the river in Oxfordengaged couple walk and chat by the river in Christ Church College gardens, Oxfordengaged couple smiling and walking along Magdalen Bridge, Oxford, on a summer eveninga summer evening in Oxford with engaged couple holding hands in a quiet streetformal pre-wedding photographs in Oxford on a summer eveninggolden hour engagement portrait in an Oxford streetengaged couple whispering and laughing by lamppost in an Oxford streetengagement photo of couple sitting on wall next to red telephone box outside Sheldonian Theatre, Oxfordred white and blue engagement picture with cyclist in Oxford UKdocumentary relaxed engagement photo with telephone box in Oxford UKsilhouette of couple in gated doorway at Bodleian Library Oxfordengaged couple smiling and walking along Turl Street Oxfordcouple turn back to look at camera while walking along Oxford back streetengagement photo with relaxed smiling couple walking by Exeter College Oxford universityblack and white portrait of engaged couple smiling in Oxford destination engagement photographs in Oxfordsculpted stone heads of Roman emperors decorate the pillars outside Oxford's museum of the history of scienceearly morning engagement portrait at the Divinity School and Bodleian library Oxfordearly morning engagement portrait with close up of ring at the Divinity School and Bodleian library Oxfordcouple examine engagement ring outside the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxfordbeautiful sculpted doorway early morning couple portrait at the Divinity School and Bodleian library Oxford location for Harry Potterstunning Oxford architecture and sculpted doorway with happy engaged couple at Bodleian Libraryoverseas couple celebrate their engagement outside Radcliffe Camera Oxford early morning portraitearly summer morning overseas couple celebrate their engagement outside Radcliffe Camera Oxford couple dance to celebrate their engagement outside Radcliffe Camera Oxford early morning portraitportrait of a young woman in Brasenose Lane, Oxfordcouple walk away from camera holding hands in Brasenose Lane, Oxfordportrait of a young man in Brasenose Lane, Oxfordportrait of a young engaged couple in Brasenose Lane, Oxfordcouple sit outside historic English pub in Broad Street, Oxford couple sit outside historic English pub The White Horse in Broad Street, Oxford Inspector Morseyoung smiling woman sits of steps of Sheldonian Theatre Oxford for an early morning portraityoung smiling engaged couple sitting of steps of Sheldonian Theatre Oxford for an early morning portraitcarved stone heads of Roman gods adorn the pillars outside Oxford's Sheldonian Theatrebeautiful English gardens at Christ Church College, Oxford University, are the backdrop for a summer morning engagement portraitengagement portraits in English gardens at Christ Church College, Oxford University couple sit for relaxed portraits in the library at the Old Bank Hotel Oxford passing cyclist smiles as engaged couple pose for a portrait in High Street, Oxford, UK

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Scotland’s North Coast 500

I’ve been meaning to share a fuller picture of a road trip we took last summer around the far north coast of Scotland. Billed by the tourist board as the ‘North Coast 500’, it’s also been touted as the best road trip in the world. You certainly get a hugely varied amount of spectacular scenery, from views to the western isles, right through the prehistoric Torridon mountains, past the flowlands and pristine beaches of the north, round to the fishing villages and farming countryside bordering the North Sea. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. We chose to travel clockwise and to mostly opt for the youth hostels as accommodation. I can wholeheartedly recommend the Scottish youth hostels – the facilities are excellent, the locations are perfect, each welcome was warm. The official starting point for touring the 500 miles is Inverness Castle.

Inverness Castle at night – starting point of the NC500

Strathpeffer Pump Room on the route of the North Coast 500 road trip Scotland

Strathpeffer Pump Room

Attadale Gardens – rain not a problem!

We were so impressed with Attadale Gardens – really welcoming and a beautiful walk! The perfect place for a good leg stretch, a sculpture trail and some hot chocolates.

And then we headed up into the clouds on the notorious Bealach na Bà (a single-track, winding, ancient cattle pass and Britain’s steepest ascent of any road climb) – visibility down to about 5m at the top!

So once you’re on the Applecross Peninsula, you’ll find it’s where all the hairy coos like to hang out.

I also had my Mamiya medium format camera with me – heavy to port about, but quite nice to record something that felt like it could be from any age! I’ve included some of the scans amongst the other pictures:

Our first taste of Scottish youth hostelling was at Torridon, and mighty impressive it was, too. Fantastic location, superb kitchen, huge picture windows (the tail end of Storm Harvey was just catching Scotland) and the option of buying a frozen boil-in-the-bag curry for your dinner – complete with the usual accompaniments – which couldn’t have been more delicious!

rowan berries in the rain, Torridon

A small detour away from the NC500 route is the Bealach na Gaoithe, my favourite of the cattle passes and looking out over Upper Loch Torridon. Unfortunately, travelling the trip route means sticking to a schedule rather than waiting for the cloud to lift and the good light to come, but it’s worth taking in the vista whatever the weather!

Driving past the wonderful Loch Maree, and we were still being followed by low cloud and feeling that we were missing out on some of the best scenery. We took a walk around the Beinn Eighe nature reserve for a break from the car, and then on to gorgeous Gairloch.

Take a look at this – it’s the youth hostel in Gairloch, in what used to be a hunting lodge. THE most fantastic location and views to take your breath away, not to mention the warm hospitality of the people who work there and the other travelling families.

I would relive this evening, sitting drinking tea on a warm evening & sketching the Torridon mountains in complete peace, every day for ever if I could…

In the morning we packed up and headed down to Gairloch harbour, where amongst the boat tours on offer, we were able to spend time exploring the sea floor on the glass-bottomed boat:

…and if you’re lucky and behave yourself, you get to steer!

Inverewe Gardens to the north of Gairloch are a great example of how this area of the west coast is temperate and sheltered enough, due to the Gulf Stream, to cultivate tropical plants. Below are some really giant redwoods:

child with giant redwood tree at inverewe gardens national trust for Scotland

We took another little detour for a beach break at Mellon Udrigle – not just legendary for its brilliant name, but look at the view; my favourite mountain Suilven to the left (looking like a hump-backed whale from this angle).

beach at mellon udrigle wester ross scotland

The view of the harbour from our window at the youth hostel in Ullapool:

Stac Pollaidh is another fave of mine! Look at it – so beautiful, craggy, and distinctively-shaped. It’s a great wee walk with the most breathtaking views but sadly, although we’d planned to climb, we didn’t have enough hours in the day. You forget that travelling on rural – and often single-track – roads means that you just don’t cover the distance that you think you might in the time. So much to see!

fiat 500 driving past Stac Pollaidh on the route of the North Coast 500 Scotland's NC500

Lochinver’s Larder is the pie shop mecca for many a traveller and biker. We’ve now had a selection of their pies, tasted each other’s, and can confirm that it’s WELL worth it. (Pork, apple & cider, top tip, but to be honest – any of them!).

motorcycles outside the lochinver larder pie shop scotland NC500

If you get to Durness, a trip to Cocoa Mountain is an absolute must. Really impressive hot chocolates and a wonderful selection of flavoured chocs to choose from.

The Golden Eagle zip line at Ceannabeinne operates according to the weather and we were fortunate enough to be there at just the right time – highly recommended, friendly staff with the highest safety standards, and a breathtaking view!

There is a ‘town trail’ at Ceannabeinne which takes you around the former thriving village near Durness, site of highland clearances in 1842 which resulted in riots. It’s very moving to read about how these farming families stood up to the forceful removal of their homes and livelihoods, leading to new crofting legislation and changing the lives of those who followed.

Durness’s youth hostel is housed in two buildings right next to Smoo Cave, another fantastic location.

From Durness, the route takes you along Scotland’s northernmost coast, past Loch Eriboll.

I’d seen pictures of ‘The Unknown’ skeleton statue at Borgie Glen and it intrigued me. Kenny Hunter’s installation is intended to weave together the Scottish oral traditions of those rejected from society, such as giants and ogres, as well as the historical exiles – Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Highland Clearances, William Wallace – and into the present with asylum-seekers and refugees… So here he stands, in his rusted iron, contemplating the wilderness on a little rocky knoll in Sutherland and as far away from any large populated centres as it’s possible to go. It’s certainly a thought-provoking piece.

The former home of the Queen Mother, the Castle of Mey, is somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. It has a wonderfully relaxed feel to it, perched high on the cliffs with views across the Pentland Firth.

As we carried on around the tip at John O’Groats, Duncansby Stacks and any views towards Orkney were completely obscured by the haar (the cold sea fog that’s so common around this area). We did stop for great chips at the John O’Groats Cabin, though.

The following day brought completely different weather, and we enjoyed a visit to the Whaligoe Steps – around 330 winding steps (I stopped counting!) carved into the deep cliffs around Whaligoe Haven, an important area for the fishing industry in the 1800s and beyond.

whaligoe steps and the north sea on a sunny morning

Davy here is the legend who maintains the steps, following in the family tradition of fishing the seas around Ulbster. If you’re lucky enough to bump into him, he’ll entertain you with many tales of the steps and its visitors!

Our next stop took us to Dunrobin Castle – it’s like a Bavarian fairytale and so different to anything you’d imagine a Scottish castle to be! We thoroughly enjoyed the birds of prey demonstration in the gardens, but I was completely entranced by falcons swooping low over people’s heads, and managed to take no photos of the demo at all! It’s very impressive, to say the least.

We reached the beach at Brora in time to catch a fading rainbow across the North Sea.

I think this set of fishing net photographs on the Mamiya are my favourite medium formats from the trip.

For our final night on the official North Coast 500 route, we’d booked into Clynelish Farmhouse, a beautiful place on a working sheep farm and right next to the whisky distillery. Victoria was a brilliant host and cooked the most delicious breakfast!

Ever since I visited the wild reindeer herd in the Cairngorms National Park, 15 years ago, I’ve hoped I would have the chance to go back. Well – here they are! My favourite animal, they have so many interesting ways in which they are perfectly suited to a cold climate.

cairngorm reindeer herd close up hand feeding

As we headed back down to the border, we spent time at the Bannockburn Experience – it’s so well thought-out, interesting and interactive, with its 3D screens explaining exactly how the battle panned out in 1314, leading to Robert The Bruce’s famous victory.

kathleen jamie poetry at bannockburn visitor centre Stirlingshire

I’m very taken with the way Bannockburn has used Kathleen Jamie’s poem, ‘Here Lies Our Land’, in a new installation around the Bannockburn monument. She’s one of my favourite writers and this piece of poetry really moves me:

Here lies our land: every airt 
Beneath swift clouds, glad glints of sun,
Belonging to none but itself.

We are mere transients, who sing 
Its westlin’ winds and fernie braes, 
Northern lights and siller tides,

Small folk playing our part. 
‘Come all ye’, the country says,
You win me, who take me most to heart.











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