The first time I visited Lacock Abbey was with on a university trip. Being the photography geek that I am I’m still excited to see the place where the photographic negative was invented, and secretly keep an eye out of the views around the house, eager to spot something documented in his early experiments that still remains today – nearly 180 years later.
Our ride to Lacock was an incredibly pretty, flat and relaxed one – following the first sustrans cycle track ever built between Bristol and Bath, and onwards through Bradford Upon Avon. It we’re honest, we hadn’t planned to travel much beyond Bath along the cycle track, but the miles flew by and we figured we’d rather do a few more miles on the canal tow paths than a shorter direct route involving hills and cars. It was a good decision. After a good splashing of muddy puddles and some rattled wrists (the road section seemed so so smooth afterwards!) we rolled into the village of Lacock. We were met by the lovely and welcoming staff, pitched our tents, and went to the pub for a meal – it was our last venue of the tour, after all!
Next morning, we breakfasted on cheese and bread along with some of the fallen damsons from the nearby tree. Lovely stuff! We were tempted to try to apples, but remembered they were cooking apples and so thought better of it. Once we got packed we retrieved the bikes from the barn when disaster struck – after more than 300 puncture free miles, one of the trailers wheels was deflated, with a suspect thorn later found. Just before I’d thought we’d been lucky to complete the tour without a single puncture..We wheeled our way to the front of Lacock Abbey – this is where in the 1830s William Henry Fox Talbot would have been experimenting with his ‘mousetrap’ cameras as his wife called them – simple cameras not to unlike our own (only much smaller!).
‘How charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durable and remain fixed upon the paper! And why should it not be possible?’
Why indeed! Talbot was determined to try to capture the image he could see in his model obscuras as if it were the ‘pencil of nature’. During the 1830s he cracked it by using paper coated with silver iodide, and the Pencil Of Nature became the title of the first photographic publication in 1844 which illustrated his process and included examples. The earliest surviving negative made by Talbot is of a window in the Abbey, called the Oriel window, and this was to be the our first subject of the day too.
Next we began to invite the visitors to step inside, and it was really great to have a mix of people eager to learn about Fox Talbot’s process, our obscura, and how they all link to today’s technology. It was interesting to hear about one chaps work that involved studying the eyes of animals – apparently, the first eyes were also pinhole like in structure – something I hadn’t really though about before. Anyway! Here are some of the pictures we took. The light was fantastic and the setting well suited.
After we’d packed up, I had just enough time to look around the photography museum and gallery (currently showing some of Bernard Shaw’s work). They had an impressive range of cameras, and I had to laugh to see the cameras I still use most regularly in a museum and confined to our past!
The exhibition does well to show Talbot’s contribution to the development of photography, and the setting of Lacock is the perfect backdrop to thinking back to those times. I’m glad our last visit on tour was so enjoyable, and thanks again to the staff for hosting us.
The ride into Bristol is a very pleasant one – I had vague memories of beautiful, quiet, flat roads from when I did the Lejog with Otesha last year, but looking at the route ahead I couldn’t remember any landmarks at all. As luck would happen, we soon stumbled across it and began to remember the way we took – running alongside the Mendips (another great AONB we’re saving for another tour!), criss crossing the M5 and bombing along the quiet, cycle lanes into Bristol.
We were lucky to be staying with a friend (cheers Lizzie!) in Stokes Croft, Bristol and were very warmly welcomed. We were just around the corner from The Bristol Bike Project, our venue for the next day. We have been offered a space as part of the excellent Bristol Bike Festival, coming up this month, and so it seemed the perfect place to get some bike related images just for that exhibition.
The Bristol Bike Project (recent winner of the Observer Ethical Winner awards) is an inspirational place to many people new to cycling and a great mixing place of many others who are mad about it. We set up the camera in the workshop, and began to build a makeshift studio that would form a backdrop to shoot portraits of the different users expected that day. Gathering enough light is always an issue when shooting inside, and just as in a normal photographic studio – we needed more light. Luckily, James had just the thing and fetched a super bright light to illuminate, and temporarily blind our subjects. Just the job. We used the bike stands to hold not only the bikes, but the lights (2 more were lent to use by the PRSC – cheers!) and backdrop too – it seemed to me a very fitting studio set up!
We began shooting..
Our cruise to the South Devon AONB was a good one – days like that make you feel glad to be born a cyclist! I was expecting to be facing the prevailing South Westerly wind but as we wheeled out of Castle Drogo I realised it had switched into a welcoming tail wind. Beautiful! Nevertheless, hills are hills, and the weight of the trailers still had a bite. We made good time though, and stopped in Totnes for some lunch. Our place for the next couple of nights was Sharpham Outdoors, part of the Sharpham Trust – an estate a couple miles south of Totnes on the river Dart. I know the site well but even so the view down the river is still worth a gawp!
We were kindly put up by Sharpham Outdoors. On the way was the best welcome – a rare glimpse of what looked to me a lot like a Barn Owl. It was very distant, but I had a hunch. Next morning we rolled out the same drive and was so lucky to see it again, this time a touch closer and with better light. I had my camera handy and, whilst it won’t win any wildlife photography competitions, I’m happy! A great welcome and farewell. Although Sharpham lies within the South Devon AONB, our location was a little further down the Dart and Dittisham Ham. After a short while we saw a sign saying 3 miles to Dittisham. A short ride, I thought. I had forgot that the very hills that make the South Devon a great landscape are sharp and steep – a real challenge with our trailers. The downhills were enjoyable, but very hard on the brakes! Now and again the road would treat us to views down the many creeks that join the Dart.
We set up in Dittisham and set up on the Ham, a large green nearby the village with a great, wide view of the river. It was high tide, and once the camera set up we were able to watch it recede through our time there.
We found the locals so so friendly and all seemed intrigued and eager to step inside. We had a really great mix of villagers and visitors all keen to see the camera working. They had lots of fun playing with the camera, trying to chase the seagulls on the focus screen and tilting it this way and that to distort the image of whoever was standing outside. I really value all the conversations that the project has sparked – we have met so many great characters along the way, many with kind and encouraging words regarding the project, and many with personal reflections on cycling or photography, or both. It seems they are two things that so many people can enjoy and have enjoyed at some point, and they look back really fondly.
I could have stayed much much longer, but we had to pack away a little early as we had a long ride ahead – we were riding to my home in Exmouth for a couple days before our next venue in Exeter. We packed it all up and went to the Dittisham to Greenway Ferry – struggling with the trailers to get them onto the jetty, but we managed. When the boat came, we commandeered the boat completely – our bikes, trailers and ourselves taking up all the room. The ferryman vowed to return for the others waiting in line – we apologised! During the crossing, the friendly ferryman asked just how far we were travelling – ‘Exeter?! That takes ‘least an hour in the car – if you go to Paington there’s a train right there!’. As we unloaded our gear, I could hear him telling his next passengers about our journey ahead. On the other side we bumped into some people who we had shot portraits of that morning, and they gave us a cheer on the slow climb out of the valley and wished us good luck. It crossed my mind that a future project could be the Pinhole Paddlers! Take a boat down these beautiful valleys and scoot along the coast.. at least there would no hills!! Maybe next year..
Our route took us right through Torbay – the lanes of traffic and many roundabouts made it feel like a buzzing metropolis after nearly two weeks of country lanes! We were glad to pull through Torbay and started to head further along the coast, aiming for the bridge at Teignmouth. The climb out of Torbay was really relentless – after the hills in the morning and a day photographing I was starting to feel perhaps the train wasn’t such a bad idea! We pushed on though, pulling over along the narrow roads to allow the traffic to pass, and to scoff down mouthfuls of dried fruit and nuts. All the time we were climbing I knew we had all this height to lose once we reached the Teign bridge.. and a fast, long descent soon signalled the end of the steep hills.. for now!
We rolled into Dawlish and were starting to flag but luckily it is the perfect spot for a big bag of chips on the beach!
Our route then took us along the fantastic cycle route from Dawlish to Exeter – I had been looking forward to this section, the miles just roll by and navigation is super simple. We then picked up the paths to Exmouth, a painless journey even with our trailers. We rolled in at night, packed the trailers inside and collapsed. A good day!