Chiltern Landscapes is being rather successful, and has already changed the way that I view my life because people have given me much greater belief in my photography, saying that they love the book and the images therein and, of course, they are buying it. So I am looking ahead and starting to plan for another book in a similar mold. Of course, over the years I have collected a lot of good images of the Chilterns because I live next to them and visit them often, but the further afield the location, the more planning and expense will be involved.
So I am starting some research and collecting images of two nearby areas: the North Downs and the Cotswolds, which may be too well catered for already. I know the North Downs, having gone there a lot as a boy scout, camping and hiking, and in my teens took girls there on dates and on Sundays went orienteering. So I took advantage of the bright blue sky on the Tuesday after Easter and drove to Dorking. This is a pleasant country town on an ancient cross-roads, where the route west from the Kent cost to Guildford and beyond crosses a main route from the south coast to London where the River Mole cuts through the North Downs ridge. I’d forgotten about the traffic in these busy Surrey towns, so wasted some of that glittering morning sitting in a slow moving car, but when I parked I had the whole afternoon to explore the area and make a start.
Dorking has ancient roots, and the large church with it’s tall tapering spire, dates back over one thousand years. It’s a rather imposing on the outside, but pleasant on the inside with lots of stained glass and murals on the walls. Unusually it is shared by the Anglicans and Methodists, so keeps busy.
The town centre still retains it’s character, but I walked through suburbia that could have been anywhere on the way out to the woods and fields. The footpath took me up through a bit of wood, then opened out to a huge….. vineyard! This is Denbies wine estate which is the largest in England and one of the first successful vineyards to be established in the country in the modern era: however, apparently there was a vineyard near here in Roman times, two thousand years ago! These days, English sparking wines win major international wine competitions, and sell for very good prices. There are fine views across the vineyard to Box Hill, with little trains trundling along the railway towards London.
I stopped in the large busy visitor centre to see what books on the Downs are already available, then through the village of Westhumble and down to the valley floor where I crossed under the busy main road, and over the River Mole. This winds from near Gatwick, through Surrey until it joins the Thames close to Hampton Court, but here, it has carved out the steep southern and western scarps of Box Hill, lending it a box-like appearance. A well used path climbs steeply up the chalk hillside from the Burford Bridge Hotel where over the years countless motor cycle clubs have stopped for break in their outing. As you climb, there are great views over the valleys and West towards Ranmore Common, and the ‘Zig-zag Road’ comes into view that took the Olympic long distance cyclists steeply up this hill.
At the top is a famous viewpoint from which you can see the whole of Dorking town, and the view over Surrey stretches to the South Downs, thirty miles away. Groups of people were picnicking or just enjoying the sun, as I have done many times in my earlier life. Normally at this time of year, there would be buds on the trees, and grasses and wildflowers would be bursting with new growth: in fact, last year, spring was early after a warm dry March. This year, it has been very very cold since December, and it seems that nature has not yet started to move, so the trees remain bear and dark, and the land is pale in the brilliant sunshine. I will have to come back when things are more advanced, and there is colour to photograph.
So will this turn into a real project and a book? Watch this space to find out.