Writing

I’ve been writing for at least as long as I’ve been taking photos – in fact, probably longer. The fact that my professional career got under way on the photographic side first is more a matter of luck than anything else, but since then I’ve won awards and commendation for my writing as well as my photography. My output ranges from  evocative personal accounts of  travel and outdoor activities to precisely-crafted guidebooks for walkers, climbers and cyclists, as well as technical writing about photography and cameras. I always strive to make this as lucid and accessible as possible.

Naturally I’m used to delivering words and pictures as a single package – and making sure that they complement each other. 

This page contains a few select examples of published work, drawn from all of these specialist areas. For more about the books I've published take a look at my Amazon.co.uk pageMy 'Exploring Arthur Ransome’s Lake District' is now available as an e-book, and now so is the story of my experiences mountain biking in New Zealand.

All the work here is copyright and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission. 

 

Eiger Trails and Eiger Tales

(published in The Great Outdoors)

A single boulder cartwheels cacophonously down the screes. Just above us and perhaps 30 metres ahead, it explodes in fragments, a couple of them easily as large as my well-stuffed rucksack. One strikes the path in front of us, leaving a dark crater. It’s just the Eiger’s North Face saying hello.

 

Cami de Cavalls, Menorca

(published in Cycle)

Sometimes you have to make a decision.

Sitrep: We’re huddled in the meagre shade of a signboard by a deserted beach at Binimel-la on Menorca’s north coast. We’ve already drunk half our water. 

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Leapers and Creepers

(published in Privateer and winner of the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild Award for Excellence for Words and Pictures 2012)

"These guys are legends."

It's just an overheard remark, but it tells me I'm in the right place at the right time, and above all with the right people.

The place: Taupo, New Zealand; the time: the day of the Contact Taupo Cycle Challenge (more of that later); the people: I'm here to meet the Kennett Brothers. Or at least, as it's turned out, two of them.

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Walking Snowdonia

(commissioned brochure copy for Snowdonia Mountains and Coast

This is a tale of two steam trains. You thought it was the story of climbing a mountain, and it’s that too; but this is a mountain like no other in Britain, and the trains have a lot to do with it. Even if you don’t ride them, they’re part of the backdrop, parts of the sights and sounds and smells that make this mountain one of a kind.

This mountain is, of course, Snowdon (never Mount Snowdon, please); its Welsh name is Yr Wyddfa. As the highest peak in Wales (and England too), it’s got a lot more going for it than just the trains. And it’s not just the highest, but one of the best; there are many who’d say it’s the best.

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On the Beaten Track

(published in Cycle and Winner of the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild Award for Excellence for Feature Writing 2011)

There’s a little trail I love, traversing above the Hodder valley in the Forest of Bowland. It’s not famous, doesn’t link all that easily with other trails to create a long ride, and I’ve hardly ever met another mountain bike on it. But something's happened. In the last couple of years some sections have gone from mostly grassy to mostly stony. They’re still mostly rideable but, for me, a little of the charm has been lost. 

The thing is, when trails become eroded, mountain bikers often get the blame. Naturally I wonder about this. Is it fair? Having ridden this trail several times myself, am I partly responsible? What are the facts?

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Walking the World’s Natural Wonders – Introduction

(book published by New Holland (UK) Ltd, 2008

The world is full of inspiring places, and there is no better way to experience them than on foot. Walking is the most natural, the most primeval way of getting about. Walking takes us into a landscape, while other modes of transport detach us from it. Walking pace allows the world to unfold and reveal itself. And walking allows all the senses to engage. You can drive to the rim of the Grand Canyon, and be impressed, but to hike through it, to feel the temperature change as you descend, to see that silver thread turn into a raging river, is to gain an altogether deeper sense of its true scale and complexity.

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Walking photography

(published in Outdoor Enthusiast)

The walker’s experience is a rich one, for many reasons: not just about the activity itself but the people we share it with, the places we get to, and the things we see. Which rather suggests that a walking photographer is also a portrait photographer, a landscape photographer, maybe a wildlife photographer, and more besides.

To be a versatile photographer, you may need a versatile camera. But we’ll turn the customary order on its head and leave all thoughts of gear to the end. Let’s think about walking and what sort of images we may want to capture. The usual – and usually posed – ‘enjoying the view’ shots are fine, but walking is about more than this; it’s about being in the landscape, moving through it, engaging with it. And what this means to me is that walking photography isn’t just something to dip into at summits and other rest stops.

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Freewheelin’ Mallorca

(published in Outdoor Enthusiast and Highly Commended in OWG Awards for Excellence for Feature Writing 2006)

There’s a bar in Santa Ponsa that shows all the British soaps, right down to Hollyoaks. If you want fish and chips, bubble and squeak, or John Smith’s, you can find it. It even rains occasionally, to make us feel right at home. But Mallorca (Majorca, if you prefer, but either way pronounce it with a ‘y’ sound) is a substantial island, largest of the Balearics, roughly 100 km by 80. It certainly does cater for the sunburn-and-sangria crowd, but only a small percentage of its coastline is encrusted with tourist tat, still less the interior. It also attracts many visitors with more active ideas of a good time, like walkers and climbers and, in particular, it has become big news with cyclists...

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The Digital SLR Handbook – Introduction

(published by Ammonite Press)

The other day I took a long hard look at the digital SLR in my hands; it happened to be a Nikon D90, a good mid-range camera and not by any means the most complex. Here’s what I found:

9 control buttons on the back of the camera; 4 buttons on the top plus a Mode Dial (with 11 possible positions); 4 more buttons on front plus a focus mode selector (there are 7 different focusing modes altogether, including manual and Live View options). There’s also a choice of 11 focus points). Then there are two command dials, main and sub, with various functions on their own and at least 11 when used in conjunction with other buttons.

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Arthur Ransome’s Lake District – Introduction

Now available as an iBook.

I can vividly remember the first time I read Swallows and Amazons. I must have been about nine and I’d been dragged along to a wedding. To stop me expiring from boredom during the speeches, dancing and so on, my mother handed me a paperback. I sat in a corner out of the way and was quickly lost in a world that was at once familiar and utterly new. 

I recognised that the setting was the Lake District, which I already knew, but through Swallows and Amazons I saw it in new ways. I had never sailed, or camped on an island, or hunted for pirate treasure. The landscape I knew was transformed because the children in the story did all these things, and it was transformed further through their imagination, which made the lake into an ocean, oak-woods into jungle, Coniston Old Man into a Himalayan giant.

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Outdoor Photography – Speed and technique

(excerpt from chapter 7, Wheel Sports) (book written in collaboration with Chiz Dakin and published by Cicerone Press, 2011)

How do you represent movement in a still image? Obviously, a prime factor is the speed of the movement. However, speed is relative rather than absolute. With cycling photography the subject is relatively small and we are often shooting from close to. This means that, even at non-racing speeds, they move rapidly across the field of view. 

That’s if you keep the camera still, of course: however, if you move the camera to follow the rider, keeping them centred in the viewfinder can still be tricky. Riders moving directly towards or away from the camera are easier to keep in frame; you could say that their relative speed is slower. 

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Hike and Bike Bowland – Introduction

(published by Grey Stone Books, 2011)

Bowland is connoisseur’s country. On first impressions, it’s long heathery ridges wrapped around green valleys, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s wide horizons and tight-knit villages. It’s easy striding on a grassy ridge with paragliders wheeling past like giant exotic moths. It’s a flounder through knee-deep snow to get a sunset view, and then the electrifying realisation that those razor-sharp outlines are the Carneddau, 120km distant. It’s lying back on a warm rock and listening to the bubbling call of the curlew. It’s the pleasure of the unexpected: a mossy green clough incised into the edge of a wide dark moor, a wrinkled fist of gritstone suddenly appearing from the endless heather, a hare rocketing from cover a few metres away. It’s an easy amble through meadows glowing with buttercups and a white-knuckle ride on the rocky mountain bike trails of Gisburn Forest.

Let the hordes scurry past to the Lakes and Dales; we know there’s plenty of pleasure to be found right here. In the absence of the hordes, the pleasure of solitude is one of the chief delights. Apart from a few hotspots–and even those mostly at weekends–Bowland remains relatively quiet. I have often walked for hours without seeing another soul. If you want crowds, you’ve come to the wrong place.

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Traveller’s Baltic Cruising – Introduction

(published by Thomas Cook, 2009; 2nd edition 2011)

The Baltic is only just a sea. It could easily be the world’s largest lake. Its salinity is low, the tides are barely perceptible, and it’s almost completely land-locked. In fact you could, if you wanted to, drive right round it without ever boarding a ferry. But in order to truly appreciate a region like the Baltic, where water has been the main highway for millennia, the traveller must put to sea.

Cruising is not just a fine way to see the region; it is arguably the only way. Nine countries have a Baltic shoreline: Poland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and it’s no coincidence that five of them have their capitals on the Baltic too. Certainly there is no better, more fitting, way to arrive in Stockholm or Helsinki or Tallinn than by sea. Norway is included in this guide as well; though it is not strictly a Baltic nation, many cruises visit there as part of the Baltic cruise experience. Cruising, above all, reminds us that these nations are not separated by the waters of the Baltic, but joined.

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The Karhunkierros Trail

(also from Walking the World’s Natural Wonders)

Finland stakes a fair claim to being the world’s most northerly nation, with a quarter of its territory north of the Arctic Circle. Winters are long and dark, relieved by the unearthly brilliance of the Northern Lights, but summer days are endless. Finland’s northern regions are thinly-populated yet well-serviced and accessible, and the Finns know more than most about making themselves comfortable whatever the conditions. In the vast northern spaces, wolves still prey on the reindeer herds.

One of Finland’s most popular hiking trails is the Karhunkierros, or Bear’s Trail. This runs for most of its 80km length through Oulanka National Park, which exemplifies the northern landscape of forest, crag and waterfall. Brown bears still forage in the deeper recesses. Summers explode into flower and autumn is rich with berries and fungi; thanks to ‘Every Man’s Right’ (Finnish: Jokamiehenoikeus) these can be freely picked.

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