The End of Summer - Devon & The Isle of Wight.
Ah, the October break. Usually a time of hiding in cafe's (or if lucky, the pub) and escaping icy winds with some caged up kids.
But not this year. Our never-ending summer seemed to be hanging on in there for a last gasp harrah, which coincided nicely with an exciting two-centre trip to dear old Devon (much pictured around these Toggle parts) followed up with a short two day stop over on the Isle of Wight to round off proceedings.
"I've packed the wrong gear and I'm over-dressed."
These were basically my thoughts whilst walking along Exmouth beach in the blazing sun with a heavy coat. I wasn't alone. Full British autumn clothing confusion was alive and well on the south Devon coast.
Beyond all the sweating (and slight jealousy) at those wearing shorts or even some alarming budgie smugglers, there was great photography to be had with tons of dogs darting around in the crisp light.
Before our first seaside trip of the break, we'd popped in Exeter, which continues its slow transformation into being a really quite trendy little city. Due to all the glorious sunshine, the punters and buskers were out allowing for a quick bit of street work (Zeiss 85mm ahoy!). Was particularly impressed with two kids with full drum kits on the high street.
Day two and with extra family in tow, we made the trip to Budleigh Salterton with its row of beach houses and ice-cream opportunities. It's always windy in Budleigh, so the kites were out along with the exciting addition of a mysterious steel tube on the beach. I'm not sure if it was from a ship or perhaps some sort of Elon Musk space project, but it delighted Shortround and allowed me to get some 'down the tunnel' shots.
Lyme Regis is always a tourist draw down that way but it had been a while since we'd been. A stroll around the Cobb meant I got to grab lots of silhouette/sea/looking off into the distance style images before some salty fish and chips called.
Our final day before we headed off involved a trip to Powderham Castle, overlooking the Exe estuary and longtime home of the much royally connected Courtenay family.
As it's not been gobbled up by the National Trust (yet), it was really interesting to have a tour around a still proper lived in stately home. Unfortunately, due to all this, they're not too keen on camera's, so it was outside shots only. Still, it's a pretty impressive building with buckets of history, but I'm suspecting said buckets get used quite a lot in the winter for all the leaks.
Powderham is only open a bit of the year (late March - late October) so if you fancy a look in - without your camera - then bear that in mind...
Top Toggling in North Devon:
+ Exmouth Beach
+ Lyme Regis (The Cobb)
+ Budleigh Salterton beach
The Isle of Wight.
I'd always to considered the IOW to be somewhat of an anomaly and it had only registered in my head in association to sailing, the rock festival and the flying thumbs of local bass funk-meister Mark King of Level 42.
However, the off chance to visit at the end of half term to do a little work meant a chance for us to explore the island for the first time.
I'd heard the oft-used saying of 'Oh, it's like England in the 1970's' (what - three days weeks, strikes and flares?) before but there's a kernel of truth in that. It's not so fast-paced as the mainland and there appears to be less Costa-facation of the high streets, but you certainly don't feel like you've entered the Tardis.
Our base on the island was in Ryde with its exciting pier (it's got a bloody train on it!) and chip shops with proclamations of 'We'll batter anything'. Ryde is also where the hovercraft comes ashore and from our house you could hear it going in and out.
We really liked Ryde. It's like a much smaller, really chilled out Brighton but a bit less trendy. Less could be said about Sandown - which we visited on the way - which has the feel of Royston Vasey twinned with Southend. Not recommended really, but hey, it had a pier!
Also sporting one (there's a theme here...) was Yarmouth where we headed on our second day. Notwithstanding the opportunities to indulge in endless central disappearing lines of sight style Kubrick shots, Yarmouth was one of the finds of the break with a lovely harbour, cute houses and views over the Solent. It's got an almost New England feel to the place.
After a brew in The Gossips Cafe with its wonderful waterside views, we pushed on to the main event of the day - The Needles.
British types will be more than aware of the famous landmark of jutting headland with a tiny - now unmanned - red and white lighthouse on the end. What you might not know is the history of the place. Now looked after by the National Trust, the Needles Battery is packed with it.
Built around 1860, it was designed to defend against enemy ships coming down the Solent. It's since been used in both World Wars and is chock full of memorabilia, and rooms and rooms of information, cannons (!) plus little walkways going to openings to the sea. My favourite part was the really rather splendid tea rooms with staff in 40's gear and spectacular views across the Needles themselves. Binoculars were included too!
The other element of the Battery was somewhat of a secret - a smaller site (up a rather windy walk) was the New Battery used to secretly test British space rockets between the 1950's and 1970's before they were shipped off to Australia to be launched. Yes, we really did have a space project.
After a few blustery hours, we got blown down the hill and continued on our tour of the island (I'd made it my mission to circumnavigate it in one day, which is pretty easy to do, to be honest).
We popped briefly to take in the view at Compton Beach - which reminded us of some of the scenery on Australia's Great Ocean Road - and then drove through Shanklin and Ventnor, but not before we had a walk down to St. Catherine's lighthouse to enjoy the last autumn rays.
Our so to our last day in the IOW, and before boarding our exciting Red Funnel ferry home (the actual same boat which had moored itself and taken out a yacht in the fog a few days previously), we popped into Osbourne.
Osbourne is famous mainly for one thing - Queen Victoria - and the estate which is now run by English Heritage is a celebration of all things Queen Vic.
Perhaps I'd been treated a little too much by the excellent storytelling and history of the Needles the day before, or perhaps I'd been expecting something different, but I found Osbourne a little disappointing. Whilst the house is impressive from an architectural perspective, it feels a little run down and tired plus somewhat dark, which isn't ideal from a photography point of view.
On the other hand, the grounds are splendid and there's a lovely walk down to the Solent via the Queen's Swiss Cottage where the children played, and a few of the rooms in the main house - especially the Durbar Room designed by Lockwood Kipling - are impressive.
Obviously, if you're into royalty (disclaimer - I'm really not that much) Osbourne is fascinating, but that's the problem with it - the assumption is that you're mad keen on the Victoria story and you're already on board when you arrive, but if not it's hard to get engaged with what appears to be a massive amount of gilt, gold and privilege. I'd recommend a storytelling reboot.
So, the Isle of Wight. It's an oddity. You can be driving around and one minute it feels like you're in Australia or New Zealand and the next Northumberland or Bath or Hampshire, but all in a tiny island you can traverse in an hour or two. It's a really interesting little place and I was more keen to go back than I thought I would be. From a photography point of view, the inevitable highlights were the coast, but I'd love to go back in June or July as I think some parts would come to life from a street photography angle.
But as we left a cold front hit the UK and finally it's the end of that endless summer, so that - for now - will have to wait...
Top Toggling in The Isle of Wight:
+ Ryde Pier
+ The Needles National Trust
+ Compton Beach
Sony A7R ii
Zeiss Batis 85mm and 25mm
Sony Zeiss 55mm
Sony Zeiss 35mm