Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Shoot Story - Doncaster

I never thought I'd see the day when I'd say - "I had a great time doing a photo shoot in Doncaster". But d'you know what, I enjoyed it!

The photo shoot for the "Up the Don" Cycling Active Escape feature was done shortly before I left the UK to start my job in Milan, so it needed to be done crisply and efficiently as I was short on time and had a lot of things to wrap up before leaving London.

While on my way to Hull I stopped off at Doncaster and thought I'd check out the route between connecting trains. By having the route nailed it was helpful for Higg the photographer for when we returned there to do the actual shoot the following day. It was a nice day for it. Considering it was February we were grateful for this small mercy in the north of England at that time of year!

I must say, everyone goes on about Donny being not up to much, but really there's quite a bit going on there. Stepping out of the station the shopping centre looked lively with its high street shops. Once you look beyond the numerous pawn brokers, pound shops and push chairs it's a town centre like any other!

Getting away from it all to countryside was surprisingly easy. I rode to a place called Bentley and within 3 miles of the town centre we was on the Trans Pennine Trail - a long distance cycle trail that runs from Hornsea to Stockport and passes through South Yorkshire. This trail formed a large part of the feature for Cycling Active.

The funny thing about doing a recon of a route is that when I do them I ride along and I record verbal notes that will help with my write-up. This means that I ride at a slow pace.

It was a little embarrassing when Yorkhire folks, who naturally like to stop and chat, asked me if I was riding the full Trans Pennine Trail. And laden with all my panniers for a weekend away, I replied that I was going to Conisbrough - just 5 miles away!

The following morning Higg and I returned to the Trans Pennine Trail beside the River Don to do the shoot.

As it was another sunny day there were lots of local cyclists out, many on mountain bikes. A group of riders appearing to recognise us said - "Are you guys from Cycling Weekly?" We replied yes - or at least its sister publication. "Aye, I recognise you, I've seen your photos." Wow, how I was flattered to be known in Doncaster!

Later on, while Higg was taking photos of the sign boards some non-cycling locals chuckled at us. "By heck, how sad is that taking photos of sign boards!"

Sprotborough Lock proved to be a rather busy area to photograph as lots of families were out walking with their children and their dogs. The canal path was narrow and people were happy to give way to me as I was being photographed riding up and down, but they did get somewhat bemused when I was being repeatedly photographed on different sections, which to them just seemed to be "the same as the last place!" I guess it's only the photographer who sees those subtle differences!

At Conisbrough Viaduct the path rose up very steeply, and many locals riding up it struggled to make it up the slope in the saddle. I too had been reduced to walking up it when I had all my luggage with me in my panniers. But on shoot day with my un-laden bike I was able to ride up the 15% climb. The trick was to ride gracefully and not look like it was a difficult task for me. Not only did I have to do this for the sake of producing a decent photo, but I also wanted to keep my dignity in front of the curious passers by watching to see if I was a proper cyclist! Thankfully I passed the test.

South Yorkshire has been associated with industry and the coal mines for so many years that that's the image that is conjured up in my mind. However, mining has been all but finished since the late 80s and in fact the landscape has since been given an extensive makeover.

That was what I found to be a pleasant surprise during our travels. We went through Bentley, Sprotbrough, Conisbrough (which was also pretty hilly), Cadeby, High Melton and Cusworth. Along our way we passed through nature reserves, woodland, farmers' fields and a small country park, as well as Cusworth Hall - an impressive looking mansion. It was a fun day out and judging by the photos in the magazine feature I'd say we could have done a lot worse than go to Doncaster for a photoshoot!

photos by Higg


One Day One Photo - 30

Sunday 30th September

Of course, you can't go to Dublin with out tasting a bit of the old Liffey water, and you can't go to Dublin without going to Temple Bar. Even though it is the most uber touristic parts of Ireland, I still like the atmosphere around the cobble streets and traditional (ish) pubs in this part of Dublin.

We were also there to see a play as part of Dublin Theatre Festival. The play was very off-beat, but then again this area is a little arty so it should not have been a great surprise.

We didn't actually go into this pub, as we were celebrating the birthday of Higg's niece. As she was only 1 year old she was a bit young to be having a tipple! We went to a restaurant opposite instead.

Still, it was a fun afternoon out, and a nice way to spend time in Dublin.

One Day One Photo - 29

Saturday 29th September

As I was having another weekend away in which I wouldn't be able to ride my bike or do any significant amount of sport I decided to make the most of the walking opportunities that presented themselves.

Since we were in the Wicklow mountains it would have been remiss of us not to stop and walk around Glendalough, a glacial valley in County Wicklow. Although it was getting late in the day when we arrived there Higg and I still chose to do one of the many walking routes made available. We chose the blue route, which consisted of almost 2 miles of uphill around an area called the Spinc, followed by a mile back downhill to reach the lake.

I quite enjoyed the route as it was varied. Starting from the lake, we climbed up past a waterfall, and then continued through woodland.

The path consisted of what must have been thousands of wooden steps that continued upwards unrelentlessly, until the landscape opened out about two thirds of the way from the summit. I can't believe people actually would have laboured to put all these steps in. The wooden steps even had various nails and meshing over them to stop them from becoming slippery in the wet. Very considerate of them!
At the summit we could see the lake and the carpark, 250m below us, where we had started! Breathtaking views.

Luckily we managed to get across the exposed area just as the rain and the wind took over and we were able to duck back into the shelter of the woods to return to the start. It had been a brisk, if hilly 5km, but for me it had done the trick of giving me a little work-out. So I didn't feel too bad about tucking into fish and chips later that evening!

One Day One Photo - 28

Friday 28th September

If you want to see a Japanese garden, don't go to Tokyo, go to Wicklow!

The Wicklow Mountains, to the south of Dublin are a beautiful area to go walking and generally taking a trip out to the great outdoors. You can imagine with all the rainfall that Ireland gets it would be very green and lush. It is!

However, I hadn't expected to see this beautiful array of colour! This the Japanese Garden in Powerscourt House, near Enniskerry.

The stately home is famous for its gardens, the main section of which is modelled on those found at the Palace of Versailles, near Paris.

Higg and I took a trip to this place and visited the gardens, which are extensive and incorporate various sections.

The Japanese Garden was my favourite section - not just for the various rich colours, but also for its quaint location within the woods and its intricate pathways and hideaways that interspersed the gardens. It's like being in a mini maze, and you want to play hide and seek with your friends. Yes, it brought out the kid me!

One Day One Photo - 27

Thursday 27th September

Another week another flight! This time it's to Dublin. I go to Ireland regularly since that is Higg's homeland and his family are all pretty settled over there.

Being in Italy and returning to London each month, in between travelling to other places for work and pleasure has meant that I have not been able to go back to Ireland as much as I would normally. It was therefore good to be able to finally get across to the Emerald Isle.

And what made me quite happy about my journey too, was not having to fly with that Irish low cost airline with the blue and yellow logo!

When flying to Ireland, Aer Lingus are definitely my wings of choice. They got me there on time, the air hostesses and captain sounded cheerful, and when I arrived in the fair city I still felt pretty human!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

One Day One Photo - 26

Wednesday 26th September

The Milan Stictch'n'Bitch group was one of the first places that I went to when I first came to Milan. It had been a way of being among people doing an activity that I enjoy (the stitching rather than the bitching)! It was also a chance to speak Italian. The girls were a friendly bunch and I got to know a couple of people who I began to see outside of the knitting and crocheting sessions.

The thing is I haven't been to the group for a long time. On a number of occasions I was not in Milan so I had a good excuse. However, there have been times when I did not go even though I was around. The reason? Because I am rather embarrassed to go there bringing with me the same project that I had with me 6 months ago.

If I were crocheting a coat it would be reasonble that I still be working on it since March. However, I was just crocheting a beanie hat. Something that should only take a few days - a couple of weeks at most, during these busy times. A couple of the girls are so skilled that they would be able to do it all in one session.

I, on the other hand have just not had the time. Also I realise that I can't crochet and talk at the same time otherwise I lose my line when following the pattern. Since talking is easier than crocheting, the latter is what gets left behind and I end up sitting with the other knitters and crocheters chatting away while my project just becomes some kind of decorative prop, as opposed to a tangible project. I was therefore very happy to have spent a few hours working on my beanie today, and it is even beginning to look like something I could wear. I just need to crack on so that the next meeting I go to, I will have something new to show - and I might even be able to do a couple of stitches during the gossip session!

One Day One Photo - 25

Tuesday 25th September

Milan Fashion Week (Spring/Summer 2012 for women) came and went and I didn't see a thing of it. It lasted from 19th September until 25th, and most of that time I was in England. It was only when I returned to Milan that I noticed a red carpet around Via Dante, a road that leads from the Duomo to Castello Sforsezco. I also noticed some rather stylish looking women around the place. Style goes without saying in Milan, but the women I saw around the Duomo/Brera area looked uber-stylish, slyph-like with legs up to their chin. That had me guessing - also the fact that many of them were not not brunettes with olive complexioned skin also led me to believe that this international crowd were here for an event.

Apparently the main proceedings took place at the Castello Sforsezco - a large, 15th century castle that  houses a few museums, pretty gardens and a beautiful fountain. It would have been amazing to have seen a fashion show there.
I will just have to wait six months when they show next year's Autumn/Winter collection. In the meantime I will busy myself sprucing up my rather tired wardrobe. With a little luck, and a lot of je ne sais quoi I might even be able to look as stylish as this young lady who was spotted around Milan during Fashion Week.

Monday, 1 October 2012

One Day One Photo - 24

Monday 24th September

Famous last words. It's great flying with Easyjet. Then shortly after that I take a flight with my bike and when I open my bike bag at Milan-Linate airport I find that the derailleur has been ripped away from the frame!!

That was a real heartsink moment. I'd been looking forward to riding the bike, and thinking about all the places I could try and ride it. Then in a moment of carelessness by airport staff, those hopes are dashed.

To be fair, the staff at the airport gave me a form to fill out and provided as much assistance and information as possible regarding the procedure. It is down to Easyjet's discretion what they do. But the guys at the desk allowed me to fill out a damage report with as much info as possible in order to help my case.

Getting across Milan was a pain though, as I thought I would chance things by going to Decathlon on spec en route to my flat to get it repaired. Their place was so full of bikes that they said I would need to wait at least 3 days before I could check in my bike for repairs. So I then had to traipse the thing up to my flat on the 6th floor by way of a tiny lift, that is not designed for carrying larger items.

I now have to find a bike shop in Milan that will be able to fix my derailleur and get the job done to a decent standard, reasonably soon, and all the service with a smile. That may be easier said than done.....

One Day One Photo - 23

Sunday 23rd September

Being a wuss and not wanting to get too muddy on my first cross race of the season I decided to do an early ride on my cyclo cross bike in the countryside in the morning before the rain arrived later. I did not feel ready to go through the wind, rain and thick mud at Hog Hill during the London League race in the afternoon. Since I'd gotten my cycling out of the way early on in the day that left me free to relax in front of the telly crocheting while watching the men's road race championships.

I must admit I had rather forgotten about this event. With all the talk of getting a British man to win the Tour de France and the performance of the GB cyclists in the Olympics, the World Road Cycling Championships had fallen completely beneath my cycling radar. I was therefore glad to catch this race before the curtain went down on events.

Although it was very long - 272km, it was quite exciting viewing as reigning World Champion Mark Cavendish had already made it clear that he had no chance of winning, so this left the field wide open. Right up to the last kilometre it had been too close to call who would win. Then out of the blue, Philippe Gilbert put in a brazen attack on the last steep climb and made a dash for the line while the other contenders struggled to get themselves organised to pull him back. In the end the riders in the peloton had to battle for second, with Edvard Boassen Hagen winning that one, and Alejandro Valverde just making it onto the podium.

Congrats to Philippe Gilbert on the win. I saw him at the Tour de France last year. He was a likeable guy and a good sportsman - definitely someone who deserves to be in the rainbow jersey.

One Day One Photo - 22

Saturday 22nd September

When I am in London on a Saturday morning, my new ritual is to do the Parkrun. It is a 5km run that takes place in the park, and for me is  an ideal way to start my weekend. I burn off a few calories before piling on more on Saturday night. I can also track my progress and measure where I am in terms of my running fitness. I am not sure when the scheme started, but it has proven to be a great idea, and is a really good way of getting people into running. The runs take place in many parks up and down the country. The Parkrun website lists the locations of all the runs which are taking place, and you'll probably find there is a Parkrun happening near you. I do the one in Crystal Palace, near my flat. I have also done one in Hull, near where part of my family lives. Today, I did a new one - on Roundshaw Downs, the nearest one to Higg's place.
The great thing about this event was that it was completely off road. The bone dry surface made things easier to negotiate than if it had been muddy. Off-road is off-road though, so just like a Fiat 500 can't double as a 4 x 4, I found it quite a shock to the system going off road after spending so much time on tarmac.

I managed ok though, and was the first female vet finisher. (Who knows I might have been the only female vet in the race!) The weather is set to turn wet and muddy over the next few weeks. That is when this course will come into its own, and we will have more of a cross country race to run. In fact, the organiser even said I could bring spikes. I am tempted to bring studs or spikes the next time I do this race, though I need to make sure I can walk the walk once I line up wearing these. Many people who do the Parkruns are new to running, though there is also a smattering of amateur athletes too. The experienced runners will most definitely be in special mud adapted running shoes. Therefore if I want to join them on the startline I may need to get training! I guess there's no rule about how fast I should be running when wearing studs or spikes. I just have to hope I don't make an idiot of myself being completely unceremonially dropped by the old hands in the game!

One Day One Photo - 21

Friday 21st September

I am not sure if I have made a wise move here. I have entered two cyclo cross races in London. They are races that I have done before, and have had lots of fun in them when I did them in previous years. So it was only logical that I get my entry in for the Rollapaluza Muddy Hell Halloween night cyclo cross and also the Rapha Supercross race at Alexandra Palace. Like last year, these races will be on consecutive days (27th and 28th October).

In fact, there will be less than 24 hours between them since the Rollapaluza event will be on Saturday night, and the Supercross will be at lunchtime on Sunday. I enjoy riding cyclo cross, but I just don't know if while being in Milan I will be able to get in decent practice. The idea of doing these races with very little off-road practice is a scary thought.

Anyway, I have got my bike sorted, and I have my flights booked to go back to London that weekend. All I need now is to get in the training - the tricky bit. While I can get out on my road bike and put in the efforts, I think I will be harder pushed to find places in Milan to practice off-road riding. I have been told that there are a few trails around the Naviglio, though they will be flat.

For hilly off-road rides I will have to go to Milan's only hill - Monte Stellar. It's only a small man-made peak, made from rubble and ruin from World War II. It'll have to do, and since it is only about a mile long, I will just have to get used to riding up and down it umpteen times just to get in a decent training ride. As for practicing night riding, that'll be out of the question. I will just have to wing it on the night.

The Ally Pally race is pretty hardcore as well. For that, I will practice carrying my bike up the stairs to my flat on the 67th floor. Hopefully I will get through the weekend without shaming myself too much. At the moment, the throught of doing these races feels a little scary though!   

One Day One Photo - 20

Thursday 20th September

As I am stuck over in Italy and don't have the complete freedom to buy whatever UK magazine I like from the newsagents, I fall behind on the editions of Cycling Active. It's a shame that I don't get to see the magazine as soon as the latest editions come out, since I regularly write articles for the magazine!

My routine for writing articles tends to be a real hive of activity to cram in the photos for the ride stories while I am in the UK, and then write up the story while in Milan. Once that is done I forget the story and crack on with the next project. The sitting back and admiring my work stage of the process doesn't happen because I am not around when the editions come out, and I tend to lose track of which article is due to go into which edition. I just rely on others to tell me. Then when I return to the UK I try and catch up on the back issues and see how our final edited pieces look on the printed page. 

On this trip back to London I managed to see the ride story feature I did on cycling around the Doncaster area. The photos for this were done about 6 months ago, just before I came to live in Milan. It all seems a distant memory now, but seeing the photos reminds me of what a lovely sunny day it had been, even though it was mid February. I also admire Higg's camera work, and how he managed to make a rather ordinary looking place look quite appealing.
I understand that the feature we did on cycling around Como is out in a few days. I look forward to seeing that article - some time at the end of October!