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Tenby from St. Catherine's Island

Tenby from St. Catherine’s Island

This recent fine spell of weather has seen me rushing from one corner of Wales to another. The south-east for peregrines (see previous post), the north west for more peregrines , and earlier this week the south west. I ended up feeling like a headless chicken with the law of diminishing returns becoming more and more operative!

My last trip was to Tenby. I am about to put in my summer order for postcards and was hoping to include one new design of the town, surely one of the loveliest in Britain. After many years of inaccessibility the island of St. Catherines (just off Tenby)  is now open to visitors, and I guessed that it would provide a novel viewpoint. Looking at the OS map and consulting the local tide tables suggested that late afternoon on Tuesday would be the ideal time to visit. It would be low tide, ensuring that the widest expanse of sandy beach would be uncovered. My angle of vision across to Tenby would be exactly at right-angles to the sun’s rays, such that a polarising filter would be at its most effective. And the weather! Perfect!

I handed over my £3.50 and climbed the steps up to the island. A “tour guide” said it would be absolutely fine to do some photography while I waited for him to return with his next group. I scrambled up a low rocky slope to get a better viewpoint and set up my tripod. I had taken just one image when I heard a voice bellowing at me. “Oi….what are you doing up there?…this is absolutely ridiculous….get down from there immediately….what if you fell down the cliff?….. what if someone followed you and fell down the cliff?…..what if a child fell down the cliff?….. what if someone on the mainland sees you and reports it to the Council? It went on and on. He slowly calmed down and told me that he was the new owner and I could be putting at risk his £2 million investment. I apologised for not noticing the “keep to the path” signs and inadvertently finding myself beyond the railings (I suppose you don’t see what you don’t want to see…..), and returned to the beach. As far as the owner is concerned, I last saw him up to his knees in seawater, apparently berating an angler who had clambered across the rocks at the base of “his island”. I fear a heart attack awaits him…….

The following day, after some early morning photography around Tenby in sparkling conditions yet again, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. The sun quickly rises too high for landscape photography in mid-summer, and you don’t get much closer to mid-summer than this. But cloud was developing and spreading and I decide to head for the Elegug Stacks (Stack Rocks) on the Castlemartin peninsula, about 15 miles away. These conditions (cloudy but bright) would be ideal for photographing the seabird colony there. About a mile short of my destination, however, signs told me that the road was closed. Live firing was taking place on the Castlemartin tank ranges. The Stacks would be inaccessible until 5pm, and possibly later. Curses……

As I turned back I remembered that the Bosherston Lily Ponds, owned by the National Trust, were only a few miles away. Perhaps they would be worth a visit? While I am a supporter in various ways of several conservation organisations, I’m afraid to say that the National Trust is not among them. Suffice to say that I believe their car park charges for non-members are extortionate. The National Trust car-parks around Bosherston all charge £5 per vehicle, but I knew an unofficial one, probably mainly used by local people, which was free of charge, so I headed for it. It was too late. It now cost £5 to park there as well, even on the unmade approach road. I wonder how locals feel when suddenly they are required to fork out a significant sum of money when they bring the dog down for a walk, for example? The National Trust owns SO many of our treasured landscapes, especially around the coast. Many are inaccessible except by car and unless you are a member you have to pay through the nose to visit them. So much for holding land “on behalf of the nation……..”

Anyway, I digress. I parked nearby on the grass verge of a public road and walked a short distance down to the nearest pool. Here I discovered that, inadvertently or otherwise, the original owners of the estate had created a “mirror pool” similar to those built by bird photographers to take images of birds and their reflections. By dropping down a few feet below the dam I could get the water surface very close to eye level. I set up my long lens on the tripod and began photographing the dancing clouds of blue damselflies which were egg-laying into submerged vegetation in the pool. It was a gorgeous sight, albeit set to a soundtrack of explosions and machine gun fire from the Range a couple of miles away.

Postscript: The one image I did manage on St Catherine’s (see above)  is fine for a postcard. While things did not turn out as I hoped, the planning I did for this shot was enough to ensure success. Even with more time I doubt I could have done better.

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About Jeremy Moore

One of Wales' leading photographers; based near Aberystwyth, and specialising in Welsh landscape and wildlife. He has published the Wild Wales / Cymru Wyllt range of postcards since 1987. His most recent book was "Wales at Waters Edge" (with Jon Gower) published in May 2012. The National Library of Wales has a large number of his prints in its Collection. His exhibition "Bird/land" was shown at Aberystwyth Arts Centre from June until August 2016. It originally received support from the Arts Council of Wales. He is also working on a new book about Wales with the author Jon Gower, due for publication in spring 2018.
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