It was 1991 and the world had just seen the end of the first Gulf War and the political maps of the globe was being rewritten,the 1980’s were now a distant memory and the future and the unknown beckoned.I was 20 years of age and had been fully enjoying one of the best periods that teenagers have,that wonderful time between working in any meaningful career and being tied down by any commitments and with just enough cash in your pocket to set off on shoestring expeditions to wherever caught your eye on the world map.I had a few years previously set off on a backpacking trip to Morocco that had taken me traveling by train and rickety bus across Europe and into the African continent by ferry and on a circular route that took me to cities with fabled and exotic names, Fez,Ouarzazate,Tangiers,Marrakech.
The trip took me into the Sahara on the back of a camel and gave me many great experiences of world travel along the way.
I was bitten by wanderlust and there was no way of stopping me.It was simply a matter of putting together a small amount of money and finding another destination worthy of heading off to,the more exotic the better and if it was harder to get to then even more so.
On this occasion I had set my target on Petra the legendary rose red city half as old as time.Such a fantastic place certainly fired up the imagination. I had spent the last few weeks traveling down the Nile from Cairo by train and had taken in many of the well trodden sights along the way.The Pyramids,Luxor and Abu Simbel among a few.
I had crossed the Sinai on a local bus and found myself at the coast port of Nuweiba.I had bought a ticket for passage to the Jordanian port of Aqaba on board a ferry full of migrational workers and was now heading towards my destination.On board I had been chatting with a few fellow Europeans,a German backpacker and a travelling artist who had more than a passing resemblance to the great Dutch artist Rembrandt.
The two were enthusiastically discussing their journey and Rembrandt was showing his remarkable sketches,collected over several weeks while traveling leisurely down the Nile.Rembrandt(as I will refer to him from now on) had been sketching both the locals and the remarkable Egyptian monuments along the way and had gathered a stunning portfolio of work.We were all and very much traveling on a shoestring and after several hours the ships horn announced our arrival at the port of Aqaba and we all joined the immigration line for entry to Jordan.After getting our visa stamped (and unbeknown to me our Egyptian Visa Cancelled) our German colleague made it clear he was going to spend the week in Aqaba and Rembrandt was heading to Petra like myself so we set off to find a guest house and split the costs.
Aqaba was a lively town,the evening was spent telling tales of our journeys and chatting with the friendly locals in french style cafe’s usually with the odd picture of Saddam Hussein on the wall.One shop owner had a well practiced tale to tell of his time working with Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif when they had filmed Lawrence of Arabia at the nearby Wadi Rum.I spent that night keeping a sharp eye on a mosquito on the roof and listening to the cockroaches clicking under the bed,comforted in the knowledge that the previous night in Nuweiba it had been 20 cockroaches living in my shower pan clicking a concerto all night and now it was only the one,luck me!
The next day we ate a french style breakfast of bread and cheese and tracked down a minibus driver who agreed to take us the Petra.At this time the were very few tourists in Aqaba as it was just after the Gulf War and there was still the climate of fear affecting the tourist industry.The locals were very glad for any trade they could drum up and we had the rickety old minibus to ourselves for a half decent barter. Rumbling into Petra late that evening after nightfall we found a small guest house with room and settled in for the evening.There was time for exploring in the morning.And even better no Cockroaches. With the abrupt awakening of soaring desert temperatures and a cockerel crowing next door I ate breakfast quickly and wandered outside.The excitement to view this fabled destination was at a peak.Men in colourful traditional garb were herding horses up and down in the small village road outside and it was very clear that this wasn’t going to be another tourist trap experience like Egypt where you have to fight off an army hustlers the moment you stagger out of your hotel.Here everyone was very laid back and seemed unbothered that you were a westerner.If they had something to sell you the Bedouin would ask you several times and let you be.It was going to be a great few days after several weeks in the land of the Pharaoh and not a papyrus scroll in sight!
It is no surprise that nobody had known the way to this legendary Nabatean city until it was found by a 27-year-old Swiss explorer called Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. Burckhardt’s great ambition was to discover the source of the River Niger. In England in 1809 he secured the backing of the Royal Society for a journey across the Sahara from Cairo. Burckhardt went to Cambridge to start learning Arabic so that he could pass himself off as a Muslim. On his way east, in Malta, he heard of a Dr Seetzen, who had set out from Egypt into Arabia in search of the lost city of Petra, but had been murdered and took up the challenge himself, only this time disguised as a local.While on his way south from Nazareth to Cairo,along with a group of traders and some sheep and goats.Local people were chatting about ruins in a narrow mountain valley a short distance off the road that passed through the desert.It was near the supposed tomb of Aaron the brother of Moses.Burckhardt disguised as an Arab explained that he wanted to make a sacrifice of a goat to Aaron and persuaded a local guide to take him to the ruins.On arrival he was awestruck at what he saw,but left in a hurry heading for Cairo fearing that his true identity may be discovered and that he would meet the same fate as Dr Seetzen. Every now and then as we headed down the desert track a tribal horseman would ride past us bidding us “Salaam!” as they rode past.We marvelled at the bizarre rock formations and the Obelisk Tomb as we passed it on our left.It was sensory overload and we most certainly were out of our comfort zone toto!
Looking around, and scanning the horizon the landscape was unlike any I had seen before,it was almost like the setting from a fantasy of science fiction epic.Vast rolling hills of epic proportions in the distance with a stunning spread of colours.I wouldn’t have been surprised if characters from Star Wars had pottered around in front of me,such was the alienation of the spectacle in front of me.Indeed Petra was chosen as the main film set in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and one can see why. Wandering down a dusty path we made our way down into the area that was originally the Grand Caravan trail into the city known as the Siq, a narrow canyon approximately 3/4 of a mile long that leads the traveller into the heart of the city of Petra.As we approached the Siq entrance, we notice an ancient dam on the left that had protected the ancient city from flash floods and enabled it to prosper.The Nabateans were masters of water control and this is what made the city work.The rock walls that lead this canyon into the city are literally scored with small water channels and cisterns that would have provided free flowing water here in the desert. Walking down this cobble stoned road over 2000 years old is one of those moments in life to relish.The excitement builds as the canyon winds and twists and slowly narrows and you notice carved offering alcoves to ancient Gods along the trail.
And then you see it…..!
Slowly but surely the light in the distance changes and the stunning facades of one of the most remarkable buildings in the ancient world opens up in front of you! The sight of the rose red Treasury building in Petra is simply priceless. There was not a sound at this time,no tourist buses and ipad waving tour groups that are the curse of modern day travel ,world events had made this destination very much off the beaten track and therefore not an option for the average package tourist at this time. We had it to ourselves.
Just two people standing there and connecting with an age old scene reaching across time and…… silence!
A short walk to the right of the treasury we wandered our way past the street of facades lined with tombs galore.The Treasury is but one of the amazing sights in the lost city and it would take days to fully explore the region.All along the surrounding mountains are thousands of tombs ranging from the common people to huge megalithic Royal Tomb structures giving a taste of how amazing this marvel of ancient civilisation must have been in its glory days. Established as long ago as the 300BC this town has seen a lot of history. The home of the Nabateans,an ancient Aramaic people that controlled much of the spice trade routes through the area and worshipped gods such as Dushara and al Uzza,faceless block gods that later became more human like as the Romans eventually dominated the region. Facing us was the splendour of an ancient amphitheatre carved out of the rock,surprisingly Roman in appearance but very much Nabatean.My companion,Rembrandt ,couldn’t help but fulfil one of his wishes and recite the poem by John Burgon,an ode to the ancient city.
It seems no work of Man’s creative hand,
by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
where erst Athena held her rites divine;
like many a minster fane,
that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,
match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city half as old as time.
John Burgon, 1845
Overwhelmed by the sights of that day we retired back to our hotel for food and drink and an evening of Chess a game much liked by the locals. The following day ,refreshed,I wandered alone along the ancient colonnade street ,a once grand spectacle now in ruins because of flash floods over the centuries this old high street even shows the old chariot tracks in its ancient cobbled road and reminds me of the ancient and tragic city of Pompeii. Rembrandt at this time was endeavouring to sketch the ancient ruins and I went canon EOS600 film camera in hand wandering alone in this ancient valley. Along the way a young girl and her little brother came out of what appeared to be a cave and showed me her herd of goats.We communicated as best we could and wandered on our way with a salute of “Salaam!”
Photographically the region holds a picture on every corner and I cannot over estimate how overwhelming it is with words alone,it truly has to be seen to be believed. Later that afternoon we clambered up the carved steps that led into the mountains and passed an old lady serving mint tea.heaven knows how she got there but after quite a climb her mint tea was very welcome.At the top of these rather precarious steps is another ancient wonder very much like the Petra treasury known as the Deir or Hermits Cell.From here you can also get splendid views into the nearby valley Wadi Araba. As we viewed the splendid structure a thunder storm rolled in out of nowhere and we took cover in the Hermits lair.
The following day I bid farewell to Rembrandt as he continued on his epic journey back to Europe through Damascus and Turkey sketching as he went.I was heading back to Cairo and back on the migrant boat.He sent me a postcard when he completed his journey.
I have travelled a lot working as a photojournalist over the years since then,however one thing that will always be fixed in my memory is that first sight of Petra that rose red city half as old as time.
Twenty years later while wandering around the Egyptian section of the British Museum I bumped into Rembrandt again by coincidence,still sketching Egyptian monuments in the main Egyptian hall.
Back in the 1970’s when I was a youngster I remember rushing excitedly to the local corner sweetshop to spend my pocket money on Hammer Horror movie bubblegum cards which at the time was all the rage.(http://wp.me/p1ZPuc-2Jx)
It gave a glimpse of risque movies that we were far to young to view and before the days of video and DVD, were not able to see anyhow except on the occasional late night black and white TV showings like “Dracula” and “Curse of the Werewolf”and “Quatermass and the pit”,which sent us running to the bedroom terrified.
Later as we grew up I watched with fascination as a TV series from the same film makers produced called the Hammer House of Horrors (http://www.hammerhouseofhorrortvseries.co.uk/) and looked forward to such horror instalments as “The House That Bled to Death” and”Guardian From The Abyss”.
Later in life I was lucky to meet Christopher Lee in the course of my work in Los Angeles and listened with fascination as this giant in the acting profession recalled prose from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, prior to his role in the film, during an interview in a Los Angeles hotel.
As the years passed I moved to London and rekindled my interest in filming that had taken place over the years.I became aware that many of the film locations from the classic films I had been a fan of were filmed in locations in the areas of Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and the High Wycombe area and I spent some time tracking down a few of these locations. The bulk of these films were made at Bray Studios in Bray,Berkshire, a giant in the film industry that diabolically has now fallen into decline despite the surge in British film making at nearby Shepperton and Pine Wood.Films Such as The Mummy(1959), Alien and The Rocky Horror Picture Show where also made here and it is facing its own horror story of being turned into a care home by developers.(https://www.facebook.com/savebraystudios) Incidentally the location of the Gothic Style hotel in the Rocky Horror Picture Show portrayed as Frankenfurters mansion was indeed the Oakley Court Hotel right across the road from the Bray Studios.(http://www.oakleycourtwindsor.com/) Indeed whole area around these studios supplied the film industry with hundreds of film locations for years and it is quite fascinating to find that a sleepy village where you are quietly munching your cream tea was indeed a film set for a Satanic horror movie chase or the stamping ground of one of the Mummy horrors that unwound on the silver screen. One such location was the Hellfire caverns in the village of West Wycombe,located just off the A40 road.As you approach the village you see a sinister looking Mausoleum perched on the hill overlooking the quaint English village below.The Mausoleum was in fact used as the setting for the 1976 Hammer film “To the Devil a Daughter” starring starring Christopher Lee, Nastaasja Kinski, and Richard Widmark.The nearby Hellfire cavern was probably the influence for the film”Taste the Blood Of Dracula”. West Wycombe and the Hellfire Caverns indeed are one of those places where reality indeed is stranger than fiction. West Wycombe Park, Caves,Mausoleum and St Lawrence’s Church with its mysterious golden globe on the spire were all constructed in the mid-18th century by Sir Francis Dashwood, founder of the Dilettanti Society and co-founder of the notorious Hellfire Club which met at the George and Vulture Inn in London. The Hellfire Club with its club motto, Fais ce que tu voudras ,(do what thou wilt), would certainly have raised eyebrows and the attention of the tabloids,had they existed at the time.It was a secret society in the 18th Century that allegedly included Benjamin Franklin among its many high profile visitors. Dashwood and other high-powered politicians and society members,originally formed a club then known as The Knights of St Francis of Wycombe. They first used Medmenham Abbey, eight miles away from West Wycombe. Later on,the rather more discrete caves were allegedly used for nefarious orgies and black magic that included the presence of female”guests”referred to as nuns. Entering the creepy church like entrance of the caves you wander into the darkness occasionally stumbling across strange carved rock skulls and phallic symbols ,the whole place has a creepy atmosphere that is enhanced by the knowledge that a lot of strange things are alleged to have happened here over the centuries.As you pass through the caverns you enter the Banqueting Hall,the Miner’s Cave and finally, across a subterranean river aptly named the Styx you enter the final cave, the Inner Temple, where the meetings of the Hellfire Club said to have been held.This final cave is said to lie 300 feet directly beneath the church on top of West Wycombe hill. According to Greek mythology, the River Styx separated the mortal world from Hades, and the Inner Temple directly beneath St Lawrence’s Church signifies Heaven and Hell.Indeed it seems that all the landmarks here are linked in a symbolic manner known only to the secret society and one cannot help but suspect that the caves open to the public are only the tip of the iceberg and that there are many more hidden away in this enormous hillside.There are even rumours that members would pass unscrutinised into the caves as the moon rose and night fell via connecting tunnels from the village inn the George and Dragon and that the caves and the Inn are haunted by a servant girl called Suki that walks the corridors and caverns. In all a truly spooky place and a great day out.
A glorious sunny day in August and what better a place to visit than the former home of Rudyard Kipling the author of such classics as The Jungle Book and The Man Who Would Be King. Set in the rolling countryside of the Sussex Wield,just outside the village of Burwash,it is a wonderful 17th century Jacobean house that was his home until his death in 1936. The house is now cared for by the National Trust and is open to the public. You can wander unhindered around the splendid oak beamed interior left very much as the great man left them. His own writing desk is left pretty much as if he has just popped out for an afternoon tea,scrapped sheets of paper containing his writings piled high in the litter bin opposite his desk,even his own Rolls Royce is on display in the nearby garage for viewing. The rooms are full of artefacts that reflect Kipling’s association with the East. The gardens are a spectacular affair,sunflowers ablaze and fresh vegetables and herbs in the allotment growing in abundance. Here you can pick up one of the kindly offered blankets,borrowed to visitors,and enjoy a picnic on the spectacular lawn surrounded by its rustic charm. My visit coincided with the national commemorations of World War One. Hundreds of events are taking place across Britain to remember the “Pals”-groups of friends,neighbours or colleagues who joined up to form their own battalions in World War One.In the spirit of the event, the lawns at “Batemans”,which is the name of this splendid house,had a wartime biplane parked in its midst and a gathering of tents as re-enactors from the Great War Society sent us back on a trip in time to the beginning of the First World War. Mostly volunteers,they gave authentic displays and explanations of the weaponry from the period including pitched battles that stunned the crowds and sent the gunfire and explosions thundering across the landscape.Truly spectacular and a fitting salute to the man who wrote many classic about the period and who indeed played his well documented part in the Great War.More images can be viewed here:http://…/p830052178 Images Copyright:Kerry Davies/No unauthorised usage/All Rights Reserved
A short drive out of London, on the Kent coast,lies a gem of a town that still retains the flavour of an old English seaside resort of the kind that is much missed these days on this sceptred isle. Whitstable is a perfect family destination for those in the know,where time hasn’t moved along in a hurry and families can still enjoy that beach experience very much relegated to the halcyon days of nostalgia. An afternoon spent wandering along the sea walls, meandering among the multicoloured beach huts, breathing deeply of the sea air and exploring the old fishing village and harbour with its fresh seafood,Oysters,Cockles and Winkles.Exploring the old alleys filled with boutique shops or simply savouring the peace and quiet and recharging ones batteries here,the traveller is left with the feeling of time well spent. Originally built in 1832 by the Canterbury and Whitstable railway company, the harbour was created to serve what was called the Crab and Winkle line ,which linked Canterbury and London by a steam ship and also helped carry coal and timber as well as providing a thriving sea food industry. By 1849 the town had turned into a bit of a boom town and played its part during the war transporting munitions and grain. Sadly the town fell into a downward spiral after the Crab and Winkle line closed in 1952. As time passed,the town became more of a traveller destination,preserving much of its original character for being quiet,reserved and far enough off the beaten path to feel like a haven away from the big smoke of London. A great plan for visiting Whitstable is to start in the harbour with its seafood markets and walk up the sea front, stopping at leisure and absorbing the atmosphere along the sea walls. Children will be in their element as there is so much to do. The Old Neptune Pub,a famous landmark that has often been seen in films made in the area,would be a great place for refreshments. Why not head into the quaint town centre and its delightful boutique shops and restaurants where you cannot help but feel that there must be a reason this town attracts a lot of artists. After lunch, perhaps a stroll back up the hill visiting Whitstable Castle and dropping back down to the beach to enjoy the beautiful light of the sunset over the Isle of Sheppey while rounding off the day cooking a fish supper over a beach barbecue.
See more images here:http://www.surreypix.co.uk/p31361888 All images copyright Kerry Davies/All rights reserved.
The May bank holiday on sunday 25th 2014 certainly went off with a bang as the Napoleonic Association of re-enactors http://www.napoleonicassociation.org blitzed the Painshill Park near Cobham in Surrey http://www.painshill.co.uk with the thunder of hooves and the crack of muskets and cannon fire. An incredibly authentic experience of the “age of elegance”,they delve deep into all aspects of the period delivering an enthralling battlefield skirmish and other camp and entertainment experiences along the way. You have to blink twice to remind yourself that we are in fact still in the 21st century and cannot help but feel that these were in fact more elegant times. This group clearly eat,sleep and live this colourful period in history and provide a great insight to onlookers who ever wondered what it would have been like to live in these times. I can still smell those camp fires! Now where did I put that musket!
“Your Punch And Judy Need You!” proclaimed the stick wielding angry looking Mr Punch illustration attached to the wall of the metal fence of the St Pauls Church in Covent Garden in Central London on May the 11th 2014.
Wandering into to the rear courtyard of the church otherwise known as “The actors church”, I was struck by wall to wall arrangements of multicoloured very striking lines of Punch and Judy tents that screamed of historic beach nostalgia from Britains glory days of old.
“Oh no it isn’t!!, Oh yes it is !!” Echoed around the courtyard and the distinct yell of “Sausages!”,and the clack of wood against wood as Mr Punch received another clobbering from his ever suffering wife and the screech of a Police whistle as Mr Punch was eternally pursued for batting his baby into the stratosphere in a most politically incorrect manner.
I even spotted a pearly King and Queen and of all things a psychedelic pink Policeman and a brass band thrown into the mix for good measure!
The annual Covent Garden May Fayre and Puppet Festival is an event that celebrates the red nosed stick wielding puppet and brings together dozens of puppeteers in a gathering of great entertainment value and nostalgia.
On the wall of the Church an engraving stands prominently in honour to Mr Punch.Covent Garden is in fact the birth place of the troublesome,anarchic chap who was first sighted by Samuel Pepys on May 9th 1662 near this site and the last sunday nearest this date has essentially become his birthday.
So enjoy your sausages Mr Punch but look out for the crocodile,happy birthday!
All images and video shot with a Lumix Lx7.Puppeteer Professor Clive Chandler
Images Copyright Kerry Davies/No unauthorised reproduction/All rights reserved.
As the clock ticked over and the Sun rose over Great Britain on May 5th 2014, blowing away the cobwebs of winter, I revisited the Jack in the Green Festival on the south coast of England most famous for being the gateway for the Norman invasion in 1066.
It was a fantastic warm spring day of Morris Dancers and mayhem and quite a sight for the senses.It was held in a field next to Hastings castle and overlooked the splendid sight of the main town in all its glory.At its centre was a stage where performances of various kinds ranging from Morris dancing to belly dancing entertained the masses that descended upon the seaside town.
It starts with a procession around the town and culminates with the symbolic slaying of the Jack of the Green which symbolically frees the spirit and welcomes the transition of the Winter into the Summer.The tradition has many roots and I have another article on the subject earlier in this blog.
Needless to say,this festival never disappoints and is one of the best Green Man festivals in the UK and well worth a visit.
Here are a few shots shot on a Nikon D700 with a 17-35mm f2.8.
Images Copyright Kerry davies/No unauthorised usage .
You never know what you will discover during a stroll in the West London area of Kingston,Surbiton and Richmond on May 4th. Today was one of such day. In the quiet town of Surbiton,a popular residential area for commuters working in central London, I was drawn to a large gathering of people in a small quiet park called Claremont Gardens.It transpired that it was the manifestation of the Seething Wells Sardine festival.It’s the second year for this event that celebrates the rich history of freshwater sardine fishing in Surbiton. A chance to remember when Seething was famous for its freshwater sardine fishing industry and held its annual festival to celebrate the first catch of the season.There was much merriment and dancing and live folk bands played at the event,a great gathering of the community.The smell of fresh Sardines filled the air and there were various amusements for the youngsters including face painting and magnetic fish catching,even a large number of fairy wing wearing adults.After several great musical performances the day culminated in the crowning of two members of the community who were designated as this years Seething Wells King and Queen of hats.To much applause last years King and Queen swapped hats with this years chosen nominees.Many of the local community was present and also there were banners representing the various ancient guilds in the area such as the ancient Guilds of Seething-The Cheesemakers, The Talcum Miners, The Taxonomists, The Water- Bearers, The Sardine Fishers and The Curriers and I spotted a Cyclists Guild too.Flying on flags were images of a horned rather legendary looking character who also had a prominent statue at the front of the stage. This was a character which I was not previously familiar with but research revealed to me the surprising legend of Lefi Ganderson the Goat Boy,a local half man,half goat character who had a rather cataclysmic clash with a legendary giant.A tale that probably never pops up on the radar of average Londoner but which just goes to show what interesting legends,many ancient,that lie below the surface of even the most quiet,unassuming of places along the banks of the ancient River Thames.They say that if your tired of London,your tired of life and this is an example that there is clearly always stones that remain unturned revealing interesting legends along the way.A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon in the spring sunshine. Lefi Ganderson The Goat Boy
Pictures Copyright Kerry Davies
A delightful place to spent a day during an easter break is the highly impressive Caerphilly Castle in South Wales.Famous most recently for its role in the popular BBC TV Series Merlin but with a long history that very much equals the drama of its fictional roles.It is an enormous stone beast surrounded by moats and drawbridges and on approach looks very much like it has just repelled a siege by a well equipped invading army.It was built by the Norman Gilbert de Clare who was an enemy of the Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in the 13th Century and provide the influence for many of the concentric designs of Edward I castles in North Wales.As time moved on and regime change took place,the role of the castle changed and it found itself without a purpose.The castles condition declined until eventually in the late 19th century the third marquess of Bute began preservation work on this and other castles in the region.It is a great destination for tourism and provides a great Easter egg hunt for the kids,look out for the Dragons in the ancient hallways though!
Camera used was a Lumix LX7
Copyright Kerry Davies
No unauthorised reproduction.