Category Archives: Bucket list

The aurora borealis then.

Yes, it really is all it’s cracked up to be. At least it was when we were lucky enough to see it.

As I said earlier in the week, we were incredibly lucky on Wednesday night when we stayed out until the early hours of Thursday, watching the aurora do its stuff. As I promised, here are some photographs from that experience.Twighlight


Starting off with an incredibly clear night, and a very subtle blue hour after sunset, the aurora began to show itself in the second photograph. Depending upon your eyesight and quality of the screen, you may be able to see the faint green mistiness in the middle of the photo.

Within about 10 minutes or so, it had grown in strength, so that it started to get brighter and more intense.




Eventually, as the night wore on, the show became even more amazing, as can be seen from the second three photographs.

Now, these were taken using a sensitive sensor setting on the camera and with 8 second exposures, so the camera can record a lot more than can be seen with the naked eye. In fact, it’s almost impossible to record on a camera, what you can see when you are there. The first two of the second batch are pretty close, though. The third one there has been fiddled with a bit, but it seems that the amount of light produced by the aurora can be huge. It was easy to see one’s way, after midnight, just by the light from the sky.

It is interesting to see, on some of the shots, just how far a satellite can travel in 8 seconds – several shots have bright lines, traced by the satellite, as the shot was taken.

For those of you that might care about these things, the camera was a Leica M240 and the lens was a Leica 24mm Elmarit-M ASPH. So, now you know.

If you ever get the chance to travel north during the winter months, I do hope that the gods are with you as they were, north of Tromsø, last Wednesday.

1200+ photos later… Time to reflect on a terrific experience

It’s time to sit and wait for the first of our flights today. Another week’s holiday is over and it’s back to work next week. But, I do have to go to Blackpool on Monday afternoon, so it’s not all bad 🙂

On Wednesday, we did the Chasing the Lights tour. We were picked up at around 6pm and headed about an hour or so north of Tromsø, by coincidence to roughly the place we ended up with the hire car the day before. At first, things were not looking promising. The guide was no doubt deliberately talking down the possibility of seeing the lights – obviously nothing is guaranteed – but we headed off to a small cove, at the north end of an island. Grunnfjord, if you want to have a look on Google Maps.

After about 15 minutes, one of our party spotted a pale, green smudge in the north east. Slowly this grew until the lights revealed themselves in all their glory. For a couple of hours, there was an arch stretching across the sky, from horizon to horizon. The intensity grew, and faded. The curtains effect revealed itself really strongly, and the lights went in waves along the line of the arc. Even with the naked eye, some of us could see a pink tinge to the edge of the lights, beyond the strong and dominant green. Even if you are colourblind, the visual experience would be amazing.

We stayed out beyond midnight and, as we were thinking about packing up, as if in the finale of a concert, the aurora really showed us what it was made of. The whole sky, from edge to edge, in all directions was green. Patches were darker, some lighter. Whichever way you looked, there were moving streams through a paler green background.

It really was incredible. We stayed there for over 6 hours – a really fabulous experience. This really is a stunningly beautiful part of the world and is worthy of anyone’s time ( and deep, deep pockets ) to visit. I think that this time of year might be perfect, as the snow is still on the hills and skies are a beautiful blue.

So, now, as I sit here waiting, I have >1200 photographs to look forward to viewing and editing. I am hoping that pushing the camera to 2500 ISO hasn’t affected them too much. We will see, but I have never taken so many photographs on a week’s holiday before. Or any week, probably. Not all taken on Wednesday evening, some on the day when we had hired the car.

I will share some here later in the weekend to encourage you to make the effort to come here. You really should.

Reflections on a day that I will never forget

Having now returned from the Somme, via a very nasty Channel crossing on Friday evening, it is time to reflect on a very interesting and informative couple of days.

The personal tour that we had arranged with our host was absolutely superb – Vic is an expert on the war and, as well as doing general coach tours of the front, he is happy to spend a day with guests exploring more personal stories. He had previously advised where he thought that my Great-Grandfather William was on that day, but having done some more research for this visit, the story expanded and developed somewhat.

It now appears that he was an ambulance driver attached to a unit that were ferrying the injured from the front line near Fricourt to various medical stations back to the field hospital in Corbie. On the 26th November 1915, the ambulances were waiting or being serviced in a village called Méricourt-l’Abbé, where there is also a railway station in the village on a line used to supply the front. According to the war diaries, there was an aerial attack by the Germans on the station and the ambulances were destroyed.

In the cemetery in the village, there are half a dozen graves from that same day, linked to this event. There was another younger driver also from Norwich, who has an Army number within 40 of William and I suspect enlisted on the same day. There is a medical orderly there and others associated with the transport section. These graves tell their own story, but not the reason why William enlisted so late in life, well beyond the normal age limit. It is likely that he was accepted because he was a driver in civilian life and had previously spent time in the territorials, but there is a possibility that local people in Norfolk raised money to buy or sponsor an ambulance and he enlisted to be its driver. This is worth exploring further, so maybe a couple of days in Norwich in the New Year might be on the cards.

William would have been mortally wounded and taken back to his hospital, where he died the same day.

We also visited other positions along that route including one of the cemeteries at Point 110, a location that I had visited 10 years ago. On arrival, we met the Brudenell family, who were there to remember their own Great-Grandfather, killed on the same day as William. They may have known each other – who knows? It was a pleasure talking to the various family members who had also made the journey especially.

Later in the afternoon, we found the location where my Great-Uncle was killed, in October 2016. He has no known grave and is therefore one of the 72,000 names on the Thiepval Memorial to the unknown. However, we did find an Unknown Soldier’s grave in an adjacent cemetery which specifically has the regiment of the man on the stone. This was his regiment and so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the man buried there is him. His regiment sustained over 200 casualties that day, of whom probably 70 were killed. It is only possible to find around half a dozen named and dated graves from that action, meaning that maybe 60 were never found or are unknown dead. And the result of this action? A German trench was held for 6 hours until the British troops that managed to get that far ran out of ammunition, at which point they retreated back to their original trench at the bottom of the field.

All in all, it was a day that I will never forget. For we must never forget what these men gave up for us.

W. R. Barton (smaller)

Sunshine (?), snow and a scan

Having now shared the location of next year’s One Challenge with the Leica Forum, I will also share it here. The group decided, after dinner in Vienna, that next year we should all assemble in Lisbon. There was some discussion regarding how to vote for the venue for next year and we did change things slightly this time round. It’s still not perfect though, and I want to make sure that everyone who votes has an equal vote – at present those who tick against the list last are often presented with a fait accompli. Will try to work out an even better way for next time.

I have been to Lisbon before, on a school cruise in an old troop-ship called the SS Nevassa. This would have been in 1972, when I was not yet 11 and I am looking forward to it. It will be nice to get some sunshine, with a bit of luck, and we could even extend the stay to drive up the Atlantic coast and compare with California last spring. We will see. Maybe I could take my diary that I wrote as part of the school trip as a guide. “First we did this and then we did that” – bound to be useful.

Next up, however, is the trip to see my Great Grandfather William, buried on the Somme. He was mortally wounded in the field and died on 26th November 1915. We have arranged a personal battlefield tour from an English chap who, with his wife, runs a B&B on the front line, not far from where William is buried. I am sure it will be an emotional day. We were there 10 years ago and it was freezing cold and snowing, which helped to bring home what men had to put up with out there. We have often visited during the summer on the way to or from a holiday in France, but never at the beginning of winter before. This guide has an incredible library of information in his house and while we were there last time, told me lots about what William was up to out there that I didn’t know before. I need to make sure I write it all down, so that I can pass it on to my Dad.

In March, the plan is to head north and to Norway to see, with a bit of luck, the Northern Lights. I need to get that sorted soon, as it is becoming an increasingly popular thing to do, so hotels and the like might be difficult. I will try to sort that all out this week, but it’s going to take a bit of planning. I don’t think that we can afford the cruise on one of the post ships that run up and down the coast, so maybe will hire a 4×4 instead and head to the hills ourselves. Our good friends who live in Oslo have offered to put us up for the weekend we arrive, so that will be a real treat in itself.

As the weather turns distinctly autumnal, the clocks have gone back and it’s dark on the way home, it will soon be time to have my annual CT scan. I arranged this when I saw my consultant back in June and he said that he wanted me to have it at the end of November / first week in December. That’s not long now, really, not the way that diaries fill up these days. Not having heard anything from The Christie, I called them this morning. They only book CT scans 6 weeks in advance, and the book for the week beginning 30/11 will not open until later today, so they have offered to call me back.

I’m looking forward to it. When he reads the results, I am, of course, hoping that the disease is in exactly the same state as it was last Christmas but there is only one way to find out. As far as I can tell, within myself, I am pretty sure that it’s just sitting there doing nothing at present, but it will be good to know for sure.

Doesn’t seem like more than a few weeks since I was last there, but that’s another story…

[And this is the 300th post on this blog – thanks to those of you who have been with me through thick and thin and to everyone else who reads it. Your support is absolutely invaluable and much appreciated]

The Bucket List re-visited

While walking the dog first thing this morning, amongst other things, I got to thinking about the bucket list I put together 5 years ago. Whether I would have the same list now, I am not sure, but for argument’s sake, let’s assume that the list is definitive.

I have managed to knock some of the items off – should they be replaced, I wonder? Are you supposed to finish the Bucket List and then die? If you add replacement items, what does that mean? Are you managing to postpone the fateful day? No. It just gives you more things to do, obviously.

So, over a cup of coffee, I have found the list and can report as follows:

1. Drive across the Millau Bridge on a misty morning

Done. Actually drove across it in beautiful sunshine, but it was misty when we arrived beneath, as recent photos have shown.

2. Walk to Cape Wrath

Not done. Maybe next year, if I get the chance.

3. Visit Cape Cod

Done. A 50th birthday trip and a place that would be well worth revisiting sometime. One of the most relaxed places I have ever been to.

4. Take the train to Venice

Not done, although have been to Venice a couple of times since that was added to the list. In retrospect, I’m not sure that taking the train would actually add much to the experience.

5. Go back to see my Great Grandfather on the Somme

To do this time next year, on the hundredth anniversary.

6. Explore the West Coast of Ireland properly

Not done.

7. See the Northern Lights – Norway?

Not done.

8. Visit Copenhagen

Done a couple of years ago.

9. Revisit Berlin

Not done.

10. Spend a week in a small hotel on the Gironde at harvest time.

Done, on the same trip as the Millau bridge, this autumn.

So, of the 10 items on the list, I have done 4 1/2, with at least one planned for next year. I suppose that’s not bad given it’s 5 years since I put the list together. I was kind of planning on being able to do one per year.

I am a very lucky man to have been able to go to places that allow me to knock off half of this list. Of all the remaining items, I suspect that the Northern Lights will be the one that proves the most difficult and will remain “to do”.

Here are a few photos taken from my walk with Betsy this morning. I’m going to miss this place if we ever move.

Fence post

Red Rocks

Hilbre Island

I’m not a very good tourist really.

Been back at work a couple of weeks now. As always, the holiday is a now distant memory but I have been going through photographs this evening, partly to see what is worth sharing or printing and partly to find an entry for the Challenge. Entries have to be with the organiser (me) by the end of tomorrow, so I have found the best of a bad bunch to include.

As you will have seen, the holiday was pretty busy – not relaxing at all, really. It’s rare to have a relaxing holiday since we always try to do too much. Far too much.

I have this thing about it probably being the last time I will ever pass that way again, so have to cram as much into the visit as possible. Alternatively, a thing about seeing as much as possible on a first visit to a place (particularly on foreign jaunts) so that on a return visit a more relaxing time can be had. Only, it never works out that way. We never go back – there is always somewhere else to see, where you haven’t been before – and the whole charade starts again. No half measures of just taking a part of a place in.

I’m not a very good tourist really.

So, on reflection, what were the highlights of this holiday?

It WAS nice to go back to Bordeaux and visit Leoville Barton again. Organising it for first thing on a Monday morning, when staying 60 odd miles away on the other side of the city was a huge schoolboy error, but we got there in time and had a fantastic tour courtesy of the charming Alexandra. Our timing couldn’t have been better – the first grapes had been brought in from the vines on the Saturday and we were the first people to taste the grape juice from 2014, just starting its fermentation in the oak vessels. What a privilege.

vessels Juice

A couple of days later, while having a tour of the Chateau where we were staying (Chateau de Mole), I asked the owner about Petrus, the world’s “best” red wine. It’s only about 10 miles away from there. Apparently, until fairly recently, the property at Petrus was little more than an old farmhouse and some outbuildings. Only in the last few years has the owner built a “chateau” of any size or quality. It’s a bit of a shame, really.

PetrusAs with many luxury goods, it’s the handmade and traditional methods that cost the money. Doing it properly all through the process. Plus the rarity, small production and quality of the vines and terroir of course. It’s a bit like paying £160k for a Ferrari 458, when a Jaguar for £100k will go just as fast, be as exciting to drive and so on. But what it won’t have is a handmade body or engine. It’s a bit like buying a Leica…

Moving away from Bordeaux and the region, after making a mistake with a hotel in Ambialet, we came across the bridge. The Millau Viaduct.

An earlier post on that day actually has some of the better photographs of it, taken with the iPhone, but I still cannot get over how amazing coming across it through the fog was. A sight never to be forgotten.


Skipping past several days, I just need to write about Monaco / Monte Carlo.

What a weird place. I described driving into the principality from the autoroute as feeling like walking into a Bond Street jewellers. They know you can’t afford anything there; you know you can’t afford anything there. But they still let you in, just to have a look around, and it’s fine so long as you know your place, and leave.

We found that Monte Carlo had policemen on every other corner. Apparently, they have monitored CCTV on every street and microphones in every lift. No local police (all brought in from France) and the locals are not allowed in the casinos.

Walking the grand prix circuit was interesting and makes you appreciate the skill and sheer lunacy of the drivers.

Cannes was nice and we had a very good lunch with an old friend who lives there and Nice the next day was the sort of city that you could live in. If you were lucky enough to have to live on the south coast of France. A really brilliant market.

And to wrap the fortnight off, a trip to Istanbul.

We met some really nice people, in the hotel, restaurants and new friends at the Challenge.

People rave about the city and it does have some stunning architecture. But I never felt comfortable there, particularly outside of the tourist areas. The streets were absolutely packed with people. It was claustrophobic, especially around the spice market and the streets leading back up the hill.

Still, if you want to see the Blue Mosque, or the Aya Sophya, you have to go there. I’m not sure about this chandelier though…

SophyaThis is a failing on my part and one that I freely acknowledge. My lack of engagement with the city will be reflected in the Challenge entry and without a doubt, the scoring.

I’m not a very good tourist really.

Oh, and Asda cocked up the processing of my films…

Poppies at The Tower

The field is growing and will do until 888,246 poppies are planted.

It’s easy to forget what every single one represents.

Let’s just think about 888,246 individuals killed during the First World War. Just in the British armed forces. Unbelievable.


Two of these will be on their way to me when the installation is taken down in November, one each for a great-grandfather and a great-uncle.