Andrew Wilkinson Photography - Cambridge and London based photographer | Wigwams, Waves And Winding Down

Wigwams, Waves And Winding Down

January 09, 2013  •  2 Comments

Time was placed on hold as we neared The Old Shop. The century-old flint and stone cottage, belonging to dear friends of ours, was to be our weekend bolt-hole, together with two other couples. As the name suggests, the building was a former shop and, given the lack of other properties nearby, gives some credibility of the reason behind the need to use the word former!

The accommodation charms you with an idiosyncratic arrangement consisting of three bedrooms (each of which, in spite of being on the first floor, were at different levels) a bathroom, hall, former shop, kitchen, lounge and lean-to.

Outside there is an evolution of sheds, stores, workshops and outbuildings in various states of repair,  usage and interest. I simply love these 'dimmed' environments, where quirkiness abounds and history tells its tales from beneath the veneer of cobwebs, through old, discarded newspapers discovered there, antique tools, storage boxes and other atifacts. The secluded garden would be a place in which to sit and contemplate between May and September, but shunned on this occasion.

The lounge and kitchen formed the hub of cosiness where we would be warmed by fires, food and fellowship. The furnishings and decor bear a degree of originality about them, with precious few modern elements in evidence. That's a good thing. Above the fire place in the lounge hangs a painting by Cambridge artist and friend, Noel Garner, that beautifully captures the essence of the village in its rural setting. Noel is the founder of Cambridge Art Academy. Follow the link - he'll teach you how to paint!

The location of Ridlington is approximately four miles inland from Happisburgh, Norfolk, UK. For a more global perspective Ridlington is on the same lattitude as some fairly chilly places, including Berlin, Ushpe-Khol, Ha Bepery, Queen Charlotte Sound, Black Tickle Airport, the wreck of U-531, and Limerick. In logitudinal terms we have Barcelona, Lome, Fiji, and the Bearing Straight!

Upon arrival the temperature drop was noticeable, by comparison with Cambridge, the moment the car doors were opened. It was damp, too. Arriving some hours before the others were expected we immediately set off to Smallsticks Cafe - a place we'd heard about - located at Cart Gap for afternoon tea and cake. How they make a business work out here is anyone's guess, but the cafe was well-appointed, well-staffed, modern, and warm! A mug of 'manly' tea and a hunk of Victoria cream and jam sponge soon reunited body and soul! All this cosiness was put into sharp contrast when I made the short walk through the gap in the sand dunes to confront the North Sea face on. The on-shore wind was biting and ferocious kicking up waves and blowing spume everywhere. But it was exhilarating!

Years ago, when I was a mere nipper, our family had one or two summer holidays camping just a little further along the coast at Waxham. Rather bizarrely we'd set off from Leeds in my father's 1932 Rolls-Royce Launderlette loaded to the gunwales with tents, camping beds, buckets and name it! Seriously, that's me in the picture (right) - the little chap at the very front!

We returned to The Old Shop. We'd stayed here before. Nothing had changed in the intervening years, which is the pace at which most humans cope best. This was the deal...

  • we surrendered - TV; internet; mobile phone coverage.
  • for this - deep peace; no street lamps; books; cottage cosiness; log fires; candle light; conversation; newspapers; laughs; nature; walks; fresh breezes; falling leaves; games; books; sumptuous sofas; red wine; beer; beef casserole and apple crumble that we'd brought with us! 

A place to simply 'be', or to 'be', simply. Time to reflect and think. A chance to re-set the datum point of true values that had been shifted by our other, 'normal' lives. In this setting batteries are NOT included - hooray - you re-energise! And most, to trot out that well worn cliche, less is definitely more.

OK, you could do most of this stuff at home, but change the context and you find yourself in a completely different world, where you actually find time to do all those things that you never normally have time to do, without being beholden to the tyrannies of techno-centric, gadget-led life! OK, it's a holiday break low on luxury, but high in rare qualities. Here, it's the little things that seemingly have no place in the transience of 'everyday' life show their real and lasting value. Once the dross of temporal things is burnt away, you're left with pure gold...and, thankfully for me, my camera equipment! 

As I write these things I am mindful and grateful of how privileged I am to have such opportunities to take time out. Most people on the planet have little or nothing by way of possessions - just the need to get through the day and find a meal until tomorrow comes. Only last night (in relation to the time of writing) I watched a YouTube clip of the lives of three girls in Vietnam, and how hard they work just in order to get by. And I'm hesitant to suggest this, but even their lives could be considered 'comfortable' by comparison to some of those living elsewhere in the world - India, Africa,  South America....

On a previous occasion in May 2010 we, the same three couples, made the four-mile walk to Happisburgh. On the way down to the beach we'd noticed a number of wigwams in the field at the top of the cliff. The day was bright and sunny and wind was fresh, blowing in from the sea. A couple of young Chinese children ran by with gay abandon, disappearing over the imported boulders that formed the sea defences. Then another two children. Then some more. They were a happy bunch and it was pleasing to watch their contentment. After a short while I pointed out that all these children were Chinese; all of them girls. I then realised what I was observing. I spoke to couple of caucasian adult women who had appeared nearby to where we were standing, who seemed connected to the Chinese children. They confirmed that all the children had been adopted from Chinese orphanages by English families. In order to retain the orphanage friendships the families met regularly in different locations - this time it was in the teepees at the head of the cliffs. To see humanity in action is without equal. I felt sorry for the plight and circumstances of the children's natural parents, but my heart went out to these children just wanting to hug them all! 

The first night in The Old Shop produced one of my most pleasurable experiences, that of being snug in bed while the wind outside lashed the rain ferociously against the single-glazed window panes. Sticking to the same theme, this is bettered only by being under a warm duvet with the mother of all thunderstorms going on outside! My mind was briefly transported to the tropical storms I'd experienced in Singapore, before blissfully yielding to sleep and the dreams the night had in store.

Next morning was bright, fresh and blustery, the piles of hailstones lying around the cottage indicating there'd been a further drop in temperature. The six of us, togged and booted up, set out on the eight-miler we'd planned the previous evening. Typically contrary by nature - if people suggest I go left, I'll deliberately go right - I suggested we should do the walk clockwise - why is it that there is a tendancy for most circular walks (and pretty much all running races) to go anti-clockwise? The route took us in a large sweep heading initially inland before turning north, then east towards the coast, where we lunched on wild mushroom soup and warm bread rolls all round, plus a couple of bowls of chips, at The Poacher's Pocket, gloriously washed down with real ale - Adnams Wherry and Fullers London Pride.

Soon after lunch we were back to base. Afternoon papers, reading and general loafing about while slumped in sofas. I'm 'a-book-a-year' reader - usually fact-based books, such as Longitude, The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Cod, sometimes The Bible - and had brought with me Up Country, by Nelson Demille* (see the P.S. below). This was a recent recommendation by a friend who, knowing of my recent visit to Vietnam, thought it would be an interesting read for me. Having popped into Waterstones, they happened to have only one copy of the book, so I assumed it had my name on it! Given my book-reading history it amused me when I realised the book contained fifty-two chapters, if you include the Foreword and the Acknowledgements and Other Matters! The book is so far quite good and I'm well ahead of a chapter-a-week, being drawn in by the familiarity and first hand experience of some of the places mentioned in the book. The 1000 Dong note - worth about 3p - I use as a bookmark is also a tangible reminder of time spent there. 

The following day we headed down to Horsey to do a five-miler deciding. Given the weather and the time of day we decided to do it in two parts - one before lunch, the other after lunch. The first walk (anti-clockwise) took us to and along the beach. The weather was a little unsettled with wind, sun and rain all taking their part, but we were rewarded by watching a few seals that had come close to the shore.

We ate lunch at The Nelsons Head, which I can recommend for its typical English country pubishness, convivial atmosphere and Sunday roast. Skipping dessert we set off on the second part of our walk (clockwise) which took us past the wind pump at Horsey Staithe, then across the northern side of Horsey Mere. Back to the cottage, then home to Cambridge.

The Techi Bit

  • Although there were some bright spells there were also some very dull, overcast and wet spells, but this should not deter anyone from taking photographs. There's always something to grab the attention of the photographer's eye. Sometimes it's just a case of 'reframing' your mindset to 'see' differently about the landscape and the little details that really are there in abundance.
  • Keep your lens cap off. That's what I do. From the moment I've made the 'long' journey with the camera in the bag, the lens cap comes off and goes into my pocket - you're always almost ready then to quickly get those shots. All that faffing about trying to remove the lens cap, especially if you're wearing gloves - the chances are you'll end up dropping it in the mud! I always have a filter over the lens for added protection and usually I can find a bit of tissue in a pocket to deal with bits of rain and dust, but go gently. My MO on these types of outing seems more akin to that of a dog having been let off its lead. I'll stop and take photos for a minute ot two, then I'll run to catch up the rest of the group. Or I'll run on ahead to photograph them coming towards me. It's great exercise.
  • When, above, I say 'almost ready' it's good policy to look ahead and just keep a thought running through the back of your mind to make preemptory adjustments 'on the hoof' to aperture, shutter speed and ISO. After a little practice this becomes second nature and allows you to be prepared as well as focused on the main objective of the outing, in this case, the group I was walking with. 
  • Take a small camera. I don't own one, but I wish I did. Unless you're on a mission a lightweight or, better still, an easily pocketable compact camera is great for walking with. Remember, that when making a photograph the composition and the photographer are foremost in importance, not the equipment.
  • Always take a bar of's amazing just what a friend it can be to give you that boost just when the energy and creativity mught be beginning to flag!


I hope you have enjoyed a little of this shared experience. If you have any photography requirements - weddings, corporate, headshots, portfolios, parties, gigs, blogshots, website pics, please contact me or give me a call and I'll be more than happy to have a no-obligation chat with you.

Enjoy the slideshow, below. 

Happy outings!

* P.S. Because I'm so late in publishing this blog, I have since read The Girl In The Picture, by Denise Chong. It's a fascinating and well-written book, which I would thoroughly recommend, about Kim Phuc, the 'napalm, girl. My Vietnam interest has been with me since the publication of the iconic photograph taken by Nick Ut on June 8th 1972. I was fortunate enough to visit Vietnam in December 2011, after a year's stint working in Singapore. A year on I'm delighted to say that my images from Vietnam have appeared in two exhibitions at An Binh Gallery in Saigon:

  • Saigon Link - 1st to 15th December 2012 alongside two Vietnamese photographers contrasting old and new Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City);
  • Vietnam In My Heart - 1st January to 15th February 2013, a solo exhibition and diary of images taken during my visit in December 2011.


Clare Wilkinson(non-registered)
Lovely thoughts, lovely images! We're going to Norfolk on honeymoon and this makes me look forward to it even more!
Marta Dizon(non-registered)
It is indeed good to retreat back and be away from the busy and noisy city. With the beckoning beauty of nature and the peaceful serene scenery I would love to be there to take pictures too. (I used to have a Minolta Maxum camera with different zoom lens. But being just an amateur photographer, I had settled to the Canon digital one to upload/download pictures easily in the computer). Ironically, I am far from the one who could stay away too long and refrain myself from communicating with friends. I need the computer, telephone and television. That is why even if the virgin and isolated place is inviting, ironically I would only choose to stay there for two to three days. That is of course if circumstances and finances will make it possible.
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