Canada Road Trip


This summer I spent a few weeks travelling around central and western Canada in an attempt to catch up with some ‘long lost’ members of my family.  My grandmother lived on Vancouver Island for many years, emigrating before I was born, and it is a regret that I was never able to visit her before she died.

Starting in Calgary we headed north towards Edmonton with a small diversion to the fabulous Drumheller Hoodoos in the Alberta Badlands. Mail Plus Drumheller Hoodoos This is dinosaur country and the Red Deer River valley is also known as Dinosaur valley.

The highway leading through the town passes the World’s largest fibreglass dinosaur, standing 86 feet tall, as you cross the river.  Just north of the town you find the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology which has to be seen to be believed, it houses a fantastic collection of dinosaur remains.

Moving north again via Edmonton we headed for the world’s first UFO landing pad at the town of St Paul.  Unfortunately we arrived on the Canada Day public holiday and so all the visitors must have been busy celebrating elsewhere.

St Paul UFO landing padThis incredible concrete structure was built as a centennial project in 1967, at the height of the space race, in an effort to attract both tourists and ‘Martians’ to the town.  The pad consists of a raised platform with a map of Canada made from stones provided by each province of Canada and a visitors centre.

A sign at the pad reads: “The area under the World’s First UFO Landing Pad was designated international by the Town of St. Paul as a symbol of our faith that mankind will maintain the outer universe free from national wars and strife. That future travel in space will be safe for all intergalactic beings, all visitors from earth or otherwise are welcome to this territory and to the Town of St. Paul.”

Next stop was the hamlet of Wabasca.  This is within the wonderfully named Municipal District of Opportunity No. 17 and located beside the North and South Wabasca Lakes, approximately 75 miles northeast of Slave Lake.  Wabasca has a population of about 3,500 which is largely native Canadian including Indian reserves of the Bigstone Cree Nation and this includes my uncle Bruce and his family.

Bruce Rathbone looks at the collapsed HighwayBruce emigrated from England in the 1940’s and still runs the tyre garage in the town even though he is 80 years old.  Over the years he became a well respected member of the community, so much so that they named the fire hall after him in recognition of his years of service.

During our stay the travel plans had to be adjusted after a beaver dam caused the main highway to collapse.  Luckily uncle Bruce was able to take me to the scene, past a couple of road blocks, to have a close look !

Despite a diversion followed by a long drive along the ‘Grizzly Trail’, where we saw no signs of any wildlife, we were soon heading into Jasper National Park.  A stunning cruise through the Rocky Mountains was followed by a trip along the Icefields Parkway towards Banff.

The wildlife and scenery were spectacular.  Within minutes of entering the national park we saw four elk paddling in the Athabasca River.  A river the width of some lakes in England.  Brown bears, black bears, deer, mountain goat and eagles appeared regularly as if they were booked to provide the tourists with photo opportunities.

Mail Plus Glacier SkywalkBrewster Travel made sure I had fantastic access to their latest tourist attraction, the newly built Glacier Skywalk.  Following a short bus ride from the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre we reached the glass-floored observation platform 900 feet above the Sunwapta Valley.  Visitors walk out beyond the cliff edge for about 100 feet over the valley and Sunwapta River.  The stunning views show how the region has been shaped by immense glacial power.

Brewster Travel then took us on their Glacier Experience tour.  A massive Ice Explorer vehicle specially designed for glacial travel took us to the surface of the Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Ice Fields.

Mail Plus Glacier ExperienceAn experienced driver-guide shared a wealth of  information about glaciers, icefields and their impact on our environment during the journey.  Passengers were allowed to step out onto the glacier and take in the most stunning alpine and glacial vistas and I got chance to shoot a quick 360 degree picture for Mail Plus.

Next stop was Banff and a trip up Sulphur Mountain, using Brewster Travel’s Banff Gondola, to see the spectacular panoramic view.  The summit ridge provides views both westward up and east down the Bow Valley.  There is a superb view of Banff and the world famous Banff Springs Hotel below.

There is also a path on the north side of the gondola station to the top of Sanson’s Peak (7,402 ft).  But, if you want to be picky, the true summit of Sulphur Mountain can be found on the southern side on a scrambler’s route.

Mail Plus Banff GondolaSulphur mountain has been the site of two research facilities.  A meteorological observatory building on Sanson Peak still exists and visitors can look through a window to see its interior complete with rustic furnishings.  A plaque marks the site of The Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station, built by the National Research Council to study cosmic rays as part of Canada’s contribution to the International Geophysical Year in 1957.

The hot springs at the base of Sulphur Mountain are home to the endangered Banff Springs snail as well as a rather spectacular hotel.

The final part of our journey through the Rockies took us past the seasonal forest fires via the Saskatchewan River Crossing, which had to be evacuated the next day.  Apparently these fires are standard for a Canadian summer and an occupational hazard for the locals.

We arrived in the town of Sparwood, following in the footsteps of another distant relative who had emigrated to British Columbia to work in the mines in the early 1900’s.

Mail Plus Sparwood Giant TruckThe local economy is still heavily dependent on coal mining, one of British Columbia’s primary industries.  A large part of the population either works in the mines or as tradesmen and labourers in related support industries, such as trucking or as mechanics.

Sparwood also happens to be the home of the world’s largest truck, a Terex 33-19 “Titan”.  This was built as a prototype off-highway, ultra class, rigid frame, three-axle, diesel/AC electric power train haul truck.  Designed by the Terex Division of General Motors and assembled at their Diesel Division’s London, Ontario assembly plant in 1973.

Only one 33-19 was ever produced and it was the largest, highest capacity haul truck in the world for 25 years.  After 13 years in service, the 33-19 was restored and is now preserved on static display as a tourist attraction in the centre of the town next to a car park.

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Only in England…


The fabulous thing about my job is that I get to meet plenty of characters; the type of people who make this country unique.

100514Coffins01John Gill and his staff at Crazy Coffins are a fine example.  They aim to take the very serious subject of death and allow people to design their own send off in a fun way.  Lets be honest, we are all going to die and we may as well let other people have a little smile on a very sad occasion.

Have you even thought about being buried in a skateboard shaped coffin ?  Probably not, but if you do, Crazy Coffins produce bespoke coffins and urns in any shape and size requested by the customer.  Over the years they have produced ballet shoes, mobile phones, skips, narrow boats, corkscrews and even an aeroplane.

Crazy Coffins is an offshoot of Nottingham firm Vic Fearn & Company Ltd a manufacturer of veneered and solid timber coffins.  The company’s first decorated coffin was made in 1990. It was so unusual at that time, with its stags and swags of flowers, that in featured in a national newspaper.  Such decorated coffins are now commonplace.

John Gill told me how an elderly Scotswoman turned up at the door about 10 years later clutching a part built Red Arrows coffin.  She asked if they could finish it.  A month later, the coffin was complete.  They heard no more; but slowly complete strangers came forward with requests.  A man wanted a canal-boat coffin, followed by a second for his wife.  They built a sledge coffin, and a coffin modelled on a kite.

Orders trickled in and art galleries approached Crazy Coffins, with a view to staging exhibitions, leading to a two week exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall.

They still to build conventional coffins but the Crazy Coffin market continues to develop and with it the market in decorative ashes urns.  At the time I visited the workshop was building a coffin in the shape of a bottle of Jack Daniel’s which can see on the image below.


Over in deepest Lincolnshire you can find Ron ‘the gnome’ Broomfield.

260514RonGnome05The 79 year old retired window cleaner has over 1,700 gnomes in his collection and he even dresses like one to do his shopping. His collection started It started 50 years ago when Ron was on his way to watch a football match at Tottenham Hotspurs, seven gnomes caught his eye at a garden centre so I he ordered them and collected them after the match.

Ron’s home, gnome cottage, is full of gnomes in all shapes and sizes.  During the summer he sets some of them out in his garden.  Each winter he repairs and re-paints his collection to keep them in top condition.

Ron told me he first started bringing them into the house because he was worried they might get broken outside.  Friends and family like to buy him gnomes for his birthday and Christmas but they struggle to remember which he already owns so he does get some duplicates.

When he first started buying the gnomes they cost about £1 each but they now cost up to £250 each.  He is terrified by the thought of how much he must have spent over the years.

Ron’s biggest gnome is a German four-footer, and the smallest a cake decoration.  He takes them around in his gnomemobile, a converted shopping trolley, to raise funds for the NSPCC.

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I am not a number…

Prisoner fans at Portmeirion


I recently joined fans of the cult 1960’s TV show “The Prisoner” as they returned to “The Village” for the “Portmeiricon” Prisoner fan convention.

The Prisoner was probably one of the most influential pieces of television of the 1960s not only in the UK and USA but also in France, Australia and many other countries. Even The Beatles were fans. Its cult status was confirmed with the establishment in the 1970s of the official Prisoner Appreciation Society, Six of One.Prisoner human chess

Patrick McGoohan not only starred as Number Six, the leading role in The Prisoner, he was also the creator and driving force behind the 17 episode series.  Many well known actors had guest roles in the series: Leo McKern, Peter Bowles, Eric Portman, Patrick Cargill, Mary Morris, Paul Eddington and Donald Sinden to name but a few.

“PortmeiriCon” is the name given to Six of One’s regular Prisoner Convention.  This unique event is staged at the original filming location at the hotel village of Portmeirion in North Wales.  The gathering has a full programme of activities and entertainment for members of Six of One and visitors.  Everyone can watch outdoor events, but the indoor programme was for society members only.

The conventions started in 1977 when Six of One met with Portmeirion’s creator, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis.  The star of the show Patrick McGoohan became Honorary President until his sad passing in 2009, and the event has been supported by numerous stars over the years.

Events include a protest march in support of number 6 and several games of human chess.  Click on the images below to see them interactively, but watch out for Rover !

Luckily I managed to escape in time to get the pictures into the Mail Plus edition of the Daily Mail – as the prisoner said: “I am not a number. I am a free man”.








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Roll out the barrel…

Mark Cooper, Marston's cooper


Join me in the workshop of one of the last master coopers left in England. The art of barrel making is a tradition being preserved in Burton-on-Trent at the Marston’s Brewery by cooper Mark Newton.

300314Cooper01When Mark first started his apprenticeship at H & J Buckleys in Manchester, aged just 17, there were hundreds of coopers plying their trade across England.  With aluminium casks offering a cheaper and speedier alternative to make and mass produce, coupled with the rising cost and dwindling availability of timber, a once thriving profession, dating back to Roman times, is in decline.

Nearly all of Mark’s time is now spent repairing the 260 oak ‘Union’ barrels at Marston’s in Burton-on-Trent. Each one holds 140 gallons of Pedigree, as well as an assortment of Marston’s ales.

Mark has also become a bit of a celebrity after his picture appeared on beer bottles and the company vehicles.  On the day I visited to shoot for the Mail Plus iPad edition, Mark was waiting for a pop video to be filmed in his workshop !

Marston’s were founded in Burton-on-Trent in 1834, they moved to the Albion brewery in 1898.  They have been there ever since, using the same brewing techniques.  Burton was chosen because the water apparently gives the beer a unique underlying depth of flavour and character with crisp refreshing bitterness.

Marston’s Pedigree is the last beer still brewed using the unique Burton Union System where double rows of casks are mounted on a frame with a long trough running above to ferment the beer and generate yeast for brewing more later.

This expensive, complicated process, is the only reliable way to give Pedigree its unique taste.  Unfortunately Marston’s is now the only brewery still brewing beer in the traditional way, but Burton-on-Trent remains an important commercial centre for the brewing and pub industry.




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Back to school


NewarkViolins2Take a look at the students and staff at the internationally renowned Newark School of violin making. This wonderful place provides a wide range of practical instrument making skills for violin, viola and cello. It also teaches professional techniques for the repair and restoration of stringed instruments covering the main requirements of the violin trade, they even know how to repair your bow.

The ambiance and atmosphere in this wonderful building takes you back in time.  Students learn skills that are as much in demand today as they were 300 or 400 years ago and travel from all over the world to study in Nottinghamshire.  There is a rich and diverse range of experience, age and culture.

These 360 degree images appeared in the Mail Plus for iPad App recently.  Make sure you look carefully around the drying room where instruments are left to hang in ultraviolet light in order to ‘age’ and colour the wood.

Although the college is located in the centre of Newark it is actually part of Lincoln College.  Over the years the school has developed close links with many professionals and organisations within the industry including the BVMA, Luthiers Sans Frontiers and the Italian violin making centre of Cremona (home to the maker of the famous Stradivarius).  Graduates find employment in violin workshops around the world and many have progressed to become leaders in the fields of instrument-making, restoration and dealing in rare instruments.



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There are places I remember


Beatles02I have been extremely lucky with my career, it has taken me all over the world.  But every now and again I get to experience one of those days that are just a little bit special.  Last week I travelled over to Liverpool to join Cavern City Tours on their Magical Mystery Tour around the city.

As a Beatles fan this was always going to be labour of love.  We toured the famous haunts of the fab four visiting their birth places, old homes, Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields and several concert venues before the highlight of my day – a trip to The Cavern Club.

I have been into the club several times and it always has a fantastic atmosphere.  Beatles tunes fill the air and fans flock from all over the world.  Even on a wet autumn monday afternoon there was a decent crowd in the club.

Following a session by solo acoustic artist Jon Keats I was allowed onto the stage to shoot a few images from the bands viewpoint.  As I was pottering away doing my work ‘I saw her standing there’ started playing in the background.  Just for a few moments I had to join in, I forgot what I was supposed to be doing before spotting one of the crowd laughing at me.  I just had to do it, how many times do you get to stand on the stage at The Cavern.

Luckily for the audience the mic was turned off.  With a silly grin on my face I moved over to make way for John Lennon, otherwise known as tribute act Jimmy Coburn.

The 360 panoramic images from the shoot were featured in the Mail Plus for iPad app on Saturday 9th November – 52 years to the day since a music shop owner called into The Cavern Club to check out a group because he was getting a lot of requests for a German recording of ‘My Bonnie’.  The shop owner was Brian Epstein who became the manager of that group, The Beatles, and the rest is history…..







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It really is a small world


Photo 01-11-2013 21 08 57When I was building this website I was joking about the small planet images and saying just how small our world really is.

Following on from my shoot with England Ashes cricketer Joe Root, the bat manufacturers Gunn & Moore kindly featured the assignment on their website (see picture & click on it to read full story).  When I visited the site to check my moment of glory I was surprised to see an old friend featured on the previous news item.

Many, many years ago I was a useful lower league cricketer for my home town club, Keswick in Cumbria.  At that time we used to buy our equipment from another local player who has started up his business in the neighbouring town of Penrith.  Dickie Spruce was a very useful cricketer who was always happy to help the local clubs.  He brought top class equipment to Cumbria at a time when most sports shops in the area carried one cricket bat.

Nothing was too much trouble and he went out of his way to find the best and most up to date equipment for his Sportscraft shop.  I was delighted to see Dickie collecting his award from another Cumbrian cricket legend Paul Nixon after his years of service to the game and Cumbria.

So almost thirty years since I last saw Dickie I met up with him in cyber space – you see it is a small world….

PS:  I can’t claim to know Paul but I played many games against his dad !

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Root set to batter Aussies


ROOT10England cricketer Joe Root visited the Gunn & Moore bat factory in Nottingham last week and I was invited along to shoot some 360 degree interactive panoramic images for the Mail Plus iPad app.

The Gunn & Moore craftsmen produce English willow bats from start to finish at the Nottingham factory, this is the only place in the UK to complete the full process.

Joe picked the new GM Six6 for Test Matches and the GM Octane for ODIs and T20s.

The Ashes tour party fly out tomorrow with the first test at The Gabba in Brisbane on November 21st followed by further fixtures in Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.

Click on the images below to look around the factory.

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A monument for a King


As the fight goes on to find a final resting place for Richard III I visited the Bosworth battlefield in Leicestershire.

BOSWORTH07planetMembers of Les Routiers De Rouen, the resident re-enactment group met me at the top of Ambion Hill near the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre. The site has a walk-through sundial which features the thrones of Richard III, Henry Tudor and Lord Stanley.

They portray the Gloucester household personnel retinue to King Richard III, sworn to protect his honour and good name. They claim to be ‘devout yorkists and only serve the white rose and for our King we took the oath to stand to the last !’Les Routiers De Rouen are made up of people of all ages and from all walks of life and they were holding a Soldier’s Camp at The Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre and Country Park.   Allowing visitors to meet medieval soldiers and families preparing for battle; with weapons, armour and costumes with the aim to give the public the experience of life in the 15th century.

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The land of giant vegetables


Mail Plus Nottinghamshire gardener Peter Glazebrook is the daddy of giant vegetable growers.  He has a long standing reputation for producing award winners and record holding monsters.

As you wander through the polytunnels in his garden you see onions growing on pedestals, surrounded by artificial lighting and cooled by fans.  Leeks look like small trees and the cabbages will only just fit into his wheel barrow.  The vegetables may look like mutants from a science lab but they come from simple cross-pollination. Peter explains it as essentially the lesson of the birds and the bees, only with giant onions as the outcome.  The frustrating part for the grower is that they have no way of knowing how they have done until they uproot their vegetables and clean off the dirt.

Peter, 69, devotes his life to his garden.  He says he is ‘full-time’ at it and his wife, Mary, helps with a lot of work as well.  They don’t have a holiday, and just go away when visiting the shows. Peter is up at six and usually working until it’s dark.  The hours are long, the costs of heating and cooling their greenhouses are expensive and the financial rewards are minimal.  The retired building surveyor proudly showed me around his garden and I shot some interactive 360 degree panoramas for the Mail Plus for iPad app.

Peter claims giant vegetable growing is a gentle pastime for gentlemen. It may largely be about sheer weight, but a tender touch is needed to get to the scales.  Too much sun or some heavy rain and months of hard work can be ruined in an instant. Peter has held eight world records, including one for the biggest onion weighing 8.16 kg.  This years attempt came up just short as his onion only weighed 6.84 kg !

Click on the images below to join me in Peter’s garden.



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