Eden ProjectSadly, very little film from my third year at Birmingham survived the scanning process (one reason not to use Max Spielmann again) and the only photographs I have are from other places. On the left is the slightly-under-construction Eden Project, a series of gigantic geodesic domes near St Austell that house plants from various biomes around the world. Below is Leeds 2001, possibly the first music festival I attended and also the first riot I was caught up in. The stage shot gives you an idea of how difficult it is to get anywhere near a performer (in this case, Iggy Pop) and the night shot shows the aftermath of the riot, when festival-goers decided to burn down the portable toilets.

Leeds crowdBurning toilets

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Near Cadair Idris

Above: A valley near Cadair Idris, Wales.

My second year at Birmingham, the portion of it captured on film at least, was characterised by more trekking around the wet and windy uplands that happened to be a convenient drive away. By this time, I had been upgraded to supervisor status (having completed the hiking section of my own D of E the previous summer) and was largely occupied with making sure that nobody got hypothermia. One particularly resourceful group had everything they were carrying drenched during a surprisingly violent squall except their cannabis supply, which had received top priority in the waterproofing hierarchy.

The ValeUniversity of Bimingham

Above, left to right: The Vale (student residences at Birmingham), The University of Birmingham’s central campus. Below, left to right: Edgbaston cricket ground, Coverack Bay (Cornwall).

EdgbastonCoverack Bay

British uplands (1)British uplands (2)

Above: British uplands, location unknown. Below:Walking near Cadair Idris, Wales.

Cadair hillsCadair valley

Cadair IdrisDark Peak

Above, left to right: The cwm at Cadair Idris, walking in the Dark Peak.

Just as I was beginning to wonder whether being in the scenic Scottish Highlands was worth such a crappy job, I got an offer to go to Derbyshire and work for the Youth Hostel Association at Ilam Hall. I was off like a rocket, and spent the rest of the summer serving food, cleaning up after hikers and exploring the rainforest-like limestone valleys of the White Peak. This was my first encounter with the YHA’s seasonal assistant programme, and it opened doors to jobs for all the university holidays I happened to be in the UK for.

DovedaleDovedale arch

Above, left to right: Dovedale, a natural arch in the Dovedale valley. Below, left to right: The view back towards Ilam, Thorpe Cloud.

Towards IlamThorpe Cloud

Charles DarwinWith the best part of a day in central London at my disposal (before moving on to Hong Kong), I had initially planned on basing myself in the South Kensington area and visiting both the Natural History Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum. As things turned out, the Natural History Museum was just too interesting and I spent several hours exploring it quite thoroughly. The place was overrun with school groups from the minute the doors opened in the morning, giving me valuable insight into what kids are interested in doing in museums (showing off to other kids, followed by finding gruesome or unusual exhibits, followed by whacking all buttons on an interactive display simultaneously).

Left: Charles Darwin. Below, left to right: Thomas Henry Huxley, Joseph Banks, Paracyclotosaurs davidi, giant ground sloth (Glossotherium robustum).

Thomas Henry HuxleySir Joseph Banks

Paracyclotosaurs davidiGiant ground sloth

Pickled beetleGiven lots of time to poke around the less-visited sections of the museum, I was rather hoping to find a forgotten door or access tunnel to a non-public area (cf. Dry Store Room No. 1). However, the staff have been quite vigilant and all forbidden areas are effectively labelled as such (though from the sheer volume of staff going in and out of them, tailgating would be sheer simplicity). Unfortunately, the main stuffed mammals gallery was closed for redevelopment (possibly for the mounting of the Thames Whale skeleton) but the rest of the animal kingdom compensated more than enough. The daily talk (kind of a “meet the scientist” series) was about human evolution in Africa’s Great Rift Valley, complete with pass-around replicas of the most important skulls and gorgeous pictures of Kenya.

Left: Long-horned beetle (Callipogon armilatum). Below, left to right: Sabre-toothed cat, giant golden mole (Chrysospalax trevelyani), leafcutter ants, monkey and giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum).

Sabre-toothed catGiant golden mole

Leafcutter antsMonkey see

Lesser spotted dogfish skeletonFinally, I took my third tour of the Darwin Centre‘s wet collections – thousands upon thousands of specimens preserved in spirits (ethanol, methanol or formaldehyde) used as a research resource. Only a few are on public display, the vast majority being sequestered behind fireproof doors in chilled rooms, but they are always impressive. Notable items include most of the samples collected on the second voyage of HMS Beagle (following which Darwin developed his theory of evolution by natural selection), a coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae; a species thought extinct until one was fished up in 1938) and a complete giant squid (Architeuthis spp.; there would also have been a colossal squid, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, but it broke apart during hauling-in and everything except the head was lost).

Left: Lesser spotted dogfish (Scyliorhinus canicula). Below, left to right: Red fox (Vulpes vulpes), Pencil-spine urchin (Cidaris cidaris), starfish (Astropecten aurautiacus).

Pickled foxPencil-spine urchinsPickled starfish

Huddersfield from Emley Moor

Emely Moor poniesHaving discovered quite late on in my stay in Yorkshire that I look pretty good in a flat cap (the traditional local headgear), I walked up to Emley Moor to test it out. I was mentally reviewing its performance in various categories, the most important being warmth (quite), stability (a little on the small side; I have since received a new one) and aesthetics. While I was up there, I took advantage of the spectacular view of farmland dropping down into Huddersfield to rig up the tripod and look like some country squire following gentlemanly pursuits.

Snow tracksAlthough there were no more major snowfalls, temperatures remained decidedly frosty and the fields were therefore still a uniform white as far as the eye could see (about four miles, due to the hilly terrain). I took a few short walks to reacquaint myself with the local scenery, disturbing a couple of hares (Lepus europaeus) and a rather fat common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), and watched enterprising collared doves (Streptopelia decaocto) eat sprouts by perching on the top of a plant and leaning over to attack the stems. Apart from a small wind turbine at a nearby farm and the ever-expanding distribution centre at the main road, the old homestead looked exactly as it did years ago (a marked contrast to the continuous demolition and construction in Korea).

Winter fields (1)Winter fields (2)

Emley MoorThe poor weather meant that I was housebound for quite a lot of the week, but this did allow me to finish going through all of my stored possessions and take approximately half a ton of books and bric-a-brac to our local Oxfam. I now have the onerous tasks of estimating how much volume everything else takes up in order to get a shipping quote for the move to Canada, and of listing the more interesting things on eBay.

Emley Moor sunsetAs the time of typing, temperatures are steadily edging up and we should have rolling green hills again by the end of the weekend. Run-off is filling the streams (flooding will be the next annual unforeseen transport chaos-causing disaster), and the hedgerow birds will be able to find their own food instead of relying on the fat-and-insect pellets I requisitioned from the supermarket. If there isn’t another big freeze, this will have been one of the shortest and most intense winters in living memory.

My flight back to the UK from Japan went by in better-than-expected speed and comfort, partly due to the surprisingly good selection of films (including The Last King of Scotland, Gorillas in the Mist and Cry Freedom – I didn’t have time to watch Goodbye Bafana). We touched down ahead of schedule in light snow (perhaps 2″; heavy snow by British standards), and then had to sit on the runway for three hours wile a parking space was cleared for us. Of course, I missed my train back North and had to jump on a (much) later bus, eventually getting back about 27 hours after I’d left the hostel.

Marsden Moor (1)I woke up very late to find an unusually-thick blanket of snow covering the landscape as far as the eye could see. Over the next few days, more fell and little melted and most of the evening news was given over to the annual chaos on the roads, panic buying, salt shortages and doom-laden weather forecasts. I wasted little time in getting outdoors (having heaved my cold-weather gear all the way from Korea), and took a short ramble over on Marsden Moor with activist extraordinaire Matt (who you may remember from other UK posts) and Emma. The scenery was stark and blinding, with a biting wind blowing all the way across the Pennines, and we admired it for as long as we could stand the cold before retreating back into the valley.

Marsden Moor (2)Marsden Moor (3)

Eastergate BridgeDrainage icicles