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I'm an architectural photographer. I travel around Britain recording and interacting with special places that have a spirit about them. I work from my camper van called Woody and I share my experiences via this digest.

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“In our world," said Eustace, "a star is a huge ball of flaming gas."
“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”

C.S Lewis in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader


A living piece of wood and a ball of flaming gas - Scotland Lane, Cheesden, Greater Manchester.

The Sycamore Gap

Painting thanks to Rebecca Warren

The Sycamore Gap: the presence of absence

When I visited Hadrian’s Wall recently, I was caught between cycling besides the Birdoswald fort or visiting Sycamore Gap - that iconic location where a lone tree within a historic dip in the landscape has managed to infiltrate the British psyche.

I plumped for Birdoswald and missed the opportunity of ever seeing one of the most photographed trees in the country. On 28 September the tree was unlawfully cut down in the dark hours.

Upon waking to the news, why did I feel such a throbbing, mourning loss at something that I’ve never seen?

These places become greater than the sum of their parts - taking on a role that is inter-generational, one that contributes to a sense of identity. But, I think it’s something more than that: we tend to look for answers to our personal trials and tribulations in the environment around us. These things become anchor points, sticky entrapments that slowly imbibe our lives - they become props that support us in difficult times.

Whilst photographing the churches of the Romney Marsh, I visited one of my own ’Sycamore Gap’ places: St. Clement’s, Old Romney. Film maker and activist, Derek Jarman is buried there. Just ten minutes down the road from Old Romney is Jarman’s Prospect Cottage, another ‘sticky entrapment’ to the psyche of many who relate to Jarman’s fight with HIV.

"...we tend to look for answers to our personal trials and tribulations in the environment around us."

Jarman, through the existential vagaries of illness, found solace in key locations around him. In his journal, he talks about the church tower at Lydd and finds in it a deep rooted symbol, anchored in time, that steadies his feverish condition.

Amy Liptrot, in her book The Instant, captures the essence of our relationship with places like the Sycamore Gap and Lydd church:

Unbidden, certain objects glow with relevance….We are meaning-making machines. I use all these little personal myths and totems to hold myself together: things to search for when I'm faced with overwhelming choice and freedom.

And so, feeling anxious in a world where choice and freedom is being overwhelmingly redacted; in these days of extremes, of bluff and absurd rhetoric, I find myself cut loose by the cutting down of a tree.

The tree spoke of continuity and formed a shelter against the fickleness of the present. It told me that, in spite of the extremes of our current age, there are places in our natural and historic environment that are telling.

They tell us that there is a better side to the human condition. Perhaps more powerfully than that, these places reveal our innate desire for connection and provide counter narratives to those that might oppose that.

"It told me that, in spite of the extremes of our current age, there are places in our natural and historic environment that are telling."

Over at St. Mary’s, Warwick at the tomb of Thomas and Katherine de Beauchamp I found a ‘hand clasp’ that does just that. It shines through the formal sculpted pomp and rhetoric of the feudal age, and, in doing so, gives me hope for the future.

Larkin speaks of a similar ‘hand clasp’ at Chichester in his poem An Arundal Tomb, telling of time passing where:

The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

He notes that through all the visual coding, the certainty and bigotry of their times and the harsh understanding of their days - what shines through, in spite of the carefully sculpted feudal algorithm, is that which is timeless: the hand clasp.

Larkin is telling us to trust our instincts - to see through the rhetoric of the day - a rhetoric that sometimes constructs a reality that is so absurd and yet feels so real and pervasive at times.

And this is why the places that I visit in Woody, my camper, hold such profound significance for me. They have a wisdom that transcends their making. Our heritage is far more than a tourist tick-box destination. There is a hidden pattern that dwells within these places that speaks to us but, even more remarkably - as the outpouring of loss at Sycamore Gap reveals - has the potential to pull us back from the brink.

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Courtesy of Google Maps

Broughton, Hampshire.

I have an interiors photoshoot near Andover and am lodging nearby. I post out a link about my whereabouts on my LinkedIn profile and one of my connections tells me of a dovecote nearby at Broughton.

On the day of the shoot I set off extra early so that I can visit the Dovecote but get hopelessly lost. One of the roads has been closed and my sat-nav can't seem to re-direct me. I spot a dog walker and pull over. "You're heading to Broughton?" she says, looking my camper van up and down. " There's not much there, no shops or touristy things." she adds.

"I'm looking for the dovecote."

"Oh that thing...it isn't open."

Twenty minutes later, I arrive in Broughton and it's full of life, but not in the way that the dog walker thinks.

What I'm struck by at Broughton is the layering up of the ages via the diversity and juxtaposition of materials. Everything has been thrown into the melting pot which reveals a pattern of human occupation that thrives on mend and make do.

The buildings of Broughton - pure scroll - no words.

Header bond
Flemish bond with headers in vitrified (glazed) brick

The village might not have any shops, but it is alive! Full of telling - full of the pattern of human endeavour.

I walk through the high street and glimpse the church tower - before I visit the church I walk into the churchyard and spot the dovecote.

It has a delightful conical roof covered in plain (Rosemary) hand made clay tiles, each one cut to size as they diminish to the cupola.

Built in 1689 the brick coursing is of Flemish bond - stretcher then header, stretcher then header - a popular bond of the day. The eaves cornice has been finished in a dog-tooth pattern.

From the dovecote I spy the church.

..and I've never seen such a ragged church in all of my days - and it's beautiful.

We should call it a building's 'overall patina': the way a building's aesthetics is impacted by the diversity of its pattern and materials.

And then I spy the tower door - and am spun into its web.

From the macro to the micro - a universe in the particular. It's all so bloody beautiful.

And the dog walker told me there was nothing to see.

Walking and cycling around Broughton

Roman Road – Buckholt House loop from Broughton | hike | Komoot
Detailed maps and GPS navigation for the hike: “Roman Road – Buckholt House loop from Broughton” 04:01 h 14.7 km
Smooth flat quiet country road – John O Gaunts Inn loop from East Tytherley | bike Tour | Komoot
Detailed maps and GPS navigation for the bike Tour: “Smooth flat quiet country road – John O Gaunts Inn loop from East Tytherley” 01:57 h 31.3 km

Woody has been inundated - I take a break away with Char and her sister and nieces. We're over at Sizergh Farm in the Lake District.

My nieces ask for my phone - they want to take a photo of something. They borrow it (I hear giggling) and they give it back. I forget about it until reviewing the photographs for this digest - then I see the horror of what they have done... they've applied make-up to Woody - and I didn't even notice, other than, perhaps, a glint in his eye.

Van Life Gallery
My van, Woody, is my time-travelling machine, taking me to some remarkable places that have altered my mind like wine through water.

How did Woody (my camper van) get his name?

Part of the van's registration plate is MDF.


Sycamore Gap: Women crochet postbox topper tree tribute
Carrie Page and Christine Hopper say the loss of the world-famous tree “knocked Hexham into shock”.
The Sycamore Gap: four other significant tree destructions from history
The emotional response to the loss of the Sycamore Gap is part of a long history of emblematic trees, their destruction and renewal

BBC Radio 3 - The Essay, EarthWorks, Field
Archaeologist Rose Ferraby teases out a North Yorkshire field’s place in changing times


From the digest this time last year:

"Visiting an ancient yew tree is both an emotive and a spiritual experience which is hard to put into words."

Andy Marshall’s Genius Loci Digest - 7 Oct 2022
The Tree of Life? Perhaps one of the most evocative yew trees in the country at Crowhurst, East Sussex.

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In essence I’m offering my professional services for free to historic locations in Britain.

🟦 Andy Marshall’s Treasure Hoard Gazetteer
The gazetteer is my personal collection of material treasures. It’s a growing map of wonders that I’ve spent over forty years documenting. The treasures that I list here are not of any monetary value, but far more valuable.

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Photographs and words by Andy Marshall (unless otherwise stated). Most photographs are taken with Iphone 14 Pro and DJI Mini 3 Pro.