Harness Racing at Pikehall

Last week, a few of us met up for some social photography at Pikehall in Derbyshire – we decided that we would go and watch the Harness Racing, as none of us had ever been before.  It’s about 30 miles from where we are based, and so with lunch packed away, we intrepid explorers set off on a gloriously sunshiny Sunday….

Racing started at 2pm, and there were 9 races in total.  But, we thought, what is harness racing exactly.. the answer came from the Harness Racing Association

http://www.bhrc.org.uk/racing/the-sport/about-harness-racing/

There are various opinions as to how Harness Racing began – folk racing their horses and traps home from church, trotting horses under saddle carrying the post all over the country and being raced by their owners etc.

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Racing is thought to have begun in the mid 1700′s, the earliest recorded race being on Newmarket Heath on 29th August 1750. The Earl of March and the Earl of Eglintowne bet 1,000 guineas that four horses could pull a four wheeled chaise carrying one person 19 miles in an under an hour. A century and a half later, Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales drove a trotter on the old Lanark racecourse in Scotland.

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Many ‘match’ races used to take place between two horses, and also betting on horses trotting a set distance inside a certain time, some of the more notable recorded ones being:- In 1800 Phenomena, a brown mare 14.3hh, trotted 17 miles on the road in 56 minutes, when she was 12 years old. Some questioned the accuracy of the timing so she repeated the feat in three minutes less! She also trotted 19 miles in an hour, and at the age of 23, she still trotted 9 miles in 28.5 minutes. Creeping Sally was only 14 hands and blind, but she was backed to cover 50 miles of public road within 5 hours, trotting in harness. Her blindness probably proved an advantage that day, as there was a thick fog at Shoreditch and for all of the 25 miles out on the Harlow road. She turned round and headed back to London in 16 minutes under the stipulated time, with no signs of distress.

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In 1839, two horses which were driven in tandem trotting 45 miles of road in 2 hours 55.5 minutes, were Tommy and Gustavus, a 24 year old. Both horses had won individual match races. By driving this pair backwards and forwards over a measured five mile stretch of road between Hampton and Sunbury, Mr Burke of Hereford won £100 for completing inside 3 hours. Lady was a trotting mare from Birmingham born in 1828 by Mr Richard Taylor from the noted horse Matchless out of Cheshire Cheese Lass. She was less than 15 hands but her first match was won against a 16hh horse, between Litchfield and Burton on 23/11/1832. She won easily passing him at the distance of 5 miles after giving him a mile start. On 13/5/1834 she trotted 17 miles in 55 minutes, carrying 12 stone.

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The main foundation sire of American Harness Racing stock was a grey English thoroughbred called Messenger, and he was exported to America in 1788. His career as a stallion lasted 20 years, and today nearly all of America’s Standardbreds can be traced directly back to one of Messenger’s great grandsons, Hambletonian. The name Standardbred derives from the early American trotters who were required to reach a set standard of 2 minutes 30 seconds for a mile, in order to gain breed recognition. As far back as 1800, many top class American Standardbreds have stopped in Britain on their way to Australia, and British breeders have benefited from them resting here.

(info taken from the BHRA Website) – All images by Diane Seddon LRPS CPAGB

See the full set of images here http://www.oaktreephotography.co.uk/pikehall

The Damselfly

In my last post I talked about Dragonflies, and in this one, I want to talk about their smaller counterparts, the Damselfly, but first the differences between the two..

Dragonflies have eyes that touch, or nearly touch at the top of the head, they are stocky, and have different sized wing pairs.  When they perch, the wings are held open.

Damselflies have eyes that are clearly separated, one on each side of the head, they are long and slender, and have evenly sized wings, which are held close when they perch, as can be seen in the image below.

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Blue Tailed Damselfly Perching

Damselflies are carnivorous insects that live and breed near a wide variety of freshwater habitats. They lay their eggs in water, and the immature damselflies spend the first several months or years as aquatic predators. These immature damselflies, called nymphs, have external gills that allow them to extract oxygen from the water. After undergoing metamorphosis, new adult damselflies fly away from the water for a brief period of several days to several weeks, after which they return to breed. Both adult and immature damselflies are predators whose diet consists primarily of insects. (Corbet, 1999; Silsby, 2001)

Damselfly eating an aphid
Damselfly eating an aphid

The mating behaviour of the damselfly is quite unique.  Males have two sets of genitalia.  To mate, the male must grasp the female behind the head, and curl his abdomen into a circle.  In this position the male and female are said to be ‘in tandem’ – if the female is receptive, she will curl her abdomen forward to join the tip of her abdomen with the male’s second set of genitilia, sperm is then transferred from one to another.  This position, called ‘the wheel’.  After mating, the female will lay eggs usually below the water line, often guarded by the male

Mating Damselfly
Mating Damselfly

The average Damselfly, probably only lives between 3 to 4 weeks as an adult, but the damselfly nymphs can spend months in this early stage, depending on food source, temperatures and so on.

Damselfly do need a minimum temperature at which to fly – in the early mornings, they can be seen spreading their wings to dry out the morning dew, and warm up.

Damselfly in morning dew
Damselfly in morning dew

Damselfly and Dragonfly populations are good indicators of environmental quality and population levels are a good indicator of the health of the area.

They are the most ancient of insects, with evidence of them being found as fossils some millions of years ago.

Peak District Magic

I live on the borders of the Peak District – and have done for many years – but it seems that only in the last 3 or 4 of those years, have I actually started to look around more.  Why is it that you don’t look on your own doorstep so much, but feel you have to travel to another County, or even another Country to get those spectacular images.

The Peak District has been photographed to death, to the point where I reckon there are tripod holes in the ‘best’ places.  Having said that, it’s not been photographed by ME, and so I’ve been making every effort to get out there and shoot, and this at stupid times of day, but when the light is at its best.

So – one morning towards the end of July – we arose from bed at 2.45 in the morning – having seen what looked like a reasonable weather forecast – it had been cool overnight, but dry, and the morning was set fair….   mist was intermittent as we headed off – and by the time we arrived at Calver, and Curbar village, the fog was really thick – we started the climb to Curbar Edge, and climbed out of the cloud inversion – what we saw was incredible…

I have never seen such a sight in the Peaks for a long time – Sometimes you have to forget the images, and just enjoy the view… Once we turned around though, we saw what was happening on Froggat Edge


The sun was just starting to come up – sunrise scheduled for 5.10am, with a hint of pink in the sky, it was just amazing.

The last shot for this blog is one I took of my better half, with the dog, shooting into the sun along the back of the edge…. a truly amazing morning.


I’m still working on the new blog layout – not had much time this month, but I’ll battle on… keep watching.

Mother Cap

Just above Millstone Edge, on Hathersage Moor, in the Peak District lies Mother Cap.  It’s a place I visited in the winter with a couple of photography friends, and I had an image in mind ever since.  Today, I woke up early, and with an unmitigated amount of enthusiasm.  It was 2.45am….

My other half, stuffy with sleep, actually agreed to come out with me, but when I said “well, lets go then”, I though he was going to just turn over and ignore me.  However, by 3am, we were up and about, with a confused dog, who wondered why breakfast was coming in the middle of the night – by 3.20 we were on the road, and by 4am we arrived at the Surprise View Car Park (gosh, I wonder why we were the only car there……?)  The hike up to Mother Cap was easy, and although it wasn’t cold, there was a stiff breeze.  Dawn was timed for 4.50 – but it was actually 5.05 before the light got over the hills, and onto the rocks.

Mother Cap at Dawn
Millstones on the Edge
Silhouette before Dawn
Poppy on the Rocks

It was so good to be out and about so early – not another soul in sight – and although we know the day is setting out to be another hot one – we had the coolest time, the greatest light, and a second breakfast when we got home.

Time for a nap me-thinks…..

More Winter Landscape

It’s been a fabulous week weatherwise….. I’ve been able to get out and about with the camera whilst on a weeks holiday.  The snow has been perfect, and though we’re predicted lots more this weekend, so far there has been just enough to make things interesting.

I Had to go out towards New Mills in the Peaks, and so whilst I was there, carried on up to Mam Tor (The Shivering Mountain) the tops were beautiful, with enough snow for effect, but not too much to make things difficult.  We walked up the cycle track at the back of the Tor, and came back down the steps to the car park.  Right up on the trig point were some hang glider folk, waiting for the wind to drop before they set up to fly.

For me it was hard enough getting the camera stuff to the top of the Tor, never mind all the gear that this chap had with him.  He said he was off back down the hill to wait for the wind to lessen.  This means – from my point of view, that he’d have to lug it all back up again later if he wanted the chance to get airborne; and with the temperatures hovering around -5 it must have been much colder up there….. I wished him good luck and went for hot chocolate – much more civilised.

Winter Landscapes

It’s been a while since my last proper blog post, mostly due to workload, and then as usual home life took over in the gaps in between.  My trusty 24-105 lens failed, but thanks to the Canon CPS service, the repair was done, and the lens returned to me within 6 days, which included a weekend.

So yesterday – and just before a major shoot, for one of my clients, I decided to head out and give it a road test.  We headed out to the Peak District, and one of my favourite locations – Higger Tor, which is not far from Stanage Edge.  The rugged landscape is beautiful, and with a bit of winter sunshine in late afternoon it was superb.

The grouse were constantly calling, and the wind was fierce, which resulted in some images being a little blurred – I wanted to keep the ISO low, but it was impossible to shoot more than a handful of shots at lower shutter speeds.  However, the long shadows, and golden glow more than made up for it.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year !

I made what I think will be my last foray to the Peak District this year – though if it does snow again, I might just venture back if I can.

With a whole week to myself, I’m looking forward to sharing some great photography with some great photo friends.  On Sunday – we ventured forth to Curbar Edge, which is in the heart of the Peak District – we arrived just before sunrise, and just before the snow flurries blew in.

Having sheltered from the snow under rocky crags, we waited for the wind to blow the cloud cover over, and were rewarded for our patience with a bit of blue sky, and tiny shafts of sunshine.  We could have shot all day, the light changed so fast, and so we stayed on the tops till nearly 11am, which was about 3 hours from sunrise, and almost 4 from when we first arrived.

Although Curbar Edge is easy to get to, and fairly easy to walk along, the high winds, snow (and some fog) can make it treacherous – so if you do venture up there – make sure you are well equipped with waterproofs, a good OS map, and a compass.  It’s easy to climb up to places, but there are 364 different ways down.  Some of them sheer drops.

We were rewarded back at the car park with hot Earl Grey Tea. And although we were wet through with the snow and very cold, it was a worthwhile treck.

More images will be uploaded to my Personal gallery/landscapes in the next day or two.

In the meantime, we wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, and a happy and prosperous New Year…. take care.