weekly photo challenge

The treacherous footpaths of Ulaan Bataar

Before I went to Mongolia, my aunt said to take a torch.

Well, doh! I’m camping… “No, not for the camping. For the footpaths in Ulaan Bataar. They’re really dangerous at night! You could hurt yourself.”

I thought, yeah, right. But, well…

Ulaan Bataar is many things. Well-maintained is not one of them.

We spent around a week in UB, much of which involved schlepping from one thing to another on foot. At first, the footpaths greeted us with smiles…

But as time went on, the truly treacherous nature of UB’s footpaths were fully revealed. The city overlords attempt to make them attractive urban conduits, but…

I think you’d call that a fail.

And then you see things like this in the middle of one of the biggest annual festivals… I believe this was to run power to one of the stalls out at the horse racing event during Nadaam. Across a busy thoroughfare.


Yep, it definitely pays to be watching where you’re walking when pounding the UB pavements. Which is why this week’s WordPress photo challenge theme of Beneath Your Feet rather resonated with me today (and gave me another excuse to share another facet of Mongolia).

Some of these photos were taken by my travelling companion, Kirstyn McDermott.

Riding into the storm

This is a blatant leveraging of the weekly photo challenge theme of half and half as an excuse to publish more photos (and tell a story) from my recent trip to Mongolia — a land of big sky, spectacular clouds and sweeping grasslands.

The horizon draws the eye repeatedly and bisects many of my photos, so I figure these images qualify for the theme.

We mostly had great weather, but on one particular afternoon we found ourselves riding into a storm. (There might have been singing: Riders on the storm… Singing in the rain… Raindrops keep falling on my head…)

Into the storm... Half an hour later we were putting up a tent in a hail storm

Into the storm… Half an hour later we were putting up our tent in a hail storm

There was nothing we could do about the storm, but we had no idea just how ‘exciting’ the next hour was going to be. My knees were tired, and we’d been promised a trip into a nearby town for a shower. Stopping to camp seemed like a good thing to do.

(Mind you, we did look at the broad, flat expanse of steppe, fairly near a dirt road with regular traffic, and question the exact choice of campsite. We tended to prefer campsites with a bit more, ahem, cover… if you know what I mean.)

No sooner had we hobbled the horses and started putting up our tent, than the clouds burst on our heads. Slashing rain. Gale-force wind. Thunder. Lightning. Hail.

We scurried around trying to get the tent fly on, smashing pegs in with rocks. At one point the tent almost twisted in on itself. It did go up eventually, a bit skewed, but good enough to shelter us for the next half hour while the storm ripped itself into pieces.

We were nonetheless already drenched.

This is what happens when you put up tents during hail storms.

This is what happens when you put up tents during hail storms…

After the storm, the sun came out and we got everything dry by hanging it on the tent. I kid you not, this happened —

After the storm...

After the storm…

Meanwhile, we got our much-needed shower and a beer and all was good in the world.

Definitely fun times.

Walls of the old stone variety

When I travel, I take a fair few photos of walls. Particularly old stone walls, usually up close so you can see the way they’ve been constructed.

For this week’s WordPress photo challenge, with the theme of WALL, I therefore thought I’d share some of the of the old English walls I’ve come across in the past few years.

I love the way every wall is unique, fitted together like a mosaic. Or tetras blocks.

And the really old walls, like the city wall around Exeter in Devon, bear signs of all the ages, having being built by Romans and Saxons and Normans and others besides. (For more on the Exeter wall, see The many things I like about Exeter.)

A walk along Surf Beach – with shell

I’ve been enjoying another relaxing few days at Phillip Island, where beauty and inspiration abound.

This morning I took a walk at low tide along the south coast section of the island known as “Surf Beach” to Forrest Caves. With this week’s WordPress photo challenge theme of SCALE in mind, I picked up a shell and experimented a little with the different beach backdrops. These are taken on an iPhone 4S, so the depth of focus isn’t so good unfortunately.

Then I came across the following rocky formation, which reminded me of a miniature version of those ancient villages that exist in some parts of the world. I rather wished I had one of my D&D miniatures to place into the scene…


The caves themselves were beautiful too. Maybe a bit damp at high tide, though, so I don’t suppose they’d be any good for camping.

forrest caves

Forrest Caves – Phillip Island

It was fun to explore a new part of the island — after 8 years, I still had not made it down to Surf Beach and Forrest Caves. There’s always something new to discover.

Twinkle twinkle at the beach

‘Tis the season for twinkling. In Australia that often means sun and the sea. We love our Christmases at the beach. I know we’re not quite there yet (can it only be 12 days until Christmas?), but here’s my take on TWINKLE for this week’s photo challenge.

This is the photo I immediately thought of when I saw the theme. I took it last year with my iPhone 4S. It shows the boat ramp for Cowes yacht club (Phillip Island) in the late afternoon.

I particularly love the texture of the rough weathered wood and the glint of light on the rusted nails and bolts. One of the better photos this amateur has ever taken!

Descent – ways with water

I’m taking an engineering viewpoint on this week’s photo challenge theme of Descent. Because I’ve long been fascinated and thrilled by the way our forefathers used the controlled descent of water under gravity as very clean power source (and indeed modern hydropower stations do too).

Above is the flour mill at Cotehele in Cornwall. Water is diverted upstream and channelled to the top of the waterwheel, which turns under the force of the water tumbling through its fins, thereby turning a shaft, which is in turn connected to a complex arrangement of gears and grinding plates inside the building.

The water descends, the wheel turns. How simple. How brilliant.

The Romans were also really clever in how they controlled water under gravity. Witness their amazing aqueducts (pictured Segovia, Spain — again, sorry… but it IS a different photo, promise!), which were used to carry water into the heart of the town. The basic principle of diverting water was the same, and then it was a matter of channelling it carefully over undulating terrain, making sure the mildly descending gradient of the water channel remained constant. This meant they had to calculate precisely how high off the ground the aqueduct needed to be at any given point, relative to the surrounding terrain… And construct it accurately as well. Amazing.

segovia aqueduct

And here’s a mini aqueduct carrying water to the baths in Ronda, Spain. The water here was drawn from a well (behind the shot) and channelled down via the conduit filling up with leaves into the bathhouse. I just think this is cool.

ronda baths

Endurance: Ring of Brodgar

About ten years ago I visited Scotland for the second time. I took a six day small group tour right around the country, which included a day in the Orkney Isles.

The neolithic village of Skara Brae still has to be one of the most remarkable sites I’ve ever visited. Talk about endurance. The remains of Skara Brae have been around for thousands of years, since about 2500 BC.

But today’s feature photo is from the Ring of Brodgar, which is near Skara Brae. Today, 27 stones remain of the 103.6m diameter ring, which dates from 2500-2000 BC. The photo was taken on film and scanned to digital — but it hasn’t come out too badly.

I love this week’s photo challenge theme of endurance. The first thing that sprang to mind was the fabulous Roman aqueduct in Segovia, Spain…

segovia - aqueduct

But since I’ve already featured this in three posts (now four) I figured I had better come up with something else. The aqueduct will always be seriously awesome, though.

But so too is the Ring of Brodgar.

And given events this week, with the Scottish referendum and all, it seems fitting.

Adventure in the rain

I like to think of myself as adventurous. It’s probably one of the reasons I love fantasy so much — with its quests and great sweeping landscapes. And it’s definitely what drives me when I travel.

The above photo epitomises adventure for me — I’m sharing for the weekly photo challenge.

Last year my desire for adventure inspired me to tackle a very small section of England’s South-West Coast Path. It’s a walking track that follows the coast around Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and takes weeks to complete in entirety. I figured since I’d be in the region it would be a good opportunity to check out some of that spectacular coastal scenery.

I’ve done a lot of hiking in my time, with and without packs. Trekking in Nepal was fabulous. So I figured a couple of days along the English coast would be a piece of cake. The trail is well marked. You can arrange to have your luggage transferred between bed-and-breakfast accommodation. It sounded a very civilised way to have an adventure.

But of course I upped the difficulty factor by selecting one of the more challenging sections of the path (the more challenging, the more spectacular, right?) and then — as bad luck would have it — chose the rainiest, drabbest, most miserable day of my entire trip to embark on the 18km walk from Westward Ho! to Clovelly.

Drenched on the South-West Coast Path

Drenched on the South-West Coast Path

We got soaked and exhausted. I wrote a full account of the day at the time, so I won’t repeat myself. But suffice to say despite the rain it was a wonderful adventure, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Textures… of France and Spain

I love photographing textures. I’m sure there are others who do a much better job of it, but I make the attempt all the same. Especially when I’m travelling, because that’s often when I’m looking and seeing and breathing in the atmosphere of a place.

Today’s textures are once again inspired by the WordPress weekly photo challenge. This post features photos from France and Spain.

– Stone shingles of medieval roofs in Sarlat, France
– Pebbled paving of a courtyard in Cordoba, Spain
– Carved marble fresco of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain
– Carved timber door from the Alcazar in Seville, Spain
– Sculpted hedge garden at Chateau Villandry in the Loire Valley, France

The brief was “unexpected” textures… Do you think these qualify?

Which one is your favourite?


Today I bring you two very different images from my journeys through Spain a few years ago, inspired by the latest WordPress weekly photo challenge theme, which is ZIGZAG.

The featured image (above) is from the Alcazar (palace) in Seville. It’s a simple staircase descending into a tiled foyer, but I’ve always loved the angles and colours and patterns in this photo.

The next image (below) is from Ronda, and shows the zigzagging road descending from the plateau (where the town is located) into the gorge, where you can visit the ruins of the Arabian Baths. I love bath houses, and the ones at Ronda are pretty well preserved. This steep stone path seems to me something straight out of a fantasy novel, which is probably why I love this photo too. In fact, Ronda is one of the most stunning places I’ve ever visited.