“Ooh, look! A partridge!”
“… A pheasant, you mean?”
Gill looked at me quizzically from the driver’s seat. On the grassy kerb beside my window, the long-tail-feathered bird twitched his bright red head once, twice, and hopped ungainly into the bushes to disappear from view.
“You really are a city girl, aren’t you!” She said, laughing as our car zipped around a low brick-walled curve. The hedgerow gave way to an apple orchard, bare trees bending in the breeze while I squinted into the undergrowth in the hope of spotting another pheasant.
A long-forgotten love for the countryside
Although I don’t spend nearly enough time in it, I really love the countryside. Growing up with a grandma who lived in a little Somerset village meant my Easters and Christmases were filled with muddy walks through fields, nervously befriending strange cows and trying to avoid stepping in cowpats.
In comparison, being a Londoner means a general absence of nature – particularly when trying to spot England’s birdlife. The bird table in my dad’s garden in South London still plays host to the occasional beady eyed crow and a persistent flurry of fattened pigeons, their feathers tattered & grubby – but my childhood days of seeing blue tits and red breasted robins fluttering down to feast on leftover breakfast crumbs are sadly long gone.
Nowadays, even little brown sparrows are a rarity in London.
Last Wednesday afternoon saw me dragging my suitcase down a escalator, its wheels bouncing awkwardly and unevenly. I was late for my train and growing increasingly scared of being stranded at Euston station – yet an hour later I looked up from my laptop to see the open rolling hills of middle England through the train’s smeary window, and allowed myself a little grin of satisfaction.
In search of a different pace of life
For the last few months I’ve grown increasingly stagnant in my East London apartment while working on my book – I know every squeak of the swivel chair’s metal spine; the grumbling of the fridge in the open plan kitchen behind me; the van which appears each day like clockwork to deliver a screaming girl in a wheelchair back to her parents house opposite on my typical suburban street.
I needed something different. A change of environment – preferably somewhere near trees, fields and open spaces. Somewhere I could wrap myself up in thick wool and pad in cosy socks on old carpet beside a roaring wood fire. A place for time to stand still and elongate.
As luck would have it, my friend Gill lives in a farmhouse in a small Herefordshire village, where she’s built an annexe at the bottom of her garden. Completely self contained, this little high roofed cabin comes with a wood burner, comfy sofas and very spotty internet signal. Something that a social media obsessive actually finds rather useful, as it forces you to switch off.
The ensuing calm, quiet and solitude provides visitors with a few days away from the real world. A perfect place to get some intensive writing done. Right?
Hunkering down in my cabin in the woods
I woke in the hazy darkness to a jubilant trilling sound from right outside the bedroom window. I looked at the time. 4.30am.
The ‘dawn chorus’ (as Gill’s partner calls it) is exactly what I’d neglected to remember about the English countryside: when the vehicles stop, nature starts. In keeping with the bird theme, the cabin features birdlife of every kind – there are large sketches of robins on the sofa cushions, little drawer knobs with colourful bird heads, a tiled mosaic of a flying Japanese heron and a mysterious little parrot hiding in the cutlery drawer.
Right outside my window, a dozen chickens scrabbled in the dirt for scraps of bread and hidden kernels of corn. And as soon as I saw them, I realised my days in the cabin were perfect for another little project I had in mind.
Trying my hand at 4k photography
I’d recently been sent a TZ100 camera from Panasonic Lumix to try out the 4k feature, which involves shooting bursts of images at 30 frames per second and then choosing which your favourite images to save. Perfect fodder for a crowd of clucking chickens who insisted on doing amusing things.
As someone who’s always a second too late when pressing the camera shutter, I was fascinated by the concept of 4k photography – and the more I distracted myself from writing by hanging furtively around Gill’s bird table, the more obsessed I became with it.
Probably because there were almost too many birds to photograph.
Peace and quiet in the woodlands – or is it?
The next day, I headed out into the forest behind the house for a wander and some much needed fresh air. Walking down a muddied dirt track, one foot on the brush to avoid the worst of the puddles, I had the shock of my life when a pheasant suddenly burst out of the undergrowth and flew straight up like a shot.
My heart jumped then may have stopped beating for a moment; my hands clasped involuntarily to my chest with my mouth open in shock as I watched it fly lumberingly away, the loud squawks fading into the distance – and all I could think was the fact I hadn’t had my camera ready to snap his flight.
As a result, the rest of my walk was spent with eyes primed for any movement in the undergrowth, head turning quickly at any sound I heard. The promise of a pheasant-flying photo series was too tempting.
Losing focus – and finding a new one
Unfortunately, any surrounding pheasants proved both too elusive and too quiet for me – but by that point I’d found the post-focus setting on the camera which was just as compelling.
Within no time I was knee deep in thorns and gorse bushes, looking for compositions that would best show off the ability of taking one photo with multiple focus points.
Normally I can never get the focus I want with photos like the ones above – or I want to change it later on, and wish I’d spent longer thinking about the initial photo. But these three shots come from one image that’s actually recorded multiple focal points, so I get to choose where the focus lies.
It’s basically the perfect solution for a rushed photographer – but I still took my time and got right into the faces of multiple flowers. There may or may not have been pollen on my chin when I left.
As the clouds grew darker above me, I turned my attention skyward to a whole new subject matter. Call me crazy, but there’s something pretty atmospheric about crumpled leaves and foreboding branches towering above them.
A new appreciation for everything avian
Eventually I settled back in the cabin to tap away on my keyboard with a steaming hot mug of tea and the fire burning away merrily. Sometimes inspiration can be found in the most natural of places – but it’s often when your surroundings actively change, and you find a new point of interest.
Even though my 4k adventuring in the Hereford countryside wasn’t quite as active as I wanted it to be (I’m clearly still a bit bitter about the flying pheasant) – I developed a new found love for the other birds I saw through the lens of my camera. Like the chickens, which I’d never really considered as hilarious creatures before – but watching as they dropped and duly chased after their food with sheer determination on their little beaked faces was nothing short of fantastic.
After all, who needs TV in a woodland cabin when there’s all the avian fun to be had?
Are you a burgeoning bird lover? What would you choose to shoot with a 4k camera?
Disclaimer: The photos in this article were all taken with a TZ100 Panasonic Lumix, which I’m currently playing with thanks to the guys at Panasonic – but my time in the cabin (and all accompanying wildlife) was kindly provided by my friend Gill. Because friends with writing cabins are the best.