Infinite potential the source of creative energy

Infinite potential: the source of creative energy

When I first read the book Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach, I was enthralled. A close friend had given it to me as a gift as I was leaving the UK for a one-year sabbatical to Australia. I read it on the plane, and again on my fi rst night in Sydney. I was 21 years old and unaware that I was reading a book that would change my life forever.

On a Monday morning 11 years later, a quote from Illusions floated in front of me, causing me to quit my job and follow my passion for wildlife photography (Part 1, OP190). Little did I know then that another quote from the same book would cause a similar revolution in my life several years later.

Imagine it’s already there

It was the winter of 2014 and I had been in Yellowstone National Park for two weeks. I had seen the usual wildlife suspects – ice-encrusted bison, lolloping elk, coyotes, eagles and swans – but I was desperate to see Yellowstone’s most famous inhabitant, the wolf.
Despite being one of the best locations in the world for spotting wolves, this apex predator is still a rare sighting. I had seen wolves only twice before in Yellowstone and things weren’t looking too positive on this trip. None of the guides had seen any signs of wolf – no tracks, no scat, no kills – and the spotting boards (notice boards on which visitors write down wildlife sightings) were blank. Even so, my mind was open to the potential.

The wolf-majestic animal of the nature

One morning during my trip I climbed into the front cab of the snow-coach as usual. As we began the journey into the park – a long, quiet road swathed in the cloak of twilight – I closed my eyes. And there, in the darkness in front of me, I saw the words, ‘To bring anything into your life, imagine that it’s already there.’I recognised them from the book Illusions, although, like many of the teachings described by Richard Bach, I didn’t fully comprehend them or, more accurately, I didn’t fully understand how to make them real.
Despite that, with my eyes still closed, in my mind I visualised an image of a wolf standing amid the tall lodgepole pines that define the Yellowstone landscape. The snow-coach trundled on.

Manifestations

About half an hour later, I was making some final checks of my cameras, when there was a commotion on the road ahead. Large numbers of vehicles – vans, snow-coaches and snowmobiles – were lined up and people were wandering about excitedly. We pulled over and I climbed down, grabbing my camera bag. In the distance, I heard someone shout, ‘wolf’ in explanation of the ruckus. I scanned the ridgeline, seeing nothing. I walked ahead without knowing why, other than it felt like the right thing to do – instinct overpowering hesitation. My eyes were glued to the ridgeline when, out of the corner of one eye, I saw a flicker of contrast. I turned my gaze and there, among the trees, regal in its confi dence, was a lone white wolf.
He was walking intently, slightly above me, and I followed, parallel to his path. He was always a step ahead. Then he stopped and turned his head towards me. I lifted the camera and he gazed straight down the barrel of my lens. A silent acknowledgement passed between us and then, as quickly as he’d arrived he was gone.

Two fighting bisons in the park

Two fighting bisons in the park

Back at the snow-coach, the chatter between the guides was energetic. It was their first wolf sighting in weeks, but the real reason for their excitement was that it was the first white wolf they’d ever seen. By the end of my time in Yellowstone, 10 days later, he hadn’t been seen again. I kept my own thoughts to myself. I didn’t really manifest a wolf by ‘imagining it was already there’. My morning epiphany and the appearance of the wolf was coincidence – surely?

Anything else was simply too ‘woo-woo’ to consider. I have a scientist’s mind, and there is nothing in any of the classic sciences with which I’m familiar that could explain conjuring a wild animal from thought alone. I am also a bit of a romanticist, however. And although my mind demands the rigors of science when understanding nature and the world around us, the idea of being able to manifest images at will was a fun illusion that was worth playing with.

The power of thought

For the rest of my time in Yellowstone, I set aside my usual approach to image-making (my back-to-front theory of composition, explained in last month’s article) and simply spent time truly connecting with my environment. Rather than chase light and pre-determined ideas I sat in a single spot, letting my senses be caressed by nature and trying to envisage my next image. And the strangest thing happened.

A bison by the lake

A bison by the lake

As I imagined each new image, by some twist of light and magic, immediately it would appear in front of me. I imagined a coyote – a coyote appeared, cool and inquisitive. I imagined an elk surviving in the harshness of winter – an elk appeared, forlorn in its isolation. I imagined bison in a crystal landscape – bison appeared along with rays of sparkling light.
I have had similar experiences in the past. I remember an occasion in India, watching a leopard hidden in some bushes. I imagined the leopard waking out of the bush, crossing an open area of grassland in front of me and settling at a nearby pool of water to drink. Ten minutes after seeing that picture in my mind, the leopard did exactly that. On another occasion, I imagined a grizzly bear snorkelling for salmon in a crystal- clear pool. That thought led to some quite remarkable GoPro footage of a fishing bear. But these were isolated moments that might also be explained in part by knowledge of animal behaviour, and nothing at all like the consistent fl ow of images that occurred in Yellowstone.

A closed up bison

Sadly, after days of thoughtful experimentation, my time in Yellowstone was up and playtime was over. I had to get back to the office and serious work. Still, in the volcano-like centre of my mischievous mind, a thought bubbled away.

Another unexpected journey

A couple of months later, I was in the car with my partner, Monique, travelling back to Switzerland from the south of France. It’s a long journey from the Mediterranean to the Alps, and we were both tired and conversation was slow. To fill the silence, Monique asked if I wanted to listen to something, suggesting some music or an audio book. Normally I would choose music because I have little auditory awareness, which means music is about all I can cope with. On this occasion, however, for reasons I can’t explain, I chose the book option, picking one at random. At some point, I don’t remember exactly when, I started to tune in. Here and there the narration would penetrate my auditory barrier and ping around my head as if my mind was the play zone of a pinball machine. I heard words and sentences such as ‘consciousness’ and ‘quantum domain’ and ‘mindfulness’ and ‘mind is the maker of reality’.

A lonely wolf

A lonely wolf

Something inside my psyche was beginning to put two and two together and coming up with an answer. I asked Monique to grab a pen and write something down so I wouldn’t forget: ‘The science of quantum mechanics asserts that in the beginning was potential. Potential was followed by chaos and chaos was followed by order. Photography mirrors the quantum world: photography starts with the potential for an image (the visualised idea), which is followed by chaos (the visual objects presented by nature), which is followed by order – composition.’

I then asked her to write down the question, ‘What does quantum physics reveal about our individual creativity?’ In answering that question so this journey, this great new adventure, begins. In next month’s chapter of A photographer’s guide to life on Earth: ‘Everything is connected to everything else’.

Top 8 locations for hard-core photographers ( Part 2)

5. Hawes, North Yorkshire

Hawes, North Yorkshire

Hawes, North Yorkshire

This photogenic little hilltop copse, just outside the market town of Hawes, is one of many in Wensleydale but is a favourite for its anthropomorphic form. In late spring, the vibrant greens of the surrounding fields and the newly formed leaves ensure this lovely group of trees, hugging a drystone wall, look their very best. It’s very easily accessed and is surrounded by the stunning Wensleydale scenery.

  • How to get there First, find the National Park Centre, just off the A684 on the eastern edge of Hawes. From the car park here, turn right on to the A684, then
    immediately right again on to Brunt Acres Road. Follow the road for a few hundred
    metres then, just after you cross the river, you will see an extended lay-by where you can park on the left by the wall. From here, you can see the copse on top of a hillock to your right.
  • What to shoot In the right conditions, you can opt for a wider composition of the copse, but it really lends itself to a telephoto view.
  • Best time of day Afternoon and evening.
  • Nearest food/drink Wensleydale Pantry, Market Place, Hawes, DL8 3QX, 01969 667202.
  • Nearest accommodation The White Hart Country Inn, Main Street, Hawes, DL8 3QL, 01969 667214, whitehartcountryinn.co.uk.
  • Other times of year Summer through to autumn is best. Winter would also work.
  • Ordnance Survey map LR 98
  • Nearby locations Hardraw Force (1 mile); Butt ertubs Pass (5 miles).

6. Grindslow Knoll, Derbyshire

Grindslow Knoll, Derbyshire

Grindslow Knoll, Derbyshire

Grindslow Knoll is a real gem in the Peak District, commanding views down the sleepy Vale of Edale and across to the Great Ridge. The viewpoint itself is up in the moorland and has some excellent examples of folded gritstone. There are also plenty of drystone walls on the hill, which make for some great lead-in lines.

  • How to get there From the A6 at Chapel-en-le-Frith, take Sheffield Road towards Castleton. Stay on this road for about four miles, then turn left towards Edale. On arriving at Edale, park at the railway car park and walk up through the village until you find the path to your left. Continue along this path out of the village and across a fi eld until the path splits in two. Take the right-hand path, which takes you to the top of the hill and on to Grindslow Knoll.
  • What to shoot Dramatic scenery down the Vale of Edale to the Great Ridge, and fantastic geological features.
  • Best time of day Early morning as the sun rises over Edale.
  • Nearest food and drink The Old Nag’s Head, Edale, S33 7ZD, 01433 670291,
    the-old-nags-head.co.uk.
  • Nearest accommodation The Old Nag’s Head – as above.
  • Other times of year Winter with snow and frost on the landscape works well.
  • Ordnance Survey map OL 1
  • Nearby locations Mam Tor (2 miles); Stanage Edge (11 miles).

7. Rumbling Bridge, Clackmannanshire

Rumbling Bridge, Clackmannanshire

Rumbling Bridge, Clackmannanshire

Rumbling Bridge is a small village divided by a deep chasm through which the river Devon runs down a series of tumbling waterfalls. The steep-sided gorge is surrounded by rich woodland, making the green mossy depths fairly dark. This, combined with the fast-flowing water, makes it an ideal location for long exposures.

  • How to get there Heading north on the M9, turn off at Stirling, passing through the town and on to the A91 towards Tillicoultry and Dollar. Continue on this road until you reach Yetts O’Muckhart, where you need to turn right on to the A823. Carry on until you reach Rumbling Bridge village.
  • What to shoot The deep gorge and tumbling waterfalls; bluebells and butterflies are found here in spring too.
  • Best time of day Any time is good on overcast days.
  • Nearest food/drink Tormaukin Hotel, Glendevon, near Dollar, FK14 7JZ, 01259 781252, tormaukinhotel.co.uk.
  • Nearest accommodation TormaukinHotel – as above.
  • Other times of year Autumn for a mix of autumnal colours and rich, mossy greens on the banks of the river.
  • Ordnance Survey map LR 58
  • Nearby locations Glendevon (2 miles); Loch Leven (7 miles).

8.Thorp Perrow Arboretum, North Yorkshire

Thorp Perrow Arboretum, North Yorkshire

Thorp Perrow Arboretum, North Yorkshire

Thorp Perrow, an 85-acre arboretum near Bedale, provides interest all year round. In early spring there is one of the most extensive displays of daff blossom-covered trees, carpets of bluebells and drifts of wildfl odils in the north of England. The daff  owers in summer. Later in the year, odils give way to autumn provides stunning colours in the extensive woodland.

  • How to get there Leave the A1 at Leeming Bar and take the A684 to Bedale. From Bedale, take the B6268 towards Masham. After two miles, turn right (signposted to Thorp Perrow). There is a large car park on site.
  • What to shoot In May, the carpets of bluebells are among some of the best in the north of England.
  • Best time of day Thorp Perrow Arboretum is open daily from 10am to 5pm; it’s best to get there when it first opens.
  • Nearest food/drink The Tea Room, Thorp Perrow Arboretum, Bedale, DL82PS, 01677 425323, thorpperrow.com.
  • Nearest accommodation High Grange Holiday Cottages and Farmhouse, The Cottages, Bedale, DL8 2HQ, 01677 42270, high-grange.co.uk.
  • Other times of year Summer for wild flowers; autumn for seasonal colour.
  • Ordnance Survey map LR 99
  • Nearby locations Hackfall Wood (5 miles); Studley Royal deer park
    (10 miles).

You may want to have a look a first part Top 8 locations for hard-core hotographers ( Part 1)

Rhossili Bay, Swansea

Top 8 locations for hard-core photographers ( Part 1)

1.Grand Pier, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

The Grand Pier at Weston-super- Mare was reopened in October 2010 following a devastating fire in July 2008. The new, modern pavilion, situated at the far end of the structure, makes a great photographic subject either at sunset or during the hours of twilight when the pier is lit along its entire length.

  • How to get there Exit the M5 at junction 21 and follow the A370 through numerous roundabouts to reach the seafront at Weston-super-Mare (four miles). Turn left near the Ferris wheel, and follow the one-way system round to the right and on to Marine Parade. Continue past the entrance to the pier and take the third turning on the right to park in the Sovereign Centre car park. From here it’s only a short walk to the town’s pier.
  • What to shoot Different views of the pier, and seascapes.
  • Best time of day Sunset is good, ideally on a relatively high, receding tide.
  • Nearest food/drink Boardwalk Café,  Grand Pier, Marine Parade, Westonsuper-Mare, BS23 1AL, 01934 620238, grandpier.co.uk.
  • Nearest accommodationThe Sandringham Hotel, 1-9 Victoria Square, Weston-super-Mare, BS23 1AN, 01934 624891, thesandringham.co.uk.
  • Other times of year The pier faces west, making it a great sunset location at any time of year.
Grand Pier, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

Grand Pier, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

2.Summerleaze beach, Cornwall

This part of Bude in Cornwall off a variety of viewpoints. The large, sandy beach is good for capturing abstract patterns and reflections after the tide has gone out, and to the north there is a sea pool, which fills up at high tide. To the south of the beach is Efford Down, which offers spectacular views of the breakwater and coastline, and has a photogenic folly, the Pepper Pot.

  • How to get there From the A39 (Atlantic Highway), take the A3073 to Bude. On entering the town, continue straight over the roundabout on Bencoolen Road and take the first right on to Ergue-Gaberic Way. Park in the car park on the left by Bude Canal. Walk along the canal, keeping it to your left, and enter Summerleaze beach from either side of the canal; Barrel Rock and Bude breakwater are directly ahead.
  • What to shoot Dramatic sunsets; long exposures of breakwater and sea pool.
  • Best time of day Late afternoon/evening.
  • Nearest food/drink Life’s a Beach, Summerleaze beach, Bude, EX23 8HN, 01288 355222, lifesabeach.info.
  • Nearest accommodation Atlantic House Hotel, 18 Summerleaze Crescent, Bude, EX23 8HJ, 01288 352451, atlantichousehotel.com.
  • Other times of year Year round.
Summerleaze beach, Cornwall

Summerleaze beach, Cornwall

3.Padley Gorge, Derbyshire

Situated in the grounds of Longshaw Estate, Padley Gorge is easy to access and off opportunities. Burbage Brook runs through the gorge ers a variety of photographic
and cascades over gritstone boulders. Its banks are flanked by dense, intriguing woodland and some abandoned millstones.

  • How to get there Take the A6187 east out of Hathersage. Follow the road past Surprise View and Burbage Bridge and then turn right on to the B6521, just before the Fox House pub. After approximately half a mile, park on the right-hand side of the road and take the path down to Padley Gorge.
  • What to shoot Flowing water, rocks, woodland, gnarled trees and views towards Higger Tor.
  • Best time of day Good throughout the day, best after heavy rainfall.
  • Nearest food/drink The Fox House, Hathersage Road, Longshaw, Sheffield, S11 7TY, 01433 630374, vintageinn.co.uk/thefoxhouselongshaw.
  • Nearest accommodation The Fox House – as above.
  • Other times of year The location is well worth a visit in autumn.
Padley Gorge, Derbyshire

Padley Gorge, Derbyshire

4.Rhossili Bay, Swansea

Rhossili Bay marks the western tip of the Gower Peninsula in south Wales and is rightly regarded as one of the UK’s premier beaches. Photo opportunities abound, from the small tidal island of Worm’s Head to the wide arc of sandy beach. It is also the resting place of the 19th-century shipwreck Helvetia, whose timbers are exposed at low tide.

  • How to get there From Swansea, take the A4118. After approximately 15 miles,
    turn right on to the B4247 to Rhossili and park in the National Trust car park. From here, either turn left and walk along the cliff top towards Worm’s Head or walk back up the road and follow the steep path down to the beach.
  • What to shoot Telephoto silhouettes of Worm’s Head at sunset; panoramic views of Rhossili Bay beach; the graphic shapes of the Helvetia shipwreck.
  • Best time of day Rhossili Bay faces west, so late afternoon and sunset.
  • Nearest food/drink The Bay Bistro and Coffee House, Rhossili, Gower, SA3 1PL, 01792 390519, thebaybistro.co.uk.
  • Nearest accommodation The Worm’s Head Hotel, Rhossili, Gower, SA3 1PP, 01792 390512, thewormshead.co.uk.
  • Other times of year Late summer for heather and gorse on cliff tops; autumn when heather and bracken has turned golden brown; winter for dramatic seas and skies.
Rhossili Bay, Swansea

Rhossili Bay, Swansea

azores

Azores-the Lost paradise on Earth

As someone constantly in search of new playgrounds to explore and photograph, I first noticed the name “Azores” mentioned in weather bulletins. I was intrigued by a place where anticyclones—which create constant fair weather—are born.When a seafarer friend, who had once landed there during an Atlantic crossing, mentioned that each island was covered with lush forests, pristine waterfalls, and sunrises and sunsets to die for, I knew I had to go. “Be prepared to be amazed,” he said.

The items I carry in the trip

  • Fujifilm X-T1* and Fujifilm X-Pro1 bodies
  • Fujinon XF 10-24 mm f/4 R-OIS*
  • Fujinon XF 14 mm f/2.8 R
  • Fujinon XF 35 mm f/1.4 R
  • Fujinon XF 18-55 mm f/2.8-4.0 R
  • Fujinon XF 55-200 mm f/3.5-4.8*
  • EF-42 TTL and EF-X8 flashes*
  • Gitzo GT 3541 tripod
  • GoPro Hero4 Black
  • GoPro Hero4 Silver

Sitting at 2351 metres atop Mount Pico, the highest point of Portugal, I contemplate the fiery light slowly invading a deep blue, inky sky. The orange-popsicle-coloured glow stretches above the horizon to reveal the serrated edge of the five-hundred-metre-wide crater and the stratovolcano’s imposing shape.

Inside the dead volcanoes of Azores

Inside the dead volcanoes of Azores

Volcanoes of Azores Island

Emerging from the dark lava, volcanic fumaroles dance devilishly, backlit by the morning star. I grab the widest lens I have— a 10-24 mm Fujinon—and, once the aperture is set at f/5, I steady the camera on my backpack. “You know, you’re incredibly lucky!” says my guide, Sonia Mendes, as the sunrays settle in and warm up the ambient air. “Most of the time, when I make it here with clients, we’re either above or below the clouds and we rarely see a clear sunrise.” We had started our climb in the wee hours of the morning at the visitor centre, now nestled far below at 1200 m. With the vigour of an Alpine infantry officer, Sonia, a sleek, tall woman from Pico Island, led me in total darkness to the summit. Even now in semidarkness, it’s easy to frame a picture that captures my guide’s salute to the sunrise, thanks to a large high-resolution viewfinder and OIS. The silence is uninterrupted.

The road leads to the ocean on Flores Island, near Fajã Grande.

The road leads to the ocean on Flores Island, near Fajã Grande.

Testing my camera for scenic views

Photographing a spectacular sunrise gives me serenity, but it also triggers a creative desire for the day to come that I can feel slowly percolating in my mind. I had recently switched systems, going from a full-size DSLR to a more compact Fujifilm APS-C. Having lugged bulky cameras and huge lenses around the world for years, I thought it was time to lighten the weight on my shoulders and rediscover the joy of photographing. Yet, I was concerned about working with a different sensor size, since it seems that, at least as far as sensors go, size matters. Would the 16.3 megapixels keep their promises? I certainly enjoyed the lightness of being DSLR-free on the way up. With two compact-system cameras, a flash and five lenses packed in a small Lowepro Photo Sport 200 AW, I was able to go fast because I wasn’t weighed down. My adventure began five days before and three hundred kilometres away from Pico, on the island of Flores. Along with her nearby sister Corvo, Flores is covered with rich, densely woven vegetation. Both are included on the UNESCO list of biosphere reserves.

Ancient volcanic formations such as the gigantic caldera of Lagoa do Fogo (Lake of Fire) on São Miguel Island can be seen everywhere in the Azores.

Ancient volcanic formations such as the gigantic caldera of Lagoa do Fogo (Lake of Fire) on São Miguel Island can be seen everywhere in the Azores.

Visitors are lured here by a year-round humid subtropical climate with 24 cm of yearly precipitation.“It’s time to put the weather seal of the X-T1 to the test,” I thought while climbing the Morro Alto, near the island’s centre. A dense cloud was surrounding the various calderas—ancient craters now filled by lakes fed by the many streams of the central plateau. However, the wind was on my side, pushing the gigantic white masses away from the volcanic landscape. I was certainly glad I could hang my bag on the central column hook of my Gitzo tripod to weigh it down! When shooting landscapes, I still rely on a grey card from time to time. But with a camera that offers 256-zone metering, the quality of exposure rarely disappoints, and an occasional slightly underexposed image reminds me of the good old feel of richly saturated Velvia film.

azores

Vegetation is abundant on most of the islands, including here on one of São Jorge’s most beautiful trails, going from Serra de Topo to Fajã do Santo Cristo.

Walking around the moutains

After spending the day hiking around the Branca, Seca, Comprida and Negra calderas, my 16-GB card was already half filled with images having the most intense greens and hues of blue that I’ve ever seen in nature. The light seemed polarized by the cyclical movement of clouds. I thought the afternoon would be ideal for a view of Poço da Alagoinha Grande, a series of panoramic cascades falling from 300 metres into a Lost World-like scene, but the clouds eventually won out. The next morning, after a pleasurable and productive ferry ride, I reached the longest island of the archipelago to shoot some hiking images. With a 53-km coastline, São Jorge is dotted by numerous fajãs, fertile pieces of land created by the accumulation of debris from landslides and ancient lava flows. The landscape was stunning and my guides were keen to share the best of “their” island, so we decided to hike to Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo. The hike to reach the remote village was steep but offered plenty of arresting views. We entered the dense vegetation through dark tunnels created by the interlocking tree canopy and thick ground bushes.

azores

On the sevenkilometre trail from Miradouro das Lagoas to Poço de Bacalhau, there is a spectacular point of view overlooking the mall village of Fajã Grande, on Flores Island’s west coast.

The challenge of balancing the contrast between light and dark areas was nearly impossible, even with the help of the tiny dedicated hot shoe EF-X8 flash, which otherwise is fantastic. I was ready to give up on my nearly three-stop difference when I grumbled, “If only I had a collapsible reflector!” Dina, my guide, was not familiar with photographic equipment and asked me what I meant. When I explained the action of a reflector disc, she simply said, “Oh, but I think I have one!” She pulled out the survival blanket from her first-aid kit. In two minutes I cut some bamboo for a frame. We stretched the aluminum blanket on it and secured the makeshift light bouncer with some medical tape and voilà! With the sun’s help, I had two more stops and the shot was in the bag. We left the forest, and the ocean invaded the horizon again. After a week spent outdoors and in rural villages, Ponta Delgada, the capital of the Azores, feels like a bustling metropolis.

I’m here to photograph a religious procession—an interesting transition from landscape photography to photojournalism. I dig out my second camera, an X-Pro1, from my bag and select an 18-55 mm f/2.8-4 zoom and a 14-mm f/2.8 fixed lens. I wander through the old city streets covered with flow ers placed there by neighbourhood associations to commemorate the Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres, a religious Easter veneration dating from the 1500s. The crowd is dense with the Brotherhood, robed in red and black, and the faithful, ranging from children to older folks.

The light grey sky acts like a gigantic softbox, so there is plenty of light but no contrast. I dial down the ISO to 200, underexpose my images one- to two-thirds of a stop, and throw in a little fill flash. The colours are strikingly vivid. Frankincense perfumes the air, and the crowds slowly move into the streets behind the statue, while devotees, clad in black, pray aloud. I shoot late into the night, strolling the streets until my feet are sore. Slowly, the noises and fumes fade, but there is still plenty of light in the cobbled streets for a few last architectural images.

As the jetliner takes off, I take one last look at the archipelago. From way up in the sky, the Azores look like a small fleet of ships lost at sea. These remote volcanic islands are really as far off the beaten path as islands could be. The visit has filled up my soul and my memory cards. Whether you’re a sailor, an adventurer, an airline captain or a photographer, if you make it to the Azores by sheer luck or by good planning, you should indeed be prepared to be amazed.

bletchley park

House of games

BLETCHLEY PARK is one of the world’s great survivors.

The mansion, 50 miles northwest of London and dating to the late 1870s, was almost lost to the British nation twice. In 1938 a local builder was eyeing the parcel as a development site when the government stepped in, buying the property from the Leon family to house a Code and Cypher School.

And in 1992 bulldozers loomed again until local historians barred their path. Forming the Bletchley Park Trust, advocates saved the complex, where a secret wartime operation broke the German Enigma code, and recast the Park as a museum. Now appreciation for that act of preservation is reaching beyond Britain; of the site’s 150,000 yearly visitors, more and more hail from overseas. Those ranks will only swell thanks to The Imitation Game, the Oscar-winning movie about code-breaking genius Alan Turing.

The Imitation Game Poster

If you love The Imitation Game, be sure pay a visit to Bletchley Park where all the real events happenned here

During the 1920s and 1930s, the Park had been a country idyll, popular with shooting parties, until that 1938 purchase began the estate’s transformation into a hub of Allied counterintelligence work during the Second World War.

I visited on a raw December day with my father. Born in 1938, Dad grew up five miles away; he found it moving to return to a place he had not seen since leaving for Oxford University in 1956. As we neared Bletchley station he noticed through the railway car window a parking building on the spot where, during the bitter winter of 1947, he told me excitedly, had sprawled the coal yard to which his mother would send him to fetch household fuel.

The government chose Bletchley Park as a code breakers’ perch primarily for its location. With war against Germany imminent, Whitehall wanted its code wizards away from London and Luftwaffe bombs. The manse sits at a safe distance from the capital city, but within 200 yards of a railroad station. Nearby are the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, in the late 1930s fertile environments for recruiting the brilliant minds required for high-level intelligence analysis.

Entering the estate, one at first sees only motley brick-and-timber huts, splayed at odd angles like drab dominos. The bleak, utterly authentic scene makes it easy to picture streams of extremely bright young things, male and female, arriving hurriedly by foot and on bicycles three-quarters of a century ago.

bletchley park

The tour begins in the Visitor Center–wartime Block C, where clerks, mostly women, indexed the details of decoded messages in a giant cross-referencing system. The assignment was painstaking, a point made clear in footage of reenactments that runs continuously.

“To be successful,” an instructor tells newcomers, “you must be an enthusiast because there will be times when the work seems monotonous.”

Monotonous, yes–but vital. Eventually, Bletchley Park and environs employed 10,000 people. Some intercepted, some deciphered, some translated, some distributed, but all the intelligence they winkled out of myriad enemy radio signals mattered critically to the Allied cause.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called the Bletchley Park team “the geese that laid the golden egg.” In July 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower sent a message to British Major General Stewart Menzies, who headed the operation. Describing the intelligence gleaned there as “priceless,” the Supreme Commander said the Bletchley Park workforce had “saved thousands of British and American lives and, in no small way, contributed to the speed with which the enemy was routed.” The museum displays a copy of Eisenhower’s communique.

Visitors depart the center bearing an easy-to-use audio device that directs them around the rest of the grounds–another mark of the museum’s thoughtfulness. I, for one, am not blessed with undue mathematical competency, and would be lying if I suggested that prior to my visit I wasn’t a bit apprehensive. Ultra, Enigma, Bombe, Lorenz … Would I be able to keep up or would the topic’s complexity befuddle me?

Fear not. All is explained in lay terms, and old-schoolers can sign up for a comprehensive tour conducted by one of the site’s knowledgeable guides. We went with the talking machine, but did cross a guide’s path in Block B. Standing before a replica of Alan Turing’s Bombe, he explained to his companions how the computing mechanism worked.

“Turing,” the docent concluded, “is one of the great unsung heroes of British history and were it not for him we might be here speaking German.”

There is much to learn about Turing in Block B. The centerpiece is the Bombe, a functioning model of which testifies to its inventor’s genius. The mechanism is seven feet tall and six and a half feet wide. The original had 108 drums, each vertical set of three representing a German Enigma encoding and decoding machine. Early Enigmas had three rotors (later the Reich would add a fourth). A sender scrambling a message could set each ring at any of 26 positions; in effect an Enigma machine had 17,576 (263) settings. The Bombe’s drums could drive through every potential setting in about 12 minutes by electrically performing a chain of logical deductions based on a portion of plain text. Turing’s device rejected combinations that produced contradictions–as the majority did–supplying the code breakers with a small number of possible Enigma settings. If that sounds complicated, don’t worry–interactive touch screens and straightforward diagrams help “decode” Turing’s achievements in smashing the enemy code.

More personal exhibits illuminate the man behind the genius: Turing’s Swiss wristwatch and his teddy bear, Porgy. Perhaps that tatty stuffed plaything more than any other artifact at Bletchley Park affords a glimpse of Turing’s human vulnerability. And the secrets keep coming; recently during a renovation workers uncovered notes of Turing’s stuffed between the walls of Hut 6 as insulation, along with the only known examples of Banbury sheets–forms that the mathematician devised to speed decoding.

The visit ends in the mansion, an elegant Victorian building that overlooks the Nissen huts and a lake aggregated more than 200 years ago from the remains of medieval fishponds. Entering “The Main House,” as wartime workers called it, is a pleasing step back to the Old England of yesterday and recreated BBC memory. The red brick mansion fuses Tudor and Dutch Baroque architecture, with an eye-catching array of bay windows, tall chimneys, and crenelated parapets. One enters through a Gothic-style inner porch to encounter an interior of mahogany paneling, decorative plaster ceilings, elegant carpets, and whiffs of yesteryear. To the right of the porch is the lounge hall, on whose elaborate stone and marble chimneypiece stands a bust of Winston Churchill. A timber staircase leads to the first floor; the highest story is the attic, a century ago quarters for servants.

BLETCHLEY PARK

Bletchley Park House

Until November 2015 much of the mansion’s interior will house an exhibition featuring The Imitation Game. In the billiard room are the costumes worn by actors Benedict Cumberbatch (Turing) and Keira Knightley (the mathematician’s colleague, Joan Clarke). The ballroom holds the bar depicted in the film, and my father yelped with delight as he recognized brands of beer and soft drinks he had last seen 60 years ago. The exhibition also reveals that among the film’s cast of extras was a great nephew of Turing’s. How delighted he must be at his great uncle’s rehabilitation in recent years: Britain’s official apology in 2009 for hounding him to his death and, four years later, a posthumous royal pardon. Pardon for what? For the now-banished crime of homosexuality. In 1952 Turing’s country prosecuted him for being himself, driving him to suicide two years later, a stain on the British establishment well documented in The Imitation Game.

It’s taken 70 years and $12 million, but Bletchley Park offers Turing and company a fitting memorial.

As Her Majesty said in 2011, unveiling a sculpture at the estate honoring the code breakers: “This was the place of geniuses such as Alan Turing. But these wonderfully clever mathematicians, language graduates, and engineers were complemented by people with different sets of skills, harnessing that brilliance through methodical, unglamorous, hard slog…. You were history-shapers and your example serves as an inspiration to the intelligence community today.”

WHEN YOU GO

Only an hour by train from London Euston–one of the British capital’s central stations–Bletchley Park Is a stroll from the local train station. The Park Is on Sherwood Drive, Bletchley, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England; 44-1908640404, bletchleypark.org.uk

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT

Hut 4, where clerks decoded German naval messages during the war, houses the museum’s restaurant. Expect traditional British food-such as fish and chips, stew, sausages, a wide selection of sandwiches, and a choice of soft drinks and beer–at reasonable prices. Four miles away, Milton Keynes, the nearest big town, has plenty of budget and mid-range hotels, and someone staying in London easily can manage a day trip.

WHAT ELSE TO SEE

The National Radio Centre and the National Museum of Computing are In close proximity to Bletchley Park (admission to the former Is Included in the price of visiting Bletchley Park) and are well worth a visit. The Computing Museum houses a rebuild of Colossus, the world’s first programmable electronic digital computer.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén