Standing at a busy Cardiff junction earlier this week, my camera poised, I realised I was attracting curious glances from passers-by.
You could see what they were thinking – why would anyone be photographing a pedestrian crossing when 45 degrees to their right stood the iconic Wales Millennium Stadium (home of Welsh sport and not to be confused with the Wales Millennium Centre– though in 2011 the Olympics committee appeared to do just that, producing an advertisement showing a goalkeeper saving a ball in front of the Cardiff Bay arts venue)?
There was no mistaking the looks of sympathy – I was clearly a nutty tourist with a penchant for traffic islands.
I think I’d better explain.
Around three years ago, Harri started plotting routes for the website walkingworld.com which claims to be one of the most popular outdoor websites in the UK – it now has a library of over 6,000 walking routes, mainly in the UK but with an increasing number in Europe. When it launched in the late 1990s, the central concept was that content be generated by its users; this model has become the norm since wikipedia arrived on the scene in 2001 but was unusual at the time.
Authors receive a small fee (paid annually) each time one of their walks is downloaded by a regular subscriber of the site or a casual visitor (individual walks can be paid for). When the weather’s fine and we find ourselves with a free day for walking, Harri will often scour local maps and devise a walk for the site.
Last year, his most popular route (i.e. the one that was downloaded most) was an 8.6 mile circular from Michaelston-y-fedw.
It’s one of my own favourites, in part due to the extensive views across both the South Wales hills and the Bristol Channel from Pen-y-lan , but also because the route passes the wonderful medieval manor-house of Plas Machen, which was once home to one of the innumerable branches of the Morgan family and has recently been on the market .
The odd Walkingworld effort here and there certainly mounts up and Harri has now published 23 varied walks which the site usefully equates to 275.16km! The majority are here in South East Wales, with many close to our home, e.g. Pantyreos – Twmbarlwm – Pensarn Farm – Pantyreos, and more recently, several in Cardiff. After our recent holiday, Harri is now also the author of three of the site’s four walks in Madeira (the three that don’t start in Funchal).
As always, he delegates the photography to me and I’ll admit the brief took a bit of getting used to.
The format demands just one photograph to ‘sell’ the route to would-be walkers; the remainder of the photographs are there to support the directions and are merely functional.
In practice, this means that if Harri’s instructions mention that the route veers around to the left, I must take a photograph to show exactly what the hiker will see ahead of them, even if it’s a motorway underpass covered in graffiti.
For someone who usually tries to photograph the most scenic images possible or capture that quirky moment on film, it feels a bit odd to be aiming my lens at a car park, a line of wheelie bins or a pedestrian crossing.
As for the strange looks I get… why is it that no-one takes the slightest bit of notice when I photograph Cardiff Bay’s beautiful red-brick Customs House or the Norwegian Church, but when I snap away at the rear of the railway station, the great British public clearly thinks I’m unhinged… and it’s not just the humans!
Well, unhinged or not, we enjoy devising our routes for walkingworld.com, in particular attracting people to areas that perhaps aren’t so touristy, places they wouldn’t otherwise discover.
One of the site’s founders, David Stewart, describes his authors thus:
“Most of them I would characterise as enthusiasts, keen to share their passion for an area with others and often very dedicated to making their guides as clear and as interesting as possible.”
Yes, I think that describes Harri very nicely.
And as he carries on plotting routes that are scenic, interesting and not too gruelling, I’ll be injecting every last ounce of my creative genius into photographing dual carriageways, road signs and traffic lights.