Welcome back to the Share Your Story series. Last week Alessandra from The Next Metric embraced reaching her turning point, and has been helping others do the same. This week Emma from Emma Lord Photography is sharing her story of memories of her Grandparents house and its just lovely. Over to you Emma…
Emma Lord Photography
Emma Lord has enjoyed photography since childhood. She believes strongly in the value of printed images, which can be passed on to future generations rather than risk losing digital files within obsolete technology.
Emma owns a photography business in Wiltshire. She is currently on maternity leave, and splits her time between raising her young son, caring for the many rescue animals she and her husband share a home with, photographing and writing.
Emma also works on several personal projects, using photography to help raise awareness of various causes, all of them concerning subjects close to her heart. Collections include series on veganism, British wildlife, and mental health awareness. Her vegan portfolio has been exhibited in London and Beijing, and her mental health images form part of a presentation which she has given to a number of organisations. Emma is a trustee of Swindon and Gloucestershire Mind, and also for SMASH, a young people’s mentoring charity in Swindon.
Flight of the Eagle
My grandparents’ house stood hidden from view. A Tudor style island surrounded by a garden which was itself bordered by mature trees.
As a child, I spent hours in the garden. In the bamboo forest, I built a den in which I kept a selection of plant saucers and ice cream containers for mud pie making. My grandfather hung a swing from a redwood tree and sang as he pushed me high, my childish laughter following in my wake as I descended from each summit. At quieter times, I watched nature, my grandparents showing me the best places to spot life. Frogs, woodpeckers, squirrels, and foxes all made homes in the garden. Songbirds clustered around feeding stations, and crows hopped nonchalantly across the grass, when they weren’t calling raucously from the trees. A blackbird and robin were regular visitors to the window ledges on which my grandmother scattered currants for them. Twice a day she made the rounds, stocking the feeding posts and refilling water bowls.
Inside, the house was a home. There’s so much to remember. A pulley maid hung from the kitchen ceiling. I’m not sure I really knew what it was, it was just there, on the ceiling. Some of the chairs had blankets laid over them for the dogs to sleep on. The study smelt of old papers, and was filled with maps and reference books. The dog leg stairs had a small stained glass window at the first landing. At the next turn, were the pictures. Depicting various raptors, there were similarities between them all. The barred feathers, the intense glare of their eyes, and the striking talons. As a nature loving child, I was enthralled by the pictures. I’d gaze at the images, and dream of seeing the most majestic bird of all, the golden eagle, in the wild one day.
Fast forward to 2005. Working long hours in our respective careers, my youngest sister and I both needed a break. We booked a long weekend in Bampton, near Haweswater in the Lake District. As well as enjoying time away, we planned to visit Riggindale at Lake Haweswater, home to the last golden eagle in England. The eagle had lived here with his mate until her death in 2004. He remained in the valley alone, and Spring 2005 had seen him make an early start, tidying the eerie and performing aerial displays in the hope of attracting a mate.
Rucksacks packed, walking boots on board, and camera charged, we set off the morning after arriving in Bampton. The walk from the Haweswater car park to Riggindale was just under 2 miles, and much of the route was up an uneven but steady incline. We were keen to reach the RSPB post at the entrance to the eagle’s valley, but it was impossible not to pause to take in the views of the lake and surrounding area.
At 4 miles long, Haweswater is one of the largest lakes in the Lake District. It is actually a reservoir, built to provide a water supply to north-west England. A controversial project when it started in 1929, creating the reservoir was done at the expense of the villages in Mardale valley. If the water recedes far enough, traces of the villages are still visible today.
Having walked a while, and stopped for several photo opportunities, we finally crested a small hill and spotted the RSPB shelter ahead. The volunteers were already out with spotting scopes and binoculars. As we approached, and shed our rucksacks, we were greeted enthusiastically by the team. They were eager to show us the equipment and tell us about the valley and surrounding environment. My heart quickened momentarily when I spotted a buzzard high overhead, a dark shape against the blue sky. Buzzards are majestic birds, but this wasn’t the eagle that I sought.
While my sister scanned the landscape, I set up my camera gear. The sunshine was brilliant, catching the snow on the top of the peaks which surrounded the valley. The air was icy though, and we were pleased of our layers and windproof jackets. The RSPB group had seen the eagle already that day, wheeling and diving as he performed his display. Hopes were high that he would reappear.
It was a wonder that the team could pick the eagle out when he wasn’t in the air. We were surrounded by greens, browns, and greys; perfect camouflage for the solitary raptor. The eerie was hard enough to spot, even with the telescope trained on exactly the right area, and with the help of the volunteers who showed us where to look.
As we took in the scene, an excited murmur arose among the huddle of people, leaping quickly from one person to the next like an electric charge. The volume rose as excitement spread.
“There he is!”
As a group, we turned together, training telescopes, binoculars, and cameras in the same skyward direction. And there he was. Soaring high above us against the blue sky, his wings so huge compared to those of the buzzard we had seen earlier.
As I stood and gazed, I was at once 5 years old again, mesmerised by pictures at my grandparents’ house, while at the same time an adult, feeling the chill spread down my neck as I watched this incredible bird. My inner child and outer adult embraced as I followed the bird with my camera. This was it. A golden eagle in the wild.
*Footnote: I returned to Riggindale every year after that first trip, visiting with both of my sisters, my mother, my fiancé (Rob), and then in 2013 with Rob on the first stop of our honeymoon. We were privileged to see the eagle on every visit. Rob and I made two more trips, in 2014 and 2015, for our annual eagle watch.
For various reasons, we didn’t book a visit in 2016, and as it happened, this was the first year that the eagle didn’t show. He hasn’t been seen since 2015, his nest remaining empty and unused. It’s feared that the last golden eagle in England has died, after all those lonely years displaying, in the vain hope of attracting another mate.
The only place to see golden eagles in the wild in the UK at the moment is Scotland. I hope that one day Rob and I will take our young son to the Highlands to go eagle watching. We will of course visit Riggindale on the way there, to pay our homage to the home of England’s last golden eagle.
Thank you for sharing your Story Emma, it’s beautiful as is your grandparents house!
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