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Discovering invisible Cathedrals by the canal

Discovering invisible Cathedrals by the canal

It was certainly a strange place of worship but could not have been more fitting, I thought, as I reflected on the modern ceremonial stone circle I had encountered whilst photographing our February book Local, the latest from our most featured author and adventurer, Alastair Humphreys.

Local in the urban fringe


Many a night has been spent under star-lit skies thanks to his inspired and inspirational idea: the micro-adventure, an adventure for normal folk with busy lives.


I have kept watch over late-night drivers, amorous grouse, and even amorous drivers whilst secreted amongst the rocks that crown the Wharfedale valley. So I have him to thank for my intimate knowledge of my closest 'proper' countryside and the species that live there. 


At just 15 minutes drive away, Wharfedale has always been my go-to for close-to-home exploration and has provided a backdrop to a good 50% of my monthly book photoshoots. Having an excuse to get out there on my own during the working week is a big part of why I started this business!


But, never one to rest on his laurels, Alastair was not content for me to stick to the comforting familiarity of my closest green and pleasant land. No. 


Having travelled around the world, across oceans and in some of the remotest parts of the planet, he now encourages us to explore our doorstep, really explore it and see what life there is right under our noses. And he does so by exploring his own backyard in his latest offering Local.


So, naturally, I had to look a little closer to home for this month's photoshoot.


These teeny adventures, not even micro-scale, are always a joy; the same search for place, light, and structure. Somewhere that does justice to the book, its cover and contents.

Flood alleviation in Leeds

This was how I came to find myself at the source of the Aire and Calder Navigation Canal (if canals have a source?), exploring the strip of land between the canal and the river recently devoted to hosting a set of giant flood defences.


I was not alone. The first bright day in a string of grey had brought out the lunchtime workers and strollers, along with a steady stream of joggers and dog walkers, who looked so familiar with this riparian fringe that the stone circle seemed entirely routine

modern stone circle

Not so for my naive eyes, however. It seemed bizarre that such a thing had even been created in the mid-1990's, apparently by the caretaker of the nearby Thwaite Mill museum. Yet more remarkable that it was currently in use by a local pagan group.

plaque on stone circle

I had never expected to draw comparisons between Yosemite and the Aire Valley, yet this discovery reminded me of John Muir's invocation in our July 2022 book, My First Summer in the Sierra, of how sequoia groves were his cathedrals in which to worship nature.

podcast banner

I know Alastair shares John Muir's passion for climbing trees, so whilst prepping for our conversation I asked whether, like Muir, Alastair has ever strapped himself to a tree in the midst of a storm. "Not yet" was the answer!


But,that still leaves us with a HUGE amount to talk about when we record our monthly podcast live with Alastair, at 8pm on Thursday 29th Feb.


You're all invited too to join us in the room, and ask your own questions if you are so inclined, or sit back and quietly take it all in.

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