The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant


Bennerley Viaduct from the Nottingham Canal

When will she awake? She has been asleep for almost 50 years. No one knows how to stir her from her slumber. Her near relative the Eiffel Tower draws over 19,000 visitors from all corners of the globe each day but this Iron Giant is lucky to get a few. Reaching for the sky is the stuff of dreams. Spanning a river is a physical necessity. Yes, this is the difference between these two Iron Giants – one was built in celebration of a dream and the other a need to a cross a river.


Bennerley Viaduct with reflection

How are they related? Before designing the Eiffel Tower, Gustave Eiffel designed bridges for railways and the Bennerley Viaduct, The Iron Giant of this post, was based on Eiffel’s bridge designs. Eiffel pioneered using wrought iron latticed-work trestles for bridge supports to save weight and costs in bridge building. The usual material used for bridges in Britain was brick but due to the coal mining subsidence under the foundations of the Bennerley Viaduct wrought iron was selected due to being lighter in weight so not to cause any further disturbances. The main reason to build the Bennerley Viaduct was to allow the Great Northern Railway to transport coal from the rich seams of the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire coalfields in the Erewash Valley to the rest of their railway system. The viaduct remained in use until 1968 when it closed to freight traffic.


Girder section with wrought iron lattice work support

Since November 1974 Bennerley Viaduct has been a Grade II* listed structure. Bennerley Viaduct is now managed by Sustrans who hope to re-open the viaduct and reuse it for a cycling and walking link between Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

Ordnance Survey six-figure grid references SK 471437 to 474439

The Iron Giants compared:

Bennerley Viaduct (also known as the Awsworth Viaduct)


Trestle base

Length: 442.6m

Height :   18.5m

Started: May 1876

Opened: January 1878

Designer: Samuel Abbott with some involvement by Richard Johnson (Chief Engineer for the Great Northern Railway)

Reason built: spanning the Erewash Valley and linking Awsworth Junction railway station with Derby railway station


Eiffel Tower

Height : 324m

Length: 125m

Started: January 1887

Opened: March 1889

Designer: Gustave Eiffel

Reason built: 1889 Exposition Universelle to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the French Revolution.

Further reading:

Butterflies and Buzzards

Butterflies and Buzzards

On a local walk there are times when one must expect the unexpected. Observing buzzards is a fine event anytime of the year but finding butterflies in early autumn is a wonderful and surprising experience. The walk around local countryside wasn’t really a planned one just a wander to gain fresh air and go where the mood and the footpath takes us. The landscape was a typical wolds scene with rolling terrain and fields aplenty.


Walking through the next set of fields there was an unmistakable screech and as we looked up there circling in the sky were two buzzards. One was confidently flying within a thermal and the other was struggling to gain any height. The latter looked like an immature bird and was clearly in contact with one of it’s parents. The higher flying bird seemed to be monitoring the performance of the immature one who eventually found a thermal and started soaring. Then Jane saw in a different part of the sky a third buzzard high on a thermal but it was still close by the other two. Perhaps this confirms parent birds taking their offspring on an inaugural flight. Unfortunately, there are limits with the photographic powers of an iPhone so I was unable to take any shots of this activity but it stills features strongly in my mind.


During this summer I was surprised that whilst on walks I didn’t see any Red Admiral butterflies. Then today I saw seven! These were all in one spot and looked liked they had freshly emerged simultaneously and were busy feeding to build up their strength. Jane and I spent several minutes watching in awe of them moving around. I thought that how they posed was straight from a Brooke Bond picture card painted by Richard Ward and a Red Admiral was featured on the front cover of the album. Not giving much hope that the iPhone could focus close enough I was delighted that the results confirmed it would.


On the homebound route Jane observed a pair of goldfinches feeding firstly on the ground in front of us and then moving along a hedgerow looking for food. We decided on taking a track which at its midway point joins a brook and the crossing point is a ford. Fortunately, there is a pedestrian bridge to allow walkers to cross without getting their feet wet or their boots muddy.


The sunlight was hitting the water of the brook and blue sky was reflected from its surface. Looking around at the scene I decided to go low to include the wonderfully shaped pebbles and fallen leaves at the entry point of the ford. When I used an Olympus OM1 film SLR my favourite lens was the Zuiko 28mm f2.8 wide angle lens. Recently I found out that the iPhone SE has a lens focal length equivalent to a 29mm one in the 135 (35mm) film format. So this is one result I was expecting!



Exploring is an innate human condition and today I felt a primeval urge to just explore. No time to set a course or work out a route that needed a map or indeed to jet off to the Alps, the Amazon or the Antarctic! Where I was heading for I didn’t even need to use the car or travel on a bus. All that was required was a short walk as I was heading on a meandering wander around a local country park. The catalyst for this action were rays of sun seeping through the curtains with the promise of a blue sky. This I thought would be a perfect combination to add a dimension when recording, through photography, the fleeting transition of autumn, that of leaves changing colour. Leaping out of the chair, closing the lid to my laptop and grabbing a jacket I went out of the door into autumn.

field-maple-and-ash-in-autumnThis action is also a transition, one of moving from a warm room to outdoors into a temperate climate for which I needed that jacket. Sure it wasn’t cold but cool enough to require an extra shield to allow another layer of air to be trapped. Yes, that jacket was indeed required for yet another transition associated with autumn that of the drop in temperature. Once outside I headed to cross the major road through the village, then down a footpath and over a footbridge which passes a house with an unusual window. To the side of this house the brook flows past and within a few yards I was in the fascinating environment of Meadow Park. From the outset my pace was slow as this wasn’t a physical fitness walk but one where I was engaging my mind with the view to being mentally fit.

oak-leaves-in-autumnThis weekend England was a third of the way though autumn according to the astronomical calendar [1] but there was only a sprinkling of its effects. Just as I hoped my timing was on target to see the cusp of this transition of colour change in the leaves of trees. However, there were also a few trees that had lost some of their leaves and these were spread sporadically on the grass and scattered across the tarmac surface of the pathway. Along this first hedgerow interspaced with trees and shrubs birds were making contact calls. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually see any and with my inability to identify them by their calls they were somewhat a mystery. These bird calls reminded me of Jack Cox discussing natural navigation in “Wayfinding and the Stars” a chapter in his book “Camp and Trek” [2]. In this he recalls when Spencer Chapman was travelling with the Inuit Indians they used the call of male Snow Buntings to locate their way back home after a seal hunting expedition. Male Snow Buntings have their own distinct call and the Inuits were able to differentiate these to enable them to make the correct turn inland from the sea to their camp. Luckily for me I didn’t need to find my way home using bird calls otherwise I would have never got back!

Leaving the tarmac path to venture off-piste I walked from grassland environments into small wooded ones and then realised these were also transitions. Hitting a small path I decided to follow this not knowing where it would take me. Continuing on this path I entered another small wooded area and suddenly I halted. There was something I saw out of the corner of my eye which begged me to stop. Backtracking a few steps I found a path at a right angle to the one I was on. Looking through the trees there was a structure and moving closer to investigate it was found to be a small railway tunnel which took on the appearance of an Inca relic from a rain forest with vines hanging down and other forms of vegetation seemingly growing out of its fabric. No doubt others have been there before me and this was evident by the graffiti on the tunnel walls but this was the first time that I had been here. Later in the day I found by chance the following quote and thought this brings into perspective why we need to explore even places on our doorstep.


“The point of going somewhere like the Napo River in Ecuador is not to see the most spectacular anything. It is simply to see what is there. We are here on the planet only once, and might as well get a feel for the place.”

Annie Dillard

cheery-tree-in-autumnThroughout the day I was constantly making observations with a view to obtaining photographs of not only colour changes to leaves but patterns of leaf fall and the juxtaposition of leaves and trees against the blue of the sky. Also anything else that caused me to stop, frame and visualise an image. These included pathways, close-ups of leaves and autumn fruits.

hawthorn-berries-leavesI so enjoyed a day of exploration that I did another wander the day after. Here though it was a more purposeful venture as the sky was even bluer and I wanted to take a few more photographs especially of that railway tunnel. After this task was accomplished on the homebound route discovery was very much by serendipity. However, perhaps this further exploration was inspired from watching Peter Jackson’s King Kong film, in particular the scenes from Skull Island, the evening before in the hope of finding either a relative of Kong or a dinosaur! The very act of exploring brings out our imagination whether it is to a far corner of our planet or a place close by.


[1] Autumn according to the meteorological calendar begins in September and ends in November. In the astronomical calendar, the beginning of autumn is marked by the autumn equinox which occurs around the 22 September and ends on 20th December.

[2] J. Cox; 1956; Camp and Trek; London; Lutterworth Press

Reference to Spencer Chapman relating to the Snow Buntings is on page 114

My Teaching “Top 5”

My Teaching “Top 5”



Following on from Gillian Judson’s post on her ideas about a top five essentials for effective teaching I have devised mine. These are based on a leadership top five I learnt about whilst studying for my MSc at Loughborough University which all began with a letter “E”. I couldn’t find that particular model but there was a similar version on the internet. Even though these stem from a leadership theme I feel there is a transferability factor for a teaching perspective.


Teaching starts with having a vision, then developing a plan to achieve it whether these are a Scheme of Work or a Topic Sequence Diagram. It is based on a variety of factors which starts with knowledge of the subject and then that of the unit/module specifications one is teaching. To this mix is added data assessment and intuition with hope and anxiety thrown in to give it a bit of spice. It can be a significant challenge. A vision of what is required is the key to getting started.


The Envisioning step forces decisions on choices made to deliver the programme.  Teachers must decide what methods they will utilise to enable the objectives to be met, apply these and alongside devise the most appropriate assessment strategies to encourage the right kind of action.


With a clear vision, a set of objectives and an assessment tool kit, the third step of the teaching process is empowering students to achieve the goals. There is a ”deal” between the teacher and their students. The students and the teacher have a contract, for success, reward and sanction, on both sides. Hopefully, we are both given mutual freedom from the organisation but the teacher is ultimately held accountable for student performance.


The goal is clear, the plan is in place, and the students are both motivated and ready. Still, there is an essential ingredient missing. The teaching role demands the skills of energising the students to act. A critical activity for the teacher is to provide feedback on students progress, and to make adjustments to the plan as needed. There could be many mid-course changes to reach the goals whilst taking account of new information which includes differentiation based on the student cohort, and stretch and challenge activities for the more able. The vision remains constant and if a student or a group of students doesn’t get it the first time then you need to come up with different methods to ensure they do. To do this it takes energy to maintain focus.


A teacher needs Empathy as this is the foundation for building bridges between students, understanding their complex emotions, gaining a diverse perspective, and maintaining relationships for collaboration and progress.