The Making of the Bald Explorer

In November last year the cameras were rolling as the Bald Explorer ventured over the famous Romney Marshes looking for Smugglers of the 17th and 18th centuries. In February, this year, the video was completed and released on Youtube and the Bald Explorer website. But who is this bald explorer chappie and what has this got to doing with walking?

My name is Richard Vobes and I am a keen film maker and avid walker. I love the British countryside for its diversity and  variation of landscapes, scenery and fabulous pathways through villages and towns in between. For me British history is wrapped up with the countryside, whether that be the old drovers paths where shepherds once took their sheep or the routes from the coast that free traders would carried their illicit contraband along. So it seemed a good idea to marry both my interests together and make a series of videos about them. As I also happen to be follically challenged the shows title seemed to suggest itself.

The Bald Explorer is on his bike

To date there are three episodes of the Bald Explorer in the same number of different counties of England; Kent, Sussex and Shropshire and I have many more planned. The Welsh Marches are beckoning me at the moment for a spring production.

To make a quality video that people will sit down and watch for thirty or forty minutes is quite a challenge and requires much planning. It all starts with the research. Being an avid reader that isn’t so much of a problem and having chosen my subject area I start to gather the interesting facts, stories and legends and make a list.

Before I start to write a script I need to go and walk about on ‘location’ as it were and get a feel for the place. There are technical things I am looking for too. These would include practical logistics, such as parking sites, toilets, access to walk ways and historic monuments; permissions, feasibility and even the health and safety of filming in certain situations. Its also essential to discover if there are not so immediately obvious obstacles to worry about, such as am I going to shooting under a flight path. You cannot always tell from a map if the quaint little lane is in actual fact extremely busy and therefore too noisy to film on or the desired historic building is actually covered in scaffolding and undergoing renovation.

Having determined that the locations are suitable I start working on the script and trying to tell the story in a way that is both interesting to the viewer and also allows an opportunity to show off the wonderful assets this country has. Filming is all about compromise however and even though you might have all the bases covered when it comes to actually getting down to the shooting side of things there is plenty that can go wrong. The weather is not least one of them.

I try where possible to shoot on good days. Not only does it look pretty, but also its much nicer to work in. The winter of course doesn’t guarantee this and another issue I have to think about is the short days. It gets dark, from a video perspective at 3.30pm and that really limits what you can squeeze into a day’s shoot. On the plus side, the sun is low and the shadows long and this can result is some stunning photography.

Filming a cutaway shot for the Smugglers Tale

Once the footage is shot it is then over to the editing process. This is alike putting a jigsaw puzzle together and one of my favourite parts. Its where the production really comes to life and I can be my most creative. Choosing the music, the graphics and creating special titles are all part of the fun although it can take time to get it right.

For me though, the whole point of making the videos is to encourage others to get out and explore the areas and realise there is a lot more to the eye when to take a jaunt through the British landscape. Every building has a story. Every town has a legend. It makes walking so much more fun if you know some thing about the place you are visiting. Think of the battles and sieges around the castles of England and Wales that have taken place, the old timber framed pubs that once were important coaching inns and the abandoned canals that at one time provided the only way to transport coal and stone across the county.

My top five favourite places so far filmed are:

1. The County Town of Lewes.

Located about 7 miles from Brighton, Lewes once was an extremely important town in all of Sussex. It has the assize courts where the Acid Bath Murderer, John George Haigh, was tried in 1949. Tom Paine, one of the founding fathers of America lived before heading to that continent  and where the important Battle of Lewes took place by the Barons against the King in 1264. Henry 111 and his son, Prince Edward (later Edward the first) was defeated by Simon De Montfort in a dreadful and bloody battle around the slopes leading to the now ruined castle. It is a town that has its own battles with modern day bombers who target parking metres, so be careful where you leave your car!

2. Shrewsbury
This is another county town, in the beautiful countryside of Shropshire. It is quite unique, set as it is within a large loop of the River Severn on a promontory and containing an amazing collection of Elizabethan timber framed houses as well as stunning Georgian properties. Apart from the obvious places of interest, like the castle, its old market place and so forth, the ‘shuts’, the maze of narrow passageways that crisscross the town are just wonderful to explore. Close by, another important battle was fought in 1403 between Henry IV and Henry Hotspur from Lancaster. It was a tricky pitched battle and where the young prince, soon to be King Henry V learned his skills before taking archers to Agincourt twelves years later.

3. The Long Mynd and the Shropshire Hills
Staying in this stunning county and heading up to the south west takes you on the boarder with Wales and consequently into beautiful rolling hills which are almost unknown to people from other parts of the UK.  This glorious part of the world, with its peculiar outcrops of rock, like the Stiperstones and huge swathes of purple heather are an inspiration to the happy rambler. I have filmed both at sun rise and sun set and even danced in the early morning for part of my videos. Without a doubt, its is better than many places on this Earth and luckily so unpopulated with tourists and professional walkers.

4. The Romney Marshes
You might describe this as a little Norfolk because it is so flat, but you would be wrong to continue the comparison. Steeped in history for the midnight activities that went on during the smuggling era and the importance of the now long gone ports that once provided the King with his first navy, it has an unusual quality. Deserted churches, abandoned and now in ruins lie in the middle of farmers fields, shingle bays that move with the tide greet the visitor as they explore the once boggy marshland. And near by Rye, a town that has that lost in time quality about it.

5. Mystic Wiltshire
The land of stone circles, long and short barrows and ancient tombs is what Wiltshire is to some. It was where the antiquarians first began their interest  with our ancestors and pillaged there early burial chambers looking for treasures.  Places like Stonehenge of course still hold on to the idea of pagan rites and a place of druids. I love it because it takes you into a world where the truth is never certain and you can dream of past worlds and forgotten communities.

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