Monday, 2 November 2015

Leaves on the ground

We are inbetween house moves and are back at The Jockeys for a few weeks, a holiday lodge in the stable blocks at Casewick Stud which lies in gently rolling Lincolnshire countryside a few miles east of Stamford.

The Stud adjoins Casewick Hall, the attractive grounds and outbuildings of which have a public footpath running through between the village of Uffington on the main Stamford to Market Deeping road and the attractive little hamlet of Barholm.

Casewick Hall is a medieval country house that was substantially remodelled in the 17th century. It is thought to be the location of a deserted medieval village mentioned as ‘Casuic’ in the Domesday survey and later as Casewick in a tax list of 1334. 

Daylight may be in short supply at this time of the year but compensations abound when the autumn sun breaks through and transforms the late afternoons into fiery golden vistas.

Our short walk from The Jockeys leaves the elegant driveway at Casewick Stud and joins a public footpath at the back of the hall via a gated, tree-lined avenue.

If you turn left the public footpath takes you diagonally across a large arable field until it abuts the main east coast railway, where there is a foot crossing for those heading towards Barholm.

The opposite direction cuts through the grounds and outbuildings of Casewick Hall, many of which have now been converted to homes.

An enclosed driveway lined by a tall beech hedge soon opens into parkland via a cattlegrid and gateway. Sheep wander nonchalantly across the drive and cows graze in the adjoining fields.

After half a mile the driveway crosses another cattlegrid under a second ornate gateway to join a twisting country lane and the pleasant stroll continues towards Uffington.

When the light is right photo opportunities abound and so here is a selection taken on a couple of recent late afternoon walks. Enjoy!


Monday, 19 October 2015

Ship of the Fens

There are times when embarking on a journey or overnight stay one is lucky enough to come across not one but several unexpected gems which combine to make such a visit to a new place so much more enjoyable and worthwhile.

Our recent trip to Ely in the heart of the Cambridgeshire Fens proved one such occasion. This ancient Fenland outpost founded on a lump of conglomerate rock rising incongruously above the surrounding flat land is, of course, most famous for its almighty and imposing cathedral.

Mindful of the notional nature of this fleeting visit and our proximity at the time to the town of Stamford it seemed that a cross country train would be the ideal point from which to commence this mini-visit. We alighted from the gently curving platform at Stamford’s neatly styled stone-built railway station and were soon rattling our way into Peterborough alongside the main east coast line.

One of the country’s fastest growing cities, Peterborough straddles flat fen countryside to the east whilst its western reaches extend into a pleasant and picturesque rolling landscape. A junction of styles and ambitions, it often feels like a contradiction - a dual-personality crossover of ancient and new, still defending its ancient coaching past as a stopover on the old Great North Road whilst being home for modern day commuters who flit backwards and forwards to the capital by high speed train.

After a brief stop at Peterborough’s newly re-modelled station our Stansted-bound train splits off on a spur to the east and is soon trundling across flat and diminutively featureless countryside. The monotonous monoculture fields that seem to reach as far as the sky and characterise this region are punctuated by extensive drainage systems with their horizon-defining banks and lone, singular roads appearing from nowhere to intersect the railway.

This late September morning was overcast and grey, offering an indistinct backdrop for the intense arable farming, the dull and distant appearance of which was compounded by greasy train windows. Soon the line passes through March, which was once the county town of the Isle of Ely until the latter ceased to exist by government decree in 1965. Just a few minutes later the distant cathedral of Ely  looms on the closing horizon like some giant alien artefact.

Our short journey through big skies across a bereft landscape has been as stale as the air on this cramped and fusty train that plies its way back and forth between Birmingham and Stansted airport. But the sun is extending a welcome as the coaches slow into Ely’s business-like station which, with its multiple platforms, is a busy cross-country junction linking Norwich, Cambridge, Peterborough and Birmingham, and London.

So what of the gem-like discoveries? Well, first and for such a small place, there is much within Ely that could easily fit the category, not least the stunning architecture of the cathedral itself.

But for now, we are seeking out something on a smaller scale that might otherwise slip by unnoticed. Topping & Company is a suitably fitting name for any high street shop and once inside you can see why the crime author Alexander McCall Smith described it as “the best bookshop in the world”.

For the book lover or casual shopper it is three floors of literary and tactile delight where serious browsers are afforded complementary coffee, served from a cafetiere in china cups all set on a neat wooden tray.

Beside the second floor window is a small wooden table and chairs where one can sip coffee and repose in a literary paradise, surrounded by the smell of book print and with a tantalising view across the street to the cathedral spires and ramparts. There is no sterility here - Toppings is a treasure.

If this is more than a fleeting, day-time visit there are plenty of overnight accommodations to select from. Nowhere is more welcoming option than Peacock’s Tearoom and Fine B&B, just a stone’s throw from the River Ouse and its boating community.

As the name would suggest, this is a traditional English tearoom - tasteful, sumptuous and quirky, with a hint of French eccentricity, all of which makes it popular with locals and visitors alike.

Peacocks is run by the charming and delightful George Peacock, an ex-criminal defence lawyer in another life, and his attractive wife Rachel. More recently they converted the upstairs of the two joined up 1800s cottages into a couple of delightful bed and breakfast suites, each with its own private sitting room, separate bedroom and pleasant facilities.

This really is English bed and breakfast as it should be. Peacocks exudes character and charm - overflowing book cases, comfortable old chairs, antique furniture and a restored market trolley doubling as a coffee table.

Pick the day of your visit to Ely wisely and you can also enjoy the city’s lively traditional market on Thursdays and Saturdays, along with an eclectic craft, flower and food stalls on occasional Sundays through the year.

On non-market days, however, the large, block-paved square is rather featureless and seems surplus to requirements - bland, unimaginative modernity contrasting starkly with the magnificent stonework and intrinsic creativity of the city’s cathedral - a ‘Ship of the Fens’ dating back to 672 AD when St Etheldreda first built an Abbey Church.

Words and photos: Clive Simpson

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Renewables under attack

If you are colour blind there is sometimes a blurry line when it comes to discerning the difference between green and blue - as British Prime Minister David Cameron seems to be making increasingly clear.

His bold claim on coming to power for the first time in 2010 to be leading the “greenest government ever” was rapidly dismantled - almost as quickly as the floods and storms of 2013 destroyed homes and livelihoods.

This summer the UK has experienced one of its wettest ever August months and globally the year once again promises to be amongst the hottest on record. Glaciers are retreating and global sea levels have risen by 8 cm in two decades as a result of warmer ocean water and melting ice caps.

A growing body of evidence suggests that climate change is very real - and international negotiations on the establishment of climate change controls are scheduled to reach their peak in Paris in December.

Yet within a few months of being elected for a second term, Cameron’s majority Conservative government has pretty much made it clear it wants very little to do with renewable technology.

In June it announced cuts to financial support to developers of new onshore wind turbines, the cheapest form of renewable power available. And last week it announced it intends to slash subsidies that help families and small businesses install solar panels.

Why have David Cameron and his chancellor George Osborne decided over the last few months to abandon key government commitments to protecting the environment and its pledges to create new green technologies that could wean us off our urge to burn fossil fuels?

Meanwhile, a commitment by Britain’s biggest suppliers six biggest energy companies to help tackle climate change has been called into question after it emerged all have quietly dropped their green electricity tariffs.

Despite the major suppliers - which together provide 90 per cent of UK household power -  all making public commitments to tackle climate change by reducing carbon emissions not one of now offers a renewable energy tariff.

The UK’s solar industry, which is already reeling from a wave of damaging policy changes, was shocked and taken by surprise by last week's government publication of its scheduled review of the Feed-in-Tariff  (FIT) scheme for supporting small-scale renewables.

The Solar Trade Association (STA) had already been engaging with officials and ministers over the last few months demonstrating how the FIT framework could be reformed to provide better value for money while targeting parity with fossil energy around 2020.

Its ‘Solar Independence Plan for Britain’, published in June, sets out proposals based on a detailed budget model of the solar Feed-in Tariff. The STA estimates that it will cost just another £1.70 per year on energy bills between now and 2020 to deliver a million more solar homes and grid parity.

Mike Landy, head of policy at the STA, says: “We don't agree with these self-defeating proposals and will be urging DECC to take up our alternative. A sudden cut combined with the threat of scheme closure is a particularly bad idea – it will create a huge boom and bust that is not only very damaging to solar businesses and jobs but does nothing to help budget constraints.

“We really are astonished at how self-defeating these proposals are. Instead, we are calling on the government to work with the solar industry to deliver our plan for a stable glide path to subsidy-free solar.”

Like a number of other issues that have suddenly come to the fore, the Conservative manifesto for the elections in May said nothing about attacking the British solar industry, which has flourished thanks to public support and delivered unprecedented cost cuts.

The STA, along with 100 local authorities, community energy groups and professional associations, has already written to the Prime Minister in support of FITs and days that when Parliament returns it intends to grow this alliance and fight hard for a more sensible policy.

Landy adds: “If DECC (Department of Energy & Climate Change) and the Treasury insist on making such damaging and unjustified cuts they will need to develop alternative policy proposals to drive commercial sector deployment. The upcoming Energy Efficiency Tax Review provides exactly the opportunity to do so. But we need to see some positive proposals very quickly to mitigate the shattering of confidence across the solar industry.”

It would seem that the government has once again adopted a short-sighted, market-driven attitude - not just from the perspective of national prestige but also in terms of lost opportunity. Sooner or later the world is going to end up depending on renewable power and the UK has much to gain from developing not shrinking its expertise and influence.

The proposals set out by DECC, which is itself under threat, will see tariff rates for domestic schemes (now up to 10kW) cut from 12.9p today to 1.63p/kWh next January. The deadline for responses to the consultation is 23 October and you can make your own comments using this link - online survey

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Sea levels rising

Detroit skyline.                                                                                                          Clive Simpson

Essential indicators of Earth’s changing climate continue to reflect trends of a warming planet, with several markers such as rising land and ocean temperature, sea levels and greenhouse gases all setting new records in 2014. 

The findings are included in the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) 'State of the Climate in 2014' report published this week.

NOAA warns cities and businesses to expect ever higher levels of coastal flood risk after sea levels hit record highs. The agency confirmed that average sea levels have risen by 3.2 mm every year since 1993 - meaning that in 2014 sea levels were about 67 mm higher than in 1993.

The report, which is compiled annually by US government climate scientists, also revealed land and sea temperatures reaching record highs in 2014, while atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases also soared.

Ocean temperatures are at their warmest since records began 135 years ago, the report says. The record warming is contributing to sea level rise - helping to melt glaciers more quickly and causing ocean expansion (water slowly expands as it warms).

Greg Johnson, an oceanographer at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, suggested thinking of the warming effect as if it were a fly wheel or freight train.

"It takes a big push to get it going but it is moving now and will continue to move long after we continue to stop pushing it," he explained.

The report also noted that warmer ocean temperatures raise the risk of severe storms, which are made more dangerous by high ocean levels. Warm ocean temperatures in the Pacific are also producing warmer winters and worsening drought conditions on the US West Coast, scientists said.

The news came on the same day as a new joint report was released by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Lancet Commission, revealing that climate change is jeopardizing the future health of the human population.

Braulio Ferreira De Souza Dias, scientific advisor for the Lancet Commission, said: “We are moving closer than ever before to triggering potentially irreversible impacts, and jeopardizing the health of our ecosystems and that of present and future generations.”

It also comes in the same week as a major report argued that we should prepare for climate change in the same way as we would a nuclear war or terrorist attack - by planning for the worst-case scenario.

Even a small increase in sea level can cause a large increase in the risk of flooding. A global sea level rise of just one metre - the most we are likely to see this century, according to the report's lead author Sir David King - turns what would have been a one-in-a-hundred year flood in New York into a twice a year catastrophe.

State of the Climate in 2014

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Logo goes up in smoke


I always enjoy a good rocket launch and last night's Ariane 5 from French Guiana carrying Europe's latest weather satellite for EUMETSAT was no exception.

It was especially good to see the giant MSG-4 logo on the side of the Ariane rocket because the logo was designed for EUMETSAT by myself and Andrew Hunt back in 2002.

At the time I ran the award-winning media agency SimComm Europe, which was based in Havant near Portsmouth, and Andy freelanced for us.

I worked extensively for both EUMETSAT, based in Darmstadt, Germany, and for the media and public outreach departments of ESA's Paris headquarters and Netherlands technology base, writing and producing annual reports, newsletters, website copy, press releases and brochures.

For our humble MSG logo this last night’s launch was its fourth and final flight into space on the side of an Ariane 5 rocket. This was the press release we issued back on 22 August 2002: 

Giant logo emblazoned on European rocket

The design work of a Havant company will quite literally be going into orbit shortly before midnight tonight.

A giant logo created by SimComm Europe is on the side of Europe's Ariane 5 rocket which is due to blast a new European weather satellite into space.

The launch of the first Meteosat Second Generation satellite for Europe's German-based Eumetsat weather organisation is scheduled for 2330 BST from French Guiana in South America.

SimComm, based in Brockhampton Lane, has been working with Eumetsat for a number of years and designed the logo for use in various kinds of publicity material connected with the launch.

"The logo has been used in many documents and on stickers, pens and notebooks," said SimComm managing director Clive Simpson.

"However, we're delighted to see  our work on the side of a rocket - it's quite a coup for a PR and design agency, and not every day you get such prestigious exposure."

Meteosat Second Generation will replace the current series of weather satellites which provide the pictures and information for our daily weather forecasts.

In 2003 SimComm also wrote, produced and handled the worldwide distribution of Eumetsat’s MSG information book and user guide.

The 80-page full colour document, in both English and French versions, promoted the value of the Meteosat Second Generation programme.

SimComm writer Lucy Owens (now Mrs Lucy Kemp), who also acted as deputy editor for myself on Spaceflight magazine, went on a press trip to French Guiana for the first MSG launch.

Unfortunately, as is so often the case with launches, her trek to South America proved in vain as far as witnessing a spectacular launch was concerned after a technical fault delayed it beyond the scheduled length of the press trip.

Article by Clive Simpson

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

They do it with lenses

Hot and sunny days like the current mini-heatwave across the UK are just what are needed for the testing of a ground-breaking experimental solar power system which has the potential to generate carbon-free electricity in a new way.

The pioneering solar steam project is undergoing a series of tests this summer to further prove and develop the system as a potential alternative form of renewable technology.

Surrounded by protective fencing and with its own mini control centre, the test structure dominates the sky-line at the offices of sustainable development company the Larkfleet Group in the small market town of Bourne.

With the support of Cranfield University and its own modest R&D budget, the Larkfleet solar steam plant is believed to be the largest practical demonstration anywhere of a fresnel lens (as opposed to fresnel reflector) system for the concentration of solar power. 

The futuristic construction is essentially a collection of giant lenses - manufactured in plastic to keep costs low - designed to concentrate the energy of sunlight onto metal piping and heat water to boiling point.

It measures just over 13 metres (42 feet) long by 5.5 metres (18 feet) high when extended to its maximum and the metal framework holds a series of lenses which concentrate refracted sunlight onto a 9 metre (30 feet) long metal pipe to heat water circulated inside. Full-size systems will be very much larger.

To maintain maximum power generation the lenses need to constantly track the sun in both azimuth and elevation - and so the rig needs to be automated.

"The principle is already proved and we are now looking at enhancing the tracking system to make it fully automatic," says Simone Perini (pictured below), a solar energy expert who joined Larkfleet's R&D team from Cranfield University last year.

Light weight, low cost plastic lenses make accurate tracking possible both horizontally and vertically using relatively light mechanisms.

An automated dual-axis tracking system being developed as part of the project will concentrate solar irradiation with limited external input.

The system creates a solution for industrial heat users in areas of high direct sun/clear sky locations for modular thermal energy production deployment

"Cost reductions and accurate tracking more than compensate for any loss of optical quality,” explains Perini. “Plastic lenses are less expensive to produce than vast arrays of glass mirrors now being used on comparable power generation systems throughout the world.

"It is challenging but a lot of work has been done already and it is an innovative project with great potential. For the same reason is very exciting."

Data will be gathered during a summer of testing before an evaluation phase leading to the next stage of development starts in September.

A quick search under solar steam on the internet does reveal a plethora of small scale amateur projects using a few lenses. “The difference here in Bourne is that we are running a full-scale demonstration R&D project,” says Perini. “I did find a similar plant being built in Japan but this was based on a point focus solar furnace so is quite different.”

As well as developing the system itself, Larkfleet is also assessing the potential market for such solar steam renewable technology.

One possibility is using it to generate electricity by driving a turbine - but it has many other potential uses so there are big incentives to make it as efficient as possible.

"We believe this is the sort of system that could be attractive to SMEs in the small scale solar market for any process heating system that requires heat of between 80 and 250 degrees," says Matthew Hicks, the group's renewables investment director.

"It would be extremely valuable in parts of the world where the sun is the only readily available source of energy and could be used to power desalination plants, refrigeration, sterilisation, chemical purification and numerous kinds of waste treatment," he added.

The system - already attracting interest from around the globe - might even be integrated into traditional power stations to reduce the burning of fossil fuels.

"The solar steam could be fed to the power station generators so gas or coal would only need to be burned at night or on days when solar power is not enough to meet demand," Hicks suggests.

"The solar steam rig provides an opportunity for looking into a new method of low carbon energy generation and is very much a long-term project - we will trial the technology fully before coming to any conclusions about its future potential."

Larkfleet Group is a privately-owned house building and development organisation with a strong record in creating high quality homes and communities.

It specialises in building energy-efficient housing and continually invests in research and the development of innovative new sustainable building designs, materials and construction methods.

It is also a major developer of sustainable energy projects and a provider of energy-efficiency improvements for new and existing buildings.

Larkfleet Group companies are currently developing large photovoltaic (PV) solar farms, adding PV panels to new and existing buildings at a variety of scales, and refurbishing existing homes to reduce their carbon footprint, energy use and energy costs.

Photos & article by Clive Simpson

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Day trip into history


I’ve arrived at Moscow's Domodevovo airport and seem to have been delivered through customs surprisingly quickly. Taxi drivers congregate and I scan their handwritten signs.

I head for one with a Metop logo, the spacecraft I have been brought out to see. I ask if it is for me but he says no. Ten minutes later he comes up and asks “are you Mr Simpson?” It's for me.

It’s a rough old car. None of the dials on car dashboard work so there is no speedo but I guess that’s no problem here. More importantly, perhaps, the radio is working fine, blaring out music and chat in Russian.

Moscow has many airports, both civilian and military. There is a lot of public transport too - trolley buses, railways and trams. At this time the main airport was not linked by rail to the city so it was a one hour taxi ride, if the traffic favours you.

I’m struck by the number of people walking on the side of busy multi-carriageway roads. There also seem to be a disproportionately large number of cars either broken down or parked on the roadside. It’s all very congested and polluted on this warm, summer’s evening - my first experience of Russia.

The sun is still quite high and brings a crisp, reddish outline to the buildings, homes and offices as we speed towards central Moscow and the ‘grand' Metropole hotel, which I understand is close to Red Square.

By now it is 9 pm in the evening local time and it has been a long day. I am one of the last of the international journalists to arrive to join this Press trip so there is just time to check in before we are whisked out and around the corner to a ‘traditional' tourist-style Russian restaurant.

Our hosts are dressed in colourful costume. It is dark and dimly lit inside and we are offered chunks of crusty bread to dip in salt, a traditional Russian greeting. There are shots of mead and of vodka for each of us, along with much cranberry juice and wine for the meal.  We dine on a Russian ‘tapas', followed by a salmon main course and apple pie. Mmmm, slightly English that - didn’t expect salmon and apple pie for my first Russian meal.

It's 11 pm and dusk is falling by the time we finish. Though it is late and the coming day will be long too, I decide to take a stroll to Red Square. It will be my only chance to see this Russian icon.

There are many people about, Muscovites, tourists and a few guards. It is beginning to get quite dark and the illuminated buildings look stunning. I take many photos and wish I had a tripod to reduce the low light camera shake.

The next morning we are braced for a 5 am (2 am UK time) alarm call. No time for any breakfast but there is a table to help yourself to hot takeaway teas and coffees as we are whisked onto a coach for a ride through early morning Moscow. There are many beautiful buildings. The sun is rising into a blue sky. It is still very quiet on the wide roads and boulevards. Much of the city is still asleep.

The trip to Baikonur involves a charter flight from Moscow’s Pulkovo airport. We board a Tupolev TU-134, which I would describe as a rather quaint, twin-engined jet.

It was old and stylish, with wooden fittings, and curtains at the windows. The seats had seen better days and I guessed the aeroplane had already plied many decades of service. Our flight time would be about three hours and ten minutes.

We were headed for Baikonur, the legendary Russian launch site where Yuri Gagarin blasted mankind on the first step of its on-going journey to the stars.

Though we would get to see just about everything else, on this occasion we were not there to witness an actual launch. We would, instead, be briefed on the final preparations for the upcoming flight of a new European weather and climate monitoring satellite, called Metop.

Baikonur is a Russian controlled enclave in Kasakhstan so thankfully there was no need for an additional visa. It is two hours ahead of Moscow, five hours ahead of UK time.

Even from the air you get the feeling that Baikonur is a remote and desolate place. After 30 minutes or so we've flown just east of the Aral sea, a shrinking area of water. Five times the size of France, Kazakhstan is bordered by Russia to the north, the Caspian Sea, and China to the southeast.

Most of the country is made up of steppe, the sand massives of the Kara Kum and the vast desert of Kizilkum, while in the southeast the mountains of the Tien Shan and the Altai form a great natural frontier with tens of thousands of lakes and rivers.

To the east of the Aral Sea, in an area of otherwise un-inhabited desert, lies the Baikonur cosmodrome. There are check points at all major entry points and its airport has two scheduled flights per week to Moscow.

Flying into Baikonur by plane, one can’t help but be struck by the huge expanses of flat sandy desert, broken only by patches of scrub vegetation and deep red scars of rock, exposed by the elements.

The plane looses height quickly, and with a couple of turns we are lined up on the runway. This is the 20 km of tarmac built for the Buran shuttle, which landed here after its one and only flight.

Despite the rough tarmac appearance our landing is smooth and the pilot lets the plane run out for some distance, before executing a sharp u-turn. Eventually he eases off and we come to rest near a near a green shed where two dogs run out to greet their Russian visitor. Luggage is carried from our aircraft in an army truck. There are no civilians in sight, it’s all uniformed military personnel.

This really is like a frontier town, nothing for miles around and about a 40 minute drive for project workers everyday to the famed cosmodrome. As western visitors we are definitely not allowed the freedom of hire cars so a coach has laid on by our hosts Starsem from the hotel.

When it was founded in 1955, the Cosmodrome was dubbed ’Baikonur’ in an attempt to mislead the West about its true location. Infact, the original Baikonur is actually a mining town about 320 kilometres northeast of the space centre.

Administered by Russia and constructed to service the cosmodrome, the city outside the space centre (now called Baikonur as well) went by the name Leninsk until 1995, when it was renamed by the then President, Boris Yeltsin.

Baikonur town is a shadow of its former self. Once formal parks and gardens are now patches of dirty sand and overgrown grass. At the height of the Buran/Energia programme - Russia’s answer to the Space Shuttle - the population peaked at around 130,000 but is now down to around 30,000.

As well as Yuri Gagarin, first human in space, the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched from Baikonur. All subsequent Russian manned missions have lifted off from here, as well as other Earth orbiting, lunar and planetary missions.

As a republic within the USSR, Kazakhstan suffered greatly from Stalinist purges and environmental damage, and saw the ethnic Russian portion of its population rise to nearly 40 percent.

Our appropriately named Sputnik hotel was an unimaginative slab of a building, basic but pleasant enough inside. Opposite the main entrance was it’s saving grace, a monument to Sputnik.

There are monuments everywhere - no mistaking this as a space town. But the parks are mostly overgrown and many of the huge apartment blocks lie half empty.

Outside of the town, the desert-like scenery is unforgiving on the eye and it seems a long drive to Baikonur’s cosmodrome. The scrub landscape is an orange dusty colour and the landscape is littered with regimented and dissecting lines of pylons carrying electricity to the power hungry launch facilities. A railway track alongside the road adds some interest to the wide, flat landscape.

The cosmodrome, too large to fence-in, is a scattering of sites. Old facilities are left to decay, as is any unused or unclaimed item. Derelict buildings, discarded machinery and metalwork populate this desert.

The facilities in use today are smart and efficient. A big attraction of the launch site continues to be its cheapness and reliability in recent decades a significant amount of Western money has come into Russia’s satellite launching business..

We are waiting to catch sight for the first time of the famous launch gantries. The railway bends off to right on a spur. The big sky is overcast and grey but it's very warm, around 40 degrees. I’m pleased we're in an air conditioned coach. As we finally arrive at the cosmodrome there's a very real sense of walking in the footsteps of history.

Article and photos by Clive Simpson. For travel or writing commissions please email.