A wet day at Yarl’s Wood

We were late raching Yarl’s Wood. I’d come on the train to Bedford and joined a coach sitting outside the station to take people to the remote site, on a former wartime airfield a little over 5 miles to the north. The coach waited at the station for a later train, in case anyone else was on it, and we were late leaving.

Then the coach driver, who didn’t know the way was following an app on his phone. He overshot the obvious route up to the site from the A6, then turned around and went back to find it had been closed to traffic by the police, and was in any case marked as unsuitable for heavy good vehicles – something Google Maps didn’t take into account. He turned left back out of the road, then was told he needed to go further on, had to find a place to reverse and continue north on the A6.

We drove on to the next roundabout, stopping just before it as the road sign was covered by an overgrown hedge. A woman in the front seat volunteered to get out and go back and read it, but for some reason it was several minutes before she came back and told the driver to continue straight on. A mile or two further on was another roundabout, thankfully with a clear sign to point us in the correct direction.

It was 13.30 when we arrived, and my train had got into the station at 12.04. I could have walked there faster, though it would have been more tiring, and I was annoyed to have missed half an hour or more of the protest. And particularly as this early part, with all the protesters in a compact crowd is in some ways the best part of the proceedings for photography.

And to add to my gloom it was raining. I’ve got mixed feelings about rain when I’m taking pictures. It can sometimes produce interesting images, but it also adds to the problem, particularly if, like me, you prefer to work with wide-angle lenses.

With telephotos, the lens hood is generally quite effective in keeping the rain off the front element, but wide-angles like the 16-35mm zoom I was using have a large front element that the hood does little to protect. And however often you wipe the lens or hold it under cover, you have to bring it into the elements to take a picture, and as you do it has an irresistible attraction to water droplets falling from the sky to ruin your pictures.

Fortunately, though I had been stting in the coach cursing, we still arrived in time for the start of the march along the road and down the footpath to the detention centre.

Because I’d missed so much at the start I put rather more effort than usual into photographing this march, where usually it’s a rather a rest period between the rally before on the road and the protests in the field outside the immigration prison.

In front of Yarl’s Wood the conditions were tricky. The field slopes quite steeply down towards the fence, which is how we can see the upper floor windows despite the high fence. Half way down is a ditch which must stop some of the rain flowing down, though crossing it becomes a little difficult when the banks are slippery and there are a few inches of water in the bottom. Below that is a quagmire, with long puddles and slippery mud between them, with just a foot or two of concrete at the bottom of the fence.

Keeping one’s balance when moving around gets tricky in the wet, and ewven when trying to stand still to take pictures at times my boots started to slip.

Going higher up the hill gives a view of the windows and at some of them we could see people waving in greeting and holding up notices for us. THe further back up the hill, the easier it is to see the windows, though always obscured by the wire mesh that makes up the top 10 feet of the 20 foot fence. But of course the further away you get the smaller the windows appear – or the longer the focal length you need to show them at a sensible size.

The 300 mm end of the 70-300mm is long enough for the job, though a little extra magnification would be welcome. Depth of field at 300 mm is pretty lacking and because of the grid of the fence, autofocus tends to get it wrong – and almost all of my pictures of the windows are taken using manual focus.

The message on the T-shirt is hard to read as parts are obscured by the folds in the material, But it seems to say ‘WE ARE EU NATIONAL AND THEY KEEP US FOR 1 ??? IN THIS PLACE FOR SHOP LIFTING’ and stuck on the windows are the messages ‘WE NEED HELP – 1 Year ???’ , SHUT DOWN YARLS WOOD’ and ‘THANK YOU’. A longer lens and a faster lens might have helped to read them more clearly. Messages at the other windows were simpler and more direct. Some just said ‘HELP’, while others simply waved with their arms through the narrow slit that the windows open.

As usual there were a few smoke flares to add interest, though rushing up to the top of the hill where they were being let off was a slippery business and I was a little late getting there.

The rain sometimes eased off and sometimes got heavier, but kept on. On a firm surface I would have thought about getting out my umbrella, but I neede a hand for balance and couldn’t spare one to keep the rian off. After photographing for a couple of hours my lenses were beginning to steam up, diffusing the images and I gave up taking pictures.

It did mean I could take my time wandering back to the coach, and I took a little walk further along the public footpath to try – without success – to get a better view of the prison, before going back to take my seat. Fortunately it wasn’t too long before the others arrived and the coach was ready for the return journey back to Bedford, fortunately this time direct and without a hitch.

Shut Down Yarl’s Wood


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