Hugh Mothersole

Volunteer photographer and web editor, Hughenden and Chilterns Countryside

Hugh Mothersole - Volunteer photographer and web editor

Hugh has been volunteering for Hughenden and Chiltern Countryside for just over two years. He started by taking a handful of photographs for the Hughenden website and for the in-house Chiltern Rambler magazine, as a favour for a friend, but it wasn’t long before he was taking photographs for the National Trust across Buckinghamshire and the Chilterns. Hugh also co-authors the popular online, downloadable walks for Chiltern Countryside and he has recently become a web-editor for the Chilterns Countryside website. We've included a few of his photos in this article.

A chance request

When I retired from a long career in teaching at the end of 2014, two of my aims were to get out walking more and to develop my skills as an amateur photographer, particularly with landscape and wildlife photography.

I had only been retired for a few weeks when, out of the blue, I was asked by a friend and former colleague, who just happened to be volunteering as the Hughenden website editor, whether she could use a photograph I had taken of a cluster of lords-and-ladies (Arum maculatum) to add a touch of colour to the website’s homepage.

Hugh Mothersole, volunteer photographer
Hugh Mothersole, a volunteer photographer with the National Trust in the Chilterns
Hugh Mothersole, volunteer photographer

I could hardly say no, and after a pleasant catch-up chat over a cup of National Trust coffee, I volunteered to create a resource bank of photographs of the Hughenden Estate for the new website, which was going live in a few months’ time.

A cold, frosty morning

Within a week I had a stroke of luck; the ever changeable British weather produced one of those wonderful sunny winter mornings when the park at Hughenden Manor sparkled intensely with a crystalline hoar frost.

Taking a selection of landscape photos, with dog walkers and other visitors dotted around the park, was a straight forward task, and the photographs went down very well. I was soon getting more requests to take photographs of the inside and outside of properties, including Hughenden and West Wycombe House; of artefacts in the archive; of a wide range of events, and of the wildlife at Hughenden and the Chiltern Countryside sites.

Coombe Hill Boer War Memorial (not NT)
Coombe Hill Boer War Memorial
Coombe Hill Boer War Memorial (not NT)

When the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, paid a private visit to his Victorian predecessor’s home, I was privileged to be asked to record the event on camera.

An urgent need for new photographs

When the new National Trust website was launched, many local properties found themselves short of seasonal, high-resolution images, and it wasn’t long before I was heading off with my camera to Greys Court, Ashridge Forest, Maidenhead and Cookham Commons, and more recently to Claydon House and Stowe Landscape Gardens.

A Robin enjoying the peace in the gardens at Greys Court

Walks in special places

In 2015, a request went out from the Chilterns Countryside team for volunteers to develop downloadable walks for their website, and so I joined a team of three volunteers led, by ranger Joe Mayled.

The team has since created around 20 circular walks for Chiltern Countryside and Hughenden, ranging from 1 to 10 miles in length (typically 4-6 miles) and there are several more in the pipeline.

The kitchen garden at Greys Court
The Kitchen Garden at Greys Court
The kitchen garden at Greys Court

Not only do we write the walking instructions to include the best viewpoints, we also research the history, archaeology, ecology, geology and myths and legends of the route, so the story of the landscape unfolds for the walkers as they progress. The walks are all illustrated with our own photographs.

Sheer variety

One of the many pleasures of being a volunteer photographer is the variety of assignments I have been asked to undertake, ranging from taking portraits of some of the very special trees at  the Ashridge Estate for an exhibition, to taking pictures of Father Christmas as he was visited in his den at Hughenden by excited children.

It’s always a treat for me to see my photographs on the National Trust’s website or in one of its publications.

The benefits are mutual

As an amateur photographer with no formal training, the range of photographic challenges has taught me much about the technical side of photography; I have always had a reasonably good eye for a picture, but since I started volunteering with the National Trust, I have developed my skills and confidence considerably.

At Hughenden and Chilterns Countryside I have felt part of a special team of people who recognise and value what their people do, and who are not afraid to set them fresh challenges.  

Above all I feel that I make a small but significant contributing to the National Trust, which helps current and future generations to develop a sense of place, and to visit and to appreciate some of the special locations that form Britain’s rich heritage.