If you follow my ramblings on social media, you may recall that in March of last year whilst at The Photography Show (TPS) my good friend Gaynor and I booked tickets to attend a photography experience at the Big Cat Sanctuary (BCS) in Kent. We had such a great time that when we were at TPS earlier this year, we decided to do it all over again and booked on the BCS ‘Sundowner’ photography event.
Fast forward a little over four months and we found ourselves on a girls’ road trip heading south to once again capture these captivating and majestic creatures.
I’d had to work during the day to cover colleague holidays so we didn’t leave until teatime, even so, we enjoyed a pretty straightforward run down on the Friday evening, pausing only at the Watford Gap services for a pit stop where we saw a Bentley Blower (Mr E was most impressed with my phone snap I sent to him see below) and we arrived at the Ashford International Hotel in time for a well-earned G&T before bed.
We awoke to a startlingly blue sky, blazing sunshine and very warm temperatures, and after a leisurely breakfast, walked to a local supermarket, where a number of bargain buys were made in the clothing aisle (there’s always time for a little shopping!). We then decided to head off to BCS via the little village of Headcorn which we’d passed through on our last visit. Unfortunately, our route was blocked by roadworks or an incident, so Gaynor switched on the sat-nav for an alternative route and we found ourselves properly ‘hedge-hopping’ through country lanes, including one with the rather intriguing name of ‘Lewd Lane’… it’s not what you think, it appears it’s taken from an old Kentish word with the legal meaning of ecclesiastical or ‘lay’ (as in lay preacher).
After a quick snap of a picture postcard cottage, we rounded the corner and spotted a ruined tower through the trees and stopped to take a look. A fascinating little place, St Mary’s Church in Little Chart was built in medieval times (11th Century) and sadly hit by a doodle-bug in 1944 suffered irreparable damage. It’s said to be haunted, but we didn’t see any inhabitants, mortal or otherwise!
We arrived at BCS just before 1.00pm to be warmly greeted by chief photographer, Alma, and after signing in we were off on our trek one of the hottest days of the year! Now, I know to some readers these will be just pictures of big cats, however as a child I didn’t have posters of pop-stars on my bedroom walls, I had tigers, lions, leopards and cheetahs, you get my drift, so this type of experience means a lot to me. There is something positively magical about being so close to them, you can feel their strength and power. They ‘talk’ and grumble too, their low throaty growls and rumbles and the occasional snapping of very large jaws remind you of just how strong and perfectly made these magnificent creatures are. I should probably point out that all the cats are in enclosures behind strong metal fences, so all these photographs were pretty much taken wide open on my long zoom lens (Fuji 50-140mm). They also move incredibly quickly, especially when there are treats to be had, I reckon my hit rate for perfectly sharp exposed images was about 40% despite having image stabilisation and fast shutter speeds!
During our visit, despite the heat, every one of the cats put in an appearance, although there was quite a bit of snoozing going on (and that was just me and Gaynor!). Their eyes are bright, their coats gleam like silk or velvet, some of them have paws the size of dinner plates, and some are tiny and fierce. It’s fair to say we were both once again charmed and engaged throughout our visit which concluded with a few special moments with Maya, the star of the documentary ‘Big Cats About the House’ who is just adorable.
If you are passionate about looking after our planet and the felines which inhabit it, then a visit to The Big Cat Sanctuary might be right up your street, it is quite simply an amazing and inspiring place. Head on over to find out more about the amazing work they do to support big cat conservation via their website. It’s a registered charity, so if you do book on anything, be sure to gift aid your donation as every little helps the organisation achieve their goals. http://thebigcatsanctuary.org/
I’ll sign off with one of my favourite images from the Sundowner, Nias having a cool down in his pool (just look at those teeth!), and just mention that I’m looking forward to a workshop of a very different kind this coming weekend, but more on that in due course…
Until next time…