Home Cameras/Lenses Ricoh Southern Scotland over 30 years in the company of a fine array...

Southern Scotland over 30 years in the company of a fine array of Ricoh pocket cameras

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Some 40 years ago, I was a French language assistant at Aberdeen Grammar school in the northeast of Scotland. I was then finishing my MA in English medieval literature and had the opportunity to travel around Scotland extensively at weekends and during school holidays.

After returning to France and graduating as a teacher for more than thirty years, I regularly took my students on school trips to southern Scotland. The area is culturally rich, with a remarkable number of abbeys, castles and museums. No sweeping Highland landscapes favoured by photographers, but an attractive area with much to like and fire the imagination.

The Borders towns are also known for their common (or Borders) riding. These are horse races that are held in summer to revive the traditions of the Anglo-Scottish skirmishes and theft of cattle that occurred in medieval times and later on both sides of the border.

During these trips, I used to pack a small Ricoh camera (GRD3, GRD4 or the GR) and had the opportunity to snap a few pictures in the little free time I had when visiting sites. These little cameras allow you to take photos with different aspect ratios (3:2, 4:3 or 1:1 settings) and offer a range of colour or B&W profiles that can be changed in a split second once you’ve customised the camera to your liking.

The following will give you the flavour of my travels and my abiding love for Scotland.

Arriving in Scotland: Carter Bar

It’s a long way to Scotland from my home in Normandy, driving through Amsterdam, enduring a night crossing to North Shields, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and then up the scenic A68 road to the Scottish border. The first place where the group would usually stop is Carter Bar which marks the border between England and Scotland.

Originally, in the Middle Ages, Carter Bar was the location of Truce days, where justice was rendered by the Lord Wardens, the English and Scottish government officials who were responsible for the security of the border between the two nations.

Today, Carter Bar is a scenic tourist point where you are often welcomed by a piper. As an aside, we used to play a trick on our students by asking them to take their IDs out as they were crossing the border between England and Scotland.

The Borders Abbeys

A circular route and path link the four Borders abbeys. They are now all ruins. Two were founded by the Scottish King David I (Jedburgh and Melrose), while Alexander I founded Kelso abbey and an Englishman from Northumberland, Hugh de Moreville, inaugurated Dryburgh Abbey.

Three of these were constructed not far from the River Tweed, while the other overlooks the Jed river. They were all established to show and consolidate the power of the kings of Scotland over the contested Borders region in the twelfth century

Jedburgh

Driving up the A68, Jedburgh is the first Scottish town along the way. It boasts the first and last shop in Scotland, depending on where you’re coming from. The town suffered from the Anglo-Scottish feuds in the Middle Ages when it was much disputed. Jedburgh was first called Jedworth,  meaning the enclosed settlement on the River Jed. It later became a royal Burgh, hence today’s name. It is now a quiet little town with many old independent shops instead of the usual chain fare of most modern high streets.

This abbey was founded as a priory in 1138 by King David I, becoming an Augustinian abbey in 1154. The brethren may have originated from Saint Quentin abbey near Beauvais in France. David I intended the structure, which took over 70 years to build, as a display of his power over the Border region — a much-contested land.

Only ruins remain today as the abbey was often taken up in conflicts and gradually decayed with the Protestant Reformation. Despite this, exploring the grounds reveal the importance of the abbey at the time.

Dryburgh

Driving north from Jedburgh, you arrive at Dryburgh Abbey, built in a secluded woodland not far from the banks of the River Tweed.

Dryburgh was established by Premonstratensian canons in 1150. Hugh de Moreville, Constable of Scotland and Lord of Lauderdale, had invited them to this idyllic spot from Alnwick Priory, Northumberland. Moreville was himself an incomer from England.

The abbey became the premier house of the French order in Scotland, which was established by St Norbert of Xanten in 1121 at Prémontré. (source: Historic Environment Scotland)

Just like the other abbeys, Dryburgh fell into disuse and decay at the time of the Reformation. It is my favourite abbey along with Easby, near Richmond in Yorkshire and Tintern in Monmouthshire. It is peaceful and romantic, and it’s always a renewed pleasure to visit the place.

Sir Walter Scott, the novelist, is buried in the north transept of the church.

Not far from Dryburgh, you can drive to Scott’s View, a vantage point overlooking the River Tweed with the Eildon hills in the distance. The place is said to have been the novelist’s favourite view in Scotland.

Melrose

Melrose is a small town at the bottom of the Eildon hills that developed around its abbey. It is popular as the birthplace of the Rugby sevens. The Melrose sevens tournament is held annually on the second Saturday in April.

The oldest buildings of the town are constructed from old red sandstone.

Melrose, just like Jedburgh Abbey, was founded by King David I.

The Cistercians were drawn to this fertile spot beside the River Tweed because of its close associations with St Aidan and St Cuthbert. The monks came from Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire, the Cistercians’ great northern English missionary base. (Source: Historic Environment Scotland)

Melrose Abbey was an important place in the middle ages. King Alexander II chose to rest within the abbey premises, and the heart of Robert the Bruce is buried there. His body, however, is interred in Dumfermline Abbey.

These three abbeys share a common theme since they are all built in old red sandstone, a popular material in the area. Regarding Kelso Abbey, there’s very little left and nothing of interest, but the town built by the Tweed is best discovered on foot like other towns in the Borders, such as Peebles or Hawick. Many walks along the river and the surrounding countryside often start from the centre of these small towns. The southern uplands (the Scottish version of the Cheviot hills) are worth a visit as well.

Traquair House

Traquair House boasts the accolade of being the oldest inhabited house in Scotland. It began as a hunting lodge in the late 1200s before the defences were strengthened. During the Anglo-Scottish wars, Traquair was a key castle in the Scottish defence system.

Later, between the 16th and early 18th centuries, the castle was enlarged. Bonnie Prince Charlie (Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender) is said to have stayed at Traquair in 1745 during the Jacobite rebellion.

Smailholm Tower

Built on a rocky crag surrounded by a peat bog, Smailholm was one of the residences of the Pringle Clan. These tower houses were built along the Anglo-Scottish border to protect cattle and people from the reivers (cattle raiders) who lived on both sides of the border.

However, this fortified stronghold did not prevent some Northumberland reivers from stealing 700 cattle and 100 horses during two raids in 1544. Walter Scott was sent to Smailholm by his parents for the good of his health when he was 18 months old. There he was told folk tales of the Borders region by his grandmother and great aunt. Later in life, he acknowledged that these stories had greatly influenced his work. He paid a last visit to Smailholm a few months before his death in September 1832.

My travelogue, built up over 30 years of regular visits to Scotland, will continue in a future Macfilos article.

The GRs and GRDs as travel cameras.

The GR series, with maybe the exception of the GXR, perhaps do not come close to any Leica in terms of imaging but remain wonderful travel cameras nonetheless. The GRD cameras are tiny, smaller than the GR, although the recent GRIII comes close to the GRD in terms of size. They have that small CCD sensor and 28mm equivalent super-sharp lens.

You can shoot both RAW and jpegs with them. The GRDs are wonderful if you want a great depth of field, you can shoot within a split second using the effective snap mode. The GRs have CMOS APS-C sensors but, in my opinion, lack the magic rendering of the CCD sensors (I’ve heard the same remarks among local M users I know when Leica replaced the M9 with the M240).

The GRDs 9MP sensor (when you shoot 3:2) does not allow you very large prints but has an organic feel I miss in the new sensor. The menus are more complicated than Leica menus but much simpler than those of some other camera brands.

Unlike the GRDs with their fixed 28mm focal length, the GRs share with Leica a similar crop mode which you can find on the Q and Q2. The focal length remains the same, but you can get a 35 or 47 mm crop with a drop in definition, of course. But it can sometimes be a handy feature when shooting macro, for instance.

Ricoh kept the same menu system right up to the GRII (the predecessor of the current GRIII). But once your preferences are assigned to your fn buttons, there’s no need to dive into the menu again.

The main drawback of these cameras is that they do not have an electronic viewfinder or even a built-in optical finder. You can add the Ricoh GV-2 OVF that can be used on the three cameras. Construction seems on par with the Leica X1 OVF but with a wider field of view, of course.

Should you fancy trying one, you may find old GRD cameras (usually from Japan) on secondhand sites. Yet it’s safer to look for a mint one. Our editor, Mike Evans, also uses the Ricoh GRIII camera. He tells me that many Leica owners buy the GR for its pocketability and excellent results, which can be compared favourably with those of Leica’s APS-C models. Furthermore, the snap focus feature means that zone focus at, say, 1.5m and f/11 is just as easy to work with as it is with a Leica M and manual 28mm lens.

These cameras are a pleasure to shoot with. I’ve taken mine to the other side of the world many times, and they have never failed me. My children still use two of the Ricohs I gave them, the original GR and the GRD3. So far, they’ve worked without fail despite their age and intensive use. They are truly unobtrusive and perfect if you are a fan of street photography.


Read more on Macfilos from Jean Perenet

20 COMMENTS

  1. Why do I picture you and your class running down a hill with swords in your hands next to Mel Gibson, dressed for battle ? Your Scottish excursions must have been great fun. Your photo b/w abbey where u talk about Robert Bruce heart is almost as good as your temple heads and people sweeping a plaza in SE Asia. Those two pics converted me to your Ricoh gang. AS AN ASIDE READERS ANYONE KNOW OF A LEICA REPAIR PERSON FOR JEANS X2, it needs help.

    • Thanks John for your kind comment. These trips were quite tiring, looking after 48 teenagers but also rewarding, taking them to a place they will probably never go back. These old Ricohs are really excellent, addictive and sturdy cameras but they have remained niche products so far here in France.

  2. Superb article with superb pictures! Thank you. I think one day you will persuade me to move into the world of GR. As I have a Leica X2, that’s 35mm covered, so A Ricoh could lead me into the world of 28mm, which as of now I rarely use. Can’t wait for your next article!

    • Thanks Chris for your kind comment. My X2 died last week and seems impossible to repair. I like the 28mm FOV. It’s my most used focal length with the 35mm. The GRD3 and GRD4 if you can find a good one are worth a try.

    • Thanks Andrew for your kind comment. This part of Britain is really beautiful. I’ve never tired of it even after visiting it about 30 times.

  3. Thanks Jean. I have driven to Scotland many times but have usually got to the border and driven non-stop to Edinburgh. It seems I have missed a lot over the years. I also like the vivid colours of the Ricoh cameras such as the photos of Jedburgh. They almost have a Velvia saturation to them.

    • Thanks Tom for the kind comment. It’s a wonderful place with lots of places to visit, amazing walks in the Southern Uplands and along coastal paths and nice hamlets. It’s a photographer’s paradise if you take your time. We stayed twice for a fortnight with the family and everyone enjoyed it. The Dumfries and Galloway area is also worth visiting a’d just a hop from the western English Scottish border. The Ricoh vivid mode is quite close to the Velvia rendering.

  4. Way to go Johnjohn the Scottish! These are terrific images capturing the mood of Smailholm, the form of Traquair House in striking black and white, the riverside view of Kelso, the colours of Jedburgh…. Forty-eight kids must’ve been a handful (I know from experience having taught school kids too for a year). I hope the girls look after your GRs for you now, I know mine is happy clicking away with her iPhone. Looking forward to the other instalments of your Scotland travels.

    • Thanks Farhiz for your kind comment. One of my daughters uses a Lx100 she had for her 30th birthday. The other has got the GRD3. My son will hand me back the GR as he uses his GoPro when mountaineering and canyoning. I doubt the camera would resist with him. They are all using their phones as well. Smailholm is on a Rocky crag in the middle of nowhere and you easily get lost without a sat navigation. The peat bog is a also impressive when shooting B&W.

  5. Thanks Jean! Loved the article and the photos! The shot of Melrose Abbey across the graveyard is a real stunner, as is the shot number 10 of the nearby town. Terrific colors and contrast. Scotland is such a fascinating place – a rugged country full of clever and innovative people with a very distinctive culture. You did a great job of capturing its flavor. Looking forward to future articles in the series. Cheers! Keith

  6. Thanks Keith for your kind comment. I loved your article on the Q2 as a great travel camera. The Ricohs share the FOV of the Leica with much smaller sensors but 28mm is a versatile focal length when travelling. I’m preparing a follow-up article about the coastline of the area. This part of Scotland is a photographer’s dream. Light can be pretty amazing.

  7. Dear Jean,

    thank you very much for this wonderful article and images. Your contribution makes a chord ring in me as I spend my abroad uni year in Glasgow 25 years ago. So, some of the places are familiar to me. The images are great both in technical (plenty of detail and sharpness) and creative terms. Your story strengthens my wish to rertun to Scotland. I was relcutant for many years because I was afraid if could spoil my memories. By now, I am ready to go there again.

    If I do, I might call near Loch Lomond where Skyllaney are located. They produce wonderful conversions of vintage lenses to Leica M, so there is a rangefinder connection to Scotland. The Zeiss Contax Planar 50/1.4 (C/Y mount) was my companion in the last weeks. So stay tuned for another M Files epiosode. 🙂

    And, one day, I will try one of these wonderful Ricohs. I wished I had one when I climbed the one or the other mountain this summer – a full M kit can become heavy, and what I see from your images, the Ricoh performs admirably (in the hands of a user like you).

    All the best and thanks again, JP

  8. Thanks Jörg-Peter for your kind comment. I know Glasgow uni as it is not too far from the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum with its magnificent collection of paintings by the Scottish colourists and a magnificent display of Charles Rennie Macintosh furniture and glasswork. It is a magnificent country and discovering in depth the Borders area and the central Lowlands (for academic reasons) over the years has been really rewarding.

    On another note I used to have the C/Y 50/1.7 Planar. It was a beautiful lens and I still own a copy of its Yashica brethen which is basically the same without the T* coating. I wonder how it works on a M camera and look forward to your article.

    As for the Ricoh if you could get a mint GRD4 on the 2nd hand market the camera is a dream when it comes to mountaineering and hillwalking. Its a small ccd sensor with a 6mm Ricoh lens (28mm in FF equivalent) with a 1cm macro mode if you want to shoot flowers and it gives you plenty of room to shoot sweeping mountain landscape. It has become a sort of cult camera despite the fact that you can barely print bigger than A4 but the rendering is beautiful.

    I ‘ve also seen on flickr that they have a Ricoh 28mm LTM which is approximately the same size as the Leica 28mm asph Elmarit lens. My X2 died last week after years of intensive use and Leica can’t fix it anymore so I think most of my future image will be shot with my collection of Ricohs and a Panasonic M43 I recently bought.

    • Sorry to hear about your X2, Jean. But I am sure your Ricohs and the Pana are in experienced hands, and you will continue to shoot great images! JP

      • Thanks Jörg-Peter. I’ve taken the Panasonic M43 this morning. Guess I can pull nice images from it but it won’t replace my X2 although I really like the imaging from the GX9 I picked up after a two years reflection weighing the pros and cons before buying it. They’ve got a nice selection of lenses including Leica ones so I just hope it will do the trick. It was either this one or the Leica CL but I found their lenses including the amazing Summilux 35mm wer really big.

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