A Life in the Landscape with Photographer Peter Longden

A Life in the Landscape

I love meeting people and hearing their stories about how they came to live in Glastonbury. Some arrived as if by accident, others fell in love with the town many moons ago but were not able to make it their home until later in life, like photographer Peter Longden. 

Isle of Mists by Peter Longden

Peter tells me he first became fascinated by Glastonbury in 1972. He was in the sixth form at school  and working a Saturday job in his local public library, where he came across the newly published ‘Mysterious Britain’ by Janet and Colin Bord and learned about Katherine Maltwood’s ‘Temple of the Stars‘ : the map of the Zodiac that she believed was to be found in the landscape around Glastonbury. 

Three years later Peter’s family went on a Summer holiday to the nearby seaside town of Minehead. “I made my father take a detour to Glastonbury for a picnic stop. My sister and I went up the Tor and I remember there was a cow inside the Tower. I felt a very strong pull towards Glastonbury from then on”. 

Peter went on to become a chartered librarian for the next 36 years. His first post involved driving around the Peak District. He found himself drawn to the mysterious, brooding landscapes and high places, the ideal subject matter for his growing interest in photography. In the seventies he started composing and recording instrumental pieces on guitar, many of which were influenced by particular landscapes.

A Strong Draw to Somerset

Lantern of Avalon by Peter Longden
Lantern of Avalon by Peter Longden

Peter retired in 2011, before that he hadn’t been able to visit Glastonbury as often as he would have wished. Then he became a full-time carer for his disabled mother so it wasn’t until she passed away in 2016 that he could really do what he wanted. 

“I decided to up sticks and move, I started looking for places close to my sister in Cambridge, but couldn’t find anything I really liked. So on the quiet, I started looking at properties in Somerset. Every village I looked at I would calculate how long it would take to drive to Glastonbury. Then it occurred to me I could just move to Glastonbury! The first house I found was the one I bought. As soon as I crossed the threshold, walked into the kitchen and saw the view, I knew it was the one. I was absolutely ecstatic, but tried not to show it to the vendors. I moved in in December 2018. I can see everything from my window – the Hood Monument, across to the Quantocks, the Polden Hills and the Mendips to the North. I spend hours looking out at different times of day, at the fabulous sunsets in particular”. 

“I’ve always felt a strong draw to Somerset, part of my father’s family originated here, so I’ve always felt that Somerset was in my DNA. I’ve got Welsh connections too which give me a strong connection with the West”. 

Another of Peter’s early interests was leylines, but he parked this fascination in the back of his mind. He lived for a while in a village near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, it was only after he moved away that he discovered the Mary line went through the village. This particular interest was rekindled by a fascinating talk by Rory Duff, the ‘Geobiologist’ at a Positive Living Group talk at Glastonbury Town Hall. There, Peter learned about the energy currents associated with ley lines and decided to start dowsing.  To his delight he discovered he could pick up energy currents intuitively, without any sort of training. 

“I did my first trial dowsing in Paradise Lane on the Spring Equinox in 2020. I picked up the Mary Energy current and found I was indeed detecting it where it was supposed to cross Paradise Lane. Last August I went on a dowsing course with Rory in the City of Bath, which was fascinating. We were picking up all the different types of energy lines, much to the bemusement of the tourists who were sitting eating their packed lunches watching us, I must admit to feeling rather self conscious, I was glad there were a few of us”.

A Hazy Shade of Winter
A Hazy Shade of Winter

Photography and Astronomy

“When I retired I started getting more time for photography, bought myself a good camera and lenses and it really took off. Up until then I’d really only taken pictures for myself. When I started taking pictures of Glastonbury, friends and family suggested I share and sell them.

I like the flexibility of digital photography. I followed a very steep learning curve with Photoshop. I only make minor adjustments and enhancements – correcting exposures and lifting shadows, bringing out details in cloud structures. I try to get the exposure right in the camera to begin with. 

I started out with astro photography through a telescope as I’m a very keen astronomer. In my previous home I had very dark skies so I would take photos of very distant galaxies and star clusters. I’d take a series of images over several nights which were then combined using sophisticated computer technology. But the weather is not great for this sort of photography in the UK, plus my garden is so steep and there is quite a lot of light pollution in Glastonbury so I sold my equipment. 

I bought myself a drone a year ago but it’s been of limited use- the camera is nothing like the quality of the DSLR, so I need to upgrade it. Drones are very unpopular, particularly at sunrise on the Tor, so I’ve always been very careful where I fly it. 

I went out on a shoot with Kev Pearson when I first came here and did one of his Star Trails workshops, someone bought me one of his pictures as a housewarming present and I bought a huge one of his for my landing. There are quite a few of us photographers around Glastonbury, but we all use different viewpoints and different techniques. If you asked each of us to take the same scene you’d get completely different results. 

I’ve always been quite creative. In the early seventies I did a lot of watercolour paintings of fantasy landscapes and seascapes. I’ve dabbled in stained glass making, basing the pieces on the paintings I’d made in the seventies. This was another steep learning curve, it was also potentially very dangerous as  you’re using lead and chemical flux. It gave me an enormous respect for the medieval stained glass makers. It made me appreciate how heavy the large church windows are. All stained glass has a grain through it, you have to make the grain flow with the design or it looks really wrong. It’s not until you actually do it you realise how difficult it is. 

I’d like to write a book but I’ve never had time. I’d write about my relationship with the landscape. I have a great interest in wildlife of all types. I try to include it in my pictures, but it’s very difficult to get animals where you want them at the right time. My favourite time for photographs is dawn, as the sun starts to rise the birds start singing, the mist rises off the Levels, the sheep and cows come to life, it’s a fabulous time of day” 

The Clear Light of Dawn
The Clear Light of Dawn by Peter Longden

Finally Home

“I’ve got a good social life here, I volunteer at the Library of Avalon for one afternoon a week. It’s nice to reuse my skills in an esoteric environment, much more interesting in some ways than a general public library. You meet some very interesting characters and bemused tourists. People often think it’s a bookshop and come up with a pile of books wanting to buy them. 

I like to get out and about. I’ve got photoshoots planned in Bath and more on Exmoor and along the Somerset Coast and the Mendips”. 

Peter Longden Portrait
Peter Longden portrait by Vicki Steward

At this point in the interview, prompted by his fantastic, psychedelic, William Morris style shirt, I ask Peter about his musical tastes:

“I’m a massive Steve Hillage fan, I listen to Om Nama Shivaya from the ‘L’ album on the Tor with headphones as it really goes with being in that landscape. I’m probably the family weirdo. I have a dedicated music room and studio, the house shakes to music from the early seventies and late sixties. I’m obsessive about music quality. I’m very into William Morris, Liberty designs and Art Nouveau. I feel like I’ve found my tribe here. I always felt the urge to move on from other places, always being pulled elsewhere. I feel I’m finally home now” 

Beyond the Mists of Time by Peter Longden
Beyond the Mists of Time by Peter Longden

Peter would like to set up a small shop selling his work in Glastonbury, but at the moment he sells on the web, and through shops in town. You’ll find lots of his prints for sale in the Glastonbury Information Centre in Magdalene Street, Dicketts stock his greetings cards, Wells Tourist Information Centre stock his work too. He looks forward to the ending of Covid restrictions when he will be able to return to selling at the Glastonbury Tuesday Market in the Assembly Rooms

Peter has an Etsy Shop too, where you’ll find prints and cards but also glass paperweights and china cups. 
Go to Peter’s Etsy Shop.

On the website Peter sells his prints, greetings cards and canvas prints:

“Oliver Coningham designed my website. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted and we worked very well together, I was delighted with the result. I was pleased to find he used an eco-friendly server farm with a very low carbon footprint in the USA”.

For more of Peter’s photography and music watch this slideshow:

You can also find more of Peter’s work on his Facebook business page here.

Peter kindly commissioned me to write this post, I love telling you about the lives and work of Glastonbury’s creative community and sponsorship helps me to carry on doing all the work I do to promote the town for free. So if you’d like to commission me to write about you please check out this page.

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