Pompeyexile True, there is nothing like practice practice practice.
Third attempt today and I think there is real progress!
My first attempt was pathetic: flat as a pancake with huge cave-holes at the top (looked like a mini nativity scene). Second was better, but most oven spring was sideways rather than up.
So I had to go back to the drawing board and found that my starter was not doubling in volume as it should. This starter is a bit of a story: It was given to me 10 years ago, by a person who got it from a Danish friend who used it for making their Rugbrød (Danish rye bread). The starter is allegedly over 100 years old (!). With the starter I got the recipe for Rugbrød, and this is the only thing I made with it up until recently (a very wet, no knead rye bread, baked in a tin). I never fed the starter before baking, just added it to the mix straight from the fridge, left 24 hours and took a little out for next time. Sometimes I neglected it in the fridge for months, but it always worked so I assumed it was fine.
When I wanted to try freeform sourdough, I took the starter out of the cold and fed it. It bubbled and grew, but only by about 30%. After the first two attempts I learned this wasn’t good enough, so gave it some TLC and got it back on it’s feet - doubling in volume. I also changed the normal bread flour to strong Canadian, and with these changes managed to get a much better bake, including the sought after ear. Tasted much better too! Really chuffed, and the only problem is I ate half of this huge loaf in just one sitting. Dangerous this.
Here is another angle (can you blame anyone for eating too much?):
For the experts: anything obvious I need to change to improve?