THIS BLOG IS THE LONG VERSION, if you would like to read the short version, please CLICK HERE
This blog is the first of two that I shall be writing about my week in NI/Ireland and it will cover the first two days of my week. This blog is to be used as a reference to the locations that my clients will experience should they decide to join me on my five-day North-West and Giant’s Causeway Workshop in September 2017.
During the first week of May this year, I visited Ireland with the intention of spending seven days touring around both Northern Ireland and Ireland visiting a couple of dozen locations with my camera recceing for two five-day workshops that I wish to run over there this September and next spring. I had a fantastic time and I cannot wait to return.
North-West & Giant’s Causeway, Ireland Blog – Part One – LONG VERSION
During the first week of May this year, I visited Ireland with the intention of spending seen days touring around both Northern Ireland and Ireland visiting a couple of dozen locations with my camera recceing for two five-day workshops that I wish to run over there this September and next spring. It had been my desire to visit Ireland ever since reading Tony Hawk’s ’Round Ireland With a Fridge’ way back in 2003 whilst backpacking around Australia and New Zealand for a year.
The basic premise of Tony’s book is that he undertook a bet at a dinner party that he could not hitchhike around Ireland with a fridge and thus a wager of £100 was bet and the challenge was set. Armed with a table top fridge, strapped to a metal trolley, off Tony set to prove his friends wrong and as a consequence of me reading his tales and tribulations, a lifelong desire to visit the country that provided me with many a laugh at Tony’s expense.
Fast forward fourteen years and finally, my dream to visit Ireland became a reality. A return ticket was purchased which allowed me to venture over the Irish Sea in my recently bought nine-seater Ford Tourneo minibus and at 2.40am Sunday, April 30th I boarded the ferry at Holyhead. The plan? To spend a glorious seven days travelling between the world famous Giant’s Causeway in the far north to the stunning Dingle Peninsula in the far south-west while sleeping in the minibus having removed all of the seats and throwing in the back an IKEA single mattress and a Trangia camping stove. The minibus became a makeshift campervan for my trip much like my previous Ford Galaxy vehicle did on adventures last year which you can read about here
Why travel to Ireland now? Well, I wanted to create a couple of multi-day workshops over there and I decided that I needed to visit the locations for myself in order to fully understand what it was that I would be offering those who decided to join me on a workshop or two. I had also built up online friendships with several local Irish photographers and I do enjoy meeting people that I have met online if only to allow me to put faces to names. I was also looking at collaborating with a local tour guide/photographer too as they would invariably have a lot more knowledge of the locations than I whilst offering my clients more assistance during the workshops not to mention them taking on the role of driver, therefore, allowing me more quality time with my clients when travelling between locations.
Step forward my recently recruited tour guide and workshop driver for my Ireland workshops Bernard Geraghty from Bernard Geraghty Landscape Tours. I had built up an excellent rapport online with Bernard over the past year or so and in a brief meeting with him in Glencoe, Scotland back in February while we were both running workshops there. On meeting Bernard ten minutes off the ferry in Dublin and on his own turf, I knew that we get on like a house on fire. Bernard to me is your typical Irish fella. Cheerful, cheeky, funny, extremely helpful and up for a good craic (laugh) not to mention an excellent driver and a very knowledge tour guide regarding the numerous locations that we would be visiting during the first two days together of my seven in Ireland with the remaining five days partly shooting solo and meeting a couple of other photographers in the south-west.
Bernard and I spent two solid days in my minibus driving all around the north end of Northern Ireland and the north-west of Ireland in County Donegal. We visited so many locations that it felt like a blur but time spent in Ireland is not the same as time spent in mainland UK. Time in Ireland feels different, feels more relaxed, a little like I remember experiencing in New Zealand on my previous two visits in 2003 and 2008.
Our first location after pleasantries were over with, was the local service station where a decent Irish cooked breakfast and a mug of tea was offered up. Bernard left his vehicle in the car park for the next two days and jumped in with me. Better to have us both travel together for a multitude of reasons. Our first photography destination was Melmore Head, a wonderful section of cliffs rising up nearly 100ft from the beach and the gorgeous sandy cove that lay in wait for us. Located on the north coast of Donegal, Melmore Head was a brief ten-minute walk from the minibus but the views from the top of the cliffs were stunning. The sun was shining with barely a cloud in the sky. I would have preferred clouds and some drama but it had not rained in Ireland for some five weeks which was unheard of.
A couple of hours wandering along the cliff tops shooting the rock striations into the ocean while a ground level assault on the wonderful small rocky sections on the beach itself while the tide ebbed and flowed around them followed. I started to like Ireland.
Mid-afternoon arrived and time felt like it was already flying by too quickly but a leisurely forty-minute drive to the wonderful Fanad Lighthouse on a nearby peninsula settled me down again. I always have this problem of wanting to rush my visits whenever I visit somewhere new abroad but before long I settle into a rhythm. I just get excited by the wealth of new opportunities to capture some stunning scenes on camera. It is one of the reasons why I love travelling so much with my camera and the reason why I love running workshops so that others get to feel just as excited as me.
I have a love affair with lighthouses, I do not know why as my home town of Blackpool where I was born and bred and grew up until I turned sixteen, did not have one but I just love them all the same. On arrival, I saw that Lighthouse stood at the end of a lovely rocky outcrop, standing tall and proud at almost 80ft from the base of the foundation to the base of the lantern. It looked impressive painted all white with some lovely steps that take you down the side of the rocks some 70 feet to the ocean. There were a few people milling around but after a good thirty minutes, I found what I considered to be my perfect position in which to take a shot. I decided to take four shots in portrait format and stitch them together in Photoshop CC. Each shot was around two and a half seconds in length and the trick I found some time ago, is to click the shutter button and start the exposure just as the water is rushing in and up against the rocks. That way you will have four images that should, in theory, all match up water wise when stitched together. You be the judge of whether I have been successful this time round.
Time to move on and a very short drive down the coast had us parking the minibus at the end of a dead end lane. The destination? The mightily beautiful Great Pollett sea arch. Now here’s another coastal gem that I love photographing, sea arches. This one, however, was huge and it stood isolated from the mainland. Normally the sea arches that I see are connected to a much bigger piece of rock and as impressive as they are, you just cannot beat a bloody big piece of rock with a hole in it just standing there all impressive and all alone. I spent some minutes walking up and down the cliff top path as I looked over at the impressive sight and my eventual shooting position was the one I first thought about on arrival. It often works out that way. Trusting your first instinct is not always a bad idea although I do normally advise people to walk around to have them absorb themselves in the environment.
The scene was made for long exposure as I wanted to simplify the water and have the rock take centre stage. It did not take long to set up and compose before firing off a few shots. Bernard was doing the same. I imagined having seven clients all stood there taking their own versions of this shot or perhaps a couple of them wandering down to the water’s edge to capture a completely different view of the arch. I think this is going to be a great location for those joining me.
A swift walk back to the minibus was called for as an evening meal in the nearby pub had our names on it but not before stopping off en route around the corner to photograph a lonely sea stack down in the bay below. A rocky section of coastline with reasonable sized waves lay in wait and once again, the long exposure technique was called for. Twenty minutes later, I was tucking into fish, chips and mushy peas and whilst sipping a lemonade. Forty-five minutes after the local catch was consumed, Bernard and I were arriving at our B&B for the evening in Letterkenny. Sitting there uploading my images for the day onto my laptop, I could not help but think that my first day in Ireland was a successful one. A genuinely wonderful day enjoyed by the both of us. This is why I love what I do for a living.
Day two and it was a super early start for a lovely sunrise was predicted and a forty-five minute drive to the beautiful Lough (pronounced ‘loch’) Nacung Upper which is situated to the west of the gorgeous Glenveagh National Park, was the order of the morning. Sunrise was 5.50am so we set off from the B&B at 4.30am. Are we mad? Hell yes, but in order to capture the best light of the day, you either have to get up incredibly early at this time of the year or shoot sunset (or both in my case). Arriving at the lake we noticed that the water levels were low, just one of the negatives of the country not having had rainfall for a few weeks. Everywhere as it would turn out by the end of the week, was so incredibly dry.
Mount Errigal is a hugely impressive mountain standing at almost 2,500ft and it is the highest peak in County Donegal. It looks triangular in shape and is very distinctive from any angle. Fortunately for me, Bernard is well aware that it also reflects beautifully well in the calm waters of the lake first thing in the morning and a lovely bank of dark mysterious cloud that clung onto its peak while reds and pinks illuminated the sky around it had me realise that this was a morning worth getting up early for. It wasn’t long however until the sun showed itself and the world woke up a good couple of hours after we had left the B&B. That’s the strange thing about shooting sunrise before 6am. By the time the sun is visible, it feels like mid-morning already until you realise that the local cafes are still a couple of hours from opening their doors to a hungry mob.
Camera bags and tripods back in the minibus and we were off again but this time no further than five minutes down the road via the rather scary sounding Poisonous Glen but nothing could be further from the truth. Rounding a long bend in the road I spotted a really beautiful grey church that was set back from the main road on my right-hand side. I felt compelled to stop and shoot it. It turned out to be the Church of the Sacred Heart in Dunlewey. It had a round tower attached to the left-hand side of the main body of the church with lovely tall slim windows. It stood tall and proud and looked resplendent in the early morning light but time waits for no man, not even for two named Melvin and Bernard and with time ticking on, we ventured over to photograph the remains of a wrecked fishing boat at Bunbeg.
Bad Eddie lies half tilted on the sandy beach of Bunbeg, with the right side of the old wooden fishing boat having collapsed with the left-hand side still upright and relatively intact although for how much longer nobody knows. The boat ran aground during rough seas in the early 1970’s so to be fair it’s been there as long as I have been alive but thankfully I seem to be faring better than the boat. Bernard had timed the visit to perfection as the tide was starting to come in and surround the boat which allowed me the option of shooting the water straight with a normal shutter speed to capture the motion in the water and long exposure to have the water smoothed out for a cleaner and simpler look. Once I was content with what I had captured on camera, it was back in the minibus for a journey to one of the most well-known castle ruins in Northern Ireland, Dunluce Castle.
I found travelling from Ireland to Northern Ireland and back again a slightly confusing affair for the speed limit signs by the roadside suddenly change from 80 to 50 but from kph to mph. Currency is the euro in Ireland and the pound in Northern Ireland which meant that I had to keep two sets of currencies handy as I was often flitting in and out of Northern Ireland for the first couple of days. It certainly keeps you on your toes that’s for sure. A couple of hours after we had set off from Bunbeg, we arrived at Dunluce Castle with a visit to the world-famous Giant’s Causeway for sunset on the menu too.
Dunluce Castle is quite an impressive sight. Positioned on the edge of a basalt rocky outcrop, the medieval castle was built in 1500 and is reachable by a bridge connecting it to the mainland. The castle is flanked on either side by some seriously steep drops but this did not deter Bernard and I as we made our way down to the water’s edge. There was the most amazing amount of luminous green moss covered rocks that looked as though the saturation slider had been pushed to the extreme right in Photoshop but the light that lit up the face of the rocks that the moss was clinging onto was just lovely. Sitting on a large rock with the camera all set up, while watching the water gently lap in and around the rocks in front of me before retreating again in the blazing sunshine was just magical. For the first time in two days, I felt as though I had time to just sit, relax and take it all in.
A quick walk back to the minibus and a short drive to the Giant’s Causeway promised much as we predicted a cracking sunset. We were not to be disappointed. Arriving in the car park of the of hugely impressive and newly built visitor centre had me wonder exactly what lay in wait for me as I had not researched the location. I wanted to see it for the first time in person without preconceived ideas on composition and layout. Standing on one of the 40,000 hexagonal columns and looking out over the rest of them as they rose and fell out into the ocean was rather a strange sight. Formed 60 million years ago, the basalt columns were created when molten rock was forced up through fissures in the earth to form the lava plateau you see today. Of course, legend tells a different story.
According to www.ireland.com there was a giant called Finn McCool (also known as Fionn mac Cumhaill). Finn is having some trouble with someone across the water. The Scottish giant Benandonner is threatening Ireland. An enraged Finn grabs chunks of the Antrim coast and throws them into the sea. The rock forms a path for Finn to follow and teach Benandonner a lesson. Bad idea. Benandonner is terrifyingly huge. Finn beats a hasty retreat, followed by the giant, only to be saved by Finn’s quick-thinking wife who disguised him as a baby. The angry Scot saw the baby and decided if that child was that big, then daddy must be huge and bid a hasty retreat himself.
Personally, I think I prefer the legend over science but whatever your beliefs, there is no arguing that the Giant’s Causeway is an impressive place to spend a couple of hours at sunset. It was not even busy either. Sure a few people were milling around but nothing on the scale that I was expecting. Perhaps it was the twenty-minute walk down from the car park that put some people off but watching the sun slowly set over the horizon whilst lighting up the tops of the basalt columns with a gorgeous warm glow was just amazing and a memory that shall stay with me for some time.
And so, having finished my two days in Northern Ireland and the north-west Ireland but with five more to go down the west coast, I must say that the journey lived up to my expectations and more. Both Northern Ireland and County Donegal in the north-west of Ireland have some outstanding scenery and they will not disappoint anyone who makes the effort to venture over the water themselves armed with a camera and a smile. Ireland, I cannot wait to return to you in September on my workshop.
Part Two of this blog – The Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland coming next week.