The Dark Hedges :: A Contradiction

The Dark Hedges, County Antrim

It has been almost a year and I am still trying to best articulate the Dark Hedges.  I find that they are a bit of a contradiction.

They do make a great image.  I believe it is due to the way the hedges allow light to filter in.  Unique shadows draw photographers, from amateur to professional to this small section of road in Antrim, Northern Ireland.  Add seasonal colors and the opportunities for the ‘shot’ multiply.

The contradiction is that there is something very simplistic to them. They are, in fact, overgrow hedges that are treelike in their stature.  They are … well, ordinary.  Yet, it is in this simplicity that when you add the light, it creates an image that looks very complicated; something extraordinary.

The afternoon that we stopped was dreary.  As I grabbed the tripod, it began to rain.  Not a soft rain, but a steady, need-to-protect-the-camera rain.  Two umbrellas and a few prayers (please be in focus) was all that needed.  I took a variety of images in different apertures and focal lengths.  After thirty minutes, the skies seemed to open up and keeping the lens dry was becoming impossible, so we packed up.  In the back of my mind I thought … I just need one.

If you have the opportunity, it is worth the trip.  You will either need GPS coordinates or good directions.  We received our directions from the tourist office in Portrush, County Atrim.  Patience is needed, but don’t give up.  We turned around, backed up and even picked a point to start over.  With a little Irish tenacity … we found it.

A Mountain’s Purple Carpet :: The Knockmealdown’s

The Purple of the Knockmealdown Mountains
Post Blooming Season

Post Blooming Season, June 2012

The first time I heard of the Knockmealdown Mountains was the first morning in Ireland at breakfast. We were sitting next to an English couple and they were discussing the previous day’s tour.  We must have had that ‘where do we start’ (a.k.a., deer in the headlight) look and took pity on us.  One thing that they mentioned a drive they took through the Knockmealdown’s and the rhododendrons.

Let’s make sure everyone understands a basic premise here … I am not a gardener.  I have a black thumb and would rather do a million other things that spend time in flower beds or gardens.  I do, however, enjoy macro photography, so I can occasionally be found in a garden. However, my tool of choice is a camera.

Heather and Gorse II

Heather and Gorse II, September 2013

Our B&B hosts were patient and explained more than once the draw of the Knockmealdowns and the Vee scenic.  I was still ignoring, but my friend had her curiosity piqued.  So, we decided to head that direction on one of our ‘slow’ days.  Located between Cahir and Lismore, the Knockmealdown’s are a great transition between counties Tipperary and Waterford.  The landscape … simply breathtaking!

Since that day, I have driven through the Knockmealdown’s five times; four of those via R668 which is known as the Vee scenic route.  (The Vee is a switchback that when looking at a map it is very noticeable as it looks like the letter ‘V’.) The other time I took the ‘road less traveled.’  Together, those drives also covered three seasons.

Blackberries Along the Road

Blackberries Along the Road, September 2013

June 2012 … We missed the blooming season by just a few days.  There was only a remnant of purple across the landscape, however, the lush foliage made for beautiful, landscape images.  We were so drawn in, we went back a second time.

December 2012 … Taking ‘road less traveled’ through the Knockmealdown’s provided a very rugged backdrop to the winter weather.

September 2013 … There are a lot of pines, so the green color was still prevalent.  But autumn was creeping in and the landscape was beginning to take on a golden tone.

June 2014 … We hit the tail end of the blooming season.  While the rhododendrons were beginning to create ground cover with their petals, the mountain was, thankfully, still carpeted with purple flowers.  I remember driving up the mountain and thinking – okay, I see more purple than before.  But right before the ‘Vee’ there is a bridge and a carpark. As we entered this area, I knew at that moment was the fuss was about.  Wow!  We drove two and a half hours hoping to catch the sight and it was worth every mile.  (Note: If you scroll lot the end of the post, there is a video that will give you a 365 degree view of the rhododendrons.

Among the Rhododendrons

Among the Rhododendrons, June 2014

What is interesting about the Knockmealdown Mountains, is that as you drive from Cahir to Waterford you will go through three different type of landscapes.  The first, green and purple of the Vee; second, a rugged stone and heather mountain top; and three, a heavy foliage area that receives plentiful rains from the south.

Oh … and keep your eye out for the sheep.  They can be found napping on the side of the road, strolling along mountain paths or climbing the stone walls.

Regardless, don’t forget your camera.  It is an area filled with photographic opportunities.

A Winter's Knockmealdown

A Winter’s Knockmealdown, December 2012

At the Top of the Knockmealdown's

At the Top of the Knockmealdown’s, June 2014

Loughglenbridge, Knockmealdown Mountains

Loughglenbridge, Knockmealdown Mountains, June 2014

The Lush Foliage of the Knockmealdown's

The Lush Foliage of the Knockmealdown’s, June 2014

Knockmealdown's Beauty in Glass

Knockmealdown’s Beauty in Glass, June 2014

Ireland & Romance

Ireland & Romance

Powerscourt Estate, in Enniskerry, County Wicklow, offers photo walks throughout the year with landscape photographer Fran Bryne (Fran Byrne Photography). I was fortunate to participate in one of those walks in June 2014.  It was during this time that I borrowed this special moment.

A Powerscourt Path

A Powerscourt Path

As we began to wander around the grounds, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Was this like a guided tour with cameras clicking along the way? Or, with my thirst for knowledge, would I be able to tap into Fran’s expertise and learn something? So, I asked and the answer … a walk through the grounds and pointers. What more could a girl with a camera want?

What started out as an opportunity soon turned into a mission. It is here that I need to give credit where it is due. Here was some crazy American with a stuffed sheep (another day, another story) hanging from her camera bag asking quirky questions. Fran was nothing but very patient.

My social media news feeds are populated primary by all things Ireland and photography. I study those images. While I love sweeping landscapes, I find my self drawn to ‘standing in the forest’ images of paths, trees, etc. But when I try to take that image, it looks like … I am standing in the forest trying to take a image. As I explained this, Fran rose to the challenge.  And, did I mention patient?

Ireland & Romance III

Ireland & Romance – Listening

I have a many images from that day that I am happy with. Some, well, let’s just say that I learned from them. But, this featured image is one that I have been holding onto to post on Valentine’s Day.

💚 💚 💚

It was a typical, overcast day. As we began to head down a gravel path, I stopped and asked … How do you take a photograph of this? I wanted an image of the path, but with no sunlight, it looked dismal. I normally would have passed on it. Instead, Fran had me set up the tripod and camera. The tripod is critical for steady, long exposures. The key … take multiple exposures.  And, it is all about the light even on a cloudy day.

Ireland & Romance II

Ireland & Romance – Laughter

So, we are standing in the middle of the path with tripods. It is evident that we are taking photos when this couple walks around us. I look up and think … really? I also start to grumble … couldn’t they wait for a couple of minutes?

There stands Fran with a smile and he simply says … look. Okay, I see two people that are in my way. He says … look again. Notice that her pink sweater matches the flowering bush. The white in her skirt matches the white clover. Take the picture.

The Serenity of Dolphin Pond

The Serenity of Dolphin Pond

It was a lesson learned. I was able to take three photos before they were gone. I have considered posting these image sooner than today. Every time I look at them I think of ‘Ireland & Romance.’ Wait for Valentine’s Day. It does look like it was a special day for the both of them. Oh, we did see them again a bit later. The were sitting on a bench by Dolphin pond. Definitely a special day for them.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

In Search of Poppies

Poppies & Rye, County Carlow

Poppies and Ireland are two things that I would not have paired.  Yet, I started to notice images of poppies in my news feeds a couple of years ago.  Not a lot, but enough to catch my attention.  I would find myself thinking … how could I miss poppies?  The idea was tucked away and forgotten.

Pretty Poppies, County Carlow

Pretty Poppies, County Carlow

Fast forward to June 2014 and a conversation over lunch with Fran Bryne of Fran Bryne Photography.  I had just spent the morning participating in one of his photo walks at Powerscourt Estate in Enniskerry, County Wicklow.  Fran had a wealth of information, including some great landscape locations in the county.  Somewhere along the way, poppies were mentioned.

There was some good news and some bad news.  The good … poppies are found in Ireland and County Carlow is known to have some fields.  County Carlow would be a reasonable drive during my June stay.  The bad … poppies weren’t very prevalent that summer.  However, there might be some opportunities.

Once again, fast forward toward the end of the trip.  It was decided that since we had a free day we would go in search of poppies.  After following up with Fran, he had mentioned one place off of N81 that, while a rye field, had a number of poppies.  An exact location … nope.  Not a problem; we would wander.

As we entered the county, we stopped the first time we saw poppies around a barn and in the ditch.  Not many, but there were poppies. A few images and we then began to wander around the Carlow area.  Not all was lost as we found a park.  Once parked, I followed a path that opened up to a rye field.  There a few poppies, but not enough to call it a poppy field.

The Yellow of a Rapeseed Field, County Carlow

The Yellow of a Rapeseed Field, County Carlow

Back to the car.  Somehow we managed to drive in circles a couple of times.  We found more poppies in a couple of fields, but, again, not what I was hoping for.  One thing that we did stumble across were beautiful rapeseed fields.  (Rapeseed is used in making cooking oil.)  More images and back in the car.

And, believe it or not, we gave up. An idea … let’s continue onto Kilkenny.  Why not?  We were already sort of in the area and with long hours of daylight, we could make a ‘quick’ detour.

Well, a funny thing happened as we were cruising down N81 south of Carlow. Out of the corner of my eye in a quick flash, I see red.  Huh?  So, I stopped, turned around and  … no luck.  After a couple of miles, I turned around again, picked of speed, and there was that quick flash.  This time, I stopped sooner, turned around and kept my speed low.  And there is was … yeah!  I quickly parked and off we go.  Before we know it, we are among the poppies.

I am told that it was still not a ‘great’ field.  There was a lot of rye present.  But, there were lots of poppies and for me, it was enough.  The rain was holding to the north, so it meant we had a great sky.  So, if you are ever in Ireland in June, keep a lookout for poppies.  You will see an errant one along the road.  But a field of them, well, is pretty incredible.  And now that I have experienced that, I hear there are lavender fields in that area.  Hmmmm … In search of lavender?  It’s on the list.

Poppies & Rye, County Carlow

Poppies & Rye, County Carlow

Perseverance, Carlow, County Carlow

Perseverance, Carlow, County Carlow

Poppies and More along N81, County Carlow

Poppies and More along N81, County Carlow

A Field of Poppies, County Carlow

A Field of Poppies, County Carlow

The Yellow of a Rapeseed Field, County Carlow

The Yellow of a Rapeseed Field, County Carlow

Along R417, County Carlow

Along R417, County Carlow

Summer Solstice at Newgrange

Summer Solstice Sunrise at Newgrange, County Meath

When traveling, I suggest utilizing the ‘tools’ that have been made available to you.  Many are free! The one that I have learned to embrace, or at least when I want to, is jet lag.  I am very fortunate.  I have been able to tune into my sleep cycle and can usually make the five hour time zone switch the first night.  But, if I don’t pay attention I can find myself wide awake at 3am.  But I do call on it every once and awhile  …..

Clouds moving in to block the Summer Solstice sunrise

Clouds moving in to block the Summer Solstice sunrise

It was June 21, 2014 and I had three key ingredients – summer solstice, a sunrise, and the Newgrange Passage Tomb less than a mile away.  I applied that jet lag and let it simmer.

There I was …. driving around County Meath at 3:45am.  While Newgrange was less than a mile away from my B&B, the Boyne River was in the way.  So, I had to take the long way which included a few local roads in the middle of the night and by myself.  The best part, I was trying to do this by Google Maps; offline mode.  We had tried the day before to find it, but we were unsuccessful.  So after studying the map, I was going to try this once again.  I did mention that is was in the middle of the night, correct?  Ireland does not have street lights at every turn, so this meant in the black of night.

At one point, I could have gone straight; actually, should have.  But, not me!  I turned right at the sign that said: no buses or RV’s.  It was now 4am. I am on a road so narrow that the weeds are swiping the car on BOTH sides.  New thought … Please let me be the only one crazy enough to be on this road. 

Summer Soltice Sunrise Direction

Summer Soltice Sunrise Direction

Winter Soltice Sunrise Direction

Winter Soltice Sunrise Direction

After creeping along … success!  While Newgrange is famous for the Winter Solstice, I thought there would be people here for the  Summer  Solstice.  Nope, just me.  So, there I was, standing on a mound outside of the property, camera on the tripod, and … in drifts the cloud as daybreak was beginning to approach.  Really?

For the next 75 minutes I stood on that mound.  I would take a few photos, watch the clouds, and gauge the breeze.  As the sun started its ascent, I realized … I missed this one.  I was thinking that since it was summer, the sunrise would be 180 degrees from the winter solstice.  Wouldn’t it be great to see the sun rise behind the tomb?  But due to my lack of research, I discovered that it is was off to the side. To make this more comical, the clouds begin to blanket the sky.

You have to be patient in Ireland because if you wait long enough, the weather will change.  Sometimes the weather will work with you.  And that morning … it did.  One image I was able to capture  was a beautiful red-orange that briefly touched the tomb. Nine images later and the clouds had moved back in.

But for me, the real winner was a bit later. I love the golden time of the day which is about 45-60 minutes after sunrise or before sunset.  There is a deep, golden color to the sun.  I find that when it combines with dark storm clouds, you can get a pretty spectacular image.  As I waited, I was given about 2 minutes of that golden sun.  The quartz that covers the front of the passage tomb seemed to reflect the light.  It was breathtaking.

So, while I was completely wrong with the direction of the sunrise, the images that I took that morning have become some of my favorite.

The Red-orange Sunrise

The Red-orange Sunrise

Initial Golden Sun

Initial Golden Sun

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