A Snowy Day Above Glendalough

Another hike, another blog post! Jeez, I get out too much.
Somewhere different this time, as promised.

I was expecting the weather to be cold, windy and rainy (or snowy, at higher elevations). This indeed was the case, but I am jumping ahead of myself now!

To start, I parked my car at the Upper Lake car park of Glendalough – the start of so many adventures! I think €4 is a decent enough price to pay to park, knowing that my car will be safe from potential break ins/vandalism. Up bright and early, I planned my route for the day. Well, I say bright, but not once did I see the sun this day so perhaps ‘bright’ is not the correct adjective. But we can have fun without the sun!

So my plan for this day was to head up to the miners village and from there follow the zig zags up to the Glenealo footbridge. From here, I planned to deviate from the boardwalk track (which takes you up to the Spinc) and instead I wanted to get to a rather ‘tricky-to-get-to’ spot that I know that overlooks the Twin Buttress, a section of cliffs on the southern face of Camaderry mountain. Now, I have done this walk several times and you basically have to follow a ‘less steep’ set of contours with very steep contours both above and below you. Navigation is tricky enough here, and there are sheer cliffs about. I was expecting visibility to be poor this day, so I had the map & compass at the ready.

I also knew this day was going to be challenging for photography. There is only so much you can do when it’s constantly raining or snowing and I have to protect my gear. My Nikon D810 is ‘weather sealed’ but I am not prepared to push exactly how ‘weather sealed’ it is by shooting for extended periods of time in torrential rain or blizzards!

Still dry at this stage as I make my way up to the miners village.
Caution! Goats Crossing!
Caution Goats Crossing! copy.jpg

Yeah, mountain goats can be a rare sight in Wicklow, but early starts are your best bet. I have often seen them here on approach to the miners village though.

The dry weather was not to last though. It rained shortly after this and then the whole way up the zig zags until I hit the 250 meter above sea level mark. Here the rain had turned to a sort of sleet/snow/graupel mix. At the Glenealo footbridge (~370m asl) it had turned to actual snow, a development of which I was most delighted! Now, I just need it to stick…..

I took a small rest at the footbridge, checked in with my map and plotted my attack route. Mountains are never about summits for me really, I’ve noted before that the views are often superior on the slopes up to the summit, or in the nooks and crannies that others might not have explored.

Snowing still, not that I minded at all. I was sheltered from the strong winds courtesy of the cliffs above me. Near my chosen location now (not named on any map I have seen, otherwise I would share). I’ve been spotted!Deer copy.jpg

These two were a bit troubled by my presence here. I am guessing that this is sort of their safe haven, a location where few (if any) walkers venture. But it’s good to be off the beaten track I think. Beyond the rocky outcrop, and the deer, is the Spinc (Spinc comes from the Irish ‘An Spinc’ and means ‘pointed hill’). The hills and mountains in Wicklow are often named after obvious features – and this one is quite apparent from this angle!

It would appear that they wanted to engage in a game of hide and seek. Game on! Nobody can win at hide and seek against me! It must be my turn to hide now!Deer II copy.jpg

After a few hours in hiding though, I decided that perhaps they couldn’t find me and that I was simply just too good at this game. I wonder where they were?
Well, I gave up and thought it best if I got on with some photography now :-).

Perhaps not the greatest place to sit (especially as it was snowing), but I opted to seat myself atop the cliffs overlooking the valley of Glendalough with steep ground all around me. Here is a pal of mine, Bob the Boulder I know him as, though he has many names. You can see the snow falling all around him. He is an ancient chap, and I am not sure how many hundreds of years he has left before a freeze-thaw event plunges him deep to the valley below. But he is enjoying his time for the moment, and when quizzed about it he replies coolly “if it’s my time, it’s my time”. I guess we could all learn a thing or two from old Bob.Bob The Boulder copy.jpg

But what about the views Phil? Well, I’d be lying if I said they were the best views I’ve had. They just weren’t. The weather was relentless in its precipitation. But not all days are going to offer stunning views, the best thing to do is to try and work with what a day can offer rather than lament ‘what could have been’. Photography is about opportunities and compromises. I only get certain days where I can go hiking (I work full time, 5 days a week) so I have to just take the chances that I can get, and work with what I am given. In a way it helps my photography I think – it forces me to think about what I capture, rather than just racing to a spot I know that has a great view and snap away. It allows me the opportunity to discover pieces of the landscape in isolation as opposed to the sweeping vista as a whole. It’s more about being out in nature and recording things that I like to see. If something amazing happens, like an inversion at Lugnaquilla, then great – I am ALL over that, but if not – I will work with what I have. Landscape photographers cannot control the light or the weather. In short, just get out there and shoot is my advice. And just enjoy it. Plus, a little bit of hardship never hurt anyone!

The weather did not let up this day, it snowed the whole time I was up here in my spot – I was patient and I did wait a few hours, but it was getting very cold and the day was pressing on. Time waits for no man (or boulder!). Ok no more jokes now.

Hikers might often find that they are not cold at all whilst moving, but sit down for an hour, or maybe two – then you will feel the real temperature.

Well this was the best view I had this day, and to be honest it’s really not too shabby. The snow was still not really sticking at this point, plus the ground in the valley is lower than I am here – so most likely the snow was falling as rain there. But it was still snowing where I was sat. On the left we can see the Twin Buttress itself, a regular route for rock climbers and beyond that is the spoil heaps from the mining operations. At right is the Upper Lake of Glendalough with the Spinc lurking beside it and Derrybawn mountain (silhouetted) at distance behind.Glendalough copy.jpg

I took this using a 20mm Sigma Art f/1.4 lens. It’s a pure joy to use and it’s really in a league of it’s own in terms of speed and sharpness at f/1.4. To get a shot like this with a 20mm lens, you need to get to the edge of the cliff. Not close to the edge, you need to be at the edge.

But I did have to get my first copy of this lens exchanged. It had two small scratches on the front element inside, and fog formed inside the lens under certain conditions. Very bad. I usually carefully inspect each new lens I get, but I sort of forgot to do my tests with this lens (busy modern lifestyle) and only noticed a month later that there was an issue. One very simple test I like to perform on any lens I am inspecting is to point a torch through it (or point the lens to some other bright light source) whilst the lens is not attached to the camera and visually inspect both the rear and front elements. The bright light shows any (internal or external) scratches on the lens. Now, a minor scratch here or there is not going to affect image quality drastically, but it does affect resale value – and this was a brand new lens. So back it goes. Amazon really sorted me out though, they sent me a replacement that arrived the very next day! That is customer service –  thanks and way to go Amazon!

A closer, moody shot of the Twin Buttress:Twin Buttress copy.jpg

Must head back to the car now, a long way to walk back. It’s still snowing.
Gah! I’ve been spotted again! I must work on my stealth skills.
Deer III copy.jpg

Not the original two deer I was playing hide and seek with earlier (well, presumably – I mean there are four here!). Heaven knows where the original two went! I think they probably thought I was hiding up at Lugnaquilla again.

Yup, still snowing but not really sticking. It’s amazing how a flurry of snow can make anything seem magical. Maybe it’s just me, but I do enjoy a (Mc)flurry! Sorry, I am in a strange mood today. Still Snowing Grass copy.jpg

The visibility was getting poor again, but I liked the moss on these rocks.Still Snowing copy.jpg

I also had another friend that I had planned to visit this day, behold! Brian the Boulder! He’s been through some tough times let me tell you. He likes to remind me of this each and every time I visit as well – “These cracks didn’t come fer free ya know!”.Brian the Boulder copy.jpg

There is also a lone human at distance (at right) in this photograph. I like his presence here, it adds some scale to the cliffs of the Spinc beyond him. But this photograph was about Brian and he will hear no different!

Yeah, visibility was getting very poor now. Here is the silhouetted north facing cliffs of the Spinc. Snow was coming down thick and fast now. How exciting! And no, that is not digital camera noise – that is snow flakes falling.Spinc Cliffs copy.jpg

Descending further now, but the snow has turned to just boring old heavy rain. So away went the camera and on I plodded!

Well I couldn’t leave without taking a shot of the Upper Lake now could I? I always take a shot of the lake!
Upper Lake copy.jpg

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio Site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook!

The images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.


A White Lugnaquilla

OK, enough already! My next blog post will be about a different place.

I just keep going back to Lugnaquilla as I want some photographs of Lug in proper snow and when I went previously (all 5 times!), there was none, or only a small amount.
Well there was some this day! Though the photographic fun at the summit was short lived. We shall see why later!

There is a lot to explore at Lug, most walkers climb up, and then back down. Some might venture off to look over the prisons, but many don’t. I do feel that those that just head straight back up and down miss out a bit. The views are better from the cliffs because the swell of the summit obscures the more interesting sights. I like to see views that are new, and I like to find different angles that might not have been explored before. I tend to drift off the beaten track and I had grand plans for this day.

But plan all you like, as a landscape photographer you are a complete slave to the weather.
The forecasts looked promising, so I set my alarm for 4am and decided that I would decide at that time after re-checking if it was worth going. I felt it was. But I know in my heart of hearts that when it comes to the weather on the highest mountain in Wicklow – roll the dice. Sometimes you might get a 6, sometimes a 4, but quite often (in my experience) a 2. Well I rolled a 3 this day. The weather was not awful, or terribly dangerous (there was no blizzard for instance, that would count as a roll of 1 on the dice) but you will see why it was a 3 from a photographic point of view soon. But I tried to make the most of it.

Soooo, another early start parking at the Glen Imaal bar, yet again I was first in the car park! Not a surprise really and not an unusual occurrence of late either. Making my way up Camara Hill in the dark (which I have done more times in the dark than in daylight!). A tough slog that morning, I was more tired than usual and the ground was frozen stiff. Light northerly winds as I reached the top of Lower Corrig meant I could do a reasonably long exposure. This was about 45 minutes before dawn, and the long exposure meant my camera could gather more light in the darkness. Lug pre dawn copy.jpg

I know many people are big fans of ultra saturated, hyper contrast photographs these days. Personally, I tend to stay away from that and avoid garish colours and unnatural contrast. These kind of photos might be popular on social media and get many ‘likes’ on Facebook and the like, but I like to try and reproduce exactly what I saw, how I saw it, how it was. Yes, sometimes I might decide that a particular image works better in black and white, and one could argue that (fortunately) my vision is not limited to black and white – but it’s all about the point of the image – the message. I suppose, I like a more subtle approach. If other people share the same opinion as me, then great! For me, the art is in the planning, and the taking of the capture – less in the post processing on the computer I think. But of course, that is just my opinion, and we are all entitled to those.

A lot of thought and planning goes into my work, not to mention the leg work! 25km again this day. I have been feeling that since (two days later now), let me tell you.

Anyway, moving on – both in subject and in motion – I took this one looking up to the Monarch (Lugnaquilla) from near my favourite bog pool just beyond Upper Corrig. This was taken just as the sun was rising, hence the colourful sky! Lug is clear of fog, so I wanted to press on! Lugnaquilla At Dawn copy.jpg

I felt a close up of the ice that had formed on the surface of the pool was worthwhile. Interesting patterns and subtle colours.Ice copy.jpg

Crunching through a frozen ‘Little Slaney’ river (in its infancy, near the source of the river) on my crampons, the final push upto Lug was ahead of me. I wanted to rest before tackling this, but I was excited because I could see there was a lot of snow up top.

Looking south over the shoulder of Slievemaan (look at those peat hags!). There was some lowland fog, and wonderful colours in the sky. What a morning.The Peat hags of Slievemaan copy.jpg
A small rest, and then back to work. Hiking up here is always a challenge. I mentioned before in a previous post about how the slope is strewn with mica-schist rocks with holes aplenty. I also mentioned how tackling this in deep snow would be a challenge. Well, I was right. Though the snow was not perilously deep, foot dexterity was necessary getting up here this day. A broken ankle here would be problematic to say the least. Slow & steady. Here is a shot of some of the drifting that I encountered higher up the slope. This is about 30 minutes after the previous image, look at how the colours have changed. It is obvious now why landscape photographers (such as myself) get up at crazy o’clock to take photographs.Small drift copy.jpg
On the summit plateau now. It’s a wonderful feeling being up here on such a nice morning.

Surprisingly, I saw only one set of footsteps in the snow on the way up here. It’s quite a nice feeling knowing that you are one of the first to leave your mark in the freshly laid snow on what is quite a popular mountain. My irregular and awkward footsteps (I have gait problems).

My footsteps copy.jpg

At the summit cairn now, which marks the top of the east of Ireland.
Not a soul around and look at those blue skies! Beyond the cairn to the right the snow capped summit of Tonelagee is prominent with its distinctively whale hump shape, just before this is Turlough Hill. Far right and rear, War Hill and Djouce mountain rear their white heads. They indeed look small, and very distant from here.Summit Cairn copy.jpg

Wanting to press on, as always, I dashed over to the south prison (the superior prison to photograph at this time of year when the skies are clear). Pretty close to the edge here, and we can see that the rim of the prison is corniced. This is basically an overhanging mass of snow at the edge of the precipice. Dangerous, as bearing weight on this would cause it to collapse, and down with it you would go. This is fine and easily avoided in clear weather. But if the fog rolls in, you better be on your game and steer clear of it, because visibility might be so hampered (as in the case of a whiteout) that you might not be able to tell that what you are putting your foot on is in fact a cornice.  South Prison Corniced copy.jpg

At this stage, you might be wondering why I scored this day as a 3 on the weather dice. well, bear in mind what I just said about fog. I was acutely aware of the fact the light northerly breeze had switched to a fresh southerly breeze. Still pretty gentle, but I was also thinking about the cold air (and the fog) in the lowlands immediately south of my position. Now, I am no meteorologist, but I do spend a lot of time out in nature and my situational awareness is quite high. My suspicion was that a ‘fog attack’ could be imminent, and to be honest, when you are at Lugnaquilla – you are on borrowed time before the winds bring in the fog!

Anyway, here is a shot of the rocky precipice of the south prison of Lugnaquilla with the lowland fog in the distance. I took this using my 85mm 1.8G on a Nikon D810 – a 36 megapixel camera (shot at f/5.6 – the sweet spot of the lens – using manual focus). The resolution is simply astonishing if I am honest. Most of the images I share on this blog are 800 * 534 pixels in dimensions but the Nikon D810 creates images of 7360 * 4912. So my originals are just over 9 times larger. If you have pixel level sharpness at that resolution, the level of detail is insane! South Prison and valley fog copy.jpg

Looking beyond a cornice here over to Corrigasleggaun mountain with the pyramid shaped mountain Croaghanmoira in the distance (at left). The fog indeed does seem to be rising up to the higher slopes. It really pays to pay attention to your surroundings.Solar copy.jpg

Another similar shot, showing what looks like a break in the cornice caused by someone (presumably) coming up the south prison. A braver person than I, let me tell you – it’s very, very, very steep ground below. This climb would require a set of skills that I do not possess, that’s for sure. And a real head for heights. I could not say for sure though, it could have been shaped by the wind, but I have seen people climbing up here with ice axes in the past.

Cornice Steps copy.jpg

I had wanted to sit above the south prison cliffs and eat my lunch here. A nice spot I think you’ll agree. I had skiing trousers on, so I was not worried about sitting in snow.Looking over to Cloghernagh copy.jpg

However, at this moment in time, I was becoming increasingly vigilant of the conditions. Ever distrustful of the mountain (or respectful, you decide). The Southerly wind was picking up, and it felt like it was getting colder (it was already about -4 °C). It’s good practice to try and know exactly where you are so that you can pinpoint your location on a map at all times. It may seem like a chore, but it really pays dividends when you later rely on that knowledge in the case that visibility is hampered and you need to plan your escape route and take a bearing. Imperative if you are solo hiking, as I mostly do.

Looking over to the south, I could see the beginnings of what I would label a ‘fog attack’. Aughavannagh mountain, Lybagh mountain and Ballineddan mountain were the first to succumb to the ruthless onslaught.Looking over to Croghan Kinsella copy.jpg

This was followed swiftly by the absorption of Slievemaan mountain. It was only a matter of time before the Monarch itself (Lugnaquilla) was in checkmate (I mean in fog!). Hiking in fog is tricky enough, but couple that with snow on the ground and you experience ‘whiteout’ conditions where visibility and contrast are severely reduced by snow – the sky is white and the ground is white. The horizon disappears completely and there are no reference points at all, leaving the individual with a distorted orientation. Sounds like a barrel of laughs, right? So yeah, it pays to know where you are on a map.

I decided to pause. Confirm my position (I had a very good idea of exactly where I was anyway), eat some grapes and a couple of bananas and rest my legs for a minute. Panicking and rushing around is a poor strategy – undue haste makes waste, or so I was told. After my snacks, I moved south – westerly so as to avoid any cornices of the south prison. Moving west, or north – westerly would have moved me too close to the north prison, and there was almost certainly going to be cornices there too. At this point the fog was not down, but it was coming, and I knew it.

Back at what I (coincidentally) nickname ‘the dice of Lug’ (purely based on its cuboid appearance) I enjoyed this view. This position is at the top of the final steep stretch up to Lug, south-west of the summit. Here in the distance, we can see Lybagh mountain being mercilessly consumed by fog. The poor chap. You can clearly see the ‘3’ on the upward face of the dice. Just kidding :-). Fog rolling in Stack.jpg

Looking back toward the summit now, yep the conditions were getting worse. These two lads had just arrived, at the wrong time! At least I got some clear weather. But that is the way with Lug, you roll the dice. I had about 30 – 40 minutes of clear weather at the top of Lug this day. I was hoping for much more, but it was a great day regardless. A good spot of exercise at least! Fog hikers copy.jpg

One final shot before the fog rolled in proper, looking down at another couple of poor chaps who just missed the clear weather window but who also had a steep rocky climb ahead of them. The fog was coming thicker and faster.Hikers copy.jpg

And in it came.Lugnaquilla Whiteout copy.jpg

I wanted to wait, and see if conditions improved. I was sceptical. I sat and waited for some time. But the days are still short in Ireland, so I was constantly aware of the time. The conditions were deteriorating and the fog was actually getting lower. I decided that I had seen the best that Lug had to offer this day so down I went. A shame, I had a lot of work I wanted to do this day.

Something about Lugnaquilla that anyone who wishes to climb it should know – it’s not a difficult mountain to climb up, but coming down can be a very different story.
I took this on my descent, I call it ‘void walkers’. Some of these fellas were heading up as I was coming down.Void walkers copy.jpg

Fog does strange things to light when a bright light source is behind it (i.e. the sun). I was hoping that I might see a fabled ‘Brocken Spectre’ – I once captured one at Lugduff mountain, but it was not to be this day. But what I did capture I thought unusual and worthy of sharing.

Solar Rocks copy.jpg

Off that steep, rocky slope now, back near the source of the Little Slaney river. Camera trigger finger itching. I decided to think outside the box a little bit. The visibility was poor (even down here) at this moment in time – but I was dying to shoot! I call this one ‘2’.2 copy.jpg

Heading back down to the ‘Corrigs’ and Camara Hill now. The fog has lifted from some of the lower ground before Lug, but Lug is perfectly content to be in whiteout for the remainder of the day I think.Lugnaquilla in fog copy.jpg

Another last glance from Camara Hill to the Monarch – still in fog! Not a great surprise, and somewhat of a relief – I was right to leave, no more photographs to be had up there this day.Lug in cloud copy.jpg

The last leg of the journey now, just a gate to cross then a gentle walk back on forest tracks to the car. I always shoot this tree. Each time I come here I try to shoot a different angle though. I am fond of this angle.Tree copy.jpg

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook here!

The images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.



A Frosty Log Na Coille

Another hike to Lug, yes! Another early start (5am), another late finish (6pm). I was on the mountains for roughly 11 hours this day (deducting car time). Nowhere else in Wicklow that I’d rather be though. This would be my second visit to the Monarch of Wicklow in the month of January 2017. Well, I might as well start as I mean to go on.
The weather at Lugnaquilla (Log Na Coille) is always going to be hit and miss. It’s in complete fog 3 days out of 5. Often it’s very windy and raining. In autumn/winter/early spring it is regularly covered in ice and snow. I was really hoping for a decent amount of snow, having not been out on the mountains all week previously (at least, not in the daylight – see this night shot of Glendalough I took on friday night), I did not know if the high ground had snow or not.
But with Lug, you can check all the forecasts in the world, but on the day you go, all bets are pretty much off. The forecasts might give you a rough idea. But that is all they can do. Sensible advice is to prepare for the worst weather and then not be ‘caught out’ if it occurs.
According to my sources, it was due to be foggy in the morning, and clear in the afternoon. So I was expecting to hike up in the dark to Camara Hill and see a fog covered Lugnaquilla.
This was not so:Log Na Coille Clear copy.jpg

Being what it is, a pleasant enough (calm) sunrise – this was not the most exciting one this photographer has witnessed. Perhaps sunset will reveal something more interesting- let’s find out!

Anyway, a long way to go yet. My iPod pedometer clocked up 21.4 kilometers before the battery died! I estimate I covered about 25km this day. Not too shabby, considering only a year ago I could not stand up without agony! Time is a good healer, but in my case, lots of physiotherapy might be an even better one!

Anyway, a cold day. But light winds meant that wind chill was not an issue. A frozen infant (near the source) ‘Little Slaney’ river on approach to the final slope of Lug.Little Slaney copy.jpg

Conditions, as you can see, were cold, overcast with high altitude clouds dominating the sky and light southerly winds. But not at all unpleasant. I did not take many photographs until I reached the summit area. Nice and frosty up there.Frosty Summit copy.jpg

Dropping down a little from the summit to the south prison cliffs, a wonderful view was in store.Log Na Coille copy.jpg

The quality of light was interesting. There was a thin mist (as opposed to fog) in the atmosphere which hampered long range views but muted the colours of the mountains in a pleasing way – at least to my eye.
The beautiful, tumbling cliffs of the south prison of Lugnaquilla.Cliffs of the south prison copy.jpg

An interesting story about these cliffs, I once witnessed a large fox frantically charging down nearby these cliffs to the valley below. I wondered what the fox was doing in this depopulated and exposed area. Surely there are better food scraps to be had in the populated valleys? Amazing to watch, and I was envious of the creatures agility!

Frosty!Frosty copy.jpg

One might question why I visit this place so often when I could jump on a plane and visit some of the grander mountains of the world. Well, I live only an hour or so drive from here for one thing. But really, I think from a photographic standpoint, it is quite a challenging subject. The shape of the mountain is not your typical dramatic peak. Some might argue that it lacks the excitement of the more ‘established’ photogenic mountains such as Kirkjufell, or the Matterhorn, for example. I suppose that Lug might lack an ‘instant gratification’ factor (that is so overwhelmingly prevalent in modern society) to some degree. Some mountains allow ‘easy wins’ photographically speaking because they are dramatic, or because they are naturally photogenic. I think Lugnaquilla has a certain quietness about it, a certain humble charm that doesn’t scream ‘photograph me, I am here and look how exciting I am’. Instead, I think it whispers ‘explore me if you wish, I have lots to offer’. Another thing to consider is that photographs of the more ‘traditionally beautiful’ mountains are literally ten a penny. I think there is merit in trying to create and do something different. Anyway, that is my logic I suppose.

The summit of Lugnaquilla is broad and flat, and to get really good views you do have to make some effort to identify the best places to stand. I am still working on that :-), but getting there I think!

A slightly different view of the south prison.
South Prison copy.jpg

Anyway, lots to see here: so I scooted off over to the north prison for a spot of lunch. I actually forgot (again) to eat my lunch at this point. I keep doing that, I get too engrossed in the views and the camera, and taking it all in. Not a good idea. I did have some yummy strawberries here though after I realised my error (and had packed my stuff away in my rucksack and decided to head elsewhere). At this point, I was actually grateful for the overcast skies because the shadows of the north prison rim here would have been too dark if the sun was out. In the distance at right we can see Glen Imaal with the Sugarloaf of West Wicklow rearing its pointy head above the forestry. Looks small from here!
North Prison copy.jpg

I identified, though did not shoot from, the optimal viewpoint of the north prison this day. I did not go there because I always have to be mindful of the distances I cover (due to leg/foot problems), but I know where it is for next time. I shall of course return, there is much work to be done here.
I was compelled however, to revisit the south prison as I saw some interesting sun beams breaking through the clouds in that direction.Sun beams copy.jpg

Worth the effort I thought. I also took a few more photographs of the view from the top of the south prison itself. Yes, a murky day, but a good one nevertheless. A view I always enjoy:From the south prison copy.jpg

I started to make my return journey at this stage, so I took a last glance over to the north prison (it’s almost on the way back anyway, plus it’s a tradition of mine now). It looks like some fog is potentially rolling in from the south now, visibility is getting poorer and the cliffs are getting hazier. It rolled in for several minutes, then started to lift as I was heading back down. Only to return again a small bit later.Fog copy.jpg

Boba Fett takes aim. You are no good to me, fog! You will be disintegrated!Boba takes aim copy.jpg

Star Wars nerdiness aside, heading back to the car now. Looking back over to Lug, a view I am very familiar with appears – and I can see that the clouds are again descending upon Lugnaquilla.Lug copy.jpg

Look! The sun came out! Lug Fog copy.jpg

Back at the first summit of Camara Hill now. A torturous (for me at least) descent awaits. I was carrying three heavy lenses (1kg each), the camera(1kg), the tripod (about 4kg), a whole bunch of clothing layers and lots of water on this trip (I took 3 litres, I have high water needs!). My bag total probably weighed about 15-20kg. That hurts man. But thank god for trekking poles. Anyway, the warning sign here states: “If a warning flag or lantern is displayed at this location, this indicates that the range is live, and that you are in danger.”.  No flag or lantern. Phew! Seriously though, you must always check that there is no firing in the artillery range before taking this route. Yep, the cloud is really clinging to Lugnaquilla now.Sign copy.jpg

Pausing for a rest on the descent now, taking the pressure off tired knees and feet. The colour of the sky is beautiful above the shoulders of Keadeen mountain and Spinans Hill.Spinans copy.jpg

I always enjoy this tree on the slopes of Camara Hill, particularly so in winter. Worth a rest break!Tree copy.jpg

Another sunrise to sunset hike at Lugnaquilla, another forgotten lunch! I did eat it eventually, just a bit too late! Foot bath time, I think. Now, where are my Epsom salts?

One last long exposure photograph (the sun had long gone down at this stage) looking over to Lugnaquilla as the fog rolls over it, tucking it into bed for the night!Lugnaquilla copy.jpg

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Facebook here!

The images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.



A Trip To Sunny Old Weston Super Mare!

Something different this post.
All of my other posts have been about mountains in Wicklow, but this one is about a recent visit I had to my home town of Weston-Super-Mare! Though not a photographic visit per se (I was visiting my family), I did of course bring the old Nikon D810 with me and my two favourite lenses (Sigma 35mm f/1.4 and Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G).
According to Wikipedia, ‘Weston’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon for the ‘west tun’ or settlement; super mare is Latin for “above sea”. Makes sense really, Weston-super-Mare (or Weston-super-Mud as it is locally known – more on that later!) is a small Victorian era seaside resort that boomed during those times due to national interest in seaside holidays.

The aforementioned mud (as in Weston-super-Mud!) is a reference to the beach at Weston, whereby the upper part of the beach is sandy but at low tide, large expanses of mudflats are revealed. These mudflats are essentially akin to quick sand, so avoidance is the best policy to adapt here. As far as I know, many lives have sadly been lost in these mudflats over the years, so steer clear.

See cover image above for an example of this mud! Now how am I going to get to my boat! Joking, it’s not mine.

As readers of my blog will know, walking is one of my favourite activities. It all started in my home town courtesy of my parents love for walking. I recall many adventures of stomping around the likes of Brean Down, Uphill, Sand Point, Weston Woods and so forth. Sometimes accompanied by a certain degree of complaints of tiredness from younger siblings (yeah, you got me, sometimes me too!).

Weston Woods

There are many spots in and around Somerset/Weston for walks. Growing up on the slopes of Worlebury Hill (109 meters above sea level), walks in the woods to the summit of the hill were commonplace for myself & my family. Though only a small hill, and offering limited views (due to the dense, but beautiful forestry of ‘Weston Woods’ that dominate the hill) it is a thoroughly enjoyable walk, particularly so in autumn (I was here in winter though). It has the added historical interest of an Iron Age hill fort (though in ruins now) near the summit. There is also the head of a sorry victim of Medusa lying around near the fort, I wonder how many locals know about this little gem:Face copy.jpg

I am just kidding, it’s only a rock – but it’s fun to imagine anyway.
For my visit, the weather was mostly clear which led to some beautiful frosty mornings. My favourite! Frost copy.jpg

Yep, there are Scot’s Pines in Weston Woods too (see Pottering About At Camaderry 
for some photographs of these in Wicklow). Scots Pine copy.jpg

Walking from the woods down to the sea front is pleasant. Here is Knightstone Island with the causeway of Marine Lake pointing the way.Knightstone copy.jpg

From the other side of this causeway, up on the island itself a nice view of Weston’s amusement pier reveals itself. Along with, yep, more MUD!Pier copy.jpg

Rowberrow Warren

For the second walk, we visited a place called ‘Rowberrow Warren’. A gentle forest walk for the most part until you emerge onto open hillside.

Another bright morning and a great day for a spot of exercise and fresh air. I do enjoy the royal red postboxes of my home country.Little Red Box copy.jpg

Some light mist about, but it is beautifully backlit in this scene.Into the light copy.jpg

Some nice trees on the hillside and crystal clear skies. Not usual weather for ‘sunny’ old Weston!Tree copy.jpg

I wanted to check out the sunset at Sand Bay that evening, as I was curious how it would look. Lovely colours and tones. And yep, more MUD! The whale hump that is Steep Holm is visible at right in this photograph. It is a small island in the Bristol Channel with a rich history. I won’t describe it in detail here but it’s certainly worth investigating. Maybe a future blog article!Sand Bay II copy.jpg


The final walk, to Uphill hill was interesting to say the least. There wasn inversion where there was fog lying in the lowlands. Uphill is small village within the parish of Weston-super-Mare. The hill itself (Uphill Hill Local Nature Reserve) is only a small hill but offers commanding views over the Bristol Channel and over to Brean Down. A photograph from the start of the walk.Walk start copy.jpg

Note the roofless church at the top of the quarry there. This is the old Norman Church of St. Nicholas.Uphill Church II copy.jpg

We started the walk early, as Mum had noticed from our house that there was fog in the lowlands. At this point it was ‘Action Stations’ to get going so I could capture some of the fog. Thanks Mum, well spotted!Lowland Fog II copy.jpg

Looking over to Brean Down from near the top of the hill itself. Brean Down is a promontory off the coast of Somerset surrounded by a sea of fog this day as well as actual sea! Brean Down is a ‘must do’ blog article for the future itself. Next time I visit!Brean Down Island copy.jpg

A great visit, and of course always amazing to see the family.Three copy.jpg

More mud for you all to enjoy :-). And look, I have a path to my boat this time around!
Just kidding, I do not actually own a boat.Mudbanks copy.jpg

A beautiful calm day to be out walking, as echoed in the reflections of the harbour here:Uphill Harbour-2 copy.jpg

My parents dog, Rufus, certainly enjoyed all the walks at least!Rufus on the rocks copy.jpg

Back on the plane now to Irish shores. Another bright morning, at least above the clouds on the plane.
Above the clouds copy.jpg

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Facebook here!

The images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.


A Wintry Hike To Lugnaquilla

Yes, I know, I write about this walk a fair bit. But it’s probably my favourite, so it’s not surprising really. I spent about 11 hours in this area this day, from sunrise to sunset.

Checking in by phone call with the Army Artillery range at 5am that morning (I was surprised they were manning the phone at this time!) confirmed that there was no firing in the range for the whole week. Score!

On the whole, the mountains of Wicklow are quite gentle and not terribly dramatic. Lugnaquilla (for the most part) continues this theme to a certain degree – it has a broad, flat summit with no sweeping ridges. But if drama is what you desire then dropping down a bit to the north or south prisons is a sure fire way to get some! Lug is often underestimated, in clear weather it is beautiful, but in bad weather it has a real sting that catches people out. At least 3 out of 5 days Lug will be in complete cloud – in winter that means white out due to snow and ice on the ground. Combine this with high winds and sub zero temperatures and you’d better be prepared or Lug will punish you.

Another early start (as usual for me on my holidays!) meant leaving my car at the pub at Glen Imaal shortly before 5:45 am on the day after New Year’s Day. No, the pub was not open at this hour this time round :-). Probably a few sore heads were being nursed from New Years Eve no doubt! I wanted to wish my friend Lugnaquilla Happy New Year but the weather was quite inclement on New Year’s Day itself so I opted for the fairer day (the 2nd January).

Sunrise was at 8:39 am but I wanted to take it very slow heading up Camara Hill as I was expecting the (usually very) wet path to be icy. I was wearing many layers, so I also did not want to sweat too much. Sweating is all well and good when you are trying to workout and push yourself at the gym, but when you are in the mountains in winter at night time, hypothermia becomes a very real danger if you are damp from sweat.

So, giving myself plenty of time, I headed up Camara Hill with crampons attached (it was like an ice rink) slowly and purposefully. I am always amazed by how bright the stars are on clear nights in this area, away from the light polluted cities. I wanted to take a long exposure photograph of the starry night sky, but the strong northerly wind was never going to allow a 30 second exposure. Next time :-).

You can read about this route on my other posts (A Return To Log Na Coille, Lugnaquilla From Fenton’s Bar – The SequelLugnaquilla from Fenton’s Bar) so I won’t describe it in excessive detail on this post.

Pushing on, a lot of ground to cover today (came to a total of 23.2 km’s by the time I got back to my car)! Here was my view over to my target (Lugnaquilla) just as day was breaking. A long way to go yet.Dawn Breaking copy.jpg

Not a lot of snow on the ground here at this section (in the image above), but a decent amount of ice and frozen snow later. The crampons performed admirably. Some of this ground would have been very tricky without them. Look how mucky I am already!Crampons copy.jpg

Fang:Fang copy.jpg

Some time later, a familiar view opens up on the final push onto the summit itself. A lot of the ice on the lower slopes has melted already. Not a single cloud in the sky! Extremely rare.View to the south west copy.jpg

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again – winter is the best season.Ice Grass copy.jpg

How I love this final rocky slope up to Lug.Slope copy.jpg

On the summit plateau now, the ground is frozen rigid here. I did not bring my anemometer this day but I would suspect (based on forecasts) that the temperature up here was – 4°C and -7°C with wind chill, or thereabouts :-). Nice!Frozen copy.jpg

For better or for worse, there are signs near the summit area describing the artillery range below you (and areas to avoid). I found it humorous that the army (or other persons unknown) took the trouble to scrape off the icy obstructions from only the portions of the sign that were deemed important!Sign copy.jpg

I wanted to overlook the south prison, but from here the north prison is closer – so a quick snap of that and then a short march over to the summit proper. The south prison was waiting for me! No sunlight in the north prison at this time of year, so an overcast day would be better for photographing this but it was a sight to behold for the eyes!North Prison copy.jpg

Cameras record light differently to how the human eye perceives light. I am not going to bore you all (whom I suspect, perhaps incorrectly, are mostly not technically minded photographers) with dynamic range and exposure value jargon but suffice it to say cameras deal with light and shade in a different manner to our eyes (and brain).

I headed over to the summit from here, and then dropped down to overlook the cliffs of the south prison. Careful now, icy here and a slip would be catastrophic. Looking over to Cloghernagh and Corrigasleggaun mountains from the cliffs of the south prison:Looking over to Cloghernagh and Corrigasleggaun copy.jpg

A nice frosty rock:Mono copy.jpg

Seems like a reasonable place to have a spot of (late) lunch. I forgot to eat, I was having so much fun. A bad idea really. My muscles and arthritic joints will pay for my negligence!
Chicken, lettuce and sweetcorn sandwich. Finished up with some grapes. Yum. Sheltered here on the south cliffs from those stinging northerly winds and nice sunlight to boot. Cliff copy.jpg

From here, the view to the south was hazy but not unpleasant at all.Looking South copy.jpg

The day is pressing on now and the sun is low in the sky, but a short detour reveals a pleasant view of the top of the south prison itself.South Prison copy.jpg

Heading back down now, and this cairn marks the track toward Slieve Maan – not the track that I wanted to take to get me back to my car but worth the detour for the photo opportunity!Cairn copy.jpg

Back on the Camara ridge now, not much left in the day in terms of sunlight but a truly beautiful day to be at the highest mountain in the east of Ireland.

Looking back over to the last light on Lugnaquilla and the north prison, fog is closing in and looks set to stay for the next 5 days at least judging by the forecasts!Last light on Lug copy.jpg

The sun setting over Keadeen mountain.Sunset copy.jpg

I always find this last forest track leg to the start point hard after being at Lugnaquilla. I was tired at this stage and the sun had gone down about 40 minutes previously but I thought this would make a good photograph.Twilight copy.jpg

The conjunction of the crescent Moon and Venus was particularly pretty as well. Not a bad days hike!Moon & Venus II copy.jpg

Thank you for reading and Happy New Year!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Facebook here!

The images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.


Pottering About At Camaderry

The Proud Mountain, as the great J.B. Malone refers to it.
Camaderry (Pass Of The Oak Wood) is very well situated, nestled between the valleys of Glendalough and Glendasan.

Following up last weeks post about an amazing day at Lugnaquilla was always going to be tough. I rely very heavily on interesting weather and good light for my photographs and sometimes you just aren’t going to get either. You just have to try your best regardless! Quite often in Ireland, the days are damp, grey and windy. Well, the weather for this adventure was not damp, but it was grey and it became quite windy. One can not have it all though!

As I have mentioned before, the summits of the Wicklow mountains are quite often the least interesting area of a particular mountain, and Camaderry is no exception here. I have been to this one many times, but only bothered with the summit a handful of those times. That’s not to say that the summit is not interesting, or that it’s disappointing, I just think the views are much better on the steeper northern and southern slopes of the south east top of Camaderry than they are at the actual summit proper. Exploration of the Wicklow mountains will reveal this to hikers.

The journey starts with a familiar starting point, parking up at the (paid) Upper Lake car park of Glendalough. Guess who was first to park up here this day? Yeah, it was me, again! I always take a look at the upper lake of Glendalough at the start of this walk, as it’s very beautiful and never the same each time I look at it. Arriving at around sunrise, the winds are slack and the lake is calm.Upper Lake II copy.jpg

A lovely start to the day!Upper Lake copyb.jpg

Now, to ascend Camaderry from here I skirt around the upper lake and follow a forest trail to the higher ground. There is a nice steep track that you can go up (I believe the track is ancient, and possibly was used by the inhabitants of the valley during the times of St. Kevin – though I am not certain). I would not be taking the steep option today due to sore achilles so I opted for the gentler approach. The steep approach is fun though, big time, and highly recommended. Walk Start copy.jpg

The forest trail has much to recommend it though, it’s very colourful and not so tough on sore tendons. And very quiet and peaceful.
Forest Trail copy.jpg

I knew this day was to be a day of overcast skies (or a ‘no-sky day’ as I call it). Though not beautiful in itself, from a photographic point of view it can actually be quite helpful for some scenes. This will become evident later, but for now – back to the journey!

Above the tree line now, I like to descend a small bit on the northern slopes to take a look over at Glendasan and the broad hulk that is Tonelagee Mountain. Also visible are the large white spoil heaps of mining operations (for lead, mostly – in the 1800’s) on the shoulder of Brockagh Mountain. The road visible here is the R756 as it winds its way up to the Wicklow Gap, often impassable in winter due to snow and ice. Certainly not impassable this day judging by the roar of motorbikes emanating from it!Tonelagee copy.jpg

I did not linger on the northern slopes for long, as I really wanted to head to the southern slopes. This is where a cloudy sky helps – if the sun was shining, the whole view south would be very contrasty due to the lake being in shadow of the Spinc – the sun is in the south of the sky in Ireland at this time of year.
Descending a little further on the southern slopes now, this is very steep and not a terribly sensible place to be in all honesty. It’s pretty dicey. But I’ve been here many times and I know it well. Tough on the achilles here, but where else in Wicklow would you get a view like this? And I dare say that there are few photographs of the upper lake of Glendalough and the Spinc taken from this angle.Upper Lake and Spinc copy.jpg

Yes, I am fond of this tree, a Scots Pine. There are a handful of these scattered on the southern slope of Camaderry, which is quite unusual for Wicklow – usually the mountains are either barren moorland or covered in Sitka Spruce plantations. This is the final living Scots Pine before a drop off (cliff) to the ground some distance below.Scots Pine copy.jpg

OK I like trees!Trees copy.jpg

Looking down to Temple-na-Skellig (the ruins at right above the lake shore), located on the southside of the upper lake, below the cliffs of the Spinc. The church is accessible by boat across the lake or by climbing down the steep cliffs of the Spinc itself (experts only). Also visible, is ‘St. Kevins Bed’, (very small black square hole in the cliffs at left, just above lake). A small cave, man made according to my research – I wonder is this an ancient tomb?  There are also climbers visible in the middle area between these two items of interest just above the shore, though they are very small at this resolution unfortunately (I always downsample my photographs for online use). Temple-na-Skellig copy.jpg

Walking along a (presumably) narrow deer track now, and the view is extraordinary from this angle. The sun still mostly obscured by high altitude clouds.Upper Lake Wide copy.jpg

Always a contrasty affair the above shot, except in high summer but the vegetation is a killer in summer – you need a machete!

Another shot I took, a ‘detail’ shot where I focus in on the Glenealo river as it feeds into the upper lake. A much less contrasty scene. Wide angle shots are nice, but you need a good sky for them to pay off really. Sometimes I think the best approach is a ‘less is more’ attitude and focussing in on details can yield much more pleasing images.glenealo river copy.jpg

Best head back to the car now, the day is pressing on and my achilles are starting to complain a bit louder. Some of the terrain negotiated this day was of a poor quality. Steep inclines and descents and  dead orange bracken up to the waist. Not to mention the gorse bush I lost a fight to!

There are plenty of views on the way back down anyway.Crooked copy.jpg

I particularly liked the mood of this tree here. It has quite a peculiar form I think you’ll agree!Ruined copy.jpg

And here is a great view of the lower lake of Glendalough with the round tower in sight and the pretty village of Laragh beyond.Lower Lake and Round Tower copy.jpg

There are countless areas to visit at Camaderry, and I’ve only scratched the surface in this post. I would need repeated visits to do it justice.

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Facebook here!

The images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.


A Return To Log Na Coille

Yes, I went to Log na Coille (Lugnaquilla) again :-). One of the many advantages of frequent visits to a particular place, is you notice new things of interest each time, new ways of looking at the same things and also you increase your chances of being there when something magical happens. The weather plays a vital role, and it is never the same from one day to another in Ireland.
I must mention that there are many other great places in Wicklow, but Lugnaquilla is my favourite. It’s a very special place.
Reading the weather forecasts ( I was under the impression that there was to be a strong temperature inversion. If my information was correct, this would be the second time I would witness an inversion at the highest point in the east of Ireland.

After a very frosty drive to the Glen of Imaal (careful on the roads, now), I left my car at Fentons Pub at around 5:30 am ish. I’d like to note that there was still traditional Irish music coming from the pub at this time, a great start to my day and this put a smile on my sleepy face! It would appear that this is not an unusual occurrence on the weekends!

Hiking up Camara Hill in the dark has become somewhat of a habit for me, as this would be the fourth time I have done this part of the walk in the dark. I have a brilliant 225 lumens headtorch that lights my way, which is an essential piece of gear. However, the sky was so clear and the crescent moon so bright, that it might have been entirely possible to simply allow the stars and the moon to light my way on the frosty path up Camara Hill.Crescent copy.jpg

At the top of Camara Hill itself, a familiar (to me at least) view appears. Lugnaquilla with a herd of deer (bottom right, though small at this resolution) about an hour before dawn. It was still dark so this was a long exposure photograph.Lugnaquilla predawn copy.jpg

Looking down to a frosty Glen of Imaal.A frosty dawn copy.jpg

Climbing up the two Corrig’s (see my checkpoints on a previous post about this walk here), the sun had started to rise, and the final challenge before I arrive at the plateau of Lug itself was ahead of me. I always love this section, it’s a bit of work to get up and the views open up considerably on this slope. From here we can see evidence of the inversion itself, with considerable fog in the lowlands of the south.Inversion II copy.jpg

On the summit plateau of Lugnaquilla itself now, and most people head straight to the top proper from here. But instead, I like to follow a very small path (easy to miss this one) that skirts the rim of the north prison. I have never been overly bothered by summits themselves really, in Wicklow the summits are often the least interesting part of the mountain. The North Prison copy.jpg

Yes, not too warm here. The north prison receives no sunlight at this time of year.

Some more inversion fun happening here, with the ‘whale hump’ of Tonelagee (the third highest mountain in Wicklow) looming behind what looks like a castle on a volcanic mound. This is no castle, and that’s no volcano! This is the upper lake of Turlough Hill power station, Irelands only pumped-storage hydroelectric system. Turlough Hill and Tonelagee copy.jpg

Leaving the north prison rim now, and heading for the summit. There is a curious direction finder nearby. I’ve often looked at this and tried to ‘pick out features’ that it points to. A great way to spend a morning for nerds like me!Direction Finder copy.jpg

Heading towards the south prison now, it’s certainly always worth checking out both prisons if it is a clear day at Lugnaquilla. From here we can see the shoulder of Cloghernagh mountain with a snow patch leading us to some low (lower than I was) clouds. A wonderful day to be here.Cloghernagh copy.jpg

Here is a wider view of my vantage point above the south prison.The South Prison-2 copy.jpg

Crystal blue skies above the thick layer of fog that seemed to envelope everything that was (by my estimate) between 500 and 700 meters above sea level in this view. Luckily for me, I was at about 900m above sea level here, and although the clouds had the appearance of moving towards me, they didn’t ever reach me.

It would be a rare weekend day that has clement weather where you have Lugnaquilla to yourself, and I most certainly did not this day. Personal feelings aside feel about crowds and other people in general, sometimes they have their uses and can add a sense of scale to a photograph, and a depth that would not be attainable otherwise, so I was grateful to these two:Walkers in Wicklow copy.jpg

And also these two (or rather, two and a dog!):Walkers in Wicklow II copy.jpg
Starting to think about returning now, I’ve been out a long time and sunset is only a few hours away. As always, incredibly difficult to drag myself away. On the way back, I tend to take one last look over the north prison as it’s sort of on the way back. The North Prison II copy.jpg

The fog in the lowlands to the south was also worth another shot I thought.Fog copy.jpg

And here is the return journey, both Corrig humps (Upper and Lower) and Camara Hill itself with the flat floor of Glen Imaal beyond.Corrigs and Camara copy.jpg

Beautiful blue skies above Lugnaquilla as I descend, a rare day (especially for a weekend!).Lug copy.jpg

I always dread the descent at Camara Hill, very tough on the knees, especially with a heavy rucksack. But I had the fortune to meet three chaps I met earlier as I was descending Lug (and they were ascending), it was great chatting to these guys and it took my (pretty tired at this stage) mind off the torture of that descent!

A final glance over to the long shadows at Lug itself, another great day in the hills had!Lug II copy.jpg

P.S. I will try to show another part of Wicklow next time, but Lug keeps pulling me back!

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Facebook here!

The images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.