A Circuit Of Brockagh East Top

I decided to leave the bigger hills alone this week, and instead opted to visit a much smaller hill, but a hill with very fine views of some of Wicklow’s beautiful valleys.

Brockagh South East Top is a hill I have visited many times, but I have not written a blog post about this place before, so I shall rectify that now!

Weather forecast was for light winds (westerly) and rain showers, some of which might turn thundery. Better pack the waterproofs (you should always pack these when walking in Ireland)!

According to Mountain Views, Brockagh translates to ‘mountain of Brocach or place of badgers’. I have never seen a badger here, mind.

My plan for the day was not to actually visit Brockagh Mountain ‘proper’, I opted instead to visit the South East Top only. The reason for this is that actual summit of Brockagh Mountain does not offer the wonderful views that Brockagh SE Top offers and I have often been disappointed by the views at Brockagh proper after the extra effort to get there. Instead I had wanted to spend more time at the superior SE top.

Anyway, starting at the car park at the lower lake of Glendalough (you have to pay in summer) I followed the Wicklow Way as it zig – zags its way up through Brockagh forest. After a short stretch, the Wicklow Way path heads south east, I departed ways with it here. Instead, I followed a forest track that heads north west. Forest Track copy.jpg

I had not taken this route to Brockagh South East Top before – usually I park in Glenmacnass or near the Brockagh Resource Centre, so I was curious to see how the views would be from this approach.

Just beyond the forest track in the photograph above, the forestry ends and a closed (closed when I was there) gate greets you along with a sign that says no mountain bikes/motor vehicles beyond this point. Walkers were welcome though. Walker code is to leave gates as they were found, so I closed the gate after passing through. It had a strange upward lifting bolt mechanism – one which I was not familiar with – I should have taken a photograph, actually. But, as I say, it was a mechanism I had not seen before and an unfortunate event occurred whereby as I closed the gate, the heavy bolt snapped down on my thumb. Ouch! Live and learn!

Leaving behind the gate, and its angry guardian, the route I had planned hits open hillside. Climbing gently, views over to the rugged north-eastern face of Camaderry are revealed.
Camaderry copy.jpg

From this spot there are also fine views looking up to Derrybawn Ridge. This is an angle I had not viewed the ridge from before.
Derrybawn copy.jpg

Climbing a bit further now, and turning back reveals a pleasant view down to the lower lake of Glendalough and the surrounding hills. I knew there was a better to view to come so I did not want to wait for the sun to totally illuminate the view here. Time is always against you as a photographer! The clouds were building as well.
View to Glendalough copy.jpg

A small bit further up and I took the opportunity to take a longer range shot of the lower lake with my 100mm lens. I really enjoy using this focal length for landscapes because it compresses the perspective only a small amount but allows closer views of details and interesting compositions.
Lower Lake copy.jpg

Nearing the summit of Brockagh SE Top now, and a curious perspective of Wicklow’s third highest summit come into view, here is Tonelagee (‘backside to the wind’). I must visit this mountain again soon, it has been a long time since I was up there, and it’s great! Tonelagee copy.jpg

Getting much cloudier now, as shown in the above photograph, and I think I can see rain in the distance. Better waterproof up!

Lego Batman always comes prepared, and he was ready for any rain. It rains in Gotham too! He did mention that he prefers the greens of Wicklow to the dark hues of the city of Gotham.
He was very grateful of the outing, but in the back of his mind, he was always aware that; should the signal be lit, he would have to return to fight criminals in the dark city. Jeez, talk about tortured soul… Can’t even enjoy a relaxing day out on the hills!Lego Batman copy.jpg

Coincidentally (or perhaps a little bit deliberately!), I saw the Lego Batman movie on the same day as this walk. It’s great fun and highly recommended. The same applies to the movie!

Back to the walk, a nice piece of sunlight illuminates the floor of the beautiful valley of Glenmacnass here, with the Glenmacnass waterfall at distance. The Military Road is also prominent on the valley floor itself, and on the right is a shoulder of Scarr Mountain known as ‘Kanturch’ I believe, or Scarr North West Top. This is the view from the northern slopes of the summit area of Brockagh SE Top. You do have to descend quite a bit to get an unobstructed view, as shown here.Glenmacnass copy.jpg

A wider shot of the valley taken a few minutes later. Woah! Everything got much darker all of a sudden! Yep, rain is definitely on the way! One angry looking sky….
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And the sky darkened further…
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Heavy rain shower now. I hope it will pass soon, but Batman and myself (and more importantly my expensive camera gear!) are waterproofed up. Batman and I fear no rain!

Heading over to the south side of the summit now, back to complete my compact and scenic loop and a wonderful view of the lower lake and the Spinc is revealed.  Lower Lake and Spinc.jpg

Some rain fog moving past my favourite trees of Camaderry, with the great cliffs of the spinc beyond. Plus a partially fog covered Lugnaquilla lurking behind.Cover Image copy2.jpg

Sometimes poor weather can help photographs I think. And the images above are very representative of the climate in Ireland. It rains a lot and it is totally overcast a lot of the time. Don’t be fooled by ‘postcard’ photographs!
I have been to this place in many weather conditions (still waiting for snow though). I would say 75% of the time I have been here, it has been completely overcast! Many mornings I have sat up here at sunrise, after a very early start, only to be disappointed by the clouds.

Here is the beautiful ‘Valley Of The Two Lakes’ – Glendalough. The lower lake at left and the upper lake peeping behind the shoulder of Camaderry. Even on rainy, cloudy days it’s a wonderful sight and this is one of the best views of it I think.Lakes 50 copy.jpg

Descending further, almost back to the forest line. A bit of light creates some drama on this boulder here. Look at the moody sky! Another downpour imminent, I think.Drama copy.jpg

I was right. Boy, did it RAIN! I did have some shelter from the forestry but wow!

Almost back at the car park, and the ‘Little Yellow Man’ of The Wicklow Way reassuringly points the way!LYM 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!

A lot of time and effort goes into this blog and the images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.

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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.

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.