I have been walking in Wicklow for years, and I know many routes. Some secret, some not so secret. They are all fun though!
The walk I chose this day, I chose for a few reasons – the first reason being that I had not done this walk for years (the last time was 15th March, 2015) and the second reason was that I wanted shelter from the strong (65 km/h +) and cold north-westerly winds that were forecast for this day.
I also wanted to test out a 20mm lens that is ‘new-ish’ to me. I have had the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 for about a year now, and whilst I have been very impressed by the sharpness in the middle 75% or so of the image frame – I have never found the peripheries/edges of the image satisfactory on a 36 megapixel camera – for landscape photographs at least. And, yes – I tried multiple samples (three) and they all exhibited the same behaviour – troublesome forward arcing field curvature at the edges being the main culprit, and sharpness robbing lateral chromatic aberration. This makes planar subjects (and landscapes in general) quite troublesome to shoot when in the field.
The Nikon 20mm f/1.8g that I am currently using does not have this issue. The edges sharpen up nicely (and predictably) as you stop it down and it weighs about a third of the Sigma. When you are hiking 25+ kilometres this is a BIG deal. Yeah, I lost 2/3rd’s of a stop of light – but I rarely shoot landscapes at f/1.4 (but not never)! It is, like the Sigma, also very sharp – perhaps a little less sharp in the centre of the image but more consistently sharp across the frame – this consistency is far more important to the type of photography that I do.
Weather forecast for the day was sunny skies and no fog on Lugnaquilla (this turned out to be false!). Strong north-westerly winds though. Trying to achieve sharp photographs at ISO 64 (the base ISO on the D810) on a high resolution camera with strong winds can sometimes be simply an exercise in frustration. And for me, walking and photography is a relaxing, leisurely pursuit.
Onto the walk!
The walk itself, at first glance, might seem quite unappealing and uninteresting. Starting from Aughavannagh, you walk for around 6 kilometres on forestry track until you hit a stile that you cross over onto open hillside. Just beyond here lies the provocatively named “Madwoman’s Brook”.
Parking my car at sunrise, I liked the colours of the trees as the sunlight broke through the mostly cloudy skies.
Moving on now, a bit of a climb to do today. Though most of it is on easy going forestry tracks, there is still ground to cover!
As I previously mentioned, I have not visited this walk for a couple of years and as much as I’d like to believe otherwise, things do change. The forestry workers (Coillte) have certainly been busy – large swathes of the plantations have been felled, and in their wake only rotting stumps and wasteland is left – and in some cases, new saplings. It does open up the views a bit though, where previously the trees were towering over you.
Windy enough here! I’d say that’s because the trees have gone :).
There was a lot of snowfall in the week prior to my walk here, but a lot of the snow has already melted in the hills unfortunately. It’s often the case that the lower hills get a few days (sometimes a week) of snowfall in winter but the snow also has a tendency to melt before your eyes. The higher mountains usually hold snow for most of the winter though (i.e. Lugnaquilla).
I do like to try and capture places that others might not usually see. This does take me to some of the less frequented parts of Wicklow, which I enjoy, and sometimes I find a gem!
I think this walk is one of those gems, and it’s very rewarding for a relatively straight forward walk.
Now that the trees in this area have been felled, a new view has opened up. Looking beyond the slopes of Carrickashane and Ballygobban hills towards Croghan Kinsella not long after sunrise. I like taking these type of shots in winter, when the sun is low in the sky and only the shapes of the hills themselves are visible – sort of a silhouette effect.
Walking on now, not much to see for a while – the trees tower over on each side where they are not felled.
White Stone Brook is in swell, from the snow melt water from the higher slopes of Corrigasleggaun.
Climbing higher on the forestry tracks now, and there is still some snow here in the sheltered spots. Not much though. Some patches remain on the north eastern slopes of Aughavannagh Mountain in the distance as well.
The view opens up a bit again, as I get nearer the south prison. Another silhouette style shot.
An interesting re-entrant on the slopes of Aughavannagh Mountain.
Finally, at the end of the forest track there are a couple of choices – one being to cross “Madwoman’s Brook” to follow a wet path up and into the south prison, (which was not preferable this day – due to it being in spate from snow melt) or the option I chose: handrail the brook on the eastern shore of the river, through a recently felled forest area (recently as in: probably five years ago!). The going is a bit tough here, there are dead branches, tree stumps and ankle breaking holes in the ground to negotiate. Also, on this day – some wet slushy snow! It’s also very slippery, Ireland is a wet country indeed. Yeah, progress was quite slow getting up this way and care is certainly required. Even slower going back down later!
Good to see that the sitka spruce saplings are coming along nicely. Aw, they grow up so fast!
It’s always curious that the forestry workers leave a few of the taller trees standing after felling an area. I have often wondered if this was so that the teller ones could protect the younger, less sturdy trees from future storms whilst they grow. Or, perhaps more likely – it’s so that the older trees can warn the younger ones of the peril of their ancestors. Leave some alive to spread the fear!
A hazy view of the ‘survivors’. I like this sort of hazy winter light, it adds a lot of atmosphere to a location. As usual in my photographs, little to no post processing has been performed on the images in this blog post.
Ham sub and some clementines. Yum. I really love the clementines you can buy around the Christmas period. Lucky me!
Completing the slope of death (tree death, that is) and out onto open hillside now. The going should have been a bit easier now.
Alas! It was not!
Tussocks of heather, and bog holes hidden by snow (some drifting too) made progress very awkward. And I had fooled myself into thinking I had chosen an easy walk this day!
The first view of the great cliffs of the south prison emerges as the fog clears a bit. It still remained at the top of Lugnaquilla though, where it sat all day.
I used an 85mm lens for this shot, so there is a slight compression effect. The higher cliffs are strewn with icicles. Given that I was using a short telephoto lens here, getting a perfectly sharp shot was quite tricky – the wind was tempestuous!
A wide angle (20mm) shot of the prison.
This looks great on my wide screen monitor at home. I wish WordPress would allow higher resolution images on the blogs so that you could enjoy the detail in this image.
After coming all this way, I did not actually stick around here for long. The wind was very strong, and it was very cold. I took a few more shots of the area and then I decided to head back to the car. Quite a walk back at this stage. My footsteps in the drifts, snow depth was almost to knee height in parts here.
Back past the ‘slope of tree death’ now, and I took a small detour to take a photograph of the decrepit stile you cross (or more safely, ignore and walk straight beside -this wood is very rotten) that takes you on to “Madwoman’s Brook”. I always like to take this shot when I am here, and it’s definitely in a more sorry state than when I was here over two years ago.
Walking back on the forest tracks now, and for a moment I look behind me as I pause for water.
This view was not here on my approach earlier!
The fog was much lower earlier, concealing the entirety of the mountain itself.
A closer view with a longer lens. Having a long lens is very handy for achieving different compositions.
Getting near sunset now, and progress on the forest track is slow. Not that I was worried, I have a head torch for such occasions!
I paused here for a few minutes, experimenting with different apertures. This shot at f/1.8 has a nice soft look to it, possessing an almost ethereal quality. A common mistake (one I also make) in landscape photography is the mentality that ‘everything has to be in focus’ – I think this is wrong, blur can be beautiful. Only about a third of the nearest foot in this photograph is in focus.
A nice warm tone to the sky at this time, as the sun was setting. Ironic really – it was COLD!
Back at the car and time to drive home now. A long drive on the N81, as I was not wanting to risk the mountain roads. A hard frost was forecast overnight, and by the time I had gotten into the car it was pitch black.
Thank you for reading and Merry Christmas Everyone!
The images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.