A day on Ireland's beautiful north coast
I've discovered that landscape photography is a lot about waiting. And hoping. And heading home disappointed. It's also a lot about getting up early, staying out late. And heading home disappointed. That's because we are all waiting for that moment of special light, that most often occurs towards the extremes of the day, or in extremes of weather - or both. And often that moment doesn't come. (Oh the tyranny of so-called 'epic' light!) So it was refreshing last week to have a 'reason' simply to go out with my camera, a couple of lenses and no expectations!
The reason was to showcase some of the beauty of the north coast to a friend from the USA. Only one day suited, when both of us were free. There was no need to consult weather apps or tide charts. We were going out, end of story.
As I say, it was refreshing. Simply to be out in the landscape, to feel the wind on my face, to watch the ever changing patterns of light and shade, to explore the angles and to share friendship and food.
We began on the heights of Binevenagh, where the Antrim plateau comes to a very abrupt end. We were unable to start at sunrise, which proved a blessing because we would have been starting in the rain! By the time we got to our location, the low rain clouds had cleared away to the north and the view over Magilligan point (see above) towards Innishowen and the Atlantic ocean had opened up. We spent some time here exploring the rocky outcrops and the few small but determined lone trees.
As some of you know in recent months I have been transitioning (I think) away from my full-frame Nikon to using the lighter and more nimble Fujifilm XT2. For a while I tried to alternate between systems but found that I was simply falling back to what I knew and not really getting to know the new camera. So I took the decision to shoot exclusively with the Fujifilm for at least three months and see what happened. I'm still in that three month period, but I have to say I'm enjoying myself! I've also tried to lighten the load as far as my tripod is concerned, but that hasn't gone so well. This morning on Binevenagh the lightweight tripod was of little use in the strong breeze but at least the light was good enough to shoot hand-held. Next stop was the strand at Downhill, with its beautiful sand beneath the cliff where Mussenden Temple perches precariously.
One of the tiny rivers that flows across the beach provided a useful lead-in to the scene beyond. We also got our knees dirty getting down low to capture the contours in the sand left by the receding tide. It is one of many superb beaches along the north coast and one of the few where it is possible to bring the car. From the beach we headed to the top of the cliff to explore the Downhill estate. The buildings are spectacular but I have to confess I was more excited to discover something that has become so rare it is almost extinct: a hay meadow, full of beautiful grasses and wildflowers, including orchids. So I spent my time hunting orchids and photographing the meadow with the ruins in the background. The vibrancy and freshness of early summer contrasted well with the ancient ruins and the strong sense of transient human history.
The jewel in the crown of Downhill estate is of course Mussenden Temple, built in 1785 by the colourful Earl-Bishop Frederick Hervey. Based on the Temple of Vesta in Italy, it once housed the bishop's library. It bears this inscription: " 'Tis pleasant safely to behold, from shore, the rolling ship and hear the tempest roar."
The building can be hired for different purposes these days. Indeed while we were there the BBC were setting up for a concert.
Next we headed across the River Bann to Portstewart, noting as we drove to the strand the impressive preparations being made for the Irish Open Golf Championship to be held there in early July.
The weather was at its best here. We decided to forego late lunch and have an early dinner instead at Harry's Shack so that we could explore and photograph the beach, the rocks and the sand dunes. The wind was considerably weaker than up on the cliffs so I was able to use my tripod to have a bit of fun experimenting with long exposures.
After dinner we set out for Dunluce Castle, stopping briefly at the promenade in Portstewart.
On the way to the castle we passed the car park at Magheracross, where we had earlier stopped to take in one of the best sweeping views of the coastline.
Dunluce is always an enthralling surprise, its dramatic setting on the rugged cliffs reflecting its long and tumultuous history.
The clouds were beginning to build in from the west, with the sun occasionally bursting through, spot-lighting the sea and the Skerries. It seemed an ideal opportunity to experiment with Black & White, since the contrast was so strong.
The weather continued to close in as we headed further along the coast. We decided not to stop at the Giant's Causeway as my friend had been there previously, but instead to finish the day at Ballintoy harbour. For a few moments the clouds coloured from the setting sun, a fitting end to our day.
I loved the way the light was catching the unsettled water in the harbour. But I also wanted to try to capture the movement of the boats, so I brought out the tripod again, sheltered by the harbour wall, and went for another long exposure (5 seconds), which had the paradoxical effect of calming the sea while showing the agitation of the blue rope and the boat that was tugging on it.
No doubt we could have covered more territory if we had really pushed ourselves. But it wasn't a race. There's lots more for another day. Yet it is amazing how much can be done within a twelve hour period. A thoroughly enjoyable day. Why not give it a try sometime?
Keywords: Ballintoy Harbour, Binevenagh, Downhill Strand, Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland Landscape, Portstewart Strand
Again you have not disappointed with your beautiful shots that capture the beauty of rugged coastline of Ireland...I always feel like I am standing there with you taking in the view... Thank you for posting these... God's creation is spectacular.
Great report on your day and some lovely shots! I will be over (back home) in NI later in the summer and may well follow in your footsteps. I'm also reassured that you do go home disappointed sometimes! Your Facebook pics always look so good, I imagine it is like that all the time!
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