The Dark Hedges

A short stretch of a narrow, winding country road in County Antrim has become one of the most visited and photographed locations in the entire country.

The Dark Hedges: the place like its name exudes mystery and romance.

It began its life as an avenue of beech trees planted by the Stuart family to form an artistic and impressive approach to their Georgian mansion, Gracehill House.

The Dark Hedges Northern Ireland Sunrise by Gilbert Lennox

Three hundred years on and the magnificent trees, depleted a little by age, seem to have leaned in towards each other, entwining branches in intricate patterns, creating a wonderful natural tunnel. 

Joining the farmers who regularly use the route is a steady succession of tourists and photographers.

Motorbikes show well here. And cars. And wedding parties.

It is unarguably an impressive backdrop to a photograph.

But it is a place in itself.

It has a character of its own, changing with the seasons, the weather and the light.

So I prefer it in solitude, taking time to listen, away from the tripods and clicks of eager photographers (like me!).

To find it by itself alone either takes fortunate timing or a very early summer start.

In the photo above, I was able to sit in the middle of the road waiting for the sun to rise and light up the trees in its fiery glow, without fear of being disturbed.

It was midsummer and just after 4am!

Arguably its mood is better captured in black and white. Perhaps that has something to do with the legend of the Grey Lady that is attached to the place.

She is supposed to appear at dusk among the trees to glide the length of the avenue before disappearing at the final beech.

The Dark Hedges Black and White

Who is she?

Some say she is the ghost of a maid from a neighbouring house who died in mysterious circumstances a long time ago.

Others that she is a lost spirit from an abandoned graveyard. I've never seen her myself, at least not at dusk.

But just after dawn in early winter there was mist in the air
and a grey wispy shape glided momentarily across the road which once again was deserted apart from me.

As it turned out, it was smoke from a fire in the neighbouring field. At least that's the scientific explanation.

But look carefully, down the road to the left and decide for yourself.

I don't believe in ghosts. But I can imagine a white horse and a magnificently bearded Gandalf appearing from the East.

Matthew Thompson