The Wilds

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It’s been a little while since we were really in Kerry, not just passing through Kenmare or Killarney on a round trip from Molls Gap or Strawberry fields (a wonderful pancake house near the Kenmare side of Molls Gap). Really in Kerry, like so far west the land stops and the next stop is America.

We took an overnight trip down to the land of ‘here be dragons’ beyond Kenmare to celebrate our anniversary and stayed in Parknasilla. Of course, while you’re down that far you might as well go a little further and see all the sights there are to see…

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All the way out to Valentia, my first trip out there since back when Danny (who is of course sadly no longer with us) brought us to the top of the above very same hill to look over the world below. Just for giggles I decided to fire up the archive and check exactly when that was; August 2007. A lifetime ago. As I was already neck deep in the archives, here’s one from that trip.

Valentia 2007

I sure did love my ND filters and precariously placed tripods back then. Anyway, that’s enough sunshine and white fluffy clouds, back to the overcast greyness of it all.

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Of course when the opportunity presents itself, it’s only right to take a spin down to Sheeps Head. We got there, excuses were made and we didn’t walk out to the lighthouse. “Oh I’m not wearing the right shoes” and “I don’t have a waterproof jacket” were the top two. My excuses of course, but Julie seemed happy to go for tea instead of taking the walk. Next time we’ll do it. Yes, next time…

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While processing these photos, I decided to use the Google Nik collection I downloaded recently but never really figured out. As expected, the vast majority of the filters available are tacky as hell or completely batshit crazy. It brought me back to the time I used Picassa and had to wear sunglasses while processing photos. Purple sky? you got it! Blue grass? Sure, why not? I’m interested in going back to Silver Efex though, I do love some black & white and I’m quite pleased with how the one b&w photo I chose to process with Silver Efex came out. As for the rest of the photos above, it was pretty much a case of gathering them all up, throwing them in a sack with Google Nik, letting them fight amongst themselves and then observing the results.

The below was more of an accident. I’ve taken this picture in different counties, countries and continents. Not shown are several photos of old bundles of rope, rusted chains and lobster pots. I am indeed a creature of habit.

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The end of the year

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As per usual, it’s been a quiet few months photography wise. The camera phone has completely overtaken the DSLR as a means of recording events, places, people, everything. The farthest those photos ever make it is to instagram. As a means of delaying the onset of cabin fever as we approach the end of this festive season and indeed the end of the year, we left the house for the first time in days and made it as far as Garretstown, by way of Kinsale. I even brought a proper camera with me this time.

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As we’re both fighting off seasonal colds, walking on the beach was limited and time spent in the car with the heater on was preferred. When the sun came out from behind a very large rain cloud that appeared to be on it’s way to Waterford, we did have to jump out and brave the wind for a few minutes though.

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Happy new year everybody!

Back to the Gardens

Botanic GardensSitting at home on a Sunday morning, needing to get out for a few hours despite the cold and the threat of rain. Wiclow? Kildare? Wait, we haven’t been to the Botanic Gardens in ages! Every time we go up there, I seem to get the great notion to try something new. “This time, I won’t take photos of any plants”. How very obscure I’m sure. After all, plants are so mainstream. Things like that.

This wasn’t much different, although as usual I did slip back into taking photos of plants by the time we got as far as the larger of the two greenhouses. No more commentary, just photos.

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Camden Underground

Doing a little bit of an end of year clearout of the Lightroom catalog, I found these had been sitting there for quite some time. I’m attempting to make a point of revisiting Fort Camden (which you’ve already seen plenty of in the past on this blog) every second or third time we travel to Cork for the weekend. This occasion was even more special as some new sections of the underground tunnels had been cleared out, restored to the point where they are safe to be in and then opened to the public.

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The newly opened section includes a carefully restored spiral staircase which leads you back up to ground level. We got the full story about the restoration of the stairs including the vandalism that met the volunteers when they first found it and even the political battle that had to take place to get the banister painted the colour it is now. In many ways, speaking with the volunteers and hearing their passion for the fort and the truly amazing work they’re doing has taken over from the initial excitement I felt at just being in the fort and being able to access these places to take photos. There is speculation that this newly opened section of underground represents just a small percentage of what is left to be explored and restored in the future.

Roll on the 2013 season and even more new discoveries!

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Rome

After deciding to move on from the now old job and finding something else to do with my weekdays, it was a happy coincidence that after I joined the new company, the Christmas party was taking place two weeks later. In Rome.

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So we loaded ourselves up one Friday afternoon and headed off to the airport for a brightly lit and jingle filled 3 hour (and a bit) Ryanair flight to an airport which, surprisingly enough for Ryanair, was not only in the destination country, but was actually about 30/40 mins from the destination city.

We spent much of Saturday roaming around the city, visiting the various sights and immediately recognisable buildings. I felt at a bit of an advantage, having played so much Assassins Creed (it’s a series of video games for those that aren’t into such things) that I felt I already had seen much of the city. Well, seen, ran through, climbed on, performed daring acts of petty crime…

Trevi Fountain

Castel Sant'angelo

Pantheon

Pantheon

Coloseum

Museo da Vinci

Nice city overall. It was great to see the buildings (and eat the pizza) but the general undertone of petty crime, at least in the area our hotel was in, fairly well soiled the weekend stay. In a two night stay, one of our party had his luggage stolen (not from the hotel mind you) and I was pick-pocketed (but thanks to some foul language and threatening gestures, I got my stuff back). If I went back I’d stay in a nicer area. It certainly isn’t on my top ten list of cities to return to however. I most definitely wouldn’t take the bike there either. Possibly the worst driving I’ve ever witnessed. Even coming back to Dublin made the minority of asshole Irish drivers seem sedate and responsible.

War Memorial

It’s a while since I was last down in the War Memorial park taking photos. In fact the last time was probably some time in 2010 on a trip down there with Julie to photograph all the trees shedding their blossom. It’s somewhat appropriate to post this now given that I’ve we’ve gone back on the ol’ running (or at least shuffling along at slightly faster than walking pace). The War Memorial park is one of the top locations for such activities.

So there ya go! War Memorial park. A great location and only down the road too. Couldn’t ask for more. Well, I could, but I won’t just yet.

Sheeps Head

It’s probably as much about the pilgrimage to the end of the world as it is about the photography, but Sheeps Head is one hell of a location. It’s almost always as windy as hell (or as windy as I imagine hell might be on a windy day) down there, soggy or even sinky under foot for at least 30% of the walk and you never really know if one of the animals roaming the headland is going to take an instant dislike to you and formulate some kind of velociraptor styled attack. Having said all that, I wouldn’t change it one bit. If it’s not my favorite location in west Cork for the last few years, it’s certainly in the top three.

As with many of my favorite locations, it did eventually receive the Bronica coverage. PanF+ was the film of choice. This all happened a couple of years ago. Then the film sat on a shelf and greeted the full extent of the morning sun every morning for months. The only reprieve it got was when it was wound clumsily onto a spool, thrust into a tank by a ham-fisted operator (that’ll be me by the way), developed incorrectly (most likely) and hung up to dry in a dusty spare bathroom. So if you see some spots, water marks, hairs and some light leaks in these pictures, you’ll understand how they got there. Having said all that, I still intend on printing at least two of this set. I think it’s got less to do with being happy with the photos because they’re technically good (which they obviously aren’t) and more to do with the location.

Day 1; Normandy

Day 0 began at about 5:30pm on the Friday with loading up the bike for the approx 256km trip to Cork. By the time we were on the road (and a few km beyond the M50 interchange) I already felt like I was on holiday. Julie wasn’t so easy to sway, she had an exact demarcation point of where the holiday would begin. I’d decided some time ago to take the Cork to Roscoff ferry route and although unsure about how my stomach would fare on a 14ish hour boat journey, it had to be better than hoofing it down the motorway from Holyhead to Plymouth. Anyway, it was an excuse for a night in Cork.

We were scheduled to leave at 4pm Saturday afternoon and made the very short journey to Ringaskiddy to check-in and get on board. One of the many benefits of being on a bike is when it comes time to board ferries. Usually you’re one of the first people to board and more often than not, one of the first to disembark at your destination. No surprise then that after showing documents at the check-in desk, we were pointed to a boarding lane with nothing in it and from there, ushered immediately into the ship to join the other two dozen or so bikes making the journey. Overnight clothes removed, bike strapped down and off to find our cabin. The boat left promptly at 4pm and after standing in line to book dinner at the ‘fancy’ restaurant, we made it out on deck to see Cobh, the outer harbour and Roches point (below) passing by.

The weather was outstanding, somewhat adding to the immediate feeling of being on holiday. Julie had passed her ‘point of no return’ and also agreed that yes, we were in fact now on holiday. We lazed in the impossibly low and unfathomably reclined patio chairs that were strewn around the deck, which at this stage in the journey were being shuffled around by the increasing wind. The feeling of total relaxation swept over me, joined almost right away with the feeling that I wouldn’t be able to stand back up even if I wanted to. We killed some time (i.e. I watched a few rows of a new knitting project being added) before retreating inside to explore the ship. The Pont Aven is quite impressive, at least compared to the only other ferries I’ve been on. The staff were friendly and unlike only being able to stroll from bar at one end of the ship to cafe at the other, there was quite an expansive amount of space for the passengers to spread out over to while away the crossing.

I busied myself with drinking a couple of mid-afternoon pints and we pretty much did nothing except eat and drink until the next morning. There was a little bit of a ‘WTF?’ moment when we first found our cabin. I’d booked a two berth but on entering the cabin only found one small berth. No, I’ve never been on an overnight ferry crossing before. After searching long and hard, I did eventually find the other bed hidden in the ceiling. No prizes for guessing who ended up scaling the ladder to sleep in the ceiling bed.

I’ve never much been a fan of waking up or getting up early at the weekend. An exception had to be made this Sunday morning when we were politely invited to vacate our cabins at the eye watering hour of 6am (that of course being 5am Irish time). Once the ship docked in Roscoff it was still dark outside, something I hadn’t entirely anticipated. We made our way down to the vehicle deck, loaded up the bike and then had to wait about another hour before being allowed to disembark. What was that I said earlier about first on, first off? Never mind.

Out into Roscoff, down to Morlaix and pulled in rather sharpish after Julie noticed a boulangerie we passed was open. Sharpish like on the wrong side of the road, hopped a footpath and streaked across a pedestrian crossing. Thankfully it was still too early for any French people to be awake so potential fatalities caused by my urgent need for breakfast were non-existent. Or at least those that don’t work in or own a boulangerie. Something that never failed to surprise me throughout the duration of the trip; Rolling through a dead town, shutters closed and not a soul on the footpaths, you’d usually still see a boulangerie open. Our first of many pastry breakfasts over, a dash down the motorway and some side roads later and St. Malo was chosen as a spot to stretch legs.

It was warm, threatening to rain and ever so slightly windy. After a few photos and putting on a show for the locals (not a very interesting one, we didn’t actually do anything to warrant the open mouthed stares) we pressed on to Mont Saint Michel. We did eventually make it out as far as the causeway, passed the hordes of tourists, the souvenir shops and the numerous hotels in the area. Unsure as to what the parking situation was and having seen several groups of UK registered bikes turned away, we took our photos and made the decision to return tomorrow evening.

Special mention for the first crappy cup of coffee I had in the trip at a sandwich bar. Made tolerable only by the truly awe inspiring sandwich stuffed with pickles I also picked up. I started to notice how friendly French bikers are. Practically every bike we rode by gave a wave. Bikers in Dublin could stand to learn a thing or two. We did also get the odd nod and nervous ‘hello’ from UK bikers, unsure if you can speak their language to return the hello until they see the country stamp on the license plate.

Anyway, homeward bound! Or at least home for the next couple of nights…

(the writing will get better. Err, hopefully)

Camden Again

I will eventually round up the photos from the Cork photowalk a couple of weeks ago. This is the last of them, another visit to Camden with the rest of the gang this time. It’s pretty much the same up there, although with the notable exception of several new rooms now being open to the public. Most of these rooms were hosting an art exhibition but there were one or two that were bare, as pictured above.

Although not very visible in the shot, the majority of the floor space in this room was converted into a shallow pool with several tiny boats doing laps. Yes, I thought the reflection was more interesting than the boats and chose to compose and expose accordingly.

Other than that, Fort Camden is as it was from our last visit so there’s no major updates. They did open one of the piers at the end of the impossibly long (and quite steep) staircase though and it is nice to see the place further developing. We were all treated to sunshine again for our morning at the fort, rounding off the Cork photowalk nicely. When those snowy winter months roll in I’ll have to start putting together some thoughts for Cork Photowalk 2012. Thanks to all that attended, great to see some new faces and of course equally great to see all the regulars. Hope you all enjoyed the day (and a half) out.

The full set from the photowalk is available on Pix.ie and Flickr

Church of St Anne

The second stop in last weekends 1.5 day photowalk in Cork, the church of St Anne in Shandon. I spent much of the time walking up there hoping it was open as on a few previous trips I’d found that the opening times were a little optimistic. As always, the claustrophobic and acrophobic were invited to remain at ground level, the climb to the top of the tower isn’t one that either of those two groups of people would particularly enjoy.

The view from the top is still as good as it ever was although I don’t think the photo below does it any kind of justice. It’s worth the couple of euro entry price to climb up there and see it for yourself.

Home from Home

When you’re not in your luxurious quarters, you’ll be able to roam the grounds, play some football, listen to your favorite bands on your very own state of the art music system, build sandcastles, enjoy dipping your toes in the cool Cork harbour water and wave at the locals. If you’re good, you might even get back to the mainland in 14 months. Yes, you’re on Spike Island courtesy of the department of justice.

If you’re there in 2011 however, you’ve either made a wrong turn in your yacht or you’ve paid for the pleasure of touring the now closed down (and mostly burned down) Fort Mitchell prison. They could go as far as to title it “Spike Island; More than just a prison you know!”

By the time I was old enough to comprehend it, I was told that the island visible off the coast of many of the seaside spots I grew up next to was a prison. Nothing more, nothing less. I wasn’t informed that before those times, it served as a monastery, a colony and a strategically important military stronghold to guard against unsavory types making their way into the inner harbour.

Neither did I know that it’s where “Little Nellie” (a Cork legend) was born. I can’t elaborate too much on that one, to me Little Nellie is mostly what I heard peoples parents threatening them with. “Eat all your potatoes or Little Nellie of holy God will come and get ya” and so on. It was either that or “we’ll put them in an envelope and post them off to the starving children in Africa”. Ah the 80’s were great.

It was strange being on the island after wondering about it for so long, much like the first time getting into Fort Camden. Spike was always that bit more elusive however as even with a telephoto lens or a pair of binoculars and some time spent in Crosshaven or Currabinny, it was still quite difficult to make out anything on the island except for high stone walls and lots of fields.

So walking onto the island for the first time, I was amazed to learn that it was more historically significant than just being a place to temporarily hold joyriders. Although we only saw them from afar (owing to a somewhat time restricted tour), we were told that there were houses, barracks, a church and a small town square. Almost hard to believe. It was all a bit confusing as we were lead around the winding path to the fort on the top of the hill. It was a place that people were born and grew up, where people were married and lived happily and then with a few more turns of the road, a place where teenagers were dragged in handcuffs and locked in cells.

Just as quickly it turned back into a military operation and it wasn’t difficult to imagine soldiers running through the narrow corridors of the gun room, loading shells and farting about with cordite. Then back outside into the bright August afternoon and it was a prison again. It’s all a bit confusing. The only two things I think I’d change about the tour are, 1; It was very wordy. Although our guide was a mind of information and very friendly, we were bombarded with names and dates in our frequent stops from landing on the pier to standing inside the parade grounds. That links in with 2; I think the tour is too short. Like maybe an hour or 90 minutes too short. After all the information is dispensed and the tour is led to some of the more photogenic parts of the fort, I’d like to see more than 20 minutes being allowed for people to be left to their own devices. 20 minutes to explore such a vast structure didn’t leave much time for anything other than a frantic dash to see a couple of rooms.

I can fully appreciate that the tour is in it’s infancy and given the opportunity, I’d like to raise a group large enough to return to the island on a private booking where hopefully a full mornings photography could be catered for. Given time and sufficient supervised access, Spike Island is a photowalk in itself.


A block (two photos above) where inmates were housed. The scene of a riot in August 1985 where prisoners took control of the block, burning it out.

Inside the outer gate

The English Market

As much as I’d like to have a witty title, those that know me will know I’m anything but. A little appetite whetting in advance of the Cork photowalk thats taking place later this month. This, as the title suggests, is the English Market in the center of the city. A wealth of food, drink and some clothing can be found inside along with some more obscure outlets. I’ve  always had a soft spot for the market and when living in Cork it was one of my regular haunts.

It’s just the spot to enjoy a sausage in a bap (I’m hesitant to call it a ‘hot dog’ as essentially what you’re getting is a half pound of meat in a soft roll) while sitting on the fountain (pictured right) and afterward sipping a coffee and lazily flicking through a newspaper while watching the world go by.

Of course you can also get the nights dinner while you’re there with plenty of butchers and a couple of grocers available. One of the more recent additions is a purveyor of fine cakes. Well, recent to me given how often I get to wander around in here nowadays. Along with the sausages and the coffee, I was particularly taken with some miniature pickled gherkins for sale at one of the stalls (pictured below). I have it on good authority that the same stall does fine olives and numerous other pickled and not so pickled items.

Speaking of pickled, it’s just a stones throw away from the Mutton Lane Inn, somewhere I hope to visit after the successful completion of the first days photowalking.

The market is a Cork institution and always seems to have as many tourists with cameras strolling around as it does locals fighting their way around for supplies.

Worth a walk by if only for the sights, sounds & smells. Don’t miss the fish section for some outlandish stuff and no matter what happens, don’t miss the seemingly daily show of tripe sales at one of the Grand Parade exits. For anyone that doesn’t want to google it, tripe is stomach lining. The sight of it doesn’t make me gag as much as it used to, but every now and then…

 

If you haven’t read up on the Cork photowalk, follow the link above. We’re going to be taking in Spike Island (the former jail in Cork harbour), some finer points in the city and Fort Camden the next day. All are welcome.

The Lower Lake

Lower Lake

Lower Lake

To aid in Julie producing a sofobomo entry this year, we took a spin out to Glendalough on Monday evening. First time in a few years I’ve been there when the sun is going down. Apart from the swarms of blood thirsty midges, it’s a great place to be when the light levels are dropping. The above, in case anyone cares, is the X100 at a 20th of a second, ƒ8 at 2500ISO. I think by the end of the trip I was pushing it up as far as 3200ISO while all the time being amazed at what this little camera can do.

My sofobomo isn’t going ahead, despite several half-assed plans on what I was going to do. Maybe next year.

Fort Camden

I’m not going to give a long, complicated spiel about the history of Fort Camden, you can read it for yourself over on the Rescue Camden website. My own history with Camden started many years ago being brought to Crosshaven by my parents, walking up point road to that formidable hill only to find the Goliath fort on the top of the hill. I can’t count how many times I’d stood on the grass bank outside the fort, straining to see inside some of the broken windows at the front of the building or crossing the rickety bridge (before it was sealed off) to peek through the bars of the white main gate.

It was one of the top things I always wanted to do, to get inside the fort and have a rummage around. I always imagined there were vast networks of tunnels, ammunition stores, underground rooms and other things that would amaze and delight my childhood self. I did finally get in there, albeit briefly, in July 2006 when the front gate was unlocked for some as yet unknown reason. The results of that short trip went up on Flickr. It didn’t disappoint and although much of it was overgrown, dangerous and some flooding made parts inaccessible, I was delighted to finally get in there. It still left me rather unsatisfied however, too many locked doors and welded shut gates left too many questions unanswered. I was always wondering what was inside that door or down that tunnel. Never having been much of a one for scaling large walls or breaking & entering, I had to leave with those questions remaining in my head.

It was always my hope that some group would finally take the initiative (given the required funding of course) and re-open the fort. So some years later, it finally happened. The Rescue Camden group have done simply amazing work in restoring parts of the fort back to a state whereby it’s safe and enjoyable for visitors. The  shot on the right is the beginning of a long downhill tunnel that leads from the main complex down to a lower platform that served two piers. Much of the fort remains to be worked on, when walking around I noticed that several areas are marked for restoration in 2012.

The work that has already been completed is a credit to the group of volunteers and the friendliness and evident passion for the project shown by the people there when we visited on Saturday is fantastic to see after so many years of wishing for something like this to happen.

What this all does mean thankfully is that I can now bring a photowalk group to see the fort, something which I’m planning for Saturday 13th August. If you’re interested, details are over on Photowalk.ie

The rest of this set of photos from the visit on Saturday are on Flickr.

Iveagh Gardens

While Julie was doing her “turn this way, turn that way, smile” thing in Iveagh Gardens last weekend I took the opportunity to tag along and skulk around the gardens getting better acquainted with my X100. It’s not quite there, but it’s getting there. I spent most of the day at ƒ2…

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I’ve only used the thing in jpeg mode so far but I’m quite liking how good Lightroom is to the files. Specifically what it’s doing when I apply a black & white preset to it. It’s bloody lovely. It also means that I haven’t run into the reported slow write times that people are seeing when using RAW, nor have I had to buy a big, expensive, super fast SD card to put into it. Yet anyway.

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As you can see, I’ve already developed a habit of having my finger slightly obscuring the lens. It’s a bit of a learning curve going from a 5D with a 24-70 on it to something the size of two iphones taped together. The autofocus distance is going to take me a while to grasp. In AF mode it’s got a minimum focusing distance of 80cm. However in MF mode, you can focus down to about 40cm. Some people are saying you can get lower than that. I’ve been relying on the AF assist function (AFL/AEL button on the back) when in MF mode but it doesn’t seem to give any indication of when it’s achieved focus. Unless you leave the beep on of course. Using the EVF seems to make it easier to distinguish what’s what in MF mode. The OVF makes one tend to just hit the shutter button and hope for the best.

We’re getting along, I just need to start pointing it at more stuff more often. It’s going to be introduced to Cork over the weekend and see how that goes. Until then, my lovelies.

Coffee & Beer

The inaugural ‘Coffee & Beer Photowalk’ (so obscure you probably haven’t heard of it) took place today in Dublin city. The guest list was severely limited by a committee formed specifically to decide on the Coffee & Beer Photowalk guest list. They’ve since been disbanded due to allegations of nepotism. The walk was carried out at a determined pace, planned out with military precision and executed with such preciseness (if that’s even a word) that it would have made baby cheeses cry if such cheeses were added to the guest list by the aforementioned committee.

The rules of the photowalk are simple. Buy a camera, meet in 3FE, drink coffee, walk at an accelerated pace to Against The Grain and drink beer. Photos are entirely optional. I broke with tradition by actually taking some photos, mostly after the beer had been consumed.

I took the opportunity on the long, torturous yet delightfully sunbathed walk home to test out this new camera with results I’m not too ashamed of. For a maiden voyage anyway. My brief moment on the wrong side of the (luas) tracks was productive yet terrifying. Terrifyingly productive.

I refuse to blather on about the camera until such time as I’ve learned how to use it. I almost said ‘until I’ve read the manual’ but I think we all know that’s never going to happen. Suffice to say that working with a 35mm fixed lens is an entirely new experience.

More of this kind of thing is available for your immediate perusal on Pix and Flickr.