Camino Francés – Logroño to Burgos

I was waiting outside the Bilbao Airport terminal for the bus into the city after my flight from Dublin when I was approached by a young Irish woman who asked me if I had been at that airport in September 2014.

I had indeed, en route to and from the Camino Francés section I had done that year – from Burgos to Léon. Helena – that was her name – had recognised me from that time. She and her friend Gabrielle had also done a section then and like me were now returning in May 2016 to walk from Logroño to Burgos

Many Irish people like Helena, Gabrielle, and myself opt to do the Camino in sections – a week or two at a time – rather than the full route which typically takes about 30 days. The airfare is cheap and not everyone has either the time or the desire to do the whole thing in one go.

People outside of Europe  generally commit to the entire Camino. In most cases it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the airfares from the States, Australia, South America or wherever are too expensive to warrant doing it in stages. Plus there’s the more authentic experience that walking it without interruption for a full month or more provides.

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Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum 

I stayed overnight in Bilbao and had an early night as the following day I was catching the 6:30 a.m. train to Logroño, the endpoint of my stage last year, and then a long 30km walk to Nájera.

The journey to Logroño from Bilbao’s Abando station took 2.5 hours. A walk of 30 minutes from the station got me to the Camino which is marked by directional signs all along its length. It was now 9:30 a.m. which was a little late to be setting out from the city – most peregrinos  (pilgrims)  would have left before 8 a.m. Still, there were people – singles, couples, groups – ahead of me and behind me. One is rarely if ever alone on the Camino – if you don’t see anyone up ahead or to the rear you may possibly have taken a wrong turn.

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I joined the Camino at this point

There was now a long 30km walk to Nájera. My 2016 Camino had begun.

Which prompts the question – why do it?

The Camino is no walk in the park. It requires stamina, strength and determination to withstand daily walks of between 20 and 30 kilometres. You have to be physically and mentally prepared. It’s often bloody hard work which will leave you exhausted at the end of the day. Physical issues – especially with your feet – that you may not be aware of if you haven’t been doing long training walks will very quickly manifest themselves. The food is just adequate and the accommodation – especially if you stay in the albergues (hostels with mixed-sex, bunk-bed dormitories) – can be spartan, not to mention uncomfortable and noisy. Plus there’s the Northern Spanish weather to contend with – days of torrential rain are not uncommon in the Spring and Autumn, the best times to do it as the heat of Summer can be too intense.

Some people, I think, have unreal expectations of the Camino. There was a thread on the Camino Francés internet forum originated by an American woman who asked: “where is the ecstasy?” She had heard so much hype about it being a blissful life-changing experience that she was disappointed by the reality. It was “just a series of very long walks”.

I met an Australian woman near Belorado who likewise was regretting her journey. She had been attracted to the idea of the Camino but had not appreciated the difficulties involved. Her feet hurt, she had blisters, she found her body didn’t really loosen up until the afternoons but, because of the need to get to an albergue early in order to have a bed for the night, she had to continue setting out early in the day. She “had no idea what it was I was thinking” when she committed to doing it and she regretted her decision.

So why do I do it?

Because I can, is one answer. I am of an age where I am very conscious that the time may soon come when I may no longer be able to do it. Carpe diem and all that.

Then there’s the experience of walking through the often very beautiful Spanish countryside not knowing what’s around the next corner or over the next hill.

And there’s the wide variety of people that one meets, people who are often interesting and/or funny. I think one of the biggest attractions of the Camino historically has been the meeting of minds that it lends itself to. When medieval pilgrims set out for Santiago – in most cases probably the only long-distance journey they would take in their lives – and met others from different countries or provinces the resultant exchanges of views and knowledge must have had a positive seeding effect when they returned to their respective communities. That was a time when travel really did broaden the mind.

The Camino is well serviced by accommodation – everything from the basic albergues to (for an occasional treat perhaps) Parador hotels in the major cities. Nor is there any rip-off. The prices are very reasonable and there is free WiFi in practically every place you stay.

The food is OK if not exactly haute cuisine. A typical pilgrim’s meal available in alburgues and restaurants along the way consists of a starter (e.g. a mixed salad), a main course (e.g. chicken and chips – *very* common) and a dessert (e.g. ice cream – often a choc ice in its wrapper).  To drink you’ll usually have either water or wine and the wine is served by the bottle. All that for about €10. Very good value.

Finally, there is the getting-away-from-it-all feeling, leaving the real world of bills, politics, responsibilities and all that stuff behind, opting out of the normal routine for a while, focusing instead on the day’s stage, how long it’s going it take, where to stop for refreshments, getting into a walking rhythm and generally feeling better every day as the physical exertion releases all those happy endorphins. And at the end there is the sense of achievement of once more having finished it successfully.

That’s why I do it.

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This interesting looking man was selling fruit and cakes at a stall nor far from Logrono. He had no set prices – people were free to donate what they wished. A wise strategy , I think – he probably got a lot more than he would have had he charged normal prices.

 

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Vineyards abound in the Rioja region 

Navarette

Approaching Navarette

Navarette Old Pilgrims Hosp

The remains of an old pilgrim hospital at Navarette

Najera

Approaching Nájera – the first day’s destination   

Najera River

The River Nájerilla as I passed over it the next day leaving Nájera

Najera 3

Looking back in the direction of Nájera

Near Santo Domingo

Between Ciruenda and Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The vineyards of Rioja are mostly behind us and we are now in cereal growing country – from wine to bread. 

Near Ciruena

Looking back from near Ciruena

A word of caution in respect of accommodation: the Camino is in a sense becoming a victim of its own success. I have heard and read many stories this year of alburgues becoming full up relatively early in the day. People are setting out often well before dawn in order to be sure of getting a bed for the night at their destination. This can be very stressful and it can rob people of the enjoyment they should be experiencing.

I have always booked my accommodation a few months before travelling and this year I was very glad I did so. I had no worries about where I would stay any night as I had reservations in every place I stayed. (I use Booking.com – an excellent accommodation booking service.)

One way over the problem is not to do Brierleys. John Brierley has written the definitive guide to the Camino Francés and he recommends daily stages – Brierleys – that people (including me) tend to blindly follow. So, for example, stage 9 of the Brierley guide is from Nájera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, 21 kms. The result is an influx of pilgrims into Santo Domingo and if the numbers are excessive there may not be enough beds to go around. What people should do instead is either stop 6kms before Santo Domingo at Ciruena  or continue walking another  6kms as far as Granon. Don’t slavishly follow Brierley; do your own stages and you should have no problems if you haven’t booked ahead.

Alburgue

Alburgue beds. This is the albergue I stayed in at Agés. It was very cold and I did not have a sleeping bag, just a light sleeping bag liner. Brrrrrr!

I also tend to use hostals rather than alburgues. Hostals (not to be confused with hostels) give you your own room and bathroom and so are very conducive to a good night’s sleep. Alburgues on the other hand are mixed dormitory bunk-bed establishments and you can be very unlucky if you are (like me) a very light sleeper and one or more of the other residents are snorers. Or if someone gets up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet and make a racket in the process. Or if they decide to set out at an unearthly hour and wake everyone else up while they noisily make preparations. On the plus side, albergues are cheap and the communal evening meal is a great way of getting to know people.

There are travel companies that will pre-book all the accommodation for you and will also transfer your bag from one location to the next. Go for it if such convenience appeals to you but be prepared to pay through the nose. It is much cheaper to do it yourself. Nor is it a problem carrying your stuff on your back. I actually think it’s beneficial to walk with a backpack as it keeps your back straight. Several people who suffer back problems have remarked on how it has helped them. The trick is in choosing a good backpack and carrying only the minimum. Aim for a combined backpack/contents weight of about 7 kgs.

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My backpack and its contents; total weight 7kgs.

Santo Domingo

Approaching Santo Domingo de la Calzada

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A view from the bell-tower of the church of Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

In Santo Domingo de la Calzada I stayed in the Hospideria Cisterciense, a hostal run by Cistercian nuns. And very nice it was too. A notice at reception stated that a daily Mass for pilgrims would be held at 7 pm and I decided to go. I had been expecting a large group of pilgrims to be present at the small church but there was only myself and a French woman – the other dozen or so attendees were elderly locals, mostly women. The priest was very elderly and frail and the poor man was on crutches and had to be assisted to the altar by a nun. He sat down behind the altar to say Mass. Communion was distributed by the nun. At the end the priest gave the usual blessing and, as this was a Mass for peregrinos, bade all walkers a Buen Camino! –  the traditional Camino greeting and farewell that everyone uses.

Santo Domingo Rio Oja

The River Oja at Santo Domingo  

Santo Dom to Belorado N120

Some sections of the Camino are adjacent to busy main roads as at here outside Santo Domingo. This third day from Santo Domingo to Belorado was my least favourite part because of the nearness and the noise of the highway.

Near St Juan De Ortega

Day 4 between Belorado and Agés – a lot of today’s section was through forest.

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Myself at a stop in the forest a few miles before St Juan de Ortega. A girl had made these artworks and was selling fruit and juices. It was very cold during this stage but then again the elevation was around 1,000 metres.

San Juan Forest

The path through the forest before St Juan. 

Ages

Agés

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The Camino at Agés 

My last day – day 5 – was from Agés into Burgos. There was torrential rain and it didn’t let up until I was well into the city. I finished about 1 p.m., stayed overnight in Burgos, got the 10:30 a.m. train to Bilbao the next day and flew back to Dublin the following day, Saturday.

Everything had gone according to plan and, once again, it was a most enjoyable Camino.

Next year my plan is to do the stage from Léon to Sarria and that will complete my Camino Francés.

After that, who knows? I may repeat a section, or I may do one of the other Caminos such as the Portugués or the Del Norte. Or perhaps walk from Santiago to Finisterre.

So many options, so little time!

 

Details of my previous Camino trips can be found on this blog at:

https://carrigmanblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/28/camino-de-santiago-sarria-to-santiago/

https://carrigmanblog.wordpress.com/2014/09/18/camino-de-santiago-burgos-to-leon/

https://carrigmanblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/camino-de-santiago-st-jean-pied-de-port-to-logrono/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Boissevains and Ballynatray

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A few miles north of Youghal, County Cork, on a bend of the River Blackwater, in one of the most beautiful places in Ireland, stands Ballynatray House.

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The present house dates from 1795. In 1969, Horace Holroyd-Smyth, who died in a shooting accident, bequeathed the house and the 850 acre estate to his cousins, the Ponsonbys of County Tipperary. It had deteriorated badly by this time and it continued to decay in the years that followed. It looked as if dereliction was going to be its fate.

This would have been an ignominious end for a house that had survived the destruction by the IRA of so many great houses in Ireland during the revolutionary period of 1919 to 1923.  The wanton burning and looting that took place is a shameful blot on our history.  Even Stalin made sure that the palaces of the Tsars were preserved for posterity.

Then, in 1995, a little miracle occurred. A wealthy couple, Serge and Henriette Boissevain, had been searching Europe for a suitable home and they came upon Ballynatray.  They purchased it for £1.5 million.

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Henriette and Serge Boissevain. Henriette was born in London on 30th January 1949, the daughter of Adolph Willem Carel Bentinck Van Schoonheten and Gabrielle Wilhelmine Hedwig Marie Thyssen-Bornemisza Von Kaszony.  Her uncle was the German steel tycoon Baron “Heini” Thyssen-Bornemisza .  Serge was born on 10th July 1947 in Neuilly-Sur-Seine, Ile-De-France.  They had known each other as teenagers but went their separate ways. Serge married Chantal Marie Francoise Girault in Marseille in 1969 but the marriage was dissolved in 1977. Henriette married the Marquess of Northampton but this ended in divorce. She then married Richard Thompson, a businessman and this was also dissolved. Serge and Henriette met again and were married in 1978. They were inseparable for the rest of their lives.

Over the next few years they spent millions renovating the house and improving the estate. They employed the best engineers, builders and craftsmen with one end in mind: transform the crumbling residence into a jewel that would sparkle by the waters of the Blackwater.  And in this they were singularly successful – Ballynatray now stands resplendent, not merely restored to its former glory but surpassing it.

But then, after this investment of time, money and love into Ballynatray, the Boissevains decided to sell up and move to southern Spain. Henriette’s health required that she live in a warmer and drier climate. The estate was sold in 2004 for €12 million to English businessman Henry Gwyn Jones who has lived there since.

In Almadén de la Plata, 85kms north of Seville, Serge and Henriette set up a ranch for the breeding of Cartujano horses, a passion of Henriette’s. However, in November 2010, Henriette died suddenly. She was only 61 years old. Serge was bereft and he went into a spiral of despair which culminated in his taking his own life a couple of months later in January 2011. He was 63. They had been married for 34 years.

This was a tragic conclusion to the lives of the couple who did so much to rescue and restore Ballynatray. The house and its grounds stand testament to their achievement and they will be remembered with gratitude for generations to come.

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Molana Abbey on the Ballynatray Estate. It was founded in 510 Ad by Mael an Faidh (Mael the Prophet). The existing ruins are of the Augustinian Priory established by Raymond Le Gros. The abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538.

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Molana Abbey is on the bottom left. It was originally an island – Dairinis – but a causeway was built in the 19th century to connect it with the mainland. Ballynatray House is in the upper centre. 

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The ruined Church of Ireland church at Templemichael to the south of Ballynatray. The Boissevains installed a car park here for visitors  to the church and Molana Abbey.  

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Templemichael Quay.  Stanley Kubrick filmed the duel scene from “Barry Lyndon” here.  Ballynatray Estate was also used for other scenes in the film. 

 

 

 

Goya: The Portraits

I flew to London a few days ago to see Goya: The Portraits at the National Gallery. The exhibition is on in the Sainsbury Wing until 10th January and if you like art and have the time I would urge you to go. Even with the bad Pound/Euro exchange rate it’s worth the trip: Ryanair flights are cheap and you get some time in a wonderful city. I love London and I try to get there a few times a year.

Ah, you say, I like Goya, but I have a book of his paintings, or, I can look them up online – why bother with the hassle and expense of going all the way to the National Gallery? Look, here’s a few of the pictures on my high-res smartphone.

That’s like listening to a Mozart symphony on a tinny little radio in comparison to sitting in a concert hall at a live orchestral performance and letting the sound overwhelm you.

Standing in front of an original artwork is a wholly different experience to casually flipping through the pages of a book or looking at images on the internet.  Here, you are within inches of the surface of a painting made more than 200 years ago by an artist of genius. You can see detail that no photograph can ever replicate.

The sizes of some of the paintings can astonish you and this is something that reproductions can never prepare you for (unless, maybe, you carefully note the sizes quoted in books and websites and can imagine them in reality – I don’t and can’t).

Then there’s the ritual of descending the stairs in the Sainsbury Wing, showing your ticket to the attendant, entering the low lit area of the exhibition (ambient light levels are kept low to protect the works but they are well illuminated), and going from room to room to view all the 71 exhibits. You emerge feeling exhilarated from the privilege of being in the presence of genius, from the sheer magnificence of the works on display.

You can’t download that.

Here are some screenshots from various websites of a few of the paintings.

Goya Self Portrait 1780

A Self Portrait circa 1780.

 

Goya The Duke and Duchess of Osuna and their Children

The Duke and Duchess of Osuna and their Children, 1788.

From the catalogue: “Posssibly drawing on British portraits, particularly those by Gainsborough, Goya creates a sense of animated informality.”

Goya The Dowager Marchioness of Villafranca

 The Dowager Marchioness of Villafranca, 1796.

“A moving demonstration of his ability to portray old age with respect and sympathy.”

Goya The Countess Duchess of Benavente

The Countess Duchess of Benavente, 1785.

She was one of Goya’s greatest patrons and was a very forward thinking person. She and her husband commissioned works satirising Church corruption and the backwardness of Spanish society.

Goya Charles 111 in Hunting Dress

Charles 111 in Hunting Dress, 1786-8.

Charles 111 was “famously and unashamedly ugly”, as the catalogue puts it.

 

Goya Self Portrait 1795.

Self Portrait, 1795.

This gives some idea of what it must have felt like to sit for Goya, to be the object of that penetrating stare.

 

Goya Marchioness of Santa Cruz 49

The Marchioness of Santa Cruz, 1805.

Part of a trend in Europe at the time of depicting young women as classical personifications.

Goya Friar Juan Fernandez 51

Friar Juan Fernández de Rojas, circa 1800.

The friar was an intellectual who espoused modern theology. The sheer intelligence of the man is apparent in this superb portrait.

Goya Family of the Infante Don Luis de Borbon

The Family of the Infante Don Luis de Borbón, 1783.

Goya has included himself on the left and the painting is a nod to Velázquez’s “Las Meninas”.  A strange but beautiful painting.

 

Goya Duchess of Alba

The Duchess of Alba, 1797.

A huge painting, this depicts the highest-ranking woman in Spain after the queen. A widow with a fiery temper she is pointing to an inscription on the sand which says “Sola Goya” (“Only Goya”). This was once thought to mean that she and Goya were lovers but scholarly opinion now suggests that it is instead a reference by Goya to his supremacy as a painter. To which I say to the scholars – “yeah, right”.  

The above reproductions only give the merest idea of what the originals are like.

I repeat: seeing them in reality is a different experience altogether.

So, if you can, go.

A Flight Over East Cork

The best present I got last Christmas, thanks to my children and son-in-law, was an Atlantic Flight Training Academy gift voucher. This entitled me to a 60 minutes flight from their base at Cork Airport. I’m a bit of an aircraft and flight nerd so this suited me perfectly.  Not that I was interested in flight training per se –  I just wanted a pleasure flight and an opportunity to take some photographs. Most recipients of such vouchers are probably in the same, er, boat.

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I had never flown in a light aircraft. The nearest I came to it were trips on the Aer Arann/Aer Lingus Commuter ATR 72s  – twin-engine turboprops – and I was looking forward to the experience. When I phoned the company to make an appointment for the flight I was pleasantly surprised to be told they could accommodate me the following afternoon. This was perfect as the forecast was for a calm, bright day.

The formalities over – you have to complete a short form, get a visitor’s badge and a high-vis vest – I was led to the aircraft by my pilot for the trip, Alan Walsh, a fellow East Cork man. He asked me where I’d like to go and naturally I said the East Cork direction.

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Then it was into the left-hand seat and Alan proceeded to carry out the pre-flight checks. This is something that aviators around the world do as a matter of course, whether they are flying a small aircraft like this or a jumbo jet, and it ensures that no risks are taken as far as safety is concerned.

We then donned our headsets, Alan started the engine, and communicated with Air Traffic Control giving details of our route and asking for permission for take off. Once this was given we headed out to runway 35, pointed the aircraft north, increased the throttle and in a few seconds we were airborne and flying over Cork City.

From there we made our way down to Carrigtwohill ( where he circled my house), Midleton, Castlemartyr and on to Capel Island. On the return leg we went along the coast to Garryvoe and Ballycotton and thence to Roche’s Point, Spike Island and on to Carrigaline before turning right to land at runway 35.

Alan checked with me throughout as to where I wanted to go (e.g. around Capel Island) and in turn he kept Cork ATC abreast of where we were headed.

Our speed was 100 knots – about 115 miles per hour – and we flew at 1500 feet. Conditions were perfect and ideal for photography. I was surprised at how calm the flight was; even though the day was fine I was expecting, given the size of the aircraft, some buffeting and turbulence but there was none. The headset kept noise to a minimum and it was a very pleasant experience overall.  It is something I would recommend anyone interested in planes or sightseeing from a height to do.  Christmas is coming and if you are stuck as to what present you should get for someone you should certainly consider an Atlantic Flight Training gift voucher.

 

Please click on any photo to see it in larger size. All photos were taken with a Canon 6D and a 24-105L lens. I was shooting through a window so there are invariably some glass reflections evident in some of the shots.

 

IMG_8156The cockpit.

IMG_8169Cork City looking north to the Galtee Mountains on the top right. 

IMG_8179The old city dump at Kinsale Road now an environmentally friendly landfill site and soon to be a major recreational area.

IMG_8190The Jack Lynch Tunnel.

IMG_8197The River Lee with the suburbs of Blackrock and Mahon in the foreground.

IMG_8203Fota Castle in the foreground with Carrigtwohill on the upper right.  

IMG_8221Fota Wildlife Park.

IMG_8332Midleton.

IMG_8364Lough Aderra near Castlemartyr.

IMG_8373Castlemartyr with the Castlemartyr Resort and Golf Course in the foreground. 

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Youghal is in the middle distance and beyond that is West County Waterford. In the foreground, the River Womanagh flows into the sea. 

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Ballymacoda. I was christened in that church in the foreground by a namesake of mine (but no relation).

IMG_8442Knockadoon Head and Capel Island.

IMG_8451Capel Island.

IMG_8466Capel Island.

IMG_8525Ballypherode, Ballymacoda. My father was born and raised in the house in the centre (with the single white van in front). First cousins of mine live in that house and the house directly above it. 

IMG_8555Ballycotton.

IMG_8578Ballycotton Island.

IMG_8609 Ballycotton Island.

IMG_8640Roche’s Point.

IMG_8665Roche’s Point.

IMG_8738Spike Island.

IMG_8733Spike Island.

IMG_8749The outer Cork Harbour. 

IMG_8789Heading in to land at Cork Airport’s runway 35.

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Photographing the Milky Way

One of the most awesome sights one can observe is the arc of the Milky Way on a night when the sky is clear, when there is no moon visible, and when one is well away from the light pollution of cities and towns. Once you are in such a location in such conditions you will notice a faint band of light going across the sky. In late summer in the Northern Hemisphere it stretches from the southern horizon to the North East. (Be aware that it will not look as dramatic and as bright as photographs of it would suggest. Photographs are taken using a typical exposure time of between 25 and 30 seconds and are thus able to capture far more stars than are visible to the naked eye. Photographers also invariably boost the contrast and colour for pictorial effect.)

Milky Way 1

The Milky Way is the name of the galaxy in which we reside. It is just one of an estimated 100 billion galaxies in the Universe. It contains something between 100 and 400 billion stars and is about 100,000 light years in diameter. Our solar system is located within a minor spiral arm of the galaxy, the Orion Arm, and is about 27,000 light years from the centre. When you look towards the southern part of the Milky Way you are looking towards the centre of the galaxy whereas towards the North East you are looking in the direction of the outer edge. Here endeth a very elementary astronomy lesson.  I would strongly recommend that you refer to the numerous astronomy websites for more detailed information.

From a photographic point of view the technique involved in photographing it is straightforward and is well within the capabilities of all DSLRs and more advanced compacts. A tripod is essential of course as the shutter speed needs to be between 25 and 30 seconds. Anything longer than 30 seconds will cause the stars to streak due to the rotation of the Earth. A high ISO is required – typically 3200 or 6400 ISO although you may be able to get away with 1600 if your camera doesn’t extend beyond that. The higher the ISO the greater the amount of digital noise but this can vary from camera to camera. A full-frame sensor camera will generally have much less noise than an APSC or smaller sensor one. Noise can be reduced at the post-processing stage – Adobe’s Camera Raw has a very good noise reduction feature and plug-ins like Nik Software’s Dfine2 and Topaz Labs’ DeNoise5 also do a very good job.

You will need a wide lens to capture as much of the spectacle that you can (although homing in on a section of it with a longer lens can be very effective too.) And use it wide open, at its maximum aperture. In the photographs below I used a Canon 15mm f/2.8 and a Canon 17-40mm f/4 at 2.8 and 4 respectively on a full-frame Canon 6D.

You will not be able to use automatic focus and this can prove to be a problem if you arrive at your location in darkness. What I do is focus on an object on the horizon while the light is still relatively bright and then set the lens to manual: I know then that the focus is on infinity. The disadvantage is hanging around until it gets really dark. Manually focusing on a bright object using Live View may be an option but in my experience it has proved to be unsatisfactory. Don’t rely on just setting your lens to infinity without focusing on something – it will invariably not be accurate and the stars will appear as blobs rather than points of light.

Remember that it should be a moonless night. You might be able to get away with a moon if it is in either a Waxing or Waning Crescent phase but anything bigger will result in too much light in the sky. I use the Sundroid app on my phone to determine the phases of the moon and when it’s due to rise and set. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is another such one that I use.

Use a cable release to fire the shutter and, ideally, use mirror lock-up to minimise vibration. If you haven’t a cable release set the delayed action shutter release to 2 seconds or thereabouts so that when you press the button the shutter isn’t activated straight away and so any camera shake is avoided.

Exposures will have to be bracketed to get the best results from your equipment but the essentials are: ISO 3200-6400, 25- 30 secs, wide open aperture.

And don’t forget a good torch to find your way back from whichever dark-sky spot you’ve chosen.

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 This photograph, taken not far from my house, and looking south, shows the unfortunate effect of light pollution (in this instance from the towns of Carrigtwohill and Midleton in East Cork). To the naked eye the light wasn’t particularly obtrusive but the exposure of 30 seconds has amplified it significantly. The streaks of light in the sky are meteors – the photo was taken on 13th August during the peak Perseid Meteor Shower period.

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 Another photo from the same location this time looking north-east . The streaks are a combination of aircraft and meteors. Again the light pollution is evident even though it was barely discernible to the eye. In both of these photographs I was using the Canon 15mm fish-eye and I chose not to correct the perspective, hence the curved horizons.

Why did I choose that location when I knew the downsides? It was a last minute thing – a break in the cloud and proximity to home. At least I got to see some meteors.

The following night, the 14th August, resulted in much better settled conditions – a nice clear sky from early evening. I therefore made my way to Ballytrasna Cove near Ballycotton.

Ballycotton Ballytrasna

Ballytrasna Cove is a secluded cove on the Ballycotton Cliff Walk.  It is good for Milky Way photography in that (in summer at least) you are shooting due south and it is hidden – well, mostly –  from the lights of Ballycotton Village and Lighthouse to the east and Whitegate and Cork City to the west. It is not as pure a dark-sky area as parts of West Kerry perhaps but it is the best place I know in East Cork.  

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At 10:22 the International Space Station came into view and it is represented here as a streak of light due to the 20 second exposure (it wasn’t yet totally dark, hence the shorter exposure time).  

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A few meteor streaks are visible.

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The streak of light on the lower right is the Aer Lingus flight from London on its descent to Cork  Airport. Underneath it to the right is the light from the Old Head of Kinsale lighthouse and the broader glow on the right is from Cork City. A meteor streak is visible in the centre of the frame. The bright glow on the left horizon is, I think, from the Kinsale Oil Platform.

So, the technique in photographing the Milky Way is fairly straightforward and in the post-processing of these images I have confined myself to basic exposure, contrast, colour temperature, and sharpening adjustments. Nothing esoteric or convoluted. Such photography therefore is within the capabilities of anyone with the appropriate equipment. The only problem, given our climate, is getting the right weather conditions.

The Bridges of the River Blackwater

Over the last few months I have been photographing the bridges over the River Blackwater in Munster. There are, by my reckoning, based on a close examination of Google Earth and the Ordnance Survey maps, twenty seven of them and they are presented below. If I have inadvertently omitted any I would be very much obliged to know.

My modus operandi in locating some of the more obscure bridges was to identify them first in Google Earth and/or the Ordnance Survey site.  Then, using the Loc8 site I got the Loc8 8-digit alpha-numeric code for each one. By inputting these codes into my Garmin SatNav I was able to navigate directly to each place.

The names I’ve given to them are taken from the Ordnance Survey maps modern and historic. I’m not sure whether or not some of the names on the historic maps (e.g. Charles’s Bridge, Duarrigle; Colthurst Bridge, Rathcoole), which I’ve used in the absence of any name on the current OS map, are still used by local people as they may have fallen into disuse since Independence.  Not that it matters really: this is not in any way an official compilation; it is purely for my own amusement.

The photographs are in geographical sequence, starting at the first bridge near the source of the river in County Kerry and ending at Youghal. Click on any image to see it in larger size.

1. DOCTOR’S HILL.  The first bridge over the Blackwater, a few kilometres from its source in County Kerry.BlackwaterFirst

2. BALLYDESMOND

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Ballydesmond Bridge proved to be the most frustrating one to photograph – thick foliage prevented any access to the riverbed and I had to be content with these mere snapshots. 

3. LISHEEN BRIDGE, FARRANKEAL. The nearest side is in County Kerry, the other in Cork.Blackwater Creggeen Rockmount CK Border

4. MOUNTINFANT BRIDGE, LACKA CROSS.  Out of sight over the bridge to the right is the large Munster Joinery factory.Blaxkwater LackaX KCborderMunsterJoinery

5. NOHAVAL BRIDGEBlackwater Clounts KCborder

6. DUNCANNON BRIDGE,RATHMOREBlackwater Rathmore

7. SHAMROCK BRIDGE, AHANE LOWERBlackwater Ahane Lower

Blackwater Ahane BW

8. CHARLES’S BRIDGE, DUARRIGLEBlackwater Nr Coalpits

9.  KEALEBlackwater Keale

10. COLTHURST BRIDGE, RATHCOOLE Blackwater Rathcoole3

Blackwater RathcooleIR

As I was making my way back across the field to my car after photographing this bridge I noticed a 4-wheel-drive vehicle with two men inside parked by the gate.  The driver asked me what I had been doing. It transpired they were charged with keeping an eye on the place for a group of Cork City fishermen who had exclusive rights to this part of the river and they thought I had been poaching! Hard to blame them really as I was wearing wellingtons and a fisherman’s type vest and my tripod could have been mistaken at a distance for a rod.   

 

11. BALLYMAQUIRK BRIDGE, BANTEERBlackwater Banteer 2

Blackwater Banteer

12. ROSKEENBlackwater Roskeen3

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13. LOMBARDSTOWNBlackwater Lombardstown

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14.LONGFIELD’S BRIDGEBlackwater Longfields Bridge Nr Mallow

Blackwater Longfield BW

15. MALLOW RAILWAY BRIDGE Blackwater Mallow Rail

16.MALLOW N20 Blackwater Mallow N22

17. MALLOW TOWN BRIDGEBlackwater Mallow Old

18. KILLAVULLENKillavullen2

Blackwater Killavullen

19. BALLYHOOLEYBlackwater Ballyhooley

20. KENT BRIDGE, FERMOY   (The long shutter speed of 30 seconds has rendered the moving traffic on this busy route as a blur.)IMG_5599

21. FERMOY M8 IMG_5596

22. CARRICKABRICK VIADUCT.  In the 1966 film “The Blue Max”, a lot of which was shot in the locality, a stuntman flew planes underneath this viaduct several times.IMG_5580

Blackwater Carrickabrick

23. BALLYDUFF

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24. STRAND BRIDGE, LISMORE 

Blackwater LismoreIR

25.AVONMORE BRIDGE, CAPPOQUIN

Blackwater IR-Cappoquin-Bridge

26. CAPPOQUIN OLD RAILWAY BRIDGE

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27. YOUGHAL

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Youghal Bridge 4

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A more conventional view of Youghal Bridge. This is the last bridge on the river and its size is a marked contrast to the humble structure at Doctor’s Hill near the source.

Fanad Lighthouse

Fanad Lighthouse on the north coast of County Donegal is one of the most photographed lighthouses in Ireland and it is easy to see why – it is in a beautiful location and is easily accessible. I’ve been anxious to add it to my (neglected of late) project of Irish lighthouses photographed while they are actually emitting light, something they will probably not be doing for much longer as lighthouses are essentially anachronisms in this age of GPS.  (See  johnfinnphotography.com/gallery )

I eventually got around to heading to North Donegal a couple of days ago. It’s a long journey from the deep south. I had to drop my son off in Galway on the way and the traffic congestion there caused by the annual race meeting added to the total journey time of 8 hours (including a stop for lunch). I stayed in the little town of Downings, 20 minutes from Fanad, at Downings Bay Hotel where an excellent double room cost me €65 including breakfast. (My thanks to Cork photographer John Hall for the accommodation recommendation.) I had assumed there would be plenty of B&Bs in the general vicinity but that is not so. Either of the two hotels in Downings would appear to be the best option for anyone thinking of going there and staying overnight.

Fanad Map

I checked in to the hotel and then headed straight for Fanad. As I mentioned, the lighthouse is very accessible – just step over a small wire fence and the magnificent vista is right in front of you. Access to the building complex itself was not available but this is due to change shortly as the Commissioners of Irish Lights in conjunction with Donegal County Council and the Irish Tourist Board will be opening it to the public. Some of the buildings are being converted to holiday accommodation – surely a prime place to stay for photographers eager to explore this picturesque area for a few days.

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A satellite view of the lighthouse and surrounding area 

It was obviously due to the preparations for the imminent opening of the complex that there was a White Van Man present. He was busy hosing down the area around the buildings and I dearly wished that he would finish up as his prominent vehicle was not what I wanted in any of my photographs. He didn’t oblige until 9:30pm, just before the lighthouse started flashing but at least he was gone by then.

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The white van marring what would otherwise have been a nice photo.

I spent some time experimenting with various perspectives from the promontory on the left while waiting for sunset at 9:39pm which would prompt the operation of the light.

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At around 9:30pm some other photographers arrived – clearly on a similar mission to myself – and within a few minutes the lighthouse began to flash. For the next 45 minutes I made several exposures, the time for each increasing as the daylight progressively faded. Finally, having more than enough “in the bag” I collapsed my tripod and packed up my gear. As I walked the short distance back to the car it began to rain. I was very lucky. I could have gone all that way and been rained out.

Fanad1

It is a place I would love to go back to and I would especially like to photograph it when the sea is stormy. A word of caution though: a County Antrim photographer was swept into the sea and drowned in 2014 while taking photos here in just such conditions. We can often take silly chances for the sake of “that special shot”. That particular tragedy and similar ones around the coast in more recent times should teach us to be extremely careful where the sea is concerned.