Esinkin Bluetooth Receiver

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This little gadget has transformed my music listening experience.

I have a fairly decent Hi Fi system – a Cambridge Audio amplifier, a Marantz CD player, Tannoy speakers and a Denon tuner.

Apart from the tuner (radio) however, I have made little use of it in recent years. I haven’t bought a CD since I can’t remember when and hardly ever use it to play CDs -most of my collection is in a box in the attic. The reason is the easy availability of music online – in my case I make regular use of my Spotify Premium account: a brilliant service that effectively lets you listen to practically everything ever recorded, more or less. That and the best online music radio service on the planet – Radio Paradise – plus excellent terrestrial radio shows like John Creedon’s, John Kelly’s and Lillian Smith’s on RTE.

Up until a few weeks ago my online listening was done via Bluetooth on my car radio, through headphones, or through a Vava Voom speaker – one of the best standalone Bluetooth speakers on the market.

A pity though that I couldn’t use those Tannoy speakers and the Cambridge Audio amp. The sound quality would be so much better.

And then I heard on a radio show about Bluetooth devices that would allow me to do just that. I did a search on Amazon and the Esinkin popped up. I clicked “Buy Now” immediately – the total cost including postage was €35. I figured it was worth a try for that price – even if it didn’t work, so what?

It arrived a week before Christmas. When I opened the box I found to my annoyance that it had only a two-pin continental-style plug as opposed to the three-pin type we use in Ireland and the UK.  Luckily, I had a converter to hand so that solved that. (The model I purchased has since been superseded and I’d imagine it now ships with the proper plug – similar devices are also made by other manufacturers.) It was then a matter of connecting the unit via the supplied cable to the back of the amp. It was operational within 15 minutes of it being received in the post.

The sound quality is excellent. I did a blind audio test by switching between a CD track and the same one on Spotify via the Esinkin and listeners could not tell the difference. I’m sure discriminating audiophiles would be able to do so but for me at least the difference in quality is negligible.

This gadget is to audio what Chromecast is to TV.  Like the latter, it is fantastically good value for the price and opens up a whole new area of listening pleasure.

Highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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The Marchioness of Santa Cruz, 1805.

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

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Bad Photos of Irish Properties For Sale

John Finn Photography

Updated 11th March, 2015

Daft.ie is Ireland’s biggest property site and it’s a valuable resource for anyone thinking of buying or renting property. You can browse through images of houses, apartments and commercial premises from all around the country, images that have been uploaded by auctioneers and estate agents.

I would love to say that the photographs have all been well-taken – properly lit, in focus and well composed – but, alas, that is not so in a frighteningly large number of cases (if a quick browse through a random sample of properties is anything to go by).

Which prompts the question: why, if you are an auctioneer/estate agent, do you not ensure that properties are presented in the best possible way so as to entice prospective buyers/renters?

It is not good enough to use a 10-year-old compact camera to fire off a few out-of-focus shots and hope for the…

View original post 968 more words

Ballycotton Island Tour

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Ballycotton Island from Ballinamona Strand.

[Click on any photo to see a larger version]

I first set foot on Ballycotton Island three years ago when a local fisherman dropped me off there at 6:30am and collected me four hours later. It was highly irregular as visitors were not permitted on the island which is the property of the Commissioners of Irish Lights. Not that it bothered me. I was fulfilling a life-long ambition. I was reared in a cottage along the coast road to Knockadoon and the island, its powerful light and deep booming foghorn were part of my earliest memories. I therefore made the most of the opportunity when the chance to surreptitiously visit it eventually arose and it was a wonderful experience. I was the only person there for the duration. It was like being marooned on a desert island (but in a good way).

There is no need any longer for clandestine visits. Since July of this year there are organised tours of the island with access the the lighthouse itself (something that was not, of course, available to me on my previous visit). Ballycotton Lighthouse Tours is a new company supported by SECAD (South & East Cork Area Development), Ballymaloe Foods and Cronin Millar Engineering and with the cooperation of the Commissioners of Irish Lights.  The driving force behind the initiative is Yasmin Hyde, daughter of Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe House, and owner of the Ballymaloe Country Relish company. It was she who had the vision for public access to the island and it is great to see that it has become a reality.

I took the 90-minute tour last Saturday. A tip to prospective visitors – book in advance. Business is brisk and my granddaughter and I were lucky to get the last two places on the 3pm sailing. Tickets (€20 adult, €10 child) are available at The Inn By the Harbour which is on the right hand side as you drive down the hill to Ballycotton Pier. For more information see: http://www.ballycottonislandlighthousetours.com

The newly acquired boat (appropriately named “Yassy”) is licensed to carry 12 people plus crew. The short crossing  lasts about 10 minutes and so should be bearable by all but the most chronic thallasophobes.  The water was flat calm for our trip.

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 The “Yassy” returning to Ballycotton pier with a group of visitors.  

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Sailing to the island.

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The once shining white walls of the island are now a dirty grey due to not being painted for several years. This is a pity and is something the Commissioners of Irish Lights should address.

Our guide was Eddie Fitzgerald. Eddie is a former lighthouse man who served in Ballycotton Lighthouse as well as in several others around the country. He knowledge of, and obvious love for, all things lighthouse related and his ebullient  personality made for a most entertaining and educational experience. (It was only afterwards I learned that Eddie also has another string to his bow that he didn’t divulge on the day –  he was a member of famed 1970s East Cork pop group Gina, Dale Haze and The Champions.)

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 Guide Eddie Fitzgerald at the start of the tour on the island.

For a detailed history of the background to and the building of the lighthouse and the changes that were made over the years check out the Commissioners of Irish Lights Ballycotton page: http://www.cil.ie/tourism/our-lighthouses/ballycotton.aspx

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Eddie telling us about the lighthouse men’s houses. 

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Ballycotton is one of only a few black lighthouses in the world.  

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The highlight of the tour for me was entering the lighthouse, climbing the granite steps and walking out on the balcony with its fine views.

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    A detail of the consummate workmanship apparent in the granite steps inside the lighthouse.

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 Looking west towards Ballycotton village. 

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Looking East towards Capel Island. The hexagonal structure in the foreground is the remains of a housing for a bell that was used in the 19th century, before the foghorn, to warn mariners they were near the island.

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 “Yassy” returning to the island with another group and to take us back. 

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 The pier on the north side of the island.

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The tour represents a marvelous opportunity to visit one of the landmarks of East Cork and is well worth the price.

Highly recommended.

Skellig Michael

Skellig Michael, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located about 12 kilometres off the coast of County Kerry. I have been going there once a year for several years now and the trip never fails to lift the spirit. It is Ireland’s Machu Picchu.

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Boats leave for the island from the village of Portmagee between April and September, weather permitting. It is necessary to book at least a day beforehand as demand for places can be quite brisk. The following are some contact numbers:

  • Pat Joe Murphy  – 087 2342168
  • Joe Roddy – 087 1209924
  • Casey’s  – 066 2371017

Others may be found by doing a Google search. In all, about 10 boats with a capacity for 12 persons each make the trip. They leave at 10am and the journey takes about 50 minutes each way. You are given a maximum of 2½ hours on the island. Expect to pay upwards of €50 a head. Believe me, it’s worth it.

Be aware that the crossing can be very rough. My single most scary boat-trip ever was to Skellig Michael a few years ago. The sea was flat calm in the inner harbour at Portmagee but once we hit the open sea it became a white-knuckle ride. It was like being on a roller coaster with someone throwing a bucket of water at you every 30 seconds or so. Amazingly, none of the 12 passengers, all clinging on for dear life on the open deck, got sea-sick. We should have expected the worst, I suppose, when the skipper insisted on us all donning yellow oilskin jackets and trousers before we embarked.

Be aware also that there are no facilities on the island – not even a rock you can go behind – so be sure to visit the public toilet at the entrance to Portmagee before you set out.

Neither is it a place to visit if you don’t like heights and/or are prone to vertigo. There have been fatalities among visitors, most recently in 2009 when 2 American tourists died – on separate occasions – from falling from a ledge near the beginning of the stone stairway. There are 700 steps up to the remains of the monastic settlement on the top of the island and it can be very challenging for anyone who is unfit.

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The route that visitors are confined to is outlined in red. After disembarking from the boat, the route follows a gentle incline along the Lighthouse Road.

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Blind Man’s Cove – where the boats drop off and collect visitors. Getting on and off the boats can be tricky when the water is choppy – you have to carefully time your jump from the boat to the pier and vice versa.      

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The Lighthouse Road

It is only when one comes to the South Steps that the challenging part begins – the steep climb to the top. Some people, realising that it is beyond their capabilities, are content not to wander beyond this point and are happy to relax in the sunshine and watch the birds instead.  On my last visit (5th June 2014) there was a guide at the bottom of the steps who gave a safety lecture to everyone before allowing them to go further.

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The start of the South Steps. The most dangerous part is where the lady on the right is walking. To her left is the 20 foot drop where the recent fatalities occurred. A chain has since been inserted in the rock as a safety measure.  

       

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The dangerous ledge with safety chain.

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Notice the absence of handrails. There had been demands for them in the aftermath of the recent deaths but, wisely, the Office of Public Works (which looks after the island) refused to countenance them as they would detract from the character of the place.  It is a wilderness area and it is important that it remains so. 

Excavation and restoration work has been ongoing every summer since 1978 in order to learn more about the monastic settlement and to preserve it for future generations. It is not known exactly when the first monks came here but it is probable that it was in the 6th Century. The earliest written record of a monastery was in 824 AD when there was a Norse raid on the island. By the 11th Century the island had been dedicated to St Michael and probably became a place of pilgrimage around this time too. Monks continued to live here until the late 13th Century when, due to climate change resulting in colder winters and stormier seas, and changes in Irish ecclesiastical structures, they left for the mainland and settled in Ballinskelligs.  It is likely though that some monks returned for the summer months for a long time after that.

The island continued to be owned by the Augustinians until 1578 when, in the aftermath of the Desmond Rebellion, Queen Elizabeth 1 dissolved certain monasteries that had been under the Earl of Desmond’s protection. Skellig Michael was given to the (secular) Butler family and it remained with the family until 1820 when it was purchased by the Corporation for Preserving and Improving the Port of Dublin – the predecessor of the Commissioners of Irish Lights – which wanted to build 2 lighthouses on it.

The building of the lighthouses was completed in 1826. During the construction period the workers occupied the ancient beehive cells in the old monastery.

In 1880 the Office of Public Works took over responsibility for the monastery and this has continued to the present day.  Apart from the heliport and the lighthouses (only one of which is still operational) –  the property of the Commissioners of Irish Lights – the island is owned by the Government of Ireland. It is a National Monument by reason of its historical, architectural and archaeological importance.

It 1996 it attained UNESCO World Heritage status due to its “outstanding universal significance”.

 

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The beehive huts, so-called because of their resemblance to beehives, which housed the monks.

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The monks graveyard. 

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Looking across to Little Skellig and the Kerry Coast from the monastery. 

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The Romanesque window in St Michael’s Chapel before the restoration work of the last two years. 

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The window as it is now. 

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A wider view of the newly restored chapel. 

I have to say I got an unpleasant shock when I saw the newly restored chapel. I appreciate that the Office of Public Works’ archaeologists and architects must know best as far as restoration work is concerned but I think they have gone overboard in their use of cement mortar. It looks ugly and out of character with the rest of the settlement.  Perhaps the light grey look will darken with weathering over time.

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The South Peak from the high ground above the monastery.   

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The South Peak from the top of the steps.   

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Christ’s Saddle from the base of the South Peak.  Note the final section of steps leading up to the monastery (not in the picture).

For a few weeks in late May and early June each year Skellig Michael is home to hundreds (if not thousands) of Atlantic Puffins. They nest in burrows many of which are alongside the steps so the birds are often literally within arms length of visitors. I doubt if there is anywhere else in Britain or Ireland where it is possible to be in such close proximity to them. I have photographed Puffins on the Great Saltee Island off County Wexford but it is an achievement in itself some years to see any there, let alone photograph them. It is an extraordinary sensation, by contrast, to see them so plentiful on the Skellig.

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All these were photographed with a Canon 400mm lens with an extension tube attached so as to facilitate a closer focusing distance than the 3.5 metres allowed by the lens such was the nearness of the birds to the camera.

The 2½ hours on the island is just enough to visit the monastery and spend some time admiring the spectacular scenery and perhaps photographing the birds.  Most of the island is out of bounds to visitors primarily because of the danger from the precipitous peaks and cliffs. Visitor numbers also need to be managed because of the possible deleterious impact of too much footfall on the ancient remains. The weather helps in this regard as there are often days during the summer when it is not possible for the boats to set out because of heavy seas or driving rain (visitors are not allowed if it’s raining as the wet steps would be too dangerous).

I would strongly recommend more Irish people to visit this national treasure. I’m always struck by how few Irish there are on the boats. Many people tell me that, yes, it’s on their bucket list and they’ll get around to it someday.

Forget “someday”.

Do it now.

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 Heading home from Skellig Michael.  

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The boats usually sail by Little Skellig – home to 20,000 Gannets – on the way back.

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Looking back at Little Skellig (left) and Skellig Michael (right). 

 

 

 

Bad Photos of Irish Properties For Sale

Updated 11th March, 2015

 

Daft.ie is Ireland’s biggest property site and it’s a valuable resource for anyone thinking of buying or renting property. You can browse through images of houses, apartments and commercial premises from all around the country, images that have been uploaded by auctioneers and estate agents.

I would love to say that the photographs have all been well-taken – properly lit, in focus and well composed – but, alas, that is not so in a frighteningly large number of cases (if a quick browse through a random sample of properties is anything to go by).

Which prompts the question: why, if you are an auctioneer/estate agent, do you not ensure that properties are presented in the best possible way so as to entice prospective buyers/renters?

It is not good enough to use a 10-year-old compact camera to fire off a few out-of-focus shots and hope for the best. Get a proper photographer to do the premises justice. He/she will know how to expose properly for even the darkest of rooms, will be able to use artificial lighting to best effect, and will compose both interior and exterior shots so that the final images will enhance and flatter. Of course, many acutioneers/estate agents do just that, as their photographs show. But as for others ….

 

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It’s a no-no to have people in property photos (unless they are being sold with the house – the listing in this instance made no mention of it).

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The unmade bed look is not a good look (unless you are Tracy Emin and are pitching this for inclusion in the Tate Modern collection.)

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How difficult would it have been to (a) move the vehicles out of view and (b) get rid of the clutter on the chairs?

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Not the most attractive of kitchens even without the clutter but why photograph it in this condition?

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Bad lighting, bad angle …. bad EVERYTHING.

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Another pesky reflection-in-the-mirror situation.

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Ever wake up in the morning with the feeling that you’ve been riding all night? (Not a bad photo – just bad taste on the part of the occupier.)

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Unless the doggie is going with the property he/she should have been omitted.

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Another wonky angle,  camera shake, reflection in the mirror classic.

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Because one thing prospective purchasers want to see is the contents of the current owner’s fridge.

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From County Mayo, another property photographer going for the impressionist look. Very artistic.

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It would have taken only two minutes to tidy the room and get rid of the clutter.

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Yet more clutter. Why photograph the room in this state?

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How untidy can you get?

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Property photography 101 – keep humans out of the pictures!

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Yet another stray dude.

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And another one.

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Is it a ghost?

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Check out the figure on the wall. Creepy!

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I can’t blame the photographer for not tidying this up. There’s a limit to what he/she can be expected to do.

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I have no idea what this is supposed to be.

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The conservatory with rubbish bags is not a good look.

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Another photographer who went for the impressionist look. It references Van Gogh’s “Chair” nicely, don’t you think?

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Darn mirrors. If only there was a way to shoot an interior without getting your (and the occupant’s) reflection in the photo. (Hint: hire a proper photographer.)

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Badly lit and taken at a resolution totally unsuitable for uploading at this size. It may have looked OK (ish) on that cheap 2MP compact you bought 15 years ago but really, what *were* you thinking when you published this?

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Nice white van. I presume though that you meant to show the room?

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Aimed at buyers with chronic myopia, perhaps? It will look just like this in reality to them.

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Ugh. Another tiny resolution image enlarged far beyond its limits. And having a vehicle in the drive is a big no-no –  people are interested in buying the house, not the car.

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This might be a winner in a photo competition for dark, moody interiors. As a photo designed to sell a house it’s crap.

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Oh dear. This will never feature in The House Beautiful magazine. If the owner/renter couldn’t be arsed to tidy the place up before you arrived get him/her to do it before you take a photo. Or, tidy the damn place yourself. Don’t show this kind of thing to the nation.

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Did you even stop to think that maybe, just maybe, the inclusion of the ironing board might not have been the best compositional idea? Re-positioning the stools should also have been a no-brainer. Pity too about the dark spot in the foreground which the built-in flash couldn’t illuminate.

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The unmade-bed-and-untidy-room is not a good look.

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The occupiers clearly didn’t give a damn about how the place looked. Your job is to make it look somehow half-decent for the camera.

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Did you not have your rubber gloves with you to pick up the dirty towel? An essential item in any property photographer’s arsenal. There’s a lot more wrong with this shot but the towel grabs our attention.  

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Ireland’s answer to the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

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Poorly lit and the toilet seats in property photos should *never* be up.

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Another out-of-focus disaster.

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This property should be of interest to those keen to investigate psychic phenomena – that bright spot on the lower right may be evidence of an apparition.

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Ah, look – Compo and Nora Batty on the telly! Tip: switch off TVs when photographing rooms.

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Cast A Giant Shadow was a good 1966 film starring Kirk Douglas and Senta Berger. This is a bad photograph.

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Not a bad self-portrait, dude. What’s it doing on a property website?

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Shower units are usually presented in the vertical position.  And is that a reflection of your hand holding the camera?

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This might have been a contender were it not for the lack of sharp focus, the uneven lighting and the blue car outside the window.

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Another photographer-in-the-picture situation.

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From the  black-hole-of-Calcutta school of property photography. Ain’t never going to be a success.

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I presume you inadvertently clicked the shutter while looking at something else.  There can be not other explanation. But why post it?

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Too many toilet rolls.

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Would it have killed you to remove the clothes from the banisters before taking the photo?

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Not a great photo but it would have been significantly improved had you removed the bucket and brush.

Sadly, these kind of photos are not uncommon on property websites. Apparently there’s a lot worse out there. A Twitter contact of mine says he saw a photo of a room with a guy sitting watching telly!  I would love to see such examples so if you come across any please drop me a line: carrigman@gmail.com.

Obtaining my ARPS

In March 2012 I achieved my Licentiateship of the Royal Photographic Society, the LRPS.

The next distinction to be aimed for was the Associateship which, according to the RPS, requires “images of exceptional standard and a written Statement of Intent (what you hoped to achieve with the work). This is a significant step up from the LRPS. At this stage a creative ability and a personal style (what makes your work unique to you), along with complete control of the technical aspects of photography must be evident.”

The problem I faced was fixing on a subject. I do mostly landscape photography and seascapes feature a lot given my proximity to the coastline of East Cork. I considered a panel of seascapes but I wasn’t confident that I could bring a personal style to bear. Long exposures taken by the coast is a technique that I like but it can hardly be described as a personal style. I’m sure the RPS judges have seen it done far better. I needed something a bit different. But what?

Then, one afternoon last November, I was walking by the River Lee in Cork City. There was a high tide and the reflections from North Mall looked beautiful in the calm waters of the river. I had my little pocket camera with me – a Sony RX100 – and I took some pictures.

When I processed them I decided to invert the images so that they appeared the wrong way up as if you were looking at the buildings straight on rather than at reflections. They looked more like paintings than photographs. I realised then that I had an Associateship subject. I booked my place for the Distinctions sittings in Birmingham in March.

Throughout November and December and part of January I made numerous visits to the city to photograph reflections, timing my trips to coincide with the high tides. I took hundreds of exposures. I used the Sony RX100 throughout – it was far less conspicuous than one of my Canon DSLRs and was thus ideal when traversing the city. Besides, I knew its capabilities and I was confident that I could produce 15×10 prints from it without compromising on quality.

I whittled down the images to about sixty from which I would make a panel. I made individual 6×4 prints and began the hard work of deciding on the final fifteen.

This is a tortuous process. It’s not a matter of just producing fifteen good prints – they must work together as a panel which must have a logic and a coherence and which must reflect the Statement of Intent. I began by laying out fifteen prospective photos in three panels of five (I had opted for the five/five/five layout). This became a daily ritual for weeks – shuffling the 6x4s, removing some, adding others. Each time I had what I thought was a finished panel I would return to it the next day and re-arrange it once again. Eventually I arrived at a final decision – I had a panel that I was satisfied with.

I began printing 15x10s on Ilford Galerie Smooth Pearl paper (now discontinued) on my Epson R3000. Some prints worked first time out of the printer, others required two or more attempts before I was satisfied. This is where home-printing has a huge advantage over labs: you can keep at it until you get the results you require. I dry-mounted them on adhesive backing board and placed them in white A3 mounts.

This process was completed two weeks before the distinctions sitting date, March 3rd. In the meantime I was wracked with doubt. Was I kidding myself? Was the panel up to standard? Would the prints be eviscerated by the judges on the day? Why did I subject myself to this ordeal?

The day of decision started out well. I was on the 6:45am flight out of Cork to Birmingham, the panel in a secure and well-padded case in the hold. The flight was due to land at 8am. Shortly after the pilot began the descent however he began to fly in a holding pattern. The airport was shrouded in fog and no flights were landing. He would circle and wait for it to lift. This continued for about fifteen minutes whereupon he announced that he was diverting to Manchester as there was no sign of the fog disappearing. This was a bad omen for the rest of the day. Would I be able to get to the RPS venue at all?

When we landed in Manchester about twenty minutes later I phoned the RPS HQ and told them what happened and asked them to advise their representative in Birmingham that I hoped to get there sometime later in the morning.

I arrived at 11:50am following a two-hour coach trip from Manchester. Was I too late? Would I have to re-schedule the application to another sitting? I needn’t have worried. I was assured that they would be able to fit in my panel before lunch. After grabbing a much-needed coffee I returned to the auditorium to await my fate.

There were two panels judged before mine. There was an excellent black and white one which I came in on at the very end and which the judges praised highly. The next was a series of colour still-lifes of food which was technically very accomplished. However, the Statement of Intent by the photographer did not match the photographs and this was probably the main reason for the panel failing. (The judges had some compositional criticisms as well.) It cannot be emphasised enough: the Statement of Intent is crucial.

Next up was my panel.

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I was glad at least to see the prints were placed exactly as I had indicated in my hanging plan. One of the judges read out my Statement of Intent:

I want to show in these inverted reflections how a river is like a multi-faceted artist, by turns – realist, impressionist, and modernist, taking the mundane aspects of the city, its buildings, trees and bridges, and transforming them into a variety of shimmering, evanescent images.

It is not a pleasant experience to sit there while the judges are reviewing your work. They sit and consider the panel first from a distance of a few feet. Then they stand and review the prints close-up, taking down some of them from the stand the better to examine them in detail. They were discussing them among themselves for awhile – to me it seemed like an age – and then they sat down. This was it: the verdict. Oh God, please let this torture be over soon.

The chairperson of the judges asked one of them to comment. He stood and faced the audience. “I think this is a stunning panel” he said. He found the concept of inverted images “very clever” and had not seen it before. I could hardly believe my ears. Another judge commented on how her favourite print looked like a water-colour painting. Yet another told the audience that the prints contained a wealth of detail that would not be apparent from where they were sitting. The chairperson asked the judges to vote and then announced that I was to be recommended for the Associateship (which was formally ratified by the RPS Council on 13th March).  I stood to acknowlege the applause. It was an incredible feeling – a mixture of overwhelming relief and joy. I hardly needed an aircraft to return to Cork later that day – I think I could easily have floated home.

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Camino de Santiago: Sarria to Santiago

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Last June I wrote about my decision to walk a section of the Camino  https://carrigmanblog.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/preparing-for-the-camino/ and on the 19th September my plans became a reality and I flew to Santiago to spend five days walking the path.

I am well aware that this was very much a Camino-lite. Five days and 110 kms are insignificant against the full Camino de Francés which takes about thirty three days. (There are other Camino routes as well and the longest is the Via de la Plata which starts in Seville and takes about forty days).  For those real Camino veterans, those that have walked either the whole route in one go or have done considerably longer sections than the Sarria to Santiago “tourist” leg,  this account will, rightly, read very much like a dilettante’s impressions.  It is written primarily for those who may be interested in giving the Camino a go but who do not want to  commit to more than a week’s walking.  Of more interest, perhaps, will be the photographs as they (I hope) give a good idea of what the route looks like and what to expect on the way. (Left click on any photograph to see it in a larger size.)  At the end of the article is a section I’ve entitled “Practicalities” – a list of items that I brought with me as well as a day-by-day itinerary.    

First thing to do before setting off was to get my Pilgrim Passport – my credencial –  stamped at the reception desk of the B&B I stayed at in Sarria.  Anyone doing the last 100 kms needs two stamps per day in order to qualify for a compostela –  a certificate of completion of the pilgrimage – at the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago.  Anywhere you stay will stamp the passport as will churches, bars and restaurants along the way.

The accommodation I had booked in Sarria was ideally placed for commencing the Camino.  I walked out the door, took the next left and there was a yellow arrow pointing the way. The yellow arrow, like the scallop shell symbol, is a distinguishing mark of the Camino and, on the section I walked at least, meant that it is practically impossible to lose your way. At no point on the trek had I to ask myself – ” which way now?”.  In any event, all you needed to do was to follow other walkers. The Sarria to Santiago section is the most popular one and for nearly the entire route there were walkers within 200 yards or so of me at all times.

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Heading out of Sarria on a foggy morning

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110 kms to go! These  concrete waypoints as well as the ubiquitous yellow arrows guide the way

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After leaving Sarria the path wound through some woodland and then climbed into open farmland. There was a heady smell of pig manure from the fields.  The smell of manure and cow dung was prevalent  through long sections of the Camino as to be expected in an agricultural area.  It’s not exactly Chanel No 5 but it’s a healthy rural aroma nonetheless.

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Walking though the farmland in the early morning fog lent the scene an appropriate mystical feel and I was  reminded of the lines “For you are driving your horses through/The mist where Genesis begins” from Patrick Kavanagh’s “To The Man After The Harrow”.

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“The mist where Genesis begins”

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A soft-drink dispensing machine in unlikely juxtaposition with a farm building. 

As the morning wore on the sun burned off the fog and the full vista of the countryside was revealed.

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The path often went through little hamlets and farmyards:

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Cows have right of way

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This photo of cyclists reminds me to advise walkers to leave their iPods at home. Cyclists tend to whizz by every now and then and, especially on narrow sections, can be dangerous if you are unable to hear them approaching from behind. In any case, wearing an iPod is undesirable as you cut yourself off from the sounds of the countryside – the birdsong, the lowing of the cattle, the “cock-a doodle-dos” of the cockerels in the early morning – as well as impeding human contact which is an essential part of the Camino experience.

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 A walker feeding a horse an apple. Apples were in season and very plentiful.

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The first time I saw one of these structures – practically every farm had one – I was intrigued. What was its function?  The cross suggested some religious significance. Was it a shrine? If so, why was it bricked-up? Was it some kind of tomb perhaps? Used they bury bodies inside them? The truth turned out to be far more prosaic – it’s a corn-crib used for ripening husks of corn.

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Taking a break in the midday sun at one of the many cafés that dot the Camino. There is no need to take food or drink provisions in your rucksack. Apart from saving weight, stopping off at a café is a sociable event.

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Some short sections involve walking on open road, mostly minor roads with little or no traffic and occasionally you have to cross a busy main highway (the N-540).

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A punnet of delicious raspberries purchased from an honour stall – you take the item and leave the money in the box provided.

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Arrows point the way.

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My shadow in the early morning sunshine. I started out each day at 8 o’clock at the latest and walked for about 6 to 7 hours. It became very hot in the middle of the day and so walking for longer was impractical. The earliest I set out was at 6:45 am  on the last day into Santiago. It was dark and the moon and the stars shone. The route was through woodland and I had to use my head-torch for illumination.  It was balmy and the only sound was the crickets chirping in the undergrowth. Ahead of me, like fireflies, were other walkers shining their lights.  I passed two Spanish girls who had a tiny torch that gave very little light whereas my Petzl emitted a fine beam that lit up the path.  As I passed the girls one of them said – “Gracias por la luz!” I’m sorry I didn’t do more very early starts.  Walking from the darkness into light seems appropriately symbolic for the Camino as well as being a practical way of avoiding the hard slog of the hot afternoons.

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The bridge at Portomarin

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Walkers taking a rest by a refreshing stream 

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The Camino wends its way through beautiful countryside

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People leave their mark 

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Pulpo

At Melide, halfway between Sarria and Santiago is an obligatory stop-off point: Pulperia Ezequiel on the Main Street. It serves delicious pulpo (boiled octopus served with olive oil and paprika) which is reputedly the best in Galicia and, perhaps, in the whole of Spain. The place was teeming with walkers seated at the long communal wooden benches when I arrived there about 11am on Sunday.  Behind the counter where you order your pulpo is a large pot of boiling water in which the octopus is cooked overseen by a man with tattoos of tentacles on his arms. It is served on a wooden platter and, with good bread and a bottle of beer or a jug of wine, it is one of the finest meals you can have.  

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A memorial at O Pedrouzo to Myra Brennan of Kilkenny and Sligo who died in Santiago in 2003 after completing her second consecutive Camino

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Dawn light through the trees near Santiago on the last day of the walk

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On the outskirts of Santiago

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The open countryside has been left behind and the route goes through more built-up areas  

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A monument marking the visit of Pope John Paul 11 on the top of Monte de Gozo just outside Santiago

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Myself in typical dorky tourist pose by the John Paul 11 monument 

The end of the road: Santiago

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A constant stream of walkers ending their Camino enter Santiago every day

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People congratulate each other on completion and bid farewell, It can be a very emotional experience.   

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This young man did his Camino barefoot and his feet seemed perfectly fine. I heard him explaining to a couple of girls that he lost one of his shoes early on the route and as he couldn’t walk with just one, and as it was not possible to buy another pair, he simply went without any.

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Pilgrims queue up to get their compostelas (certificates of completion) at the Pilgrims Office. You have to present your stamped credencial (pilgrim passport) and you complete a register indicating your name, age, nationality, where you began your camino and whether you did it with a religious or a non-religious motivation.  There are separate compostelas depending on your answer to the latter.

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The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the terminus point of all the Caminos.  Every day at noon there is a mass for pilgrims and it is full to overflowing during the busy walking season. People of all religions and none attend as it is a fitting ritual to mark the completion of the walk. Occasionally, you may be lucky (as I was) to  witness the Botafumeiro (“smoke expeller” in Galician) being swung. It is a large censer – an incense holder –  suspended  from the roof of the cathedral by pulleys. Eight red-robed tiraboleiros pull the ropes producing increasingly large oscillations of the censer. It swings to and fro almost reaching the ceiling all the while emitting thick clouds of incense.

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Preparing the censer 

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The censer swinging across the transept of the cathedral  

My five days walking the Camino was a wonderful experience but it was too short.  When I reached Santiago I wished I had at least another week to go.  Like most other people who have tried the Camino, I want to go back again.  Next year I may do another section perhaps starting from St  Jean Pied de Port in France and go over the Pyrenees into Spain.  Or maybe the Via de la Plata from Seville to Cáceres.  Health and opportunity permitting  I can see myself tramping my way along some section or other of the Camino for several years to come.

 

Practicalities

What I brought with me:

1. Two Craghopper trousers (one with removable lower legs to turn them into shorts)
2. Merrell Walking Shoes (purchased several months ago and well worn-in)
3. Two Tilley briefs
4. Two pairs of Tilley socks
5. Tilley hemp hat
6. Fleece jacket
7. Four tee-shirts (could have got by with two)
8. Lightweight canvas shoes (for relaxing in after a day’s walk)
9. iPod (did not use)
10. Platypus hydration bag (used once)
11. Pocket towel (did not use)
12. Sleeping bag liner (did not use)
13. Lightweight rain jacket (did not use)
14. Two-metre length of string and a few clothes pegs for drying clothes
15. Phone/camera charger and socket adapter
16. Spare 16GB memory card and spare battery for camera (spare battery was not required)
17. Sony RX100 compact camera with 16GB memory card
18. Phone
19. Mini-tripod (pocketable) for camera (did not use)
20. Pilgrim Passport
21. Small cheap notebook and biro
22. Relevant pages ripped from John Brierley’s book “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago”
23. Razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, “King of Shaves” mini-bottle of shaving oil
24. Compeed blister plasters (did not use but still a vital piece of kit)
25. Factor 30 sun-screen
26. Biofreeze pain-relieving roll-on treatment (did not use)
27. Boarding passes/passport/money/keys
28. Petzl head-torch
29. Six large (10 inches x 10 inches) zip-lock bags for storing some of the above items

30. Kindle

The trick to carrying a minimum of clothes is to use the “wash one, wear one” principle. Tilley clothing is ideal for this as their products are quick drying and washed and hung out at night they will normally be dry in the morning.

I used a Berghaus “Freeflow 30+6” rucksack (36 litre capacity) to house the above. It proved a very comfortable fit and was very easy to carry. The total packed weight was 7.4 kgs.  If your bag weighs more than 10 kgs you need to seriously examine what you are carrying.  I am also assured by people who have done the full 30+ days Camino that a 30-40 litre rucksack is perfectly adequate.

I did not carry water. On the first day I filled the Platypus with 1.5 litres of water but I felt it added significantly to the weight so I ditched the contents. There is no shortage of cafes on the route and it’s pleasant and sociable to stop and buy water and drink it on the premises.  It all depends on your personal preference of course: some people like to have water available at all times.

I did not use walking poles. I had considered bringing them (I use them for hill-walking at home) but I decided against it and I’m glad I did. I think they would, for me, have been more of a nuisance than a help.

I did not use the iPod. Apart from the undesirability of insulating yourself from the sounds of the countryside and the interaction with other people there is a very real practical reason why you shouldn’t use one: cyclists. Cyclists tend to whizz by in groups of four or five and, on a narrow path, you would probably not hear the faint tinkling of their bells as they approach – those that have bells fitted to their bikes in the first place, that is (few of them do).

My itinerary

I did not go through a travel agency when planning the trip. I booked the flights online as well as the accommodation along the way (primarily via TripAdvisor and LateRooms.com).  There is no need to book accommodation if you plan on using the alburgues – the pilgrims’ hostels – which are widely available. I made a conscious decision to avoid them. I appreciate that by so doing I missed out on an important Camino experience but I am a light sleeper and I did not want to be disturbed by the comings and goings of people at all hours of the night during the busiest section of the Camino when the alburgues would be busier than at any other part of the route.

I flew from Dublin to Santiago with Aer Lingus on Thursday 19th September. I got a bus from Santiago airport to Lugo (about 2 hours) and another bus from Lugo to Sarria (30 minutes).

Friday 20th Sep:                  Sarria to Portomarin                      23kms     About 6 hours

Saturday 21st Sep:              Portomarin to Palas de Rei           22kms   About 6 hours

Sunday 22nd Sep:               Palas de Rei to Arzua                     28kms     About 7 hours

Monday 23rd Sep:               Arzua to Amenal                             23kms     About 6 hours

Tuesday 24th Sep:              Amenal to Santiago                        14kms    About 4 hours

I flew back to Dublin on Thursday 26th.