Welcome to our walking blog. The aim of this blog is to give readers a further insight into walking in Northern Ireland. The blog will cover everything from seasonal walking suggestions and events to information on how to best practice ‘Leave No Trace’ techniques and walk responsibly in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We will also be inviting local accomplished mountaineers and industry experts to give their thoughts and opinions into Northern Ireland top walking spots and other trails more off the beaten track.
For your definitive guide to walking in Northern Ireland visit www.walkni.com
Posted on April 24, 2015 @ 4:33 PM in
From dramatic cliff top paths to glorious sandy beaches and rolling waves nothing quite beats the feeling of fresh air and spectacular views on a coastal walk. Whether you’re looking for a quick jaunt along the shores of Strangford Lough, fancy a quiet stroll on a sandy beach or want to take in the iconic views of the Causeway Coast Northern Ireland has plenty to offer when it comes to coastal walking. With this in mind we have put together a few of our favourite walking routes for you to enjoy – it’s time to get out and smell the seaweed!
Mussenden Temple & Downhill Demesne, Castlerock, Co. Derry~Londonderry
Distance: 2 miles circular
There cannot be a more wild and dramatic headland in Northern Ireland than Downhill Estate. With fabulous views that stretch over the whole of the North Coast of Ireland and open windswept cliff top walks, it is not surprising that the estate is part of the Binevenagh Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is a well-known icon.
(Photos l-r Instagrammers: @naomi_winder, @livcardale, @g_clements)
North Antrim Cliff Path, Bushmills, Co. Antrim
Distance: 4.8 miles (one way) linear
Featuring one of the best panoramic views of the iconic Giant’s Causeway and ending at the ruins of Dunseverick Castle, spectacular cliff landscape & rich biodiversity of the coast merge effortlessly with the surrounding farmland to provide what is one of the most spectacular cliff top walks in Ireland. Leave the trail of visitors behind as you pass by attractively named headlands such as Port na Spaniagh, The King & his nobles, Plaiskin Head, Hamiliton’s Seat, Benbane Head, Bengore Head, Portnabrock and Port Moon Bay to experience one of the Causeway Coast’s best kept secrets.
(Photos l-r Instagrammers: nick_crater98, @mark_mac_)
Dundrum Coastal Path, Dundrum, Co. Down
Distance: 1.6 miles (one way) linear
Running along a stretch of disused railway line on the western shore of Dundrum Inner Bay this path forms part of the Lecale Way and is great for birdwatching. Beginning in the small National Trust car park just to the north of Dundrum the route can also be easily reached by walking out from the village itself. At high tide it has the feeling of a riverside walk and can be visually quite stunning, particularly on clear sunny days. At low tide the bay becomes a very wide mudflat that is home to various groups of birds and offers a completely different perspective.
(Photos l-r Instagrammer: @ clarec26ou)
Castle Ward Shore Trail, Strangford, Co. Down
Distance: 0.7 miles (one way) linear
Starting in the Shore Car Park, this wide and flat trail suitable for all abilities follows the shore of Strangford Lough from the farm yard to Audley's Quay and back hugging the stunning shoreline of Strangford Lough. At Audley’s Quay you will find Audley’s castle, dating back to the 15th century and used as a filming location in HBO's epic series Game of Thrones.
Kebble Cliff Walk, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim
Distance: 1.9 miles circular
When it comes to coastal walking it doesn’t get much better than Northern Ireland’s most northernly inhabited island. One of six waymarked routes on the island this walk takes in the south of the island with stunning views of dramatic sea cliffs, sheltered bays and arches along the way. The route also passes Bull Point, near to where Richard Branson crash landed his hot air balloon in 1987, on his record breaking transatlantic flight.
(Photos clockwise from top left Instagrammers: @andrea_ricordi, @ottomate, @yawensmall, @kdeckr)
Portballintrae Causeway Loop, Portballintrae, Co. Antrim
Distance: 5.5 miles circular
This circular route on the stunning Causeway Coast from Portballintrae to the Giant’s Causeway provides the perfect combination of sandy beach and romantic cliff top views. Crossing the picturesque Three Quarter Mile Foot Bridge the route continues through the sand dunes to emerge onto Runkerry Beach and along cliff path to the Giant’s Causeway before climbing uphill for spectacular views over the world heritage site.
(Photos l-r Instagrammers: @memac13, @yawensmall)
Layd Church, Cushendall, Co. Antrim
Distance: 0.5miles circular
Beginning at the idyllic village of Cushendall this attractive coastal path hugs the cliffs to the south and offers spectacular views of the Scottish coast, Lurigethan, Red Bay Castle and Garron Plateau. The walk leads to the ruins of Layd Church; a 13th century Franciscan foundation. A church from 1306 to the end of the 18th century the graveyard includes a cross in memory of Doctor James MacDonnell, pioneer in the use of chloroform for surgical operations.
Port Path, Portsetwart, Co. Derry~Londonderry
Distance: 6.5 miles (one way) linear
Another integral section of the Causeway Coast Way this the gently undulating route, which includes several sets of steps, hugs the scenic stretch of coastline between the seaside towns of Portstewart and Portrush. Passing beaches and promenades the panoramic views of the coastline aren’t the only thing to enjoy on this walk, other points of interest include St. Patrick's Well (thought to be the fresh water supply for the Stone Age inhabitants of the sand hills), numerous Ice houses, Portnahapple, a natural sea pool for outdoor bathing and the Dominican Convent, perched on the cliff's edge.
(Photos l-r Instagrammers: @elliejoypenrose, @sixmileimages)
Crawfordsburn Country Park Coastal Path, Crawfordsburn, Co. Down
Distance: 1.9 miles (one way) linear
This walk, beginning at Crawfordsburn Country Park located on the southern shores of Belfast Lough, ambles through a hay meadow, full of wild flowers in the summer months before continuing along sandy beaches, including Crawfordsburn Beach and Helen's Bay, passing the wartime fort at Grey Point (a military fort built in 1904), before finishing at Sea Park. If you can’t get enough of the beautufl coastline you can extend your route along the North Down Coastal Path.
(Photos l-r Instagrammers: @michaelog1, @broom94)
Check out WalkNI for even more coastal and beach walks in Northern Ireland!
Posted on March 30, 2015 @ 5:02 PM in
Dramatic Tors, breath-taking reservoirs, rugged landscape and barely another sole in sight; you can expect to find this and more in the Mourne Mountains, Co. Down. The highest and most dramatic mountain range in Northern Ireland, its summits are crowned by granite tors with a network of paths and tracks, providing incredible opportunities for exploration.
The beloved inspiration for CS Lewis’s fictional land of Narnia with all mountains situated within a relatively small geographical area the beauty of the Mournes is that you can conquer and explore a vast variety of the hills all within a matter of days and all from one base. With this in mind, we have designed a variety of walking itineraries coupled with some great offers in nearby walker friendly accommodation to enable you to get the best out of a short break in the Mourne Mountains. Two of our favourites are below however for even more itineraries download the free ‘Mourne Mountains Walker’s Guide’.
Conquer the Peaks
A challenging 3 day itinerary climbing the 6 highest peaks in the Mournes including Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland’s highest summit at 853m / 2,798ft. As the name would suggest this itinerary requires a high level of fitness but rewards walker’s efforts with breath-taking views out over the Irish Sea and beyond!
Day 1: Slieve Donard, Commedagh and Bearnagh 17.5 km (10.9 miles)
A challenging circular walk with some strenuous ascents, this route takes in 3 of the highest peaks in the Mourne Mountains (Slieve Donard 853m, Slieve Commedagh 765m, Slieve Bearnagh 739m) with wonderful views out to the Irish Sea and back into the High Mournes. The route follows part of “The Brandy Pad”, a track created by the boots of smugglers and the hooves of heavily laden ponies, particularly during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Walker Review : “This walk is a gem, the long walk in from Trassey ensures the modern world is left behind, and it's just you, your companions and the Mournes. Each mountain has it's own magic, and the views are a treasure.” Posted on WalkNI.com by Tom
Image: Slieve Commedagh
Day 2: Slieve Binnian 7 miles (11 km)
This fantastic circular walking route follows the Mourne Wall to the summit of Slieve Binnian (747m). It then traverses between the spectacular South and North Tors with stunning views of Silent Valley and Ben Crom Reservoirs before descending along a track past the Blue Lough, Annalong Forest and back to Carrick Little car park near Annalong village. Between 1904 - 1922 many skilled people were employed seasonally to build the Mourne Wall which stands up to 8ft high and 3ft wide and took 18 years to complete. 22 miles (35.5km) in length it connects the summits of no less than 15 mountains, including Slieve Donard.
Walker Review: “The castles at the top are well worth the climb and the view from the top of Binnian must be the best you will get anywhere in the Mournes.” Posted on WalkNI.com by Trevor Greer
Image: Ben Crom Reservoir viewed from Slieve Binnian Loop
Day 3: Meelmore and Meelbeg 5.5 miles (9 km)
This is a moderate circular walk in the Mournes, summiting 2 of the 7 highest peaks in the region, Slieve Meelmore and Slieve Meelbeg. The walk starts and finishes from Ott car park ascending to the col between Slieve Loughshannagh and Carn Mountain before following the Mourne Wall to the summits of Slieve Loughshannagh (619m) and Slieve Meelbeg (708m) and up to the summit of Slieve Meelmore (687m). Once at the bottom of the valley, the route picks up the Ulster Way, passing Fofanny Dam.
Walker Review: “This is a perfect short walk - warm up on the walk up Ott, stretch out on Loughshannagh and Meelbeg and then rise to the challenge of Meelmore.” Posted on WalkNI.com by Georgina Milne
Image: Mourne Wall ascending Slieve Meelmore
The 'Best of the Mournes’
For those only in the Mournes for the weekend, these 2 invigorating days are perfect to fit in some of the highlights of this spectacular range. This itinerary summits Slieve Binnian and Bearnagh with the option of scaling Slieve Donard, all of which will reward walkers with breath-taking views over the South Down and County Armagh landscapes.
Day 1: Reservoir Views 9.3 miles (15 km)
A strenuous linear walk linking the southern end of the High Mournes to Newcastle via Slieve Binnian, Slievelamagan and the Glen River. Impressive views of Silent Valley Reservoir can be enjoyed from Slieve Binnian and of Ben Crom Reservoir from Slievelamagan, both of which supply Belfast with piped water. The walk starts near Annalong and finishes in Newcastle. From the top of Slieve Donard, on a clear day, walkers can see out over to England’s Lake District, Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland, Snaefell on the Isle of Man, the Scottish island monolith of Ailsa Craig and the Isle of Arran.
Image: Silent Valley
Day 2: Bearnagh and Meelmore 6 miles (9.6 km)
A strenuous walk in the Mournes taking in the peaks of Slieve Bearnagh and Slieve Meelmore, finishing by walking down Happy Valley and along a section of the Ulster Way. This is a circular walk using the Trassey Track as the gateway to the core of the High Mournes.
Walker Review: “This walk has breath-taking views from the top of Bearnagh out to Spelga Dam, down into Kilkeel and out across Newcastle into the deep blue sea... A must for those seeking beautiful scenery and a good leg workout” Posted on WalkNI.com by Claire and Mark
Activities in the Mournes Shuttle Services (AIMSS) provide a shuttle service to walkers in the Mourne Area. Contact 07516 412076 to book. Translink operate a dedicated “rambler” bus service through the Mournes from May-September; Tuesday to Sunday.
Places to Stay – Up to 50% Off for walkers
There are a number of small towns and villages dotted around the foothills of the Mourne Mountains all which make a great base for walkers. Newcastle, a coastal resort around 31 miles (50km) from Belfast and 87 miles (140km) from Dublin, is probably the most popular town located at the foot of Slieve Donard.
Get up to 50% off accommodation for your next walking break in the Mournes –simply contact the accommodation providers listed below directly and quote ‘WalkNI’ when booking. All offers are valid from 1st March 2015 – 31st May 2015. For full T&Cs and a full list of all walker-friendly accommodation offers across Northern Ireland visit WalkNI.com
Burrendale Country Club & Spa, Newcastle, Co. Down – 50% Off 4* Hotel
Slieve Donard Resort & Spa, Newcastle, Co. Down – 15% Off 4* Hotel
The Views Apartments, Newcastle. Co. Down – 3 nights for the price of 2, self-catering
Donard Hotel, Newcastle, Co. Down – 20% Off Hotel
Mourne Heights, Newcastle Co. Down – 15% Off self-catering
Waterfoot Apartment, Newcastle, Co. Down – 3 nights for the price of 2, 4* self-catering
Hillyard House B&B, Castlewellan, Co. Down – £28pp for walking groups
Mourne Haven, Castlewellan, Co. Down – 15% Off self-catering
Dundrum Bay Holiday Cottages, Dundrum, Co. Down – 15% Off 4* self-catering
Downshire Manor Apartment, Dundrum, Co. Down – £100 Off 4* self-catering
Other Places to Stay
Kribben Cottages, Annalong, Co. Down - 3 nights for the price of 2, 4* Self-catering
The Mourne Lodge, Attical, Co. Down - £30pp B&B plus packed lunch
Tory Bush Cottages, Bryansford, Co. Down – 20% Off 3* self catering
Mountains of Mourne Country Cottages, Kilkeel, Co. Down – 3 nights for the price of 2, 3* self-catering
Graceys Barn, Rathfriland, Co. Down – 3 nights for the price of 2, 4* self-catering
Posted on March 13, 2015 @ 4:08 PM in
If you fancy stretching your legs and using the bank holiday for a St Patricks Day Pilgrimage, we’ve put together a list of walks all which have associations with the famous Saint for you to enjoy:
Slemish Mountain, Broughshane, Co. Antrim (1.2 miles circular)
Slemish Mountain rises 1500 feet (437 metres) dramatically above the rural plains to the east of Ballymena. The central core of an extinct volcano, this breathtaking monolith dominates the local landscape however its value as a heritage site is entirely bound up with its association with Saint Patrick. Legend tells that Saint Patrick was captured and brought to Slemish to work as a shepherd under a man named Miluic for around six years. After his escape, many believe that Patrick planned his now famous journey back to Ireland to convert his old master and one of Patrick’s churches is thought to be at the site of the nearby Skerry Churchyard.
Lecale Way Section 1, Downpatrick to Ballyalton, Co. Down (4 miles linear)
Starting in Downpatrick, the medieval capital of County Down this 4 mile linear walk is steeped in Irish Christian heritage and is a section of the 40 mile Lecale Way stretching from Strangford to Newcastle. The walk starts outside the St Patrick’s Centre in Downpatrick, an interpretative exhibition which tells the fascinating story of Ireland's Patron Saint and the arrival of Christianity to Ireland with the option to visit Down Cathedral, where Saint Patrick's remains are buried.
Mourne Mountains, Newcastle, Co. Down
The highest and most dramatic mountain range in Northern Ireland, the Mourne Mountains have more than one association with Saint Patrick. He is thought to have visited the Mournes on his first landings to Ireland and converted the local hill folk to Christianity and it is at the foothill of Slieve Donard, in Newcastle where popular mythology states he famously banished snakes from Ireland. Further into the mountains themselves where a small stream marks the boundary of the Kingdom of Mourne legend has it that there is a rock in the stream with Saint Patrick’s hand print from where he knelt down to drink the water.
North Antrim Cliff Path to Dunseverick Castle, Bushmills, Co. Antrim (4.8 miles linear)
This well maintained walkway follows a key section of the longer Causeway Coast Way & Ulster Way. Nearly 5 miles in length, this section of coast from Giant’s Causeway to Dunseverick Castle is officially referred to as the North Antrim Cliff Path (& maintained by The National Trust). The spectacular cliff landscape & rich biodiversity of the coast merges effortlessly with the surrounding farmland. Ending at Dunseverick, Saint Patrick is recorded as having visited the castle in the 5th century AD, where he baptized Olcán, a local man who later became a Bishop of Ireland. Little now remains of this ancient promontory fort, which was eventually sacked by Vikings and fell into ruin, being replaced as a local stronghold by Dunluce.
Sliabh Beagh Way Section 1: Sliabh Aughnacloy to St. Patrick’s Chair & Well, Co. Fermanagh (7.5 miles linear)
Steeped in local myth and legend, the Sliabh Beagh Way meanders through the valleys of Co Tyrone, the drumlins of Co Monaghan and the lakeland of Co Fermanagh. The first section begins on country lanes and will take you to St Patrick’s Chair & Well (also known as the Druids Chair and Well or St Brigid's Well or St Brigit's Well) in Altadeven Wood. Tradition relates that St Patrick said mass in the Chair and blessed the nearby Well. However it is likely that the site's importance predates St Patrick. The name Altadaven translates as 'Glen of the Druid, or Devil' and archaeological evidence indicates that the Chair was probably also used for pre-Christian rituals.
Gosford Forest Park, Armagh, Co. Armagh (1-4 miles circular)
Armagh is one of the few cities in the world which is home to two cathedrals both named after the same saint – St Patrick. Located just a ten minute drive from the city centre you will find Gosford Forest Park boasting 240 hectares of mixed woodland; the perfect place to enjoy a slice of countryside near the city. The one mile ‘Castle Path’ takes in the Arboretum which boasts a variety of individual, conifer and broadleaf tree species from around the world, some of which are over 150 years old. Alternatively the two and a half mile ‘Greer’s Trail’, takes in Dean Swift’s Well and Chair before reaching the Millpond where the gateway to the original home of the Earls of Gosford can be found.
Happy St Patrick’s Day!
Posted on March 12, 2015 @ 4:13 PM in
When people talk about the highlights of Northern Ireland’s North Coast, the Giant’s Causeway UNESCO World Heritage site is often top of the list, closely followed by Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and the Bushmills Whiskey Distillery. However, ‘Beyond the Giant’s Causeway’ there lies breath taking landscapes and spectacular walking routes just waiting to be explored.
Offering unparalleled views of the Atlantic Ocean from cliff top paths with dramatic cliffs and sandy beaches the 53km ‘Causeway Coast Way’ from Portstewart to Ballycastle along Northern Ireland’s most celebrated coastline, still remains largely untouched despite hosting some of Northern Ireland’s most famous tourist attractions.
Widely regarded as one of the finest coastal walks in Europe, the Causeway Coast Way is a relatively flat linear route best enjoyed over 2 days, during which you can escape from the crowds and immerse yourself in the history and geology of the area all whilst covering plenty of ground underfoot.
“The grandeur of the rugged North Antrim Coast and the deep glens set against the pastoral farmland create other worlds away from busy life.” Dawson Stelfox MBE, the first Irishman to Summit Everest
Getting to the start
Approximately 262km from Dublin the Causeway Coast Way is easily reached by both car and public transport links. A Causeway Rambler bus service is in operation May through September with a number of stops available along the linear route.
Day 1: Portstewart to Portballintrae including the Giant’s Causeway (23.6km)
Clockwise from left: East Strand Portrush, Giant's Causeway, Dunluce Castle, Runkerry Beach)
The walk on day 1 takes walkers on the first 3 sections of the Causeway Coast Waymarked Way. Beginning at St Patrick’s Well at the head of Portstewart Strand, this route follows the coastline via the cliff path as it passes the holiday resort of Portrush and the spectacular 16th century Dunluce Castle perched on a crumbling basalt outcrop above the pounding surf before reaching Portballintrae. The walk continues alongside a section of the Giant’s Causeway and Old Bushmills Railway to reach the Giant’s Causeway UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Detailed route descriptions and a downloadable maps for each of the sections can be downloaded on WalkNI.com
- Best place for food: The Ramore Wine Bar is renowned for its great food and lively atmosphere. A favourite of professional golfer Darren Clarke, this wine bar by the harbour in Portrush is a great place to settle in and sample the relaxed way of life on the North Coast. Harry’s Shack based right on the beach in Portsetwart serves fresh local fish, meats, & home grown vegetables. Opened in 2014, the award winning eatery has been receiving rave reviews since.
Day 2: Portballintrae/ Giant’s Causeway to Ballintoy/Ballycastle (18/27.7km)
Clockwise from left: Dunseverick Castle, Ballintoy Harbour, Portbraddan, Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge
Day 2 of this itinerary takes walkers round Benbane Head and past the ruins of Dunseverick Castle and is officially referred to as the North Antrim Cliff path. After reaching the tiny hamlet of Portbraddan, the route follows the sweeping sands of White Park Bay (one of the first places in Ireland to be settled by Neolithic communities) around a headland of jumbled boulders and sea stacks to the picturesque harbour of Ballintoy. A short detour here will take walkers to Carrick-a-Rede with the opportunity of an exhilarating walk across the world famous rope bridge.
Ballintoy’s hidden beauty is found at the end of the harbour road where you will find a small beach and a limestone harbour dating back to the 18th century a picturesque end to your walk. In recent years this harbour has been a key film location for the television series Game of Thrones.
For those who wish to continue further along the coast, once at Ballintoy there is an option to continue for a further 9.7km on road to Ballycastle. Often walkers prefer not to walk this section.
Detailed route descriptions and a downloadable maps for each of the sections can be downloaded on WalkNI.com
- Best place for food: Roark’s Café in Ballintoy Harbour is one of the most idyllic cafe locations in Northern Ireland. A must for a quick snack or a hot drink when out walking along this coastline (Seasonal opening hours apply). Also based near Balllintoy Harbour another great place open all year round is the Red Door Cottage Tea Room - a traditional Irish cottage with real turf fire, it is the perfect place to stop for a tea and scone or something more substantial.
“...This has to be the best long walk I have ever done. The scenery is spectacular from start to finish. The way is well-marked and for the most part, off-road and traffic free. A real gem, there’s something for everyone- seascapes, cliffscapes, golden beaches, verdant pastures, small towns and world class tourist attractions along the way.” Posted on WalkNI.com by visiting walker Dean Douglas
Places to Stay Along the ‘Way’ – Up to 20% Off for walkers
The route starts at Portstewart Strand with the nearest accommodation in Portstewart town or 1 mile away in nearby Bushmills and ends in Ballycastle all of which have a wide range of walker friendly accommodation to choose from including B&B’s, guesthouses and self-catering accommodation.
All accommodation providers listed below are currently offering some fantastic offers for walkers from 1st March 2015 – 31st May 2015. Contact accommodation providers directly and quote ‘WalkNI’ when booking to avail of the offers. For full T&Cs and a full list of all walker-friendly accommodation offers across Northern Ireland visit the accommodation section on WalkNI.com.
Bushmills Inn, Bushmills, Co. Antrim – 15% Off 4* Hotel
Ballylinny Cottages, Bushmills, Co. Antrim – 15% Off 4* Self Catering
Cul-Erg House, Portstewart, Co. Derry~Londonderry – 10% Off Bed & Breakfast
Corratavey House B&B (part of An Casilean), Ballycastle, Co. Antrim – 20% Off Bed & Breakfast
Glenluce Lodge Guesthouse, (part of An Casilean), Ballycastle, Co. Antrim – 20% Off Bed & Breakfast
Cushleake House, Ballycastle, Co. Antrim - 3 nights for the price 2 4* Self-Catering
Garden Cottage, Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, 3 nights for the price of 2 3* self-catering
Marine Hotel, Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, 15% Off Hotel
More information on this route can be found by visiting WalkNI.com where you can download the free ‘Causeway Coast Way Guide’ as well as the ‘North Coast & Antrim Walker’s Guide’ including route descriptions and maps for you to plan your walking trip and make your own discoveries ‘beyond the Causeway’.
Posted on March 3, 2015 @ 9:45 AM in
Part Two - Chase the Light
There was only one occasion when I was a student that I was evicted from my house and before you start to worry about my moral fibre, I hasten to add this was not for any reprobate behaviour on my part. Rather it was at the request of one of my house mates. He had plans for that evening, you see. Plans that involved entertaining and entertaining a girl, no less. And so, my other house mates and I were duly informed that we were to make ourselves scarce for the evening.
But, before we did, we got to see how he had laid out the place for dinner. The table was set in the corner of the room. Fancy napkins had been purchased and were folded neatly beside the plates. He had even managed to find some matching plates and cutlery (no mean feat in a student house) - everything was arranged just perfectly.
But there was one final vital element. For no amount of carefully laying out and arranging was going to impress this girl if the whole evening was lit with the harsh, cold light of a kitchen fluorescent tube. So a candle was placed in the centre of the table, ready to be lit at just the right time, and to cast the whole scene in soft, warm, flattering light. With the right kind of lighting, the mood was set.
In my previous blog - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Landscapes Part 1, I discussed the composition aspect of photography. The laying out and arranging of the elements in your picture in just the right way. But, as with my house mate, no amount of careful arranging is going to create that perfect mood if the lighting is wrong. Light is the part of photography that can really pack that emotional punch. So here are a few tips and thoughts that might help you think a bit more about lighting and how you can use it effectively in your photography.
1. Make the most of the way light changes during the day
The light across a landscape changes considerably throughout the day. Imagine you are in place for a sunrise, for instance. The first kind of light you see is the blue light of morning twilight, when rich, deep blues dominate the skies and the landscape is still mostly in shadow. As the sun gets closer to the horizon, at first an orange band starts to appear and the clouds above can take on warm tones. Finally, if you’re lucky, when the sun finally rises, the whole scene may be bathed in orange hues and the landscape around you as well as the sky above may be lit with the kind of warm light that brings it all to life. What you will have witnessed is what photographers refer to as the blue hour and the golden hour. Something similar happens at sunset, only in reverse. These are often seen as the best times for landscape photography as both the tone and the softness of the light is so pleasing then.
Just before sunrise at Whiterocks, I was treated to a wonderful fog display on the coast at Dunluce Castle. At this time of the morning, the sky was beginning to take on warmer tones, but the cool soft blues of the ocean and mist had a subtle beauty.
Just after sunrise at Cavehill this morning, the cloud bank lifted slightly, allowing me to catch a glimpse of the sun, still low in the sky. This allowed the light to squeeze through the gap and the whole area was awash in orange.
The wind was howling as I waited on the exposed top of Cavehill for twilight to descend and for the lights of Belfast below to come on. But the whole bitterly cold experience was worth it! I wanted the city below to be lit but I wanted to catch it at twilight when the rich, dark blues of the sky were still on display. As a bonus, the last remnants of the sun set were clinging on to the north west over Black Mountain.
The classic golden hour, when the landscape is bathed in orange hues. This is from the summit of Doan in the Mournes. We had arrived on the snowy peak just a few moments before and my colleague, inspired by the view, threw his arms spontaneously up into the sky. Good job I had my camera handy!
2. Be aware of how lighting can change during the year
It’s often said that as you should avoid photographing around the middle of the day, when the sun is highest in the sky and the light is much less flattering to a landscape. It becomes brighter and gives your landscapes a large dynamic light range (the shadows are too dark, the highlights too bright). The lighting comes too directly from above - during the summer anyway - which means you may have fewer shadows and your landscape photos may lack depth. This means that the best shots during the summer tend to be had around the golden and blue hours.
In contrast to the summer however, the sun during the autumn and winter months is low enough in the sky even at midday to cast long, glorious shadows. So whether it’s a tree in your foreground, or valleys in the distance, winter sunlight can give great contrasts all day long, and not just during the golden and blue hours of sunset and twilight. And very often, these contrasts look very well if done as black and white pictures.
Although this photo of the last ascent up Slieve Bearnagh was taken around midday, the sun was still low enough in the sky in January to cast lovely long shadows on the far side of the Mourne Wall. The black and white treatment accentuates these contrasts.
During the course of the year, the location of the rising and setting sun varies considerably as well. These can lead to very different photo opportunities throughout the annual cycle. Watch out for these and see what different light opportunities are presented as a result.
During the winter, the sun at Portstewart Strand sets well inland. In this case, objects closer to me were backlit and cast into silhouette, while the whole scene was bathed in a coppery glow.
During the summer months, the sun sets much more to the north west, far out over Inishowen. During this sunset, the light was reflected off the wonderful cloud formations, toning down the harshness of the light, and spreading a golden red colour all across the landscape.
3. Be on the lookout for how light can change over the course of minutes
One of the great benefits of the Northern Irish weather to the landscape photographer is its changeability. As the saying goes, if you can’t see the hills, it’s raining. If you can see them, it’s about to rain. This can bring its own challenges to those fond of exploring the great outdoors, but what it means for the landscape photographer is that, whatever the light is at the moment, it’s probably going to change in the next half hour - or even in the next few minutes! So if you spot a good location for a photo, why not wait around for a bit? As well as giving you a well-earned rest, you never know what the light will look like in a quarter of an hour. It may well be worth that wee wait!
This day in the Mournes, I had headed to the ridge along Slievenaglogh. All day the clouds hung low and ominously over the entire landscape. Apart from one ten minute opportunity, after I had packed up for my descent back down, when the clouds parted briefly and a fine display of crepuscular rays lit Ben Crom valley, picking the water out as silvery highlights. I may have packed up. It may well have been freezing cold. But I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity!
4. Shoot with the sun to your side – and shoot into the sun!
It’s often said in photography that you should shoot with your back towards the sun. This provides even lighting with no real exposure problems in your shot. This is true and can often be good advice. But it can result in images that lack emotional punch.
So experiment a bit with your position towards the sun. You could try side lighting, for instance. Turning side on to the sun can be a good thing, even in the golden hour when you may be drawn to photographing the setting sun itself. But look beside you too. The warm light resting over the landscape, along with the long shadows cast by the low sun can be beautiful. And not shooting into the sun means that your camera can see all these beautiful details as it isn’t trying to expose for that very bright sun in your shot.
Two intrepid climbers make their way back down the steep slopes of Bearnagh in the Mournes. The light coming for the side not only lit their faces, but it cast interesting shadows across the valleys in the background.
And sometimes the best shots are waiting for those who turn and face our solar neighbour head on* (this is known as backlighting). In these cases, any foreground detail is often cast into stark silhouette and this can be very striking indeed. Experiment with your position and the placement of the subject in relation to the sun.
One of the most rewarding climbs in the Mournes, Slieve Bearnagh offers amazing panoramic views into the heart of the mountain landscape. My colleague climbed up onto this rock to survey the valleys below – it was the perfect moment for me to shot directly into the sun!
5. Look for lighting contrasts in your landscapes
If you have dramatic lighting, you can sometimes really push the contrasts in your image, increasing the tonal gap between the darkest and lightest aspects of your photo. Sometimes, black and white processing is a good way to process your photo, as it lends itself much more to a highly contrasted approach.
The sun was low in the sky during this December walk up Trassey Track. This meant that the track was in shadow for all of my walk. But the light streaming through the saddle between Meelmore and Bearnagh allowed for a dramatic light contrast, accentuated by converting the photo to black and white.
Contrasts can also present themselves to you courtesy of some of our wonderful Irish clouds. Whether it’s the speckled pattern of light and shade cast on the ground by fluffy cumulus clouds, or whether it’s the light contrasts within the clouds themselves, the tension and drama of the contrasts can play themselves out all around us at times. It’s just down to us to be on the lookout for them!
A few hours earlier, I had been on top of one of those peaks, enjoying the wonderful winter landscape. But after my descent, I quickly headed for the beach at Murlough in the hope of catching a sunset there. My legs were tired from a day’s climb as I forced them to hurry along the boardwalk to the beach, but with a display like this going on in the sky, you can see why I was in a rush! The contrasts between the light of the sun’s rays and the darkness of the clouds and beach were wonderful. And to cap it all, the tops of the silhouetted mountains were picked out in a bit more detail, courtesy of the snow that covered the peaks.
6. Look for colour contrasts
The colour theory as shown on a colour wheel tells us that complimentary colours (such as orange and purple) can work very well together. If you are fortunate enough to find examples of these in the landscape around you, they can really add an emotional power to your image.
I had climbed Cavehill in the hope of getting a sunrise with some snow in the ground. At first, the sky looked like it wasn’t going to deliver anything spectacular. And then, just after the sun rose, some classic Antrim Plateau mist swept in from behind me and over the edge of the cliff. All the water droplets acted as prisms, refracting the sunlight and giving a wonderful diffused glow. The colour contrasts that resulted between the the reddy-orange of the sky and the purple-blue of the snow were straight off an Impressionist’s colour chart and provided wonderful colour contrasts for this scene. If I hadn’t waited a few extra minutes, I would have missed it all!
Alistair Hamill enjoys writing about photography and has published an eBook called ‘Don’t be Afraid of the Dark’ about night photography. You can find out more about it here: www.alistairhamillphotography.com/ebooks
He also has plans to turn these two blogs into an eBook, with all the tips gathered together and illustrated with a wider range of his photos. Check out his webpage in the coming months for download details.
* Disclaimer – if you do, be very careful when looking towards the sun, especially if you are looking through a view finder. Looking directly at the sun can blind you. Use your camera or phone to shade your eyes while taking your photo and check the image afterwards on the view finder.