‘What if this is all the love you’ll ever get, you’d do a couple of things differently I’d bet’ – Snow Patrol
It’s difficult to describe the feeling of travelling by motorbike. It’s also difficult to describe the feeling of being in love. The more I experience of both, the more I realise that it is about being there in a moment of time, a single moment that stirs the senses. Then we look for the next moment and the more we pursue it, the more it evades us. Travel, like love, is a string of moments over a period of time, none of which we can manufacture. You can travel here, there and everywhere and have few moments in the same way that you can know many people, have many partners but never experience the moments that turn into love.
This would be my sixth trip to Ireland. I had made the decision to focus purely on the Beara and Ring of Kerry for over 2 weeks. This was partly because there were a last few minor roads I hadn’t covered in previous years and also a chance to try out my new camera system and focus a bit more on photography and better shots rather than churning miles of tarmac and grabbing shots as almost an afterthought. It’s also another set of blogs and rather than repeat the past (i.e. chronological account of the journey) I’ve decided to talk a little more about each of the shots and the ‘moment’ I took them.
The above photo is an example of being in the moment. It looks stunning doesn’t it, taken from a boat and a great view of the Skelligs. Did I enjoy this moment? I can’t particularly say that I did at the time as I was alternating between shots, trying to stay upright and alter camera settings on a moving boat, holding on to the side while I fed the fish with my lunch, breakfast and, given how much I retched, probably most of the meals for the last week. I got the shot though, discarding countless others, and I seem to recall I had my legs spread wide, my bike boots jammed into the gutter on one side and a friendly American on the other with my nose rubbing up and down on the eyepiece as I struggled to keep any semblance of balance. It took me an hour after getting off the boat to steady my stomach which seemed be moving between my throat and my knees. The interesting thing for me are the birds, pairs flying in a never ending rise and swoop of togetherness – something I didn’t notice at the time. The freeze of the fast shutter – capturing that ‘moment’ that I would otherwise have missed.
The shot above is taken from the Ballghisheen pass as you look back towards the McGillicuddy Reeks. It was the last major road I had to ride in Kerry – always seemed to run out of time on previous trips! The approach to the pass is a long and virtually straight road through open scrub land – reminiscent of the mid West states in many ways.
The peaks of the Reeks and their rolling hills creates a natural canvas for light. As clouds pass overhead being carried by the winds of the Atlantic, they cast their shadow on the moorland below in what is an ever changing dance of light and shadow. This is a dance that has been going on for millenia – you are blessed to have a ticket for a few short moments.
In 2 hours of taking in the scenery, I saw nothing else apart from a group of sheep, resplendent with purple bottoms. There are moments like this when you are on your way to ‘somewhere’ and you linger a little longer…and longer…and then you sit down and let time slip by watching the clouds and you decide to let your destination wait. In much the same way that we do with our loved ones, we give them them time and spend the moment.
Someone once wrote and I forget who, that we are human beings not human ‘doings’. There is a strong analogy I think with travel and love. Getting to the destination is the doing bit, taking it in is the ‘being’. With love, well…I do wonder if when people say ‘the spark is gone’ that they are no longer being together and watching the clouds but they are just travelling to the same destination.
My Goretex boots are great and have kept my feet dry for the last 2 years. I’d waded out into the shallows at Inch beach on a glorious day, aiming to get some slow shutter shots of waves. So there I am, stood in full gear, backpack on, tripod in the water, filters on, exposure set. A black figure, sweating in the relentless rays of the sun surrounded by surfers and sunbathers. My focus was so intense on framing the shot that I didn’t see the wave – I felt it though as it hit my knees and the water flooded into my boots. The sand gave way underneath me, I went one way the tripod went another but somehow I managed to get my balance.
I stayed out in the sea for a good hour, reasoning I was already wet so what the hell. I’d only come to Inch for a coffee as I was aiming to get out to the tip of the Dingle peninsula. Sitting down at the tables outside the coffee shop, I took off my boots, peeled off the sopping wet socks and stretched my feet out which immediately picked up the sand from the floor. Then I heard the laugh from behind me. Declan was a mountain of a man, as broad as he was tall with smiling eyes and an infectious belly laugh. He sat down opposite me, grinned, stroked his beard and laughed again…’I did wonder if you’d gone for a scuba dive you daft fecker’ he roared.
Turns out that he was down from Galway, had planned to come on his bike but had taken the car because he was supposed to be meting his wife and at the last minute she decided not to meet up with him. He was not happy to say the least – a glorious day and stuck in a car. He worked in the care sector and it seemed he had seen a lot of stress in his life. I sipped my coffee, squinted in the bright sun and listened to his tales of his jobs and life. I paused for a moment to squeeze more water out of my socks, he roared with laughter again and insisted he photograph it for all time. I duly obliged. I spoke of my love for Ireland and the way of life – he nodded and paused as though he was going to say something but didn’t and just nodded again. He got it, no words needed.
He looked out to sea and then turned back to me and said ‘did you know that the Irish discovered America?’. I was a bit taken aback as I’d not heard that one before. He talked about the coves in the Eastern edge of the Dingle where an Irish explorer had landed centuries ago and made his home at Ballyferriters cove. He stopped and then drew breath and burst into song, giving me an amazing rendition of the tale of the explorer. Everyone around was listening, he sang on and I tried to catch the words through his thick dialect. No sooner had he finished that he stood up, heartily shook my hand, roared with laughter and shook his head and said he would never forget the English scuba diver. Two hours had gone by, caught in the moment, I never did get to the Eastern tip of the Dingle.
I’d been staying in Killarney as a base for a few days following several nights on a very wet Beara peninsula in the tent. Ireland had one of the wettest winters on record and chatting to a farmer in the pub one hight, he explained how the cost was huge – they were importing feed from the UK and having to tanker waste away because the cows couldn’t be out out to pasture. I met some really interesting characters out on the Beara but thats for another post in this series.
The above shot is taken towards the end of the Gap of Dunloe which (for the first time) I had walked rather than ridden as I wanted to take time to photograph it. I’d seen the light streaming through the gap and wanted to get the reflection on the water and so off I went through the muddy bog, every step getting worse than the last as I sunk ever deeper into the quagmire. The light faded, I set up the camera and waited, trying composition after composition. I ended up sitting on the rocks in the front of the shot for quite some time, watching one cloud pass and then another, just soaking it up and waiting for the best light. It’s a major tourist area of course but in the early morning light, it was just me and the sheep and a soft breeze that seems to whisper.
On my first visit to Ireland I missed the Gap because of time pressures but I’d been told by a lady I stayed with (see my first set of blogs on Ireland) that she thought it was magical. Given that she also ascribed to reptiles running the world, I took it with a pinch of salt (although we did stay up chatting till the early hours!). However, there is something magical about the Gap when it is silent and tourist free. In those moments of silence, surrounded by rock and water and the expanse of the sky, like many of the remote areas I love to visit, there is a calm. As Chris McCandless wrote ‘You are wrong if you think joy emanates from principally human relationships, God has placed it all around us‘. Chris also wrote ‘Happiness is only real when shared‘ and there is also an element of truth within that….maybe this blog allows me that release.
To the left is the Ring of Kerry with the Skellig Ring straight ahead and Moll’s gap behind. To the right is the track to the Black Valley (which then leads to either the Ballaghisheen Pass or the Gap of Dunloe. All are beautiful and engaging rides for different reasons and this point on the Ring is one of my favourites as the scenery all around is stunning and no matter which way you go, it’s going to be spectacular. The shot was taken at the end of a long day of riding where I’d ridden the Beara, the Sheeps Head and ultimately ended up here, tired, sweaty and grinning. The day wouldn’t end there though- with glorious golden light, I tracked back to the Beara and the Healy pass to shoot it at sunset.
I think I had used the quote before ‘There’s a sunset and a sunrise every day. You can be there for it. You can choose to put yourself in the way of beauty’. We get so locked down into the modern life – emails, work, social pressure that we forget that it isn’t (it really isn’t) what it’s all about. It’s not even an effort to put yourself in the way of beauty – you just re-direct your time from the things that aren’t beautiful which consume our time (insert any social media platform name here….). Life is an eternal set of choices – we never get them all right, we always have regrets but the point for me is to take each day afresh and do your best to put yourself in the way of beauty. Put down your phone, go and watch the sun set, walk up the hill, ride the coast. No one in their final hours is ever going to say ‘do you remember when i got all those likes on my instagram post’ or ‘what a great presentation I gave that day in the office’. We will remember those sunsets, those tender hugs, the touch of our love when we are sad, the smiles of our family as we are re-united. The rest is filler.
Not often a composition comes together pretty much perfectly as you are walking along. I’d parked the bike at the car park near the Gap of Dunloe, hiked a mile or two up it (not easy in full bike gear) and at the bridge, there was the horse, the flowing water and the mountains. I’m not a good enough photographer/processor to do it justice and on the small screen it doesn’t look so good but blown up…well, it will be going on my wall. There are many times that I ride to somewhere, the weather turns or the clouds obscure the light and I just don’t get the shot I want. Then there are the times like this when just being there means you get lucky. I’d planned many shots for this trip – many didn’t succeed because of weather but this one just fell into my lap. Did I say luck? I guess just putting myself in the way of beauty made it possible.
Which brings me to the close of this blog and beings me back to the quote at the beginning. We have a limited time on this planet and we never know how long that is going to be. It doesn’t matter how long it is, what matters is how it’s used. A 100 years of ugliness does not outweigh 1 day of beauty. We all have that choice every day, spend time in the moments that matter – we never know how much love we will ever get. More being, less doing. See you in the next blog.