A Return to the North Antrim Coast
After returning from the north Antrim coast in February 2023, I shared tales of the epic seascapes I had visited to my good friends in Greystones Camera Club. “Why not organise a club trip there?” was the feedback. Why not indeed!
We booked the well located Marine Hotel in Ballycastle for two nights on a weekend at the end of March. The return trip was longer than expected after a tail back on the M50 in Dublin. Descending into Ballycastle, Co Antrim with an empty stomach and fading light, I had no option but to devour a takeaway at Morton’s chipper, an institution for fish and chip in Northern Ireland. A quick spin around by Pan’s Rock and the first image of the weekend was in the bag – a forgettable grey scene of a rocky bay at low tide with Fair Head looming above.
The following morning’s drizzle greeted us ominously at Ballintoy Harbour but best foot forward we took on the weather with good humour at the Secret Cove. The sun glowed red for a few minutes but my rain speckled filters hampered the making of a good image. With the brief glint of good colour gone and a grey sky above, I spent some time in the waves trying to work and rework a composition but to no avail.
On a recent lunchtime visit to the National Gallery in Dublin, I happened upon a painting of Murlough Bay from 1860. I pondered whether 160 years of tide and storm could have altered the beach scene the artist had so beautifully painted or whether the little cottage in the painting was still there. I also suspected the proportions of Fair Head must have been enhanced. But first I had to find the location. Parking at the bay, I proceeded east to the furthest cove and there it was. I was in the painting – proportions correct, beach and rocks unchanged, the cottage still there – all that was missing was the peasant girl. I pondered her life and whether she had survived the post famine years or emigrated to the US. The location is a perfect sunset scene but now the tide was a little further out than in the painting and it was midday but I took a reference photo to compare.
Photography lends itself to a very close relationship and knowledge of the selected landscape through close observation. When a landscape let’s you in – when you can peel back a location’s skin and re-imagine it’s history and people – this forms a memory that becomes a part of you. The Peasant Girl painting was not sole story that revealed itself to me on that special afternoon at Murlough Bay. I showed the painting to a family I had met on the beach and was told that a couple of weeks ago Helena Bonham Carter and Gabriel Byrne had stood in the same location as the peasant girl – shooting a scene from a movie titled Four Letters of Love. A little bit of movie magic to forge the memory deeper! I moved forward onto some rocks and took a long exposure of 4 minutes in the bright light ensuring the little cottage was included in the image. I did not wish to leave for another location and enjoyed a further 2-3 hours at Murlough Bay – photographing trees in infra-red with Fair Head as the backdrop.
A dilemma – dinner at 7pm or Ballintoy for sunset! The latter won out but the drizzle descended again and I sufficed with a long exposure above the bay where the Elephant Rock sleeps. A dash back to Ballycastle, good company, a great meal at the Central Bar (highly recommended) and the banter that follows a super day out taking photographs.
We decided the Giant’s Causeway was a good option for sunrise on the final day of the weekend. We drove down the narrow road to the base of this popular coastal feature as the interpretive centre was closed. Much the same as my previous visit here, I struggled to make a composition work for me – general landscape or abstract. The morning’s shoot was nearly done when a young lad walked to the top of the main stack, looked at his phone – I switched to a 50mm lens, ensured the tripod was relatively level and took 8 images at 0.6 secs hoping he would stay still. He did. Some sunrise colour remained in the sky. Additional depth was added to the image by including part of a rock pool beneath me and capturing an arc of the rocks from left to right and the distant cliffs.
A quick stop at Dunseverick Castle for late morning light in infra-red preceded breakfast and a slow drive home through the Glens of Antrim. Good weekends fly by and though the trip didn’t yield many good images, it was made special by the people who shared it with me.