Recently I took some time out to visit the West Coast of Ireland. Connemara and the Galway coast.
Normally I take time out to go to Scotland, but I was drawn to revisit Connemara, a place that I went to as a child.
The childhood trip was a family holiday with our neighbours. All that I and my siblings remember about it are the many accidents that befell us as we played on the shore of Lough Corrib and messed around in rowing boats. Rocks gashing heads, severe sunburn, falling out of top bunks while asleep, and a near drowning...... such is the stuff of memories. I was keen to see if the place was as I remembered it, and also to visit the beautiful white sand beaches and peat bogs.
Yes, peat bogs.
'Is this normal?' I ask myself.
Connemara is steeped in history, dotted with copious relics. Castles and myths. Churches and icons.
Yet I passed these by in favour of peat bogs and seaweed.
The majority of tourists were definitely there for the relics. Castles and statues, long coach journeys around the very tortuous coastal road, and the occasional five minute pit stop to admire a view or have a little chat in a grassy spot beside some gorse bushes.
I felt lucky to have a car and the freedom to go wherever I chose.
On my first day I sat and looked at the rocks beside my hotel.
Lichens and sea pinks, with waves lapping gently.
I felt calm. I definitely felt normal.
On the second day I explored the local lanes and houses.
I saw faces in the doors and windows of the windswept homes with their rocky gardens and dry stone walls.
There were beaches to explore. White sand and even coral.
Clear water and sea anemones. I was on a mission to find seaweed.
Having left my other half at home I was free to indulge my photographic passions.
I was no longer heading for specific destinations. I was free to spend hours roaming the beach with my camera. Sand and seaweed my entertainment.
Imagine my excitement when I read about a 'Seaweed Centre' further up the coast, with the possibility of a seaweed bath, and to learn more about the different varieties.
I made my way there along the winding coastal road. An hour's drive to a remote peninsula.
When I arrived two girls dressed as beauticians in tidy white dresses were eating sandwiches. I asked whether I could go on a tour, or take a bath. A seaweed safari sounded perfect. Bobbing along in a boat beside the coast.
The girls looked at me as if I were far from normal. Just turning up without an appointment? Dressed in hiking boots and an anorak! Evidently not the done thing. Spontaneity was not the order of the day at this tourist attraction.
The man who runs the place was 'away'. He was not ready to do any safaris this week, and there were definitiely no baths on offer.
I felt very deflated.
The girls continued eating their sandwiches.
I read some posters in gaelic. They directed me back to a walk that I had already completed for my own entertainment earlier that morning. So I left, and made my way back to the open road.
It was time for a sandwich.
I stopped at a tourist shop selling candles and and enquired where I might find some food. I was directed next door to the pub where three elderly gentlemen sat at a table by the window drinking tea.
I made my puchase and headed off out. I was sad that the pub wrapped my sandwich in a plastic container, and more sad when I found a lot of bottles discarded beside the road where I stopped to eat.
I collected up the bottles and cans and photographed them.
Is that normal? I had my doubts.
later in the week I drove north to Lough Corrib to see what memories it triggered of my childhood holiday..
I could just see some of the many islands that fill the loch. And the stony shore. Legend has it that Lough Corrib has 365 islands, one for every day of the year, but in fact it has more.
My lochside walk didn't trigger any memories. I did go illegally over a gate into a sheep field to try to get to the water, and then bid a hasty retreat when I heard some dogs barking nearby. My imagination had them tearing me to pieces and leaving my remains amongst the long grass, trampled by sheep. ( Probably not a normal response).
I had to rely on my a whatsapp discussion with my sibings for a recap of all the memorable events of the holiday. Apart from rowing boats on a stony shore all that I remember was a very small shop that had very little food for sale. Mostly eggs and potatoes.
Is it normal to remember so little?
Which brings me to the peat bogs. I had visions of swathes of cotton grass and wild flowers. A romantic view.
The reality was somewhat different. Connemara has a large area of natural peat bog.
But much, much less than it used to. It is a big environmental issue.
I started to get bogged down in the politics of peat bogs, trying to understand who still has rights to cut peat. It is a very complex issue. Locals still have rights to cut and use peat as fuel. A peat fire has a very distinctive smell, noticeable on driving through small villages.
There was too much to grasp on such a short trip. It was making me feel anxious. I wanted to tell the whole world not to buy garden compost that contains peat. Loss of peat from the land adds significantly to global warming, as the peat stores large amounts of carbon.
I found myself wanting to photograph the areas where peat was being cut.
I was getting badly distracted from my hunt for seaweed.
I am not going to show you my photos of dead sheep in the open pools, but will show you instead the track that I walked down in the middle of nowhere, with not a soul in sight.
Not a 'normal' location for photography by most people's standards.
A photographic project cannot be completed in a couple of days. A story about peat was impractical. I was unlikely to be coming back here in the near future. I was not likely to be welcomed by the peat cutters if I tried to photograph them. I had read enough to know that this was a sensitive story, and that I was not the person to tell it.
I sent myself back to the beach, and hunted for more seaweed.
A relatively normal photographic project. Calming and peaceful.
Beauty before politics; the original intention for the trip.
My idealised view of the peat bogs had been shattered, but was restored by a visit to the Connemara National Park, where the wilderness is preserved and protected.
I realised that seeking solitude and spending time in nature is what keeps me 'normal'.
I didn't come back with many 'special' images, but I had walked and walked, explored new places, and nearly climbed a mountain ( the wind stopped me near the top).
I was refreshed, and had been in a wonderful, wild landscape.
Next time I might do the normal thing and visit all the castles. Or maybe not!
You can see where I was on the map below.......
Caroline Fraser - an ordinary life
on life, suburban living, art, creativity, photography, book art and travel.
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Welcome to Caroline Fraser Photography
Colourful abstracted and traditional photographic landscapes, book art and workshops. Capturing the moods and beauty of nature whether in wild open places or in small sanctuaries in suburbia.