The headland near Bray, in County Wicklow, had appeared in many of my photographs of the coastline, but always from a distance. I wanted to see it for myself. So on a day I did not have classes, I took a DART ride down from Dublin to walk around.
Bray is a seaside resort town, a nice place to visit. There is a beautiful promenade along the water, and as I walked alone on a quiet morning, I was carefully observed by the rooks lining the railing. Rooks are very large cousins to crows, rusty black with heavy beaks. They can be intimidating as they watch you pass by, discussing you amongst themselves with mumbling coughs.
I had noticed a slight blur at the top of Bray Head when I took some photographs from Killiney Hill, further north. That blur resolved into a large cross, which I saw as soon as I got off the DART at the Bray station. I was hoping to find if there was a way up to it.
Trekking to the Top
Later, I found sources describing a ‘well-worn path’ that led to the cross. I must have missed that route, or my definition of ‘well-worn’ is different than most. At one point I found myself working my way sharply upward through a stand of pine trees, using the trunks to pull myself up, knowing I would need to find another pathway down because it was too steep.
Friends of mine, heading to Ireland for a hiking tour, asked what I wear to walk about in Ireland. I showed them my hiking boots and heavy, oilskin coat. They did not heed my advice and returned from their trip with their lightweight, nylon hiking clothes in tatters. My coat can get even heavier with pockets containing sketchpad, pencils, water, and chocolate. But shrugging my way, unscathed, through the six foot, spiny gorse bushes on the hike up Bray Head made it all worth while.
Sitting on the base of the cross on Bray Head, I had a celebratory rest with a bottle of water and a bit of chocolate. The view of misty morning hills was spectacular. Unbelievable layers of receding hills and rolling mists on a damp January day with silvery, ethereal sunlight.
My photographs of the day are on black and white film, and I am pleased they are. Colors were not as compelling as the rich, monochrome depth of sepia-toned January hills with dark, wet stones and ragged winter gorse all softened with silvered fog.
Leaving the Hill Behind and Entering the Silence
I left the hill reluctantly, hunting for another way down the steep and rocky slope. I found a pathway that circled around to a gentler incline and ambled slowly, taking in the scenery.
There was a scar in the gorse, and I went to see if it was a fire, as gorse can smolder unseen for some time before catching a breeze to flare on a dry day. It was an old mark, cold and wet. After bending to look at the black ashes, I straightened up and noticed….silence.
I had walked into a bowl-shaped depression, and all sound had ceased. No sounds from the city below me, no wind, no sounds of the sea. Nothing but the pulse of my own heart and the suddenly loud rasp of fabric as I turned to look around and my camera case moved across my shoulder.
Unmoving and silent, I watched as a hooded crow flew out of the mists. His wings loudly whispered with every wing-beat as he flew past me, close enough to touch. Pale sunlight flickered silver across his glossy, black feathers. He flew over the edge of the rocks, dipped down to the sea, and out of sight.
Inhaling a deep lungful of damp air, I realized I had been holding my breath.
The sun came out and warmed the hills as I walked out of the silence and into the noise; the mists chose that moment to recede. Oddly irritated by the noises of the train and the loud conversations of the other passengers, I rode the DART back to Dublin.
Submitted by Karen J. Newhouse. Her Ireland-inspired artwork can be found at CapallGlas Studio.