St Michael’s Mount in the Evening, Cornwall

After leaving the mines, my next destination was St. Michael’s Mount. Of all of Cornwall’s beautiful sites, St. Michael’s is easily the most recognizable. For most of the day, St. Michael’s is a small island, crowned at its crest with a castle dating back centuries. At low tide, however, the island becomes a hill, and visitors can walk to the castle via a granite causeway. Whether you see it at high or low tide, St. Michael’s is breathtaking.

St Michael's Mount in the Evening, Cornwall, United Kingdom
Single shot, focal length 27mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 118 seconds, ISO 100, tripod, ND 10-stop filter.

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The island has a long history and is believed to be one of the earliest locations mentioned in text in all of Western Europe. It might be easy to confuse it with its French counterpart, Mont St. Michel. They are similar in appearance and are named for the same saint. It was because of these similarities that during the Middle Ages, the island was granted to Benedictine monks from Mont St. Michel. The first stone church was built on the island in 1135, and later years brought abbeys and monastic buildings. Given its association with the church and its remove from the mainland, St. Michael’s became a favored destination of pilgrims and the devout.

It’s the kind of place that quite naturally gives rise to stories of hauntings and strange phenomena. For many years, sailors have reported hearing whispered words from the water. A ghostly lady in grey is said to wander the hallways of the castle. And there are legends of giants who once inhabited the island and stories of the spirit of an unusually tall man. Remarkably, when a chapel on the island was being renovated in the 1800s, a small stone door was discovered which led to a tiny monastic cell, long forgotten. Inside were the bones of man who measured over seven feet tall, a religious recluse who died and was unwittingly entombed in his cell.

But on a summer day in the twenty-first century, St. Michael’s is hardly foreboding. The air is filled not with ominous whispers but the happy chatter of tourists on holiday. In early evening, when the tide is high, I stand my tripod on the last sliver of causeway still visible above the water. The sun is setting, and against the fading light of day, St. Michael’s arises from the water like a vision in a dream.

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Botallack Mines, Cornwall

Making my way through the crowds of tourists who flock to Cornwall in the summer, I had to remind myself that it wasn’t always a tourist spot. At least one part of it, the town of Botallack, was a center of the region’s mining industry. Only a few traces of the industry remain, crumbling, derelict reminders of bygone years.

Botallack Engine Houses in the Evening, Cornwall, United Kingdom
Single shot, focal length 31mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 121 seconds, ISO 64, tripod, ND 10-stop filter.

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The most picturesque of these ruins are the Crown Engine Houses, which are perched precariously on the cliffs above the Atlantic. They look as if a strong storm could send what’s left of them tumbling into the ocean at any moment. I’m not the first photographer to be drawn to the ruins; I saw other people making the roughly four-mile trek, camera and gear in tow. It’s even been used as a backdrop for the filming of the “Poldark” series.

As evocative and picturesque as the ruins are, the real story is underground. In 1858, when the mining industry was still thriving, a remarkable feat of engineering took place at the Crown Mine. That year, work began on the Boscawen Diagonal Shaft, a deep shaft that ran 500 meters under the Atlantic Ocean. By that point, the mine had struggled for years as the shallow deposits of copper and tin were depleted, and it was largely because of the determination of a new owner that the mine began to turn a profit again in the 1840s. The Boscawen shaft elicited so much attention that dignitaries from around the country toured the site, including the Prince and Princess of Wales.

But eventually the newer, deeper mine was also depleted, and Botallack declined. Time and nature gradually took back the site. Once a major industrial site, the elements have reclaimed it, and lush vegetation now crawls along the remaining walls. It’s a haunting image, and a reminder that we are all powerless against time and nature.

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Panorama of Land’s End, Cornwall

Roughly one mile off the coast of Land’s End are the rocky islets known as the Longships. From the shore, you see only their spiky crests, giving them the appearance of a large, sea-dwelling creature which has just slipped under the water, leaving only its spine above water. There is no monster, of course. But the area of the Longships treacherous, just the same.

Panorama of Land's End in the Evening, Cornwall, United Kingdom
Panorama from 2 horizontal images, focal length 17mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 30 seconds, ISO 200, tripod, ND 5-stop filter.

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More than a few ships have met their end in the dangerous waters of Land’s End. Even after the Longships Lighthouse was built in 1795, on the tallest of the islets, ships still came to misery on the jagged coastline. One of these, the SS Bluejacket, which wrecked in 1898, nearly destroyed the lighthouse itself as its battered hull careened into the islet.

More recently, a German ship, the RMS Mulheim, ran aground at Land’s End in 2003. A cargo ship, the Mulheim’s massive body smashed into the rocks and over time, was eventually broken in half. Parts of the wreck are still visible, and from time to time, flotsam from the ship washes up on the coast, reminders of the sea’s power.

Not much of the wreck remains now. This part of the ocean sees massive Atlantic storms, and they have gradually had their way with the Mulheim and other wrecks. It’s no wonder that the Romans called this part of the sea “Bolerium,” or seat of storms. I spent two days in Land’s End, and I saw the rapidly changing weather patterns and how quickly terrifying storms can materialise. Land’s End is hauntingly lovely, but it holds within it the threat of terrifying destruction.

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Land’s End, Cornwall

After spending a few days in Bath and at Stonehenge, I made my way to the famously rugged coastline of England’s most western county — Cornwall. My destination in Cornwall was the craggy, picturesque cliffs of Land’s End.

Land's End in the Evening, Cornwall, United Kingdom
Single shot, focal length 16mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 30 seconds, ISO 31, tripod, ND 5-stop filter.

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Could there be a more evocative place name than Land’s End? Even if you’ve never been there or seen photographs of the place, the name alone conjures images of a foreboding landscape, bereft of humans. In fact, it’s one of the country’s most visited tourist attractions, and a hotel on a vertiginous spot overlooking the waves is a popular location for weddings. But still. As I move southwest from Bath, it’s hard to shake the image of a forlorn place, a jagged sliver of earth far away from human habitation.

Looking out over the waves there — which have meant misery to more than a few seafarers over the centuries — it isn’t hard to see why so many people are drawn to Land’s End. Equal parts beautiful and dangerous, there’s something about the cliffs here that compels you to them, an irresistible pull to witness the fearsome beauty below.

Land’s End is a place that creates myths. One of the most enduring myths is that it is the site of Lyonesse, a lost, sunken land that features in the Arthurian legends, a kind of British Atlantis. According to some versions of the legend, it was at Lyonesse that King Arthur and Mordred fought their final battle.

While the Arthurian legends are just that — legends — there may be some truth to the belief in a sunken land. Some people believe that Lyonesse was attached to the Scilly Island, which is still very much above the water. Research done on the island revealed that the sea level was once much lower there than it is now, raising the possibility that there once was another place here. A place, perhaps, like what remains at Land’s End — a land that is at once forbidding but beautiful, dangerous but alluring.

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Pulteney Bridge in the Evening, Bath

To visit England is to continually commune with the past; there are few places in the world in which history is as diligently preserved or where it coexists to thoroughly with the present.

Pulteney Bridge in the Evening, Bath, Somerset, United Kingdom
Panorama from 5 vertical shots, focal length 16mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 2 seconds, ISO 31, tripod.

There is arguably no other place in England where the past is as well preserved as Bath. Named for its famed Roman baths, the city has been a spa city since ancient times, and the restorative properties of its thermal springs were known even before the Romans arrived. Because of its Roman baths and its elegant Georgian architecture, the entire city of Bath was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

In a city justifiably famous for its architecture, finding one outstanding structure to photograph on a short trip is no small task. I could walk among the neoclassical Palladian buildings in the city for days and never grow tired of the view. It is unquestionably one of the loveliest cities in Europe.

But there was one structure in Bath that charmed and intrigued me beyond all others — the Pulteney Bridge – which crosses the River Avon. Built over the course of twenty years, the bridge is the kind only rarely seen today, with shops built along its full length on both sides. Though it has been altered somewhat over the centuries (it was completed in 1774) it still looks largely as it did when it was built. As I set up my tripod on an early summer evening, I thought the bridge must look just as it did decades ago, when Jane Austen walked the streets of the city.

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Stonehenge in the Morning

Traveling through England to Cornwall, I couldn’t resist making a brief stop at Stonehenge. It’s one of the most intriguing sites in the world, and even if I only had a short period of time there, it was better than not seeing it at all.

Stonehenge Monument in the Morning, Wiltshire, United Kingdom
Single shot, focal length 26mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 242 seconds, ISO 64, tripod, ND 10-stop filter.

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I made my way to Amesbury, the nearest town to Stonehenge. The countryside in that part of England is beautiful and impossibly green, and though one of the world’s most famous sites is located there, it’s an area that appears largely untouched by modernity. Tour buses rumble along its roads daily, but England has managed to keep the countryside around Stonehenge mercifully free from development and over-tourism.

My plan was to arise just before daylight and capture Stonehenge in the mist of early morning. I wanted to capture something of the mystical pull that the ancient stones seem to exert on people, and I thought that either early morning or twilight would be the best way to do that. Unfortunately, as Stonehenge is an archaeological site, visitors are only permitted during daylight hours, and when I booked tickets online, the only available time was at 11AM, well past daybreak and long before twilight.

But I found that even at midday, Stonehenge wields an ineffable power. I’d seen photographs of those massive stones hundreds of times, but photographs can’t prepare you for the actual site. I can understand why seekers and pilgrims from around the world make the trip to Stonehenge; it may not actually hold an otherworldly power, but it certainly feels as if it might.

Ultimately, I didn’t need mist or the blue hour. I simply photographed Stonehenge with the light that I had, using a long exposure to blur the gray clouds of an overcast sky. Stonehenge is enough. The mystical pull that the place has exerted for centuries is no less powerful under a midday sky.

With storm clouds moving in, I packed up my gear and headed for Cornwall.

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Dark Hedges in the Morning, Northern Ireland

One of my favorite stops on the trip through the UK and Ireland was the Dark Hedges, a famous avenue of beeches planted in the 1700s. Over the centuries, the trees have become gnarled and twisted, and appear to reach out over the road, making a particularly picturesque scene. Though the beeches have been a beloved spot in Northern Ireland for years, in recent years the Dark Hedges have become something of a celebrity due to their use as a filming location for Game of Thrones.

Panorama of Dark Hedges in the Morning, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
Panorama from 7 vertical shots, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 180mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 1/6, ISO 64, tripod.

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The hedges have become so popular, in fact, that it is difficult to find a time when the lane isn’t crowded with tourists. The road is a popular stop for tour buses, and there has been so much traffic in the area in recent years that there are concerns that the roots will be damaged. Of the 150 trees which were originally planted, only about 90 remain, and tourism to the area doesn’t appear to be slowing. In the last few years, storms have claimed a few of the remaining trees, either uprooting them altogether or causing enough damage that they had to be cut down.

But I was lucky. We arrived early at the Dark Hedges, before the tour buses made their way there, and had the lane to ourselves. No matter how many times you’ve seen photos of the Dark Hedges, when you see them in person you can’t help but be moved by their eerie beauty. As was often my experience in England and Ireland, my mind moved to fanciful places, and I found myself thinking of the stories I’d heard of the hedges. Not surprisingly, given their sinister appearance, the hedges are believed to be haunted by the “Grey Lady,” who darts from tree to tree.

For this early morning shot, I used a telephoto lens to capture their density. I then used a panoramic technique and shot multiple vertical frames to fix the limited angle of view I got from using a telephoto lens. The Dark Hedges is a beautiful spot, and I think this image captured the atmospheric quality of the lane.

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New Brighton Lighthouse, United Kingdom

Back in England, we headed towards Liverpool, where we planned to photograph another stretch of coast and another lighthouse. This one was the decommissioned New Brighton Lighthouse, which was built in the early 1800s and was in use until 1973.

New Brighton Lighthouse in the Evening, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Single shot, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 17mm, aperture f/9, shutter speed 30 seconds, ISO 64, ND 5-stop filter, tripod.

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Unlike the Fanad Lighthouse, which stands on a jagged, rocky coast, the New Brighton Lighthouse sits on a sandy beach. It sits where Liverpool Bay the River Mersey meets, and although it is no longer necessary to guide ships away from the shore, the lighthouse is still meticulously maintained and is a historic landmark.

The coastline here was not the dramatic coast of Donegal. Standing among the rock formations near Liverpool Bay, the sea didn’t feel ominous or threatening. The water was a welcoming presence and I imagined families coming here for picnics and looking for shells in the shallows. The lighthouse, once a guardian and guide, is now merely a reminder of another time, a draw for modern-day photographers rather than a guide for seafarers. I found myself again lost in thought, thinking of the not-so-distant past.

Among the photographs I took of the lighthouse, I discovered during processing that one of my colleagues made it into a shot. My first instinct was to scrap this shot, since my purpose was to capture the lighthouse and not my traveling companions. But on second thought, I liked the image. It shows the scale of the lighthouse, and the comparatively tiny stature of my colleague suggests the vulnerability of humans against the sea.

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Fanad Lighthouse in the Evening, Ireland

Our next stop in Ireland was along the coast of County Donegal, in the Republic. Donegal is remote and it takes a bit of effort to get there, but the reward is one of the most strikingly beautiful stretches of coastline I’ve ever seen. The Atlantic here can be savage and unpredictable, and the rugged coastline reflects its long, frequently tumultuous past with the sea.

Fanad Lighthouse in the Evening, County Donegal, Ireland
Panorama from 2 horizontal shots, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 60 seconds, ISO 64, ND 5-stop filter, tripod.

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We made our way to the Fanad Peninsula, which is one of the few remaining Gaeltachts, or Irish-speaking regions, left in the Republic. The windswept peninsula feels far removed from the modern world and the ancient tongue spoken by many of the people there only adds to the feeling of having stepped into the distant past.

The entire peninsula is beautiful and untamed, and popular with photographers as a result. The Fanad Lighthouse, in particular, is a popular location for photo shoots because it’s framed by rugged cliffs. In Ireland, the weather can change dramatically in a short period of time and it’s often said that you can experience all four seasons in one day. While shooting on the peninsula, we found this to be true: in the span of a few days, we experienced stormy skies, roaring ocean waves, vibrant sunsets, and rainbows. No matter the weather, the Donegal coastline was breathtaking.

We returned to the lighthouse over several days, shooting in different light and in different weather conditions, hoping to get the perfect shot. This one, with the faint hues of a rainbow over the lighthouse and the sky lit by a distant sunset, is my favorite of the lighthouse shots. I think it captures the dramatic beauty of Ireland’s coast and its ever-changing conditions. Those conditions almost cost me some of my equipment, by the way. While photographing between the rocks, I caught the full force of a wave as it washed over me — and my camera! Fortunately, both camera and photographer survived.

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Panorama of Giant Causeway, Northern Ireland

As it happens, I wasn’t the only one whose mind took a mystical turn at the sight of the Giant’s Causeway. The place has inspired myths and legends from time immemorial and the most persistent is the one which gives the causeway its name.

Panorama of Giant Causeway in the Evening, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
Panorama from 5 vertical shots, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 71 seconds, ISO 320, ND 5-stop filter, tripod.

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Ireland is a place with a rich culture of legends and folklore dating back to the ancient Celts. One of the most well-known figures from Irish mythology is Fionn MacCool, a giant. According to legend, MacCool had a feud with the Scottish giant Benandonner, who challenged MacCool to fight him. MacCool built the causeway between Ireland and Scotland so that the two giants could meet, but realizing that Benandonner was much larger than he expected, MacCool was hidden by his wife, Oonagh. Oonagh disguised her husband as a baby and tucked him in a large cradle. When Benandonner crossed the water and found the sleeping “baby,” he was terrified and concluded that if the baby was that large, his father must be a giant among giants. Benandonner then retreated to Scotland, pulling up the stones of the causeway as he went.

It’s a fantastical story, but the otherworldly landscape of the coast is the kind of place that inspires such thinking. Looking out over the water — where, on a clear day, you can just see the coast of Scotland — I can imagine ancient people, prone to colorful tales and with a love of the spoken word, crafting a story worthy of such a magical place. Ireland is bewitching, a place that captures your heart as well as your imagination.

After a few days, the other photographers and I left Northern Ireland, as we had other destinations to explore. But the Giant’s Causeway is a place that will linger in my memory for years to come, I’m certain. In all of my travels, I’ve never seen another place quite like it.

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