Fresh looks at familiar mountains

Donal Hickey on a photographic exploration of Ireland’s high places.

AS A child growing up in Cheshire, in the northwest of England, Rob Beighton was entranced by the natural world around him. Soon, he ventured onto the mountains - a journey that took him to many parts of the world before he moved to his present abode in Dingle, Co Kerry.

The life-long mountaineer with a passion for photography has also explored Ireland’s mountain environment, brilliantly using his camera to capture the splendour and beauty of those hills.

The result is a book, Ireland’s High Places, that could be described as a comprehensive photo-essay, patiently compiled as he trekked the main mountain areas from Hungry Hill in the Beara Peninsula to the Mournes in Co Down to Errigal in Donegal.

His photographs are interspersed with insightful commentaries on the places he visits and what inspires him. He is connected to the mysterious rather than the obvious and his spiritual links with the wilderness shine through his work.

“You find yourself in the right place at the right time in a way that no planning could bring to you,” he says. “Somewhere, at some moment, the perfect image is waiting to express itself.”

In ever-changing weather and light, he captures the mood of the mountains that appear different depending on the time of the day they are viewed. The result is a fresh look at vistas that are often made to look the same, especially in publications aimed at the tourist market.

Beighton has experienced the mountains in all their moods and says the Beara Peninsula has probably the greatest area of exposed rock in all of Ireland.

“This is exceptional country, standing ruggedly in the face of the Atlantic weather and having walking that requires much focus to negotiate the rocky terrain. Beara is a true wilderness experience,” he writes.

But his top rating goes to Donegal, which he describes as the jewel in the crown of Irish mountain areas.

“Here, there is a sense of purity and remoteness not to be found in any other area.”

There’s a magnificent photograph of Errigal in a deep amber glow at sunset against a background of the peaks of Glenveagh National Park.

Neither could he exclude the Dingle Peninsula and the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks in Kerry. With photographs to prove the points the makes, he says the peninsula has the most aesthetically beautiful and satisfying mountains in Ireland, with unrivalled views of the ocean.

The accompanying photographs of the Conor Pass and Mount Brandon gave an unusual perspective of these well-known landmarks. One of the most haunting photographs is spread across two pages and shows the mouth of Dingle Harbour in deep blue, with the late evening sun dipping beneath the clouds in the distant horizon.

As for the Reeks, he says they are serious hills that are difficult to escape from in bad weather, as many a distressed hillwalker and climber has learnt over the years.

Beighton also offers advice on how to tackle Carrauntuohill, the highest point in Ireland: “The easiest and most popular approach to climbing Carrauntuohill is from the Hag’s Glen. The more straight-forward route takes the gully at the head of the glen, known as the Devil’s Ladder, now badly eroded but the most convenient way to descend.”

A striking photograph shows evening light on the western panorama of the Reeks, with peaks extending from Beenkeragh to the Brida Valley.

Beighton used a digital SLR camera, with a wide angle and telephoto lens, to capture the images.

Irelands High Places: From the Mountains to the Sea, by Rob Beighton is published by The Collins Press €28.95.

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