"WHERE THE MOUNTAINS OF MOURNE SWEEP DOWN TO THE SEA."
The immortalised words of Percy French's iconic song that has inspired so many and still does today.
I consider myself lucky to live within a short drive to these majestic mountains. As a professional natural history photographer, I have spent the last 25 years in their company whenever I can as a photographer, naturalist and walker. The magnetic attraction they have and their towering height, almost alpine in stature never fails to impress or stir my emotions. Having travelled and photographed most of the other mountains ranges in Ireland, nowhere do you get that sense of scale that you do when looking at them from the coastal town of Newcastle where they preside like guardians over this small, County Down community.
I don't consider myself to have attained any special, feats of conquest or endurance, but over the years, I have experienced their beauty and wrath throughout all of the seasons. They are one of the oldest mountain ranges in Ireland; their formation was some 50 million years ago. The granite and igneous rocks, along with u-shaped valleys and corries that define their structure were carved and shaped by the glaciers during the various ice ages thousands of years ago. Their topography in the skyline can be seen many miles away which makes them one of the most recognisable landforms in the whole of Ireland.
The high mournes comprise 12 peaks all are over 2,000 ft high and grouped together in a relatively small area approximately 15 miles by 8 miles. They are a popular destination for walkers, climbers and photographers.
Over the years I have accumulated many images of them throughout their changing seasons. They have a rich and varied flora and fauna some of which I have illustrated below, represent a small selection from my photographic library.
Slieve Binnian Summit Tors. A cold windy day with ice and snow making it that bit more challenging, especially when carrying a heavy backpack. Well worth the effort when you get near the summit!
Slieve Binnian Summit. One of the most popular hikes in the mournes. However, in weather such as this, it can be dangerous descending as the ice and frost on the stones can treacherous and great care is needed! Having the proper gear is important!
Ben Crom from the Lough Shannagh track. The late evening sun during winter lights up the head of the dam casting a warm glow over the mountains.
The view from Slieve Binnian looking across the Annalong Valley. A large panoramic comprising 18 photos to make up the composite image.
Lough Shannagh track after a large snowfall. Extreme care is always needed when snow is deep and completely covers the track. The crevasse is the only clue as to where the Miner's Bridge is over the river. It would be so easy to walk off the edge and drop straight into the river.
Slieve Lamagan from Slieve Binnian. Nestled below Lamagan lies Blue Lough, one of the most popular treks for walkers of all levels in the mournes.
North Tor Slieve Bearnagh. A 15 image panoramic, photographed with the Nikon D850 in evening light from a ledge looking back towards the bilateral tor.
Keeled Skimmer Orthetrum coerulescens. A beautiful, medium-sized dragonfly. Males have a conspicuous powder blue abdomen when fully mature. It has a local distribution in the mournes, occurring in several locations. The summer months are an ideal time to see and photograph this remarkable dragonfly
Miner's Bridge. A traditional granite bridge over the MIner's Hole River on the Lough Shannagh track.
Lough Shannagh. The trek from the carpark takes you up onto Bann's Road, which is an old farm track. The route circles the lough however care is needed on the north side as there are many holes hidden among the vegetation. The walk to the lough is not difficult but there are areas when wet can be slippy and prone to flooding in parts after torrential rain.
View from Slieve Bearnagh at sunset. While shooting at sunset has many benefits from a photographic point of view, making you way back in the dark coming off this mountain can be tricky especially when there is fog and heavy frost which was the case here.
Annalong River. Following the course of the river provides some excellent photographic opportunities for capturing the many waterfalls and pools which this river has to offer.
A Lichen Cladonia diversa-coccifera. Lichens are excellent indicators of the level of pollution in the surrounding area and the state of the environment as a whole. Many require clean air in order to thrive. The Mournes are home to many different species of lichen, which inhabit rocks, stones and the mossy peaty habitats that abound throughout the range.
Lough Shannagh. A panoramic view of the lough photographed close to sunset comprising 15 images stitched together to form this high-resolution composite photograph.
The view from the tors on top of Slieve Bearnagh. A few minutes after this shot was taken the valley below and around us became a blanket of fog. The light in the mountains can be in a constant state of flux and you can quickly lose the moment. Being familiar with your equipment and how to get the best from it is essential in my opinion if you want to capture what you see. Sometimes staying in one spot pays dividends which in this case it did.
Reindeer Lichen Cladonia portentosa. A beautiful fruticose lichen that occurs in and around the sphagnum-rich hollows in some of the wetter habitats in the mountains.
Annalong Wood and Valley from the Blue Lough Track. Snow is always popular with photographers during the winter months. A little icing on the top adds an extra dimension to photographs. In recent years it has become less frequent than in the past. Climate change, has in many ways, been responsible for the shift in seasonal patterns. When opportunities arise its well worth the effort to experience the mountains in these conditions.
The view from Slieve Bearnagh in the late evening light. The incoming fog quickly filled the valley which prevented me from creating another panoramic image. Photographed with the Nikon D850, panoramic head, producing a 15 image stack for the final composite image.
Bog Asphodel Narthecium ossifragum. A beautiful little yellow flower that carpets boggy ground and seepages during the summer months. It often produces carpets of yellow around small, shallow pools. The dead spikes turn orange during the autumn and winter months and appear as rust-coloured patches on the landscape.
The view from Slieve Binnian across the Annalong Valley and Wood. The snow and the heavily frozen stream in the foreground added to the overall composition. However, getting down over the ice-covered rocks made the descent a little more challenging than climbing up. Having said that the panoramic composite was worth the struggle.
Doan and Lough Shannagh. Centrally located between the mournes highest peaks is Doan; the 593m iconic mountain is easily recognised by its cone-like shape towering over the beautiful Lough Shannagh. Photographed on a Nikon D850 using a panoramic head producing 18 images that make up the final composite image.
Heath Spotted-orchid Dactylorhiza maculata. One of the four wild species of orchid found in the Mournes. This is a pretty little orchid found growing in peaty and acid soils in many locations. It is variable in clour and flowers during the summer months.
Emperor Moth Saturnia pavonia. One of the most beautiful moths found mainly in heathland, bogs, moorland and mature sand dunes. The photograph illustrated is of a female, which is larger than the male and differs in colour. The Emperor flies mainly in the sunshine, the males can sometimes be seen flying fast and low of heather in search of newly emerged females. The attractive caterpillars are found in late summer feeding on heather in the mountains.
Slieve Lamagan and the Annalong River. The smallest of the seven summits around 704 metres in height. Slieve Lamagan is one of the first mountains you see when entering the Annalong Valley. It can be a challenging mountain to climb especially if you are carrying a lot of photographic equipment. The track peters out and it can be a bit of a scramble up to the summit. However, the views from the top are well worth the effort!
The view from Bearnagh at sunset. Bearnagh can be a bit of a slog to reach the top, but the view is breathtaking when you get there. It is one of the most distinctive mountains in the high mournes and renowned for its impressive twin tors with an aperture between them giving a distinctive shape to the mountain. The fog moved in pretty quickly here during sunset virtually obscuring the valley below. This is one of the most popular routes in the mournes for walkers and photographers. The views it offers across Lough Shannagh, Ben Crom and Silent Valley reservoirs are breathtaking.
The Miner's Hole River. Heading up the Lough Shannagh track you come to the Miner's Bridge over the river. Following the river downstream into the valley presents some great opportunities for photographing waterfalls. Where the river enters Silent Valley it drops in a series of cascades, but caution is needed here as the banks are slippy and steep.
Lough Shannagh from the Ott track. Lough Shannagh is the largest, natural lake situated in the high Mournes. It formed in the hollows some ten thousand years ago after the retreating ice disappeared from the lowlands. It lies at 390 metres surround by deeply incised peaks in one of the most scenic areas in the Mournes. Shot on the Nikon D850 with a panoramic head comprising 15 images stitched together to complete the final composite.
Doan photographed from the Lough Shannagh track. Looking at Doan's southern side, the panoramic image shows the surrounding landscape and the rocky peaty habitat surrounding the mountain.
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus One of the Mournes most iconic birds. It is protected by law and is one of the fastest birds in the world. The mournes are in the direct flight path for the racing pigeons. These birds sit in a prominent position waiting on their arrival, tired and exhausted from their long flight they become easy prey for these supreme hunters.
Annalong River. One of the best-known rivers in the Mournes. It flows through the heart of the Annalong Valley on its way down to the small coastal town of Newcastle, where it enters the sea. The river has many hidden pools and waterfalls and is a popular spot for swimmers during the summer months.
Common Hawker Aeshna juncea. One of Ireland's largest dragonflies and a common sight throughout the mournes from late June until the end of September. These jewels of the insect world can be seen flying close to rivers, boggy pools and in sheltered woodland locations throughout the range. They are fast fliers, consuming large numbers of midges, gnats, and stoneflies. They are also supreme hunters, with large, compound eyes and virtually 360-degree vision.
Frozen Stream Annalong Valley. The winter months, especially when snow is around and temperatures fall below zero, provide photographers with opportunities to get in close and capture other aspects of this wonderful environment.
High Mournes from the Lough Shannagh track. Landscape photographers love extreme and challenging conditions. It often provides great opportunities for exceptional images; this was one of those days when the wind was severe and conditions were extremely cold. The weather was very changeable with frequent snow showers. My intention was to get to Lough Shannagh however, large snowdrifts on the last section of the track made it difficult to get through.
The view from Slieve Bearnagh with Ben Crom and Silent Valley reservoirs in the distance. Mountain landscape photography is often unpredictable, sometimes it works in your favour and often it does not despite what the weather forecast predicts. We started our climb mid-morning stopping occasionally along the route to look at other potential locations. Much of the fog had cleared, but as the day wore on we could see in the distance it was beginning to fill the valleys again. As we approached sunset it began to thicken and fill the surrounding area. Within minutes of shooting this image, visibility was down to a matter of yards, making the long trek back in the dark more challenging.
The high mournes from the Blue Lough Track. The Annalong Valley is probably one of the most visited locations in the mournes. The vista it provides when you have reached the end of Annalong Wood is breathtaking. As landscape photographers, we all have our own style approach as to how we want to interpret what we see in front of us. A large percentage of my landscape images are panoramics photographed using a panoramic head, which is the case here. I often prefer this to shooting with ultra wideangle lenses. This allows me to produce large files sizes often between 250 and 500MB, which can be used for advertising etc.
Annalong Valley and River. During the summer months, the river is often reduced to a mere trickle. The mountains are most vibrant in terms of colour during this time with various shades of green from the bracken and grasses that dominate many of the slopes.
High Mournes at dawn from Murlough National Nature Reserve. One of the most iconic locations for showing the topography of the high mournes against the skyline. Murlough, located at the edge of Dundrum Bay, was the first National Nature Reserve designated in Ireland back in 1967. It is also of international importance for overwintering waders and wildfowl.