Into The Crack Of Dawn [21June2013]

A series of photos showing the progress of dawn, not over one day, but at the same time each day from winter to midsummer, as I walk through the fields to work

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In the summer of 2012, I found a long deserted pathway through the fields at Laughanstown in south county Dublin, near to a place where I was working at the time.  My discovery and first lunchtime amble along the pathway is illustrated in my short story The Melting.

The pathway runs through open fields alongside the LUAS tram line, and I soon got into the habit of taking a daily walk along the pathway, getting off the tram a couple of stops before walk, and happily walking in solitude through fields alive with fresh morning air, only the occasional whirr of a passing tram to disturb the birdsong. A lovely way to start the day, drifting happily in thought and body. Were I a lamb, you might even say that gambolled happily across the meadow each morn.

When winter came, I was loath to give up this pleasure, even when darkness made it more difficult, and started bringing a torch so I could pick my way along the path towards the lights of civilisation – and work – in the far distance. It was cold, dark, and sometimes hard going, but the sense of solitude and the fresh air more than made up for it.

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Far from any houses, the blackness was absolute, and one morning (Jan 2nd this year) at 0724 I took a photo to illustrate the darkness of the walk, zooming in on the lights of Tullyvale and Cherrywood in the distance.

The next morning, the blackness was not quite complete – a tiniest sliver of a crack of dawn was visible over distant mountains, and I took another photo to show the difference a day (and two minutes later) had made.

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This gave me an idea. As I walked the route at least three days a week, always at the same time (taking the same outbound tram departure) why not take a series of pictures, to catalog how the dark of winter slowly gave way to the dawn of spring, and the daylight of summer as I took my morning walks.

Those first two pictures were taken randomly, and not at exactly the same point, and possibly not covering exactly the same span, but for this project I would need some way of locking my physical location, so that the field of view would be as close as possible to exactly the same in each picture.

So I used a line of electricity pylons to determine the photograph point – they would not be in shot themselves, but when I reached a point on the path where the crosstree of one pylon aligned exactly with the southern edge of another, I would stand in the righthand rut of the track, thus controlling my physical location. I would then line up the second closest overhead wire carrier on the tramway to the rifghthand edge of the photo, and this would ensure I was covering the same area in each shot. Only the vertical plane had no real means of control.

And so, here are some of the results, as we journey from winter to spring, at the same time each morning, give or take a couple of minutes.

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A week after my first photos, the 11th of January 2013 at 0724. The difference in the amount of dawn is quite visible, it is still pre-dawn lightening of the sky, but the clear day makes it much more visible. The field and pathway are still in absolute blackness at this time.

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January 15th at 0724, another clear morning, apart from a low lying bank of cloud over the distant hills.

crack-0206-0722Just a couple of week later, the 6th of February, at 0722. Quite a difference in two weeks – another clear day, but this time the sky is blue, the shapes of things are more visible, and I can see the puddle ahead of me.

crack-0207-0724The next day, February 7th at 0724, shows the difference the cloud makes – dawn is at the same point, but no chance of seeing anything on the ground.

crack-0221-0723Now this is amazing – it is only two week later, the 21st of February, at 0723, and yet the difference in light, even with a totally overcast day, is amazing. Now everything is visible. To the right is the tram line, heading towards Cherrywood in the far distance. The buildings in the centre of the picture are the apartments of Tullyvale. To the left of them a sliver of the Irish Sea is visible, and then Killiney Hill rises on the left edge of the photo.

crack-0225-0723Four days later, the 25th of February, again at 0723, and a different type of cloud cover darkens the scene, but leaves room for a lovely yellow and pink line above lower lying clouds concealing the rising sun.

crack-0226-0723The following day, Feb 26th, at 0723, the clouds are different again.

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A couple of weeks later again, 7th March at 0723, and it is now pretty much daylight. It’s been raining for days, and the distant hills are lost in soft Irish mist.

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The 29th of March at 0728, the sun is fully risen, and hidden behind the clouds, sending lovely shafts of light down onto the sea. The foreground looks darker to the camera due to shooting into the sun, but was bright enough to the human eye.

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April 17th at 0724 – no fear of sunlight affecting the camera here, as the weather has turned “Irish” again!

crack-0501-0725May 1st at 0725, the dun is shining brightly now.

crack-0502-0725The following day, May 2nd at 0725, shows a more dreamy, cloudy skyscape.

And then . .

And then I moved away from that location

but . . .I knew I must come back for midsummer photos.

crack-0620-0722The day before mid summer – June 20th at 0722

and finally

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Midsummers day itself, though hot and sunny later, was wet and misty early on – June 21st 2013 at 0726.

And now I’m working on the other side of the city, and I don’t get to walk through the fields each morning any more. But thanks to a whim and a sudden inspiration back in the dark days of winter, I have a whole selection of photos of my beloved few moments of morning commune with nature, to go with a whole set of cherished memories.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the trip as much as I have!

Steve


More on Fairy Tree & Forbidden Ground

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Amongst the response to my post on things seen in 2012, the Fairy Tree and the Forbidden Ground sign have elicited the following query from a UK-based reader, the always inspiring Christopher England (whose own blog can be found here).

Chris says:

“I’ve never seen fairy trees before. I guess it’s an Irish thing. It reminded me of the Tibetan wind-prayer flags that are placed alone and forever, right up in the remote parts of the mountains. Although they do wear and come to pieces in the wind, many remain there long after the person originating the prayer has died. That always makes them something special, imho”

The fairy tree, while not exclusive to this island, does seem to have a long connection with Irish superstition and folklore.

Although I was unaware of them myself before coming across this example in a Dublin park, according to this site they can be found at many locations around the country.  There is certainly a lot of fairy folklore in Ireland, and I remember my father pointing out to me the fairy rings and fairy forts in rural Cork and Tipperary when I was very young, and noting how farmers would avoid ploughing or disturbing the ground at these locations.

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Perhaps more common in Ireland is the Holy Well or Holy Bush – these can be found in many rural locations, and to this day you will still find strips of ribbon and clothing tied to trees at a “holy” location on a roadside.

The only time I ever saw anything similar in the UK was at Barnes Common, where the tree that killed Marc Bolan is still visited and decorated regularly by his fans, despite the passage of four decades.

A path in a park in Co. Kerry is blocked after a bridge is washed away in a storm. The choice of wording on the warning sign makes it seem far more interesting . .

A path in a park in Co. Kerry is blocked after a bridge is washed away in a storm. The choice of wording on the warning sign makes it seem far more interesting . .

Chris goes on to comment on the “Forbidden Ground” sign I photographed in Co. Kerry.

“Also, possibly an Irish thing, is the phrase ‘Forbidden Ground’. An interesting choice of words I’ve not seen before, being more used to ‘Restricted Area’ or the like”.

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This one is certainly not Irish, and I am as baffled as Chris by its usage to cordon off a closed pathway in Reenagross Park, Kenmare.  I have never seen the phrase “Forbidden Ground” used in a civilian context, and the crime-scene style tape makes it look even more curious. That forbidden zone is just begging to be penetrated if you ask me!

Chris goes on to comment:

“with regard to the many ‘Do Not’ signs in the Dublin Dockland, and mindful of it being an area with an ‘Explosive Atmosphere’, they do seem to have missed out a pretty obvious one of ‘Do Not Smoke’”

Just down the road from the original sign here:

On the subject of warning notices, this one in Dublin Docklands is pretty comprehensive. Is there anything you ARE allowed to do?

On the subject of warning notices, this one in Dublin Docklands is pretty comprehensive. Is there anything you ARE allowed to do?

there is another one, on a presumably similarly explosive compound, which does caution against smoking, as well as “spark ignition vehicles” (petrol engines to you and me)  – the first time I’ve seen that warning., although apparently if you make a prior arrangement, they are not dangerous . .

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As for what is hidden behind the fence, well that also has some interesting signage:

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The “Stripping Pumphouse” eh?

Now THAT’S what I call “forbidden ground” in goold old catholic Ireland!

Steve


The Things I’ve Seen

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Hidden gems and forbidden ground – things I’ve seen walking in 2012

A year ago this week, I mentioned here that I had started to walk regularly as part of a pathway back to fitness.

My approach to this was to be fairly utilitarian – using walking as a means to fitness and sometimes a means of transport. My friend Chris who commented encouragingly on my efforts suggested that walking might introduce me to things I’d never seen before, but I didn’t really accept that. After all, most of my walking would be in Dublin or other places I already knew well, and what would there be to see that I’ve not already seen?

I also commented in my post, mindful of how new year efforts often peter out, that we would see at the end of the year if I managed to continue the daily walks. Well I did, barring a couple of weeks here and there when I was caught up in some pressing domestic matters.

Perhaps the best way to update you on my progress in the past 12 months, and to illustrate how wrong I was – the walks quickly became as much about discovery as utility – is to share some of the interesting things I stumbled across over the last 12 months (bearing in mind that what is interesting to me might not qualify as interesting to everyone!)

Included below are pictures of things taken only on my walks – not my day to day life – which otherwise would have been unseen by me.)

All of these pictures can be viewed in larger, high-res detail by clicking on the photo.

Abandoned army firing range in the Dublin Mountains . . with interesting artwork

Abandoned army firing range in the Dublin Mountains . . with interesting artwork

A closer look shows that under the grass, a bare-breasted woman is holding up the surface of the hillside.

A closer look shows that under the grass, a bare-breasted woman is holding up the surface of the hillside.

A Fairy Tree in Marlay Park, Dublin

A Fairy Tree in Marlay Park, Dublin

Pin your wish to the fairy tree

Pin your wish to the fairy tree

Travelling from Dublin to Cork I set off earlier so I can stop for a walk en route, and see sunrise over a frosty Curragh

Travelling from Dublin to Cork I set off earlier so I can stop for a walk en route, and see sunrise over a frosty Curragh

I'm determined not to let the weather stop my plans for a walk across Hampstead Heath, and am rewarded with a fine winter view of London

I’m determined not to let the weather stop my plans for a walk across Hampstead Heath, and am rewarded with a fine winter view of London

 . . and instead of a snow man, a snow bunny.

. . and instead of a snow man, a snow bunny.

On each of my three visits to London this year I have walked a section of the Thames Path . . here the old London Transport Lotts Road power station stands against a winter sky.

On each of my three visits to London this year I have walked a section of the Thames Path . . here the old London Transport Lotts Road power station stands against a winter sky.

Graffiti under a bridge in London

Graffiti under a bridge in London

 . . and on a hoarding in Dublin Docklands.

. . and on a hoarding in Dublin Docklands.

For nearly 50 years as I haved travelled toe Dublin to Cork road I have always looked at the steep wooded hillside outside Fermoy, with what looked like a stone cross on top. This year I stopped and climbed it . . and it's higher up, and the cross far bigger than I realised.

For nearly 50 years as I have travelled the Dublin to Cork road I have always looked up at a very steep wooded hillside outside Fermoy, with what looked like a stone cross on top. This year I stopped and climbed it . . and it’s higher up, and the cross far bigger than I realised.

 . .and from the hilltop could now look down at the Dublin to Cork road far below. No longer down there thinking "Maybe one day".

. .and from the hilltop could now look down at the Dublin to Cork road far below. No longer down there thinking “Maybe one day”.

Below ground - walking through the Rotherhithe Tunnel in east London. I'd always wanted to do this walk too!

Below ground – walking through the Rotherhithe Tunnel in east London. I’d always wanted to do this walk too!

When walking the Rotherithe Tunnel, best not to hang about. I was certainly a petrol-head by the time I got out the other side . .

When walking the Rotherithe Tunnel, best not to hang about. I was certainly a petrol-head by the time I got out the other side . .

On the subject of warning notices, this one in Dublin Docklands is pretty comprehensive. Is there anything you ARE allowed to do?

On the subject of warning notices, this one in Dublin Docklands is pretty comprehensive. Is there anything you ARE allowed to do?

The Day The Earth Stood Still? It's high noon on a saturday, and the docks are deserted as I walk the long, long Alexandra Road.

The Day The Earth Stood Still? It’s high noon on a saturday, and the docks are deserted as I walk the long, long Alexandra Road.

A solitary bird stands guard at an abandoned fortress in Dublin's Phoenix Park.

A solitary bird stands guard at an abandoned fortress in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

On the Thames Path again, and I came across the old Harrodds Furniture Depository which I remember seeing in the 1980s falling into disrepair . .

On the Thames Path again, and I came across the old Harrods Furniture Depository which I remember seeing in the 1980s falling into disrepair . .

. . but which now has a new lease of life as ultra-smart apartments.

. . but which now has a new lease of life as ultra-smart apartments.

Sometimes I am walking over my own family history. This manhole cover in Dublin Docklands was cast in my grandfather's Iron-foundry at Inchicore where my uncles and father worked for many years, and where I also worked in the school holidays. Judging by the date, I might even have had a hand in making this one!. The foundry is long gone, but hundreds of Conway drains and covers remain on Irish streets, and will for many years to come.

Sometimes I am walking over my own family history. This manhole cover in Dublin Docklands was cast in my grandfather’s Iron-foundry at Inchicore where my uncles and father worked for many years, and where I also worked in the school holidays. Judging by the date, I might even have had a hand in making this one!. The foundry is long gone, but hundreds of Conway drains and covers remain on Irish streets, and will for many years to come.

Another river walk, this time The Rhine in Germany, yeilds an especially moody sky.

Another river walk, this time The Rhine in Germany, yeilds an especially moody sky.

A path in a park in Co. Kerry is blocked after a bridge is washed away in a storm. The choice of wording on the warning sign makes it seem far more interesting . .

A path in a park in Co. Kerry is blocked after a bridge is washed away in a storm. The choice of wording on the warning sign makes it seem far more interesting . .

The curling of the warning tape in the breeze makes the message seem even more sinister. Is this perhaps the Garden of Eden? Is the Tree of Knowledge just beyond?

The curling of the warning tape in the breeze makes the message seem even more sinister. Is this perhaps the Garden of Eden? Is the Tree of Knowledge just beyond?

So there we have it, a few of the the interesting sights I would not have seen if I hadn’t kept up walking throughout 2012.

Below are my stats for the year from the wonderful “Walkmeter” app.

I hope to do even better in 2013.   Steve

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The Long And Winding Road

I’d love to be angry with Chris England.

Logging on to his compulsive-reading England’s England site, and seeing a post titled “Steve Conway Fights Fat Bastard Syndrome” is probably not the ideal way to start a Monday morning, and not the kind of flattering portrayal one likes to see of oneself.

But I can’t possibly object, because I’m a realist, and I have to admit that Chris is only (kindly, as you’ll see when you read the text) telling it like it is.

I have got myself into an overweight, unfit state, and that’s my doing, not his.

Over the last 20 or so years, I have allowed myself to go from this:

Steve on a ship in 1988

to this:

Steve on a ship in 2011

So I can’t really complain about Chris pointing out what is inescapable reality, especially as in doing so he admits to similar problems himself, and wishes me well in my quest to fight back to fitness.

And, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, I am taking steps to change. Interventions from friends such as Chris are useful in reminding me of how others see me, but only I can make the change.

Over the past month, I have been walking almost every day, and I’m aiming to continue this. I’m doing a minimum of 2km on working days, and at least double that at weekends.

Now, I’ve done this in the past, intermittantly, but always petered out.

This time has to be different. And I mean has to be.Whereas previously I could start and stop my weight-loss kicks with no real consequences, this time it is a neccessity.

What spurred me into action at the start of December was finding myself at a tipping point, health and fitness wise. I found myself at the point where I was actually beginning to waddle rather than walk. The smallest bit of activity would leave me breathless. And my feet, which had always been fine, were beginning to hurt, presumably under the ever increasing burden of carrying me. As someone who used to walk a lot, who in his youth had climbed all of the Dublin, Wicklow and Kerry mountains without a thought, this appalled me.

I’ve had a full health check-up. My heart is fine, I don’t have any health complications like Type 2 diabetes yet, but it would be only a matter of time if I abandoned myself to further inaction. So I’ve started walking, and I won’t stop.

I wish I could do more than 2km a day, but such is my level of unfitness that my feet give up after this and become numb, so I will have to do a little every day, and get them used to this before I can do more. On the longer weekend walks I have to rest halfway.  Just ten years ago, I used to walk from Ballinteer to Eastpoint (about 12km) on bank holidays without a second thought. I’d love to be that person again.

I have some help in the form of technology, a great smartphone app called Walkmeter which tracks and records my walks, maps them for me afterwards, and whispers in my ear each time I have completed another half a km (user defined setting – it can announce at any interval you like).

So there you have it – my biggest challenge for 2012.

Tougher than keeping this blog up to date, more important than getting my second book published, but if I can pull it off, more rewarding than anything else I could achieve.

I’ll keep plugging away at it, and we’ll see how far I’ve got at the end of the year.

But time to put down the keyboard now, and get outside.

And, though it hurst to say it, thanks Chris.

Steve