Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ashford Castle

I don't know where to start.



The beginning, I suppose, but Ashford Castle was so incredible that my thoughts about it are all jumbled. Let's just start typing and see where it gets me.



Peter had a wedding there on Friday. The family was from Canada and they were very well off. Total coverage of the day included four photographers (two from America and two from Ireland) and a staff of two videographers from Ireland. It was a small wedding in terms of party members; only four including bride and groom, and the guests numbered around 30 or so. Peter was hired on as a secondary photojournalistic type job, and he asked if I wanted to go with so I could see the castle. I agreed enthusiastically.



Ashford Castle is a five star hotel. When you enter the sprawling 300 acre grounds you see a posting that says 'Ashford Casle 1228 A.D.' 1228! My mind started reeling from that second and it didn't stop for another eight hours. It was turned into a hotel in 1939. Apparently it's amongst the top hotels in the world. It's definitely the nicest place that I have ever been, inside AND out.



When we arrived we drove across a small bridge and through excellent gates, up to the front of the building. I followed Peter in to the reception area and it was extremely difficult to keep my mouth closed.  He bustled around meeting relevant people and I stood off to the side with some of his equipment. The second that he walked away I pulled out my phone and wandered to a few different rooms. I snapped pictures and kept reminding myself to close my mouth because I was in a nice place and it's unattractive to walk around with my mouth open. The rooms were unbelievable. High ceilings, detail out the wazoo, ornate old intricate wooden rich beautiful. After I took in those few rooms as best I could I turned and looked out the windows. At that point I made an audible noise of shock and awe while I looked upon beautifully manicured grounds, rock walls, outlook posts, a smooth lake and far distant islands. I wanted to scream from excitement, but fortunately I did not.



I fidgeted nervously in front of an intensely decorated mirror, trying to get my hair into a nice ponytail. When Peter finally came back I followed after him and we were set to start photographing the bridal party along with the rest of the photographers. The videographers were instructed to go with the guests onto a toured boat ride that takes a circuit around the lake. So elaborate!




The family really couldn't have asked for more gorgeous weather. A slightly cool late morning gave way to a comfortably warm, borderline hot, afternoon. There was a slight haze to the sky that kept the rays from being too entirely overpowering on the eyes. The time was slow going while we all swept around the castle, inside and out, snapping literally thousands of photos of the bride and groom in loving poses. This afforded me great opportunities to catalog locations that I would come back to later when I was allowed to frolic off on my own with my real camera.



Once we got out to the back of the castle where the fountain was we were greeted with bird trainers. The father of the bride (a talented hobby photographer and wedding coordinator) had arranged for the falcon and owl trainers to come out so that the bride and groom could have photos taken while holding the birds. Ashford Castle has a falconry on site, and this is an event that they offer to guests. Now, I don't like birds. In fact, I hate birds. They freak me out. However, these were absolutely gorgeous. I've never seen a falcon before, and I've certainly never been that close to an owl before. They were stunning, bold, intense. It was enthralling and I am so sad that I don't have any good pictures of that, just one small shot from my phone. Ah well.




By two o'clock I was allowed to cut loose and spend the rest of the day on my own. We were scheduled to be there until seven, so that gave me five glorious hours to explore at my whim and leisure. I was bursting with excitement as I bounded to the car. At this point it was pretty hot outside, so I took a moment to relax in the shade of the car and drink some water. I snatched up my headphones for some upbeat ambience and set off to the fountain area.




I hardly knew what to photograph first. I ended up taking around 300 photos, which was nice. I could have taken so many more if I had had some people with me. It was practically painful for me to be among so many striking locations, perfect for portrait photography, and to be completely by myself. A few times I derailed into taking goofy pictures of me smiling since I was having such a great time.




I revisited a few places that I had already been with the bride and groom, and then I wandered past where we had all sat to have lunch. It has been a long time since I've been outside for that long, and it has certainly been a while since I've had that much warm sunshine. It was never that hot when I was here last summer (which is ridiculous), so yeah I was pretty out of practice with dealing with the heat. I also seemed to have forgotten how quickly I can run when I hear a bee near my face! I found myself quite alone along a very long stretch of pavement. I passed a lot of very fun and quirky trees, they all had faces. At one point I stopped to send a message to Andrew and a bee landed on my finger. I screamed extremely loudly and scared some birds out of a tree.





Eventually I came to a fork in the road. I picked the left because it was sunnier and I could see a building off in the distance. The building turned out to be a small schoolhouse, which looked as though it had been turned into a small cottage for people to stay in. For this reason I didn't take any photos of it, it seemed fairly private. It had a lovely little garden in front of it though. The road continue to curve past this building, but I had no idea where it led to so I turned and went back to the fork. I didn't have a water bottle with me and I recalled Peter saying the grounds spread over 300 acres. It seemed best to stick relatively close to the castle.



The opposite direction took me through some shaded type walking areas and eventually past an equestrian paddock. I passed more animated trees, lovely tufts of grass and scattered fields of flowers. Before too long I popped out in front of the castle, along a field that was next to a winding brook. This field had lovely patches of daisies all over it, and I decided that this would be the day that I made my first complete daisy chain. I have tried in the past, but I could never find enough thick stemmed daisies to make one that would go around my head. To my delight, Ashford Castle was rife with thick stemmed daisies. I found myself covered in pollen and smelling of fresh flowers, with a lovely daisy chain around my glowing red hair. I was the prettiest this day.




Seeing as I found myself next to the car again I decided to sit and rest and drink more water. I took this time to review all of the photos I had already taken. Then, and I'm quite proud of this, I did something I hadn't thought to do before: I looked through the photos to see not only what I had already captured, but what I hadn't captured enough of. I used the time to think about what I'd wish I had taken more photos of. I feel absolutely ridiculous for never having done this before, because there have been plenty of times where I review the photos once I'm home and go, 'Darn I should have taken more shots of {blank}'. It proved to be extremely helpful because I ended up getting a slew of new photos after that.




Feeling reinvigorated and quenched, I set back to the fountain side of the castle and took a different direction. I found a lovely staircase and some fun doors. I also gained close access to the lake and found a beautiful stretch of reeds. But my most rewarding find of all manifested itself in the form of a small dungeon area. I really don't have the words to describe how I felt when I came upon it. At first it looked simply like a small holding area with an ornate gate. I took a few pictures and wondered whether or not I wanted to go in; it seemed awfully dark and wet and creepy. I poked my head inside though and found a spectacularly lit (and fabulously colored) staircase. I immediately ran in and dropped to my knees in the dark and started to take photos. I felt so full, so satisfied, and then I turned around. The door that I had just come through was presenting me yet another gorgeous photo opportunity. Sunlight was pouring in through the open door, and everything else was near blackness. I felt thankful, overwhelmed, and was cursing the fact that I was in such a breathtaking place alone.






It was nearly six o'clock at this point and I was feeling quite exhausted. I had been out in the sun since eleven and was running around just about that whole time. I thought about how tired Peter must be feeling, since he was the one actually chasing people around. I spied a crooked staircase next to a tiny parapet type outpost, so I sat down in the shade. I watched hotel guests go for jogs, walks, photo excursions and I was even visited by a small and adorable dog. I smiled and absorbed and thanked and thought and sighed.



Eventually I decided that I wanted more water and I also wanted to read my book a little while I waited for Peter to wrap up. My plans were foiled though, because he had taken his car to head off to the church! No matter, I thought to myself, for I have Harry Potter on my ipod :] so I found a comfortable staircase near the entrance gates with a nice view of the brook and I read Harry Potter while listening to music. It was bliss.




There are so many more things that happened, but that's how my brain has conjured up the story. I have to go back someday, and I have to have people with me. It's a private establishment, so one can't just waltz in to look around. Suppose I'll have to save up money and stay there a night ;)

-MJ

4 comments:

pie-trick said...

These are beautiful Miranda! Love the one of the bird! They have a very magical surreal quality to them.

MJ said...

Thank you Hannah :) It was a real joy being there, some truly amazing photo opportunities!

KidcharlemagneX said...

Honestly some of the most beautiful landscape i have ever seen. Where exactly was this photographed. I am referring to the April 10th post.

MJ said...

Thank you :) Greatly appreciated!

Ashford Castle is in Cong, County Mayo, Ireland.

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