|Brown Street, Belfast, April 2017|
MY FIRST TRAVEL GIG AFTER A WINTER AT HOME took me back to Ireland - to the north, this time, and the two Ulster counties straddled by the city of Belfast. It felt like a suitable way to start a new year's worth of travel, in a place that I had imagined vividly for so many years, but which bore little to no resemblance to the city I had in my mind.
It's been almost twenty years since the Good Friday Peace Agreement, and you'd have to look hard - or know where to go - to find evidence of the Belfast I saw on the news from the time I was a child and all through my youth and early adult years. I was, to be honest, grateful that it seemed to have disappeared, though that didn't stop me from trying to sniff out its remnants, or discover what sort of mood was left behind.
|Ballintoy, County Antrim, March 2017|
|The Dark Hedges, County Antrim, March 2017|
|Giant's Causeway, County Antrim, March 2017|
|Portstewart Strand, County Antrim, March 2017|
The actual purpose of the trip was a tour through the filming locations for Game of Thrones, many of which are scattered on either side of Belfast, up the Causeway Coast Route from Belfast to Londonderry, or south through County Down. It's was a picturesque journey, along dramatic seaside roads, through ancient woods and past castles and ruins. Pure honey for a photographer.
When I went to Ireland a year ago, I fought hard to avoid being seduced by the picturesque. This time around I knew it was pointless, and let myself embrace all the views and the references the sights I was seeing evoked, from Constable and other English landscape paintings to Victorian travel book engravings. I'll probably never lack for cityscapes and rough abstraction, but manicured views and storybook forests will likely be much scarcer.
|Castle Ward manor house, County Down, April 2017|
|Inch Abbey, County Down, April 2017|
|Tollymore Forest, County Down, April 2017|
We were based in Belfast, though, so I had almost two days of urban exploration to enjoy, in a city with tidy, finite borders and walkable distances. I was impressed by Belfast's revival in areas like the Titanic Quarter, built around the old Harland & Wolff shipyards, but I made sure I set aside a long Sunday afternoon to wander around West Belfast, up the Falls Road and over the A12 into the Shankill, two neighbourhoods that were once at war with each other.
I liked Belfast. I like any place with history, but I especially like a place that's proud of its history, troubling and unpleasant as it might be, and is willing to tell you about it. (The Falls and the Shankill are, like the Titanic Quarter and Queen's University, stops on the hop-on/hop-off bus tour.) Some people enjoy beaches or cathedrals; I like terraces, bookshops and political posters.
|Falls Road, Belfast, April 2017|
|The Shankill, Belfast, April 2017|
|Belfast, April 2017|
|Titanic Quarter, Belfast, March 2017|