As I write this post we are almost 90% of the way through our trip. We are now either nearing completion or running out of time – I’m not sure which one it is at the moment. One thing is for certain, we have seen many beaches, cliff tops and estuaries in search of our images. We have re-visited many places, as well as discovering many new ones. In all, we’ve covered over 300 kilometres of northern Spanish coastline.
As the crow flies the picture above is just 20 kilometres from where we used to live. In fact, it’s only a 25 minute drive from our home of the previous 8 years. And yet last night was the first time I’ve photographed it.
We set off with a plan to shoot at dusk. We went prepared with head torches – the return journey to the van would be via high cliff paths, walking in the dark. As we crossed the headland and the scene above appeared before us – we both experienced a feeling of déjà vu.
Piece by piece we started to recognise the terrain – “I remember that path, that field to the left and that track up there” and realised we had been here before. It was a significant oversight, and even more bizarrely we couldn’t recall the large rock arch, smooth cliff face and vertical sea stack. We were both in slight disbelief – as today such a sight would be etched in the mind, logged in our memory and begging for another visit. But 8 years ago it didn’t register or didn’t have the impact it would now.
We racked our brains a little more, and worked out it must have been during our first year that we last stood here. At that time I didn’t own a camera. In those days we were walking armed only with binoculars, and the aim of exploring the coastal paths and watch for its wildlife – namely seabirds.
Then Belinda remembered. It was here we had spotted the elusive Wallcreeper (perhaps the reason why we weren’t fully focused on the surroundings). It was winter, and the mountains in the backdrop of the coast were covered in snow. These small birds usually confine themselves to the higher mountains slopes but luckily for us, a cold spell had made them descend lower.
So, here we were again – at the same location, this time visiting for photography. I’d started to wonder about my life, as a non-photographer 8 years before, compared to now.
Had the process of trying to capture a picture changed our experiences?
Firstly we are now travelling with more intention. We are planning, taking seriously where we visit – it’s no longer random or left to chance. Although we like to wander, we are now wandering with a purpose. Place names begin to stick in the mind. The map has become a friend – we are paying more attention – to roads, landmarks and directions. It feels like a deeper appreciation of our surroundings – you feel like you’re ‘getting to know the place’ rather than just passing through.
We are also asking more questions about the landscape that lay in front of us. Where will the sun be? Which angle will look best at sunrise, and which at sunset? Will a lower tide reveal those rocks in the foreground? Or a higher tide provide more drama as the waves break. And there are other variables to consider – the weather, the season or even judging a time with less people and less interruption.
We’ve been forced to slow down, to watch the rhythm of the day unfold – from darkness to daylight and then back again. It’s a new experience.
And then there are things not so easy to predict, at the final moment as the elements collide and produce something magical. You hope to be rewarded for all your planning, even though often it doesn’t turn out that way.
So, I can’t imagine returning to become a non-photographer. There’s so much left to see, so much detail left to explore.
Footnote. The Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria) – is a much sort after bird by foreign bird watchers visiting Los Picos de Europa National Park.
So, has all this chasing the light meant our wildlife watching has suffered? Well, no, close to this very spot, just after sunrise, we watched an Egyptian vulture. Two days ago Belinda was jumping up and down with excitement as 2 pilot whales appeared. In late May, we saw the silhouettes of 2 otters, fishing in the rock pools as we waited for sunrise at a beach. We’ve been almost permanently accompanied by black redstarts, stonechats, linnets, choughs and many times peregrine falcons. And not to mention falling asleep in the van listening to the nightjars. An impressive sideshow indeed.