VIDEO GALLERY: Meet the intrepid Ulster snapper who has captured true beauty of the Mournes across four seasons – braving storms, snow and scalding summer sun

The Mourne mountain range is beautiful – but its panoramas come at a cost.

Monday, 18th October 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Monday, 18th October 2021, 10:04 am

Lugging your body up piles of boulder-strewn granite which reach 850m into the Co Down sky (2,790ft) will take the breath out of even the fittest rambler.

But Richard Watson believes it was all worth it.

Over the course of a full year he has made more than 100 treks across the range, and camped overnight 40 times, in order to capture the forbidding landscape in all its seasonal finery.

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Slieve Bearnagh and part of Ben Crom reservoir

He is now making the footage and photos which he has amassed available to anyone who wants to licence them, from tourism businesses to the entertainment industry.

A video, clocking in at just under six minutes, has been uploaded to YouTube and other media displaying time-lapse footage of the mountain range from different viewpoints (see links at the end).

AN ULSTER SHERPA IN A ONE-MAN COFFIN:

A pro photographer, the 48-year-old Lisburn man (now living on the north coast) usually shoots things like billboard advertising campaigns, whether for banks, farming products, or the PSNI.

But finding himself largely out of work during the pandemic, he set himself the gruelling task of obtaining the best possible footage of the Mournes.

“It’s been all-consuming to be honest. I’m glad to get out the other end of it!” he told the News Letter.

“I’ve battered my body, and it consumed a whale year of my life. I’ve just gone up as often as I could. And it was the toughest thing I’ve ever done.”

Walking up the mountains by himself was hard, but he had to bring perhaps 20kg (44lb) of kit with him.

And even then, only about one-third of the shots which he set up yielded suitable material.

In fact, he climbed up one mountain – Slieve Loughshannagh – six times without getting any viable footage, due to visibility problems.

“Winter was brutal – minus 15C with wind chill,” he said.

“But summer I found the hardest to shoot – mainly because of midgies climbing all over the lens.”

He used filters placed over the lens to adjust shutter speed, but the tiny flies would always find a gap, get in, and ruin his shot, all in roughly 30C weather.

To help with the expeditions, he enlisted a man called Adam as a kind of Ulster “sherpa”, helping him with hauling equipment and supplies.

One night they were camped on Slieve Binnian, and at night a huge storm rolled in.

“We were getting battered, and his tent got shredded and just fell apart,” said RIchard.

“He was shouting, swearing – ‘I’m out of here’!”

To ride out the storm, Adam joined Richard in his miniscule tent – “which was like a wee one-man coffin”.

But it was an object lesson in how the Mournes can turn nasty very quickly.

“In winter, if anything goes wrong you’re one hour away from hypothermia,” he said.

“It’s that cold.”

When facing the “driving rain, wind strong enough to blow you off your feet,and snow up to your waist” the last year felt like a “battle” – one which “the mountains won”.

He added : “It really has been a labour of love, spending countless hours capturing the slow transition of the seasons.

“Watching the land, textures and colours slowly change, the clouds caressing and spilling over mountain peak and valleys...

“Sitting for hours on end behind the lens watching the landscape transform, only to then speed it up into this six minute film.”

And now you can judge for yourself at the following links:

> www.richardwatsonphoto.com

> www.instagram.com/richardwatsonphoto/

> www.facebook.com/richardwatsonphoto

> And see his 5 minute, 47 second video montage on YouTube by typing this into your browser:

shorturl.at/uLVX0

HORSEMILK IN A LAND OF NOMADS:

Richard acknowledges that “I’d have never been an outdoor person before”.

But one of the catalysts for undertaking his mammoth Mournes photoshoot was a visit to the little landlocked nation of Kyrgyzstan.

Roughly 14 times larger than Northern Ireland, the nation is inhabited by about seven million people, mostly ethnic Kyrgyz – a group related to Turkish people.

Once ruled over by Moscow-backed Communists, the Muslim-majority country is listed by the UN as the 120th most developed country in the world (out of 189).

Its ruggedness and remoteness lend themselves perfectly to landscape photographers.

“My girlfriend is from Kyrgyzstan – it is 80% mountains, and it’s mind-blowing,” said Richard.

“In Northern Ireland it’s hard to get something new.

“Whereas there, you could walk up a mountain no-one’s ever been on to shoot something.

“It was a game-changer.”

When he visited there a few years ago, he was interviewed by local news agencies about his photography, and some of the images he captured “just struck a chord and exploded over the internet”.

Whilst it has been largely ignored by westerners, the country is now beginning to become known more broadly.

He added: “It’s a fantastic place to go.

“The locals are the friendliest I’ve ever seen.

“Because they’re nomads, it’s their culture to invite in passers-by and break bread and give them horsemilk.”

When he returned home he ventured into the Mournes, having not been there for about 10 years.

“It’s so beautiful, and it’s on your doorstep,” he said.

“So I thought it’d be lovely to show the changing of the seasons.”

He added that “2020 changed our perception of what is really important in life and what we take for granted; what is superfluous, what truly matters”.

On some Mourne treks he had “never felt so alive”.

On others he had “never felt so alone”.

But all’s well that ends well – his Mourne odyssey will be a feat he can always cherish.

“It was something to look back on and be proud of when I’m a little older,” he said.

More from the News Letter:

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