Garden Surprise

As I looked out upon my garden, something caught my eye as it ran up stones, grass and a wall and finally rested on a stone right in front of me. My brain took some time to accept what my eyes were seeing. A Red Squirrel. It sped across my garden and it was gone as quick as it had arrived.

Red Squirrels can be found throughout forested areas in Ireland but have a much smaller population than the invasive Grey Squirrel. I have only ever seen Red Squirrels in Castlewellan Forest Park and Kilbroney Forest Park which both have old growth woods, mostly Oak. I know that a breeding pair were reintroduced in Silent Valley Mountain Park to encourage a new population in the area. I never expected to spot one of these amazing creatures so close to home. I live in a mostly agricultural landscape, I am surrounded by farmland with few large, old growth trees. It is not the usual habitat for Red Squirrels so this was definitely a pleasant surprise.

What made this moment even more special, was that I shared it with my 2-year-old nephew. I have been taking him out into nature all Summer long, showing him everything I possibly can and trying to pass on my love for the outdoors. When I squealed with excitement about the Red Squirrel, so did he and he couldn’t wait to get outside and see if we could find it. So of course, we got on our boots and grabbed our binoculars (Yes, he has toy binoculars to match mine) and went out in search of our new garden visitor. We were unsuccessful in tracking it, but I am determined to keep my eyes peeled for it again and would love to get a photo.

I love that you will always find something new, even in the places you think you know. No matter how many times you look at the same view, there will be something different, you might just have to open your eyes a little wider to notice it.

Murder Hole Beach.

This beautiful beach has been titled as Ireland’s top hidden beach and it is very well deserved. It is found on the Melmore Head peninsula in Northern Donegal. The beach can only be accessed via private land with cows grazing throughout so you should always be careful, mindful, and respectful when visiting.

This beach has beautiful golden sand, dunes, cliffs, clear waters and some small caves. Unfortunately, I visited during high tide, so I was unable to access the caves as they are separated from the beach by rocks and water. It was such a pleasure to just simply watch the ocean from this beach. Every view is as beautiful as the next. With views of Horn Head and Tory Island in the distance.

It is hard to understand why such a beautiful place can hold such a morbid name. I have heard a few rumours of the origin of the name;

  1. There is a story about a girl falling to her death from the cliffs in the 1800’s
  2. There is another story that this girl was pushed to her death
  3. The last story is about the waters around the beach and how unpredictable they can be, with strong currents leaving bathing highly perilous.

The latter is probably the most likely. As I stood watching the waves, I could see the current and it was very strong and extremely unpredictable. The waters were powerful, and the tide was on the turn, pulling each wave towards the vast ocean, it would definitely be a very dangerous place for swimmers.

One thing I found amazing and interesting about this area was the EIRE sign in the field used to access Murder Hole beach. The famous EIRE signs were strewn across coastal headlands in Ireland during WWII to highlight that this was neutral land to both allies and the German air forces. The sign here at Melmore is EIRE78 of the 80 signs found across the isle. The signs are made up of whitewashed stones, but they are well faded here at Melmore. I am sure that most people walk past these stones without noticing as they are well overgrown now and it seems like such a shame. Luckily for me, I was staying with a friend who owns a mobile home in Melmore who has been visiting Murder Hole for the last 19 years so was a very good tour guide and pointed them out to me, and it was so exciting. This is the first that I have seen, and it was very special as I felt the history of this era immediately.

I would definitely recommend anyone to visit this beautiful beach and try to catch low tide to have a look at the caves. I hope to visit again and check out the caves too.

Day trip to the North Coast

I recently went for a trip to the North Coast of Ireland to meet up with some friends. I studied at the Coleraine campus of Ulster University, living in the beautiful seaside town of Portstewart for a few years, so this area is very special to me and I try to visit when I can.

Of course, I went to Portstewart first, went for a walk on the promenade with an ice-cream as usual. The whole town was buzzing with people and Covid-19 or not, I always crave a quieter experience on the North Coast so I jumped in my car to get away someplace else.

I made a quick pitstop at the lovely Bothy Cafe for a latte and it was just the cutest little place, I would highly recommend checking it out. The coffee was great, but honestly it was the location and decor that won me over. Firstly, I love the name; a Bothy is a hut or cottage used for refuge by the public on mountains, although this is usually a Scottish tradition. Secondly, the rural setting of this coffee shop is so perfect, as I was sitting drinking my coffee, I could hear the sheep in the field next to me and that was just amazing. The decor of the outdoor seating area was extra special to me because it was filled with old farmyard collectibles, most of which my dad has collected over the years and fills our garage and garden. The best part was that my stool was made from an old tractor seat, which is something that I have been begging my dad to make with his.

All fueled up with my coffee, I was ready to hit White Park Bay for the first time and it was beautiful. As I got out of my car, I could hear the waves and could immediately sense the power of the ocean. As I walked down towards the beach, I was greeted with a fantastic view of sand dunes, wildflowers, white sand, cliffs, the open ocean and a lot of sea fog which made the whole place look quite mystical. I won’t lie, I was very disappointed that there were no cows paddling on the shore as I have seen in many photos of this beach, but the sea views made up for it. I really enjoy just being by the water, watching and listening as the waves flow from crest to trough. After a while appreciating this beautiful beach, taking lots of photos, having lots of laughs and nearly getting caught out by a rogue wave, we decided to move along the coast and visit Ballintoy Harbour.

Ballintoy Harbour was a very cute, small harbour that is located down a narrow windy road that you would barely even notice. That is until it became the Iron Islands of the global sensation Game of Thrones. Now this little gem is a massive tourist attraction and is always busy but it was a delight to visit just as the sun was going down. I like to explore as much as possible, so I clambered up the rocks to get higher and higher and it was just an epic feeling. That feeling of standing on the edge and listening to the powerful waves crash beneath me was just what I needed. I felt free in that moment, vulnerable and small but calm. Everything went quiet in my mind as I focused solely on those waves and I wished that I could just sit there for a long long time.

I was very sad to say goodbye to the North Coast that evening and I already can’t wait for my next visit.

My first true ramble of Summer 2020

I am lucky enough to live in the Northern Irish countryside and have been out enjoying nature as much as possible during Covid-19. It has been great for exercise but mostly for my mental health during these stressful and uncertain times.

I have been out a lot on short, local walks but have mostly been focusing on running so I haven’t been on many hikes, so I finally made time for a proper ramble last weekend. It rained all day, of course, what else would you expect during June in Ireland, but there was a break in weather in the late afternoon so I jumped at the opportunity to get outdoors. I headed to Kilbroney Forest Park with the aim of reaching the Trig Point on the summit of Slieve Martin. The weather was fair; mostly dry but windy. I felt the full force of the wind as soon as I reached the Trig Point, and it was one of those experiences of quite literally being knocked back on my feet and taking my breath away. The view was beautiful, no matter the weather and was well worth the sparse rain I had to walk through. The skies were dark and moody over the shores of Carlingford Lough, threatening lightning that never came.

I was overcome with a strong sense of calm, gratitude and curiosity, I knew that I wasn’t ready to head home so I spotted a small trail among the Bog-Cotton filled Heather and began to follow it. I started to spot beautiful wildflowers like Common Cow-Wheat and Heath Speedwell and most exciting of all was the Lichen. I spent a lot of time last Summer collecting Lichen in Canada and it has really sprouted a passion to explore the species we have here. The Cladonia Lichens are the most interesting and my favourite so it was great to spot some Cladonia chlorophaea, Cladonia coniocraea and Cladonia floerkeana on tree stumps along the path. I followed this path, not knowing where it would lead and it was beautiful but after a while, I realized that it was a mountain biking trail so I shouldn’t have been walking on it but couldn’t find away off without heading back the whole way. Luckily it was late in the evening and there were no bikers using the path so I had it all to myself. The dark clouds cleared up and the wind died down a little as I carefully continued on. I watched the birds flying high above me and the ones that flew out of the heather close to my feet. I finally found myself on a forestry road, which took me through a sea of tall Pine trees and eventually led me back to where I had parked my car. I must admit, I wish I was brave enough to be a mountain biker because they have some of the best trails in Kilbroney Forest Park.

My own definition of a ramble is going out for a walk or a hike and just letting your curiosity control your destination. I like the feeling of not knowing exactly where I will end up and what I will find.

Get outdoors. Get a little lost. Find your path. Repeat.

Narrow Water Keep, Warrenpoint, Co.Down.

I took a walk back through time this afternoon whilst visiting the Keep at Narrow Water Castle, situated outside the town of Warrenpoint, County Down. This 16th Century Keep lies along the shores of Carlingford Lough where it meets the Newry River.

There has been a Keep here since 1212, built by Hugh de Lacy who was he first Earl of Ulster. Later during the 1560’s the tower-house and walled bawn was built and in 1641 the original Keep was destroyed during a rebellion. The style of the Keep was very typical for the period and would be found throughout Ireland.

The Keep is a building that I have grew up with, seeing it throughout every season, year after year. I have photographed it from many positions outside the grounds and from mountain tops overlooking it, but being inside was something special. Today was the first time that I have been able to explore within the walls and it was worth the wait.

It may be selfish, but I was so happy that the place was completely empty so I could explore everything alone. I ventured through the impressive doorway and found a large room with a wooden beam ceiling and some very small windows. For such a beautiful sunny day outside, it was pretty dark with such little light peaking through the windows so I imagine when the keep was in use that a vast amount of candles and fires would have been required for lighting. I began to make my way upstairs and this included a steep narrow staircase. This brought me to such an impressive room. The ceiling of the entire 1st floor of the keep is a semi-circular arch built in stone. This room also had larger windows and a latrine. The largest window boasted a beautiful view of the water and was facing North towards Newry. It is what I assumed to be an early bay-style window, but I was wrong, very wrong. I discovered that this is what was called the “Murder Hole”. And there it was, a hole through the ground at the window which was right above the entrance to the building, which would have been used by defenders to fire or throw objects or weapons towards any attackers. I’m sure they could have even used boiling oil if needed here. I’m aware that during any Medieval themed film that I have seen that there has definitely been a scene using a Murder Hole but it still surprised me to see this beautiful and quaint section of the keep to be titled with such a grim name.  So, I finally continued on to the 2nd floor which had more little rooms running off it with tiny windows peering out into the Lough. These rooms could have been sleeping quarters, or kitchens or for storage, I would love to know. Sadly, the roof of the keep is closed off to the public, but I would love for them to change this as the view from the top would be amazing.

Whilst looking around I can’t help but picture the soldiers that would have been manning the keep. I stood where they would have stood, manning the fort through those little windows. I felt very thankful to them, because they protected what is now my home; the busy community driven town of Warrenpoint.

 

 

IMG_2969

Heatwaves and Gorse fires; Why is Northern Ireland so unprepared?

I am sure that it is now international knowledge that Ireland and the UK have been experiencing a heatwave for the past week or so. Two nations full of complainers and over-exaggerators when it comes to anything involving the weather. A few months ago, we were frozen over, and we had to close schools and businesses and I even had to wear my hiking boots to make it over my road a few times. But now that temperatures have been flying steady above 20 degrees the whole island of Ireland has been put on a hosepipe ban. Oh yes, you heard that right, an island that experiences rain for at least 10 months of the year is worried about water shortages and pollution.

Sadly with this heatwave comes the threat of gorse wildfires across Northern Ireland, in which approximately 600 were reported in the last week. This issue is not only tragic to the environment but deeply threatens livestock, farmland, homeowners and the economy. The thought of any of these fires being purposely set is appalling as brave members of our Fire and Rescue Service continue to put their lives in danger to combat the flames. I was driving along the Mourne Coastal Route during a beautiful sunny evening and suddenly the road in front of me was engulfed in thick smoke as a gorse fire raged along the cliffs. The firefighters were on the scene already trying to stomp out the flames, but it was obviously difficult when they were surrounded by dry grass and gorse which caught fire so quickly. A few days later, I heard that the area around Bloody Bridge in County Down was also experiencing gorse fires, this is only a few miles down the road from Ballymartin where I had seen the last gorse fire. Bloody Bridge is a popular spot for watersports, picnics and sunbathing so the area has been buzzing with people throughout this good weather. On the news, I have seen reports of large gorse fires across the nation, which worries me of how our landscapes are so fragile against the slightest of environmental changes.

Although this heatwave is a weather phenomenon, it is the sort of event that may become more frequent as our climate becomes more unpredictable in the future. Hopefully our governments, in both Ireland and the UK will work harder to implement solutions to the problems climate change and global warming will continue to throw our way.

But for now, there are things you can do to help reduce the risk of gorse fires;

·         Report any fires immediately by calling 999

·         Extinguish all barbeque equipment and cigarettes properly

·         Refrain from setting camp fires

·         Refrain from leaving rubbish in areas that are vulnerable to wildfires, as rubbish like plastic and glass bottles can act as a lens to superheat the ground beneath them resulting in a spark.

For more information on what to do to help prevent wildfires and what to do if you see a wildfire follow the link;

https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/news/daera-urges-public-help-prevent-wildfires

A pit in the mountain and a pit in my stomach!!

I visited the Flagstaff viewpoint last weekend and experienced the amazing scenery that it boasts both North and South of the Irish Border. To my right was the iconic view over Warrenpoint and Carlingford Lough, to my left a view over Newry City and Newry Canal, behind me was beautiful mountains and farmland but slap bang in front of me was the perfect view into a huge quarry.

I wrote a post about Bigwood Forest just a few weeks ago as I had visited the site and was pleasantly surprised by the diverse vegetation and insects that I experienced. The site is a working quarry and has been in action for a long time, but it is very well hidden from the main road. You see the occasional lorry pulling into or out of the site, but it is mostly a mystery to how big the quarry is. I really hadn’t thought about this place very much as I couldn’t see it, so I didn’t see it as an environmental problem.

But from the Flagstaff viewpoint I could finally see just how large the quarry is. It was disheartening to see the vast hole in the beautiful landscape that lay before me. I even felt disappointed in myself for not knowing the scale of disruption to the local environment. Sadly, Mourne is known for its granite and so this is a common sight around this area. What makes me sad is that this is a site that will only continue to get bigger as they dig further into the rock, eventually depleting the chances of ecological balance in the area. I have drove along the dual-carriage between Warrenpoint and Newry and always envy the people who live in the houses on the other side of the water because they are so isolated, elevated and I imagine that they have an incredible view of the landscape. But now I realise that whilst they do get to see the beauty of the area, they also must look at the ugliness of the natural resource exploitation that has occurred here.

I even titled the area as a Hidden Gem and I guess this was correct, but it was the quarry that was hiding, not the beautiful natural surroundings.

Who cares if it has been photographed a thousand times, it’s my time that counts!

 

If you are lucky enough to live close to or have visited the seaside town of Warrenpoint the above image is probably very familiar to you. This is The Flagstaff viewpoint which overlooks all of Carlingford Lough and Warrenpoint. For me, it is the most iconic view of my local area as I have grown up with Flagstaff paintings on my walls.

As it is an image that has been replicated rigorously I haven’t tried to photograph it before as I didn’t think it was possible to capture anything different to those before me. However, on this morning I ventured out to the viewpoint because Storm Hector was in full force and I thought that this might make for an interesting view from The Flagstaff. So of course, with weather warnings on the news I expected dark grey heavy skies over Carlingford Lough, but I was wrong. As I drove the narrow, winding, rising road towards my destination, the clouds broke and that amazing Irish sunshine came out. And yes, I am a typical Irish girl, so I got very excited because our sunshine never lasts too long so I knew I had to make the most if it.

When I reached the viewpoint, it was simply breath-taking, and what made it more special was that I was completely alone. I find it better to experience places when alone to really take it all in, so I was very lucky this time. Instantly I forgot about why I came there, I just wanted to run to the highest point to see as far and wide as possible. Although it was a similar view to what I have always seen, everything seemed different, the colours that I could see were more vivid. The blues were somehow bluer and the greens greener and I watched as the sea changed colours as the shadows of the clouds passed over. I love photography because a photo can give me so much inspiration but I am very glad that in this case I went to experience this view first hand and I found it extremely serene and beautiful.

One thing I learnt this day was that when it comes to Ireland the weather is never going to do what you want it to do!!