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.

Let me get to the point………….. Killowen Point that is!!

With a strong background in all things Environmental, I am always looking to understand the land and sea on this amazing planet. During my studies, I tended to focus on coastal landscapes as they appealed to me the most. This is probably because I grew up close to the shores of Carlingford Lough and was always finding a feature that astounded me. So, when I started to learn about the influences of wave action on the coastline I began identifying the reasons behind certain features found along Carlingford Lough.

Most people understand that beaches are formed due to the friction inflicted on the coastline by the waves and tides of the ocean. Not only is the shape of a beach influenced by the wave action, but the beach slope and sediment size are too. Where wave action is not as powerful, you would normally find larger sediment on the coastline like pebbles and this is what is typical along most of Carlingford Lough. Some areas of the Lough shores have sand but mostly it is shingle beach with lots of seaweed washing up along the highwater mark.

One of the features that always amazed me was Killowen Point, a place that I visited numerous times but was always impressed by. The point looks like a big arm extending into the Lough and it raises the question of how this can happen. I know that it is a simple process of erosion and deposition which is occurring constantly, but it still intrigues me. The tip of the point is submerged during high tide and can only be seen fully during low tide. I find it so interesting to see how the point will change over time, if I will easily notice changes to its length or shape.

I love that in the photo I took down at the waters edge, that you can see a perfect curvature of the high watermark, proving how special and unique our coastlines can be. On the same day I took a photo of the water as I was pleasantly surprised at how clear the water was at this location. Living around a harbour town notorious for a lot of shipping traffic, seaweed and mud, the waters mostly seem murky around Carlingford Lough, so this was a welcome new experience. The photo looking down on Killowen Point was taken along the slopes of Slieve Martin (Sliabh Mártain) which shows the Point in all its glory during low tide. From here you can see a lot of Carlingford Lough and you will start to notice that there are other land formations along the shores that mimic this one at Killowen Point, however they are all man-made. You can see piers and slipways on either side of the Lough but Killowen Point is a naturally occurring deposition of sediment over time which has created a permanent sandbank.

Over the centuries construction has occurred along coastlines worldwide to create promenades and walk ways and sadly it took a long time for the negative impacts of this to be recognised. But here, in Killowen, nature created her very own walkway towards Carlingford Lough for people to use and enjoy.

My 10,000 Steps

Today, we live in what I like to call the fit-bit generation as more people than ever are interested in their day-to-day activities. I myself have fallen victim to the trend as well, often checking my steps, calories burned and heart rate. I set my daily goal for 10,000 steps, when I achieve this my tracker buzzes and I must admit as sad as it seems, it is extremely satisfying. This goal has only recently been achieved when I am buzzing around the busy café that I work in, but I am determined to change that and to ensure that more and more of my steps are taken into my beautiful natural surroundings instead.

With the need to get out and clear my mind, I arrived at Kilbroney forest park and started to ascend Slieve Martin. A place full of fond childhood memories, it makes a dull day seem much brighter. Today was gloomy and windy with a strong threat of rain which didn’t phase the numerous walkers and bikers that joined me amongst the trails the mountain has to offer.

For me, this forest brings pure serenity as I focus all my senses on her.

It is as if with each step all worries and woes began to disappear as all I could see and hear was the forest around me. Instead of worrying about money, my career and other people, I found myself looking up to the sky to watch the trees sway in the wind and let my mind go free. The wind rushed amongst the trees which towered above me like nature’s own skyscrapers. My footsteps were marked out in the mud and were surrounded by the beautiful spring flowers on the forest floor.

For the first time in a long time, I really felt awake but then maybe that was just the wind whipping my face. I haven’t been as active as I would have hoped lately but I didn’t expect to be so unfit. On the steepest part of the trail, my legs were crying out for a rest but my curiosity wouldn’t let me, so I pushed on and it was all worth it. There really is no better feeling than reaching a clearing in the forest so you can finally see how high you are and of course spot the beautiful Carlingford Lough below.

When I finally reached the infamous Cloughmore Stone, it was glorious, even though I have been there numerous times, its just as special each time. This spot boasts beautiful views of the Lough, Warrenpoint, Rostrevor, Carlingford and the Cooley Peninsula, but today I didn’t have much time to stay to appreciate this. It was when I reached this spot that I noticed the mist coming down the mountain towards me so I quickly made my way back down via the Cloughmore Trail.

On this day, it wasn’t the number of steps that I took that was important, it was where those steps took me.