What do you do when it rains; stay inside or grab a raincoat?

Most people hide from the rain, taking shelter indoors but I find that it makes me want to go exploring.

My ultimate favourite place to be when it is raining is along the beach. Any beach. There is something very special about it. There is usually very few people about, if any. I suppose it sounds very selfish, but I love having the beach to myself so this is perfect for me. I studied at the Ulster University Coleraine Campus, so I was very lucky to be surrounded by Northern Ireland’s beautiful North Coast and I used to visit the local beaches quite often. My favourite was Portstewart Strand, a 5-minute walk from my house, which I used for escaping the stresses of university of life. Quite often I woke early to head out there, especially when the weather was unfavourable. My housemates always thought that it was strange of me to enjoy the beach whilst the wind and rain hammered down on me, but after months I finally convinced one of them to join me, and he instantly understood why it appealed to me so much. He realised how refreshing and calming it was to stand on the open beach and to be truly surrounded by nature as it reached out to all of your senses. 

Rain in Northern Ireland usually comes with some pretty strong winds so the waves are usually crashing along the shoreline. It is these kinds of conditions that remind us of how fierce and powerful the ocean can be. I could sit on the shore for hours listening to the waves and watching the birdlife. 

So last week I had a free day, it was raining and I wanted to get out of the house, so I ventured to Murlough Nature Reserve outside Newcastle in County Down. It’s a place that I visited when I was younger but it has been some time since I have been there, so I am glad I thought of it. There were a few cars in the carpark so I wasn’t the only one brave enough to face the stormy weather.    

As I walked through the 6000-year old dune system I couldn’t help but watch the birdlife flying above me. The birdlife in this area is very interesting with many species to be found; Buzzards, Red Kites, Greybacks, Magpies, Oystercatchers and of course a few species of Gulls. It was amazing to watch these birds soar along with the strong winds, swooping in and out of the dunes with such ease. The closer I got to the shore, the louder the waves got and when I finally left the dunes behind and stood on the open sand the noises of nature were deafening, the waves, the winds and the calls of the birds. I took a few moments to take it all in. Then I began to try to capture the beauty before me, which often proves to be very difficult. As I looked along the shoreline towards Newcastle, I noticed how the mist had moved in around Slieve Donard. The Mountain was engulfed in white. Looking out towards the Irish Sea, it could have been a colour chart filled with greys displaying every grey you could imagine from the sky to the sea.

It is very difficult to portray the beauty of a dull, grey stormy scene through a camera lens, so I urge you to grab your raincoat and go out and experience it for yourself. 

Ruling the Roost

I began my ascent of Slieve Muck on a beautiful sunny September morning. The mountain has always caught my eye and I have always wanted to walk along this section of the Mourne Wall. I climbed the stile and started to follow the wall and immediately understood why this name was given to the mountain. It is definitely “Mucky” as the hillside is full of water, mud, Moss and Heather. Slieve Muck helps to feed the waters of Spelga Dam which lies directly below it.

As I walked further, I was intrigued by the sound of running water as t seems to run beneath the stones of the Mourne Wall. There is a lot of outcrop formations showing the underlying geology of the mountain and this explains the surface run-off waters. If souls are narrow between the surface and the underlying rock, the souls will saturate quickly and cause excess waters to flow down the mountain. This water created waterfalls on the most minute scale. With the sun shining down on the mountain, these patches of wet rock glistened and sparkles, and was quite beautiful.

The higher I got, the more I could appreciate the view of Spelga Dam with the old road and bridge still visible. For a while I just stayed there, watching how the shadows of the clouds changed the landscape. I let the winds rush past me. The sound of traffic was starting to fade and all I could hear was the wind and the birds. Suddenly I realised just how many birds there was.

From the bottom of the mountain I had spotted a few large Ravens flying along the summit of the mountain. But I had been distracted by my surroundings and missed the gathering of Ravens that were now circling me. They were making a lot of noise now, as if calling in for more recruits.

Now, I do love birds, but have you ever seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie called The Birds? Well, it was the only thing going through my head at that minute. The gist of the film is a pack of birds that terrorise a town, attacking the people and ultimately pecking them to death. I was aware that I was being a bit dramatic, so I kept on walking as just paid more attention to the birds. I think I counted the birds every few minutes and their numbers kept growing. Some were soaring high above the mountain, some were perched on the wall and others flew behind me. I was determined not to let them deter me from my summit. Then they started to fly closer to me, so close that I could hear the flapping of their wings and that was a bit too close for comfort. Their swooping and circling felt like threats and the higher I climbed the more aggressive they got. So, I called it a day. I turned around and started my descent. Immediately the Ravens began to fly further away from me and their numbers started to dwindle. Their forces were retreating as I was. The calls continued but they were no longer threatening, they now sounded like cackling. I guess they were happy that I had been defeated.

There should be an important rule to follow whilst exploring nature, to back off when you are infringing on wildlife. I was moving closer to their roost, their habitat and their home, so the Ravens were simply defending their territory and it is my responsibility to respect that. I will venture back to this area and try to reach the summit but on this day, the Ravens were ruling the roost.