Sunday Sea-bathing.

Sunday morning was a strange one, as I looked out my window and was greeted with a blanket of mist across the countryside. I had arranged to meet a friend to go for a dip in the sea and I was starting to regret my decision. Luckily, as I drove closer to the sea, the mist was clearing to reveal blue skies and sunshine. The steps down to the water was bustling with sea swimmers, young and old. This was my first time in the sea since August and I was really excited but also not looking forward to the coldness of the water. I walked in slow to start and then jumped in…..it was a shock to the system to say the least!

It was thrilling and freezing. It was exhilarating and freezing. It was cleansing and freezing. And then finally the cold went away, my thoughts washed away with the waves and I was left with calmness. This moment made it all worth it, even though my feet were still tingling. With the sunshine on my face, the view of the misty Carlingford Lough, the Mourne and Cooley Mountains, the waves and the other swimmers, it was all pretty special. It was amazing to appreciate the sea like this when I am so lucky to live so close. Afterwards, my mind was clear and motivated and my body was relaxed and all aches and pains were gone. Nature really can be a healer, mentally and physically. Needless to say, I want to make this a regular part of my life!

I’ll be honest… I lasted less than 10 minutes but it’s a good start.

Frosty Mornings

I am really not a morning person, but I do love the crispness of a fresh, frosty morning. This morning was one of those mornings, with the sun shining and the frost and ice sparkling like diamonds. I grabbed my camera and my wellies and went out for a walk. That time between sunrise and the thaw is perfect and you really have to jump at the chance to enjoy it because you never know how long it will last.

So, I had a quick look around my garden, watching the birds and finding some cool ice formations. Then, I ventured uphill over my farmland. The lane slippery, the mud solid and the air freezing. With every breathe, I could feel the sharpness of the cold air, but I haven’t breathed deeper than this in a long time. I wanted to take it all in, the cold, the freshness; all of the goodness. The sun was shining so strong it was blinding and of course made all photography rather difficult. After some time, my phone battery died and my camera storage was full and I was just standing there taking it all in for myself.

I was looking over the frost covered fields and hills, finding myself hoping for a glimpse of some wildlife like a fox or a rabbit, but I am not that lucky. Instead, I seemed to be surrounded by Robins and Wood Pigeons, fluttering between trees and hedgerows, which was every bit as enjoyable.

At the farthest point of my farmland, you can just see the waters of Carlingford Lough and the Cooley Mountains, and they looked mighty beautiful this morning. The water was golden from the sun and the mountains were shrouded in mist and it all looked a bit magical. Carlingford Lough is probably my favourite place in the whole world and I feel very lucky to be able to see a glimpse of it from my backyard.

As I began the journey home, I realised that my timing was perfect as the light had changed so much in a short time. I returned home with muddy wellies and a clear head. I am really glad that I started my morning with a walk outside, I aim to do this more often, (New Years resolutions and all that).

Cliché or not, it was a good day to have a good day.

Blackberry Season

I have always wanted to get into foraging and I guess the simplest first step is to pick berries. I am surrounded by hedgerows filled with Brambles and so I have spent the last few weeks collecting Blackberries. It has been fun walking along hedgerows in my fields with my young nephew picking out the juiciest and best looking Berries, but of course leaving plenty for the local wildlife to feast on. I soon realized how much work goes into picking a small amount of berries, and even more work getting them cleaned before eating. It was amazing to do this all with my nephew, he pointed out the best berries, I picked them and he put them into our bucket. It was such a fun activity for both of us and something that we will want to do again and again, especially because we got to see lots of Butterflies, Ladybirds and Birds around the hedgerows.

With our Blackberries, we washed and froze them before using them for baking. We made an Apple and Blackberry upside-down cake and an Apple and Blackberry Crumble, both of which were very simple and very tasty. All of the left over berries that either got a little too squished or were not as ripe as I thought when picking, went straight to my goat who was very happy with her treat. I only wish that I had went out and picked even more so I could have a good stock in my freezer, but it is only a few days until Michaelmas and folklore says that it is unlucky to pick Blackberries after this date as they are spat on by the Devil. I doubt there is any truth in this, but I have noticed the berries are not at their best at the minute so I shall sadly have to wait until next year.

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.

Earth Day 2020

This is a strange one, but an important one. As we stay in our homes across the world in an aim to stop this virus, it should make everyone realise just how close we all are to each other.

People have more spare time than ever right now and there are plenty of small acts that can be done to help mother nature.

With people working and staying at home, there is much less traffic on the roads, in the air and on the water and this has led to many positives to the natural world. With a reduction in air pollution in India, the Himalayas can be seen clearly for the first time in 30 years. Wildlife are thriving from the quieter environment and have been found roaming areas that are usually highly populated with Humans. A town close to me had a family of ducks walking down the main street which is not a familiar sight in the highly popular seaside resort.

Some simple acts that can be done at home that might help:

  • Litter picking in your local area
  • Participate in Citizen Science projects like garden bird counts
  • Think of ways to reduce your waste
  • Stick to reusable bottles and mugs
  • Take the time to fix things that are broken instead of buying new
  • Try not to mow your lawn too much and let the wildflowers grow for the insects
  • Leave something out for the garden birds, the birds in my garden love Peanuts, Niger Seeds and some water
  • Watch an environmental documentary or listen to a podcast and learn something new

The most important part of this, is to spread the word and let everyone know what you are doing and maybe it will inspire others to follow suit. Social media has a strong presence during this pandemic so we should use it to spread the message of environmentalism.

Everyone I know is sharing beautiful pictures of their walks in nature and how much they appreciate it. People are finally taking a good look around them and taking the time to marvel at what has always been right in front of them. I have been trying to share as many photos and videos of my home as not everyone is able to leave their homes or get into nature right now. I am also trying to spread a little joy by sharing photos of my animals which I hope can put a smile on someone’s face. Our Earth and everything in it is incredible and I am so glad that more people are paying attention to it and I hope this continues.

This is our home and it deserves better.

What about a Spring Clean in your local area…

We have been treated to some beautiful weather here in Northern Ireland for the last few weeks. I am sure that this has helped to keep spirits up during the current lockdown going on. It is always great to get outdoors, breathe in some fresh air, stretch the legs and enjoy nature. I am lucky enough to live in the countryside and have a lot of space available to get out and about in. It has been great to see so many people outside getting their exercise and enjoying nature, however, one thing that I have noticed is that not one person bothered to lift any litter during their walks.

I am guilty myself of not picking up litter on every walk I go on, but to see the same people walking in my local area every single day just walking past the litter is disappointing. I live on a rural country road, with hedgerows on either side and for the last few weeks it has been filled with walkers, runners and cyclists of all ages. On my local beach there are facilities for walkers to use for collecting rubbish, and I have never seen anyone else use them before. I assume people might be more interested when the issue is literally on their doorstep and they will do something about saying everyone is so bored during lockdown.

So, after going for a walk with my mum last night and spotting so much litter, I made sure that this evening I brought my grabber and a bin bag to collect the rubbish. Some of my neighbours seen me out collecting the rubbish and they all gave me a strange look. I couldn’t tell if they were more surprised at what I was doing, or at how much rubbish I had collected.

In a short stretch of road, we found everything from plastic packaging, rubber, plastic bottles, takeaway containers, polystyrene, cigarette packets and buds to clothing. It is sad to think that most of these items had probably just been lobbed out of a car. Among the rubbish, the hedgerows are covered with wildflowers, especially Dandelion that are in full bloom. These hedgerows are full of birds and insects and even have evidence of foxes using them.

I keep seeing all these challenges on Facebook to help keep people active and occupied and I would like to challenge everyone to do something to help clean up the environment and make a difference to their local area during this time.

Even the smallest of acts can have the largest impact.

Aurora Borealis: The true colors of the wind

I am lucky enough to have witnessed the Northern Lights twice in my life and both times where some of the most memorable moments in my life. First in Northern Ireland and then in Canada, the memories of both will forever be so vivid in my mind.

The first time was a few years ago while I was driving to my university house. It was late on a Sunday night, maybe 10 or 11, and I was travelling the lonely, dark section of road between Belfast and Coleraine. The road was pitch black beyond my car lights, the sky was dark and clear and something in my gut told me to just look up. I will never forget thinking that the sky seemed a little odd, and a thought ran through my head…….” Are the Northern Lights about to start?” and then I laughed at myself, thinking I was just imagining it all. And that’s when it happened. The whole sky turned green. The sight literally took my breath away. The lights danced across the sky for 10 minutes, fading in and out across the darkness. It felt like the longest time, but as soon as it stopped it, it wasn’t enough. There was roadworks along the stretch of road, leaving only a single lane and nowhere to pull over so the few cars that shared the road with me were all travelling at a snail’s pace.

Even though I spent many a night out looking for the lights, it was more special to be surprised by them, although I would have loved to try and get a photo of them.

The second time was while I was living in Lac La Biche, a small lakeside town in Alberta, Canada. It had been a great day; I had been out canoeing with friends and spotted my first ever beaver which I was very excited about. It was the night of the finale episode of Game of Thrones, a night that I had been waiting for, for a long time, as did many people around the world. So, me and a few friends gathered in a small living room, with a projector and watched the episode. When it was finished there was much to discuss, and many emotions entailed; anger, disappointment and confusion. As one guy decided to head to bed, he walked outside and returned within 30 seconds, running and shouting “NORTHERN LIGHTS”. Immediately we all leapt to our feet and ran outside to see. As I looked up, I saw that familiar green dancing across the sky. It was amazing to share this experience with others, seeing the awe and excitement in everyone’s faces made it all the better. We decided to hop in a few trucks, and travel to a local park to find darker skies. The next hour, maybe a little longer was one of my favourite experiences in Canada so far. The park we went to, was along the shores of a large lake, and we found a pier to lie down on. Laying on our backs, side by side, we just stayed in silence for a while, watching. The green faded further and further until it was a pale white, but it still danced just as vividly across the sky. I knew Gabe had grew up in Northern Canada, seeing the lights his whole life, but I thought he was just pulling my leg when he said that they will get stronger if you sing or whistle to them. I can neither whistle or sing and didn’t want to embarrass myself, so I pushed him to prove it. The lights were well dimmed down when Gabe started to whistle and suddenly that strong green flashed across the sky again. It was magic. And just like before, the Northern Lights took my breath away. Gabe continued to whistle, and the lights danced to his song.

If you are ever lucky enough to see the Aurora in your lifetime, sing to them and see if the myth is true.

Prince’s Island Park: Constructed Wetland

It was such a pleasure to discover a constructed wetland in the heart of Calgary, Canada. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know it was even there until I finally walked to the far side of Prince’s Island Park the other day. I used to work beside the entrance to Prince’s Island Park so I am amazed that I never knew about the wetland. Obviously, if you are close to the river at all in Calgary, you will notice the large population of Canada Geese and various duck species but you would never guess that there is a wetland tucked into the park. The wetland was created to treat storm water before it enters the Bow River, but it also acts as a new habitat for lots of species and increases the biodiversity of the area.

This amazing work has been carried out by the Alberta Conservation Association. By artificially damming water and planting carefully selected plants like Wood’s Rose, Balsam Poplar and Slender Wheatgrass, they have developed a very impressive constructed wetland.

After the initial construction, it is up to nature to take over and that is definitely what has happened here. Whilst walking around the wetland area, you are surrounded by waterfowl, mostly Canada Goose, Mallard and the American Widgeon and the trees that line the pathway are filled with birds. I was treated to a sighting of my first North American Water Vole which was swimming between the banks of the wetland.

North American Water Vole (Microtus richardsoni)

Wetlands are an extremely important and useful ecosystem that we need to preserve and learn more about. I love that the pathway takes you all around the wetland banks on Prince’s Island and is filled with information signage to help teach people more about the importance of the flora and fauna of this special habitat. Constructed wetlands are a concept that other large cities should be thinking about; they increase biodiversity, improve water quality and can act as a buffer zone against floods, storms and other extreme weather events, especially along coastlines.