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.

Bees’ Needs Week 9-15 July

This week we are celebrating the third annual Bees’ Needs Week hosted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), so for the rest of this week try to keep a thought for the bees and their needs. These insects are essential for pollination which keeps are agricultural industry thriving and there is no alternative after them. So, we MUST keep them healthy and turn around their populations to ensure our own future on planet Earth.

“Bees and other pollinators are vital contributors to the beauty of our landscapes, our economy and our £100 billion food industry”

(Environment Secretary Michael Gove)

 

I am very glad to see that the UK government is highlighting and campaigning for such a delicate matter. All the numerous bee species in our ecosystem are under threat and it is down to us to take actions against their population decline.

I am lucky enough to live in the beautiful Northern Irish countryside and my back yard is buzzing with bees, especially during this great weather we’ve experienced lately. I have watched many Bumble Bees and Carder Bees had at work amongst the wildflowers in my garden like Foxgloves and Wild Roses. They are literally everywhere I look, and I am constantly trying to capture a photo of them. Even as I am writing this post, I can see lots of bees poking around the Wild Rose bush outside my window and it genuinely makes me happy to see this. Whilst I am surrounded by bees here, it is a completely different story around urban areas where populations are dwindling. This is where the real action needs to be taken.

Many activists have a lot to say about the matter and David Attenborough is included. He recently spoke out on simple actions that could be made by the public to help the bees. His idea was simple and effective, to leave a spoonful of sugar mixed in water outside for the bees to drink. This sugary substance is like nectar that they acquire from flowers. I ask you to listen to this wise man as everyone has a spare spoon and leave it out in our garden or on a windowsill and I am sure at least one little bee will be happy to see it. David Attenborough stated that bees become exhausted and dehydrated as they travel around so this sugary solution will help to revive them and let them get back on their way.

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They have simple needs;

·         Water

·         Nectar (sugar)

·         A place to rest

Defra have a great video about Bees and their needs;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uVeyH7XQXg

 

The 5 simple actions you are encouraged to do;

1.       Plant more flowers, trees and shrubs

2.       Let your garden grow on the wild side

3.       Cut your grass less often

4.       Don’t disturb insects or their nests

5.       Be more careful with pesticide use

And of course, you don’t even have to have a garden to help the bees out, why don’t you get a flowerbox for your windowsill as even the smallest of places can provide the bees with their needs.

 

For more info on bees and Bees’ Needs Week just follow the links below;

https://www.rhs.org.uk/science/pdf/Bees-Needs-Making-your-garden-bee-friendly-factshe.pdf

https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bees-needs/

https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bees-needs/media/ 

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.

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.

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!!

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Bigwood: A Hidden Gem

 

 

A few days ago, I had a sudden urge to visit a place that I hadn’t been to since I was very young. A place that I drive past almost every day, but it is so well hidden that most people are oblivious to its existence. Just a few steps off a busy dual carriage-way directing cars between the towns of Newry and Warrenpoint is a stone quarry. Although it is extremely saddening to have a quarry in action for so long in my local area, the forest around it has been relatively well protected over the years. Bigwood is a wild escape from the busy traffic that runs parallel to it, filled with trees and shrubbery and of course its famous Bluebells. I went in search of the bluebells which naturally thrive in this area and I was very lucky to find some still in good condition, as they came into bloom in early Spring.

 

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Although the paths look like they have been well used by the local hikers, dog-walkers and of course the odd mountain biker, they still emit a sense of ruggedness and privacy. The tall and numerous trees help to block out the surrounding noise pollution, creating the illusion that you are somewhere very different to what is true.

Looking around the landscape, the vegetation is extremely diverse, from Pine trees to Holly bushes to Buttercups and Dandelions. I also spotted the infamous Rhododendron ponticum, a beautiful purple flowering plant which is a typical invasive species to be spotted across Northern Ireland. I swear I saw a patch of vegetation that was almost Bamboo-like which I would like to investigate some more.

As always when exploring I take my camera, so luckily I snapped some different shots of the pathway so check out my Instagram, I hope you enjoy them!!!

 

 

 

 

 

The First World Bee Day

In recent years, it has become common knowledge that international bee populations are in decline and this is only the tip of the iceberg for the future of biodiversity.

Bees are pollinators, a primary species found in most ecosystems across the world which aid in the life cycle of flowering plants. It is these flowering plants and crops that produce the fruit and vegetables that are found in our supermarkets. Even living in Northern Ireland, where a lot of my fruit and vegetables have been imported, it is still the various species of bees that have played their part in the pollination process. So, every time that I eat an apple or drink a fruit smoothie I must thank a bee for letting me do so. Like the rest of the UK and Ireland, Northern Ireland has a large farming industry which also depends on the benefits that bees bring to the local ecosystem. Essential farm livestock including cows and sheep feed on various grasses, clover and alfalfa which is all present due to the presence of bees. Although many people might not realise their importance, they are all around us quietly working away to benefit our environment.

These precious insects are under threat due to human activities including the use of insecticides or pesticides and land-use changes for urbanisation, development and agriculture. This behaviour of exploitation of our natural world is not going to stop over night or anywhere close to that, it is a process, and this is where it begins. It is essential to raise awareness to protect our bees, for people to act, for legislation to be put in place and habitats to be conserved.

So, I say Happy World Bee Day to you and I hope that by this time next year some progress will be made for international bee populations.

 

 

For more information on World Bee Day follow the link; http://www.un.org/en/events/beeday/

The most beautiful morning to spread the beautiful message of strength, togetherness and love.

carlingfordlough panorama

In the little hours of Saturday morning, I like many others walked the 5km route in aid of Pieta House and The Samaritans. I was surrounded by so many people who have been affected directly or indirectly by mental health including those who have sadly lost their loved ones. The sea of yellow t-shirts could only put a smile on your face encouraging love and hope to all.

At 4.15am in Kilbroney Park in Rostrevor, speeches were made by the organisers, the ribbon was cut by a young fundraiser and we were off, into the pitch-black forest. We followed the pathway marked out by candlelight which led us along the Fairy Glen Trail and as instructed by the organisers, this first part of the journey was to be done in silence, for a time to reflect. This was filled with raw emotion as the people around me focused their thoughts on the true reason that brought all of us out that morning. Whether your reason to be there was for yourself or another, everyone stood together in grief and pain and it was in that moment that the birds started to sing.

It was like nothing I had experienced before, although I have never been in the forest that early in the morning. Maybe the birds sing that loudly every morning, but it truly felt like they were filling our silence with the only way they knew how. After a few minutes of the chirping, the trees started to thin out and light started to pour in and the next thing we were out of the forest and into the town. At this point of the journey, the silence broke and it was quickly replaced with laughter and chit chat between the walkers.

This was the first time that I had attended the Darkness into Light event and I am so glad that I decided to join this year and I hope to continue to be a supporter in the future. The words that kept being read out by the organisers focused on working together for the prevention of self-harm and suicide but more importantly to break the stigma of mental health. Without this stigma, conversations would develop and these vulnerable people may have the courage to talk to others and get the help that they need before it is too late for them.

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.