FROM TRAGUMNA BEACH TO TOEHEAD

Tragumna beach is small but very much used and liked by the local Skibbereen folks. Every year on Christmas day there is a swim held here by some brave women and men, usually in aid of some charity. The beach lies about 5 km from the town via the Castletownsend road.
The coastline along here is very rugged with many inlays and rocky outcrops, which makes the landscape interesting and beautiful. Many wild plants and flowers grow along these shores.
Our drive took us along this Wild Atlantic coastline towards Toehead
(Ceann Tuaithe in Irish, Ceann meaning head, and Tuaithe meaning
a clan or community gathered under one chief, the name Toe Head is a bit of a bad translation ). Looking out West towards the Atlantic ocean, we know that’s where most of our rains come from.
Along the rugged coastline where lots of fresh sea air was to be enjoyed.
Toe head is a most beautiful headland. Birds were singing but I did not identify any on this trip.
At Toe Head we found this signal tower, these type of towers were found along the southern and Eastern coast in Ireland, they were used to give advanced warning of any invasion. The interesting thing is that every signal tower could see two other signal towers to either side of them, they would use visual means (semaphore) to signal. These towers date to 1806.
Looking out towards what looks like a little island some distance from the shore. I went checking it out on Google Earth and it seems that it is just rocks – nothing else.

AN ADVENTURE IN BEAUTY

“When you regain a sense of your life as a journey of discovery, you return to rhythm with yourself. When you take the time to travel with reverence, a richer life unfolds before you. Moments of beauty begin to braid your days. When your mind becomes more acquainted with reverence, the light, grace and elegance of beauty find you more frequently. When the destination becomes gracious, the journey becomes an adventure of beauty”. John O’Donoghue
Excerpt from his books, Beauty.

A very simple walk but nevertheless full of little beauties that lift the heart. A view on to the pastoral landscape beyond the hedgerow and seen through the presently opening hawthorn bush.
One of the impressive treasures on this walk is the stone wall, Ireland has a great reputation for building beautiful stone walls and this is a good example. Seeing that I am trying to learn a lot about and become really familiar with the rocks and geology of the area, I took a keen interest in all this rock.

And so this walk, while very easy and on flat ground was a delight, it took me 50 minutes from where I had parked my car on the other side of town to when I returned, and by that time my head was cleared, and I felt happy with my small discoveries. Along this road I also came across many other wild flowers, and another garden escape was the tree mallow which I did not quite expect to grow here but had seen very many growing in Gozo. Further along this road there is a large area of wild garlic plants growing, I saw them there last year. It is amazing what is found along the roadside and hedgerow, for example, if this road is followed for quite a few miles there are large patches of wild roses, some dark red and beautiful, I used to take this road to work (it eventually leads to Bantry where I worked in the library) during June/July when these roses would be in bloom, it sure was lovely. I had three or four different roads that I could take to work and used to vary them according to what plants were in flower as every road had some difference in habitat and hence in plant growth.

I’m calling this walk the stone wall walk, my sister Josefine who is coming to Ireland in the summer will be walking with me, I sure look forward to this, even when I am normally a solitary walker.

WALKING THE CUTTING

Mural of the old steam train leaving the street behind in order to drive through The Cutting.

Skibbereen town has something preserved from the past that is quite interesting and has always appealed to many. This market town of old used to have a station, and a train line to Baltimore, a small seaside village, and to Cork city. It also had a narrow gauge line to Schull which is another small seaside village in the area. In the sixties the trains lost their use to bus routes and that was a great pity. And so we are left with some relics from this glorious train travel era. And one such a relic is what people here call ‘The Cutting’, and it is around this that I mapped my second walk. It was not a long walk, just 45 minutes and about 4000 steps. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon when I stepped out, I had the sun behind me as I walked along the Baltimore road. Passing many mature and beautiful gardens I then turned right and looked straight at a cottage that must have been associated with the railway I think, that’s what it looked like, maybe there was a level-crossing there. The road turns right again and passes lovely trees, birds were singing high in the branches, bluebells were in bloom even though it was only the end of March! Primroses, buttercups, wild strawberries, and long stemmed daisies were to be seen here and there. The other side of the road was mainly walls, some plastered but others lovely local stone and probably quite old behind which I could see some beautiful trees. I also saw one interesting ancient gate, I love those and always imagine what story they could tell us.

Road signs here in Ireland are in both English and Irish.
I hope whoever lives there won’t mind me using my photo of their lovely place.
It’s early yet for buttercups to flower, yet due to the very mild winter no doubt everything is early this spring.
In someone’s garden…..silhouette of yet another amazing tree, is it alive or dead, too early in the year to see.

And then after passing the sign for Swanton’s Garden Centre, all of a sudden there it lies before you, The Cutting! A road sliced through the rocks, stark high rock walls covered in mosses, ivy, wild plants and even trees, everything seems to be growing out of these rock walls, rainwater drips down here and there, I walk on in the shadow and find it refreshingly chillier. Towards the end of the Cutting, the town’s houses come into sight, here we are at the Bridge street end of the town. Just a little while further there is the iron railway bridge – part of the now West Cork Hotel, and still further along there is the old station on the Marsh road. But before coming to this I found this most beautiful mural of the old steam train on the wall of a disused pub. I then walked back to where I left the car at Drinagh car park. I enjoyed this walk very much, it’s very easy and not long. Footpaths all the way.

Different types of mosses are plentiful on these rocks.

From where we live I can see the hill that overlooks this walk, it is to the West of the town and its a long gentle hill. One of my future walks will be over this hill, the views are great from there, but that’s a story for another day.

SHORT WALKS

Gorse growing in the West Cork landscape along the road leading from the town of Skibbereen towards the coastal villages of Castletownsend or Unionhall. I walked only as far as Russagh Mill Hostel which lies about 2 km from the town. The walk is a pleasant one even though it is along a busy enough road, there is a footpath most of the way which makes it quite safe.
I found that along the road there was quite a bit of wetland, and also a small stream, ducks flew up when I approached. Though my reason for taking the walk was to become fitter, I enjoyed finding so many wild plants and spring flowers by the roadside, among them were two types of wild geraniums.

To my right was Lick Hill, a long hill which is so familiar to me as I can see it from the upstairs window where I live. Its bedrock is made up of purple mudstone and siltstone, behind it and to the South lies the sea, the wild Atlantic Sea. A little more towards the S.West lies the famous Knockomagh Hill, at Lough Hyne. But walking further along this road I passed some lovely green fields, very green, like you only get them in Ireland, typical with Gorse, Hawthorn, and Blackthorn growing in the hedgerows. And today the sky was blue, dotted with woolly white clouds, what a lovely contrast.

Above – Looking back towards our houses, with hawthorn hedging and wetland in front, and then the walk goes on past Liss Ard Estate where I found lots of native trees growing, their buds bursting in the warming spring sun, and birds singing their hearts out for sheer delight.
Also along my walk, and I love to see this, were stone walls, beautifully built from local stone, purple mudstone, shale and I even saw some quartz here and there. These are often grown full of little ferns, mosses, and other wild plants, this one in the photo must have been built fairly recently though.

And in people’s gardens, a magnificent Camelia bush in full bloom!
I also came across this beautiful blue door, the colour of it dazzled me!
Last, but not least, this little ladybird was sunny itself, I’m happy to say that I’ve seen at least a dozen over the last few days.
I have marked out at least seven walks in the vicinity of Skibbereen town, I’m doing this for my health, both body and mind. This particular walk took me 50 minutes and all round it was about 4km in distance. When we used to spend our winters on the island of Gozo I used to walk everywhere, exploring the whole island and all it’s little villages, and it was such a delight. I have missed this very much in the past six months and so I decided to make the best of it by mapping out some do-able walks around here and exploring nature or architecture or whatever I can find to interest me, and reading up on it all. The beautiful sunshine of the past few days has helped greatly to encourage me and inspire me, and off to a good start it has been. I am truly grateful.

THE SILK FLOSS TREE

Ceiba speciosa or Silkfloss tree

This is the flower of a most beautiful and exotic tree, it is called the Silk-floss tree or in Latin Ceiba speciosa . It is a deciduous tree that belongs to the mallow family.  A native of South America I have watched it growing and flowering here on Gozo and what a delight it has been, at first to see the beautiful yellow and cream flowers – though for some reason some of the flowers on this tree turned out to be pink, then to see the flowers wilt and one by one fall off to expose the fruits, and today when we walked in that area again I saw the fruit fully grown and some had burst to expose their fluffy white silky material.  It was only hard to reach high enough to get good photos, so these will have to do.  While doing some research on this tree I realised that it is not from this species that kapok is produced, namely this white silky fibre, which as children our pillows were filed with. This made me more determined to look up as much information as possible, it heightened my interest in this tree species. Of course it is always interesting to learn what the uses are of any plant or tree. I learnt that the kapok is produced by another Ceiba, the C. pentandra, this species is found growing in the tropics, it does not grow in Malta or Gozo as far as anyone I have asked knows.

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So going back to the C.speciosa our local Silk-floss tree, I noticed the other day that there are fruits or seed pods to be seen. And then I found this white fibre underneath the tree, it was as close as I could get to see the texture. White, fluffy and silky is how I would describe it and the seeds are embedded in this white fibre. I now know that it is not the real kapok. Though the fibres of the C.speciosa can be used in a similar manner as those of the C.pentandra. The C.pentandra is cultivated in South East Asia for its seed fibre. I also found that kapok is the lightest natural fibre in the world, with a density nearly five times as light as cotton. I read that this fibre was used in the design of the first life jackets because of its buoyancy. As a child I remember seeing kapok, feeling it, and found that it was quite dense actually. Something tells me that it is not used much anymore these days, you never hear of it being used, maybe because it is highly inflammable. I also seem to remember that while it was lovely to have natural fibres in our pillows, it did become lumpy quite quickly, so maybe it just isn’t a practical material for today’s needs.

In my research I then came across the Red Silk Cotton Tree, Ceiba Bombax. Also from the family Malvaceae. What is used from this species are the unopened flower buds, they are called Marathi Moggu and are a fragrant spice indigenous to south India’s Chettinad region, used in its regional cooking. They also go under the name of Kapok Buds and are roasted to bring out their flavour. In Thailand they are traditionally used in curries.

A fruit hanging down, and one of the flowers well passed its blooming time, fallen on the grass. C.speciosa

Photos below, here can be seen the seed pod and some of the fluffy material, also a seed pod that fell off the tree before it matured.

 

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Some more facts are: The flowers of the Ceiba trees are an important source of nectar and pollen for honey bees, although apparently they are often pollinated by bats. http://www.iisc.ernet.in/currsci/may252005/1679.pdf
Native tribes along the Amazon River harvest kapok fiber to wrap around their blowgun darts. It is grown commercially in some countries but to harvest and separate the fibers is labour-intensive and done manually so it is probably another reason why it is not very popular anymore. Then it is also difficult to spin.
Another use I read about is the oil that the seeds produce, this is used in manufacturing of soap and sometimes it is used as a fertilizer.
I guess this is about all I found out about the Ceiba tree, the three different species that I examined a little. Only one of them I found growing in Gozo. (C.speciosa). One mature tree, at least some years old, but close by I found a very young one that has been planted by the council. Nice to see this.

I am on such an exciting and interesting journey here, getting to know more about the native plants, the rocks, the trees, the agricultural practices, the people (Gozitans) and their traditions, the vernacular architecture, and then sharing some of it via my writing.
I would like to thank you for reading some of my story.

 

MEETING WITH THE OMBU TREE

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While here on the island of Gozo I have been taking note of and enjoying the trees unfamiliar to me. It is nice and interesting to find out what they are called and then to search on Google information about their uses, growth, country of origin and so on, it keeps me quiet busy at times. Then I will take many photos of all the different attributions, leaves, flowers, seeds, seed hulks, shoots, trunks etc. And of course I like to share this in my blog, my blog is after all a celebration of all the earth so generously has to offer to us and to life itself. And so here goes, I hope you enjoy.


The Ombu tree, or to give it its proper name the Phytolacca dioica L. is an attractive tree. I found it growing in the area of Ghajnsielem along the main road. I was amazed to learn that this tree is actually an evergreen shrub that can become quite old and grow to look like a rather large tree. I became fascinated by the beautiful glossy dark green leaves, looking very healthy and growing very vigorously out of the trunk. Apparently the more you cut it, the more fiercely it grows. Its trunk is a soft spongy wood, the rings are loose and not at all like proper timber rings. It is resistant to fire and drought and this is due to its many trunks which store water very efficiently in its large base. Its sap is poisonous. The Ombu is a South American relative of the pokeweed (P. Americana) It is indigenous to Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, there it grows easily in the wild, and it is there that it manages to survive on the pampas. Put to good use because of its large canopy it shelters both animals and humans alike, but is especially good for the many cattle and so is of agricultural value.

Being a dioecious plant it produces male and female flowers on separate trees. The flowers are greenish white, little and many on one long spike. The fruit is green and is clustered in a bunch together, I see both flowers and fruits on the tree at this time (November). To date I have not myself seen the seeds but believe that they are brown, small and glossy. I shall be on the look out for them just to find out.
I learnt that extracts of the Ombu have Antifungal potencies which would probably make it interesting to Naturopaths or to pharmaceuticals.
Some of its uses are:
• Fodder – leaves are used as fodder in time of drought.
• Medicine – infusion of leaves has been used as a laxative, but don’t take my word for it please.
• Hot drink – locally the leaves may be used as a hot drink. (I am not planning to try it out myself not being sure of what the result will be).
• Soapy juice – containing salts of lime and potash.
• Shade in regions where other trees won’t grow – in the pampas it is the only tree that will naturally grow and provide shelter.
• Bonsais – something I did not know is that it is an ideal tree to grow as a bonsai, nice to know!
• Dyes – juice extracted from the berries can be used as a source of dyes.
• Berries – apparently the berries are eaten by birds as they are not affected by the toxin as the seeds contained within the berries passes through the bird intact.
I also read that in South Africa Ombu is treated as an invasive plant, possible because it grows so rapidly. Here in Gozo there is more and more emphasis on the growing of indigenous trees and plants, and eradicating to an extent the growth of invasive plants and trees. This is, of course, a tendency all over Europe these days. I am not sure at which time the Ombu tree was introduced in the Maltese islands and why, I wonder if it was introduced because of the high temperatures in the summer months, the drought some years, and the lack of tree cover in general.

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I looked up a bit more on the antifungal activity which extracts of the Ombu can provide. Here is a link to a paper.
The antifungal activity of saponin-rich extracts of phytolacca dioica and of the sapogenins obtained through hydrolysis.
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/45826292_Antifungal_Activity_of_Saponin-rich_Extracts_of_Phytolacca_dioica_and_of_the_Sapogenins_Obtained_through_Hydrolysis
I also read through the following information ‘Oyama Bonsai Kai Ombú “Tree” by Pierre van Rensburg, which I enjoyed and found very interesting.

I hope you enjoyed this little bit of information on the beautiful and interesting Ombu tree which in fact is not a tree at all. I for one will enjoy twice as much when I am passing these trees in the knowledge of all its good uses.
And finally what I would like to know but could not readily find an answer to is whether the water stored inside the Ombu tree’s large trunk can be used in case of water shortage by cattle or people, or is it already juice in which case it is toxic? I would say, it is juice and it is toxic so it cannot be used. If anyone can shed more light on this please do.

THE NIGHTS ARE DRAWING IN

I cannot believe that yet another week has passed by! Cooler now and the leaves are turning multi-coloured, while some are twirling lazily off the trees, and covering the front garden with a brown rustling carpet of glorious scented autumn!

I’ve been busy over the last few days and I know that I have quite a bit to catch up with – blog entries of friends that I follow, eventually I will get to read all. The reason why I got so busy is that I started an online course with FutureLearn, this time with Trinity College in Dublin. The course is called ‘Achieving Sustainable Development’ and it takes us through four of the 17 UN development goals. As a start we examined goal 16 which aims for the elimination of all violence as a basic for the establishment of sustainable development. Both physical violence, structural violence (embedded in social structures of inequality), and cultural violence (where traditions condone direct or structural violence. So covering the whole area of peacebuilding and peacekeeping. I found this very interesting because I run around (like so many of us)trying to work out how we can help to bring about world peace. The way that this course works is, it gives a video of an interview, in this particular first week different professors were interviewed on conflicts in Kosovo, Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, and Colombia. Links are provided to other reading material (lots of it), and then we students write our thoughts on what we learnt, there are students from all over the world taking part which of course makes for an interesting dialogue. It is so thought provoking! Tomorrow is week 2 and we will be looking at SDG 3 ‘Challenges to Health’. I’m looking forward to it.

And at the same time it is only another eleven days before we leave to return to Gozo, after a visit to Norfolk to see Ian’s family first. I’m totally packed and organised, all that remains for us to do is see family and friends and that is always a pleasure. Two days ago my daughter, and the children took me to climb a hill overlooking much of the area here, we saw the sea and the patched fields and meadows. It was beautiful – though the climb nearly killed me. I will share some photos with you all.  In a way it is a sort of farewell to the area here – for the time being.
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An ancient stone wall covered in moss, everything was covered in moss, the trees, walls, ground, different types of mosses, very nice and green.
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As we came above the tree level it became quite windy, the kids were running up and down like mountain goats, exploring and discovering creatures and all sort of things growing. Ferns, heathers, mosses, fungi, and they even brought me clear water from a little stream to show how fresh and clean it looked.

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The view was spectacular once we were on top of the hill where a lone cross was keeping watch.

So beautiful.  One thing puzzled me and that is the higher we went to more wet the soil became, I think that the soil is peat as it was pure black in colour.  Walking down was actually harder in a way than climbing up, we were all ready for a nice cup of tea.  Luckily the weather was sunny and quite beautiful really.

After all of that, the cobwebs were out of our hair, that is for sure.

 

SEAWEEDS OF THE IRISH COAST

Yesterday saw a whole bunch of us interested folks going to explore the arboretum at Ardnagashel in Glengarriff, West Cork, but apart from admiring the wonderful trees we also received lots of information on the seaweeds and lichens along this stretch of coast. Ardnagashel was established by the Hutchins family and it was as part of the Heritage Week of Ireland that these activities took place, in memory of Ellen Hutchins (1785-1815)who was a remarkable Irish Botanist. The talks on the lichens and seaweeds were given by Howard Fox, who is the State Botanist (National Botanic Gardens) and by Maria Cullen. This ‘life’ introduction to the seaweeds and the lichens of the coast of Bantry Bay was so very interesting. a true first introduction in this field for me. Later in the afternoon Madeline Hutchins (Ellen’s great great grand niece) took us through the forested area of this garden and introduced us to some wonderful trees, among them an enormous Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica). But more about the trees in another blog.  Now to concentrate on the seaweed for a start.  There is so much information that I took in yesterday and research I want to do on this that I feel delighted (because it’s right here at my doorstep), but I am also a bit overwhelmed because so far in my life I have been concentrating on enlarging my knowledge about wild plants, flowers, insects and spiders of Ireland.  Now this is taking it one step further with looking at lichens and seaweeds.  There are no days enough in the week to enjoy all this abundance of nature, and to do the research.  Needless to say I am a huge amateur in all this. (an enthusiastic one).
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So we learnt that there are three types of seaweeds and they are divided by their colour. These are the greens, reds, and brown seaweeds. There are about 10 000 species.  This particular species is called Fucus serratus L.  (Serrated wrack).  This seaweed is used commercially in the manufacturing of cosmetics and seaweed baths.

Photo on left is Knotted or Egg Wrack (Ascophylum nodosum) with another seaweed growing parasitically (it gets its sugar from the Knotted Wrack) on it, it is called Polysiphonia lanosa. Maria Cullen (right photo) told us to nibble some of the parasite and to me it tasted only like….sea water!  Maria gave us great demonstrations of a variety of seaweeds which she picked straight from the sea there.

Duileasc (Palmaria palmata) a red seaweed, and Nori (Porphyra tenera) and another one of the Wrack seaweeds (Fucus) .

Top right photo is a calcareous red seaweed, Howard is here showing and telling us about the Sea Spaghetti (Himanthalia elongata).  The book I am giving attention to on the right is an excellent cookbook with lots of information on the edible seaweeds.  I bought it for my son-in-law once and he was very pleased with it.

DSCF2696The coast of Bantry Bay is rich in seaweeds, and it’s beautiful too.

Nori seaweed, Laver (Porphyra tenera) in the top left photo is paper thin and edible, much used in countries like Japan of course.  The green seaweed is sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca).  The book on seaweeds looks real interesting and essential if seaweed foraging and identification is taken seriously.

DSCF2706Microscopes and strong magnifying glasses were all available for us to have a look through.

More samples laid out for us to check out and learn about, far more than I can identify right now.  Further in the water there were even more types of seaweeds to be seen.  Howard and Mary never tired of explaining to us all the details, it was such an interesting hour spend on a lovely and warm Saturday afternoon in this beautiful part of Ireland.  My brother Johan and his wife Lorraine who were visiting Glengarriff, were among those interested and it was lovely sharing this time with them too.

THE BEAUTY OF ESSEX – HENHAM VILLAGE

The village of Henham lies in rural England, in Essex.  We visited there a few weeks ago to see Ian’s delightful grandchild, daughter, and son-in-law.  For me it was also another first visit of the village and area and I loved it.  Like I have seen in many English villages they are picturesque and peaceful, with many original houses intact or restored, and this village has a great deal of that to show.  Above are; left: The old Village school building, right: a sign for the Cock restaurant, and underneath: the village church.  This village church has six bells, I heard them (love the sound of church bells).  There is a lovely write up with photos and a sample of the bells ringing on this website:  http://www.henhamhistory.org/StMarysBells.html

Listed buildings, some with thatched roofs, timber framed cottages some with casement windows, some of the cottages I recognised from the Henham website, these are Friar’s Cottage (above right), Cedar Cottage (above).

It was also early spring, and we made a long walk along the fields and roads, there was plenty new growth to be discovered.  The Blackthorn was in full bloom, the wild Chestnut tree just about to start opening its flowers, but I was sorry to hear that some of them were due to be copped down because of a disease.  The Hazel already had its catkins, and the weeping willow already its leaves.

Some of the wild spring flowers which were a joy to behold and plentiful.

Henham as a village dates back to pre Roman times, there is mention of it in the Anglo-Saxon period, saying that at that time the village was described as the little clearing on top of the hill.  Apparently Henham is one of the highest lying villages in Essex.  For more about the history of the place and the parish please visit their website at: http://henhamhistory.org

Certainly England has a lot to offer in well preserved historical buildings, it’s delightful to discover this.  It was of course a delight to be taken for this long walk around part of the village and surrounding fields by Susie and Jared, and a very energetic little Phoebe.  Thanks again for showing us such a nice welcome, lovely to share time with you.