I am hoping that you all stay healthy and happy during these frequent lockdowns. Sending you all much love. Let 2021 be a year full of hope and happiness.
On a fine day like today I took a long walk along the river Ilen. After it has meandered through the town of Skibbereen it flows towards Old Court and this is where my hike took me. The Ilen river ‘An Aighlinnis’ in Gaelic, is beautiful. It flows from the Mullaghmesha mountain in the area between Drimoleague and Dunmanway. Skibbereen is the largest settlement along its way to the sea at Baltimore. Here, just outside the town and downstream a lot of young and sportive folks enjoy canoeing, and upstream it is salmon and trout fishing that attracts people to its waters. I have always personally liked the Ilen river because often when I pass it the surface would be like a mirror, reflecting the trees and houses, and that is so lovely. I think that this river makes Skibbereen and surrounding area what it is. A very scenic place.
On my walk today I crossed the ‘New’ Bridge, in my eye a beautiful bridge and I am glad to say that I found out some information about the design of this bridge. I love old bridges.
‘New’ bridge has got beautiful arches, this bridge has been constructed with segmental arches. This arch type is made from a segment of a circle, allowing for a flatter arch, which in turn allowed for flatter carriageways, and to reduce the hump-back profile. This hump-back profile was the result of an earlier design of a masonry bridge where the arch was constructed in a semi-circular form. These bridges are still very common in County Cork. The segmental style, however, became a common feature of 19th century bridges and ‘New’ Bridge in Skibbereen is a fine example of such a style. The bridge is constructed of limestone and sandstone which is the rock most commonly found in the area.
This walk took me one hour and was most pleasant and, at the moment, at least it was very quiet. The sun was blazing and the wind played in my hair and was very refreshing. What a treat after all the gardening work which was rather intense during the past week. I decided that I will keep Sundays for walking, although around here it is better not to stick to a certain day as you never know what the weather will bring.
My walking routine is so much more than an exercise regime ordered by my doctor. It is one of many things. It is an hankering after times past – times we spent in Gozo where it felt so good to walk everywhere and everyday, taking in the delightful scents and stunning sights of a Mediterranean land- or townscape. So my current walks here are a looking back in a sense, and a remembering of very positive energy which in itself is energising my today.
But it is more than that; it is a grounding of myself in this Irish West Cork landscape. For years I had felt restless here, discontented even, I wanted to travel and I did not feel as if I even belonged here, this landscape, this town and people – however beautiful and friendly, had totally lost its appeal for me and I often felt a stranger. And this despite there being a thriving Art Centre here and my contentedness about all my travels to India.
So when we returned from Gozo in spring 2018 I decided to do something about this, I could not continue the way I was. I started to look at this place with fresh eyes. Discovering new aspects of this town and area, nature and vernacular architecture, people, and I studied the map carefully to know all the hills, the rivers and the surrounding area, keeping in mind the four cardinal directions to orientate me precisely. And I walk, I walk everywhere and my body is feeling so grateful, I feel fitter for it in my every movement. My mind smiles and I’m constantly making plans to explore even more places in the vicinity, little walks and big walks. I have plans to visit and explore surrounding villages too, just as I did in Gozo.
And all this is giving me a sense of belonging and of feeling good in this space on earth, many is the time when I have felt very isolated here in West Cork, cut off from the rest of Europe and the world. I did not like this feeling and then I would hanker to go back, to return to Belgium, even after all these years. But I know that I am here to stay, and so I need to ground myself as much as I can, and I think that I now have found the way to do this – finally – after many years I am beginning to find a sense of place, a sense of belonging.
Yesterday’s walk was not long, it was in open space on the ring road around the town. It opens up views of the town and the hills behind it and shows the river Ilen upstream going off to its source, and downstream flowing into the town. These are good views. And while a constant flow of traffic does not make this walk particularly peaceful, it is nevertheless a walk I love. Many spring blossoms grace the shrubs and many wild flowers grow along the edge of the roadside. Fine stone walls have been built along some of this road, in local rock, shale, in slate-blue colour, with the odd bit of striking white quartz here and there, beautiful.
As I look towards the town centre, my eyes casting over a wide area of marshy ground, I notice works are still ongoing, the building of flood protecting walls. Skibbereen was built on marshland which makes the town prone to flooding. The town centre lies in a long valley, open to the West and North, and protected from the Atlantic Ocean by hills to the South and South-east.
I do believe that in every place on this wonderful earth of ours there are many interesting and exciting things to discover. Finding out about the place we live does give us a sense of belonging.
I would love to hear about your experiences and feelings about your sense of place or your sense of belonging. I would find it to be most interesting.