A SENSE OF PLACE

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.

Along the river Ilen as it enters the town of Skibbereen
Ribes sanguineum in flower along the river Ilen
Looking downriver as the Ilen enters the town of Skibbereen
Looking upriver

THE RAILWAY BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER ILEN

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This now unused railway bridge runs over the river Ilen in the small town of Skibbereen, West Cork, in Ireland.  This market town used to have a rail connection between it and the large city to the East, Cork.  The railway extended also to Ballydehob and Schull, and to Baltimore.  I have heard it said that in days gone by sugar beet was cultivated around Baltimore, a seaside place close to Skibbereen, and that daily the sugar beet would be transported by train all the way to the factory in Mallow, a town which lies much further inland.

Sadly the railway is no more, neither is the sugar beet production.  The old bridge stands to this day and is part of the West Cork Hotel.  I happened to pass there today and immediately saw that the reflection of the bridge was perfect on the water, so took some photos with my phone and played around a bit with editing.  I wanted the bridge in black and white, but I found that in colour – especially boosted a bit, the result was fine too.

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Skibbereen is a small town in the South-West of Ireland, I plan to explore it more in future and also to learn more about its history.  It has many interesting corners, and lately I am discovering new walks.   Time to start a little exploration!