MY EARLY MORNING WALK

A few mornings ago I awoke real early and immediately decided to go for a walk. The sun was still only just reaching over the hills to the East. A walk around the block, and a little bit further seemed very inviting. We live almost on top of a hill, the walk would take me along the top of this hill and then down toward the town centre and up again taking the path called the ‘rock’ which overlooks the centre of the town and the river Ilen in a most fantastic way. Some hundred years ago people used to live there in small cabins. The remains of these pre-famine cabins have been excavated. In some places the rock face had actually been used as a wall, even some niches were cut into the rock wall. See my earlier blog about this dig at:
https://gaiainaction.blog/2015/07/09/an-interesting-dig-in-skibbereen
This morning’s walk did not take me quite as far as the site of the rock cabins. However, the lane leading up to them is a wonderful bit of woodland, birds were singing beautifully, it was an awesome moment to listen to them there.

These are only some of the wild flowers that I find growing along the roadside, and in the Boreen along this walk. We are experiencing rather warm and dry weather in the past week or two and it shows in the abundance of flowers. And though insects in general are on the decline, I’ve seen several butterflies recently, among them a few painted ladies and one meadow brown.

And so the walk goes on, along the road leading down into the town. I have always admired this scenery.
So my walk carried on along all the many beautiful and interesting wild plants and flowers. The speedwell which I could not identify I have seen growing in a little brook along the road for many years. I think that it might be either creeping speedwell or thyme-leaved speedwell. Its leaves are glossy and they grow differently along the stem from most speedwells. A mystery to me! The common scurvy grass, also newly identified, grows in the same brook.

The abundance of wild plants and flowers is amazing and wonderful, while making the walks interesting and ever changing. Always something new to find and explore or look up after coming home. I am not sure about the bird that I hear singing but if you would tell me that it was a nightingale, then I would believe you, it was quite magical. The other bird was a chiffchaff.

Have you had an interesting walk recently? I know that many of my followers and the friends that I follow are into walking and enjoying it very much. May I wish you happy times.

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.

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

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 RAILWAY BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER ILEN

20190110_141418

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.

20190110_141452

20190110_141458

20190110_141521

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!

COMING HOME

‘Coming Home’ is the name of a special, and I would say, a poignant exhibition which has been running all summer in the Art Centre in Skibbereen town.  It aims to commemorate and indeed give value and respect to all the many Irish who died during one of the biggest calamities that hit this land.  ‘The Great Hunger’ (1845-52) it has been called, and it was a famine that was unprecedented in its destruction, indeed it was the worst demographic catastrophe of nineteenth century Europe.  Several million people died or were transported to Australia or Canada, or emigrated to a variety of countries.  There is so much history behind this present exhibition, and the talks, lectures and performances that have been laid on as part of this exhibition.  How moving this has been, and how healthy – not to dwell on the past to remember it with bitterness, but to appreciate and respect those that suffered during that period in Irish history.  Myself as a foreigner I never realised what an effect this famine has had on the present Irish generations, but in a way it has, and that is why it has been so good to bring the hurt and hidden sadness’s from generations past into the open, and to look at this on a nationwide basis.  People are then able to let it go, and to have renewed energy and I think that is what will happen.  This exhibition brought people back from many countries to experience, up to a point, what it would have been for their ancestors.  I went to it early in the summer, and though I am not a very emotional person, I am very sensitive and I could literally feel the emotions around me, I was very moved, but also very happy as it felt like a cleansing for the people who are the survivors and perhaps are living with memories from ancestors that faced starvation, and or, the coffin ships to travel to far off countries in order to survive.

I was speechless walking out of the Art Centre that day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would like to dedicate this blog post to my friend Rowena, who is a survivor of ancestors that suffered the workhouse in Ireland, and were transported to Australia.

CHERISHING THE MOMENT

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
20170627_122820
20170707_160630
During the last few days I visited one of my dear friends, it had been too long since we caught up with each other, and it has been very necessary and a great joy and pleasure to make that time for her yesterday.


Since there was such a super crop of raspberries in the garden I have made plenty of jam, but also the cherries were cheap in the shops, but it’s not as easy to make these into jam hence they turned out runny and we are using the result on ice-cream and in porridge. Delicious!

Summer flowers, it’s good to concentrate on the beauty of nature, especially during days of sadness.

“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.”
― Maya Angelou

RIVER ILLEN - SKIBBEREEN

LEAP
It has been a sad start to the week here with one friend passing, and a joy later on in the week with visiting a precious friend who is very ill. It makes for quietness and reflection in my own mind. Realising, of course that nature, the beauty of nature, the flowers, the insects, the summer sun and evenings, the delightful scents in the meadows, the nearly full moon in the sky right now, the ripe red berries in the garden, the stillness of the river reflecting lush summer trees found along its banks all help to make life beautiful and meaningful. Letting go is an essential part of growing a little older too.