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

MEMORIES IN PICTURES

Yesterday my sister left Gozo to return home to Lier in Belgium. We enjoyed two weeks of chat and sightseeing, though I must admit a lot of our time was spent enjoying coffee and cake in a variety of places around the island. Nevertheless we did manage to fit in walks and visits to various sights, but mainly we soaked up the spring feeling, the massive amount of wild flowers and the charm of Victoria’s historical narrow streets. As there is only one year between us we grew up quite close and shared a bedroom most of our childhood years, at night my sister would tell me stories which at the time fascinated me, they were of adventures we would find ourselves in. She still always brings me books, and much of our chats would evolve around book discussions, the love of reading we both share. We also both spent our working lives with books and people, she as an editor working for a magazine catering for libraries, and I as a branch librarian in a small town in Ireland.  Both have been very rewarding and enjoyable jobs.
20180304_143113-EFFECTS.jpgAmazing to see the banana trees on Gozo, Josefine could not believe her eyes.

Two sisters, Josefine and myself among the Mimosa flowers which are now opening.

St.Georges square where we spent time drinking coffee and listening to the bell ringing.

Tower of St.Josephs in Qala, and an example of a roundel found on a house in Ghajnsielem.

The fig tree already showing fruit and opening its leaves, poppies are flowering now too making the meadows very colourful, and a hoverfly on a lovely sunny day.

This Gozitan lady working her lace in the doorway of her house, a lovely sight.

More wildlife, this on a narrow pathway at Mgarr.

The narrow alleyways in Ir-Rabat never fail to charm anyone.  Josefine too loved them and we spent quite some time walking them, every time you do you discover more things of interests.

It’s quiet now around here, Ian and I going about our various tasks and peacefully enjoying the life.  The excitement of Josefine’s visit is over, a space is now empty, but memories will stay and lots of thoughts remain of our various chats and discussions.  A rewarding time it was, that is for sure.

A NEW YEAR BEGINS

On this first day of January 2018, I see a beautiful blue sky and blazing sunshine, I decide to walk in a different direction.  My walk takes me along the cliff road from Ghajnsielem towards Hondoq Ir-Rummien on the South coast of the island of Gozo.  It’s an easy road and it is no surprise that there are quite a few people walking.  The man from next door with his little dog is there too and we exchange a few words.  People pass and say hello or nod.  Today I went out not only to connect with nature but to make sure that on this first day of the year I connect with people.  Being far away from family and friends makes itself felt on days like today.  Luckily nature is a great solace, a balsam to the soul.

And first and foremost today was about exploring yet another part of the island.  So I took a totally different direction, and walked where I had not walked before.  The road stretched out before me, lined with wild flowers, plants and trees, a delight to the eye, beyond that the rocks going down steeply, and then the sea, the Mediterranean, sky blue with only a few white horses disturbing its surface.

The road was climbing, lined with stone walls, bright limestone locally sourced, built by men long ago, sturdy and functional.  Due to the most recent rain plants are green, sharp new growth, buds of almond blossom and giant fennel are fat and ready to burst.
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I see lots of wild flowers, a delight to the eye, colourful and bright they are fierce and upright even if the strong wind tries to blow them down.  My hair flies all over the place and I have to keep it back in order to look through my camera window and take a steady photo.  I relish the freshness and feel all the spider webs disappearing, all last year’s less beautiful happenings fade away, even all the problems of humankind, all the suffering and pain that people go through, all disappear for the time being. A new year starts and one hopes that it will finally bring Peace to the earth and with it kindness and happiness in every soul.  I know that is wishing for a lot but I still wish it.

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The road winds its way up the hill, I see houses, signs of life.  I think that I am coming to a hamlet but I don’t know what it is called.  It seems very nice and the views over Comino island and over Malta and the sea are wonderful.  I’m almost enticed to go into a tavern to have coffee but then I see that the sun is getting low in the sky and it is still a long walk back home so I decide to retrace my steps.  Such a beautiful place this is, I intend to walk this more often and check out more of the wild plants as the months go by.  It’s all down hill now, the sun is low in the sky, I see church towers of all the surrounding villages, there is Nadur, and Xewkija, and Ghajnsielem churches, the spires high toward the sky, the domes silhouetted against the setting sun.  I notice that all those villages are on heightened ground, hence they can be seen from far-a-way.  In my mind I can walk all over the island, it does not seem far!  In reality it would take me a long time, but it is good to dream at times.

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I get home before dark, but not before I take a few more shots of these lovely surroundings. I see the ferries busy and many cars waiting in line, all on the way to Malta where life is eager to get back to normal after all the festivities. I make a mental note of what I will do tomorrow, another year is starting and I am wanting to jump right in. Like one of my friends said today, we are going to make a good one of it, we are going to enjoy each moment and live to the full.  Grateful for another chance, another opportunity, to be kind.
Happy New Year to all my dear friends, wishing you a year full of Blessings and Love, Peace and Goodwill.

THE TOWN OF HERTFORD

Some weeks ago we had occasion to visit the town of Hertford in England, it was a family visit but I was able to slip out for a few hours of town exploration which I greatly enjoyed because Hertford is such a lovely and picturesque place, so much of interest to see, a market town originally, most of the centre of the town is a conservation area, and this was plain to see in the many lovely facades of historical buildings. I felt a friendly and pleasant atmosphere there, people young and old looked carefree and happy that morning, it was the weekend. At first I crossed a little bridge over the river Lea, this river looked more like a canal actually, and it had some colourful narrow boats moored along its sides. Turning the corner I came upon a few market stalls selling local produce, nice one I thought, it is always good to see a market, it gives a homely feeling. I walked on just looking at the variety of town buildings, this must have been in the main street. I liked the facades of many of the buildings, highly decorative and a great variety. Turning back on my steps I decided to explore some of the many charity shops which in itself is a relaxing and nice thing to do, the thought in the back of my mind is always something like “I might find a lovely bone china cup in blue and white, or a precious book”. Anyway I knew very well that I could buy nothing as we were coming back from Gozo with three suitcases that were bulging as it was, end of story. But I did buy a book, it turned out to be the read of the year so far for me, I am enjoying it tremendously. It’s a biography cum garden history cum social history of a place in Shropshire called Morville and the author is Katherine Swift.
So far so good, walking on towards a church tower in the distance I then decided it was too far and turned back into the centre of the town where I saw more interesting buildings like the Old Cross Wharf of Nicholas lane. The Mill Bridge Rooms, this forms part of a 19th century Seed Warehouse. What’s very interesting about this place it that there is stored there a rare 4th century Roman Corn Dryer, that’s something I’d like to have seen all right. The Green Dragon Vaults – The Green Dragon Inn: The original inn existed already in 1621. And several other buildings. Very noticeable were some of the shapes of the roofs, I just loved them. There is an interesting museum too but I only got as far as the hall and talking with the people inside there, hoping to have time to visit later on but did not manage that.
In every shop I entered I found the people friendly and chatty, this is always a good way to glean information but there is also an excellent Tourist Office which was also exhibiting some paintings at the time.
A good all round and very pleasant visit it was, adding to the already lovely welcome we received from Ian’s daughter, all of which made for a wonderful experience.  A place I would love to return to for sure as I don’t think I saw half of it yet.

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The river Lea and the Old Barge Pub on Folly island

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The Old Cross Wharf, historically used to as kiln, grain store, cart shed and tally house, more info on it found at https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1268795

Some beautiful decorative plaster work, this is called pargetting.

Here seen are the Mill Bridge Rooms and a photo of the Green Dragon Vaults/hotel

Some of the shopping areas and the market stalls

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This building across the river Lea here is quite distinctive looking, it is the other side of the Old Cross Warf above, but looking at it from across the river.  Cool!

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The Old Cross Library, this building was constructed by British architect Reginald Blomfield.

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Along the river Lea, or Lee.

 

 

END OF THE YEAR

On these last days of 2016, it is good for me to have a look at how my container garden experiment went, what the results are, the successes and also the failures. For a start I have found that my vegetables did not grow as quickly as I had expected. Some I grew from seeds and they are still not that large, one of them is the Lemon Balm, I was hoping to use its leaves for tea but dare not touch them yet as the plant would be gone very fast. Patience is the order of the day! The Mediterranean Basil grew quite well but is still to small to actually cut. I did buy some young plants though, the minute we arrived early in October, and they grew enormous, the tomatoes are much higher than myself, the lettuce are almost bolting and we are eating from them regularly. If I ever grow tomatoes again in containers I will not make the mistake to grow the type I bought, no I will grow a small variety, these large tomatoes may never get big enough and ripen at the rate they are growing. I only just bought them some bananas and made a mixture with coffee grinds and banana skin to give them some potassium and other nutrients. I also have one pepper plant that is doing very well, the peppers are small yet but growing. The sage and the rosemary are doing very well too outside on the balcony.

My thoughts about the whole project are that it is a learning curve, and I made some mistakes, I also did not really know what to expect climate wise, and the soil I bought did not seem to be of such good quality – all things that one would have to look out for. I used all sort of containers, though for the more robust plants I bought proper planters.

The whole project did not cost me much at all and it was very worthwhile. There is of course, still the problem of finalising the whole project before we eventually leave the flat. I will have to get rid of all the soil, of any left over plants, the tomato plants for example, some thought will have to go into that. Luckily there is a lady who does a pop-up charity shop at weekends and who sells plants, I will bring my herbs to her, also all the little succulents which I have picked up from the streets, rooted and are now thriving.

As the year ends I am happy that I did try to grow some food here, even when we are living in a first floor flat. It has taught me that it is not as simple as all that, it takes planning and dedication, and informing oneself about the climate where one is staying.

When all is said and done, the greenery around me in the conservatory, where I usually sit to do my lace, has given me much pleasure, it is just so nice to have some living plants around you all the time.

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BUTTERFLIES, HONEYBEES AND THE NEIGHBOUR’S CAT

A happy Monday morning wishes to all, hope that your week has started well. My week could not have started any better when early on I woke up to glorious sunshine. I happen to glance out of the window to the front garden and the buddleia bush and there I saw the most beautiful butterflies, five different species. They were fluttering among the honeybees of which there were over half a dozen.   I stood watching them for a long time and only then thought about taking some photos and I’m glad that I did because in a way I feel that I have captured their beauty to share with so many others, and that makes me happy!

What a beautiful time of the year it is!
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This is a peacock butterfly, it is found all over Ireland. It hibernates during the winter. It’s got to be the most beautiful of the butterflies in Ireland.
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This was amazing, so many species on the one flower spike, there is the red admiral, these feed on over-ripe fruit and also in particular you see them on the buddleia bush. There is also a painted lady and a small tortoise butterfly.  Not to forget the lovely honeybee, it’s so nice to see many of these around isn’t it, knowing that they are on the decline.

Painted Lady butterfly
Painted Lady butterfly

After I had stood there for a long time watching them, there came a neighbour’s cat and she could think of nothing better to do but to try and catch the butterflies, she managed to get hold of one branch of flowers and destroyed that, but the butterflies were able to escape and of course, much as I love cats, she got chased away very quickly by me.

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GIFTS FROM MY LATE SUMMER GARDEN

Half way through August in Ireland is already considered to be ‘late’ summer. Some years the month of August would bring autumn-like storms and lots of rain with chilly evenings, but this year, however, it has been warm, yes even warmer than usual, and the past few days the temperature has reached into the twenties (C). It’s just a lovely time of the year I think.
I’ve been away for a while and now that I am back the first thing I did was to go and have a good look around my garden. I have a lot to consider because in another few weeks we will be away for several months and though the house will be lived in, the garden will not be looked after. So there is planning to be done, so that when we arrive home again I can start planting and sowing straight away.

Here is what I found in the garden at present:
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Still beautiful flowers, I love hydrangeas, especially the blue coloured types.  These won’t need any attention as they are perennials, so they grow from year to year, all they might need is a little pruning.


Though the start of the summer brought very few insects, lately the garden has been full of them, bees, bumblebees, beetles, all sorts of flies, and so on, also the ants are ever present. The insect hotel has been quite occupied it seems and that is encouraging.

Seeds are starting to ripen.  Here in the garden it is the evening primrose plant and the thistle especially that are ripening fast, both of which I want to save for sharing later with my local GIY group.  The seeds of the thistle of course I grew especially for the gold finch, so far I have not seen any but the they will come, they do every year.

I used the last of my comfrey tea and the barrel is ready for another brew, fortunately the comfrey grows enormously fast and another large plant is ready to use to this end.  The straw I have put in the two cold frames on top of cardboard, this will help to prepare the soil for next year, and keep stuff growing there.  Montbretia flowers still brighten up corners here and there in the wild areas.

The garden is still gifting us with raspberries which are sweet and tasty, I also love the tansy flowers and of course the white hydrangeas at the back of the garden which this year are giving an amazing display.

This is an update of sorts, I needed to have this on record above all, and it has done me good, if anything, writing about my garden, and taking the photos is a really relaxing activity for me, I enjoy it very much and that has got to be good.

DISTRACTED BY LIFE

As it was an overcast but still very nice day, I decided to do some work in our own garden. I cleared one raised bed ready for growing some plants, but I am delighted with what is growing there already, there are plenty of herbs, such as rosemary, lemon balm, lavender, evening primrose, oca, oregano (two types), and of all things some Jerusalem artichokes have come up too. So I just took out some grass and some other stuff that was smothering those plants. Ian decided to come and work with me, so he cleared the path on his knees with a small little knife, no easy task to be sure.  Now and then we took a rest, either for tea or chat, or to admire the creatures flying or crawling around.  Meanwhile I took a few shots of them.

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These are three wild plants that I am keeping my eye on very closely, number one is a huge thistle, it is almost in flower, I know that the seeds are what the gold finch feed on and that is why I want to keep it, to attract these birds and see how it goes.  The second one is our comfrey plant, it’s flourishing and what I am watching is the amount of insects that are using it, most of what I see are the bumblebees and I would love to see some honey bees on the comfrey too, of course.  The third plant is two years old, I grew it as a salad plant but it was so beautiful that I did not want to eat it, so I let it grow, and when we returned from Gozo it was so large and I recognised it as a plant you see a lot around here in the wild, a type of sorrel perhaps.  These three are on my watch list.

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And this is a view of our garden, we have had the pleasure to sit under the hawthorn tree all week for our meals, in the dappled sunlight with the garden scents all around us and the birds singing, what a perfect summer weather, aware that for people in other lands, not as lucky just then because of rains and floods.

Always nice to appreciate what we have in the moment.