Winter Warmers

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Winter is almost upon us. It is pretty much dark by 4.30pm and there is a nip in the air. We are usually lucky here and avoid too much in the way of frost, temperatures kept “warm” by the waters of the Irish Sea, but what we do get is an icy wind whipping in from the sea.

It has been an unusually mild Autumn, but now I am starting to think of hearty, warming casseroles or chilli or things with lots of melted cheese. There is something immensely comforting about toasted cheese, even if it is just on nachos or toasted bread. Then again, I have always been a bit of a cheese addict whether it is a good strong cheddar; soft creamy mozzarella melted into a tin of chopped tomatoes with some basil to make a lovely sauce for pasta; or chargrilled pitta bread stuffed with brie, I just can’t get enough of the stuff.

When I think about it dairy in general is comfort food. Am I the only one who enjoyed milk puddings at school. I have never lost my love of tapioca or semolina pudding and my Mum makes a mean rice pudding (although I have never mastered the art). A dollop of cream can make a very ordinary cake into a lovely pudding, or a large spoonful of whipped cream on the top of a large mug of hot chocolate with a sprinkle of grated chocolate on is divine and I can’t eat a bowl of porridge without cream.

At the moment, I am searching for tasty, savoury food, so tomorrow I will make something with a Mexican leaning, although I am not sure what. Whatever it is, will be loaded with coriander, cumin and chilli and perhaps peppers and sweetcorn for colour and whatever vegetables I decide to throw in plus beans. There will be a sprinking of cheese and  I may just follow up with some chocolate cake (with cream of course).

 

A Hundred Years On

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Poppy

 

One hundred years ago today, life for many people around the world changed forever. Britain declared war on Germany and entered what was said to be “the war to end all wars.” World War I.

It is hard to think that my Grandfather waded through the mud of the trenches, gun in hand, dressed in the uniform of the King’s Liverpool Regiment, sent over the top to kill or be killed.

He was a quiet, gentle man who, I am told, did not talk about his war-time experiences, yet there are family stories, that perhaps he was a sniper.  I was told that he saved the life of a young German soldier who had made his way through No Man’s Land to the British trenches, to be threatened with death by a comrade of Grandfathers who apparently stopped the British soldier shooting.

On 10th October 1918 my Grandfather was wounded and sent home to recuperate in Yorkshire. He was one of the lucky ones. Over 18 million men were killed in action on both sides of the war. They were killed during a war of such unimaginable horror. The mud, the corpses, the noise, the fear, the sounds and smells that the young men faced on a daily basis. They were not career soldiers, but men who felt it was their duty, and in many cases to volunteered, to go to the front to fight the enemy. They had a patriotism lost on later generations. Many saw it as a big adventure, but the excitement they must have felt boarding the trains would soon be dispelled by the reality of what they would face.

William Owen Jones, my Great-Grandmother’s brother, joined the South Wales Borderer’s. On 16th December 1917 he was killed in action in Belgium and was laid to rest in Artillery Wood Cemetery. He was 33 years of age. A life cut short, promise unfulfilled. He, like many other men from around what is now the Commonwealth, died for the freedom of this country, and their sacrifice should never be forgotten.

 

I’m a Cataholic

I am a cataholic.

Yes, I admit it, I am completely addicted to animals of the feline persuasion. I have a house full and my vet calls me “the mad cat woman”.

Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs. I have a dog. I grew up with dogs, and as a small child if anything was bothering me, I told the dogs. Not that they were any use. Part way through unburdening myself, I would get a look that said, “Alright, enough where’s the biscuit?”

The quirks and idiosyncrasies of cats, keep me on my toes. They tear through the house like little tornados, scattering things as they go, usually with a thud and occasionally with a crash and the accompanying shower of glass shards. They disrupt my work. I can be beavering away at my computer until (depending on whether I am using the desktop or laptop) a head blocks my view of the screen, or a bottom parks itself firmly on the keyboard.

Heaven help any plants I bring into the house. Within a couple of days, any shiny green leaves have been munched, and I am left with a few bare stems. Do they touch the herbs that I put on the kitchen windowsill specifically for them to eat? No. Why should they when they can destroy my houseplants?

I saw a fridge magnet that said, “When you call a dog, it comes running. When you call a cat, it takes a message and gets back to you.” Nothing can be closer to the truth. Cats are the hedonists of the animal world. They have never forgotten their status as gods in Ancient Egypt and live to be waited on. They insist on the warmest, most comfortable spot in the house. My cats allow to me to warm the sofa before requesting, ever so nicely, that I move so that they can make themselves comfortable.

I have one little darling who likes to sleep on my pillow. She sits on my face if I don’t move my head so she can curl up in the warm hollow, with her bottom wedged firmly into my shoulder. I have lost count of the number of times I have woken in the morning to find that I am clinging to the edge of the bed, while the cats are stretched out all over it. I did not realise that such small animals could take up so much space!

I have had cats now for twelve years, and I am still not quite fluent in cat. I am constantly surprised by their approach to life, and how they manage to wrap me around their small paws. I would like to think that I am mistress in my own house, but I am deluding myself. These beautiful little creatures know how to get what they want almost without me realising what they are doing.

So, who are the little beasties who have so easily turned my life so firmly around? First in terms of nuisance factor is Lily. She is heads above the others when it comes to disruption, knocking things over and the general troll factor. It is Lily who sits, with little cogs turning, looking for things to get up to. She is a bright little creature, and she quickly works out by looking at the other cats, which buttons to push, and then delights in pushing them. This, quite naturally, leads to a great deal of hissing and looks that would curdle milk from her “siblings”.

Her sister Mia is as different as you can get. They are littermates but the only thing they have in common is that they are both black and white. Where Lily looks for things that are going to get her into trouble, Mia is content to curl up on my knee (usually when I am just about to get up for something).

The only boy in the house is Fidget, a naughty ginger tom. He is a complete mummy’s boy. He has a voice which could shatter glass and he is not afraid to use it.

Then there is Echo, my lovely, little tabby cat, and Fidget’s sister. She is frightened of everything and so quiet that you do not know she is in the house.

Finally, there is Willow. I met Willow at a foster home where she had been taken from the local rescue centre, as she was pregnant. She had three lovely, lively little kittens, but it was three-legged Willow who I fell in love with. The disruption her arrival caused seven months ago is ongoing. Lily decided that this new arrival was perfect for being mean to. Unfortunately, Willow is yet to work out that running is the worse thing she could do, and to Lily it is a great game. Willow is not so keen on being pounced on, and retaliates and a full-scale catfight ensues.

There you have my feline family. Five completely different furry babies with personalities as big as houses. Life is never dull, and I no longer get a lie-in but I would not change a thing.

Life

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I walked home along the boardwalk under a quicksilver sky, the light perfect, the air heavy with humidity. The flat expanse of sand stretching to the sea was peppered with people walking their dogs, and a tug boat guided a tanker in to port. Across the river, Moel Famau and the Clwydian Range were visible, with Snowdonia a ghostly presence behind and to the right.

It has been strange weather all week with rain and bright sunshine, as though it is unable to make up its mind. We are in June and have had but glimpses of summer. Still I have not given up hope of being able to sit out and enjoy some sunshine. This is my favourite time of year. Birds sing with an unrestrained joy, flowers finally burst into bloom revelling in the higher temperatures, days are longer and skies a clear blue with a few wispy white clouds. My climbing rose now has flowers, pale apricot pink and beautifully scented.

More of life is spent outdoors, not cooped up inside. Just to be able to have the doors and windows open and to be able to enjoy the lovely fresh air is fabulous. I even like going to a walk! The days are longer, and as the cool of the evening falls I sit in the garden with a cup of coffee and just breathe in the stillness.

It is about the only time I have a few moments of peace. The rest of my life seems to be taken up juggling balls. I am either out walking dogs or feeding cats, making soap and body products, at the day job or being pestered by my dog or cats. Peace does not enter into it.

Money aside, I enjoy being pretty much out of the rat race. I am not entirely sure I am cut out to work full time for others. I don’t mind working hard, but wouldn’t it be so much nicer to get the benefits yourself instead of someone else benefiting from your blood, sweat and tears? Working for yourself gives you a freedom not possible when you are work for someone and you are not at the beck and call of someone else. For all the uncertainty, I am enjoying things at the moment, and I hope that lasts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bank Holiday Weekend

Summer seems to have done what summer in this country does best – vanished. Although it is not cold, the skies are like molten pewter and heavy with rain. It has curtailed the cats enjoyment of the outdoors somewhat. Their little faces make it quite clear what they think of this weeks almost permanent precipitation. Unfortunately for me, no amount of explaining that I can’t do anything about the weather helps, and I am sure they think it is all my fault.

My poor little Fidget cat is unwell and has had to have a little operation. I had to rush him to the vet yesterday (typical for him to be ill on the bank holiday weekend). He has done well overnight, and although I may have to leave him there until tomorrow, there is a chance I can collect him this afternoon. I have everything crossed that I can. Interestingly, it does not seem as though any of the other cats have even noticed he is missing.

I have been sorting out the kitchen cupboards, yes, I know, I lead such an exciting life, but I need to try to clear things off the work surfaces. When I had the kitchen installed, the idea was to have a few things (kettle, toaster etc) out on the work surface, but everything else secreted away in the cupboards. I wanted a nice kitchen, a stylish kitchen but instead, although I love the cupboards and the granite tops, there is “stuff” everywhere and I want it put away. I tiled the walls at Christmas, and I need to paint the walls, reseal the floor and get a windowsill, but it is at least heading in the right direction. Slowly.

The house continues to depress me, but I don’t have any enthusiasm to do anything with it. It is a vicious circle which I need to find a way of breaking free of. I have said this before, but each room’s issues has a knock on effect to another, this in its turn affects my muddled brain or at least makes me muddled. Although I like the feeling of having some privacy (I could not for example bear to have no walls around the house, and the feeling that people could see in) I have always been affected by the feeling of being surrounded. I know that this sounds like a contradiction, so let me try to explain.

When I am in an office, I have to be able to see the desk. I can’t stand the desk covered with paper, and even if it means having a huge pile of paper to work through, it is infinitely preferable to having lots of small stacks all over the place. I love open spaces and rooms with high ceilings, I hate low ceilings and pokey spaces. In short, I need a feeling of space. My house is very small and I am not the tidiest of people, consequently there are times when I have “stuff” everywhere. The saying a “place for everything and everything in its place” is so apt and I don’t have a place for everything. With a little cash that I don’t have, I could get storage sorted upstairs, which would free up some space elsewhere. I know what needs to be done, I just can’t do it which adds to the frustration.

So, that is my Bank Holiday weekend, sick cats and cupboard sorting. Oh the joys!

 

 

 

 

Scents of Childhood

Fragrance is evocative. It transports you to places you have been, or reminds you of people you knew. How many times have we heard that if you are selling your home, have some freshly baked bread or a pot of coffee in your kitchen as it makes a good impression on buyers?

When I get a whiff of Pettigrain, I am reminded of my paternal Grandmother who wore Eau de Cologne. I can still remember the bottle with its old-fashioned gold and turquoise label. My Grandfather slicked his hair with Brylcreem and I have a recollection of not being too keen.

The scents of my childhood are varied. My father smoked cigars, and I learned the difference between the smell of a cheap everyday cigar, and one which was much more expensive. My paternal Grandfather was a pipe smoker, and rare though it is, I still love to get a whiff of pipe smoke (odd, when you think that I am a rabid anti-smoker). It reminds me of the all the times we went blackberry picking, not that many of the plump, juicy berries made it home; or sitting at his feet while he told me stories of the derring-do adventures of Robin Hood, or about the exploits of two farmers, Brown and Jones living on adjacent farms in Wales. I wish that I remembered more of these stories. They may have given me clues about my family tree. Many years after Granddad died, Dad told me that a lady cousin of Granddad’s was farmer near Amwlch on Anglesey.

Most mornings, I take the dog to the park for a run. It is a beautiful place all year round and is teeming with wildlife and packed with beautiful plants. There is a certain spot by some steps where I am sure I can smell wild garlic. It is a smell I love, and reminds me of my childhood and trips to Wales.

In the town in North Wales where Mum was born and grew up, there is a lane up a hill with pockets of woodland on both sides. At this time of year, the beautiful, soft garlic fragrance hangs in the air as the flowers bloom. Whenever we went to visit family, and drove up the lane, I would wind down the windows of the car and inhale. I loved it, partly because it is such a gorgeous scent but also because, for me, it meant that winter was over, spring was here and summer on its way.

When we were children, we used to go to France for our summer holidays. We would pack up the car and get the ferry, having booked the first couple of nights, but having no idea where we would head. If we liked a town or village we arrived in, we stayed for a few days, if we didn’t then we moved on. We stayed in B&Bs and Pensions, and it was a cheap way of getting a fabulous holiday, staying off the beaten track and away from major tourist sites.

I recently created a blend of essential oils, to fragrance soap with, which reminds me of these family holidays. It was not intentional to create something which reminded me of France, but that is what I ended up with. It contains an amount of Ylang Ylang, so perhaps this is a particularly French scent, or perhaps it is a false memory.

Coffee, freshly baked bread, the smell of the ground after a heavy shower of rain on a hot day, all these are scents which either remind me of something or just make me feel extraordinarily happy. More than anything else, the sense of smell evokes a memory, good or bad, so it is worth while taking some time to store smells in your memory banks for future use.

I may be gone sometime

I am having an “interesting” day. Last night one of my cats kindly killed my laptop. I am still trying to work out which of the little darlings managed to remove the mouse, pulling the laptop onto the floor and breaking the screen. Thankfully, the machine itself still seems to be working, but you can imagine the panic when I realised what had happened. It is times like this, you wish you had backed up more often! Off to the computer shop I had to go. Admittedly, my old laptop was beginning to slow a little, but I was not ready to ditch it (partly because I could do with not spending the money at the moment). What I had forgotten is how long it takes to set up, so I may be gone some time. Part of the problem is remembering what I need to install, and then digging out the disks which have not been seen for some time. Then there is the battle with Windows 8, which if I am anything to go by, involves a great deal of shouting, and with which I am unimpressed. I understand the need to develop an operating system which works with touch screen computers, but not everyone has, or wants a touch screen. There is no way I would be able to cope with Windows 8 if I was using the laptop integrated mouse, it is far too frustrating. The only survival method I have discovered is to plug in an external mouse and then the silly tiles don’t keep appearing, tiles for which, incidentally, I have uninstalled most of the associated programs. Why were there a stack of apps I did not want, or ask to be installed? Rather presumptuous. A lovely sight greeted me in the park today. Not only did we have a chilly but gorgeously sunny day, but in the owl box near the park gate was a lovely, large owl just sitting sunbathing. I had my mobile with me and took a quick snap, but tomorrow I will take my “proper” camera with me and try to take a decent photo.   owl I am not exactly up on British birds, apart from Robins and Wrens, but I think this is a Tawny Owl. He was stunning and was a fabulous start to the day.

Looking up.

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Things appear to be looking up.

Over the last week or so, spring has been making a tentative and fleeting appearance, bringing sunshine, a lack of rain and slightly milder temperatures. There are carpets of snowdrops in the park, the birdsong is more insistent and we have daylight until about 5.30pm. It is definitely heading in the right direction.

This has, so far, been a good news week. On Monday I received a job offer, and my gas and electricity bill is so much in credit that I am getting a refund. Some of the money will be spent on labels for new products, and the rest will be spent on, well, me. I deserve a treat. I have no idea what I am going to treat myself to though but I hope it will be something completely frivolous and unnecessary. Does that sound terribly naughty? It has been so long since I have been able to treat myself to something, I am not sure if I care if it is naughty or not.

The downside of the new job is that I don’t have anything to wear and I hate buying clothes. The last two jobs I have had have been jeans and t-shirt type places, and although I don’t need to be suited and booted, I still need to dress smartly. Poking about in the wardrobe yesterday, I realised that I only own one pair of smart trousers and those are a little bit tight, I have had them so long. I have been on the internet and there are a pair of trousers on sale at my favourite shop so I will send for them and hope they fit.

The upshot of all this, is that I have to unpack my brain and brush off the cobwebs, the dog will have to learn to live without me for a couple of days a week, and I will have to get organised and remember to sort out a “picnic” to take to work with me. The things we do to pay a mortgage!

Autumn in Ireland

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A number of years ago, I spent a week on holiday in the west of Ireland.

I arrived at my destination as dusk was falling, enveloping me in a feeling of peace. Travelling here had been the usual fun. The flight had taken off 40 minutes late, in part because a couple of passengers had got “lost” in an airport the size of a postage stamp. I collected the hire car at Dublin Airport and headed west on what was an uneventful journey until I hit football traffic in Carrick-on-Shannon. This hold-up, together with the slightly duff directions I had been given meant that I did not arrive until 7.30pm. The cottage keys had been left at a post office I could not find, and that no-one had heard of. Finally, after a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing and plenty of scuttling about I was making myself comfortable in the cottage I had rented for the week.

The following morning, the tops of the hills across the lake were blanketed in cloud. Queen Maeve was shrouded too, and there was an air of mystery about the place. I had just the sounds of the birds, and the breeze rustling in the trees for company.

The cottage was perched up a hill, and had wonderful views over Glencar Lake, and up and down the valley. It was a lovely secluded spot, which needed only a touch of sunshine to be perfect. The lake was laid out below like a blanket, and although I could not see him, I sensed the sentinel presence of Ben Bulben at my back.

The following day, I decided to drive to the Lough Rynn Estate east of Carrick-on-Shannon. I arrived after almost getting myself killed down one particularly narrow country lane, to find that the estate was closed for the season. I returned to Carrick for a coffee and a Danish, and a visit to a nice little supermarket to stock up.

Instead of driving straight back, I took the bread and butter I had bought to Rosses Point for a picnic. Rosses Point is a pretty little town which boasts wonderful views towards Ben Bulben. The Yeats brothers used to spend much of their summers there.

I took my groceries back to the cottage, and drove to Drumcliffe to see the grave of W.B. Yeats and the High Cross in the Churchyard there. Drumcliffe is a tiny place lying in the protective shadow of Ben Bulben. In the year 574 AD, St Columba founded a monastery there which become one of the most important centres of religion in the northwest of Ireland. The only remains of the original monastery is a round tower across the road from the church. In the church yard, is a fine 11th century high cross.

Drumcliffe is most famous as the final resting place of W.B. Yeats. Although Dublin born, Yeats spent many holidays with his maternal grandparents in Sligo and Ballisdare, and he never lost his love of the area. He died in the South of France in 1939. His body was finally laid to rest in Drumcliffe, where his grandfather had been rector, in 1948. The outbreak of World War II had prevented his remains being moved any earlier.

The cottage was warm, cosy and comfortable. The view was magnificent with Glencar Lake below like a pool of molten pewter, and framed by brooding, wooded mountains. The mist was so dense that I could not see where the land ended and the sky began. As dusk fell, a beautiful red fox trotted past the window and down the lane as though on a mission.

The following day there was still no sign of Queen Maeve. She was hidden in the mists high on Knockarea. I spent the morning in Sligo, pottering about and buying some books. All the while, the warm rain fell softly.

I visited Sligo Abbey, the only surviving medieval building in the city, which was actually a Dominican Friary. The Friary was founded in 1252/3 by Maurice Fizgerald, Chief Justice of Ireland, and has been the burial place of many chieftans of Connaught. In 1642, when Sligo was loyal to Charles I, the city was sacked by Frederick Hamilton and his Puritan soldiers. The Friars were massacred and the Friary left in ruins. A legend persists that the silver bell of the Abbey lies at the bottom of Lough Gill and that only the purest of souls can hear it when it rings.

After a light lunch, I took a drive to Lissadell House, home to the Gore-Booths, although it is no longer in the family. Little of the house was open at the time, but the drive out of the estate towards the shore was fabulous. The Gore-Booths had lived near Drumcliffe since the early 16th Century and the present Lissadell House was built in the 1830′s by Sir Robert Gore-Booth.

I drove from Lissadel House to Streedagh to see the Spanish Armada Memorial. Following defeat, the remains of the Spanish Armada were forced to sail north around Scotland to try to reach the safety of home. Three large ships ran aground and a thousand sailors either drowned of were marched to the gallows in Galway. The remains of the ships were discovered in 1985.

It had been a beautiful sunny day, but in the evening, the clouds started to roll back and the mountains vanished. The following morning, in glorious sunshine, and I drove to Galway, where the clouds hung low and it was dull and overcast.

Galway, is a happy bustling city with a bohemian flavour and winding medieval streets. The Spanish Arch, Galway Cathedral, Kirwans Lane, Norah Barnacle House and the University there is plenty to see.  I found the Cafe du Journal for a lunch of tortilla pizza and a cappuccino before heading off to shop. After a wander around Brown Thomas, I bought some chocolates in a little shop to munch on the way back.

Gilligan’s World in Ballysadare was billed as being designed to “create a world which would take us back to our childhood.” Still in its infancy, it was a small theme with faeries and gnomes in various settings, which I am sure children would enjoy.  It was not for me, until I reached their pets corner. They had a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, guinea pigs, a duck and rabbits. They had baby, grey rabbits that I was able to cuddle, and they allowed me to go into one of the rabbit pens to see some newborn bunnies. Now, that is my idea of heaven.

On a beautiful sunny morning with clear blue skies and fluffy white clouds, I went to look for the Gleniff Horseshoe, but got distracted by Mullaghmore. The sea looked so beautifully calm and blue that it drew me like a magnet. I drove in the sunshine to the harbour where the small, colourful fishing boats were moored. Then, after a brief walk, I drove to the otherside of the peninsula, to Mullaghmore Head. It was easy to see why Lord Mountbatten and his family so loved this place. The house they owned Classiebawn Castle, dominates the skyline, grey against the blue. The sea, which from a distance had looked like a millpond, was broiling and slapping against the cliffs, foaming waves enveloping the red-fringed coast with white horses.

I carried on down a road which I thought would take me to the Horseshoe, but didn’t. I gave up the hunt and obeyed my grumbling stomach and went to Sligo for lunch, and to buy a carving of Oisin I had seen a couple of days before, in a shop in Wine Street. Then I lost a castle.

Manorhamilton, in County Leitrim, was easy to find, straight along the N16, but when I got there I could not find the castle. In 1607, the Irish Nobles were defeated by the Crown marking the overthrow of the old Gaelic aristocracy and many of the chieftans fled to Europe to avoid capture by the English. The English took the opportunity to excercise control over the land. The area of Manorhamilton was granted to Sir Frederick Hamilton and the castle was constructed.

I certainly would not have been very good at infiltrating enemy strongholds, as I would not have been able to find them, and I gave up castle hunting, and having a touch of Romany (or perhaps something resembling madness) in me, I drove down a road not knowing where it would take me.

Whether I am in the car, or on foot, there is nothing better than turning down a road not knowing where it will lead. The journey into the unknown is a journey of discovery, good and sometimes not so good, but discovery none the less.

I came, after a while, to a lake, and then just as I began to wonder where I was, a drove past a sign which read “Welcome to County Fermanagh.” Somewhere, I had crossed the border from the south to the north, and looking at the map, it appeared to run through the lake, so unless I had been driving a submarine, I would never have found that either.

It did make me think about the question of a united Ireland. I am not sure whether I thought that when the Republic of Ireland gained independance, hundreds of men were sent out with miles of barbed wire and told to separate the two countries and not to miss an inch. I think that the point is, I have not thought about it. I grew up with news of The Troubles on an almost daily basis. It never occured to me that the border was, in places, just a line on a map and not a physical barrier, which is incredibly stupid of me.

I drove back via Belleek, stopping to see the famous pottery. By now, there had been a change in the weather, and grey clouds were appearing, promising more rain. On the way, I noticed a signpost for the Gleniff Horseshoe, so off I went. The valley is protected by three mountains: Tievebaun, Truskmore and Benwisken. Under the shadow of Tievebaun you will find the Magic Hill. Why magic? Well, if you park your car and release the handbrake, it will move uphill! Drive along the single lane road marvelling at the beautiful views of the Dartry Mountains. As you drive and turn left along the bottom of Benwisken you come to a high cliff where you will find the cave in which Dairmuid and Graine spent their last night together. It is impossible to describe what the horseshoe looks like. The mountains tower over you. The size of these sheer rock faces makes you feel tiny and insignificant and lost in a giant landscape.

I stopped again at Drumcliffe for coffee and a muffin. Then I had a look around the lovely gift shop, buying my nephew a book about the legend of Finn McCool. As I left, the heavens opened dropping curtains of heavy rain the like of which I had not seen in a long time.

Parke’s Castle is on the banks of Lough Gill and I went via Deerpark. This is not now as the name might suggest a park of deer, although it was originally a hunting area, but a fine example of a court tomb. The get there I had to walk up the mountain on an often disapperaing cinder path, squelching through soggy ground. The walk through the pine trees, blackberry bushes and rhodedendrons was peaceful and lovely, disturbed by nothing more than birdsong, the barking of a dog and the distant lowing of cattle.

The Tomb dates from 3000BC and has three, two chambered burial galleries leading from an oval, central court and is constructed of rough, limestones slabs  The views from the tomb are stunning, and it is well worth stopping to take in the view. Whether or not you are interested in ancient history, this is a beautiful place to visit.

A short drive from Deerpark is Parke’s Castle. Built in 1609, at the eastern end of Lough Gill by Robert Parke, the castle is one of the few Planters Castles in Ireland. It was built on the site of a 16th century tower house which had belonged to the O’Rourkes, a powerful local clan. Brian O’Rourke was executed for treason for giving aid to Captain Francisco de Cuellar of the Spanish Armada, enabling him to return to Spain. The castle has been beautifully restored by local craftsmen using native Irish Oak and 17th century building techniques.

Back to Sligo for petrol and a last wander around. I went to the Winding Stair bookshop for lunch of pasta salad and a coffee, and then to Sligo Museum. It is small and perfectly formed and has a room dedicated to W.B. Yeats and paintings by Jacks Yeats, plus items that belonged to Countess Constance Markievicz and her sister Eva Gore-Booth.

I could not go home without taking a look at the waterfall which Yeats mentioned in his poem “The Stolen Child”. Tumbling 50 feet from the hill above into the river, this is an enchanting waterfall, in a magical setting sending plumes of water into the air

The following morning, was time to go home. I drove back to Dublin Airport, dropped off the car and boarded a ‘plane home. I was relaxed after my week in Ireland, and already plotting my return.

Signs of Life

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There are signs that winter is on the wane. A couple of weeks ago, I “rang” my first snowdrop and daylight lingers longer. It makes me more positive and outward looking, and although there are times when the alarm clock goes off and I want to stay a while in bed, those days are few.

The difference this year, is that I have to get out and walk the dog. I can’t just stay in the house, vegging out in front of the television. This is her first winter with me, and one of the reasons for getting a dog was that it would force me out. I am not a lover of the cold and the wet, and although this winter has been pretty mild, it has been grey and miserable. In the past I would have stayed in my pyjamas. Now I have to get dressed and go out into the fresh air.

Dogs, of course, don’t care what the weather is like, and with the exception of the odd day when the rain was dropping like a curtain, we have been out every morning so that she can have a run, and boy can she run. She starts off slowly enough, just a bit of a potter, and then she’s off like her tail is on fire.  I spend the rest of the day picking twigs and brambles our of her tail, and she has been known to pierce her ear with a thorn. Oh the joys!

This wandering in the park has done me the world of good, mentally and physically. I have lost some weight and have not felt the mental heaviness that is usual for me in the winter. Dogs are the best therapy I can think of, and she makes me laugh in the process. (Unless she has just rolled in fox poo. That is not remotely funny).

So, with the birds singing, the daffodils beginning to poke their swords above the soil, snowdrops just waiting to have their bells rung and longer days, it really does feel like there are signs of life everywhere and that Spring is on the way.

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