Posts Tagged With: tourists

Árainn Mhór Island. Donegal in a Day.

Arguably among the most beautiful counties in Ireland is Donegal. It is a different reality to the postcard bucolic scenery of Kerry or the treeless wilderness of West Clare but it is no less arresting. Visitors come to Donegal for a different experience. For me its the rolling russet-red hilly boglands, granite strewn boulder fields, jagged and sparkling quartzite hills, deep-blue loughs, whitewashed cottages, steep cliffs disappearing into the windswept spray, empty beaches, its fishing villages and maritime heritage, the language, its raw climate and its welcoming people. But Donegal is a big county and it can be hard to get around especially with the limited time many visitors allow in their rush to see everything. But I’ve found somewhere that has all of that and more wrapped up in a 22 square kilometre package that sits just a 15 minute ferry ride off the coast.

This is Árainn Mhór (Arranmore). Donegal’s largest inhabited island it was a complete unknown to me until I got a message from my friend Pauline suggesting we meet there for a day’s exploring.  Just one of those whims that makes Ireland so unpredictably delicious.   She lives on another special island, Achill in Co Mayo, and was looking for a break and, in the fashion of all true island residents, where better to go than another island? So I instantly agreed of course and made the trek from Co Clare arriving on a wet cold morning at the ferry terminal at Burtonport at the appointed time. Well, as is often the way with things in this country, Pauline’s car died so she never made it.  Having lost my guide and companion I headed over anyway with only the vicissitudes of the weather and the narrow winding boreens to lead me on my discovery.

I was captivated from the moment the ferry left Burtonport.  There are two ferries run by two companies.  Known to everyone as the Red or the Blue.  I took the Red. The port was busy enough but only with those who eke a living along the Donegal coast.  Children on the way to school, a delivery of Guinness and a little dinghy loaded with some of life’s other essentials presumably  headed to one of the remote islands.  We picked our way between these small rocky islands dotting the narrow channel.  Many of these islands have houses which I guess for the most part are holiday retreats.  It is only 5 km before we head into the Ferry port at Leabgarrow.  just as the Blue ferry in uncharacteristically, for Ireland, perfect time made space for us at the wharf.

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The Red Ferry heads out from the port of Burtonport

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Essential supplies for life on a Donegal island

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Can’t tell if it’s coming or going.

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Towards Árainn Mhór

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Approaching Leabgarrow, the ferry terminal at Árainn Mhór

I love this bit. Arriving at a place you’ve never been and know nothing about. Do I turn left or right?  Well I drove off the ferry and headed south and as I did the rain miraculously stopped, the sun burst through and the island glowed. This would be repeated all afternoon. Dazzling sunshine and stormy showers with even a bit of hail and of course wind. I shouldn’t go on about the weather because this is Ireland after all but as I was dead keen to try and capture the island with my camera I was concerned about the light and the rain and my freezing cold hands.  The south coast provides winding roads which snake through the hills giving views of seascapes across to the mainland and passing though hamlets  clinging to the hillsides and strung along the roadway.  Stone-walled paddocks flow down to the rocky shore.

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As it turned out the island put on quite a light show. With the sun coming and going, the light changed every few minutes. You couldn’t plan; you just had to be ready to catch those fleeting moments.

The dominatingly dark greyscape would disappear and the sea would be lit by a fan of radiating beams streaming under the clouds.

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When the sun shone for those brief moments it would dazzle.  The real colours of the Donegal palette were displayed and intensified. The red and brown grass, deep blue lakes, sparkling rocky outcrops, sinuous black roads,  green paddocks and white cottages. IG3C0522IG3C0531

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Then the wind would be so strong it would blow the mist back over the land or even reverse the flow of rivulets making their way to the sea.

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And the rain sweeping in across the ocean would provide interplay with light and dark, waiting for the hand of a skilled painter. The weather was so confused that at one point we had just a beautiful hint of rainbow and an approaching rainstorm juxtaposed.

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The weather can’t make up its mind

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Storms arrive on the east coast

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Storms arrive on the west coast.  Mainland visible in the distance

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Green Island off the west coast of Árainn Mhór

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Looking across towards Errigal

The south coast provides winding roads which snake throught the hill giving views of seascapes across to the mainland and passing though hamlets  clinging to the side of the hill and strung along the roadway.  Stone-walled paddocks flow down to the rocky shore. Then the road turns north and with a few hairpin bends rises to take you to an elevated bog land underlain by granite. That soon changes to quartzite hills – jagged and chaotic. The one lane road meanders across this magic land and you feel anything could happen. And it does.

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village of Torries at the south of the island

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Quartzite hills

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Bog land and granite

I see a figure in the distance walking in my direction. Due to our respective speeds it takes some time for me to reach him. He is wearing a reflective bright yellow jacket and dark glasses. And carrying a stick. Of course that is not unusual in Ireland but a closer look showed him waving the white stick in front of him. He was blind. This was kilometres from anywhere mind you. He stopped as he heard my car approaching and pulled to the edge of the road. I stopped and greeted him. “Lovely day isn’t it?”  he said. In his defence the sun was shining at that time. “Sure is”. A few more words about the weather and the chance of more rain and then quick as a flash he came back “Where are you from?”. I gave him the potted version and we had chatted briefly. It was clear then that he had had his fill of this outsider and wanted to continue his walk.  I watched him steadily and confidently stride away musing on the inner strength that many have to carry on a normal life especially, or perhaps because of, living in such a remote place.  A truly unexpected encounter.

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Off for a walk

The ‘ring road’ as it is known continues past the island reservoir which has a monumental sculpture immersed in the water and topped by two flags, one of which is the US stars and stripes and the other appears to be an Irish flag but missing the orange. It just looks like someone has cut the orange off.  But if any of my readers know more I’d be grateful to know.    The memorial remembers the terrible hardship of the Hunger in this part of Ireland and how many who were evicted escaped to Beaver Island, of similar size on Lake Michigan in the US. There have historically been strong links continued to this day.

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Memorial to the victims of the Famine and links to Beaver Island.

Every island worth its salt has a lighthouse. The elegant white and red structure was built in 1859 to replace a light first erected in 1798. It is still operational but not attended.  Indeed the former keeper’s residence is now a Bed & Breakfast.  In summer.

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The cliffs at Rinrawros Point

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The light and its exposed location at Rinrawros Point, atop jagged cliffs, reminded me of the precarious maritime history of this island. There is a plaque in the ruins of the RNLI building (Royal National Lifeguards Institution) on the south side of the island which chronicles the sea tragedies of the island and it is truly sobering.  From the death of Tom O’Donnell in 1839 and subsequent tragedies, many of which involved multiple loss it has been a rough existence for the Arranmore islanders. And how hard it must have hit some families as names such as Gallagher and O’Donnell which names regularly appear. Worst of all was the Arranmore Disaster when 19 lost their lives in a small boat trying to make it through the passage from Burtonport before the encroaching dark.  As I write this I suddenly realise it was 52 years to the day since this devastating event 9th November 1935. Most of those lost were Gallaghers, many form the one family, with 15 of them returning from working in Scotland.

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A poignant photo of the funeral for the victims of the Arranmore Disaster

 The fishing industry has been the backbone of life on Árainn Mhór. Which makes it all the sadder to see the abundant evidence everywhere of the decline in its fortunes and the ripple effect this has had on the island.  Just near the ferry port two fishing boats stand by the roadside, decaying reminders of the current circumstances.

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Abandoned fishing boats at Leabgarrow.

 

Alleged overfishing by island fishermen, paradoxically while EU super-trawlers vacuum up the sea floor beyond the 12 mile limit, Euro intervention and a ban on salmon fishing.  There are now only four fishing boats operating out of the island.  Previously I mentioned the RNLI building, which I thought initially was a church. Closer inspection revealed its real use.   Surrounding it is a sea of stacked lobster pots eerily reminiscent of a graveyard, which it clearly is, and piles of gossamer like netting resting against its walls. On the nearby jetty sits another decaying fishing boat leaning against the pier for support, in one last attempt to stay afloat.  It is very sad to see and testament to a forlorn hope that perhaps there will be better days .

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With the permanent population continuing to decline to around 500 since its peak in the 1940s (around 1,400), tourism has become the main ‘industry’.  But tourism is seasonal. When I visited in the first week of November there were no hotels open. One large Guest House was for sale.   Early’s Pub, the only restaurant on the island,  only opens on the weekend. The other pub served only toasties (though they were delicious). BnB’s have virtually shut up shop. I was the ONLY overnight visitor on the Island. I am pretty sure of that.  And if it wasn’t for the help of a local resident who was able to contact Annie who kindly opened her BNB for me, I would not have been able to stay on the island.  It is hard to see three months of summer visitors being a viable alternative industry.  If you are going in the off season and I recommend staying at least one night, just arrange accommodation first.

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I’ve spoken of the changing light so I was in high hopes of a classic sunset. While inconveniently placed clouds thwarted me nevertheless the backlighting of orange light provided some remarkable cloudscapes. At time it was like the clouds were alight flames flaring upwards into the night sky and rays of orange directed down to the earth.

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Sunset behind cloud

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Clouds aflame I

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Clouds aflame II

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Glowing thunderheads

And fourteen hours later the display was repeated when I was rewarded for getting up early (7:45 am) with a spectacular sunrise before the clouds descended and killed the show. And then as if to say “Ok.   You’ve had your fun”, rain descended.

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In all I only spent 24 hours on the island. Enough? Not really. I ‘saw’ everything I suppose but I only got just a little taste of the true feeling of the place.  Pauline, any time you want to try again. I’m up for it.

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Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Giant Steps

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The Giant’s Causeway is on every visitor’s must see list on the island of Ireland. For lots of different reasons. It’s a beautiful place on a beautiful coast, It has mystery and mystique. It is intriguing and enigmatic. That’s why over a million people a year visit.

It is located in Northern Ireland in a part of Antrim known as The Causeway Coast.  I have been there twice in the past year – in January 2017 in the depth of winter and in September. Both times I was gifted with marvellous weather.

For me as a geologist it was like worshipping at a holy shrine. So I thought I would put together a few of my observations from the two trips.  Apologies if this is too dry for you but you can skip the words and just look at the pictures.

So what are we talking about here?

The Causeway is part of an extensive coastline exposing thick basalt flows.  The scenery is nothing short of spectacular with sweeping bays and jagged cliffs stretching as far as the eye can see.

 

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The Causeway Coast looking west with Giant’s Causeway in the foreground.  

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The coastal path from the Causeway to the Chimney Tops past the Organ Pipes

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View west showing Causeway and Chimney Tops in the distance.

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Giant’s Causeway is on the right and the Camel Rock on the left.

 

The Giant’s Causeway is most famous for the spectacular columns, or more correctly ‘columnar jointing’ in the basalt. The origin of the columns has historically caused all sorts of consternation. Our forebears did not believe such regular shapes could be created naturally. So if it wasn’t the work of the Almighty then it must have been Finn McCool. Hence the legend of the Irish Giant constructing the causeway to engage with his counterpart in Scotland, Fin Gall.

 

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View from the clifftop down onto the Causeway.

 

 

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And he left evidence didn’t he? In his haste to get back to Ireland and escape from his giant nemesis, Finn McCool lost a boot which remains to this day adjacent to the Causeway. There is a more prosaic explanation and I’ll return to this later.

 

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The Giant’s Boot

 

The Causeway came to the attention of Science however in the late 17th century and right through the 18th century it was the focus of intense debate as to its origin. Geological science was then in its infancy. Two intensely opposed schools of thought developed. The Vulcanists, who believed the columns were basalt solidified from lava and the Neptunists who said that all rocks including basalt were sedimentary and formed in a great ocean. The Giants Causeway was at the centre of this debate. So it is one of the most significant places in the history of the geological sciences. That debate has long since been resolved in favour of the Vulcanists

We now know, however, that the columns are caused by cooling cracks that developed at the bottom of a lava flow where it was in contact with the cooler rock beneath. As the lava continued to cool these cracks slowly propagated up creating regular, generally six-sided (though they can have from three to seven sides), columns. These regular columns are called colonnades. The hexagonal shapes are caused by the joints tending to be at 120º to each other. At the exposed tops of the flows cooling was more rapid where there was contact with air and water, so the jointing was irregular and blocky. This type of jointing is called entablature. You can see this very clearly in many places especially at the, so called, Organ Pipes

 

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Regular hexagonal columns

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Columns with 4, 5, 6 or 7 sides.

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Columnar jointing

 

 

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Spectacular columns at the Organ Pipes

If you look closer at the columns you will see that in addition to the regular vertical joints that create the columns there is also another set of sub horizontal joints which slices each column into regular segments. These were created by the release of stress during contraction within the columns.

 

 

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Horizontal jointing

 

The really intriguing thing is that when these columns break along thee horizontal joints to form the rock platforms they are in fact ont horizontal.  Usually they are either  beautifully concave or convex and the segments fit perfectly together in a ball and socket arrangement. The concave joints are easily spotted on the rock platform as they retain pools of water.

 

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Detail of column surfaces.  water collects on convex surfaces

 

The columns make an impressive display whether on the rock platforms or in the cliffs.  There is a formation at the eastern end known as the Chimney Tops. If the illustration attached from an 1888 book is accurate, then the chimneys are considerably smaller than they were in the 19th century.   I suggest you go and see them before they disappear.

 

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Chimney Tops 2017

 

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Chimney Tops 1888

 

 

 

 

 

It is easy to see how the Neptunists thought the basalts were of sedimentary origin.  There is a distinct layering which could be mistaken for sedimentary banding. Of course it represents different lava flows.  particularly confusing is a distinctive orange red layer in the middle of the cliff.  It is known as an Interbasaltic Formation; a laterite horizon, and is caused by the basalts below it being exposed to weathering for a considerable time before the upper series of basalt flows were deposited. It also suggest a warmer climate at the time as laterites require tropical conditions to develop. It is composed mainly of clays and is rich in iron and aluminium (most other elements were leached out) and has been mined for these ores elsewhere in Antrim.

 

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Layering in basalt flows

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Interbasaltic laterite

 

 

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Laterite in detail

 

Within this laterite hori\on you can see relicts of the original basalt as paler partially weathered rock. There are also some excellent examples of preserved circular structures representing earlier spheroidal weathering within the normal basalt. This is caused by water percolating down vertical and horizontal cracks eventually creating rounded blocks. It is also known as ‘onion skin’ weathering.

Oh I forgot.  Finn’s boot.  It’s actually a glacial erratic, deposited by a retreating glacier at the end of the last Ice Age (about 10,000 years ago). Much more boring explanation.

 

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Giant’s boot.  Glacial erratic

 

I know I’ve gone on about the rocks but the spirit of the place is palpable.  The only word I can think of is Romance,.

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Romance and Rocks.  What a combination.

 

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Route 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Almost.

I know those who follow this blog probably do so because they are interested in my posts on Ireland.  Well I recently had a holiday in the States so I have a few other stories to tell. So I will get back to Ireland but in the meantime I will talk a bit about my visits to San Francisco and then later New York.

I had just spent some time discovering San Francisco.  My plan was to drive south from there to Los Angeles on Highway 1.  Legendary names like Monterey, Big Sur and San Simeon were on the itinerary and I had given myself three days. What I wasn’t really aware of was that this actually wasn’t now possible due to a landslide and storm damage near Big Sur last year and consequent closing of the iconic bridge there amid worries as to its stability.   But as I headed off I didn’t know this.

Leaving San Francisco shrouded in its usual summer fog was not exactly what I would have hoped for but you don’t need crystal clear blue skies to enjoy this place.

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Goodbye to San Francisco with the Golden Gate Bridge shrouded in mist.

The geologist in me wanted to find the San Andreas Fault.  This was my first challenge.   The city behind, I followed Freeway 280 and Highway 35 as they traced the line of  the Fault. The fault itself though lay to the west of the highway and was defined by a linear river and lake system known as Crystal Springs and San Andreas Lake. So there wasn’t a lot to see.

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San Andreas Lake, south of San Francisco.  The lake fills the valley which marks the path of the San Andreas Fault.

There were a couple of spots where the rocks in the road cuttings showed strong evidence of shearing and slickensides and where extreme measures were taken to support the crumbling rock in road cuttings.  I assume these are due to splay faulting from the San Andreas.

I looked for a spot where I could cross the fault line on the way to Highway 1 But at the probable location there was nothing to see from the massive bridge over the lake.

I didn’t realise the fault line was so inland.  Next time I will do more research.  Oh well. I headed back to Highway 1 through the rugged hills of the Miramontes Ridge to the coast at Half Moon Bay. Nowhere to stop and take photos on the way!

Half Moon Bay is a pretty spot where you can partake of gourmet food, taste olive oil, visit boutiques or craft shops if that’s your wont.  Or do as I did and have an organic salad and listen to some accoustic music in the garden of San Benito Cafe. That was a pleasant surprise.

Now I was really on Highway 1 so I headed south. I took every opportunity to get off the freeway onto the coast and there were plenty of places to stop and walk down the cliffs to deserted beaches.  At San Gregorio Beach, at Pescadero Beach and then the lighthuse at Pigeon Point Bluffs. And one of the best windsurfing and sail boarding locations in California at Waddell Creek.

On the way there were rugged cliffs, and jagged coasts, banks of fog rolling in with blue sky behind, a lighthouse silhouetted in the mist, pods of pelicans, marsh and bogland with a congregation of egrets, a phallanx of wind surfers and sail boarders taking advantage of a favourable breeze, hardy flora, solitary birds of prey and all the time the Pacific Ocean on my right.

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Coastal scene at San Gregorio Beach

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The coast near Pescadero Beach

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Pigeon Point Bluffs

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A bank of fog rolls in over Pigeon Point

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Egrets at home in the Pescadero Marsh

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An egret takes flight.

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Man takes flight.  At Waddell Creek.

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Waddell Creek Beach

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Waddell Creek Beach

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The food bowl of America.  Growing Vegetables near Monterey

I had intended to visit the boardwalk at Santa Cruz but the crowds and the chaos turned me off.  After all it was just a collection of carousels and rides though the fact it had been there since 1907 was of interest to me.  So I continued on and finished the day in fading light in a classic American motel in the town of Marina, just north of Monterey.

The next day I wanted to take the 17 mile Drive around Pebble Beach south of Monterey.  Renowned for its wildlife and for its scenic beauty I was a tad surprised when I was asked to pay $10 but the fine print on the ticket says I could have my money back if I played a round of golf.  Yeah sure. Read on.

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The Monterey entrance to the 17-mile drive.

Once you drive in the gate the first image you have is of the lush greens of a luxury course where it meets the Pacific Ocean.  There are indeed eight golf courses on the peninsula. Including two that are regularly rated in the top 10 in the world.  Pebble Beach which is open to the public and costs $525 a round (but you get your $10 back) and Cypress Point (which is NOT open to the public and is the most exclusive in the world with only 250 members!).  Non members just cannot play there and members include zillionaires such as Bill Gates but shamefully if your rich but black you can’t be a member.

Many of the courses hug the coast and reach inland to the marshes and forests.  Indeed there are greens and tees located within the beachside rocks dunes and cliffs.  Huge granite boulders and cypress pines are a feature.  Challenging would be one word to describe many of the holes.  The famous Par 3 hole 16 at Cypress Point requires a 230 yard drive over the swirling ocean to reach the tee.

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A glance down to the shore reveals a young seal seemingly unperturbed about being alone.  Just basking.   Lines of pelicans soar overhead making their way north and the rocks are covered with cormorants and gulls including the elegant California Gull with the red dot on the beak and the distinctive grey plumage of the Heermann’s Gull (The head turns white when they are breeding.

 

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A young seal basks on the rocks

 

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A pod of pelicans and a lonely cypress.

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Pelicans in flight

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California Gull

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Adult non breeding Heermann’s Gull

Look hard and you will see the perfectly camouflaged Californian Squirrel.  This is a ground squirrel unlike his tree based cousin perhaps more familiar to those on the east coast or London for that matter.  Darting about in and around the rocks and then standing up like a prairie dog.  Motionless.  Certainly they are cute but they are still considered a pest as they were in 1918 when children were enlisted to poison the rodents which were then apparently threatening the war effort against the Germans (see the squirrel army dressed in Kaiser -type hats in the poster below).

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California Ground Squirrel

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Squirrel on its back legs

 

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Poster from 1918 encouraging children to kill squirrels.  The poison of choice was strychnine.

I mentioned spotting a seal.  Well nothing really prepares you for Bird Rock Island.  I could hear the barking before I saw them.  It lies just off the coast about half way around the drive.  It is literally covered with sea lions and seals.  The sea lions are spread all over the rocks hanging precariously, with some occupying the summit.  Their climbing skills are remarkable.  The rock is shared with cormorants and gulls and the surrounding water is their playground.  The barking is incessant as is the cavorting.  Beats Sea World.

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Bird Rock from the mainland

 

 

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Just nearby was a ‘venue’ of vultures resting on the shore (trust me; It’s a ‘kettle’ if they’re flying and a ‘wake’ if they’re eating!).  At first in my naïveté I thought they were Condors.  But good old Google and no they are Turkey Vultures or that very American appellation Turkey Buzzards.  They are impressive birds and beautiful in flight.  They do have a bad rap though because of course they are carrion eaters and hey, they are not exactly pretty.  The featherless head is said to enable them to burrow into carcasses more easily.

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Just off the coast of Bird Rock lies Carmel Canyon an offshoot of the 10,000 ft deep Monterey Canyon.  During summer cold water wells up from the Canyon and this brings nutrients and feed and is responsible for the rich marine life.  The area was declared a sanctuary in 1992.  This time of the year there is also a variety of coastal flora.  Some familiar some not.  There is what we call ‘pigface’ a perfectly adapted succulent which actually comes from South Africa and heaps of others I have no idea the names of.

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Pigface.

But in truth the most distinctive vegetation is the Monterey Cypress.  They occur in forests or as single or groups.  They are native to the peninsula but have been cultivated widely around the world.  Often bare of leaves except for a canopy they can have twisted trunks and branches or even grow horizontally as they cope with the harsh conditions.

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A Cypress Forest.  Monterey,  The trees love the cooler summers and the constant fog.

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Near Pebble Beach.  Survivors.

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Monterey Cypress.  The road map of a hard journey.

But the area is synonymous with one particular tree.  The Lone Cypress.  It is located between the Pebble Beach and Cypress Point Golf courses and sits exposed to the elements on a granite outcrop as it has for maybe 250 years.  Held up now by wires.  it is seen as a symbol of rugged individualism and struggle.  It is much photographed but on this day my efforts fall way short, due to fog and haze.

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The Lone Cypress

My final stop was at Cypress Point.  The actual point not the golf course.  Of course it is covered with pines but of interest here were some sea otters.  Unfortunately I only caught occasional glimpses as there were a bit reclusive.  And really hard to photograph but they are recognisable.

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The coast at Cypress Point

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Two sea otters at play.  Point Cypress

The Peninsula is a place where conflicting needs seem to coexist.  Luxury homes sit beside extraordinary natural beauty, impressive wildlife and millions of visitors.  Golf and bird watchers inhabit the same space.  It all seemed to be pretty well managed.

 

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Innovative architecture.  Pebble Beach

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Grand houses grand view

 

I spent much of the day here but it was time to move on.  Big Sur was my next destination but I needed gas (as they say over here).  The helpful man at the gas station told me that I was wasting my time as the road had been closed over a year.  So Plan B.  Leave the coast, head inland through Carmel Valley across the hills, and join HIghway 101. Just keep that in mind if you want to drive Highway 1.  You can’t.

Heading inland I took local roads.  It was a very different landscape.  The fog soon lifted.  to reveal steep hills, sometimes forested sometimes bare and sometimes covered with yellow grasses.  IG3C9042IG3C9031

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Carmel Valley itself is a wine growing area and lies in a wide flood plain surrounded by a mountain range. I can’t comment on the wine but the view was special

 

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Carmel Valley

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The second night was spent in King City, A not very remarkable motel in a not very remarkable place.  That left just a short (?) few hours drive left to Los Angeles for the next day.

I stuck to the inland road so my dream of completing Highway 1 was not to be.  But this was my first dose of real US Freeway traffic.  There was one section near Santa Barbara where it took nearly two hours to travel 10 miles  There seems to be an inverse rule that the wider the freeway and the more lanes, the slower it will be.  Still the cd was blaring out Irish tunes and this is the American Dream isn’t it. The road trip?  Crawling along the Freeway.

Ahh no; really there was a lot to see.

The Salinas River Valley is home to the very large San Ardo’s Oilfield.  The Miocene sands here are rich in oil bearing sediments and oil wells with ‘nodding donkey’ pumps are as far as the eye can see.  It is surprising how the simple beam pump used in the mining industry for centuries is still in use as the main method of extraction.

 

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San Ardo oilfield

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A bean pump at San Ardo

 

 

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San Ardo oilfield

 

It’s not generally thought of as a pretty sight but for the geologist in me it’s like looking through a window into a decaying technology extracting a dying product.  Already in many parts of California the acres of nodding donkeys have been replaced by acres of solar panels and windmills.

The drive along Highway 101 takes you in large part through the earliest settled parts of California.  The original settlers (ie invaders) were the Spanish and they set up a string of Missions between 1769 and 1833.  They were set up by the Fransiscans to evangelise the native Americans.  There were 21 of these Missions and they formed the basis of the colony of New Spain known as Alta California and part of the Spanish Empire.  They heavily disrupted native Californian life by forcing them to live in settlements, introduced ranching, fruits, vegetables, horses and technology but left a lasting legacy in terms of modern California with the cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco developing around missions.

Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821 and took Alta California with it and in 1849 ceded it to the United States as a result of losing the Mexican war.  Ironic actually as gold was discovered in California that same year.

 I visited one of these missions at San Miguel.  Built in 1797 close to a Salinas Indian village the aim was to convert these natives to Christianity.  It is still largely in original condition and though not run now as a mission is used for regular church services. You can tour through the building which includes many notable featurs such as a collonade of 12 arches all different sizes and shapes, a plaza with a fountain, a courtyard, an alley through the buildings to allow sheep to enter, original furnishings and art work, a beautifully decorated church and an adjoioning cemetery with the interred remains of 2,250 native Americans.

 

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Plaza and fountain San Miguel Mission

 

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Main gate to the Mission

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Collonade with 12 arches

 

 

 

These buildings are held in high regard and their preservation a priority as they are  a treasured part of Californian history.

The missions were accessed by a road known as the El Camino Real (The Royal Road) going from San Diego to north of San Francisco.  Much of it was just a goat track but in places it was marked by carved crosses in trees.  As you would imagine most haven’t survived but one was discovered near San Miguel and is on display here.  Today Highway 101 pretty much follows the old route and it is marked by bells on poles. Tradition has it however that the padres spread mustard seed along the route creating a golden highway helping the pilgrims to find their way.

So I’d certainly recommend the journey.  Check whether Highway 1 is open and be prepared to travel other routes.  Get off the freeways and take your time.  It’s always rewarding.  But that’s the great thing about travel.  There’s always something else to discover somewhere else.  It just might not be what you expect.

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California grass.

 

 

 

 

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Them’s the Rules. No Instruments Allowed.

Tell me I am not paranoid but musicians really are at the bottom of the heap. We all know about the difficulties often experienced trying to take a fiddle on a flight. But here’s one roadblock I’d never come across before. Actually not one but two.

It’s my last day of a holiday in New York. My plane doesn’t leave until 6.30 pm so I have a few hours to kill. Why not take in the iconic Museum of Modern Art or MOMA?

Checkout is 11am but the hotel will kindly hold my bags.  As I am depositing them the Bell Hop hesitates over one.

“What’s in there?” he says, pointing to the violin-shaped object in front of us.

“A violin” I helpfully offered.

“Oh you can’t store that without paying a fee.”

“Why not?”, I asked.

“Because it’s an instrument”.

He could offer me no valid reason other than that so I eventually located a supervisor who confirmed that they didn’t accept instruments. His answer to my question “Why not?” was that “Instruments are not luggage. They are not shaped like a suitcase!” However apparently with the payment of a fee suddenly they take on the shape of a suitcase? Anyway I wasn’t going to pay a fee and it was not heavy so I would take it with me. Big mistake!

MOMA was a bit over a kilometre from the hotel so I walked in the soft rain just a few city blocks. There was quite a queue stretching down the pavement and when I eventually got inside more queueing for the cloak room and then more queuing to get tickets. Apparently every other visitor to New York had the same idea about what to do on a wet Labour Day Sunday.

So I get to the cloak room, deposit my coat and camera bag but, pointing to the violin-shaped case the cloak room attendee says, yeah you guessed it. “What’s that?”

By now I was ready with the answer; “A violin”.

“Oh you’re not allowed to bring them into the gallery”.

“OK” I said “that’s why I wanted to put it into the cloak room”.

“Oh well we don’t accept them in the cloak room. They are not allowed in the gallery. Period.”

I looked over her shoulder at the hundreds of odd shaped bags, umbrellas, strollers and garments wondering silently why a small violin couldn’t be lodged there somewhere. Well actually not silently, but my protestations fell on deaf ears.

She was adamant. “Them’s the rules”.

I could see we were going round in circles here so I said I would find a manager. One helpful gent in the queue suggested I was wasting my time because “they were the rules.” I thanked him for his assistance but went to find the manager anyway.

This took some time but when he was located he confirmed that that was a ‘rule.’ “No instruments”. He added that they didn’t want to take responsibility for any damage. As I had observed that there were no baggage handlers from United Airlines in sight I was prepared to wear this risk.

He paused and my pleas maybe wore him down. He relented.  Bless you Franklin from MOMA.  He told me to follow him. We went to a white door marked Staff Only and he swiped his card. “Leave it here” he said “it will be safe.”.  Music to my ears.  So I rested it in the corner of this store room beside a folded up stroller and some brooms. Relieved, I queued again for my ticket.

Ironically as I waked around this extraordinary collection of art I kept being reminded of the great interest visual artists have shown over the years in musical instruments, often placing them at the core of their work.  This puts into sharp focus the reticence of the administrators of the gallery that displays their work at having an instrument anywhere near the building.  Here are a few examples from Picasso, Matisse and more modern works from Adkins.

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Three Musicians. Pablo Picasso

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Music (Sketch).  Henri Matisse

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Sus Scrofa (Linnaeus). Contrabass, wild boar hide and skull, and wood. Terry Adkins.

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Guitar.  Pablo Picasso

So there you go. It would seem that in the US ‘rules is rules.’ And no one seems prepared to buck them no matter how absurd. There was no empathy with my predicament. Except thank God for Franklin.

It sometimes pays though to have a bit of a tilt at windmills.

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Dingleingdinglelingering. Living on the Hedge.

So what’s the word for someone from Dingle? Maybe a Dingleling?  Sorry about that.

And what if someone from Dingle spent a relaxing day touring the Dingle Peninsula? Well that would be Dinglelingdinglelingering wouldn’t it?

Well enough of this silliness.  I am not a Dingleing but I would be quite happy to be.

7th August 2017.  The weather forecast said scattered sunshine and showers. That was like a gold-plated invitation to spend the day outside. So I decided to go Dinglelingering.

The weather forecast however, luckily, was wrong. There was NO rain and lots and lots of sun. So a quick trip around the Peninsula saw me and my very worthy photo assistant for the day, Sophia, from Bavaria, a first time visitor to Ireland, doing a quick tour over Conor Pass to Dingle, Ballyferriter, around the Slea Head Road to Inch and back to Tralee.

The scenery is of course astonishing and a huge contrast to the magical winter wonderland I posted on my blog in March.

Link to dingle-peninsular-the-irish-alps

Here’s a few samples from the most recent visit. Glorious panoramic views from the Conor Pass;  an elevated glacial lake way above the road;  truly spectacular striations on the bare rock caused by glacial action; the coastline along Slea Head, Inch Beach; a busker, lots of tourists.  Tourists yes but thankfully not the stream of buses you get in the Ring of Kerry.  But after all it is August.

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Elevated glacial lake above the waterfall on the Conor Pass

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View from tht top of the Pass.

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colours in the floor of the lake

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Glacial striations on the edge of the lake, caused by movement of ice.

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The water exits the lake by this narrow channel.

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Lakes on the valley floor.

 

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Beehive huts from 2,000 BC

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Detail of a hut wall

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Beehive hut wall and roof.  Corbelled.

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Inch Beach

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Inch Beach

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about in this blog.   I want to focus here on what I think is the highlight of a summer soirée in this part of Ireland.

Living on the Hedge.

I can’t speak for the rest of Ireland but Clare and Kerry are in late July and early August absolutely ablaze with a riot of colour lining the roadside. This is my fourth summer here but I never noticed this intensity of flora before. This year has produced magnificent displays of wild flowers. We had it earlier in the Spring with the Spring Gentian and orchids carpeting the Burren and then the incredible Whitethorn and now this vivid show.

Hedges are a major feature of the Irish roadside if you leave the N’s, particularly if you travel the byways – R’s and L’s. Most of the year you don’t notice them. A drab and featureless tangle of green or in winter, seemingly dead and leafless.  And then the rest of the year, they are vigorous and compete with the tarmac making the roads considerable narrower.   And they can block your unimpeded views of the countryside.  But it’s a different story when they are in flower.

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So here in Dingle I decided to have a closer look. This particular boreen is a part of the Cosán na Naomh or Saints Road, an 18km pilgrimage road to the foot of Mt Brandon.  The magnificent backdrop is of the coast around Ballyferriter with the Three Sisters being prominent.

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The hedge is a layered pastel of orange, red, white, yellow and purple.  I was intrigued and wondered how much of this display was endemic.  I knew fuchsia wasn’t. What about the rest?

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So here is a bit of a rundown of the most obvious plants that make up this display. I’m sure I’ve missed heaps as I am not a botanist but it’s what my eyes and camera were drawn to.

Fuchsia.  Fuchsia loves Ireland. I struggled to grow this back home in Australia. Too dry, too hot, too much sunshine.  But here those issues are not a problem. You don’t see the many exotic varieties just the one purple and blue single bell shaped flowers.  Of course the flowers are exquisite and despite its origin in Chile the bush has been so naturalised that it is the Cork county emblem.

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Fuchsia

Wild Angelica. Standing out against the orange and red are the white many rayed umbels of this tall perennial. A native of Ireland

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Wild Angelica

Brambles/Blackberries   One of the pleasures of Ireland is the gathering of blackberries from the roadside. No worries about spraying as in Oz. This time of the year the brambles are flowering and developing berries.  A taste of what’s to come. You have to look hard among the verdant growth but soon they will dominate.  Native to Ireland but a pest in Australia.

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blackberries

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Blackberries

Wild Carrot  A tall erect plant with a cluster of white flowers. Native.

 

Centaury. Small 5 lobed pinkish red flowers, somewhat overpowered by its neighbours. Native

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Centaury

Tufted Vetch. A splash of purple on long stalked racemes. Not so common here but ver abundant.  Native

 

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Tufted Vetch

Montbretia.   The most startling plant. Long strap like leaves and multiple flower stems with bright orange funnel like flowers. I love the way this plant is described as a Naturalised Garden Escape.  So definitely not a Native.

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Montbretia

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Montbretia

Meadowsweet   Creamy-white scented flowers. 5 petals. Tall erect plant.  Native

Common Knapweed / Hardhead   Flowers are red-purple on erect stems.  Height to 1m.  Native.

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Common Knapweed

Hawksbeard.  Splashes of yellow among the reds oranges and purples.  Clusters of small yellow flowers with erect buds. Grows to about a metre.  Native and very common.

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Hawksbeard

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Hawksbeard

 

So, turns out most of the plants are native. But and here’s the big but. The two dominant plants of the roadside are the Fuchsia and the Montbretia and both these are introduced. The hedges without these two plants would be very different and I’m guessing would be dominated by brambles with the other plants struggling to get a foothold.

If you are visiting Ireland in Summer, do take time to stop the car and have a look.

Categories: My Journey, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Here today, gone tomorrow? The reappearing beach at Dooagh, Achill.

Achill, Acaill, Ecaill, Eccuill, Akill, Akle, The Aukilles.

These are some of the names recorded historically for Achill Island in West Mayo. The original meaning of the name however is unknown.  This is perhaps fitting as the Island itself is somewhat enigmatic.  I am constantly surprised, as I was on my most recent visit in July 2017.

Dooagh is one of a number of pretty villages on the island.  It has variously prospered and faded over recent centuries.  It became a hub when it received villagers who abandoned their homes in Slievemore during the mid 19th century.   The village is nestled on the Atlantic shore and its wellbeing has always been connected with the sea.  Fishing, seaweed and the hotels and guest houses that lined its sandy beach.  Then in 1984 the sand disappeared.  A wild storm stripped it away to the bare rock.  The decades passed and Dooagh had resigned itself to its beach’s fate until in April 2017 the sand returned.

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The world went just a little mad, but this is a  perfectly natural event and has apparently occurred many times before.  John O’Shea, who has lived in a house on the beach for 46 years explained “When the wind is up north the sand builds up, when the wind’s sou’ west the sand goes out.”  It happens with Keel, Dooagh and Keem Bay, he said, and it happens regularly.  But this time seems to be different. The story has gone global.   John has had phone calls from Texas, Netherlands, New Zealand asking what’s going on.  A group of Chinese came – they didn’t want to see the Cliffs of Moher they wanted to see the New Beach!  Irish Times reported it and since then the story has spread.  Al Jaziera, The Times and more recently the Guardian did a six page spread.

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A particularly high tide and favourable marine conditions along with the northerly winds has brought back the sand and boulders that had been waiting below the low tide mark.  The world has taken notice and the tourists have come.

Beaches are a dynamic environment.  Man’s desire to live close to the beach creates conflicts that are often resolved by serious intervention in the natural process.  Huge quantities of rock are sometimes dumped to protect buildings or infrastructure and prevent erosion of the land and sometimes sand is ‘shifted’ from elsewhere to maintain  a ‘beach’.

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What has happened in Dooagh however shows that if we just leave things alone, Nature will find a way to restore equilibrium.  Beaches disappear.  And they come back.  We should celebrate with the people of Achill the return of  its sixth beach and hope that it lasts a long time.  But if it doesn’t last and the tides and winds sweep it away, we should celebrate that too.  These natural rhythms are on a planetary time scale and rarely on a human one.

Please take note Mr Trump.

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Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Life is a beach. Keel is a beach.

My camera and I spent a few hours on the strand at Keel on Achill Island in Co.  Mayo.  I thought I would share some of those moments with my blog readers,

Life is a beach
Keel is a beach
Keel is Life
Keel is sand, sun, grass, clouds and mountains
Keel is hitting a ball
Keel is walking or running
Keel is reading and thinking
Keel is wheels
Keel is long shadows
Keel is a dune of cobbles
Keel is lost in clouds
Keel is reflections
Keel is people
Keel is light

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Keel is sand sun grass cloud and mountains

 

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Keel is hitting a ball

 

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Keel is walking

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Keel is running

 

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Keel is reading

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Keel is wheels I

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Keel is wheels II

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Keel is long shadows I

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Keel is long shadows II

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Keel is a dune of cobbles

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Keel is lost in clouds I

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keel is lost in clouds II

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Keel is reflections

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Keel is people

 

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Keel is light

 

 

 

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Music Today 3pm.

This is a little story of a hidden Ireland. It’s not really hidden you just have to take the blinkers off every now and then and follow your nose. Sorry about the mixed metaphor.
I spend quite a bit of my time in County Clare just driving around some of my favourite places, the Burren, the coast around Spanish Point, the hills behind Doolin. Just looking. I love to head down a boreen I’ve never been or follow a hunch in the hope of finding something new.
As I was doing just this on a wet and not terribly inviting midweek day in July, I drove past the beautiful Kilshanny House just outside Ennistymon. A sign caught my eye. Music Today 3pm.   How could I drive past that. I always have the fiddle with me. I live in hope.

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I have been here many times. I know host Mary Butler and it is a great venue for a session though these day they happen rarely.   But this was really unusual.  Of course I went in. Mary explained that she was having a busload of visitors, from New York as it happened, and she was putting on a meal and entertainment, She was happy for me to stay and even to put up with me taking a few photos.

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The coach arrives

What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, As the bus pulled up driven by the irascible Gerry, the visitors entered Mary’s wonderful stone-walled and comfortable space, lined with books, ephemera and priceless reminders of Irish culture, heritage and especially music. And speaking of music They were greeted by fiddles and piano and songs provided by two Clare musicians of the highest quality, Sharon Howley who plays with the Kilfenora Ceili Band, probably the most famous Ceili Band in the world, and Therese McInerney, who has just released a cd.

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Clare musicians, Therese McInerney and Sharon Howley

 

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I watched as the guests took their seats and feasted on Mary’s wonderful food, home made Irish bread and a choice this day of fillet of salmon or loin of pork, fuelled by liberal supplies of Guinness and wine.

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Host Mary Butler serves home made bread.  

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Your salmon sir.

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Or the pork

 

 

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Dinner in the library

 

Gerry, ever the perfect host turned out to be a great singer and he cajoled other singers from the floor including yours truly.  I well and truly gate crashed the party and joined the musicians for a few tunes with my fiddle. Now that was fun.

 

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The multi talented Gerry.  Bus driver, singer and raconteur

 

 

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Bliss

 


This is Ireland. An afternoon of pure music, food and good company that came out of nowhere. These tourists, who lingered over the meal for three hours, went away very happy and I am sure many will be back.

Music Today 3pm.

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Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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