Saturday, 9 August 2014

Ireland, Courtown, July 2014

A week in Ireland (Republic of) with dad, Roan, dad's partner Anne. Staying by the sea in Courtown, County Wexford in Anne's family bungalow. Anne and her siblings grew up in nearby Gorey where their parents ran French's pub. Now Anne's brother Jim is proprietor.

Our days were relaxed - reading, sketching, chatting, Scrabble. Active - walking walking walking. Social - meeting Anne's relatives. Unexpected - visit to hospital (dad, by ambulance, false alarm, turned out to be a digestive pain). Expected - a Guiness in French's, traditional Irish drink, traditional Irish character, traditional Irish characters.

One of the best was day one, the journey - Linlithgow to Courtown and my 30th birthday. Modes of transport used - foot, train, train, train, bus, ferry, car. Duration - fourteen hours. Level of enjoyment - very high. Long journeys by rail have always been a highlight of our family holidays, reading weekend papers, playing cards, spotting landmarks, spotting wildlife. When we were young dad used to read us novels aloud, quietly, but I'm surprised that crowds didn't gather. Especially when it was The Lord of the Rings. This trip there wasn't much reading aloud but we did have the Saturday Guardian and Herald and I made a start on my birthday book (Life, Words, Pictures, biography of Tove Jansson, Moomin author and much more).

We window-watched: prison at Carstairs, Lake District hills and farmsteads, steam engines lined up outside a station at can't-remember-where; passing into Wales, the station with the longest name - Llanfair­pwllgwyn­gyllgo­gery­chwyrn­drobwll­llanty­silio­gogo­goch. Seriously. (see ); Conwy Castle imposing above the rails. We holidayed here twice long ago.


On the Crewe to Holyhead train we made friends with Ged, travelling Europe from New York. Chatted enjoyably - healthcare, environment, guns. Comparing countries. We stayed together on the ferry too, Holyhead to Dublin. This was the Ulysses, the biggest in the Irish Sea and fantastic if you want to be outside. I want to be outside.

Three and a half hours showed common, lesser black-backed, greater black-backed, black headed and herring gulls; rafts of razorbills and guillemots on the water, one puffin among them; black guillemots whirring close to both Holyhead and Dublin; scores of manx shearwaters skimming the waves; a few cormorants, a gannet, common terns in colony around Dublin harbour entrance.

Sea watching is extremely addictive, also quite tiring on the eyes. I looked and sketched and looked and looked. The sky was clear, the sun hot, the sea calm. Two porpoises swam, rise and fall, rise and fall, smaller-than-dolphin bodies and much shorter-than-dolphin-fin fins. I saw them twice. Much further off the long dark head, back, nose, fin, tail of two whales. Then rose again. I don't yet know how to identify whale species.


Ireland, Courtown:

Much further south than the lands I'm used to. Much hotter, plants noticeably bigger, butterflies and moths seemed greater in number.


Courtown birthday evening:


The walks:

A looping walk from Ballymoney beach - sandy shore, fields, up nicely forested Tara Hill, return via country roads. Cornered by a large group of inquisitive cows. Whilst waiting for them to realise we weren't very interesting a flutter of pigeons flashed light dark light across our field. Suddenly a peregrine on long sharp wings, ruler straight tail. Rose and rose, plateaued, hung, started to fall: tucked wings in, plummeted! One single pigeon... Wham! Connected mid-air. My first not-on-a-screen viewing of a peregrine stoop.


Glendalough monastic site, fairytale tower in rich wooded valley by small circle lake. We walked the length of the valley along the shore of much larger Upper Lake then through ruined miners' village strewn with boulder fall. Looked and listened intensively for ring ouzels, no sign; up slope, sika deer and goats on the skyline. The deer, long necks silhouetted, looked like giraffes; followed impressively sturdy studnailed boardwalk the length of the hillside, views over the lakes; return down 600+ boardwalk steps.


Taxi to Cahore then long walk back to Courtown along the coast. Uninhabited stretches, lots of birdlife. Inhabited stretches, lots of humanlife. Secret bays, rocky headlands, lots of scrambling and wading. Magpie moth, yellow and black. Whimbrel, first one I've seen for certain. Very obviously different from a curlew, whimbrel has significantly shorter beak (though still long) and bold dark eyestripe. Sanderling, ringed plover, redshank, godwit. Gulls, gannet, butterflies, more moths.


Coming home:

My expectation was high after such a perfect outward crossing. This time were on a swift boat, a modern catamaran. I was extremely disappointed - only two outdoor areas, both at the rear, both small, both loud engine noise, both being used for smoking! Tall bars disturbing the view, engine fumes hazing binocular vision, access forbidden during departure and arrival. There were birds of course but I was mostly too frustrated to persevere with looking. One thing I saw well was a helicopter, hovering low by another boat.

The trains: cards, reading, chat. Arrived at dad's in Linlithgow 11pm. Next morning caught train to Montrose for a second week of family - in the caravan with mum, Roan & Ian.


A cake Roan made, a nap Roan had:


Monday, 21 July 2014

Woodhall Spa, Dunston, 99-year-old Granny!

Jersey Granny, 99 today! + dad and brother Roan

Today, Monday 22nd July, our Jersey Granny is one year short of receiving her telegram from the Queen. We call her Jersey Granny because that's where she's from, born and brought up on the Channel Island of Jersery. Granny's husband Alfred (dad's dad) was a Jersey child too, though not from a farming family like Granny. It's from Alfred's family that we get this great surname. You can read about life during the German Occupation in Granny's Jersey Occupation Diary, published by Seaflower Books under her maiden name Nan le Ruez. Order it here or from your local bookshop.

The birthday
A gathering was organised by uncle Chris and auntie Christine and we made the trip to Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, where Granny now lives. Dad's lady Anne drove us (me, dad, brother Roan) skillfully through sun (lots of) and storm (short, but what a downpour). We took a circuitous route to mostly avoid the biggest roads and to follow the line of the currently-under-construction Borders Railway.

Once in Woodhall Spa - lovely family time coincided with the town's 1940's weekend, meaning World War Two fire vehicles in the car park, soldiers and land girls in the street, Blitz dancing on the green, tommies camping in the woods, a troupe of yankee jeeps parked up outside the ice cream shop and crowds of happy people everywhere. There were flypasts by a Hurricane, a Dakota, a Spitfire. On Sunday two Spitfires duetting, magnificent in flight.

spit the spotfire

Woodhall Spa nature
We made time for walks: Woodhall Spa woods and golf course - jays, a hare, a green woodpecker, a kestrel, all seen well; Moor Farm nature reserve, as featured in my previous Woodhall Spa blog post here. Such quantity of butterflies in the summer sun, and not just those that we're used to from home - we saw commas, skippers, gatekeepers, a large white. Also peacocks, meadow browns, ringlets, at least one blue.

kestrel scratching

spot the comma, spot the meadow brown

meadow brown


peacock (butterfly) in flight, Moor Farm nature reserve

Dunston moths
On Saturday night in nearby Dunston village I stayed up later than I intended because of exciting numbers of moths flutter flocking the lights outside our bed and breakfast. Here are some photos, I've still to go through the books to i.d. them. I love doing that.

buff ermine? Muslin moth?

Dunston walk
Early on Sunday I made a pre-breakfast solo exploration of footpath and bridleway, restricted byway and non-restricted byway, through the fields and wooded lanes surrounding the village. Linlcolnshire is so flat, it feels so British - village greens, church steeples, collared doves coo-cooing. Such huge skies.

rural England

A hare bunched up on the edge of a corn field, tan fur on red soil below rich sheaths of green. A deer stepped across the path in front of me, two grey partridges and a pheasant did likewise a little further on, separated from me by gating and a strong PRIVATE ROAD sign. I forget how lucky we are with our right to roam in Scotland.

Nice isn't it? I wasn't allowed to walk there.

I took a pocket field guide and tried to learn some wild flowers. I learned bristly oxtongue. Ragwort I already knew, golden yellow flowers feeding and housing the golden yellow-black striped caterpillars that will become crimson-black striped-spotted cinnabar moths. Another one I knew grew all along the same track - pineappleweed. Rub flower or leaves between fingers and the lush scent makes its etymology clear. My book tells that pineappleweed wasn't in the UK until introduced from America in 1871. Now it's everywhere.

ragwort & cinnabar caterpillars

pineappleweed (smell it)

bristly oxtongue, like ox tongues with bristles

Four generations of du Feu's and close associates. Happy Birthday Jersey Granny!