It snowed the other day in Southern Ireland! Well in the rest of Ireland too, but it's such a rare event down here that we got very excited indeed. I have recently been asked to contribute a chapter (on my late father's mountaineering exploits) to a new book about Magillicuddy's Reeks, Ireland's highest chain of peaks, with Carrauntuohill the highest of all. Not terrifying by international standards (about 3,400 ft) but high enough to make climbing it fun. And that probably goes for the snow too - half an inch is newsworthy here.
Anyway, the combination of the looming chapter and the snow made me decide that it would be a good day to head down and see what the hills were looking like under this rare white covering. Tucked Sophy Wackles into the car and headed off.
From a distance they looked beautiful -
- although as you got closer they seemed a little more threatening under their swirling grey clouds.
Here we are on the road to Ireland's highest mountain. Despite the fame of the peak at the end of it, you wouldn't find it all that easily unless you were keeping a sharp eye out. Follow the signs out of Killarney towards Killorglin, slow down when you get out a few miles, and then take a left for the Gap of Dunloe and Kate Kearney's Cottage. Go nearly to the Gap but not quite - take a right for Beaufort (in Irish, Lios na Phuca, or the Fairy Fort where the Pooka resides), and keep a sharp eye out after a mile or so for a little signpost left pointing to Cronin's Yard. That's the road we're on now.
The yard of Cronin's farm has been the Last Homely House for generations of climbers and now, in the summer season, they even run a cafe here for the revival of exhausted folk arriving back wet, muddy and triumphant (mountain climbing in Ireland is always wet and muddy - my earliest toddler memories are of struggling up to my knees in that long dry rushy grass which hides thick glutinous bog pools, and yes, you can too have pools on the side of steep mountains, believe me I know!) I will bring you a full report on the standard of coffee and home baking at Cronin's as soon as they've opened - might not be until June though.
At that stage of the morning, the hills looked fairly clear so it seemed like a good idea to head up the track a bit towards Carrauntuohill itself, maybe get to the Hag's Glen with its bottomless lake. Sophy Wackles was willing (once she'd sneaked past the nasty big white sheep in the paddock, keeping well to the other side of me, with her tail tucked in - what a little poltroon) so we set off.
This is the well-worn track leading up to the Hag's Glen. Beyond that the path disappears and you're on your own, with several choices of ascent, some easier than others (my father always favoured The Devil's Ladder, probably because it was more fun and had that additional element of danger, being really nothing more than a very steep watercourse carved out over the centuries, full of loose rock and scree). That's snow-sprinkled Carrauntuohill itself coming into view on the right, behind the flanking hill closer to us.
If I do know anything about mountains, it is never to trust them, and to watch the weather at all times. Half way up the track, the sunshine disappeared abruptly and a huge grey cloud swept right over the peaks and down towards us.
I knew what was coming. Snapped a quick picture, and then with one accord, Sophy and I spun on our heels and bolted back down the track towards the farm and safety. We had almost reached the farmyard gate before the hailstorm caught up with us. A bolt to be fumbled with, a dog to drag through, a gate to be fastened securely, and then two very wet, muddy, and out of breath creatures dived into the car and settled down to enjoy the wild weather as it lashed us from all sides, making the little jeep quiver as it withstood the blast. You couldn't see beyond ten yards. The Old Ones had taken back the hills, gently reminding us of who was still in power here.
From travel yarns to homespun yarns. The Austermann Step socks that have been crawling along at a snail's pace this long while have picked up their pace rather sharply. That's because Sock Madness 2 kicks off this coming Thursday, March 13, with the release of the first, never-before-seen pattern, to be completed in double-quick time. Lots more people taking part this year which is wonderful since we all make friends and exchange information and have a really good time. But needles must be ready and current projects finished up or at least out of the way before then. Yarns to be wound up too, although you never know really which one you're going to use until you see the pattern close up and personal.
Here are the Austermanns at their current stage - one just ahead of the other by a pattern repeat.
One of the hints for Sock Madness 2 was that we should brush up on our Japanese short row technique. Now I had never even heard of this before, so thought I would work one of the Austermann heels in the usual wrap style and the other in Japanese style, which involves a pin instead of each wrap (I used those little Clover padlocks, one of which you can see up there on Sock 2, since I was already using them to work the awkward little cable crossings). It was an entertaining technique to work, and certainly got rid of that 'oh no, I've skipped a wrap' syndrome, but on the other hand (the other foot?), having rows of rattling little padlocks was a bit distracting.
Can't see any discernible difference (the Clover marker isn't a clue, there was one on each sock for cabling anyway). I genuinely can't remember which sock used which technique, and that is probably as it should be. Can't make up my mind which I prefer.
And there are some confessions to make. Despite having wasted a great deal of time swatching for Starmore's legendary St. Brigid (before deciding that it was a most unflattering shape anyway and could only look good on a model posing most artistically) and also wasting resources by going out and buying all that gorgeous Sublime yarn in which to make it, Celtic Memory fell from grace yet AGAIN. This time it was Noro - well you know what Noro is like, it just calls to you, even from a distance. From Kenmare in this case, necessitating a frantic trip down there just to buy enough to make a jacket. There were two balls of Kureyon in the stash already you see, and in a moment of weakness I swatched for a little cabled crop jacket...
For heaven's SAKE, at this rate NOTHING will get done. Is there treatment one can get for Startitis?
And how long is it since a new designer yarn was created in the Celtic Memory shed? Far too long. A new one is swirling round in my mind, called Cliona's Wave. Re-telling that legend last week got me thinking of a skein which would carry all the colours of the sea from deep green to blue, to azure and lavender, with flashes of silver...
I have several hand-dyed sock yarns on eBay at the moment, with the listing ending this evening.
Maybe that should be the impetus to get going this afternoon, right away, on Cliona's Wave, and have it finished before the sock yarn listing ends tonight? So many wonderful things to try, so little time.
But to those Aran undies. I bet you were wondering. Well the truth beggars belief, it really does. I read it in the national newspapers and I still didn't believe it! But I couldn't wait to share it with you.
I don't know if you're familiar with a very popular TV series from the 1990s, called Father Ted? It's about a mad household of priests on an Irish island and the scrapes they get into with their lunatic housekeeper, local lovely girls, dominant bishop, et al. Now the principal actor in this series, Dermot Morgan, died ten years ago - sadly, the very day of the celebratory party after filming the final episode. Since then, a Father Ted Festival has been held in his memory every spring on Inishmore, the largest Aran island, with lots of madcap events, including a Lovely Girl contest, where the contestants are judged on their wholesome charm (a bit of a spoof on the Rose of Tralee which is traditionally judged on good manners and behaviour rather than beauty-queen qualities).
Anyway, at this year's event, held as is customary in howling wind and lashing rain, the Lovely Girls were lined up for the judges, and one, at the very moment that keen eyes were looking her up and down, hitched up her ball gown to reveal - wait for it - knee-length Aran bloomers, hand-knitted by herself!
There were mutterings of unfair methods used, and bias, but undoubtedly the decent old Aran underwear showed she was the Right Kind of Lovely Girl. Of course everyone wanted to know how long she was able to endure the inevitable itchiness, but in true Father Ted form the lassie riposted that that was 'an ecumenical matter'.
No, unfortunately the 'quick flash' was so quick that nobody got a picture. But I am on the case. I'm currently tracking down the lassie in question (Tara Kilbane, I think, from Galway), and if a picture is to be secured, then you will see it. And I should be most pleased to see others following Tara's lead. We should have more Aran bloomers. With pockets in for the hanky. Cables down the sides. Wonder what Starmore would say? But I bet Elsebeth Lavold would be entertained.