Friday, August 09, 2019

A Day in The Remote Valleys

'Twas my birthday the other day, and of course we had to head out into the wild blue yonder to make the most of the August weather (sunshine now and again, showers equally likely, but then, that's Ireland for you).  So the dogs were tucked into the car, the cats were warned to stay in the garden and not on any account to chase birds, and we set off westward for Killarney.

Because birthdays are times for Doing Nice Things, and the first of those had to be a stop at a certain weaving mill in the woods not far from the lakes which make Killarney such a magnet for visitors.  You wouldn't know this mill was there,except if you thought to enquire where its lovely products on sale in the shops at Muckross House came from, because it really is tucked far away from there in a place which shall be nameless (not giving away my best secrets, am I?)


And here is a triumphant re-emergence from said mill, with not just one but TWO treats - a scrumptious cone of brushed suri alpaca (stop drooling!) and another of dark blue boucle.  Oh the fun of deciding what to make with those!  The brushed suri in particular is so incredibly soft that you can't stop stroking it.  Would make beautiful scarves and cowls for ultra-sensitive skins.

Not far away, the native red deer of Killarney were moving around peacefully.



These young stags were all lying down, but once they caught sight of us, they rose as one and moved quietly off.  Can't imagine why their antlers don't get tangled up, but they seem to manage them just fine.


And here is a fawn, anxiously checking to see where his mother has gone.

Next we headed for Moll's Gap, which, as its name suggests, is a gap between the mountains where since time immemorial travellers have journeyed between Killarney and Kenmare.  The Avoca cafe here serves the most delicious cakes - sorry that DH didn't take a picture of them for you, but he was too busy sampling the merchandise.  And yes, some scraps got brought out to the car for the dogs too.

As you  head on from Moll's Gap, there is a steep and winding tiny road leading off the main thoroughfare, down, down, down into a long glacial valley.  This is known as the Black Valley, and it's a remote place now, although in earlier centuries it would have had a good population scraping some sort of living there.  You can still see traces of the old ridge and furrow fields where potatoes were planted - some of them so high up the mountainsides that you realise just how desperate their planters must have been, seizing any sort of ground that might yield enough food to live on.



Can you see the tiny ruined cottage down there, with its old stone walled fields still visible?


Here it is, a little closer, with that wonderful green track leading to it.



The blackberries were ripening -



the bees were busy -


and a grayling showed his preference for heather honey.

It was beautiful out there.  The acid soil of the mountains, which is ideal for heather, has a very distinct and lovely scent of its own, and it was wafted on the breeze across the valley until you felt like sitting there for the entire day, just drinking it down into your lungs, and committing the whole scene to memory, so that you could think about it lying in bed at night.



Look!  Here are holly berries BEFORE they get that December red glow!  They aren't really noticeable at this time of year, but it looks as though it is going to be a splendid crop this winter. The birds will be pleased.

Tamzin, the little Shi-Tzu, has always had a problem with her built-in GPS or homing device.  She could, quite simply, get lost in a straight corridor or a paper bag, and this trip was no exception.  I took both dogs out of the car and straight up a little goat path into the hills, to pick some bog myrtle (good for keeping flies away).  After a while I noticed that Tamzin wasn't with us, but didn't worry because the car was parked right at the foot of the track....  Foolish!  Came back down, no sign of Taz.  A woman came along in a car and said the dog was about half a mile down the road.  Rushed off, found her trotting happily along, wondering where we were.  Never again!



This has happened too many times.  The last was a few weeks ago in an acre of sand dunes down by Mizen Head, and it took hours to find her - at the other side of a river which she had somehow crossed all by her tiny self (and managed to struggle back over too, when she joyfully saw us).    From now on she stays on a lead or she stays home.


Can you just see Petroushka there, peeping out of the car at that rather friendly piebald pony?  'Well hello, and how's everythin' with you?' enquired the pony.  'Tis nice to have a stranger passing by.'


This young robin (only just getting his chest colouring) kept following us, wondering what we might be up to next.

But the real delight came with the fleece-dyeing sheep who have evidently been trying new colour combinations to see what works best in the damp climate of the Black Valley.


Red perhaps?  So handy for espying your friends and relations across the hillside.


But maybe some blue would look good with it?  Colour blocking, you know, it's all the rage.

Had I knitting with me?  Of course I did.  The current project is a quite complex one, The Oban Cardigan, by Baby Cocktails.  It's worked all in one piece up to the armholes, which makes for a very heavy project to drag along in the car.


Here is just a section, with the buttons I am going to use.  Got those from the lovely Button Store on Cork's quayside.

And it may not have escaped your notice that the Tour de France was on during July, and that always signals the Tour de Fleece among committed spinners.  You are supposed to spin each day of the Tour, and challenge yourself on the days that the poor cyclists have to struggle up steep mountainsides.


Celtic Memory's challenge was to create beaded yarn on a drop spindle.  Which succeeded.  A bit finicky, but it is entirely possible.

And here was the entire plan for TdF, piled on to the spinning wheel (Orkney) and spinning chair (Welsh) - spin this, ply that, try to do something with those... Of coure it didn't all get done.  But it was a lot of fun, and it is always good to keep your hand in at an ancient craft.  Go and refresh your own memories of working with your hands.  NOW!


Monday, April 30, 2018

It's May Eve: and The Old Road is revealed!

It is a long-held belief in Ireland that on May Eve the old roads make themselves visible, winding far away across the boglands, and that at midnight you may see the folk of ancient times travelling them as they did so many thousands of years ago.  Celtic Memory will certainly be out at the witching hour, to see who may pass by.

And what better time for Follow The Old Road to come out!  Yes, the new book is now in the shops and online, and it is my fervent hope that every single person who reads it will go out and explore these old roads too, rediscover how our ancestors travelled from earliest times up to the last century.



Several of you have asked how you can have your copy signed, and I have arranged this with O'Brien Press.  You do have to order from them rather than from Amazon, and make sure to put in the Comments box that you want a signed copy.  Then email me, so I can make sure your name is on there.  You'll find my contact address on the side of this page.

It was hard work researching this book but we did have such a wonderful time doing it, discovering such amazing things and such fascinating scraps of history.  I think one of my absolute favourite pictures perfectly captured by DH was that of the deep grooves cut into the stonework under an old canal bridge.  




Generations of horses pulling boats along the towpath did that.  It was an old man up in the Midlands who told us to go down the bank to the old bridge and we would see them.  I never cease to thank him.  Ever after, we always went in search of them.  And always found them.  Truly tracks of time.

Well, on May Eve, spring seems to be here at last, although it is still unseasonably cold at nights.  The flowers are cautiously emerging, the baby rabbits are playing in the fields, and even The Waif is getting frisky.  

You remember The Waif?  She came to us three-quarters starved and in a very bad way, a few months back.  She still wouldn't win any Beautiful Cat contests, but she is a happier little animal, no doubt about that.  One day we watched her creeping cautiously out into the rockery to enjoy the sun.  Having sniffed all around, she put out a tentative paw and patted a leaf.  DH grabbed the camera.  Next she positively smacked the leaf.  Then, in one glorious moment:



An explosion of happy exuberance!  A leap in the air to celebrate the joys of spring.  I had tears in my eyes.

A day or two later, we were surprised to see The Waif slipping through the hedge and making her way down the field behind the house.  Going back to her gipsy ways?  We hoped not.  Right down to the edge of the woods she toddled, to where dozens of rabbits were watching with suspicion.  She sat there for ages, just calmly observing them.  And then she pounced!



A very young baby rabbit. Far too new to the world to know what was going on.

Which actually wasn't much.  Relax, no baby rabbits were hurt in the taking of these pictures.  Remember The Waif's personal circumstances?  No teeth, apart from one lone canine sticking out at the corner of her mouth?  She held the baby in her mouth for a minute or two, considered her position, and dropped it, deciding to go for a stroll instead.


But the baby didn't want to lose sight of her!  'Are you my mummy?' it enquired plaintively, following her along the edge of the wood.  Obviously it had imprinted on her, albeit briefly, since its genuine mother now emerged furiously from concealment to rush it back into hiding.  And The Waif came peacefully home by the long route.  She had showed them that she was still there, that was the main thing.


New calves have arrived too.  Here Mum is attending to one of the twins while a jackdaw seizes the opportunity to get some nice soft hair from the other, to line his nest.

Every year we wait for this beautiful beech tree to come into leaf.  It was ahead of most of the pack this season, shaking a diaphanous see-through gown of green in the morning sun.


The dogs needed clipping, and that meant a bonus for the smaller birds who wouldn't dare to pluck from the back of even a very little calf.  


Others preferred the tried and tested nice green moss to line their nests.


The primroses are coming out in the orchard,


and Scheherazade is exploring new territory.


De time is wrong on dis sundial!





Yes, of course craftwork is continuing.  When does it not?  This is a shawl in progress called, appropriately enough, Secret Paths.



And here is the current sock in progress from Sock Madness.  Safe Harbor is its name, designed by the gifted Amy Rapp.  It has a most ingenous way of dropping rows of stitches and then gathering them up to make a bee or butterfly.  Lovely.  Out of the competition by this time (the Scandinavians, as usual, are showing Grand Prix speed) but enjoying knitting along nonetheless.


We have been down to Brow Head on the Crookhaven peninsula in West Cork.  They filmed some scenes for the newest Star Wars out on the end of Brow Head, and it was off limits for a while (with all the locals being sworn to secrecy) which was very annoying if it is one of your go-to places for serenity and recovery of resilience) but they are all gone now and it is back to its wild natural state.



The waves were crashing on the rocks at Galley Cove,



but the dogs had a wonderful time.



The state of the car afterwards was another matter.  'My cameras!' shrieked DH in despair.  I keep telling him to use a big rucksack to protect them from sand and seaweed but he likes to have them ready to hand to snatch up when a moment offers itself.

And so, it is May Eve.  Make sure you go outside tonight, even if not to the woods to gather great boughs of mayblossom as your ancestors did.  Look to the skies and the stars, and, if you are near open land, to the ground to see if the old roads are becoming slowly, glimmeringly, visible.  It's up to you if you follow them or not:  just be prepared to accept what happens.

And tomorrow is May Day!  Up on the Kerry border they will be bringing their farm animals to the ancient fort to drink at the well, as they have done for millennia.  Back at your own home, don't forget to wash your face in the dew, say good morning to the first bird you hear singing, and celebrate Beltane, the coming of summer.



Sunday, February 18, 2018

In Which The Spring Takes Its Time But Another Desperate Paw Reaches Out

It seems to have been grey and wet since November, and no end in sight.  Oh the daffodils are pushing up bravely all right, and some of them are even showing faint traces of yellow, but they would be better off staying below ground for a while yet.

Christmas was a frantic rush as usual, with gifts to be finished and posted off.  A very young gentleman was to receive a warm new jacket, with cosy pockets  -



but at the last moment it was felt that this wasn't much of a joy-giver to unwrap under the tree, so Barnabas the Bat was created and went off in the same package.




He was great fun to make from a clever design by Shauna Jared.  The construction of the wings was particularly nifty.  Thanks Shauna!  One gathers that Barnabas now sleeps with his young owner, along with an assortment of other animals.

Ah yes, animals.  You will recall that a beautiful little kitten came to stay recently, having been brought back from almost-dead by a cat-whisperer friend.  She is blooming and full of energy, causing mayhem everywhere.  The two old tom cats have virtually left home until she reaches the age of reason (whenever that may be) and the dogs avoid her as much as possible.  Only Marigold, being nearer in age, administers clouts to the furry head from time to time, 'to put manners on her' as she expresses it.

But, but, BUT:  there is no other explanation for it, there must be a ten foot sign outside our gate, visible only to the travelling feline.  I was called urgently down to the living room a couple of weeks ago where DH had just seen double.  Our black tom, Polliwog struck motionless on one side of the deck outside, and on the other, what looked like his doppelganger.  On closer scrutiny however, it became obvious that this was a female, and one moreover in very bad shape.

Door was opened.  Expected strange cat to flee, but it staggered to my feet and tried to rub its head against me.  Raised huge round eyes in a little round face and pleaded.  Food was supplied instantly, and bolted down.  Clean water was provided and drunk gratefully.

What next?  Let it sit there for a while.  Check it on security cameras every few minutes.  After a while it wandered off.  Oh well, another recipient for the Maeldun Bequest (you will have to check back a few years on the blog, but when a much-loved stray whom we christened Maeldun died, he left strict instructions that there must always be food and a warm blanket in the porch for any stray that might happen by.  An instruction we have followed faithfully.)

But of course I worried about that little female. She looked elderly.  What had happened to a once obviously loved cat?  Had her owner died, that she was now wandering and starving?  When she reappeared later that afternoon, I coaxed her into the little lean-to greenhouse at the back of the house, where she could at least be warm and dry.  Blankets, water, litter tray, food.  She ate ravenously again.  And I checked on her constantly.

But next morning it was obvious she couldn't hold the food down.  Her teeth were in a very bad shape too, as were her claws, torn and blunted from heaven knows what food-seeking stratagems.  Gave in, took her to the vet, had her put on a drip and given as much deworming and medication as her little body could take.

She was there a week.  We brought her home, and she is slowly, slowly, coming back to life. She is clean, infection-free, and her coat will recover in time.  She likes more than anything to sit on a lap for hours, and asks no more.


The Waif

Look, it's easy to fall madly in love with a cute kitten, isn't it?  But what chance does an elderly cat who has definitely seen better days have?  Every time I stroke her little head, try to coax a rusty purr, I think of how she must have been loved and cared for until something happened and she was thrown out into a harsh world to cope as best she could.  Poor little Waif.

Yes, OK, I know we have too many beasties as it is.  Far too many.  We do NOT need another cat.

But what can you do?  For heaven's sake, what would you do?

Now I mentioned that the weather has been gloomy and dark and wet, and although the days are getting gradually longer, you wouldn't know it with all the clouds massing above.  Over in Pyeongchang, they are having far worse conditions with sub-zero temperatures and rather more snow than was strictly required.  But what do you know, Ireland decided to get in on the act last week, and actually produced a light dusting of the white stuff itself!


The animals had mixed feelings about this new phenomenon.  It happens so rarely here in West Cork that they don't get much experience.


Marigold wondering why her paws are cold.


Polliwog boasting that he is a warrior, at home in any conditions.


Paudge Mogeely decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and curled up with the dogs to keep warm.  'Snow's all very well for them as likes it, but me I'm better in the snug so I am.'



And here, against a suitably wintry backdrop, is the start of my own Olympic bid, or to put it more accurately, my entry for this year's Ravellenics.  This, as you may know, is the event staged by the online knitting group Ravelry every time the Olympics take place.  You cast on during the opening ceremonies and then push yourself to the limit to get the project done by the closing ceremonies.  Going to take a bit of work, this one, and the hands are already aching.  It's the Chimney Fire jacket which has a complicated cabled border and acres of moss stitch.  Fortunately, the Continental or picking technique was adopted several years ago chez Celtic Memory in place of the old throwing or English style, and that has made moss stitch or any form of changing from knit to purl far quicker and easier.  Next Sun, Feb 25, it's the closing ceremonies.  Better get a move on.

We did get one semi-bright day and made immediate use of it.  As we drove past the Gearagh, a morning bar of mist was just rising, and we could see the old road, which was there before the valley was flooded, revealed as the waters were exceptionally low.


See the line running across the middle of the picture, just below the line of white mist?  That's the old road.

Oh gosh, can't believe that I forgot to tell you!  It will be out on April 16!  Follow The Old Road, I mean!  De Next Book!  There was a delay while they found a really good cartographer to create the dreamlike and imaginative map which was essential to give the book its final touch, but that's all now sorted, and it will be on the shelves mid-April!!!!!



So excited.  It seems to have taken us forever, what with travelling all over the country to discover the ancient tracks and the forgotten canals and the lost railways and the winding rivers and the invisible sea routes which connected one tiny fishing village with another and with the wider world.  Crumbling railway halts covered with ivy, tiny piers on river banks, ruined abbeys, mysterious lakes, stories of emigration, stories of trade, echoes, echoes, echoes of the past everywhere.  A major job, but what a world it opened up!

But back to the day out.  Took Petroushka down to Inchydoney strand where a couple of exercising horses made a beautiful picture at the edge of the waves.



Troushka absolutely adores a huge empty beach.  She yearns for it, dreams of it in her furry sleep, wails for it on those dark wet days when it really isn't a pleasant idea to go out.  So she was in her element, feeling all her dog days had come at once.


It is the good thing about West Cork on a chilly February day: apart from the occasional horse and rider, you have the place mostly to yourself.


Further west, near Clonakilty, we found that the Great Northern divers (known and loved as loons in the New World) were making the most of our gentler climate for the winter months.


They won't get their brighter breeding plumage until they head north in the spring and you will hear their eerily wonderful calls over the lakes of colder climates.

And here was a last bonus as the clouds gathered once more and the rain was threatening.


Just in front of this stand of trees, where the last rays of the sun were giving some warmth in a particularly sheltered spot, we spotted a tiny dot of russet.  You can hardly see it there in the centre of the picture, so here is a close up, courtesy of DH's magical long lens:


A fox enjoying a quiet snooze.  I like to think it was a female, getting some peace and quiet before the new litter arrives and robs her of such luxuries as me-time for the summer.  It was a gift to us on the way home, and perhaps a reminder that spring really is on the way.