Friday, July 30, 2010

Tuesday 27- Wednesday 28 July in Derry

We're away in the van! Off from Lough Erne to Derry. Our first visit and I was amazed to find such a beautiful city. We parked in a car park beside the Foyle with a well-used path along beside the river. There were little parks here and there along the pathway too. There are new buildings with a few waterfront restaurants where we had dinner. After that it was a pub just outside the city walls - The Gainsborough. Very small and it looked as old as the walls. Run by a very friendly woman.

On Wednesday we walked around the walls - they are intact. It's about 1.5 km so the original city was very small. The photo shows the view from the Bishop's Gate. There was plenty of historical information at each of the gates and the bastions - bits that stuck out from the walls used for defence purposes. The walls were built in the early 17th century to protect the newly settled Protestants from England and Scotland. The second photo is a view along the walls from where we looked down over the Bogside with its huge murals on the gable ends of the houses.

We visited the Verbal Arts Centre which is just up from the photo of the wall. It's a place worth visiting. They had an exhibition of astonishing artworks made with fabric (I know there's a fancy name for this) which have taken their inspiration from each of Seamus Heaney's poems in his collection about Bloody Sunday. They were stunning. They were like paintings done as quilts.

Derry having just won the bid to become UK City of Culture for 2013 has given the place such a buzz. Everyone we met was incredibly friendly and proud to talk about their city. The buildings are fabulous - a result, of course, of the very thing that has caused all the problems - the plantation by the Protestants.

Outside the Guildhall is a huge plaza with choreographed fountains that come straight out of the paving. Several lines of the fountains that spout up high all at once, then splurt in splurges, or spurt low then high. They make you smile. You'd get a shock if you were walking across them just as they were turned on. Goosing with a difference.

On the Foyle across from the old city they're building a new bridge. This is the Peace Bridge that will join the two communities - the mainly Catholic city west bank and the mainly Protestant east bank. Further down the two sides are joined by a double decker bridge - we crossed on the lower deck. I've never seen a double decker before. It was originally built to take a railway on the top, but today it's all cars.

The photo is the Peace Bridge in progress.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Gospel singing on the lake

I'm amazed we haven't stopped at Knockninny before. As we came around a small island and chugged towards the jetties we knew it was going to be good.

We're in a little bay with a sweet hill behind and a small hotel tucked at the bottom of it. We were glad to see a nice long jetty instead of finger pontoons - easier to get onto with only the one engine and the dinghy in tow. We tucked ourselves on the inside with our nose to the brisk wind and brought the dogs to land. Across from the public jetties is a small private marina, and there was Rose, the broad narrow boat, or small barge, or whatever class of boat it is, that we met in Mountshannon all those weeks ago. The owner was on board and we went around to say hello and see if he knew of a local mechanic who might sort out our engine problem. He did. Then he suggested we go up to the hotel and ask for Marshall who would most certainly organise it for us.

While Joe did that I went to check on the shower status. And joy! In the Ladies a large changing room and four splendid showers.

Marshall suggested that before getting a mechanic to the job Joe should give the starter motor a good hard thump and keep turning the key to free things up. The young fellow in the Yacht Club had tried the same thing but he'd only tap tap tapped. It needed a firmer hand. As I gathered my things for the shower Joe took out the hammer we use for banging in our mooring stakes on the canal. Gave the yoke a good wallop. Click click click went the turn of the key. Then the engine came to life. Brilliant.

There's a harbour dog here (the brown-eyed girl in the photo). She led the way when we went for a walk up the very quiet lane, looking back to check if we were coming. She's very overweight and very matted. Alfie from Rose told me the story this morning. Her name is Connie and she used to live on one of the islands, but her owner died and a farm up the road took her in. But she's obviously fairly neglected if very well fed. The heartstring pulling tale is that she sits on the quay waiting to be taken back to the island, but I suspect she just likes the company.

Aoife was trying to make a nest with her sleeping bag in the saloon so I threw it over her. Mmmm. This is nice she said.

Oh yes. And as I went for the shower cars started to pour into the car park - there's an amenity area here with picnic benches and mown grass, and there's a little beach too. Music was blaring from one of the cars already parked. And there was a mini-bus. Lots of children. On the side of the bus it said The Redeemed Christian Church of God, and Jesus Centre Dublin. The blaring music was all gospel. As I came from the shower block the food was being handed out. Back on the boat a while later as Joe was getting the barbecue going the Redeemed Christians gathered in the car park and sang a beautiful gospel song with leader and responses. It was completely surreal.

Spent last night on the boat across the jetty drinking wine with two lads from Dublin and Kildare. Great sunset.

Might do a bit of sailing and cycling if the weather doesn't close in too much. It's a dull day, bit of rain in the air and the mountains have disappeared, but it's warm with a light breeze.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Enniskillen on one engine

We're back in Enniskillen. Getting to know this town well. We did get beyond here for a couple of days. It was glorious on Thursday and we pulled into the Lough Erne Yacht Club. The club is set in a sheltered bay and has a visitor jetty, although the status of this jetty is a little unclear - some say it's public, some say it is not. Anyway, we were made very welcome and we did a spot of business. The fellow on the boat in front of us was Mr Irish Spars and Rigging. We've been thinking about getting a winter cover for the boat for a few years. It usually goes like this when we first put the scraggy old tarpaulin onto Winter Solstice around November time:

Me (who hates the messing around with bits of fraying rope and overstretched bungees): We really should get a proper cover made. It would be so much easier.
Joe (who doesn't feel the cold or mind the messing): Sure this'll last us another year.
Me: But it such a faff putting it on. It'd be worth getting a cover.
Joe: Maybe. But this'll do for now.

Nigel from Irish Spars and Joe got chatting and it soon came round to a cover for the boat. Nigel knew exactly what we needed and gave us a good price. A deposit has been paid. Hurray! We'll have something easy with zips and velcro. No more shivering in the rain and the cold.

We decided to come back to Enniskillen last night, tried to start the starboard engine and nothing happened. After consultation with a Man Who Knew (aka a boat mechanic) it was concluded that the starter motor would need taking out. This is where having a twin-engine boat is so brilliant. It's a bit awkward getting into a mooring, but the challenge is interesting. On the way here we came around Devenish Island which has this amazing round tower. Didn't stop. It was nearly 8 and dinner was calling. Back to the great Indian restaurant in town. Yum.

The engine that's down is the one that heats the water, so no shower. I don't do cold showers. Even in tropical temperatures I don't do cold. So we're heading to Knockninny next where the chart says there are showers available. Otherwise it'll be boil a kettle and get out the flannel.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Getting (very) wet

So here we are back in Enniskillen. We had a great day yesterday. Began at Quivvy Marina where we'd arrived on Monday mid-afternoon. On Tuesday morning we returned to Crom Castle in glorious hot sunshine. First a walk with the dogs to the old castle. This is Aoife's favourite walk at the moment. The gravelly path changes to short soft grass where she can do her diving roll. Both dogs rolled and ran and rolled again. After a decadent lunch (glass of chilled white) we took the bikes around the Crom estate. The new castle is very imposing. You can rent the west wing of it. Not for those of us on ordinary incomes I don't suppose. Wonder whether it comes complete with ghost.

Last night we went to Carrybridge - there we are tucked in the bottom right hand corner of the photo with the dinghy attached. Our friend Helen Elliott was to pick us up and bring us to Enniskillen for dinner. First we needed to walk the hounds. Carrybridge isn't great for this, so we headed along the road and down to the marina that straggles along the shore. At the furthest point we turned and saw the weather approaching. Black, with curtains of rain. The boat hatches were open, as was the canopy. We were ten minutes away. Before we'd even left the marina the rain began. Big heavy torrents of it.

I arrived back first with Frankie who can move faster than Aoife who is contrary and refuses to move if you try to make her do something she doesn't like. There was a broad puddle on the seat in the cockpit. The floor was in flood. Inside the table had caught most of the water. I had the hatches closed when Joe arrived with Aoife under his arm. We were both drenched. Halfway through the mopping up Joe noticed another torrent pouring onto my bed. A pair of trousers had caught a lot of that. Jesus the rain that came down. It was plastic covers and duck tape and newspapers strewn and towels mopping.

Next time check the approaching clouds before leaving the boat unhatched.

Hope to get in some sailing this afternoon. Going up to Wetherspoons in a minute to upload this and check the emails. Free WiFi there. I won't drink the coffee this time though.

Ha. And here we are in Wetherspoons. Or here I am. Joe's gone off in search of chutney. He's gone to the deli so will probably come back with handfuls of cheese and salami and who knows what else. Looks like a decadent lunch again.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sticky Willy and other stories

Sticky Willy is taking over my garden. I came back from boating to a wilderness, with only an occasional glimpse of lettuce and roses. Sticky Willy is also known as Goosegrass, but Sticky Willy is what we always called it as children. I don't like to think about what it might mean. Best to keep one's mind on horticultural possibilities.

It's a clever plant that climbs with abandon over and under everything, its stems thick and lush and - you guessed it - sticky, but at the root it narrows to a thread so when you pull it out, the thread breaks and the root is left behind. In the photo it's taking over a hebe. Give it another day or two and it'll be in the bedroom window.

It also has sticky seeds. They're the small spheres that dogs often sport at this time of year when back from a gambol in the bushes. These little burs are difficult to remove, so doing the plant a favour by passing its seeds around the neighbourhood. The stickiness of the leaves and seeds is also unpleasant on the skin - it brings me up in a stinging rash for an hour or two.

My garden work at this time of year is almost totally made up of crisis weeding. 'I just go around the garden with my trowel,' says my dad, implying that I could do the same and keep things under control. But he doesn't have an acre surrounded by fields that are intent on producing weed seeds and sneaking them back onto my land. This is what I'm faced with (see photo). Creeping buttercup (all these creeping things) is another one that sends out arms and legs and tries to embrace everyone as though we are all its lovers.

These are the surface creepers. Then there are the really sneaky ones that send out their roots underground. These are impossible to eradicate unless you dig up the whole plot along with the shrubs and flowers already in it which somewhat defeats the purpose. Here's a photo of one of these plants. It's the tall maid at the front in fetching pink petals looking so sweet among the purple Monkshood. Rosebay Willow Herb colonises wasteland and my garden. Its roots are thick and woody and refuse to pull out of the ground. Some years I let if flower and pretend its supposed to be there. I've done the same with the creeping buttercup beside the drive - I've redesignated it a beautiful garden ground cover plant and let it be.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Crom Castle and Russians

The trip back down Upper Lough Erne on Tuesday was fabulous. We didn't leave Enniskillen until nearly four - too much to do. There was beer to be bought (Joe has a passion for English bitter, and Asda had a great supply) and a whole series of other jobs. There was hardly a boat on the water and it was perfectly still. No mishaps at Carrybridge either, where I was extra vigilant. When the water is so calm and oily Winter Solstice leaves a beautiful pattern on the lake behind her. That's our dinghy in the photo, not someone tailgaiting.

We were headed for Crom Castle. This is a National Trust place that is still lived in by the Earl of Erne. The 1,900 acre estate is an important nature conservation site with the largest surviving area of oak woodland in Northern Ireland. The old castle (in the photo) looks out over the water towards a tower on an island. This is one of those follies wealthy people used to build (and probably still do) because they enhanced the view.

It was seven by the time we turned the corner to see the jetty ahead of us, but that's one of the delights of boating in June. Plenty of time to have a shower (we have hot water after the engine has been running), light the barbecue and feel smug because we were the only cruiser on the jetty (there's Joe in the photo below looking smug). There was another boat tied up though - a gorgeous sailing boat that we both recognised as an Ian Oughtred design. This is not to show off. Joe was a keen reader of Wooden Boat magazine for a while, and he'd toyed with the idea of building a day boat himself. Ian Oughtred provides plans and so on, and his designs are stunning, all shiny timber and sweet lines. By coincidence Joe had bought a copy of Wooden Boat in Enniskillen (the photos are pure boat porn), and there was a photo of a craft very like the sailing boat across from us. It turned out it was a Ness Yawl, and the family who owned it were staying in one of the Crom Castle cottages.

We were waiting for the barbecue to be ready when the inevitable happened. Another cruiser appeared at the turn of the waterway. A hire boat. With, it turned out, a Russian couple on board. They had very little English but said they were from Moscow. How exotic! In Ireland! The woman of the boat fell in love with Frankie and every time she passed spent five minutes whispering sweet nothings and petting and fussing her. Frankie was in heaven. She wants to be spoken to in Russian all the time.