Sunday, November 18, 2012

Winter vigil

A sign of winter. This is Common Bistort, a native perennial that is the first to collapse when the frost hits. This relative of the Dock was also known in Ireland as Snakeroot or Snakeweed, presumably because the rhizomatous roots resemble snakes, although I can't say I've noticed it myself. Thinking about it, though, perhaps this is what people imagined snakes looked like, having never seen them, the good St Patrick having done such a good job of getting rid of them.

Bistort was traditionally plucked when going on a journey, while saying a charm that described it as 'the first herb the Virgin Mary took into her hand.' This does seem a little unlikely, it growing (according to my Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe) in European countries north of the Mediterranean, but perhaps someone had imported it.

Here's how the bistort looked in the summer when it was full of buzzy things:

I found the bit about Bistort and Mary in a wonderful book I have called Irish Wild Plants, Myths, Legends and Folklore. There's a big section on Ragwort too, a plant with jagged leaves and pretty yellow daisy-flowers that is poisonous to livestock. It's also the home to a gorgeous little stripey caterpillar that turns into the exotic Cinnabar moth. And also, according to Irish Wild Plants, the alternative form of transport for witches and warlocks who can't lay their hands on a broomstick. Here's a bit of a Robbie Burns poem describing the goings on:

Let warlocks grim, an' wither'd hags,
Tell how wi' you on ragweed nags,
They skim the muirs an' dizzy crags,
Wi' wicked speed.

I'd never realised ragwort was the speedster of the witchy world.

I put out bird nuts yesterday. Another sign of winter. This morning there was one great tit and one chaffinch, but word got out. Just before lunch there were four great tits, three chaffinches and a robin.

I put all the terracotta tubs into the greenhouse too. All those that haven't already half disintegrated in previous frosts, held together by roots and good luck.

In Galway on Thursday. A lovely day, mild and bright. Coffee and gluten-free chocolate brownie upstairs in McCambridge's, then a hair cut, a spot of lingerie shopping (Marks and Spencer for knickers ha ha), pop the M & S bag onto the back seat of the car which was parked on the Long Walk. Just to right in the picture below, outside the cream building.

Off to my poetry workshop, cup of tea afterwards, back to the car in time to catch the 4.45 limit on the ticket. And I'm clamped! I couldn't believe it. Clamped. I've never been clamped before. I'm the sort of person who frets about being late for my ticket, and having everything paid up. Turns out the ticket had flipped over - must have been when I put the shopping bag into the car, because I checked it when I first left the car. But I still had to pay €80 to get unclamped. Put the price of the knickers up a bit.

I've appealed, of course. Sent off a letter and all that. We'll see if they give me my money back.

We were in Galway again last night for the Savita Halappanavar vigil. A moving event watched by a sliver of new moon. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

From water to wheels

Winter Solstice is out of the water in Eamonn Egan's shed in Portumna, drying out for repair work on the hull. So we're in our winter travelling vehicle. We began the October weekend in Galway, parked down at the docks with several other vans, most of which were from the North. I was reading a poem at the launch of CrannĂ³g magazine in the Crane Bar and we'd planned an early night but then The Lazy Blues Band came on and we couldn't tear ourselves away. Great, foot-tapping music. They play at the Crane the last Friday of every month and we're planning to go again.

Spiddal with friends on Saturday night after a lunchtime poetry launch. My friend Kevin O'Shea's first collection The Art of Non-Fishing is just published with Doire Press, and a fine book of poems it is. The sun shone, we pootled about on our bicycles, had a walk on the beach at Furbo before dinner and watched the Aran Islands appear to levitate.

Then Sunday. Wind. Rain. Would we continue on to Westport and keep in place our plans for cycling along some of the Great Western Greenway? The forecast for Monday was good, but could we trust it? In the end we did. Drove cross country to Killary Harbour, then through the mountains past Doo Lough to Louisburgh. It rained. And rained. And wild wind. But it was still spectacular. Out from Louisburgh is Roonah Point where the ferries leave for Clare Island and Inishturk. The Clare Island ferry was coming in. Beam-on waves and rocking wildly. Into the tiny harbour, turning in its own length, passengers ashore and taken on board. Put our little escapades on Lough Derg in a Force Five into perspective.

We found the camper van spot in Westport down at the harbour.

The sky cleared ready for Monday and we were all set for Achill Island, a place of bog and mountain and great stretches of beach where the dogs ran about and rolled in the sand. They won't go in the water though. Fresh-water dogs these. They tasted the salt once and now keep well clear from that weird stuff.

Next an attempt at coffee in a beach-side hotel. It was what was happening on the beach that attracted us, not the somewhat scruffy look of the hotel.

I've made this beg so you can see these are not birds flitting about above the waves but kites, and attached by lines beneath them are surfers scooting from side to side across the white water. They appeared to have perfect control of their direction, turning back and forth. Inside the hotel the remains of many breakfasts littered the dining-room tables. The kite surfers were staying here. The coffee arrived in a teapot and the smell wasn't encouraging. A whole pot of instant coffee.

We left and went to the Beehive in Keel. Ordered afresh. But it was worth it to see these kite surfers.

From Keel on the south of Achill we took the road signposted Keem Strand. The road went up and up, sheer drop to the left (Joe was driving) with no barrier at all.
'Keep your eyes on the road for god's sake,' I muttered, keeping mine there too. Spectacular views be damned. I had to will us to stay on the road, for in circumstances such as this the van, though normally good at staying in a straight line, would surely take it into its head to swerve over the edge, Joe powerless to stop it.

The view from the other side, though, was stunning.

And finally to the Great Western Greenway. We began at Mulranny and cycled towards Newport. This stretch was 18 km long, but we'd only be able to do part of it, not wishing to leave the dogs in the van for too long. In the end we turned here after 11 km.

What joy to have a dedicated off-road path. The only hazard was other cyclists. There were whole families with baby in a bike trailer and little children on a tandem-type affair or on their own mini-bikes. People on rental bikes (doing one way with a pick-up at the end). Serious cyclists two abreast and not moving over. Hi viz jackets everywhere. Sunshine. Smiles. Grimaces as the unfit staggered up the hills pushing their bikes.