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October 26, 2017

Today being our last day here, we headed to Tollymore Forest Park because it’s got to be done: one of those places that was a fixture of my childhood, but which I am only now beginning to properly appreciate.

Tollymore entrance

And despite having come here regularly for over 40 years, I still somehow managed to miss the entrance and was practically at Bryansford before I realised my mistake.

tollymore autumn

tollymore in autumn

Worth the uphill pedal though … if only to work up an appetite for our tea.

tollymore in autumn

Back home tomorrow, to find out if everything is still standing in the garden.

Tollymore in autumn

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A Stroll in the Park

October 24, 2017

While all these bike rides and seaside walks are all very well, what else is Newcastle for if not for walking in the Mournes? So today, we decided it was time to go and tackle some of those contour lines directly, on foot. Paradoxically, the easiest climb for us is also the hardest, because Slieve Donard rises right from the back of where we’re staying, and is reasonably easy to navigate because there’s a pretty clear path all the way to the top. The fact that it’s 850m pretty much straight up from our sea-level house is neither here nor there – in recognition of our lack of climbing fitness, and out of respect for our ageing knees, our only aim was to go up as far as could and then come back down again with ligaments and self-respect intact.

all-terrain barrow

How to carry your tools up a steep and rocky path … I did suggest suspension forks for the next iteration

Stopping off to chat with the cheery volunteer rangers of the Mourne Heritage Trust* (and their impressive all-terrain frankenbarrow) who were busy repairing the path, we headed upwards, very grateful for their efforts as this route up Donard gets a lot of visitors and even mountains made of granite aren’t immune to the effects of lots and lots of feet.

donard path

There were pauses to admire the view, and how far we’d come

view from donard

Quite frequent pauses …

view from donard

In the end, reaching the saddle between Donard and Commedagh, we decided that was a good enough point to stop and turn around (550m worth of climbing in the end). It wasn’t just the steepness of the climb that remained that gave us pause – as the realisation that it was already a long way down …

long way down

Given the way we felt by the time we’d reached the bottom and staggered into Maud’s to be revived with millionaire’s shortbread and salted caramel ice cream (delicious, in case you’re wondering), that was definitely the right decision.

*Who, I note from their website, also suffer from an ASBO buzzard


Plum Job

September 30, 2017

This week, a visiting friend prompted an expedition down to the ruined building below our house – once a cottage, then a cow byre, and latterly the haunt of barn owls.

ruined cottage

There were no owls this time, but we did realise that the trees beside it were plum trees, replete with small but tasty plums, ripe for the picking.

plum on tree

I had assumed they were the remnants of trees grown by the cottage’s inhabitants, but according to our neighbour (whose land it is), they have appeared since the building was abandoned. She was happy for us to pick what we wanted, in return for sharing some of the spoils. So yesterday I gathered the ones which hadn’t split or been feasted on by wasps, or already fallen into a nearby cowpat (this may explain the proliferation of trees, come to think of it).

There was going to be a third photo of them on our kitchen windowsill, in all their purple glory (I feel we have to keep up the instagram lifestyle from time to time), but I forgot about this until after I had converted them into crumble and we’d scoffed the lot.

The food you grow yourself is, by convention, always delicious, but the food which just grows itself is sweeter still…


Showing Up

September 29, 2017

One of the things I have been pondering for a while is how campaigners (and indeed writers and other people trying to make the world a better place by whatever means at their disposal) can support each other. There are many facets to this, some philosophical and some practical, but one really simple thing is simply to show up for stuff.

morning clouds

And so, I’ve been making an effort to get out and support other people’s events, even if they don’t feel like a massive priority for me. Sometimes this has felt like a hardship, but on the whole it’s quite nice to be at an event where your only responsibility is to exist.

morning clouds and sunshine

And when it means cycling to Old Nearest Village on a dewy not-quite-managing-to-rain morning to eat cakes and drink tea and exchange gossip in the name of defeating cancer, I can’t even pretend it was an imposition.

ford no progress

(They don’t seem to be making much progress with the ford though, for some reason. They’d better hurry before that paint wears off altogether)

Tomorrow I will be here, being blissfully no-longer-in-charge, but hopefully supportive of those who are.

I could actually get used to this.


“Activism …

September 18, 2017

… is such hard work”, commented one of my fellow trouble makers as she topped up my teacup and settled back down in her deck chair.

tea break

It’s true that lots of what I do to try and bring about better conditions for active travel is quite hard work – POP doesn’t organise itself, and there always seems to be an endless stream of blog posts and press releases to be written, flyers to be printed and handed out, routes to be planned and meetings to attend.

So our little Park(ing) Day event in Bigtown on Friday was a revelation. All we had to do was show up, throw together a small park (easier than it sounds when your co-conspirators are already guerrilla gardeners) and sit back and enjoy the almost sunshine as local businesses brought out tea and biscuits. A tiny window of time to sit and chat and just enjoy the day while also making Bigtown a better place, if only for a day.

tea and biscuits

As protests go, this one has to be the most chilled ever.


Unexciting Ford News

September 14, 2017

I had a prescription to pick up this afternoon, at Nearest Village, and then needed to head to Bigtown to get the paper. As these are in opposite directions to each other, the sensible thing to do would have been to head directly to Nearest Village and then turn around and head to Bigtown, but we’ve already established that that just seems like a waste of time, so I decided to take the back route out of the village, down one of my favourite hills, and swing by the ford, partly for old time’s sake, but mainly because I had received word that the road there was to be closed due to essential ford maintenance works.

road heading downhill

This seemed like an exciting opportunity to catch the concrete fairy at work (that being the only other maintenance the ford has ever received in this blog’s lifetime), so off I went pausing only to wonder why it is that you can never take a picture of a road that gives any real sense of how steeply it is either rising or falling (actually, I also paused to take a photo of the impressive looking spider on the bike racks at the doctor’s surgery, but because my phone camera will never focus in on an interesting close object when there’s a fascinating stretch of concrete behind it to focus on instead, you’ll just have to believe me).

One swooping descent later, I reached the ford, to discover that nothing was happening, probably because it was running with 5 inches of water, although why the coonsil (or the concrete fairy) hadn’t thought this might be the case after a month when it has rained most days at least some of the time, I don’t know.

the ford, unchanged

More on this non-story as it develops.

Meanwhile, down in Bigtown, something stirs


How Much Wood can a Wood Chipper Chip?

September 8, 2017

It was all go outside my study window this morning as men arrived bearing machinery…

wood chipper

Our beautiful copper beech tree, which has been planted too close to the power line that goes over our property, was due a bit of a haircut.

copper beech before

It’s a shame because it wants to be a huge and imposing tree, and we are forced to keep reducing it back down to the size and shape of a lollipop, but it’s better than losing the tree. Someone who knows more about trees than me can undoubtedly explain why it’s gone from purple to green in the process

copper beech after

While they were there, they agreed to give the goat willow pollard, which is also large and imposing but really in the wrong place, an even more radical haircut. It will grow back; I think it’s technically impossible to kill a willow.

goat willow before

It was all done with impressive speed (I have pollarded trees and that willow would have taken me about a week, rather than the 20 minutes it took them) and left us with a nice stack of willow logs which won’t make particularly brilliant firewood but are unexpectedly decorative in cross section. We also got a nice pile of wood chippings for the garden and would have had an even larger one if they could have dropped off the pile they already had in their truck but they had already lost an argument with our gatepost and decided against further manoeuvres.

willow logs

In theory, this should let the sun into what we are only half jokingly calling the Mediterranean garden (it’s where the olive tree is after all)

mediterranean garden

If the sun ever makes an appearance, I’ll let you know how that goes.

Meanwhile, there is exciting news of the ford, but that will have to wait for another day.