Sunday, 25 November 2012

Errigal.Gweedore.Bloody Foreland.

Above is Errigal or An Earagail in Gaelic.This wild and beautiful  region is full of traditional Irish language users and some well known bands grew up or still live here.Enya, Clannad, Altan to name but a few. Errigal is the highest mountain In Donegal and one of the most Iconic with its serrated knife edged ridge and distinctive cloak of shattered screes covering its flanks. 751 metres (752 on my map) or 2,464 feet high.
Luckily the next day was a good one and we set off early to climb it without hesitation.
It lies in the wonderful Glenveagh National park which reminded me of Torridon....
This is the  nearby Poison Glen and its steep cliffs hold many popular rock climbs on 800 foot slabs of  clean Granite. Its also reminiscent of  the Fisherfield area around Loch Maree. Not that much of a surprise when you look at a map as these three areas run in a south north line, being connected geologically in the distant past.
In the other Direction Muckish mountain is more reminiscent of the Caringorms with its vast sweeping Plateau and scooped sides.It has a cross at the far end.This too would make a great hill day.
So many fantastic peaks here.This is the view from Errigal looking east along the line of mountains to Muckish.
After a very boggy start(wet summer here too by the looks of it) from the car park the going became easier and drier following a well trod path to the summit.
We met a couple of girls from Darwin ,Australia up here. Kim and Peta and a handful of locals including a bunch of local guys in training for Hurling. The shinty/hurling Scottish /Irish final happened a few weeks previously with Ireland winning so no doubt they were spurred on by that.(Its a bit like hockey only far more physical and cavalier with the stick action)A heavy stick or ball smashed into your face ,head  or teeth is an occupational hazard :) Being young fit guys they also showed us a clean pair of heels though Alan gave them more of a challenge racing up and down in record time.
We preferred to take our time and savour the ridge which was steep but easy for a short section near the summit. This would be a really dramatic ridge covered in deep snow as it is steep sided and narrow. Great views from the summit with clouds being dragged off the surrounding summits as the wind picked up. You can see a large chunk of Donegal from here.

Looking Towards The Derry Veagh Range.
Easy descent back to the car park with Kim and Peta telling us they were on a month long adventure exploring Ireland.Hope the weather stayed good for them.

From here we visited Gweedore, or Gaoth Dobhair to give it is proper name, to the north which lays claim to being one of the most populated rural areas of Western Europe.Thousands of people live in this small area in  seemingly random individual houses on a wild  but beautiful headland.Most of them still speak Gaelic.Unlike normal populations this size (4000 souls in this parish)which grows up at a slow pace around a central core there does not seem to be any real distinct hub serving the area just a collection of individual spread out shops and a post office.To find out why this is click here. A fascinating place with a scattered collection of offshore islands.This is a zoom of part of Tory island,the furthest out with massive sea stacks and rugged cliffs,full of spectacular views.The St Kilda of Donegal. Tory still has a viable population living on it though being much closer to mainland services.It even has its own king and an incredible history of its own which you can find out about through the same link highlighted above.

We have Graeme to thank for this tour as he sat patiently in the car reading while we climbed Errigal (he'd been up it before) then selflessly took us on a tour round the north west coast and was a gracious and informative host throughout our trip.
We visited Bloody Foreland next ,a coastal peninsula with good views of sea stacks,this natural arch and all the islands off the coast.Tory,Gola, and Aran.Some deserted and small ,others, like Tory with a population still living on this lovely but wild location. Bloody Foreland gets its name not from any battle but from the red granite cliffs seen at sunset.
The seas here were impressive with huge  breaking waves and rollers.On the beach nearby we spotted some surfers who'd been out.Its one of the best spots for this sport anywhere in Ireland but like Tiree (Far flung Island off western Scotland) you would need a really good wet suit or anti freeze in your blood.
This photo gives an idea of how cold it was.We met a shivering polar bear here asking it he could borrow a jacket until the wind died down.
Coldest day of the trip but so lucky with the weather.Still no rain on the fabric.
We also passed a couple of  the new upmarket 'Ghost estates' on the way back, lying mostly empty, built in the days of the Celtic Tiger when people still had the money to buy them.These may eventually have to be knocked down if the economy doesn't pick up as only one or two out of every 30 were occupied.A real shame because they looked very well constructed houses with quality design features.
A surprise came that night as Marion,Graeme's girlfriend, took us on a quick unexpected tour of her local radio building where we informally met some of the presenters of Ireland's No 1 independent  radio station.
Alan looking at some of the radio's cd collection.
We then went to Bonners corner bar in Ballybofey were we sampled a few cosy pints (Tennant's lager seemed to be in most of the pubs over here as well as the Guinness.) A great night in good company with a cracking local band in the pub playing all the local favourites many of which I knew...Raggle taggle Gypsies,Spancil hill etc.

All too soon it was time to go home but it was a great trip and we packed a lot in even in the short daylight hours of November.If these photos in themselves don't convince you I'd recommend Ireland and Donegal to anyone.Friendly people,stunning scenery,great beaches,great pubs.
Don't know why it took me so long to go there.

Special treat. Two videos today.
The noble sport of Hurling and two very talented girls from sussex with a fantastic guitar sound.Returning some new folk music to Ireland.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Donegal.Slieve League.Glenties.

Friday night was spent in Graeme's lovely house overlooking a broad river valley in the middle of Donegal with views of distant low hills and small villages.After our main meal we then sampled the delights of a real peat fire thoughtfully prepared by his girlfriend Marion who had popped in earlier to set it all up for us arriving. We then relaxed and sampled a few of the local brews before Alex was spirited away to spend the night in Glenties,a small town near the west coast of Donegal where he has relatives he hadn,t seen for many years.Back at the house we relaxed some more and sampled some more local alcohol watching the flames dance merrily in the grate.
I,ve only been in a room that had a peat fire on two or three occasions  and was less than impressed as it just smoldered away with not much visible flame but this time it was constructed by an expert.The whole of Donegal seems powered by peat and a stack of black gold sits in neat piles outside almost every house.
This one was a cracker with bone dry peat stacked vertical in the grate which seemed to make all the difference as it gave out bags of flames and heat.A great night passed quickly.
The photo above taken from inside the car sums up the weather and our heads the next morning.Blurred,distorted and out of focus.
We had arranged to pick up Alex and travelled the twenty miles to Glenties along narrow twisting roads through great unfamiliar scenery and heavy frequent showers of rain. The Blue Stack Mountains were passed but we could only see enough of them to know it wouldn,t be pleasant up there,rain and low cloud obscuring  much of this wild, extremely rugged range.
Glenties,when we arrived,looked as if it had just won the world cup, the main street covered in flags and bunting.In a way it had as Donegal had just won the All Ireland Football Champions 2012 title for the first time in many years and a celebration party was in full swing.Alex when we picked him up said the place had been jumping last night with loads of people crossing between the main street bars.
The man himself looked far from jumping though as he'd been plied with 60% proof best Finnish vodka until it finished him off in the early hours.He was sitting in the empty street waiting patiently with his head in his hands.
We drove off with our full team of four.Graeme,Alan,Alex and Myself.
Every village we passed had decorations of some sort up but Glenties definitely won the prize for the biggest show of bunting and flags.

Our next port of call was the famous Cliffs at Slieve League.This is the road leading into it.At 1900 foot high I was wrongly informed these are the highest cliffs in Western Europe and the fifth highest in the world.( Correction. As of 2015 info I later learned they are lower than Achill Island's Croaghaun in Mayo which tops out at  688 metres or 2,257 feet. According to Wikipedia these are the highest sea cliffs in the Republic and the 3rd highest in Europe. Traditional rival in the highest cliff competition, Donegal, is less than happy about it. and are not giving up yet.) Being out on a peninsula past Killybegs the weather was better here but a fierce wind howling into us as soon as we got out the car meant we lost our hangover pretty sharpish.
This was just as well for what followed.A truly beautiful area with stunning scenery right on the edge of Europe. One of many superb waterfalls pouring into the sea.This is only a quarter of the height of these cliffs as I couldn't fit them all in yet keep the detail. If you click on this waterfall picture suicidal sheep are munching grass just above it.
The wind was so wild in places a large piece of orange peel I found lying on the path refused to go over the cliff edge,flying up into the air to land on the grass behind us every time I tried to fling it off.
A view of Alan and Alex with Donegal Bay below.

Getting higher.From here the nearest land mass out to sea is Iceland,Greenland or Newfoundland in a north to south arc. It felt like it as well.

Pretty cold but at least it was not raining.
Getter higher again.My three companions with the car park just below the small body of water in the distance.
Of course some people are not content with the normal path and have to make things even more exciting.This arete that Alan and Alex went up had a 1200 foot drop straight into the sea on the other side.
A hands and knees job for the steep initial moves as the rock was still greasy from overnight rain.
Graeme and I had a look at it then took the normal route round the side,preferring to be live cowards rather than dead heroes.
The great thing about a zoom is that you don't have to be as mad as they are to get a good close up shot of the action.
Even higher yet.This is close to the summit at around 2000 feet high.Alex and Alan carried on from here to traverse the one man path out to the other top but I had noticed a dark front moving in so Graeme and I wandered back down and just managed to find shelter in a small cave below the summit before a ferocious hailstone shower exploded over us covering the ground in a brief white blanket. Alan and Alex had a more exposed experience as they were on their way back on the traverse when it struck.
We met up again further down the Pilgrims track when it had abated.
This meant a fair walk back round to the car on minor roads but we did feel we had seen a sizable chunk of this part of Donegal.
It was sunset by the time we reached the car.A grand day as they say in this part of the world.
Driving back in the dark.
Given the amount of strong drink consumed on this trip the video just has to be this one.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Derry/Londonderry.Murals.Walled City.

Last Friday we had a four day trip to Ireland as our friend Graeme has a house in Donegal and kindly invited Alan ,Alex and myself over to stay with him. The weather did not look promising for the trip but the fates were with us once again and we avoided the worst of any showers which were heavy and frequent at times.I cant remember my jacket getting wet much at all which was exceptional in itself.
Either that or we are getting better at hiding from water these days.
You may recognise the old soap dodger above,wandering round the Bogside in head to toe blue apparel. We are both that used to wearing our jackets every weekend on the hills it never struck us  this colour might not be such a clever idea but no-one in the area seemed to mind as they are well used to tourists wandering around by now. I had my usual green one with me,an intentional choice on my part as the only other one I possess,as you know, is bright orange.I,m not that keen on it as I look like a numpty in it and it scares away any wildlife on the hills. This is now a free standing gable but at one point was probably part of a row of houses.
Thanks to Graeme who was driving our hired vehicle we had a quick tour of the city in light drizzle.This would have been unpleasant up in the mountains where no doubt it would have been heavy and wind driven but down here it was no problem and we had a quick tour of one of the most complete walled cities left anywhere in Europe.It was also one of the last to be built.
Derry/Londonderry has such a long interesting history there,s no way I can squash any of it into here so visit this link for a better understanding of the layout and complexity of this amazing city.
We didn,t have a great deal of time here as we were staying somewhere else and didn't fancy driving around unfamiliar city streets at rush hour in the dark but we managed to pack a lot into the couple of hours we had available.
On the western side of the city walls lies the Catholic areas of Bogside and Creggan with thier Murals,Bloody Sunday and H block Memorials on Rossville Steet.We parked here first on Fahan street and went for a wander on foot around the area.Don't know why but it came as a surprise,arriving from Glasgow, to find a Celtic park here as well.It was also a surprise to find a Che Guevara connection here but as Alex's pointing out above his relatives came originally from Ireland  and  he was an inspiration  for the locals during the troubles in the 1960's and 70's.

Beside the Museum of Free Derry were similar wall murals to Palestine and a huge replica of Pablo Picasso's Guernica which also initially puzzled me.Mind you being a Daily Record reader I,m as dumb as a doughnut when it comes to world affairs.
We visited this museum next which was good value at £4 quid admission.Brought back all the news reports from my teenage years watching daily updates of events in Northern Ireland unfolding at the height of the conflict.I also didn't realise the Bogside is so called because it was built originally on marshy ground on a low lying strip of land. Doh! Obvious really when you think about it.

This was the DIY mural nearby that tickled me the most though.Bugs bunny and Homer Simpson along with local gang slogans.Kids will always mix and match the world around them to create their own unique vision of the place.

From an outsider tourist point of view however,although still obviously divided into two halves either side of the walls people are free to drive or walk back and forth as they please into the city.Like any large urban area there are dangers walking around at night in the outlying districts I,d imagine but the same is true of Glasgow, Manchester or London.I noticed from my visitor map that there is a national cycle route along the banks of the Foyle running right through the city,past several parks , the newly built peace bridge and Ebrington Square so there is plenty to see and do visitor wise with walking tours,cycle hire,and dozens of tourist attractions within a short distance.Everyone we met was helpful and good natured and seemed genuinely pleased we were exploring and learning about their city.
Windowless Shop.I actually felt perfectly at home here as it reminded me of the Glasgow schemes I grew up in which had similar fortifications to prevent entry.Made me very nostalgic in fact. Bought a long ago favourite chocolate bar to remind me of my own youth.First for thirty five years.Tasted just as good.
Bogside Murals.There was talk of removing the more provocative examples because it increased tension but from a strictly personal point of view I think it would lose that edge.Nearby is a mural of a peace dove but its the type you can see in any city and is not unique to this area.I think I,ve seen one in Glasgow somewhere. Put simply its not got the same tourist draw.People like the idea of a place that may be dangerous under the surface but is also safe to visit.Its human nature I suppose.
The view from the other side of the city walls.The west bank refers to the west bank of the River Foyle.We didn't have time to visit this area but only because it was getting dark by this time.For the history of the murals  and more examples click here.For me the big pleasure of Northern Ireland was seeing everyone busy with christmas shopping for their families.They all seemed more concerned nowadays with getting  presents under the tree which is as it should be and was a heartening sight.
Alex walking below the city walls.I like any city that streaches itself over hills as you can look down into all the different areas.Glasgow,Edinburgh,Dundee.All have fabulous views from urban summits.Derry/Londonderry is the same. As mountain men we always feel happier walking up slopes wherever we find ourselves so we couldnt resist climbing up here after visting the museum.
A great first day behind us we headed for Graeme's house and the mountains of Donegal.
The Blue Stack Mountains.The Sperrins, the Ox and the Iron mountains The Derry Veagh range.All new ,mysterious and wonderful to this first time vistor.Yippeee! Bring em on!

I tried to find something  apt and different for this weeks video.As anyone who reads this post knows by now I,m not religious in any way,shape or form  and cant be arsed with politicians 99 percent of the time.In my twenties I discovered folk music in the record collections of local libraries and it was a revelation to someone brought up with pop and rock.Here was music with  great tunes, complex stories and history I knew nothing about. Scottish, English and Irish folk.I became a big fan of Christy Moore's early traditional stuff ,Dick Gaughan,The Dubliners,June Tabor, The bothy band and many many more.
I tried to find a Juicy version of the Rocky Road to Dublin as this was a song I tried to learn the words to myself on three different occasions... and failed.I do know all the words to 20 odd songs but this one beat me every time ! I always get the middle section mixed up.
Irish music has travelled the globe. Little did I dream the answer would be in Germany with a German band singing Irish folk tunes.I do hope they are not swearing in German thoughout as that is verboten on the blog.Looks a great gig though.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Fifteen Leaves A Falling.An Advent Calendar for Autumn.

For Fifteen Autumns I have tried and failed to capture the full bittersweet glory at this time of year.The changing of the leaves on deciduous trees and shrubs that make autumn in the UK so special.That ground rainbow of primary colours appearing that happens slowly day by day.
Autumn 2012 has been particularly vivid in its depth of colour, the best  Autumn for ten years,and I have been out trying to capture it at its finest with my usual obsessive determination. This is my way of hanging on to the last shreds of summer,both hands holding Persephone's dress as she struggles to return to the underworld.I want to live in an eternal summer again,like before.Alone with her.
This year I had a good firm grip.The leaves have not yet fallen. Hades can howl all he wants.
I will cling on as long as I can.

Personification of nature is not new to me. I understand the rules.

You can find the end of Rainbows and stroke butterflies and bats in caverns where they sleep during their annual 'little death.'
Bees can be saved now they know which pesticides are killing them.If they have the will.

Next year apple orchards will dance in delight and cherry tree snow will fall in pink and white drifts on roads.
I whisper in her ear that we will miss her glory and that when she rises again a Scottish summer doesn't have to be wet ,muddy and cold.
That there can be more than one week of settled conditions during Spring.
That its her job to save all the wildlife....because no one else will.
I say we will meet again in April....In these woods near the Temple of Solomon...If I,m spared.
In fairytale,fable or fantasy... in life or death... heaven or hell... I will find her again.
The world we live in can seem grey and bleak at times... but rainbows sometimes appear after rain when you least expect them.

Today,s video is static as its the song that's the star.A modern classic. Best new song I,ve heard in a long ,long time.
Angus and Julia Stone.   Yellow Brick Road. A cautionary tale describing the pitfalls of following fast chemicals and faster women beyond the edge of the known world.  A land where people also chase rainbows and get dragged towards the underworld.