Sunday, 5 June 2016

Half-term hols in the green heart of Ulster ...

We've spent the half term holidays back in the green heart of Ulster where I grew up, and they were a bit of a treat. The sun shone, the hawthorn bloomed, the beech trees burst out the fresh green of their new foliage and, beneath perfect blue skies, it felt like warm, glorious summer. When the sun shines over here in God’s Own Country, there’s nowhere else quite like it on earth.

We’ve gone for long walks around our favourite lakes. South Tyrone and neighbouring Monaghan are full of charming little lakes, fed with run-off from the surrounding hills. We’ve added a new one to the collection this trip. A cousin of my father’s suggested we try Emy Lough, just outside of Emyvale in County Monaghan. And it didn’t disappoint.

It was a hot day, the day we went, and the trout were jumping, casting rings of ripples through the shallows. Anglers were waist-deep in the water, throwing their rods back and forth to cast flies to tempt them. Try as I might, however, I couldn’t manage to catch any of those jumping fish with my camera. Although Emi did catch this little chap wandering along the path all on his lonesome. The WonderDog was very keen to play with him, but we sent him on his way safely through the long grass by the lakeshore, and out of reach of the inquisitive snouts of the local pooches.

As we walked around we came to a spot where the water was perfectly calm and still, and it seemed as though the fluffy white clouds had fallen out of the sky and into the lake. We all paused to gasp at how surreal it looked.

Lough Emy, County Monaghan
Lough Emy, County Monaghan

We found some perfect dog daisies, and Emi posed with Grandma for a silly photo or two, both of them wearing daisies behind their ears. He pulled a few funny faces and larked around with his daisy, and a little part of me was thankful that he could still be persuaded  to wear a flower and humour me with a silly photo. My little man is growing up, but I hope he’ll always be playful at heart.

On other days we walked around other lakes and fed ducks. Grandma is especially proud of these ducks and brings some birdseed with her every time she comes to give them a treat. The result of all this loving attention on her part is a honking guard of honour as soon as she steps out of her car. It’s totally epic (as Emi would say). Just watch where you tread ...

Feeding the ducks quickly became one of those small commonplace delights that Emi has come to love when he visits his grandparents. It’s always impressed me how all children instinctively love animals. It seems to me that they come into this world hard-wired to respect nature, and they only get messed up when we set them a bad example.

A weather system coming in from the North Sea left the Eastern side of the UK with quite a lot of bad weather, but over here in the West we were sheltered by the rest of the country and enjoyed long balmy days. The sun sets later here than it does back in London, making summer evenings go on forever – in a good way!

White Lough, County Tyrone
White Lough, County Tyrone

Some afternoons we took deck chairs out onto the lawn and sat knitting whilst Emi and the WonderDog raced around watching the farmers who were all crazy busy cutting silage in the good weather. Emi loves to hitch a ride on those great big tractors that everyone seems to drive these days.
The garden was glorious. My mum’s lilac, rhododendron and azalea bushes were all in bloom. Between them there was a riot of colour. Great fat bumblebees buzzed happily from flower to flower. And the air was sweet with the scent of lilac and a honeysuckle azalea. It really was the perfect place to sit and enjoy the moment.

My father took Emi for long walks through the beech forest. The fresh green of the young leaves was a striking contrast from how they’d looked when we passed that way in the heady days of autumn.
For some reason there were loads of beetles beetling around, which delighted Emi. I’m not so mad about them, but even I have to admit that this guy looks like a serious player.

We found wild violets growing along the sides of the path, where the light filtered down through the branches above.

I was delighted to find some miniature anemones growing on a mossy bank. They really were the most delicate little pixie flowers. The normal, larger anemones have all been and gone with their flowers, but these little chaps were still holding their bloom.

Grandpa took a special delight in the banks of wild strawberries, which were sporting masses of pure white flowers. He happily anticipated the crop that was to come. Last year he was disappointed when they didn’t do so well, but he’s got high hopes for later in the summer. It’s a funny business: some years are better than others.

The bluebells had largely gone, but there were still banks of perfect blue speedwell.

A frog had laid her eggs in a deep puddle by the side of the forest track. It’s one of those puddles that would go over your wellingtons if you tried to walk through it, so I’m hopeful that it’s not going to dry out before these chaps are able to hop away safely.

Emi was enthralled and wanted to adopt a few to take home, but we all said no! Better leave them where they were in the hope that they'd grow up and live in the perfect conditions of the forest floor.

We marvelled at the complex geometry of the dandelion clocks. In days of old Emi would simply have been content to blow away the seed and tell the time, but these days he understands clocks and he’s got more complicated thoughts. He wondered whether they were the inspiration for the biospheres down in Cornwall at the Eden Project. I don’t know the answer to that one, but it would be lovely if they were.

He looked from the bright yellow dandelions to the fluffy dandelion clocks and then to the stalks that were left when the seed had all blown away. We talked about the circle of life, how everything and everyone has their day, and how everything that we see before us will one day pass. In any other setting the conversation would have seemed a tad maudlin, but there, in the open with the fresh breeze of the forest and the renewed green of the leaf canopy, it felt like a normal conversation that did nothing more than state the obvious reality that surrounded us.

One day on our travels we came upon a bank of turf that was being cut. Emi’s seen turf being cut before, and he’s savoured the lovely aroma of an open turf fire on a cold winter’s evening, but it’s still special when you come upon a scene like this.

On so many occasions we startled rabbits. The WonderDog was keen to give chase, but we kept him on his lead. The baby bunnies are just too cute at this time of year. 

All things told we didn’t do anything very glitzy. We didn’t put on any fine clothes or spend a mountain of money on any sophisticated entertainment. It was a simple time, enjoying the special rhythms of the season, connecting with nature and cherishing the special bonds of family. In a single word, it was perfect.

All the best for now,

 Bonny x

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