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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

JAUNTS AROUND DONEGAL ~ MOUNTCHARLES

On Saturday evening we enjoyed a delicious meal in the Village Tavern, Mountcharles.  Sitting on their decking outside, eating freshly caught fish in the warmth of a summer's evening was pretty special and as the weather was so perfect, we decided to drive down through the village after our meal and spend a while on Mountcharles pier.

There are of course many scenic areas in Donegal but the views from Mountcharles pier are some of the best and on a summer's evening it is a lovely place to go and relax for a while.

View to Barnesmore Gap mountains from Mountcharles
Parking on the pier, we got out of the car to take in the salty sea air to enjoy these views, and of course take a few photographs! 

The shore road, Mountcharles
The views are fabulous, looking all around there is nothing but perfect scenery from the little shore road with it's houses reflected in the water lapping the shore in front of them, to the views across the bay to the distinctive shape of Benbulben mountain in County Sligo, to the views to the twin mountains of Croaghconnelagh and Croaghonagh which flank the road through Barnesmore Gap and almost straight across from Mountcharles pier you can see the sandy beach at Murvagh. 

Waves lapping the sandy shore at Mountcharles
There is very little noise down there other than the sound of gulls and the lapping of the waves on the sandy shore to the right of the pier.  It is a peaceful and tranquil place to spend a while.

Kayaking at Mountcharles
Further up the pier a small group were getting their kayaks ready to take to the waters, and later watching them bobbing about in the water below the pier end.

Hungry gulls follow a small fishing boat
Out at sea anchored boats relaxed in the water, empty of people but offering a resting place for seagulls.  Two boats with fishermen on them moved around the waters, in their wake dozens of seagulls hungry for a free meal.  Even from the pier we could see the flashes of silver reflected by the sunshine behind us on the fish being line caught by the men on the boats.

Benbulben mountain in County Sligo from Mountcharles
Mountcharles sits on the shores of Donegal Bay, the largest bay in Ireland.  The Bay washes the shores of not only county Donegal but also counties Sligo and Leitrim. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

TURF TOURISM

Driving over Meenaroy, a beautiful area of Donegal between the towns of Letterkenny and Glenties, a couple of weeks ago I saw a most unusual sight.

Meenaroy, County Donegal
Amid the fabulous scenery of Meenaroy, with so much to see and photograph, I saw a large tourist coach pulled over to the side of the narrow road with all the passengers disembarked and wandering about, not as you might imagine taking photographs of the beautiful scenery but rather wandering around the little turf ricks taking photographs of ... turf!

Turf for those who aren’t familiar with it is the deep compressed ground in certain areas of Donegal (and Ireland) which is cut into during the summer and rectangles of the stuff dug up and laid up on the ground to dry, later stacked into little “ricks” to allow air to get to all sides of the turf sod and so allowing it to dry out thoroughly for use as fuel later.

Turf banks (or binks), County Donegal
It made me smile and indeed, laugh a little indeed, at the idea of a whole coach load of tourists, travelling as they were through some of Ireland’s most scenic countryside, being so taken with a stack of turf that they would go to the bother of having their driver pull over and all disembark and walk among the damp ground for a photo opportunity. 

But it got me thinking.  Is this the start of a whole new tourist initiative?  Turf Tourism.  Is this the way forward?  Should the tourist board in Ireland consider running with this idea?

We could have “Turf Cutting Holidays”. Tourists could come here during the summer and take lodgings with local and in return go with them to “the bog” (the areas where turf is cut), spend a long day digging and throwing the cut sods, arranging them in neat lines and later arranging them into ricks. This branch, or sod as it were, of Turf Tourism would extend all the way through to bagging the turf and bringing the turf home. They could even take a commemorative piece of turf home (Customs allowing!). And as the whole process from clearing the sods covering the bog to be cut to taking the turf home extends for months, it would bring tourists for the entire course of the summer.

The Turf Tourism, “Turf Cutting Holidays” would have many benefits to offer the tourist. They’d get to know the real Ireland, they’d get to spend days in the fresh clean air and hopefully sunshine. Many here say that the best tan you can get is from days spent cutting turf.

Open turf fire
They’d get to spend time in the evenings with the local host and maybe later at a village bar enjoying the craic whilst downing a Guinness or two and maybe even a bit of traditional Irish music thrown in and hopefully all in front of a welcoming turf fire.

The Turf Cutting tourists would also gain a memory that will never leave them. The smell of the turf as it burns on an open fire. A smell that cannot be replicated but so special that once smelled is forever with you, bringing you back instantly to the time you smelled it.

Turf Cutting tourists would benefit from weight loss too, so arduous is cutting and sorting the turf. The cutter is down a few feet below the top ground cutting the black sod for the best turf. The spa dhu, as the especially fashioned spade is called is a long instrument and difficult to manoeuvre to those who aren’t trained in the ways of turf cutting. There would also be the element of fear too for those seeking a thrill. Managing to cut sods of turf without cutting a finger off on the sharp edges of the spa dhu is quite an art and one a person would need to learn really quickly to avoid losing a finger or two. And it is cold lifting turf. Even on the hottest day, the turf down deep is freezing cold on the fingers. So you have the heat of the sun on your back but freezing hands and fingers. Freezing fingers mind you, are probably good if you don’t learn the use of the spa dhu!

For those on the top ground they will spend the day bending over sorting the turf. It is back breaking but probably great for developing strong back, stomach, and arm muscles.

Homemade Irish soda bread & Irish butter
Then during a break, the tourists would get to sit with the local host to enjoy a picnic made for them probably made up of soda bread, good Irish butter, cheese, jam and a flask of Irish tea. Enjoying a well earned break, some real Irish food, listening to Irish banter amid stunning scenery would be a totally unique experience.

Hand cut turf
Turf Tourism would also greatly benefit us too.  Going back to hand cut turf would get rid of these monster turf cutting machines that spout out huge strings of turf all over the place.  It would bring turf cutting back to the social thing it was in years gone by where everyone helped one another.

For those less fit and not able or willing for an actual Turf Cutting Holiday, we could run "Turf Spotting for Photographers Holidays". A coach could wander the highways and byways of Donegal stopping off at appointed stops to allow the tourists to disembark and take photographs of just cut turf, turf ricks, or even people cutting turf.

Or we could even run “Hunting for Bog Oak on Turf Banks”. The pieces of old oak, long fallen from trees now long gone and making up the essence of the black soil or turf deep in the ground, are much sought after as pieces of interest in homes and galleries. The tourist could be taken by their local host to wander the Turf land searching for their very own piece of bog oak and then take in back to their lodgings and spend days smoothing it off and polishing it until it is a thing of beauty.

Turf Tourism could be a winner for sure!