December in Rossbrin

In the past year I have returned to Rossbrin again and again in my posts. That’s not surprising, as it’s just a short and always rewarding walk down our Beautiful boreens:

It’s December, and we can expect anything in the way of weather. This is the mildest corner of Ireland: further north and east of us today, spanning Cavan, Donegal and Wicklow, heavy snow is falling and temperatures are forecast to drop to minus 8 degrees C in the coming hours. The last real bit of snow in West Cork came along seven years ago but we weren’t here, then, to see it (image below of Nead an Iolair in 2010 courtesy of our neighbours Dietrich and Hildegard Eckardt with, below it, today’s view of the Cove seen from the house):

Whatever the weather, our cove has something to offer – and every day is guaranteed to bring a mixture. When the sun is out we can bask in it as if it was the middle of summer, but it’s just as likely that there will be a stiff and invigorating breeze to accompany our bracing walks.

Above – reminders of summer pleasures to come as we wind down to the year’s end in Rossbrin: Andre’s catamaran – Danu – which he built himself, rides out the winter storms on a wet mooring in the Cove. The first of those storms – Ophelia – hit us last month, and there is a fair bit of wind damage still to be seen:

Traffic jam in Rossbrin!

Often, I will start out on the downhill walk with my head buzzing from the inexplicable madness of the outside world: British ethnocentricity, North American absurdity and worldwide chaos. Within minutes these concerns are receding, and when I reach the waterside I am overtaken by the immersive experience of natural things all around me and I find the solace of constancy: not much changes here. This little townland of Rossbrin is above and away from that buzzing, reeking world. It is a far saner place.

Since publishing this post we have received a communication from our good neighbour Julian, who lives down on the Cove, including some excellent photographs of the winter of 2010. Here’s one of them – thank you, Julian…

Cove in the snow 2010

The Turning Year in Rossbrin

We are fortunate to live in a rural idyll: our immediate environment is immersed in the natural world. In fact, I suppose it is ‘Nature tamed’ – as we have pasture all around us as well as banks of gorse and rock: even a few trees which manage to cling on to the shallow soil all through the winter gales and (occasional) summer droughts. As the years go by we feel we become more closely entwined with the cycle of everything around us – we get to know personally the fox, pheasants and rabbits that pass by our window, and the myriad of birds that feed here, forage in the Cove or just show themselves to us on memorable occasions – Spioróg the Sparrowhawk is so handsome when she is resting on our terrace wall while on her deadly missions, and our choughs frequently perform wild dances in the air to entertain us. This year was special for me because, for the first time, I saw a hare amble around the house, alert with erect ears, before loping off into the next door field.

I have written about Rossbrin Cove many times before: look at A Moment in Time, Tide’s Out and Words on Roaring Water, for example. That sheltered natural harbour and the old mine road up on the hill above probably give us the most pleasure because we visibly see the year change and turn every time we walk there. Just now the days are rapidly shortening, and the autumnal influx of wading birds is returning. One we keep a particular eye out for is the curlew – a threatened breeding species here in Ireland. We see many on and close to the water, particularly at low tide, but these are probably migrants rather than resident breeders.

The year is turning – from late summer into early autumn, and the colours are changing from rich reds and purples – fuschia and heathers – to the more sombre yet equally attractive yellows and browns of furze and fern. Finola has closely followed the wildflowers right through from the spring – she is still finding and identifying every imaginable species – it’s a complete world of its own!

We have been seeing some exceptionally high and low tides here in Rossbrin. I’m always fascinated to see the mud-flats revealing bits of discarded history, while I am convinced that the huge remnants of dressed stonework on the north-east shore are the vestiges of once-busy quays, dating either from the medieval period, when Sir William Hull and the Great Earl of Cork owned the lands around here and set up thriving fish-processing ‘palaces’, or – at the latest – when the copper mines were active up on our hills and on Horse Island in the nineteenth century.

The real turning point comes at the end of October – Samhain – when the old calendar enters the ‘dark year’ (the ‘light year’ begins on May 1st –  Bealtaine). We know we have long, dark nights to come – time to huddle down by the stove – but there will be bright days as good as any in the year for walking, exploring and breathing in the Atlantic breezes. And the Rossbrin sunsets will be magnificent!

West Cork in Photographs – Your Favourites, Part 1

Navigating Mizen Head

A fishing boat navigates the rocks of Mizen Head

Our Roaringwater Journal Facebook Page features lots of our photographs of West Cork – two or three every week – and we know by the views and the ‘likes’ the ones that capture your imagination. It’s become a tradition here with us at the end of the year to go through them all and show you the top choices. Think of it as our Christmas present to you, our wonderful readers – nothing to read, just images of our gorgeous part of the world to drool over. Of course, we have our own favourites too, even if they didn’t get as many likes as others did, so we sneaked a few of those in here two. This is the first of two posts – the next one in a few days.

Sheeps Head November Day

Sheep’s Head

Chough by the Gate

Chough in the rain

Fastnet in the sunset

Fastnet Lighthouse at sunset

2 0f the 12

Two of the arches of Ballydehob’s famous Twelve Arch Bridge

Roaringwater Bay from Sailors' Hill

Roaringwater Bay from Sailor’s Hill above Schull

Gougane Oratory 2

Gougane Barra in the autumn

To the Mass Rock, Sheeps Head

Walking to the Mass Rock, Sheep’s Head

Kealkill 2

The archaeological complex at Kealkill – a five stone circle, a standing stone pair and a radial cairn

Rossbrin Dawn

Rossbrin Cove dawn

The next batch (Part 2) is now up. Enjoy!

Tide’s Out!

the Cove

Up here in Nead an Iolair we have a perfect view of the state of the tide in Rossbrin Cove, the natural harbour below us which is accessed from Roaringwater Bay. Just now it’s a Spring Tide – and an extreme one: we’ve never seen the Cove quite so empty. I think it’s because there was a ‘supermoon’ a day or two ago – that’s the point at which the moon’s orbit is closest to the earth, and this affects the rise and fall of the tides.

low tide

On a day when the sun does be splitting the stones we walk the long way over the hill and through the lanes to have a look at what the low tide has revealed. The surface of the boreens is hot to the touch, and it’s hard to recall that, during the last couple of weeks, we have had wild storms, some icy mornings and dank wintry fogs. Today the whole cove is a broad mud flat: a little rivulet runs through it and a family of Teals (Praslacha) is managing to make its way out to the bay, stopping every few yards to peck at tasty morsels in the silt.

Teals

Wading birds are everywhere, enjoying the rich pickings of nereid worms. We are particularly impressed with the handsome Redshank – Cosdeargán: Red Leg, Warden of the Marshes – who winters here, like the Teals – on holiday from Iceland. We have to make the most of him, and his piercing tew-hoo, tew-hoo call as he’ll be off back home shortly.

Redshanks 2

I think it’s exciting to see what the low tide has uncovered: down by the ‘new’ quay there’s something boat-shaped. It must have ended up here in living memory, so someone should know the story of it. An old engine block, perhaps, at one end – and a sort of metal frame at the other: a piece of fishing equipment, possibly. Of course, it could all be the skeletal remains of a great leviathan which has been stranded by the falling tide…

Drowned object

Enigma

On a tiny rock-pile which has never been an island before we catch sight of the Curlew, one of the Seven Whistlers. The Calloo, Courlie or Marsh Hen is declining rapidly and what we are seeing today is most likely to be a winter visitor from Scotland or Scandinavia, feeding on ragworms, crabs and molluscs. A few stay all the year round, mostly in the northern half of Ireland – although I’m pretty sure I have seen the occasional Curlew around here in the summer months: we live in a privileged place, after all.

Curlew

We are halfway through March now. We still have more extreme tides to look forward to, especially around Good Friday, when the Mussels will be harvested from the exposed rocks. That’s early this year – before the end of the month – and it’s a festival which is based around the seasons of the moon. Let’s hope that never changes (there has been some talk among officialdom of regularising the dates for Easter) because, if it does, all the customs and traditions associated with it will be thrown out of sync.

feast of mussels

We have a good ol stretch in the evening to look forward to. On the reasonable basis of what goes down must also come up we’ll be off to the Cove again to see it filled to the brim: it will be a particularly high tide as well, of course, and there will be another set of shore birds and waders foraging from the fresh influx of salt water.

muddy waters