Biodiversity Ballydehob

In the same way that strangers are friends you haven’t met yet, weeds are wildflowers you haven’t yet come to know and love. So come with me to the Ballydehob estuary and meet the dazzling array of wildflowers that call it home. That’s me, by the way, with my trusty camera, at the always-scenic Twelve-Arch Bridge. All the photos in this post were taken within 100 metres of the bridge, on the west side of the estuary.

Thrift, or Sea-pinks, is the most visible flower at the moment, in pink drifts along the shore. There’s a lot more than Thrift in this photograph, but before we move on, let’s take a closer look at them.

In Irish Thrift is called Rabhán (pronounced ravawn) and this word means an outburst, as in rabhán gáire, a sudden fit of laughing. Pretty apt, isn’t it, for a flower that is suddenly everywhere at this time of year. By ‘everywhere’ I mean all along the coast, although in Great Britain it is also found in a few mountainy places too.

Ballydehob has some white Thrift too, fairly unusual. According to Niall MacCoitir in his wonderful Ireland’s Wild Plants, Thrift has many alternative folk-names, such as Lady’s Cushion, Sea Daisy, and Sea-July Flower.

As there is everywhere at this time of year, there’s lots of Ribwort Plantain (did you use it to play Soldiers as a kid?) but there’s also Buck’s-horn Plantain (above). The stalk and flower look very Plantain-like, but the leaves of the basal rosette are what give the plant its name – look at all those tines. In Irish the plantains are called Slánlús, which means health plant as they are used liberally in folk medicine. But be careful – in regards to Ribwort Plantain (below, with Oxeye Daisy and Cat’s-ear), Mac Coitir warns us, . . .while it could be used to cure many ailments, there was also a danger that if the wind changed wile you were collecting it, you would lose your mind.

Here’s Buck’s-horn Plantain again (above), along with three different pink flowers – can you make them all out? I’ll talk about each one and then you can go back and look at his photo again and see if you can see them this time.

Here’s the first one, Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill. The dove’s-foot comes from the shape of the leaf, and the crane’s-bill from the shape of the seed-pod – you can see both in this picture.

The flower is tiny and very sweet, deep pink with purple anthers. It’s a member of the Geranium family, and that makes it first-cousin to the next little pink flower, Herb Robert, below.

It’s one of my favourites, not just for its attractive flower, but for the leaves that turn a deep red as the plant matures. Himself, of course, is very pleased to have a plant named after him, although a more boring explanation could be that the Robert comes from the latin ruber, meaning red. It’s got lots of alternate names but my favourite Irish one is Eireaball Rí, means the King’s Tail. It’s another powerful herb, used traditionally to stop bleeding.

The last of the pink flowers is Kidney Vetch, although it also comes in other colours. It’s actually more common in yellow around here, but I have read that it can be orange, purple, or even pure white. In the photograph above it’s mixed in with the Buck’s-horn Plantain, but here it is on its own, below.

Kidney Vetch is a member of the Pea family but the funny thing about it is that each little pink petal is embedded in a tuft of what looks like cotton wool. It’s a bit otherworldly, but it makes it easy to identify. It’s also known as Lady’s-finger (or in Irish as Méara Muire, which translates as The Virgin’s Finger) and as Stanch, which comes from its reputation as being able to staunch blood flow.

Another member of the Pea family is Red Clover, beloved for its nectar by bumble bees, which have longer tongues than honey bees and can get at the goodness.

This is one of those flowers that are so familiar we hardly notice them, but a really close look reveals a beautiful flower indeed. The leaves are the familiar shamrock shape, but much larger and often with pale patches, and another reason to look closely is to see if you can find a four-leaved clover, considered lucky all over the world. In Irish myth and legend the clover is a symbol of prosperity and the fertility of the land. Among Mac Coitir’s many examples is the story of St Brigid who decided to make her home in the Curragh of Kildare because when ‘she saw before her the delightful plain covered in clover blossom, she determined to offer it to the lord’.

Above is Trailing Tormentil. Although this is a widely-distributed plant in Ireland I haven’t seen a lot of it around here. In fact it’s much more common to see its first cousin, simply called Tormentil, especially on heath, among the heathers and gorse. Tormentil has only four petals on its yellow flowers, whereas Trailing Tormentil can have five, as in the patches I found along the estuary. The name seems to relate to its potency as a cure for stomach torments – the root was boiled in milk as a cure for colic. Add in a little wine and it was good for what ailed you. Add in some St John’s wort and it was a sleeping draught. This is reflected in the Irish name Néalfartach: néal has several meanings which can related to depression and to sleep.

A very exciting find for me now (above) as it’s the first time I have seen it. Look how tiny it is – it’s very possible I’ve walked over it many times without noticing, especially as the old eyes aren’t what they used to be. It’s one of the Sea-spurreys (the others are Rock Sea-spurrey, Greater Sea-spurrey and Sand Spurrey, all of which are found in West Cork) but this one is Lesser Sea-spurrey.

It’s very like Greater Sea-spurrey but several factors distinguish it – it’s tiny, the sepals are longer than the petals (see above) and it has far fewer stamens. The distribution of all the Sea-spurreys is coastal, as you would imagine, but strangely Lesser Sea-spurrey is also found all over Britain, inland as well as by the sea. In Ireland, it is only coastal. Is it weird to get this excited over a tiny plant? (Okay, don’t answer that.)

Moving right along, this is Cuckoo-flower – so called because it appears about the same time as the Cuckoo does. It’s also called Lady’s Smock and it can vary from pure white to a mauvey pink and if you look closely at the stems you might see tiny eggs – they are white when laid but turn orange with time. They are laid by the Orange-tip Butterfly and the larva feeds on the stem of the flower.

There’s a little patch of grass jutting out into the estuary and at first I thought it was just covered in daisies. Daisies are important little flowers for our pollinators too, but what caught my eye was smaller so I had to lie down to get close enough to see the little blue ones.

This is Thyme-leaved Speedwell, one of the many Speedwells you can find in West Cork, and one of the smallest ones. Right across the road is another one – much more visible. In fact, if your eye is caught by a flash of blue in the grass in West Cork, this is likely to be what’s causing it.

It’s Germander Speedwell – a closer look below. Speedwell looks a bit like a Forget-me-not but it doesn’t have the yellow centre and only has four petals to a Forget-me-not’s five.

It belongs to a different family too – the Veronica family, which includes the next flower, Ivy-leaved Toadflax, which I found growing all over the bridge pillar.

This is one opportunistic little plant – it will find a crack in a wall and dig right in. In fact, walls are its favourite habitat. Here’s what Zoë Devlin’s Wildflowers of Ireland (my go-to resource) has to say about this adaptable genius: The seed-planting mechanism of this plant is very clever indeed.  The flowers turn their heads to the sun until they have been fertilised at which stage they turn about towards the wall on which they are growing and in this way they plant or push the seeds into any little crevice possible on the wall. They also have very long roots which help them to hang on, like the Ivy for which they are named, and thereby ensure their survival.  This plant was introduced in the seventeenth century from the Mediterranean countries.

As Zoë says, it arrived here from the Mediterranean – but how? During the craze for importing marble from Italy, including marble statues, the plant hitched a ride, jumped ship once it got to Britain, and flourished from then on. Even though it’s not a native plant it’s adapted well to the Irish climate and has proven to be a good neighbour, unlike many other alien species.

Just glancing along the bank, it’s hard to take in how many plants are here, and what a variety there is. I will finish with a couple from across the road. First, the Hawthorn is now in full bloom.

It’s also known here as the Whitethorn and it comes into flower after its leaves have arrived and after the Blackthorn has faded. Beautiful – but considered to be very unlucky. Woe betide anyone cutting a Whitethorn or bringing its flowers or branches into the house – except in the month of May when it was customary on some counties to bring the flowers to the house, or even into it, to honour Mary (it’s the May Tree) or to ward off evil. That’s a bit confusing – it’s May now so should you gather some blossoms? Better to take no chances, I say, and leave it to bloom outside for all our enjoyment.

And what’s this I spy? It’s St Patrick’s Cabbage and you will only find this plant in southern or Western Ireland and in Spain and Portugal. Called the Lusitanian Flora, there is a group of plants who seem to have flown, as if by magic, across the Bay of Biscay, France and Britain, to land in West Cork, and this is one of them.

If you’re a gardener it might look familiar – the popular garden plant, London Pride, is a hybrid of this and another member of the Saxifrage family.

There’s more – lot’s more – but I’d better leave it at that (except I couldn’t resist that image of the Scarlet Pimpernel, above, with the Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill). Here’s what I want you to take away from this post – with the exception of the Ivy-leaved Toadflax, which has been here for hundreds of years, every single one of the plants I have written about here is native. Every. Single. One. Why is that important? Because this is what a wildflower patch looks like and should look like. These are the flowers to which our native insects and pollinators have adapted over millennia and therefore these are the ones which are critical to our ecology here in Ireland.

We’ve been fed images of colourful meadows full of poppies and cornflowers and told that’s what a wildflower meadow looks like – it’s not. THIS is what our pollinators need – a wide variety of native plants left undisturbed. It’s wonderful to see this in Ballydehob, but every village and town in Ireland has areas like this. Let’s make sure they flourish!

 

Mizen Magic 5: Top 14 Pics of 2015

Crookhaven in winter sunlight

Crookhaven in low winter sunlight

You love the Mizen! That’s all we can conclude when we look at which of our Facebook photographs resonated most with our readers and followers this year.

Cairn on Dunlough Head, looking east along the Mizen and Dunmanus Bay

Cairn on Dunlough Head, looking east along the Mizen and Dunmanus Bay

We post a couple of photographs each week on our Facebook page and we are always delighted when they are liked and shared. The vast majority of these images are from West Cork, and many are from our own Peninsula, the Mizen.

The tiny quay at Greenmount, outside Ballydehob. You pass this on the Rossbrin Loop Trail.

The tiny quay at Greenmount, outside Ballydehob. You pass this on the Rossbrin Loop Trail

So, as we look back over 2015, here are your top picks from the Mizen Peninsula, beginning with the most liked/shared. Next week, we will post the top West Cork (non-Mizen) Facebook photographs.

Near Dunlough Bay, on the way to Three Castle Head

Near Dunlough Bay, on the way to Three Castle Head

Not much text to plough through this week. Consider that your Christmas present from us!

Goleen Village looks so colourful and inviting in the summer

Goleen Village looks so colourful and inviting in the summer

There’s nothing we like better than wandering around West Cork with our cameras – it’s an endless feast. Enjoy – and tell us which is your personal favourite!

The famous 12 Arch Bridge at Ballydehob

The famous 12 Arch Bridge at Ballydehob

The Magnificent Mizen!

The Magnificent Mizen!

The Winding Road...the Cappaghglass high road in autumn

The Winding Road…the Cappaghglass high road in autumn

We saw these Jacob sheep on the slopes of Mount Corrin

We saw these Jacob sheep on the slopes of Mount Corrin

Sun and shadow - the quintessential West Cork lighting conditions

Sun and shadow – the quintessential West Cork lighting conditions

Farmhouses in the shadow of Mount Gabriel

Farmhouses in the shadow of Mount Gabriel

Ballydehob Bay. This one was taken close to the same place as The Winding Road, but facing the opposite direction, towards Foilnamuck

Ballydehob Bay. This one was taken close to the same place as The Winding Road, but facing the opposite direction, towards Foilnamuck

The North Side of the Mizen - so beautiful and so few people

The North Side of the Mizen – so beautiful and so few people

The Three Castles, from the lake

The Three Castles, from the lake. No Mizen post would be complete without at least one view of this iconic place

Fastnet Trails: Rossbrin Loop, Part 1

A joint post by Robert and Finola

In Robert’s post about the Fastnet Trails, we introduced you to this new trail system, and in particular to one of the delightful walks – the Lisheenacrehig Loop. Today’s post is about another of the walks – the Rossbrin Loop. This walk is all on country boreens, so you can wear your ordinary walking shoes and take the dog if you like but keep him on a leash and stick to the road. You will pass other dogs on the way, as well as fields of livestock.

The high road

You can do this whole walk as laid out in the brochure. It’s just under 12km and will take you at least three hours, but probably more if you like to stop to explore, take pictures, have a chat along the way. Oh, and see where it says ‘easy grade’? Take that with a pinch of salt – this walk will give you a good work out as it takes you from sea level to 70m (230ft) and back again.

Rossbrin Trail 1

But we know that many of you like to take an easier pace and, like us, might find a 12km loop a bit intimidating, so we’ve decided to give you another option. We will lay out a 2-walk option for you, beginning with Walk 1 now, and we will do Walk 2 in a future post. We provide our time estimate for a meander rather than a march. And – a disclaimer: our suggestions depart slightly from the official Fastnet Trail and have not been sanctioned by that group. Where you depart from the marked trail, you walk at your own risk.

Walk 1: Ballydehob, Greenmount, Foilnamuck, Cappaghglass, Ballydehob

Time: 2 to 2.5 hours (with diversion)

Level: Easy but some steep stretches

Take: Binoculars and camera

Twelve Arch Bridge

Park in the Ballydehob car park just east of the river estuary and start by taking the lovely nature walk that takes you over the 12 Arch Bridge. This beautiful structure was once part of the West Carbery Tramway and Light Railway. A train ran across this bridge from 1886 to 1947 – Robert has written about The Flying Snail that traversed West Cork, but for a real flavour of what it was like read Poisson d’Avril in Somerville and Ross’s The Irish R.M. Here’s the first paragraph:

The Irish R.M.The atmosphere of the waiting-room set at naught at a single glance the theory that there can be no smoke without fire. The stationmaster, when remonstrated with, stated, as an incontrovertible fact, that any chimney in the world would smoke in a south-easterly wind, and further, said there wasn’t a poker, and that if you poked the fire the grate would fall out. He was, however, sympathetic, and went on his knees before the smouldering mound of slack, endeavouring to charm it to a smile by subtle prodding with the handle of the ticket-punch. Finally, he took me to his own kitchen fire and talked politics and salmon-fishing, the former with judicial attention to my presumed point of view, and careful suppression of his own, the latter with no less tactful regard for my admission that for three days I had not caught a fish, while the steam rose from my wet boots, in witness of the ten miles of rain through which an outside car had carried me.

Ballydehob Quay saw brisk trade in the days before the Bay silted up. The lovely old Pier House once functioned as a coal warehouse. 

Greenmount Stream

Following the walkway, you emerge by the school and turn left on to the Greenmount Road. This can be a busy stretch, so be careful along here. Once you get to the turquoise shed, turn left. Here you find yourself beside a burbling stream that empties into Ballydehob Bay at a small and picturesque pier. This and others like it were busy piers in the old days, serving the fishing boats as well as the sand boats that worked these waters, dredging sand to be used as fertiliser and building material. Nowadays this little inlet seems hardly navigable and the same blue and white boat has been moored here for a long time.

Greenmount Quay

The road climbs steadily up now past working farms. Looking back towards Ballydehob you can see the Bay and even the 12 Arch Bridge in the distance.

Pastoral

As you round a corner your view changes  and Kilcoe Castle comes into view. Now home to Jeremy Irons, who has restored it beautifully from a complete ruin, it was a classic 15th century tower house owned by the McCarthy Clan. So well was it situated and defended that the inhabitants were able to hold out for two years in the aftermath of the Battle of Kinsale (1601). Situated on a tiny island and glowing a soft amber colour, it is a beloved landmark in these parts.

Kilcoe Castle from Greenmount

Below you is a shallow bay that is a haven for shorebirds and seals. If the tide is out linger a while and use your binoculars to see what you can pick out along the tidal flats below you. If you’re lucky the seals might be out along the rocks, sunning themselves. Once underway again, you’ll pass an old cottage on the left. A recently-dug pond in its garden is already full of water lillies.

Water lillies

Continue now along the narrow boreen and brace yourself for the climb to the highest point  of the walk. No longer on leafy lanes, you are now walking on a bare plateau with panoramic views in all directions. The whole of Roaringwater Bay gleams before you. To the east, towards Kilcoe, lie the mussel beds that now dot this part of the Bay. Sherkin Island and Cape Clear are on the horizon, as is the Fastnet Rock. Ahead of you is the looming shape of Mount Gabriel, dominating the skyline as it does in so many parts of West Cork.

Fields of Cappaghglass

If you look carefully here you will see that the gorse and bracken barely conceals the outline of tiny field walls. There was a large population around here once and a thriving industry. Read Robert’s piece, Copper Country, for more about the mining activities of Cappaghglass. There are a few clues left – the stump of a large chimney that once provided a prominent landmark but that was felled by lightning can still be seen.

Rust and heather

Don’t turn left here (as the trail map wants you to) but instead continue straight on and turn right at the T junction and descend to the crossroads. From the crossroads you can go right and follow the road back to Ballydehob. But if you still have the energy and want to prolong the walk a little, there a diversion here that is worth considering. Turn left and climb the hill until the road flattens out. About 500m from the crossroads look up and to your left and you will see the silhouette of a large ring fort. A tiny green lane leads up to it between some houses but it is on private land.  

Ballycummisk Ring Fort

Irish ring forts generally date to the Early Medieval period – this one may be between 1500 and 1000 years old and would have been the enclosure of a farm house. A wooden fence on top of the earthworks would have kept wolves out and animals in. But the prominent position of this one also meant that it would have been a high-status dwelling. There are hints of a fosse (an outer ditch), which was a defensive feature, and reports of a souterrain, or underground passage, situated in the middle. The ridges of lazy beds – the traditional potato-growing grooves – cross the interior of the fort, indicating that this ground was used to feed a family until the area was de-populated in the aftermath of the famine. There is a large standing stone, known locally as Bishop’s Luck, above the ring fort. This could be Bronze Age or even older.

Textures

It’s an easy walk, downhill all the way, back to Ballydehob. You’ll be more than ready for a coffee and cake in Budds or a lovely bowl of soup in the Porcelain Room by the time you get there. Tell them the Roaringwater Journal sent you.

Wall E lurking

See you next time for Walk 2.