Tag Archives: adventure

The Equinox and a Crazy St. Patrick’s Weekend… and a Mermaid’s Purse

Last weekend was St. Patrick’s weekend, with St. Patrick’s Day occurring on Saturday. Every year I attend the St. Patrick’s Day parade, usually in Greystones by the sea, and after the parade I will normally make my first proper nature walk of the year. This year was very different…

If you watched the little video above I can tell you the adventure reached a climax when I attempted to return the ray’s egg to the sea at Kilcoole Station. As many of you will probably know, after the ray hatches out of the egg it might be used by a mermaid as a purse, which is why these leathery eggs are known as ‘mermaid’s purses’.

I walked to the bottom of the steps and decided that to give the mermaid’s purse the best chance of being taken back out to sea I must wait for a particularly large wave to break, and then run out after it as it withdrew, and toss the mermaid’s purse into the surf. To do this I waited on the bottom step and watched. After a minute a particularly huge wave approached and I stood ready to run after it as it went out again. However, when it broke it came in very fast, and only at the last moment did I realise I needed to get to higher ground, and just managed to reach the third step when the water came in up to my knees! I tossed the mermaid’s purse  over the wave. I was very lucky not to have been knocked over and washed away. So, let that be a lesson to you all – never take chances with the sea, and never, ever trust a storm sea.

Now, back to the Equinox – despite the awful weather in which winter has attempted to take over the spring, the Equinox was on Tuesday. The precise point (halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Summer Solstice) was on Tuesday afternoon at 4.15 pm. And Tuesday was a gloriously sunny, but very cold day. The Equinox marks the beginning of the true spring, and from now on days are longer than nights. So let’s hope they’re sunny!

I dedicate this bulletin to my nephew, Mitchell Connolly, who began a very big adventure last week. Wrap up warm, Mitchell!

The Emerald Express

On Monday I was completing my last butterfly transect of the year, my once-a-week walk recording butterflies for the National Biodiversity Data Centre. I finished at the beach, where I found an unusual number of cars parked, yet not many people around. There was a very noticeable shimmering mirage caused by the unusual heat that day, and the warming of the sand, rock and air by the unfiltered sun. And then there was the loud wail of a train sounding its horn in the distance. Suddenly people began apearing from everywhere, and many had cameras. I realised the engine was an older one, but immaculately clean – it was Emerald Express. Somehow, by sheer coincidence, I had arrived on the beach by the railway on one of the two days per year when the Emerald Express travels south from Dublin, through Wicklow, en route to Waterford City.

   I had heard that the Emerald Express is pulled by an Emerald Green No. 71 engine, but, it seems, this had been replaced temporarily by a classic orange Irish Rail No. 73 engine. It still bore the sign ‘Emerald CIE Express’ on the front. What is the Emerald Express? Believe it or not, this train is the means by which the most luxurious heritage tour of Ireland is undertaken. For the princely sum of €5,999 (currently) per person you can see Ireland in five star luxury on this extremely posh presidential train, stopping off to stay in a castle for each night of your eight-day scenic journey of Ireland. And don’t worry about overcrowding – only a maximum of 50 guests are allowed travel on any tour! It’s out of my league, but if you love trains, castles, and being pampered then you might want to look it up. It only travels twice a year, once in May and once in September, so far. However, I suspect, if demand goes up, it will become a more common sight. But who has that kind of money! Clearly somebody does. As for me –  I’ll stick to the DART for now.

Blooming Marvellous this September

It’s hard not to feel sad in September as another summer draws to a close. Children are looking forward to Halloween and Christmas coming after it, but adults often see time slipping away. It never seems long since last September, yet here we are again. But I found something really incredible which will absolutely lift your spirits if you feel the sort of poignancy I do, and that something is a beautiful new book by the botanist Zoe Devlin entitled Blooming Marvellous: A Wildflower Hunter’s Year. It will change your perspective on September, and the year itself.

I can honestly say there is only one book I have ever come across which is like it in any way, and that is the legendary naturalist Gerald Durrell’s The Amateur Naturalist which can best be described as a manual and interactive adventure story rolled into one. These are the sort of books you don’t want an electronic version of, because they are beautiful things in themselves, a combination of art and reading which is truly exhilarating. Blooming Marvellous recounts episodes in the author’s life while inviting you to have your own adventure with the aid of the book.

It’s divided into chapters which deal with each month. Zoe suggests you read the chapter of the month you’re in right now, and immediately you are seeing what she sees and not only that, but you are able to find things she tells you about which you never even realised were there in front of your eyes, by a hedgerow or in your garden. I took mine out into the garden and suddenly I was in the book, and just look at this and you’ll see what I mean:

   As you can see by the page shown from Blooming Marvellous it’s not just about wildflowers, but also about the wildlife which supports them, and depends on them. This is not a botanical manual, but a true-life adventure story comprising anecdotes and a field guide combined. And it’s rugged too, with a rock hard cover and a beautifully stitched binding of heavy, tough, glossy pages, but it is the weight of wisdom. This is a rugged book you can carry in your rucksack, and the writing is fantastic and elegant and absolutely draws you in to the adventures:

“Wordsworth had a way with words that many have envied. In 1798, on the banks of the River Wye, that self-proclaimed ‘worshipper of nature’ wrote ‘Nature never did betray the heart that loved her’. Long before I ever knew those words, my less eloquent maxim was ‘Nature never, ever lets you down’.”

And those are just the opening lines! The rest of the book reads as easily, and there are sad bits, and thought-provoking tales too,  which sweeten the knowledge you are unwittingly taking in with them. Remarkably, all of the adventures Zoe describes in this book occurred in Ireland. Even more alluringly Zoe has included recipes for cooking some of the fruits and wildflowers you encounter, which adds a whole new dimension to this book and interracting with her adventures. For example, there is a really nice recipe for blackberry tart, which is great considering how many blackberries there are on the hedgerows this year:

Before Zoe had published her first book she appeared in a photo on this blog when I met her and her ever reliable sidekick and husband, Pete, out on one of their adventures (as far as I’m aware this is her third book for the Collins Press – or are there more?). So you might think I’m biased, especially if you read pages 186-187. This very original masterpiece is, I promise you, different from anything you have seen before, with photos and text by the author, and I think Gerald Durrell would definitely love it.

If I am ever unfortunate enough to find myself lined up in front of a firing squad I’m going to make sure this book is in my breast pocket, because, although it’s not gigantic, I feel pretty certain, in addition to its many other virtues, it can stop bullets.

If you’re too lazy to go to the bookshop, or don’t live in Ireland, or fear catching one of those horrible September flus or colds, you can buy Blooming Marvellous from Amazon right now and have it delivered to your door.