Tourism Pure Walking Holidays

Guided Walking Holidays in Mayo & Connemara, Ireland

 

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Importance of Connecting with Nature

Are we and our kids spending too much time indoors?

While today’s electronic devices bring many great advantages of connectivity and learning, they are contributing to a serious diminishing of our connection with the outdoors. There can be little doubt about the importance of connecting with nature, yet, as a society, we seem to be turning our backs. Taking a regular walk in nature is good for the heart, body and soul and it is vital that we pass this message on to the next generation.

As somebody who goes hiking often, I know there’s something powerful and uplifting in getting my hands dirty in the bogs, wet in the cold rivers, or simply feeling the roughness of mountain rocks on my palms. Watching a Kestrel hover, as I did just yesterday, enjoying frolicking Foxes playing through the fields, or listening to the roar of the Red Deer during the rut are important life experiences to me.

Then there’s the extra special treat of strolling among trees. More than simply walking, being within a forest brings great joy, peace and perspective. It brings disconnection from the humdrum of the daily chore and replaces it with the importance of connecting with nature. There’s something wondrous about being a little short-lived human among giant trees, much bigger and older than you will ever achieve. It’s in some way liberating.

Importance of Connecting with Nature

Do you know the difference between Whitethorn and Blackthorn?

So, get down to the sea on a windy winter’s day and feel the power of nature blow the cobwebs off your face, to the soundtrack of crashing waves. Visit a tranquil lake on a balmy summer’s afternoon and absorb the cacophony of bird and insect life, all under the whiff of blossoming wildflowers.

Ultimately, our disconnection with nature doesn’t just mean we’ve lost touch with the outdoors and our fellow inhabitants of Planet Earth. It also leads to ignorance and disinterest. Why should we care about habitat loss and species extinction if we no longer have a connection?

Therein lies the problem and the challenge.

Recognising the importance of connecting with nature brings joy and loads of energy. Seeing how ‘nature’ and ‘us’ are so deeply interconnected can lead to only one conclusion. We are nature. There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’. There is no separation. We must understand that we humans are part of life on this planet, just like the beetles, bats and birds.

Importance of Connecting with Nature – Resources

The most obvious and useful resources to reconnect with nature are your feet, public transport, bike or car. Just get out there, find a nice spot like a forest, bog, local park or beach and go walk. Or discover one of our National Parks.

Other than that, join some organised events run by organisations like Birdwatch Ireland and many others.

Get dirty, wet and enjoy!

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And so to Winter …

I must admit that I’ve no problem with winter. In fact, I’m a fan. I kind of think it suits a place like the West of Ireland.

Rather than grumble about the summer showers (of which, by the way, there were precious few during 2014), the rain of wintertime just feels right. It belongs. It fits.

The bogs gorge on water, so we can enjoy trudging through them during the colder months. Our medium-height mountains treat us to a few days snow cover now and then, through which we can crackle with the wide-eyed delight of a child. Down by the sea, the wind-blown waves of winter roll and jump and spray and crash, to remind us that we are not in control.

Winter hiking on Nephin

Nephin mountain in Winter

Winter walking means more layers and thicker socks, perhaps, but it also heralds that strange but pleasant sensation of cold lips, raw cheek bones and stinging ears. Trampling the crispy layer of icy frost on early morning grass is a special little thrill not to be missed. Don’t forget your gloves, now. Heck, I might even bring along a pole the odd time.

For me, winter already kicked off back in September, with the first Hen Harrier surveying of the season, Seal pups way out west and the long hike into Red Deer rut country. Just to listen, in awe. Later, I will go in search of spawning Salmon, then spawning Frogs. Before I know it, it will once again be springtime and time for the Snowdrops. Around and around she goes; where she stops, nobody knows…

Winter Weather

Do not go out hiking during wintertime if you are unprepared. West of Ireland weather can change rapidly, even during the height of summer. Much more so during winter. Read my hiking advice for the West of Ireland.

In winter, as at all times of the year, never plan to get home just before dark. That rarely works out. Give yourself plenty of leeway when heading out into the hills or even when rambling at low level. You will get delayed and walking in the dark is to be avoided. Check the weather forecast through, for example, these services :

Met Éireann for Connacht

YR (Norwegian service)

Accuweather

And know when sunrise and sunset times are.

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Often, It’s the Simple Pleasures…

While we all love to view the spectacular sights and experience the wonderful places, often it’s the simple pleasures that we enjoy the most.

Like sitting on a rock, in silence, and watching the seals go about their daily routines. Or sharing a forest track with a hare for a surprisingly long time. Or coming across a fox in the middle off the road after dark, sitting on his hind legs as a dog would. Indeed, when he eventually noticed my approach, that fox jumped up, left the road and took up the same sitting position on a narrow garden wall.

Simple pleasures - seal

Grey Seal, Mayo

The other day, just after sunset, I had the rare pleasure of observing a badger plodding along a small track for 20 metres in front of me, before skulking into the ditch.

Among the most memorable of simple pleasures are those afforded by peregrine falcons. I’ve had the good fortune to sit and watch these magnificent creatures zoom through the air, like fighter planes, in chase of tasty pigeons and seabirds. Fantastic.

One early morning, while walking the cliff-top trails of North Mayo, I came across the scene depicted in the picture below. I stood still, taking advantage of the fact that I was downwind of the fox. For several minutes I enjoyed the incongruity of the situation, before I was eventually noticed and the protagonists scattered. What a discovery!

Simple pleasures

Sheep and Fox, Mayo

Rediscover simple pleasures

Of course, the message here is clear : you need to get out and about and enjoy the countryside if you want to experience any of these simple pleasures. Go and sit or stroll by the seaside. Find yourself a nearby river or lake and wander along its banks. Discover your local forest and enjoy the birds. Tread slowly and quietly. You never know what you might bump into…

If you would like to receive newsletters, with upcoming events and other news, please “Join our mailing list” (above right).

Learn about Ireland’s birds at Birdwatch Ireland and about our biological diversity in general at Biodiversity Ireland.

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Hedge Life at our Mayo Home

Our hedge gives us great joy, especially during spring and early summer. As much as I’d love to live out in the wilds of Mayo, maybe under a mountain or by a lake, with a wooded area nearby, unfortunately this isn’t the case. At my semi-urban home, the hedge separating our house from the open fields beyond, with her Ash, Whitethorn, Bramble and wildflowers, is my little bit of nature.

Right now, she has produced her first Primroses and the Blackbird, Wren and Blue Tit occupy her branches and undergrowth. This morning, I noticed our first Wild Strawberry flower of the year. When they mature, we will pick and eat the odd tasty little fruit, leaving the majority on the plant.

Hedge Primroses

The first hedge primroses of the year.

We’re currently watching the Whitethorn sprout her new leaves and await the those of the Ash, later. Soon, she will give us our annual Lords & Ladies, Dog Violet, Common Vetch and Germander Speedwell wildflowers. We’ll especially love the large white Field Rose petals that appear during summer. Later on, almost in autumn, it’ll be time to harvest our hedge Blackberries for dessert.

Hedge Whitethorn

New Whitethorn leaf growth.

Fifteen years ago, I named one of our Ash trees after my first-born, as they both appeared in the same year. Needless to say, the tree is now far taller than my child, at some 5 metres, as it struggles for its place in the sun.

Earlier this week, our cat presented us with her maybe once-per-two-years catching of a tiny Shrew. I measured it at 4.5 cm for the body, plus 3.5 cm for the tail, giving a miniscule total length of 8.0 cm. Typical of the cat, she left her kill intact. Speaking of the cat, she has her special place in the hedge too, where she’s hollowed out a patch just the size of her body. She’ll lie there, snug, with the ever lengthening grass keeping her warm.

Shrew

Shrew

Hedge Wildflowers

Don’t forget the wonderful online resource for wildflower identification (whether in your hedge or any other Irish habitat) that is Wildflowers of Ireland.

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Spring Gentian – Wildflower of Limestone Landscapes

As we left the stump of the once impressive round tower behind and began our gentle climb towards Teampall Bheanáin above, we came upon several little groups of the gorgeous Spring Gentian.

A flower of the Burren, its Aran Island outposts and a few sites in north Galway and south Mayo, the Spring Gentian truly is one of the most beautiful of Ireland’s native wildflowers. Its particular hue of blue attracts the eye very quickly, as it lies low in the grass among the pinks, purples, whites and yellows of the Orchids, Daisies, Bird’s Foot Trefoils and Sea Thrift.

What I find particularly attractive about this little flower is the slightly off-oval shape of the stunning petals. They come to a slight point at the end, resulting in a quite unusual form and marking them out from other flowers. The white centre (‘throat’) to the otherwise fabulous blue petals is simply beautiful.

Spring Gentian Inis Mór

Spring Gentian, Inis Mór, Aran Islands

Each flower of the Spring Gentian is on its own bulbous stem, standing quite erect, to a height of just 4 – 6 cm. The flower head has a diameter of only around 2 cm and could well be overlooked if it wasn’t for the stunning blue colour.

Spring Gentian

Spring Gentian

For all you need to know about Ireland’s wildflowers, consult Zoe Devlin’s fantastic Wildflowers of Ireland website, or enjoy her beautiful accompanying book of the same title – a great present for the wildflower enthusiast.

Zoe Devlin describes Spring Gentian

Zoe comments that it “is the wildflower for which the Burren is famed. Although there are many startlingly attractive flowers growing in this wonderful limestone area of western Ireland, the Spring Gentian is the plant which has become best known of all by those seeking to see the Burren’s great variety of flowers. Its pure, bright blue flowers are extremely beautiful. As each of the petal tubes unfurl, they spread to reveal a little white throat”. Gorgeous.

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Wildflowers Delayed due to Cold

Out for a woodland walk at the weekend, I noticed how delayed the arrival of seasonal wildflowers has been. The very cold spring (even last night, temperatures around the country were barely 1 to 4C) has resulted in few wildflowers in bloom to enjoy.

Here are some examples of how I fared on Sunday, over a stretch of mixed woodland that I know well :

Ramsons (Wild Garlic) – Eight in bloom, where there should be literally thousands. Those that were open were positioned out at the edge of the Beech woodland, where they can receive a little more sunlight. Under the trees, there was not one open flower.

Bluebells – Very few in bloom and even then, the heads are not properly open out into their complete ‘bell’ shape.

Orchids – None whatsoever, at a time when I would normally see hundreds. This includes areas under the sun, where the first would normally bloom.

Lords and Ladies – None whatsoever; there should be tens.

Water Avens – Much fewer than normal.

Wildflowers - Water Avens

Water Avens

I also noticed that new leaves on trees, such as the European Larch and Sally Willow, seem less advanced than normal. Nor did I hear a single Cuckoo.

I did, however, enjoy the beautiful bright green spring leaves of the Beech tree.

For a comparison post, read what I wrote about spring’s wildflowers at this time last year.

Luckily, the weather is supposed to finally warm up over the coming days and the May bank holiday weekend is announced nice and dry (-ish).

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