04 August 2013

The road to god knows where ...

A road on Cruit Island
Small winding roads, meandering around headlands, up and down sandy hills and granite outcrops, grass growing up the middle, the edges lined--this summer in particular--with the most astonishing abundance of wildflowers: the frothy cream of meadow sweet, the purples of thistle and knapweed with the yellows of ragwort and the pale ochre of ripe grasses as a counterfoil. And when we finally arrived on Cruit (pronounced 'critch') Island, the even quieter roads were lined with harebells and, in places, orchids.

Harebells, for me, are the quintessential flowers of the sandy fields and ditches of the west coast from Connemara to Donegal. And to see them under a blue sky, as we have so often this summer, well all the better. Always moving, in even the slightest breeze, and though appearing delicate, continuing to hold their own when Atlantic winds grow stronger; they bloom from June to October and truly are a gift to anyone who walks or cycles or just sits and looks, anywhere in the west.

Cruit Island was wonderful (and thanks for the suggestion and directions, AW). Joined to the mainland by a bridge (on which young teenagers crouched, wrapped in beach towels, having jumped off the bridge into the waters below, we assumed!), it nevertheless has that island feel, and looking back to the louring quartzite peaks, or out to Owey island, the otherness that islands always have was palpable. At one end of the island, we found small golden coves, perfect for swimming in, each one hemmed in by rounded and sea-sculpted red granite. The sun shone, there was no-one else about, and I swam and marvelled at the tree-like shapes that the seaweed assumed as the tide went down and the tops of the fronds spread out. Izzy kept a quizzical and beady eye on proceedings: she still hasn't sorted out why one of her humans insists on disappearing into a huge body of shifting salty water with, of all things, breaking waves...

Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) on Cruit Island

Orchid on Cruit Island

Schnauzer on Cruit Island
Quartzite peaks (Errigal on the right) seen from Cruit Island
We'd made a journey of a different kind earlier in the week, when we went to visit Salthill Gardens, near Mountcharles. We'd been there three years ago but it was high time we returned. This time, the garden owner and designer herself was there (Elizabeth Temple) and she very graciously showed us around and chatted to us about her coming to a neglected piece of ground surrounded by protective walls almost thirty years ago, being told to read a copy of Hilliers Manual of Trees and Shrubs, and just starting from there. Today the garden is a place apart, combining artistry, husbandry, creativity and a wonderful knowledge of plants to create a place that beckons you in and then leads you from one delight to another: banks of daylilies, or groves (almost!) of Eupatorium, Echinops and Eryngium. Neat rows of healthy robust vegetables lead to a hidden grotto, lined with pots of succulents and decorated with shells like an 18th-Century folly; carefully chosen trees (Fagus sylvatica 'Cockle Shell' and Golden Fastigiate Yews, amongst others) and well-tended lawns counter the exuberance of the perennials, and the whole thing is put together with grace and more than a little hard work.
Salthill Garden all started with a walled space (seen through the window here) and a copy of Hilliers ...

CSQ loved the hot colours and I promised him a pic

Carpe diem (Day lilies!)
But the sun had to set on our holiday up north, and--earlier than we'd planned, due to family concerns in Dublin--we said our goodbyes and thank yous to our great hosts, watched our last Donegal sunset for this summer and headed home.
Narin evening

Narin sunset (and a spot-the-schnauzer) 
My own garden looked very small after the huge skies and silver and gold stretches of Donegal beaches, not to mention the scale of the garden in Salthill, but the blooming waterlilies were a nice welcome home.

Waterlilies in the pool at home
Have a good week all.
(And a speedy recovery DM, xx).


  1. FB & B, it's cruel to post all these lovely pictures of Cruit when I'm back in Dublin ;-) They're fab and great blog too. Alan xx

    1. Thanks Alan, and particularly for the directions to those golden coves at the end of the island. What a gorgeous place...