23 April 2014

Happy Donegal

Six or so on a quiet morning in Donegal, the sun rising, a happy schnauzer and I are about to head up the hill behind the house onto the heath, and I stop for a moment just to listen to birdsong in the surrounding hedgerows. Here's one minute's worth. You'll hear a pheasant and a nearby cock crowing too.

Here's what the morning looked like:

The sun rises in Donegal
So Yes! we went to Donegal, far from hospitals and work and the city. We basked in warm sunshine (and being Spring, there wasn't a midge to be seen, or felt), walked the beaches, drank white wine and played scrabble outside in that amazing sunshine, ate well, visited the neighbours, and all in all, had a restorative and happy time of it. Many many thanks to our hosts who spoiled us so nicely.

Every morning, Iz and I walked up onto the heath behind the house, to tramp through the heather, and watch the sun rise from the sitting stone up on the hill (me) and investigate all that the heath had to offer (Iz), including rather of lot of this:

Donegal granite, sheep poo and a lucky grass seedling with its own stash of manure...
what caught my eye was the contrast in textures and the flash of green
Up there on the hill, the distant roar of the waves on Dooey strand forms the backdrop to an otherwise quiet morning, a constant that's replaced as we walk towards the lake by the gentle whomp whomp of the nearby windmills. On the first morning though, it was so still as the sun rose that the windmills weren't moving at all - a rare occurrence on the Atlantic coastline! After only a few minutes, first one and then another started to turn slowly slowly...

A still morning at the lake

Slowly the windmills start to turn (can you spot the moon and a passing seagull?)
The heath looks bare in this photo, and it is, although full of hidden treasures in the shape of mosses (Sphagnum mostly) and some tough little shrubs and perennials. The sheltered hill on the way up though is covered in hazel scrub, with birches and hawthorns making a stand (literally) here and there. At this time of year, the roots of trees are brightened with primroses and violets, standing out against the faded ochres and golds of last year's bracken. While the blackthorns are festooned with white blossom now, on bare dark traceries of branch, the hawthorn (or whitethorn) comes into leaf first, saving its blossom for May. Can't wait!

Spring and schnauzer (in Wicklow, not Donegal)

But the heath and granite and other rocks aren't the only offering from Donegal, the Atlantic shoreline is its secret weapon, the pull of its tide pulling at our memory and always bringing us back.

Bringing us back this year to changed shorelines: after the ferocious storms of January and February scoured the beaches and ravaged the dunes, the beaches are pristine when you look in one direction:

Dooey, scoured clean
and, so sadly, anything but when you look in the other; here are the two most 'picturesque' bits of debris, but there was an awful lot more of less-than-beautiful plastic and other rubbish at the base of the newly scoured dunes, left there by tides and waves that must have been higher and stronger than any that Dooey has seen for some time.
An old lobster pot dragged up onto the beach by winter storms; 

and some coax. cable, just what every beach needs ...

But with the blue skies, who could stay glum for long, and light like that has to caught by catchlight himself:

One man and his dog (and his Hasselblad), on the pier at Portnoo

The countryside on the way to and from Donegal was looking beautiful in the spring sunshine, and the blackthorns are frothier and whiter and more blossomy than I've ever seen them. They missed out last year as the really good blossoming happened a bit later (the hawthorn and elders), but they've more than made up for it this year. If the season continues well, there'll be a lot of sloe gin on the go this winter.

At home, the days have been filled with quiet pursuits. In the quest to learn something about coloured pencils, I've bought a copy of Ann Swan's book, and tried one of the demonstrations/exercises in it. Here's an iris of hers, re-drawn by me, step by step as she recommends. Layering is the thing with coloured pencils, and you generally start with the darker areas and work up to the light... (forgive the dodgy phone pics here):

Trying to build up an iris, starting with the darker areas ...

gradually layering up the colours

to produce the final flower
It was a great exercise and taught me a lot, including how much I have to learn about colour... very interesting!

As well as trying to draw flowers, a friend's significant birthday gave me the chance to create lovely combinations of colour and shape for her wonderful party:

Jugs of flowers ready to add to the party. Happy Birthday again lb! 
And it's that time of the year, so the gardener in me is thinking alpine thoughts:

Draba  'Buttermilk', flowering too early for the upcoming Alpine show, but I've enjoyed it in the greenhouse
Other gardeny work has included first attempts at sowing alpine seeds and some other bits and bobs:
Bulblets of lilies, some small plants for the sale at the alpine show, and some seeds sown a couple of weeks ago

A pleasing combination in the garden, wallflowers from a very generous alpine gardener, some Ophiopogon, and Molinia caerula
And in a garden on an altogether different scale, Farmleigh, we celebrated Japanese culture and enjoyed the spring flowers in abundance:
Anemones and friends at Farmleigh

Hanami and haiku under Prunus 'Mt Fuji'

Twenty one

Twenty-four hours later than usual and in a bit of rush, I took the twenty-one pics early on a misty, grey Tuesday morning:

At last , the trees at the edge of the field are greening up nicely

into the park...

The oak trees are coming into leaf

The horse chestnut has been first out of the blocks as always, but the sycamores are catching up
 (though the dead one on the left will stay bare)

At home in the garden, things are on the move too (compare this to last month's pic!)

You can just see the False Spikenard to the left - beautiful scent from this soon
And to end, let's go back to Happy Donegal... much more happiness than rhythm in this, but it's great fun:

Go well all.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely post. Donegal is so, so beautiful, and it probably did you both the world of good to get away. Well done on the coloured pencils too!