The Road Less Travelled in the Hazelwood………

When we take the dogs for walk, we tend to try for places where they won’t annoy other people. That may sound a bit strange, but we like to let them run free where possible, and there are a lot of people who are wary of dogs.

We can’t guarantee that Missie won’t jump on the next child she sees or that Alfie won’t disappear like a rocket up the track to herd up the family ahead of us ( no matter how much training we have done). We’re very aware that every dog owner has a responsibility to be in control of their animals at all times, so in an attempt to preempt any issues, we keep them on leads where there are loads of people round and then let them loose off track through the woods or sand-hills.

One of our current walks is through the Hazelwood Demesne, about 5km outside Sligo. There are a series of walks here starting at Half-moon Bay, and stretching along the shores of Lough Gill.

Hazelwood was the seat of the Wynne family who owned the house and most of the surrounding lands for 300 years.  The Wynnes were a very important Sligo family and included members of parliament and High Sherrifs within their ranks. However in recent years the house has lain empty.
A factory was built on the grounds of Hazelwood House in the early 1970s for the Italian nylon manufacturer Snia. This factory closed down in 1982 and the premises were sold to Korean company Saehan Media which made video tapes at the plant for 15 years until 2006. Recently the entire site has been bought by Dublin entrepreneur David Raethorne and a new future secured as a tourist attraction and whiskey distillery!
Val has written a piece on the house in her blog Magnumlady.

We tend to head through the forest instead of along the waters edge.

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Halfway through the forest we cut through the woods to the edge of the factory grounds. We never go through the grounds as it is clearly sign-posted as private property. There is no path as such, but it is walkable.

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The dogs love it as they just play chase through the trees. No need for fancy obstacles courses here! And we obviously are not the first to come this way as we found the Sligo version of the sword in the stone: the knife in the tree!

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And when finally get through the woods, the view along the Garavogue River towards Dooney Rock and Benbulben are stunning.

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Heading in the direction of Sligo  brings you to a very strange little building. It’s at the back gate to the old factory and I’ve been told that it was a pump house. I presume that the pump house was used to pump pressurised water into the factory as a source of energy. If anyone knows the hos and whys I would love to hear.

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You can continue on, but it leads to the side entrance of the House. There is a barbed wire fence across the end of the lane so we don’t go there. We come back along the shoreline part of the way, before cutting onto the track we started on. It’s a lovely walk at anytime of the day, but on Saturdays you might get to spot the local rowing club at play.
There used to be a collection of wooden art here when I first came to Sligo in 1991. Sadly the toadstools are the only remaining piece that I can find

*Sections of this route cross Coillte property, for up to date information on diversions/closures due to tree felling, please visit www.coillteoutdoors.ie

After the time out…….

I haven’t been here much in the last year…….. actually that’s an understatement; I wrote one piece in 2014 and that was that!

After Snook died, there was a lot of grief and anger inside me. Not at Snook or the world, but at myself. I had missed so many days out with Bob, Snook and Skip because I spent so much time in Facebook on the laptop or phone. There was always a comment to look at or an ‘interesting’ post to read… I missed out on precious moments.
So I made a decision that that would not be the case with the new pups. I decided that I was going to take them for walks on the beach or in the woods, or spend time in the garden and that I would reduce the amount of time spent on the laptop.
I may have overdid it slightly……….

Anyway another year has arrived and so I’m going to try for a bit of balance. Walk the dogs and blog a bit as well.

Any of you that followed me purely for viking related and wool topics may be a bit disappointed as Bob and I don’t seem to be doing as much as we did. Bob is still busy making swords and the like, but I seem to have lost my wool dying mojo. It’s still there but honestly I would much prefer to walk the dogs or work in the garden than dye wool. But we shall see where that goes………..

So I mentioned the new pups. And I guess I better introduce them to you as they will probably feature here from time to time.

I explained about Indie in the previous post. He has turned into a smashing dog. He has a great personality and is very affectionate. He’s grown a lot in the year and we love him to bits.

IndieHe is also completely water mad and loves to swim. Typical Labrador!!

IndieNext to arrive was Missie. She’s a collie/lab X with who knows what else in the mix, and she arrived in February last year. Another rescue dog, she had been found abandoned on a street when she only five or six weeks old. She was so tiny, but she too has grown quite a bit in the year. She’s smaller than Indie, but that doesn’t stop her from ruling the roost at home!

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Last to arrive was Alfie. He ‘appeared’ outside our house during the Fleadh last year. His dew claws had been removed and he was really skinny. He stayed here for a while but had to go when Missie came into heat. So Sligo Animal Rescue put him into kennels and tried to rehome him. But as winter approached he needed somewhere warmer and so we took him back as a foster. But before we knew it, he had wriggled his way into our hearts and we ended up adopting him as well!! But he’s a real sweetie and he’s here to stay. He’s a collie/whippet X with two speeds, fast and flat out so getting photos of him is pretty difficult!!

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So we’ll see where we go from here. You might find that posts are more about where we go with the dogs and what we do in the garden, but I hope you enjoy it, x.

New Forest Wildlife Park.

While we where in the New Forest we decided to go visit the Wildlife Park near Ashurst. If you are looking for a chilled out way to spend an afternoon, then this is a great place to go see. The staff really know about the animals in the Park, and are so willing to share information. And if you really fancy getting up close and personal with the animals there is the ‘Keepers Experience’.

For us, the first stop was in the Butterfly house. The house is kept at quite a high temperature and humidity, and it played havoc with my camera…. the lens kept fogging over. Added to the speed that the butterflies were moving, so the photos are a little blurry.

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The otters were next. These guys are so much fun to watch. There were Giant, Eurasian and Asian otters. The funniest guys were the Asian otters. They live in family groups and chatter constantly to each other – especially at feeding time.

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The Eurasian otter (that’s the European one) apparently is a much more solitary animal. They are mostly active at twilight and in darkness, but you can see them here in the park at feeding time. They survive mainly on fish and small rodents and birds. In the UK numbers declined but are now on the increase due to protection and improvement in water quality.

Eurasian Otter.Also in the park are a pair of Giant otters. Akuri and Simuni (both male) are part of an international breeding programme for this endangered otter whose numbers are still decreasing in the wild. Giant otters are the largest and rarest of all the otters in the world found only in the Amazon, Orinoco and La Plata rivers of South America. These large animals can eat up to 4 kg of fish each per day, they also eat crustacean, snakes and other small river animals.

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We followed the path through the park. It’s well sign posted and on thing I noticed was the number of owls here, of all breeds and sizes. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures of them. Good reason to go back!

The next residents we met up with were the fallow deer in the deer enclosure.

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The little doe, Dottie, was a real little dote. Apparently had been raised and bottle fed as a fawn, so she was particularly attached to humans. She followed us around like a little pet, and got very friendly with Bob; if you visit, be aware she has a tendency to try to suck your clothes though (and shoe laces, camera straps, shirt ends……….)!

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And then the highlight of the day for us – the European Bison. These huge bison, also called the Wisent, are the largest and one of the rarest land mammals in Europe. The bison once roamed in millions, from Spain all the way to the Ural Mountains and the Caucasus, and as far north as Sweden. They had an important role in the formation of the prehistoric European broad-leaved and forested steppe ecosystems. However, by the end of the 19th century, there were only two populations of European bison left in the wild: in Bialowieza Forest (B.b bonasus) and in the West-Caucasus Mountains (B.b.caucasicus). The last European bison in Bialowieza forest died in 1919 and the last bison in the wild in Europe died in the Caucasus in 1927.
They are now being introduced back into the wild through the Rewilding Europe Programme.The wildlife park has three bison bulls that are part of the Rewilding project. Incidentally these guys came from Fota Island Wildlife Park‎ near Cork in Ireland. I have to say we had met one of the keepers during the otter feeding, and after a wonderfully informative conversation with him (Jason), we met again at the bison/red deer pen and he really added to the whole experience. Huge thanks!!!!

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In the same enclosure as the bison are the Red Deer.

European Bison and Red Deer.I have always loved this regal animal. They truly are the Monarch of the Glen…….. or in this case the Monarch of the Park. The Red Deer are the largest land animal in the UK. They are social animals living in male or female groups coming together for breeding during the annual rut. A stag can weigh between 160 – 240kg and the hind weighs around 120 to 170kg.
The male’s magnificent antlers grow in spring each year only to be shed during the following winter. Apparently you can put an age on the stag by counting the points on an antler.

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I have to say the Red Deer and European Bison were the highlight of our visits, but there was much more to see. Among this were wallabies, wild cats, lynx, wild cats and wolves on sight, but the park has many more animals to see – but seeing them depends on the time of the day/year you visit. When you go to a wildlife park like this, you always have to remember that animals don’t appear on demand…….. they are naturally scared of people – even if they are in a wildlife park. A full list of the animals on the site can be found on the Park website.
Here are a few of the photos of the other animals we saw.

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If you happen to find yourself anywhere near the New Forest, The Wildlife Park is well worth a visit. And for the kids it has probably the best adventure playground I have ever seen! The park is not a charity and depends on the entrance fees for day to day running. Money well spent! And if you fancy it, you can adopt an animal and help with the upkeep of your chosen animal for six months or a year!! Now that would be a great present to the other half………………

New Forest and Pony Drifts

During a recent trip to England we stopped off in The New Forest on the south coast of England. It was originally developed as a hunting forest by William I in about 1079, and remains as one of the largest remaining tracts of unenclosed pasture land, heathland and forest in the south east of England.

New Forest Heath.I love autumn; and autumn in the New Forest is a wonderful sight. The gorse, trees, bushes and bracken are changing colours.

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As you drive around the forest, there are animals everywhere. During the autumn the pigs are allowed  to forage. The green immature acorns are not suitable for the ponies and cattle to eat, but the pigs love them. This tradition of grazing pigs in the forest is known as ‘pannage’.

Domestic pigs grazing in the New Forest.There are also cattle, donkeys and wild deer to be seen. Some of the animals wear reflective collars to make them more visible to road traffic in poor visibility. You can see them on the donkeys below.

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Perhaps the most well known inhabitants of the forest are the New Forest Ponies, one of the native British breeds. These ponies can grow up to 14.2hh (148cms) and there is no lower height limit. New Forest ponies can be any colour except piebald, skewbald, spotted or blue-eyed cream. The most common colours are bay and chestnut. A combination of colour and ‘markings’, such as the owner’s brand, make each pony easily recognisable, particularly to the practised eye. For the everyday visitor you can rest assured  that the ponies you see on the forest are pure New Forest breeds.

Ponies on the New Forest Heath. Ponies on the New Forest Heath.The animals have right of way on the roads; you often find them in the road and you just have to wait for them to move out of the way.

Traffic jam in the New Forest. Traffic jam in the New Forest.To keep the forest-bred stock healthy, stallions are moved every three to four years. The stallions are let out onto the forest between April and July to breed with the mares. The Verderers decide which registered stallions are allowed on to the forest to breed. In-foal mares and mares with foals at foot are a common sight throughout the year.

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Round ups of the ponies take place throughout the year and are known as ‘drifts’. These round ups are used as a form of stock management; to check the health of the ponies,to allow owners to remove young colts (breed management) and identify any stock that needs to be sold on. Sales for the Forest are held at the Beaulieu Road Sales Yard.

Beaulieu Road Sale Yard.Details of forthcoming sales are also posted here. We managed to arrive between the September and October sales.

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The sale yard is an open air complex of pens that connect to the main sales ring. It must be quite an impressive sight when the pens are full and the auctioneer is in full flow!

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Buddleia and Butterflies.

When I was growing up, there was a bush that grew below my bedroom window. I had no idea about proper botanical names; in our garden many of the plants where called by the town they came from, the person that gave it to us or what it was used for.
Anyway, this bush was known in our house (and in many others) as the butterfly bush. I since discovered that it’s called Buddleia Davidii.

Buddleia - Menai Straits in the backgroundIn some areas Buddleia is considered an invasive plant. It often self-sows on waste ground or old masonry, where it grows into a dense thicket. It is frequently seen beside railway lines, on derelict sites and, in the aftermath of World War II, on urban bomb sites. This earned it the popular nickname of ‘the bombsite plant’ among the war-time generation.

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When we were coming back through Wales we stopped in Caernarvon for a couple of nights. To get to the town itself, we walked along the Lon Eifion pathway which runs alongside the Menai Straits. There were loads of Buddleia along the path, and true to the bush’s name, there were loads of butterflies.

It took me a few goes to photo some of these guys, but I spotted at least four different types. I have to admit that we had to go and buy a Butterfly book so we could check the names of these, so if we have called then incorrectly please let me know. We did have a rather pleasant afternoon in a pub in Caernarvon reading the book though………

There was a Large Tortoiseshell butterfly that stopped to feed.

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Another that I spotted was a Red Admiral.

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There was a Large White Butterfly as well.

Large White on Buddleia flowersAnd the one that really caught my eye was the Peacock Butterfly. He was pretty hard to photo as he kept flying off as I pressed the button! I loved the eyes on the wings.

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I have to say it was so peaceful there watching them feed; another escape from the maddening crowd.

When I got home I discovered that my own Buddleias had flowered as well. However I was in for a surprise though. One of them flowered yellow! After a bit of investigating I discovered that it is  hybrid variety called Buddleia x Weyeriana or Golden Glow. The bees  in our garden seem to really like it.

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Glynllifon Estate; a hidden gem in North Wales.

On one of our visits to Wales, we stayed near Caernarvon, and having a bit of time to spare, we decided we would visit Glynllifon.

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Glynllifon is an old estate that once belonged to Lord Newborough and can be found near the village of Llandwrog. As you drive from Caernarvon to Pwhelli on the A499, it lies on your left; you can’t miss the gateway….
The original Regency style mansion is now privately owned and run as a Country House Hotel and wedding venue. According to legend there have been settlements here for over 1000 years.

There are walks through the gardens, and there are wonderful buildings, ponds and even Redwood and Giant Red Cedar trees. It’s a photographer’s paradise. Every twist and turn in the path throws something new at you, it’s no wonder we took so long to get around it.

The first thing we came across was a lovely little waterfall and iron bridge.

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Just beyond it was an old boathouse and pond. It was so quiet and peaceful there.

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The water had wonderful reflections of the trees, bushes and buildings……..

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Thee pathway led through the woods and as we turned the corner we spotted the mansion itself, and the series of bridges in the lawns in front of it.

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Then it was back to the woodland walk; there are loads of interconnected pathways that weave their way through the woodlands. There are derelict buildings, covered in moss, and surrounded by ferns. I love the way the sunlight filtered through the overhead canopy…..

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The paths twist and turn; there are hidden caves and wonderful little streams that you cross back and forth over.

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Towards the end of the path is an amphitheater set into the hillside. I wonder what was staged there and who sat in the stone seats clapping?

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So we turned and headed back and passed this beautiful fountain; hard to spot where the water ended and the lawns began.

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And then we found the best wood carvings; it was a mother otter and her cub carved from a fallen tree. It was simply beautiful work!

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On the way out we stopped at the craft shop for a quick cuppa and a browse around; there’s lot’s of pieces made by local craft workers.

Another great place to visit.

Dooney Rock, Sligo – another hidden gem!

Another of the hidden gems I’ve found in Ireland is Dooney Rock, located on the R287 from Sligo to Dromahaire.
Dooney Rock was  made famous by W.B. Yeats in his poem ‘The Fiddler of Dooney’. In the poem Yeats tells the story of an Irish fiddler who expresses himself though his music. The townland of ‘Kilvarnet’ which is referred to in the poem is a small parish near Collooney.

When you find it, there is a car park with a picnic area, and leading from there is a nature trail that loops around this wooded wonderland. The path initially leads to the edge of Lough Gill, before heading towards the top of Dooney Rock.

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The trail leads through the woods and along the water edge; no matter which way you go there is always a beauty to be seen. As you walk along the shoreline there are views across Lough Gill. These photos were taken in February, and I love the starkness of the winter trees against the water and the distant mountains. It was also a wonderfully calm day, so the reflections in the water were great to capture.

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At regular intervals along the path, there benches that give the chance to sit and relax and there are also information posts giving details on the various trees and plants located in the area.

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The path actually follows a figure eight loop; I returned to the edge of Lough Gill by the path through the forest. There were loads of old tree  stumps which to me resembled strange creatures frozen in wood.

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There are little gems around each corner; I loved the little stream that trickles into the lough, and the moss covered boulders along the edge of Lough Gill.

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When you reach the top of Dooney Rock itself there are views of the two mountains which dominate the Sligo landscape;  Benbulben and Knocknarea.

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Benbulben is probably the mountain most associated with Sligo, and is part of the Dartry range of mountains.
The name is an Anglicization  of the Irish name “Binn Ghulbain”. “Binn” means peak or mountain, while “Ghulbain” refers to Conall Gulban, a son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. Another translation is jaw-shaped peak.

Knocknarea is reputed to be the burial site of Queen Maeve of Connaught. You might just be able to make out the cairn on the top of the mountain.
The name is also anglicized from “Cnoc na Riabh” (meaning “hill of the stripes”). However, another interpretation is “Cnoc na Riaghadh” (“hill of the executions”).

This was another great chill out place to visit; it’s quite close to Sligo town, but to me it gives that feeling of quiet stillness. If you’re in the area have a look!

Information for Knocknarea and Benbulben  taken from Wikipedia.