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

Moesgard Viking Camp

Over the past year I’ve often thought about posting about viking camp life.
I have posted about Moesgard before, but this selection of photos are from this year. They are mainly of the camp itself and the beach and I hope you enjoy them.
To be honest I don’t think any major description is needed so I will just leave them for you to enjoy!

Anf if you enjoyed these, you may also like my post on Swimming with the Horses!

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………………

Hrafnslith and the ATC

Sunset over the viking longhouse at the ATCWe spent a lovely weekend at the end of September with our viking friends (old and new) at a training weekend at the Ancient Technology Centre (ATC) in Cranbourne, Dorset. The weekend was organised by Hrafnslith; remember them from the event at the beginning of the summer at Corfe Castle?

Sunset over the viking longhouse at the ATCThe ATC is a great spot. It began over 25 years ago as a school project.  Jake Keen, a teacher working at Cranborne Middle School, designed and led the building of an Iron Age roundhouse based on archaeological evidence. Uniquely, Jake’s ethos demanded the construction and material gathering to be undertaken by school children.

There are a variety of buildings there, including the iron age roundhouse, viking longhouses, and roman style buildings.

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From the outside, the roundhouse looks like a hobbit house; a mound of earth with doors that seem to lead into the hill. But when inside, it’s a circular tiered area around a firepit that becomes the social centre for the evenings. Many a tall tale was told saga style in the evening.

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The longhouse provided a sleeping option. There are raised platforms here along the walls, and the fire in the centre of the house ensured that there was some warmth from the cold autumn nights. There are even runic carvings on the sleeping platforms.

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The outside walls of the longhouse have some wonderful mouldings.

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The roman house also has a garden outside.

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And there are even pigs and sheep. The pigs are very friendly ladies, and have their own enclosure. The sheep roam free……. and they go everywhere! I caught one of them trying to get into our van!!

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Hrafnslith provide viking based shows for the ATC during the season, and in return the ATC allow them to host training weekends for their group and other viking groups. It’s a chance to get some sword/spear/axe practice in and also catch up with a few friends! So here are a few photos of the lads and lasses having fun……….

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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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Swimming with the Horses.

Just back from another wonderful week at Moesgard Viking Market near Arhus in Denmark.

The weather was wonderful; glorious sunshine for the week. So the horse girls took the Icelandic Horses for a swim to cool down and relax, and asked me along.
It was great. We walked through the forests to get to a beach that the horses were permitted on, and in they went.

Some of the horses just decided they were seahorses……

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And some were a bit more hesitant….

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Before long they had all dipped their hooves into the water. I can’t explain how much fun this was, so I hope the photos give some idea of the fun we had!

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And after there was the obligatory roll in the sand………

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Arches in the Abbey.

On the way home from our last English trip, we came across signs to Haughmond Abbey when we were near Shrewsbury. We hadn’t been there before and as we had some time to spare, we thought we might just have a look.

Haughmond AbbeyThere isn’t a lot at Haughmond Abbey anymore; just a rather beautiful and extensive set of remains of an Augustinian abbey, including its abbots’ quarters, refectory and cloister. This is an artists impression of what the Abbey looked like. You can see this an more about the history of the Abbey in the little museum on site.

Artists Impression of Haughmond Abbey For a better idea of what was where, here’s a site plan.

Layout of Haughmond Abbey Layout of Haughmond Abbey

The Abbey was probably founded around 1135 in the times when Stephen and Matilda were arguing over who should rule the country. If you’re interested in the history of the abbey you can check it out here.

Haughmond Abbey The abbey  was constructed in a late Romanesque style. This is an architectural style largely characterised by the use of semicircular arches (and there are arches everywhere you look!).

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Possibly the best preserved part of the site is Chapter House, which retains the intricate carvings of Saints set into the arches. From left to right the saints are thought to be St Augustin, St Thomas Beckett, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St John the Evangelist, St. John the Baptist, St. Margaret of Antioch, St Winifred and St Michael.

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The inside of the chapter house has a wonderfully preserved wooden ceiling and an old stone baptismal font.

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There are stone carvings on many of the arches as well.

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This is a wonderful site to wander round, especially if you’re into photography and or architecture. It’s under the care of English Heritage, and they do a wonderful job maintaining it.

Viking Raid in Corfe Castle!

Recently we were able to attend a wonderful viking event in England held in Corfe Castle, Dorset. The show itself was organised by the group Hrafnslith (or ‘Troop of the Raven’) lead by their leader Thurstan the Shoeless, assisted by his sidekick, Alric of Weldham. A full day of events included an opening skirmish between the Vikings and the Saxons, the Kings Court (where justice was dispensed on a number of crimes!), kiddy vike, and Saxon and Viking encampments.

1-DSCF3702The weekend show re-created events surrounding ‘The Alliance’ between the Saxons and the Brythonic Kings as a response to the arrival of the Danish ‘Great Army’. (The Brythonic were the Welsh, Cornish and Breton Celts).
King Alfred has gathered his allies and the army of Wessex at Corfe Burgh ready to march on Exeter, which has been recently captured and sacked by the Vikings. The Vikings take the initiative and head to Corfe in the hope of striking an early blow whilst the alliance is still forming. (For those of you that are true historians, this is fiction; the castle was actually built by William the Conqueror in 1090, and b
efore the castle was built, the area was know as Corfe Gap. However The Vikings Society needed an excuse to have a battle on the May Bank Holiday – so here we are).
I’ve included a few photos below to give an idea of the living history encampment within the walls of the castle ruins.

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The Saxon camp was laid out behind the palisade on the stepped tiers up to the castle.

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One of the highlights of the days events was the Saxon – Viking battle. The warriors mustered in the village square, and then marched into the castle grounds, where the battle re-enactment was staged. In previous posts I’ve mentioned that the weapons used are blunts, but believe me when I say they can still do some serious damage in the wrong hands. Only after hours of training and assessment can the warriors take the field.

The photos below show some of the fun the warriors have…..

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This has to be one of the best viking events we attend.
Hrafnslith are wonderful hosts, the setting is spectacular and the castle is an amazing place to visit even if the vikings aren’t around!!

Swords Castle, Co Dublin.

When we were at the training weekend in Swords, we camped in the grounds of Swords Castle. Those of you that have read my posts before will probably have realised that I like old buildings so I was looking forward to seeing this one.

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The castle is in the centre of Swords town, which is about 15 Km north of Dublin City. It’s right beside the airport. The castle is the former residence of the Archbishop of Dublin and is reputed to be the only fortified residence of the Archbishop to survive today. Swords Castle was built over a period of 400 years starting before 1200 AD.
Brian Boru’s body is believed to have been brought here to be waked after the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.
I found a brief history of the castle here.

The entrance gateway is a beautiful archway and is flanked by two towers. It’s very like the entrance to Corfe Castle in Dorset (and just as narrow!).1-DSCF3327

To the right of the gateway is the restored church, where the stone work and windows  have been repaired as part of a joint project between FAS (the Irish government training organisation) and Swords Council. Hopefully they will continue the restoration project for the rest of the site!

 1-DSCF3328At the north end of the courtyard area is the Constable Tower.

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The ruins of a large hall are still visible along the east wall, though they are quite overgrown now. The fruit trees are here from the time that a previous owner used the grounds as an orchard.

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This was a lovely place to stay for the weekend. Unfortunately the castle courtyard is not currently open to the public due to issues about the safety of the entrance tower. This is such a pity – there are some beautiful buildings here, and I for one would have loved to have seen the dungeons under the church; been allowed to walk the battlements or even just sit in the restored church.
However it is possible to visit the outside areas of the castle – and peep through the gateway.

I’ve added a selection of the photos I took below. It was quite a dull wet day so they aren’t quite as I had hoped, but I hope you enjoy them.

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Valle Crucis; another Welsh gem!

On a recent trip home through Wales we stopped off again in Llangollen. We had a day to spare, so we decided to go and visit Valle Crucis Abbey which is just up the road. The ruined abbey lies on the road to the Horseshoe Pass; another beautiful place to visit. It is also known more formally as The Abbey Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary. You can get more information about the abbey’s history and architectural information Castle Wales website. Further reading and pictures can be found on Wikipaedia.

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The name Valle Crucis means Valley of the Cross; the ruins nestle in the valley under the hills surrounding Llangollen. We visited in October when the heather and the trees on the hills had already taken on that wonderful autumnal gold.

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The site is wonderfully maintained by Cadw. There is an entrance fee, but it is well worth it.
Valle Crucis is a breathtakingly haunting place to visit; the abbey was built by the Cistercian monks in 1207, but now  lies in ruins having been one of the monasteries affected by the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in 1537. Here are a few photos to give you an idea of what Valle Crucis looks and feels like.

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There are some pathways to follow but a lot of the site is not paved so care might be needed on damp days; I went sliding on a grass bank because I wasn’t looking where I was going!

When you reach the rear of the site there is a duck pond – complete with ducks! These little guys were very active;there was a lot of chasing each other around the pond, and it was also very vocal. You could actually hear them way before you could see them.

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The small white house in the last picture has a little visitors centre. When you enter the building you can hear the chants of the monks, and there is even one writing at his desk. Okay, so he’s not real. but he did give me a start when I walked in the door.

08-DSCF2759It’s not too hard to imagine what it would have been like for those monks here in this Welsh valley all those years ago, as they spent their time in prayer and contemplation.

The stonework in the abbey is amazing; I often wonder when walking around sites like this how they ever managed to build them. This is a photo of the vaulted ceiling in one of the buildings.

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Here are a few more photos of the buildings. I don’t normally photo-shop my pictures, but I was trying to capture the stonework in the buildings.

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I love this place; it has that far from the maddening crowd’ feeling about it.
Next time you’re passing in the area, take an hour and go and visit.