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

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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.