The Bog is Calling

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The weeks are flying by and we are getting ready to commence turf cutting operations for season 2021.

Hopefully we are in for as good a Spring season as 2020. Then the fine weather made the whole process very easy, with all the turf home by the end of May.

Ahead of getting out on the turf bog, we have made the decision not to operate any Turf Bog Tours this year. This decision was taken in light of the Covid 19 situation and restrictions. Things do seem to be improving with a gradual re-opening and easing of travel restrictions. However we are realistic and recognise that it will be 2022 before travel and tourism, particularly overseas visitors, return to anything near what we called “normal” back in 2019. Incredibly it was October 2019 when we last operated a Turf Bog Tour. We definitely miss the interaction with visitors and showing off the craft of turf cutting.

In the meantime we will keep the tradition of turf cutting going and post regular updates from the bog on our social media channels. Rest assured that the turf bog will be waiting for you.

We also have the small matter of training in our newest bog hound. Charlie, a labrador/collie cross aka Borador, joined the crew at Christmas and is doing well under the tutelage of senior bog hound, Bailey Dog. The vision is that Charlie will also be able to join us on Turf Bog Tours (subject to client approval) and provide some additional canine charm.

No Standing Still

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We have started the new year being kept busy on a range of fronts. It is good to have the distraction of the Store and the great outdoors on our doorstep during another Lockdown.

Despite it being midwinter, we have been out to the turf bog to check on it. The visits to the turf bog have also been used to introduce our new team member, Charlie Dog, to the environment. Charlie was a Christmas gift from Santa to my youngest daughter. A labrador collie cross (borador) he will be trained by ourselves and mentored by Bailey Dog in the ways of the turf bog. In time and when they resume, Charlie Dog will hopefully have enough manners to accompany us on Turf Bog Tours. Absolutely no pressure on his trainers and mentor on that front then!

Currently we are planning and looking ahead to the start of the new turf cutting season which could be, weather permitting, around eight weeks away. With this in mind, we have had the turf barrow “serviced” and it now just needs a lick of (black) paint before being deployed on the turf bog once more.

We are also scaling up production and promotion of our Irish Log Torches and these will be back on sale very soon. Not only are they good for outdoor gatherings in these times of social isolation they are also handy for spring/summer evenings on the patio, camping and arguably most importantly, boiling a kettle!

We are also continuing to sell our turf online. Post Brexit, we are glad to report that there have been no issues getting our turf across the Irish Sea to our customers in Scotland, England and Wales.

This far 2021 has been a case of onwards and upwards – long may that continue.

Highlights of a Strange Year

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As 2020 draws to a close we have taken the opportunity to look back upon what can only be described as a strange year. We wont dwell on the negatives but rather look at all that was achieved in the past 12 months.

Back in Febuary 2020 Turf Bog Tours received great coverage in The Fermanagh Herald. Little did we know at that point that Covid19 would soon come along and wreck our plans to operate tours in 2020.
One consequence of the Global Pandemic was homeschooling. Coupled with great Spring weather the offspring were tutored in the art of turf cutting. There was of course, always ample time for a brew and a book! The turf was home in record time too, with the turf shed filled by the end of May.
During Lockdown and the fine weather in Spring and Summer we spent a lot of time outdoors. Having a fire outdoors on the patio or camping is an essential part of the outdoor experience. No surprise then that we developed our Irish Log Torches. Expect to hear and see more on this front in 2021!
Continuing with the outdoor theme, once travel restrictions were lifted in early summer we made a bee-line for Gortahork in Northwest Donegal for some wildcamping, campfires and craic.
Another project was the creation of The Bog Team. It is a collection of leisurewear that is perfect for casual/outdoor purposes Choose from hoodys, T-shirts, sweat shirts and caps. More details here
Then to round the year off, Santa brought youngest daughter a pup for Christmas. Happy to report that Charlie is settling in well to life as a bog dog and is being well schooled by Bailey Dog.

Crystal Bog Gazing

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What will 2021 herald for Turf Bog Tours?  With no tours operated during 2020 we are now watching with interest how the Covid19 vaccine will be rolled out and how we can all possibly transition back to something near normal life. Due to the Pandemic, our tour business has generated zero income in 2020. Fortunately we were able to fall back on our online sales of turf to generate income.  Luckily we had that previous experience and the ability to kickstart that side of the business.

Transition is the key word though.  For tourism operations such as Turf Bog Tours we are very reliant on overseas visitors.  Not surprisingly 75% of tourism in Ireland is down to overseas visitors.  In the case of Turf Bog Tours our key markets are visitors from the USA and mainland Europe.  So whilst hopefully the global pandemic and its impacts are greatly reduced in 2021 I believe that the number of international visitors to Ireland will not return to 2019 levels until the middle of this decade at the earliest. 

Then on a human wellbeing level, will people opt to stay more local for their holidays and short breaks – is the staycation the new norm? Will the French keep it local and forsake Ireland for the Alps or the Pyrenees? Will people think twice about hopping on a plane?  What are the impacts on both short haul and long haul flights?  There are so many unknowns.

We are keeping in contact with tour operators such as our good friend Pascal at Une Bouffee D’Eire to see how business levels return for him.  That will give us a good indicator to see how European markets start the recovery process. 

Then there are are other economic factors to consider in this recovery.  How quickly will international economies recover?  At this stage no one really knows the long term impact of the Pandemic on unemployment numbers.  The installation of a new President of the United States, step forward Joe Biden who is proud of his Irish ancestry,  and its impacts will be of interest this side of the Atlantic Ocean.  Likewise how the fiasco that is Brexit ends up could have impacts on N. Ireland and adjoining counties in the Republic. 

For now, it is all a waiting game. The fingers (and toes) are crossed for the resumption of Turf Bog Tours. 

November – A Survival Guide

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November in a “normal” year is a challenging month. Nights drawing in, plenty of rain and the old mojo is flatlining. However 2020 has been the ultimate curve ball and with Lockdown 2.0 confining our activities and movements it is a testing time like no other November.

Here at McAndrew HQ we have a few coping mechanisms, not all strictly healthy but if it gets you through……

Drink plenty of tea. Mrs Doyle wasn’t wrong, everything does seem better after a lovely cup of tea. Ah go on, go on, go on, go on………

Tunnocks Caramel Wafers
Linked to the tea theme is our favourite accompaniment to a brew which is a Tunnocks Caramel Wafer. A Scottish delicacy with a big following here in the Emerald Isle. So glad that we can get them here in Belleek!

Get Outdoors
Daylight might be limited and not every day suits, but we do try and get out for a cycle or even a run when there is a window of opportunity. No matter what though, Bailey Dog needs a walk every morning and evening.

Take time to chill out, read a good book or watch a movie/boxset on Netflix (btw…Leave no Trace is a great movie). Just remember not to become a complete couch potato!

Hearth Therapy
There is no doubt that a living flame on an open fire or in a stove is therapeutic, providing warmth and light in equal measure. Throw a bit of turf on for the real deal!

Turf Bog Resilience

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This year we have been unable to operate any of our Turf Bog Tours. However we are confident that once we are through the Covid19 Pandemic that better times lie ahead for Turf Bog Tours. In the here and now though, the current reality has seen us adapt our business model.

In summer 2019 we had taken the decision to discontinue selling turf online and to concentrate solely on developing Turf Bog Tours. At that point we had no idea what 2020 would bring. The outcome has been that by summer 2020 we were back selling turf online.

We then also looked at other complementary products that we could create and sell. We did not stray too far from the fire theme with the development of our Irish Log Torches. They are already proving popular on patios and on camping expeditions. They may even be the answer in these times of social distancing and when we can only meet friends and family outdoors. The Irish Log Torch could provide heat and light for any winter gatherings!

Then our latest development is our foray into the world of leisure wear suitable for anywhere including the turf bog. The Bog Team will provide a retro feel to practical comfortable clothing and even mugs.

While that vision of a sole focus on Turf Bog Tours has been dashed we have adapted and other strands to the McAndrew’s Store portfolio. You have to be made of strong stuff to run a micro enterprise in the North West of Ireland and none more so than now. I have no doubt that our endeavours in the turf bog have given us the capacity to be resilient, adaptable and flexible

Turf Bog Therapy

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Our last blog post highlighted just how dependent Turf Bog Tours are on overseas visitors.  Following its publication I was chatting to a friend who concurred with my observation that many Irish folk are still traumatised by their childhood experiences in the turfbog.  Now faced with a huge drop in international visitors just how can Turf Bog Tours be attractive to the people of Ireland, many of whom are suffering from PTSD (Post Turfbog Stress Disorder)? 

Well, here is our charter and guarantee to the people of Ireland to reassure them that a Turf Bog Tour is nothing to be scared of…

  1. A Turf Bog Tour lasts only 3 hours.  It isn’t a sentence or a punishment, honestly.
  2. It is a tour, a visitor experience, it is not forced labour.  We wont make you use the turf spade, spread the sods, foot, clamp or bag the turf – however if you do want to do some grafting we wont stop you either!
  3. We do provide tea/coffee as part of the tour experience but rest assured it is dispensed from a flask not milky lukewarm tea produced from a glass bottle wrapped in a sock.
  4. As a precaution we bring midgie repellent with us and it does work….
  5. By going on a Turf Bog Tour you are confronting your past head on and we are hopeful that by the end of your tour you will view the turf bog in a more positive way

So when we are back up and running and you are on a staycation be sure to book your Turf Bog Therapy…I mean Turf Bog Tour!

Looking Ahead

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Covid 19 was like a wrecking ball to our plans for operating Turf Bog Tours during season 2020.  As a result of this global pandemic we suspended all Turf Bog Tours for this year.

Assuming that things settle down not just here in Ireland but around the world we hope to be back operating tours in Spring 2021.  Since we started operating Turf Bog Tours in 2016, the vast majority of people taking a tour have been from overseas, perhaps Irish people are still too traumatised by their childhood bog experiences to take a tour!  Our international visitors have come from USA, Canada, Argentina, Spain, France and UK.  Being so reliant on these overseas visitors means that we are hoping that current internatonal travel restrictions will have eased by Spring 2021.

As we work towards Spring 2021 we are actively looking at how we can further enhance the Turf Bog Tour experience for visitors, we have some ideas.  Likewise we will continue to use social media to promote Turf Bog Tours and provide that all important connection to Ireland. 

Talking of connection to Ireland, at present we have a limited stock of our 2020 vintage turf for sale.  If you are yearning for a bit of Irish nostalgia that warms both your heart and hearth this Autumn then place your order here.

This Outdoor Life

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With Summer almost over, we are prepared for the change to the seasons. Plus as we transition into Autumn, there will be some sort of new normal to come once the kids head back to school in early September.

Looking back over the summer months, we have made the most of opportunities to get camping. As mentioned in previous blogs we head to Gortahork in the north west of Donegal.

The wild camping experience has been brilliant. It is a chance to get off grid and even if for just one night, it is good for the soul. Everything is more real and vivid when camping. Food prepared on a gas stove or barbecue tastes better, beer is fresher and a cup of tea is best of all! Why does tea taste so good in the wild? Perhaps its the effort that goes in to it, collecting the fresh spring water for the kettle and then waiting for the whistle of the kettle as it boils on the stove. Adding in the Lyons teabags (only Lyons will do!) to the teapot for the brewing process, the sense of anticipation grows. It is a sensory experience and a chance to appreciate what goes in to a cuppa before drinking it in the most scenic of backdrops.

Then there is a the campfire. Turf and timber combine to provide heat and light. A drum from a washing machine makes for an effective firepit. As the darkness of night advances, the fire becomes a true focal point. Gathered around it, stories are told, jokes are delivered and even singing has been known to fill the night air. A rewind to simpler times, it is a true break from the modern electronic world.

There are of course drawbacks. Rain can make everything more challenging particularly when it comes to packing up camp. However overall the positives far outweigh the negatives, if they didn’t we wouldn’t keep going!

As we head in to Autumn we are thankful for these experiences and hopeful of at least one wild camping expedition before Winter comes.

Into The Wild

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With the easing of Lockdown restrictions we can now travel anywhere in Ireland once more. No foreign holidays this summer, it is the year of the staycation. Thankfully Ireland has many solutions in this regard.

A wild camping experience is on the cards for myself. I will head to Gortahork in North West Donegal. In my opinion this little corner of Ireland has it all. Amazing scenery comprising stunning beaches, offshore islands, a mountainous backdrop with a sprinkling of turf bogs and all set amidst the rich culture of the Gaeltacht. It is my happy place!

Covid19 has stripped things back and has reminded us of what matters. Experiences over possessions . Local over multinationals. Genuine over fabricated. Therefore in the new world order, going wild camping seems more appropriate than ever.

I am looking forward to sitting by a camp fire (burning turf of course!) with a brew in hand. All I need is the weather – fingers crossed!

Keeping Busy

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Since our last blog post in May we have had a heatwave which enabled us to get the turf dried and home before the end of May. Unfortunately in early June the weather broke and it has returned to something like normal with an Atlantic influence bringing us wind and rain.

That said the spell of good weather which began in early April was very welcome during Lockdown. It enabled those of us who love the outdoor life to escape into nature or in my case the turf bog.

Incredibly the turf was cut, spread, footed, bagged and brought home by the end of May. That is a record for the McAndrew clan. Some locals suggested that we cut another batch of turf but my instinct correctly said no. Not only has there been a lot of rain since then but I don’t think my “workforce” would have appreciated more work in the bog.

The weather was also conducive to cycling. In May I clocked up 300miles/480km and I went a bit further in June racking up 500miles/800km. This was only possible because we had got the turf home in record time!

However we did have a tough decision to take and that was to suspend Turf Bog Tours for season 2020. It is the right decision we believe in these strange times. We hope to be back in time for season 2021. Fear not though as we will continue to provide regular updates on bog life via our social media channels over the coming months.

In the meantime we we have looked at other revenue streams. We will be making our 2020 vintage turf available for sale. This will be sold in batches over the coming months and to be notified of when these will go on sale, please subscribe to our mailing list on our website

We have also developed our Irish Log Torches which we are now selling. These are perfect for providing heat and light whilst camping or for evenings on the patio. You can even boil a kettle on them! If you are interested drop us an e-mail for a quote.

All in all its been a busy start to summer, long may that continue!

Adapting & Turf Cutting

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It has been a while since our last blog post back in February and it feels like everything has changed since then.

The Coronavirus situation and resulting lockdown has curtailed our plans for Turf Bog Tours for the foreseeable future. It has come as a blow to our plans to grow the business but it is much more important that everyone gets safely through these difficult times.

Homeschooling, homeworking, online meetings and social distancing are the new norms. Whilst adapting to this new world order we have still been able to work out on the bog, in line with Irish government direction I may add! The great weather in April enabled us to get this years turf cut in record time, we started on a Thursday and had all cut and spread by the Sunday. Within a week we even had it turned thanks to sunshine and an Easterly breeze.

As to when we will be operating Turf Bog Tours again all depends on the lifting of restrictions on people’s movements and activities. To be honest, I am expecting that it will be 2021 before we can operate tours again.

In the meantime we will feature our turf bog endeavours on our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter & Instagram) and in this blog – ensuring that we can provide a virtual Turf Bog Tour of sorts!

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