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Summer Swansong

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Now past the half way point in August we are heading fast for September and the beginning of Autumn. Whilst July was largely dry with a few days of sunshine and blue sky, August has been a bit more changeable.  Rain showers and sunny spells have been the order of the day.

All things considered summer 2017 has been a better one than 2016 and 2015.  The best weather does seem to happen from May onwards and it would appear that once the school holidays begin then the weather becomes typically Irish!
In terms of Turf Bog operations, we had the vast majority of our turf home by mid July.  I reckon we have up to 20 sacks worth of turf still out on the bog awaiting collection.  A couple of good days dry weather and we will be out to collect and bring it home.  This year has definitely been the best year we have experienced since starting to cut the traditional way with a spade back in 2015.

Turf sacks

We have operated a few of our Turf Bog Tours during the summer months and so far we have escaped major soakings from the rain and encounters with midgies have also been avoided.  Hopefully this trend will continue.

Turf Bog Tourists

From a leisure pursuits point of view we have had mixed results.  We have not managed to get camping. We did head to Dungloe in late July with the intention of camping up there or in Fintown (well worth a visit with it’s quaint Railway) but the rain and wind descended so we opted not to pitch up.

Fintown Railway

Likewise we have not been kayaking, this will have to be addressed as I have signed up to do FEAR, an endurance race here in Fermanagh in October.  The race involves running, cycling and kayaking. Therefore I am hoping for an Indian Summer starting in September to give me ideal conditions for training. After being fitter during turf cutting operations it has been hard to maintain a fitness routine during the summer.

We have however been able to take in some amazing sunsets, there was one week in July where we ventured out every evening capturing stunning sunsets and views.  The colours and scenery combined to make for an amazing show, reminding you of the amazing place we live in with an array of landscapes, coast, loughs and forests.

Little Dog Forest

We have also taken some time out to go exploring and discover some of the wonders of this part of Ireland.  From the old regular haunts of Breesy Mountain, Loughnavar viewpoint, Little Dog forest to the further afield locations of An Grianan Aileagh, Maghera Beach Caves, Assaranca Waterfall and even Tipperary to visit the Clan down there (it really is a long way) we have been able to enjoy all these locations.

An Grianan Aileach

As stated previously, Autumn is fast approaching and I can even see some of the Chestnut trees leaves starting to turn from green to yellow.  Our apple trees are hanging with ripe fruit and hedgerows are full of juicy brambles. There is also a different air and smell, it’s hard to explain, but it is definitely different to early summer.  Plus when the clouds roll  back at night leaving a clear sky, there is definitely a chill in the air.  Just last night I lit our stove.  It was a dark wet evening and the glow from the stove (last fired in April) was much appreciated.  I can confirm that our 2017 vintage turf burnt very well indeed.

With turf orders starting to pick up we are gearing up once more for our busiest few months of the year. Callum is spending the last couple of weeks of his summer holidays packing turf so our stockpile is ready to meet the surge of demand.  Already a number of our regular customers have been placing their orders and getting stocked up for the start of Autumn. It is always good to see that repeat business and hearing from our regular customers.   Just in time for the Autumn rush we have introduced a great deal on 6 Boxes of Turf for the price of 5 Boxes.  This deal is already proving popular.
So enjoy the last couple of weeks of Summer and here’s to a great Autumn.

On yer bike to the Turf Bog

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I started writing this blog post in early July whilst in sunny Spain.  The Costa Brava to be exact.  On holiday from all things turf bog, well almost!
I can confirm that there were definitely no turf bogs in Spain.  It was wall to wall sunshine, t-shirt and shorts with no fleece required.  Countless swims in the pool and in the Med with no need for a wetsuit.
I hired a bike and took a spin along the coastline.  Cycling is the best way to discover an area.  If you travel by car you go too fast to see whats growing in the fields and you cannot take in the local countryside in the same way.  On this cycle in Spain we passed rice fields, orchards full of apples, lemon groves and fields full of sunflowers. The beauty of this short spin was that the bulk of it was along quiet country lanes and tracks, far from the busy main roads.

This got me thinking once more about Turf Bog Tours.  Admittedly here in NW Ireland our climate is a lot less predictable than Spain’s but there is a great network of back roads and bog roads that are worth exploring.

So long as you come prepared, have a waterproof jacket at the ready you can enjoy a cycle here in these parts. With this in mind we have teamed up with the Bike Shop here in Belleek to now offer the option of a Turf Bog Tour by bicycle.  From the saddle of your bike you can peer over hedges at cows and even donkeys. Plus on a bike you can stop where you like to take photos unlike when you travel by car and have to find a safe place to stop.

Back in the day, many folk would have cycled to their turf bog to do a day’s work.  Rest assured that our offering is much more leisurely.
So if you are feeling inquisitive about turf bogs and have an adventurous spirit, do get in touch to arrange a Turf Bog Tour by bike.

The Turf Bog Survivors Guide

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Thinking of going to a turf bog or even taking one of our Turf Bog Tours? Then this blog is very relevant for you.  Going to the turf bog is not something to take lightly.  You have to get the clothing, footwear and even headgear just right.  I am not talking about fashion, in the turf bog its practical clobber all the way.  Turf Bog etiquette is crucial.

The bog has hidden hazards from airborne enemies such as midgies and clegs (large flies) to underfoot conditions that could see you end up sinking into big holes full of cold black water.

So based on our experiences of turf cutting for McAndrew’s Store here are our top tips for an enjoyable turf bog experience….

1. Wear long trousers and long sleeved tops.  This will stop ticks latching on to you.  Ticks can spread limes disease and you really don’t want to go there.

2. A hat is handy, it can protect you from cool winds or wind burn when the sunshine breaks through.

3. You don’t want to end up with Bog Foot Syndrome so wear good walking boots or wellies to ensure that your feet stay dry and warm. Thick socks are a good move too.

Irish turf bog
4. A waterproof/windproof jacket over a fleece ensures that you are layered up.  Most turf bogs are in elevated locations and there’s no shelter from wind and rain.

 

5. Never underestimate a turf bog.  Distances can appear deceptive but once you try trekking across heather and grass you will soon discover that progress is slow and energy sapping.  Taking a vehicle out in to the bog? Be wary of hidden drops, drains and ground conditions next to bog tracks/lanes.  From personal experience I have been involved in “bogging” jeeps on a couple of occasions – oh the shame!  I have also helped some folk retrieve their car from the bog.  Don’t judge!

6. Respect Mother Nature at all times.  The turf bog is a unique wilderness so make sure you leave no trace.

 

7. Keep an eye on the weather.  Go off the beaten path on a bog and if the weather closes in or daylight fades you could quickly get in to bother.  I highly recommend the Norwegian Met Office forecasting website.

8. In summer months, if the wind drops and it’s mild, then chances are the midgies will make an appearance.  On our Turf Bog Tours we carry midgie repellant.  We try to schedule our Turf Bog Tours during daytime hours when wind is stronger which keeps the midgies at bay.

9. Learn the lingo, turf bog speak is a whole other matter.  Whether it’s banks, sleans, footing, clamps and even sods be sure to ask questions of the locals. Talking of people, folk working out on the turf bog are a friendly bunch and love nothing better than putting the world to rights plus discussing the weather of course!

10.  Finally, enjoy the turf bog.  How many places are left where you can get off grid? The turf bog is the perfect digital detox, no wifi and no mobile phone signal.  Enjoy stunning views, marvel at flora and fauna, hear birdsong, come across the odd cow and donkey plus if you are really lucky a deer or two.

Feeling empowered and ready for a turf bog experience?  I am sure you are….see you soon!

Endless Possibilities in the Turf Bog

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May has come and gone.  Hard to believe that we are now into June, where did the last five months go?! Anyhow, you will be glad to know that we achieved all our objectives for May out on the turf bog. All turf was cut and footed by end of May, a great achievement which was only possible thanks to some great weather.


As I write this now, it’s raining outside but it’s good to know that all our turf is footed and up off the ground.  We have even managed to bring home a token three sacks of turf already – good for morale. I am quietly confident that the good weather will return to dry the turf.  That said, the long range forecast does not look too promising.  No matter what, we are well on course to have the turf dried and home long before summer is out.  Ideally we would like to have all the stacked in the Store by the end of July.

Our experiments in turf drying continue.  We’ve gone with the tried and trusted clamps, made big stacks (some ornate, some not so ornate), plus we are using pallets and even crates.  All combine to helping dry the turf.  This far, I think the pallets and crates are the best options for accelerating the drying process.
This far, encounters with the dreaded midges have been few and far between. I am hoping to keep it that way. Should a spell of high pressure settled over us with a drying Easterly airflow then that will keep the midges at bay as we begin bagging the turf on a large scale.
As I said earlier, after the dry spell ended in mid May, the rain returned.  Where we stood at the bottom of our turf bank was dry enough to walk on and dig turf from in early/mid May.

 

Since then the foot of the turf bank has filled in with water and now looks like one of those  endless pools, like something you’d see in a fancy Spa.

However, I reckon our endless bog pool would be much better for you.  No chlorine here, just natural rain water and peaty minerals floating about that rehydrate your skin like nothing else.  The only slight downside to our Turf Bog Spa (trademark applied for) is that we can’t raise the water temperature.  But after a run up and down the turf bank beforehand escaping clouds of midges you will happily plunge into the dark refreshing water.  Interested? I thought so….I wait the deluge of bookings.

Turf Bog Operations Update

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This is the third year of our efforts at cutting turf the traditional way with a spade.  It is the first year that the weather this far has been totally in our favour at the cutting stage.  April whilst not the warmest of months was definitely one of the driest on record.  Then on Monday 1st of May we awoke to clear blue skies and a beaming sun with a cool easterly wind, just perfect cutting and drying conditions.  These weather conditions gradually improved with the temperature increasing before it finally broke on Friday 12th of May.  All in all we had a 6 week window of fine dry weather enabling us to get cracking out on the bog.  Remarkably we finished all this years cutting plus even getting the first batch of dry turf home, well a sacks worth anyway!

After our three years experience this year our team approach worked like clockwork.  Callum wielded the turf spade (called a slean in Irish) and did most of the cutting, I was the barrow man and Darragh took charge of the spreading of the turf sods.  Like a well oiled machine the three of us cut through the turf bog from top floor down to 5 floors below (a depth of approximately 2m).  On the days I ventured out when the two boys were at school it was much harder to do all three tasks by myself but at least I had Bailey Dog for company.


The exceptional drying conditions meant that the turf cut in April is now all footed.  Plus we dried turf on pallets and as an experiment in plastic crates that stack on top of one another, we could be on to something here!


As I write this now the normal Atlantic weather system has replaced the easterly airflow and we are getting rain showers that wouldn’t look out of place in April.  Despite this I am content that with all our turf cut and the longest and (hopefully) warmest days to come that we can get all our turf dried and home by the end of June. Ambitious? Perhaps, but I do like a challenge, so watch this space. Of course, you can come along and get some hands on experience of a turf bog with one of our Turf Bog Tours

Turf Bog Tours

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We have recently updated our website, as part of that website you will notice that we are now  including Turf Bog Tours as part of our growing enterprise.


In the two years we have been cutting turf the traditional way with a spade we have come to realise the magic of the turf bog.  We have shown a few people around too and they have been suitably impressed.  Whilst we are by no means experts at cutting turf with a spade, we are still learning all the tricks, we have become more aware of the significance of the turf bog and just how unique this environment is.
There is more to the turf bog than just cutting turf as you will discover!

Having toyed with the idea of developing a Turf Bog Tour we have decided to take the plunge and offer this service.  It seems a good time to start as any Donegal has recently been described by National Geographic as the “coolest place” to visit in 2017 plus the Wild Atlantic Way touring route along Ireland’s western coast is only a short hop from our turfbog.
So what can you expect from a Turf Bog Tour?  For starters, you need to get to this corner of NW Ireland where we can  then meet you in either Belleek (home of the world famous Pottery) or in Ballyshannon (Ireland’s oldest town) before whisking you away in our 4×4 to the remote wilds of the turf bog.  We will be able to also accommodate groups with their own minibuses as well.


The wide open space of the turf bog is something we could easily take for granted.  Our bog is nestled below Breesy Mountain just inside County Donegal, however walk just 100 metres eastwards and you are in County Fermanagh!  From this elevated site you can enjoy the views of Lower Lough Erne and surrounding countryside.


We will demonstrate the turf cutting process and you will get the chance to try using a turf spade.  Depending on what time of year and the stage of the process you visit at, you could find yourself spreading, clamping or even bagging turf.  More than this though we will show you how to bounce on a turf bog it really is like a trampoline. Darragh our resident wildlife expert will show you signs of grouse and maybe even catch a frog for you.
There will be time for tea and soda bread (Callum is taking on the role of baker) before we take you onwards to Lough Finn a hidden lough only accessible through a conifer forest.  Standing lough side, marvel at Breesy Mountains reflections in the dark peaty waters.


We will then take you further up the hillside to where in 1944 during WW2 a Canadian airforce warplane crash landed on the turf bog.  Miraculously, there were survivors, undoubtedly helped by the plane crash landing on the soft bog.
Heading closer to Breesy Mountain we will give you the chance to admire the panoramic views over Counties Donegal, Fermanagh, Leitrim, Sligo, Tyrone and Cavan.


Interested in a Turf Bog Tour? Then we advise that you come prepared. Wear suitable outdoor clothing (windproof/waterproof), walking boots, bring your camera, accept the unpredictable Irish weather (expect 4 seaons in an hour), sun block (well you never know!)  and bring a sense of humour.  We will bring the tea, soda bread, binoculars, local knowledge and midgie repellent.

4 March 2017

Pre-Season Training

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I am currently in training. I need to get fit, lose some winter girth. No more carbs, regular exercise and I am off the Devil’s brew (alcohol) too.

By now you are probably thinking I am preparing for a marathon or endurance race. But you would be wrong. The truth is I am preparing myself for turf cutting season.  Physical fitness and stamina need to be at their peak for when turf bog operations commence this Spring.

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Rather like an athlete, as well as training, I am also eating healthy. Porridge for breakfast, no bread and no pasta. But that’s only part of it, I am running five days a week.  I am on my third week of this regime and I have to admit I feel good.

The excesses of December had to be addressed and January was a good time to start. The left over mince pies, tins of biscuits and sweets from Christmas have now gone and in their place are sweet potatoes, salad and nuts.

I have also started playing football (badly) again on a Friday night and trying to do a bit of cycling too.  It all helps.  My view is that if I don’t do something now, come turf cutting season I wont be able to “cut” it in the turfbog.

Once turf cutting commences in April (weather permitting) I will hopefully be a good bit leaner and with all that manual exercise plus fresh air I can then re-introduce some carbs once more.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.

So in years to come when you hear that the latest healthy living fad is something called “Turf Bog Fit” you will recall where you heard it first!

31 January 2017

2016 A Year at the Store

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Looking back on 2016 we thought that we would share ten highlights of a year at the Store!

  1. Back in late May, Callum and myself joined some friends on a trek led by Iain Miller of Unique Ascent from the deserted fishing village of Port to the magnificent Glenlough Bay.  This gem in the far south west corner of Donegal has to be seen to be believed.
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  2. The Apprentices have really come into their own this year.  Back in May, Niamh dodged studying for her exams to help cut and spread the turf. I gave her an A* for her efforts. In July, Darragh and Ava helped bag the turf and get it home from the bog.  From August onwards, Callum has overseen the packing operation.  All this extra help at busy times is very welcome and makes me realise just how lucky I am to have such a good Clan.  The boys even made sure they got a Christmas night out, how could I possibly refuse?
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  3. Our marketing efforts have expanded from Facebook and Twitter, which continue to serve us well, to now include our very own YouTube channel.  Check it out and keep an eye on it in 2017.
    McAndrew's Store
  4. Whenever we tell folk from outwith Ireland about the turf bog they get intrigued.  This was no different in August when our good friends from France, Anthony and Celine,  took a trip to see for themselves the wonders of the turf bog.  Expect to hear more about our Turf Bog Tours in 2017!
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  5. 2016 has been our busiest year to date in terms of sales.  One thing that we pride ourselves on is repeat business and many of our loyal customers are now friends.  We like to think we capture the community spirit of the turf bog.  A big thank you to all our customers, friends and followers.
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  6. In early May we made a visit to South West Donegal and discovered the wonder that is Malinbeg and Silver Strand Beach.  A place that will take your breath away for sure.
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  7. In June I fulfilled a long held aim to go visit the Gleniff Horseshoe, County Sligo, on the bike.  A round trip of 40 plus miles in lovely sunshine coupled with stunning landscapes made for a great day out plus some welcome exercise.
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  8. Our brand image continued to develop in 2016 when we further enhanced our brand with the printing of our Breesy Mountain inspired postcards and our very own advertising banners.  I even have a branded fleece, so I am now essentially a mobile billboard.
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  9. Mid life has struck me and it has brought out construction-esque tendencies which I never knew I had.  First up was a dry stone wall at the front of the house/Store which went quite well.  Then came a pallet shed which was to be an office but is more suited as another turf store.  Who knows what projects beckon in 2017?
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  10. 2016 was our second attempt at cutting turf the traditional way with the the spade.  Compared to 2015 we were a lot more savvy in the bog and luckily the fine early summer weather worked in our favour and helped dry the turf.  Despite the odd interaction with the dreaded midgies it is a fulfilling way of spending a few hours in the great outdoors.
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Winter, Donkeys & Couriers

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At this time of year visits to the turf bog are not too regular an occurrence.  Shorter days and poorer weather make the turf bog a far from hospitable place to frequent.  That said, there are no midgies to contend with!  However if conditions are favourable, say for example, on a nice crisp day in late Autumn, the turf bog is a great place for a walk and the perfect place to view the array of autumnal colours.  At this point in the seasons, the 40 shades of green have changed to 40 shades of brown.

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Barnesmore Gap, Co. Donegal

Back in the day, many folks had no option but to visit the turf bog over the dark winter months. Nowadays with tractors, jeeps and quads,  when the turf is dry on the bog it is transported home in one or maybe two large loads.  However, in bygone days and the era when horses and donkeys were the only means of transport, the turf was stacked on the bog in huge piles then covered in grass  or rushes to weatherproof it.

Over the course of a winter, regular trips were made with a pony or donkey and cart to collect from this fuel supply in order to keep the homestead fires burning. Remember, turf was the only fuel in those days for heating and of course for cooking on, so there really was no choice.

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Donkeys don’t know they’re born these days!

This was true of the turf bog we source our turf from just over the border from us in Donegal.  This particular turf bog has plots on it belonging to folk from Rossnowlagh on the coast, a distance of approximately 8 miles away.  Not a huge distance to drive but imagine leading a donkey and cart laden with turf in darkest November?  They were hardy folk for sure in those days, and I have nothing but respect for them.

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Fast forward from those times to now, and consider the fact that through the combination of technology and courier services, that,  if you order turf from us on a Monday we can get it delivered to you anywhere in the UK by Wednesday.  That’s some leap forward from the humble donkey and cart!

16 November 2016

Autumn Turf Fires

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If you are still wondering about the merits of having a turf fire this Autumn, here are five reasons to do so!

1. The longer, darker and cooler evenings are just perfect for a spot of fireside relaxation.  Light a turf fire, watch a box set , read a book or even just watch the cosy glow, it’s your choice!

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2. Impress your friends and family who are unaware of Irish turf, convert them to become turf addicts too, they are bound to get hooked as they smell the night air full of peaty smoke!
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3. By making a purchase from McAndrew’s Store you are supporting a rural enterprise.  Over and above this,  you are supporting the wider rural economy here in NW Ireland by way of our suppliers. We source our  turf, cardboard boxes and sacks all within a short radius of the Store in both Fermanagh and Donegal.  You are also funding the “salary” of an apprentice or two as well!

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4. Indulge yourself and transport yourself back to rural Ireland courtesy of a turf fire.  It’s good for the soul! Match up our turf with a mug of Irish tea, Guinness or even some Irish whiskey.
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5. Go back to basics, get all rustic, light a turf fire and roast some chestnuts on a shovel over the burning turf.  The turf adds a distinct flavour to the chestnuts.

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So there you have it, five great reasons to burn turf this Autumn.  For further evidence, watch our advert!
I am sure that you are left in no doubt now  – happy burning!

15 October 2016

 

 

 

Onwards & Upwards

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Running a cottage enterprise like McAndrew’s Store is a time consuming endeavour.  The business is growing nicely with high levels of repeat business from our many loyal customers, so we must be doing something right! Patterns of demand are now established and we can meet the rush for turf at peak season during November and December.  As well as fulfilling orders and providing quality customer care,  product development is another area we dedicate a lot of time to.  You might think that developing a product like turf further is limited but that’s not strictly true.  In the past 12 months we have updated our product to include our own bespoke branded turf sacks.  Lately we have made available for sale the Dozen Turf Box Order.

Team McAndrew

Team McAndrew

In meeting all these demands of managing the processes from the turf bog to shipping orders to developing our brand,  our roles have evolved.  Where once I ran the entire show, Callum has progressed from working on the bog (he never did like the midgies) to being our “packer in chief”.  Chances are if you order turf from us Callum will have personally packed your Turf Box.  At not yet 13 years old he has a good grasp of the enterprise and offers objective opinions on our operations, albeit sometimes in the style of Kevin the Teenager!
This year, Darragh came into his own out on the turf bog.  He worked hard footing turf and packing it in to sacks for the homeward journey.  He did this whilst enduring the clouds of midgies in return for a spin on the trailer along the bog road.  Don’t tell the health & safety folk!
All this help in-house (for pocket money of course) means I can focus on on our marketing efforts and developing the Store further.
In the years to come it would be fantastic if the business could offer and sustain full time employment opportunities for all the Clan members.  I am confident that if we continue on the current path we can achieve this.

1st October 2016

The Great Outdoors – It’s in the Blood

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Well and truly stuck in middle age, I realise that getting outdoors at every opportunity is my form of therapy.  Be it pottering around the garden, walking with Bailey Dog, cycling, kayaking, cutting logs and of course the turf bog, its a great way to clear the head.

My siblings are the same and this can be largely attributed to our Dad.  He was a real lover of the great outdoors.  Growing up in 1950’s Scotland, he was a boy scout and worked in a butchers on Saturdays. Therefore he could tie knots, pluck a chicken and start a fire – great skills to have for life.

Most evenings we would go with Dad as he walked the dog.  My Dad always had a dog, something that I can identify with.
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In summer months we would all go cycling with Dad, he must have had one of the earliest kids bike seats fitted to his bike for my brother.  I doubt it would meet todays safety standards!

One particular adventure I recall, involves my sister, brother and I accompanying my dad on a fishing trip to Altan Lough in Northwest Donegal back in 1988.  After an hour or so fishing Dad hadn’t caught a thing and having spotted the mountain on the far lough shore, Aghla More,  decided that we should all “go climb that mountain”.  So wearing wellies and carrying fishing rods and bags of tackle, the four of us trekked up all 584 metres of Aghla More.  Though in my case and with a fear of heights I decided to not go to the absolute summit, so maybe I only scaled 574 metres (I think theres a photo somewhere to prove it!).  Looking back now I think that perhaps it was a bit gung-ho of my Dad to undertake the scaling of Aghla More, but other than the fear of heights,  I felt absolutely safe and didn’t doubt that he knew what he was doing.

Sadly Dad passed away in June 2010 at the relatively young age of 63.  His influence continues and not just in the outdoors context.  I now find myself telling my offspring the same things he told me, “put that light off”, “close that door” and of course “did you not think to put something on the stove?”.  I could try to fight this transition but why should I,  when I find it both amusing and comforting at the same time.

14th June 2016

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