Discover Turf Country

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In our previous blog we gave you some recommendations for places to visit in County Donegal. In this blog we provide a snapshot of 5 places near our base here in Belleek that are amazing places to visit.

Probably one of the finest viewpoints in NW Ireland is from Cliffs of Magho. Located above Lower Lough Erne you can see Donegal Bay, the Bluestack Mountains, Sliab Liag and even Breesy Mountain. Feeling energetic? Hike up the 1km path from the Lough shore for a good workout.
Little Dog is lovely hike near Derrygonnelly. It provides great views over Lough Melvin, towards Cuilcagh Mooutain (the highest point in Co. Fermanagh), the Leitrim and Sligo Mountains plus Donegal Bay.
Only 5 miles from Belleek is Castle Caldwell. With a ruined castle set in a broad leafed forest on a promontory on Lower Lough Erne this is a great place for a woodland walk following one of the waymarked trails.
The village of Garrison sits on the eastern shore of Lough Melvin. The views across the Lough are breathtaking anytime of year.
Also close to Garrison are the Roogagh Falls. The River Roogagh cascades down the falls en route to Lough Melvin. Especially spectacular after heavy rainfall in the nearby hills which swell the waters, making for a terrific display of hydro power!

When in Donegal….

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If you are coming to this part of Ireland to take a Turf Bog Tour you are probably wondering what else there is to see. Wonder no more and go explore these amazing spots in County Donegal which we highly recommend. All of them are within 2 hours of our turf bog!


First up is Port. A deserted fishing village in South West Donegal. A place where time has stood still and you can stand on the edge of a continent!

Second is Glenlough Bay. Only accessible on foot from Port village along a cliff top walk. This place is one of the most remote locations in Ireland. A great place to escape to.
Sticking with South West Donegal and next up ss Sliab Liag sea cliffs, amongst the highest in Europe. A windy spot with truly amazing views across Donegal Bay when the sky clears.
Almost in the centre of Donegal is the famous Barnesmore Gap. The main north-south route in County Donegal is remote and beautiful. Look out for the signs of the former County Donegal railway which closed in 1959.
Finally, my favourite location. Cloghaneely is a parish/district in North West Donegal. Featuring the spectacular Ballyness Bay flanked by the Derryveagh Mountains and with fabulous beaches at Magheroarty and Falcarragh. One word – perfect!

Go Wild in the Turf Bog

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The turf bog is not just a unique landscape to admire. It is also home to many animals and birds.
Join us on a Turf Bog Tour and you might spy, hear or see the signs of some of the following wildlife:

Frogs – the damp nature of the bog is ideal for our amphibian friends. From late winter the frog spawn can be found around the bog. By late spring the place is full of frog life.

Lizards – similar to frogs they like the cool damp conditions. Harder to spot but with a bit of luck and knowing where to look you might just spot a turf bog dinosaur.

Deer – harder to spot, ideally you would want to take a dawn or dusk tour. Failing that we can show you deer tracks and signs of where they have eaten the bark from young trees.

Hares – in March the local hare population go a bit mad with the mating season. The turf bog is a great place to spot these speedy mammals.


Cuckoo – the migratory cuckoo bird comes to Ireland in late Spring from Africa and it’s unique call is a sure sign of summer. I have never spotted one but from late April onwards from first light to last you cannot help but hear its distinct call.

Grouse – a game bird that was low in numbers in these parts is making a comeback. I have been given a fright by a grouse or two, mainly caused by Bailey Dog springing them up from the undergrowth. They lie in the heather and take off with a loud call.

Geese – another migratory bird, this time they come to Ireland for the Winter. From October onwards you can hear them flying overhead in V formation The noise of their wingbeat and that distinctive call is an amazing spectacle.

The above are just a taster of the wildlife you can encounter on the turf bog. No matter what time of year you take a Turf Bog Tour there is wildlife to see!

The Big Country

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The turf bog is a wilderness admittedly shaped by an element of human activity over the centuries but nonetheless it is still a vast natural space. For example looking out from our turf bog there is a seam of this bogland that stretches from here on the edge of Belleek all the way to Pettigo. That’s a distance of 12 miles and counting.

It is an upland area with spectacular views and big skies, not always clear skies it must be said! It can be easy to take all this for granted but taking folks out on Turf Bog Tours and showing them around gives us a new found appreciation for this landscape.


Visitors coming from urban settings are blown away by the sense of space of this landscape and the sky. They are also amazed by the quality of the fresh air and its purity. Testimony to this is the presence of lichens growing on the bog. Lichen only grows and thrives where the air is unpolluted. Needless to say we have lots of lichen growing here!
The combination of space, big skies and fresh air helps get visitors closer to nature and the chance to marvel at nature. It is the perfect opportunity to escape modern life with all its confinements and experience the big country.

Choose Turf Bog Tours

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It has been a while since our last blog, in fact it was all the way back in June. There have been some changes since then here at McAndrew’s Store. The big change is that in August we took the decision to stop selling turf online and to concentrate totally on Turf Bog Tours. Reaching this decision was one we considered very carefully and was not an overnight decision. After all we have been selling turf online since 2009. So apologies to friends and family who we discussed this option at length with! We are also appreciative of all the orders over the years from our loyal customers, we hope to see many of them on a Turf Bog Tour in the future.


Since introducing Turf Bog Tours in 2017 we have become aware of the huge potential in offering this niche visitor experience. Our Turf Bog Tours have proven to be popular with visitors and numbers are growing year on year. Since 2017 we have had visitors from the UK, France, USA, Canada, Spain and Argentina demonstrating the international appeal of Turf Bog Tours. We are convinced that if we concentrate fully on Turf Bog Tours we can develop it even further.


So we now find ourselves moving from retail in to tourism, but one thing that will remain consistent is that customer care will still be a cornerstone of Turf Bog Tours.


The format of Turf Bog Tours is a great blend, even if I do say so myself, with it combining the tradition of turf cutting, a bit of social history, environmental awareness and a chance to discover the wilderness.


We will still continue to cut a portion of the turf bog with a spade as we feel strongly that this most Irish of traditions should not be lost. Visitors will still be able to wield the turf spade and get that hands on experience.
Find out more at www.mcandrewstore.com and choose turf!

Seven Days in The Bog

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I am glad to report that all our turf is now cut. Having started to prepare the turf bank back on 30th March we managed to complete the cutting process on Sunday 26th May.  Generally speaking I don’t like to work on a Sunday, there is no religious reason, it’s just that I would rather have a free day to catch up on a bit gardening, odd jobs or head off cycling, kayaking or to the coast.  However between family commitments and Callum’s studying for exams eating in to our availability we had no choice but to work on the Sabbath.

It worked in our favour, we had a bit of drainage work to do before we could extract the final section of the third floor of turf.  With some expert guidance from seasoned turf cutter, Sean O’Loughlin we solved the drainage issue and got the final section of the turf cut.  We even listened to the Fermanagh – Donegal football match in the Ulster Championship on the radio whilst working.  Although peak productivity in my case is more likely to be achieved whilst listening to 80’s music!

The weather since 26th May has been unpredictable to say the least, cold one minute, sunny the next, raining the next, windy the next – you get the (very wet) picture I am sure!  Now that we are into June we really need some high pressure with warm sunshine and a easterly airflow to bake the turf.
Fortunately, a good bit of the turf is already footed.  Some of it remains to be turned before being footed but all being well we should have the turf dried, bagged and off the bog by July.


At this stage we have already started to assess our turf bog operations, particularly this first season on our new bog.  Our conclusion is that we need to speed up the cutting process and complete cutting earlier in the Spring.  Easier said than done,  as everything depends on the weather, so watch this space in 2020.  But for now we will concentrate on this years turf and keep watching the long range weather forecast, waiting to hear news of a heatwave.  Either way, we are sure to put in another Sunday shift at some stage.

 

From Bog to the Fireplace

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Our turf cutting exploits have been good so far this season.  We have enjoyed largely dry weather since starting work in the bog back at the end of March.  Bu there is a long way to go before we get the turf saved and home.  Did you know that by the time you burn the turf that there are 13 stages from the bog to fireplace?

  1. Pairing  – this refers to clearing the top layer of heather, moss and grasses from the bog
  2. Cutting – armed with the traditional turf spade, sods of turf are cut from the bog
  3. Barrowing – the sods of turf are piled on to the barrow
  4. Spreading – once the sods are tipped off the barrow they need to be spread out to commence the drying process
  5. Turning – once the sods have started to dry and develop a “skin”, then they get turned so the opposite side can start to dry
  6. Footing – once the sods have a “skin” on every side they are arranged in teepee like formations to allow the wind to circulate around them and further assist the drying process
  7. Clamping – once the footings of turf sods are well on the way to being dry, they are then stacked into clamps which are round shaped piles of turf.  Any remaining damp turf sods are placed on the outside which helps the drying process further.
  8. Bagging – once the turf in the clamps are all dry, then the sods of turf are put into sacks
  9. Extraction – involves moving the sacks filled with turf off the bog and onto the trailer for the trip home
  10. Stacking – sacks of turf are stacked in to the shed here at The Store
  11. Packing – as orders come in at www.mcandrewstore.com the turf is packaged ready for despatch
  12. Delivery – Parcelforce courier collects from us here in Belleek and within 48 hours customers will receive their turf
  13. Burning – set your fire, add the turf, sit back and enjoy the glow, aroma and connection to Ireland in the comfort of your own home many miles from the turf bog!

Of course, you can get familiar with our turf bog operations and many of these stages by booking one of our Turf Bog Tours!

 

Ten Reasons to Take a Turf Bog Tour

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In today’s hectic world it is good to have real experiences.  The world is full of white noise and technology.  So our Turf Bog Tours are a great way to escape the “noise” and re-connect with the great outdoors.  This year, 2019,  will be the third year we have offered Turf Bog Tours.  With our new turf bog and cutting season under way there’s never been a better time to book your own Turf Bog Tour. Here are 10 reasons why you should add a Turf Bog Tour to your 2019 itinerary:

  1. Make a connection.  Discover real Ireland and the craft of turf cutting.  It’s part of the celtic culture and identity of rural Ireland.  Immerse yourself in this tradition.
  2. Enjoy a tea or coffee out on the turf bog, plus some homemade bread – turf cutting makes you both thirsty and hungry.
  3. Get hands on and try cutting turf with a traditional spade (slean in Irish).  Cut a few sods from the turf bank and learn what goes into creating the perfect turf supply for the long Irish winter.
  4. Take in the surroundings, no traffic, just the sounds of nature, a big wide open space with an array of colours.  You will be impressed.
  5. Discover the flora and fauna, from heather to sphagnum moss to lichens that can act as firelighters.
  6. Get close to wildlife, frogs abound in the turf bog as do newts.  If you are lucky, in early summer
    you will hear the call of the cuckoo. Look closely and you will spot deer tracks and close to dusk you will have a good chance of seeing these impressive animals.  Bailey, our sprocker spaniel, likes to come along too.
  7. Fresh air in abundance – pure air – air to give you an appetite, air to give you a sense of Ireland and a good nights sleep.
  8. Skies  and light that are unique to this part of Ireland.  Big skies, bigger sunsets and even on stormy days the rolling clouds are impressive.
  9. Discover this corner of Ireland where Fermanagh and Donegal meet, get your photo taken with each foot in two different Counties!
  10. No Turf Bog Tour is complete without a bounce on the turf bog.  It is naturally sprung and will give you a connection to your inner child.So there you have it, our Turf Bog Tours speak for themselves – book yours today!

Winter into Spring

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This winter has been going on a bit too long now for my liking.  Whilst it has not been a particularly stormy or cold winter, it has been very dark.  To be honest I would rather have snow, ice and a few storms to experience the full range of the seasons.  At least they would be a distraction from the darkness!


I’m encouraged that there is now a bit more light in the mornings and that the evenings are also stretching too.  Spring is around the corner.


Of course winter with its dark evenings was made for turf fires and they definitely provide comfort.  A turf fire in the hearth is a means of heat of heat and just as importantly, a source of  light on dark nights.  A turf fire definitely helps me get through the winter.  The daily morning routine of cleaning out the ashes from the stove and setting it again are well worth it.


However now I am really looking forward to Spring.  The longer evenings and the freedom to spend more time outdoors in daylight cannot come soon enough.  Whether it’s doing a bit of gardening, walking Bailey Dog, cycling, and even trips to the turf bog, its the perfect appetiser for all the potential of the summer months to come.


Of course, to complement the outdoors lifestyle of spring and summer, there is nothing better than getting a turf fire going on the patio or a camp fire to finish a day outdoors.  Maximising the time spent outdoors is so good for the human condition and fresh air laced with the aroma of turf smoke is a prescription for contentment.

New Year New Turfbog

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Happy new year and I hope that 2019 is a good one. After the pre-Christmas rush it was good to get some downtime over the festive season.  It was an ideal time to take stock of another busy year at The Store.  It was not all introspection though, as we also made a key decision with regards to a turf bog.

The turf bog we have rented each season since 2015 has served us well.  It enabled us to hone our traditional turf cutting technique and also allowed us to develop our Turf Bog Tours.  We have however been looking out for a remoter turf bog to add to the wilderness experience.  Therefore we are delighted to have secured a new turf bog that meets all our criteria.  It is still in County Donegal, indeed it is less than 1km from our former turf bog.  The views from this turf bog are also superior.  An ever changing 360 degree panorama takes in no less than 5 counties (Donegal, Fermanagh, Leitrim, Sligo and Tyrone) and includes loughs, hills, forests and of course Breesy Mountain.  We are sure that future visitors to the turf bog will find this bog an amazing off-grid location.


We are aiming, weather permitting, to commence turf cutting in April.  That really is not that far away so training for turf cutting season has already begun.  Training consists of a bit of running, cycling, swimming and playing indoor football (badly). Even at this early stage, 2019 is shaping up to be another interesting year here at The Store.

 

2018 Highlights

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As we approach the end of 2018 we take a look back at another successful year here at The Store.

Our Turf Bog Tours grew in popularity, Kathy from the USA even made a return visit! Our season kicked off back in February in the deep freeze and then continued during the heatwave in midsummer.  No matter the time of year, the turf bog is a magical place.  Youngest Clan member Ava, made her debut as a Turf Bog Tour Guide and was a big hit!  Also joining the ranks as canine tour guide was Bailey Dog.  Well we couldn’t let her miss out could we?!

 


Summer 2018 was a turf cutters dream,  a full-on heatwave and it was like the turf baked before our very eyes. In our four years cutting the traditional way with a spade, this year above all others, working in the turf bog a total pleasure. We took further advantage of the good weather and even managed to drain a big bog hole with the help of veteran turf cutter Sean O’Loughlin.


We still found time for adventures with a spot of sledging in the snow, a walk around Dunlewey in the shadow of Errigal Mountain, a midsummer midnight walk on Cuilcagh Mountain,  hitting 54mph (according to Map My Ride!) on the bike coming down a hill at Lough Navar Forest Park,  canoeing on Lough Erne and Lough Melvin and catching a spectacular autumn sunset at Little Dog.

On the product development front, in March we took delivery of a batch of new look Mighty Turf Sack, complete with smoke coming from the cottage chimney!  The Mighty Turf Sack now takes centre stage in our product offering and is proving very popular with our customers.  Some subtle changes to packaging has also helped the slickness of our packing operations.  We don’t sit still here at The Store!

 


In October we visited the GPO in Dublin to view the Easter Rising Exhibition.  It was a brilliant insight in to this huge event in Irish history.  We then hopped on the Luas to visit the impressive Collin’s Barracks and National Museum of Ireland.  A great day out for sure.

 

The final achievement of 2018 is fulfilling my plan to write a blog post every month and with this post that’s another tick!  What will 2019 bring?  Who knows but we will definitely #chooseturf and we hope you do too!

 

Winter is Coming

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The activity levels here at The Store are cranking up now.  Colder weather followed by Atlantic storms has seen orders flood in and made it feel a lot like our busiest time of year!

If you are a regular customer you are by now aware of our switch to selling our traditional turf in our Mighty Turf Sacks.  We made the decision in early November to enhance our traditional turf offering in this way. So far the feedback has been brilliant.  Our Mighty Turf Sack contain more turf than the Turf Box plus get a ready made storage solution for the fireside with one of our traditional rustic hesssian sacks.  Mighty Turf Sacks looked very good on the fireplace, even if we do say so ourselves.

 

Black Friday has come and gone, it was our busiest day of the year this far.  Don’t worry if you missed the Black Friday discount, by way of consolation we are offering 10% off when you purchase a Mighty Turf Sack with this discount code: aroma.


On the horizon is Christmas and our deadline for festive orders will be Sunday 16th December.  Keep an eye on our website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages for more details in due course. In addition we completed filming and production of our festive advert in just one day.  Take a look at it on our YouTube channel.

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