More than half way through March and it’s been a cold month this far in Belleek. We dodged the worst of the snow from the “Beast from the East” and the follow up cold spell on St. Patrick’s Weekend.
The East Coast and South East of Ireland have had a good covering of snow on both occasions. Once this latest spell ends we might get some Spring-like weather?!
Anyhow March has been a busy month here at The Store. We took delivery of a new batch of our ever popular Mighty Turf Sacks and we are well chuffed with them. This new batch even features smoke coming from the cottage chimney. They are sure to add a touch of Ireland to fireplaces. We also updated our gift tags which come with each Mighty Turf Sack and our Breesy Mountain postcard was re-printed for 2018 too. We are currently offering 10% off each purchase of a Mighty Turf Sack, just enter the following code in the discount code box on our Checkout page: spring
We have also upgraded our computer system, if truth be told I was getting a bit frustrated with the lack of speed of our computer. This is a consequence of our business getting ever busier. So in order to maintain our quality of customer care and speed of order processing we went for the the upgrade. Big thanks are due to Callum our in-house IT Specialist who did a superb job.
With Spring coming we also made some changes to our turf store with installation of a new floor. It helps maximise the space we now need to store stock and have it ready for despatch. Both Callum and Darragh helped implement these changes.
Next Sunday, 25th March, morning the clocks will go forward by one hour. The longer evenings will be with us then and before long we will be maximising the longer days with the commencement of turf cutting operations 2018. Of course you will be welcome to join us out on the Bog by taking one of of our Turf Bog Tours.
Now for some of that Spring-like weather……
We were delighted to host our first Turf Bog Tour of 2018 earlier this month. Our intrepid tourists, Maria and Kevin, came from New Jersey in the USA. On the day we were fortunate with great weather, clear blue skies, sunshine and no wind.
Bailey Dog came along too for the experience. One of the best things about Turf Bog Tours is that both the boys and myself learn as much about other cultures from our Turf Bog Tourists. There are always a wide range of topics discussed and it helps us form a world view. Just to demonstrate this, topics discussed included Brexit, the high dependency on the motor car in Ireland, World War 2 and how many chickens you can keep in your backyard in suburban USA!
Our Turf Bog Tourists were blown away by the tranquility of the landscape. This was particularly true down on the shore of Lough Finn where it was perfectly still. It made me realise that many folk rarely get to experience an escape from the modern noisy world.
It begs the question, that in this world of wi-fi, mobile technology, do we ever really get a chance to truly switch off and re-connect with Mother Nature?
It once again made me aware of how lucky I am (apart from the rainfall!) to live in this part of the world. There have been, and no doubt will be times again, when I have just needed to escape for a while from the every day pressures and challenges of modern life. My solution is to indulge in some landscape therapy with a visit on foot or on the bike to the wilderness of the turf bog. This connection to nature helps the human condition greatly with fresh air, combined with exercise, fantastic scenery and the sound of silence. It is a great way to take some time out and recharge the energy and spirit. Even an hour of this landscape therapy is a tonic.
One of our team members here at The Store loves the turf bog more than the rest of us put together. That member is none other than Bailey Dog. Bailey just loves the freedom of the turf bog and whilst we toil in the bog she plays.
The turf bog and it’s wide array of wildlife complete with scents, ease of access to a pine forest and numerous water sources is a perfect playground for a sprocker spaniel with boundless energy.
Bailey is first in the jeep on trips to the bog, I am sure she is worried that she wont get to go. I’ve recently invested in front seat covers so that she can ride in her favourite position on the front passenger seat. That will save the interior upholstery at least! She even manages to position her head and nose next to the gear stick so every time I change gear she nuzzles my hand.
She’s great company in the turf bog. She belts off in pursuit of birds, rabbits and deer. Often you hear her yelps as part of a high speed chase. Afterwards she returns to check in with us.
Last May at the peak of the turf cutting season, with blue skies overhead and rising temperatures, I reached the end of my energy for turf cutting and sat down on the edge of the turf bank. Bailey must have been similarly played out and joined me for a moment that that affirmed that special connection between us humans and canines. She also shared my lunch!
Our plans for 2018 include bringing Bailey along on our Turf Bog Tours. Obviously we will check beforehand that our visitors will be happy with this. We reckon that Bailey will be a great addition to the Turf Bog Tour experience!
We are lucky to have Bailey in our lives. She started life with friends of ours, she was to be a hunting dog. However, Bailey was gun shy and was made redundant! When we were offered the chance to adopt Bailey we did not hesitate.
Despite her working dog hardiness, Bailey likes her comforts. In addition to travelling up front in the jeep she “moved” in to the back hall in our house and takes any opportunity to get in to the sitting room. Plus she has gravy on her food. She is worth it though, she has a gentle disposition (even getting on well with our two cats) and is a great companion. She is always on good form and pleased to see you, the perfect tonic if you haven’t had a good day.
Bailey even graces our social media posts from time to time ,when she stands still long enough for a photo that is. Posts featuring Bailey are amongst the most popular.
Over these winter months, Bailey and I take a nightly walk without fail, in the rain, hail, sleet, snow or gale and always in the dark. I think we are both looking forward to the lengthening of the days and the Spring and the return of regular trips to the turf bog!
In this blog post, we take a nostalgic look back at 2017 with 10 highlights from throughout the year.
1. Turf Bog Tours
Our latest venture and diversification was to introduce our Turf Bog Tours in March 2017. Since then we have operated a number of tours showing out Turf Bog to visitors from France, USA and England. Turf Bog Tours are now on Trip Advisor and also featured on the Discover Ireland website for 2018.
Our website was revamped by Tick Tock Design towards the end of 2016 and with improved functionality including a slicker e-commerce facility we really saw the benefits in 2017.
Our business continued to grow in 2017, our mainstay of the business, turf sales, increased again. December 2017 has been the busiest month ever in the history of the Store.
4. Bog Endeavours
2017 was the third year we had cut turf in the traditional way with a spade. We definitely operated well getting all the years turf cut in the dry spring weather. Our roles became more established, Callum wields the turf spade, I push/pull the loaded barrow and Darragh is the spreader in chief. Whilst the weather broke in late July we were lucky enough to have had our turf all home by then.
5. Social Media
In 2017 we continued to use Facebook, Twitter and Instgram to good effect to connect with customers and followers. We spend a lot of time and energy on this area and it continues to be effective.
We started producing our own unique brand of video adverts for the Store in 2017. From April Fool’s Day to Halloween from Russian Submarine Commanders to Conor McGregor we have produced some memorable adverts! Check out our Youtube channel.
At various points in 2017 we chased and captured many spectacular sunsets. A brilliant way to spend the end of a day in some of Ireland’s most scenic locations. Here’s to catching more in 2018.
We like to escape the turf bog once in a while and in 2017 we ventured to Cliffoney Beach, Fort Dunree, Maghera Beach & Caves and An Grianan Aileach. All these attractions are within close proximity to us and visits linger long in the mind.
In October I undertook the endurance race here in Fermanagh known as FEAR. Featuring gruelling trail running and road cycling, it was a real physical challenge. I plan to do it again in 2018 as doing all the training is a great way to get fit.
From the work on the turf bog to making videos to packing orders, McAndrew’s Store is a real clan effort. Big thanks to Callum who can edit videos as well as cut and pack turf. Credit also to Darragh more than often the star of our videos and an expert in locating wildlife on Turf Bog Tours.
November and with it Autumn are all but over. Winter and Christmas are fast approaching. Not surprisingly this period is one of our busiest times of the year here at the Store. Orders are coming in thick and fast, it is very much all hands on deck now.
Our Christmas ordering deadline is Monday 18th December (make a note of it!), so between now and then things will be busy. The trick is to stay focused on the end game and everything will be just fine. As stated in a previous blog post, the key to handling the seasonal rush is to grab any opportunity for some exercise and go easy on the mince pies. This is not easy when your instinct is to sit by a turf fire and hibernate!
At the same time we have one eye very much on 2018. That’s the thing with a business, no matter how big or small that enterprise is you never stand still. January will be an opportunity to take stock and plan ahead for the Spring. By late March we will aim to be back in the turf bog. From then on it will be another busy time as we cut the turf and as the days lengthen start the drying process. That particular period of activity reaches it’s conclusion at the end of May by when we will have all the turf cut for the year.
During the Spring months our Turf Bog Tours will once again come to the fore, at this stage we already have bookings for tours in April and May.
You see, we don’t stand still here at the Store!
This is our first blog post since August. September came and went in a flash. October is going at a similar rate!
We have been busy fulfilling orders as our busiest time of year for sales fast approaches. In addition we are always working away in the background on growing the business.
The profile of the business is something we are always working on and developing. From providing good customer care through to managing our social media presence it is important to us to maintain a genuine profile.
Our core values are very much focussed on being ourselves and being sincere. Treat folk as we like to be treated ourselves, is a simple yet effective mantra. Sincerity is an underrated commodity these days. Personally I get fed up of people in business and life in general who talk a good game and then spectacularly fail to deliver. Here at The Store we ensure that our turf products match customer expectation and we add value with our customer care.
This approach works for us and is evidenced by the high levels of repeat business we enjoy. As a cottage enterprise we don’t have a huge marketing budget so in order to grow our business we are well aware we have to deliver the complete package and look after our customers.
Social media has revolutionised the way businesses market themselves nowadays. Here at The Store we have embraced Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We even star in our own home made videos, in Darragh we have a budding movie star whilst Callum prefers to stay behind the camera producing “quality” productions . No sharp suits in sight, just us McAndrew’s being ourselves and exhibiting our unique brand of Celtic humour!
At present we are just a few Likes away from reaching 2000 Likes for our Facebook page, a great achievement and thanks to everyone who supports us. Through our social media presence we have also made good connections with other businesses in NW Ireland and beyond. From Gilmartin’s Craft Shop here in Belleek to Camlake Canvas to Bogman Designs plus we have even established a source of visitors for our Turf Bog Tours from Brittany thanks to Une Bouffee D’Eire
Going forward we will maintain our high standards and as a result hopefully grow sales of turf products further and expand our Turf Bog Tours as well. The future’s bright, the future is Turf!Posted by
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.Posted by
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
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