by Frank Schnittger
Sat Mar 27th, 2010 at 10:20:00 AM EST
Blessington Lake in January
The same scene a few days ago...
This winter has been the longest and coldest in at least 50 years in Ireland and we were snowed in for a couple of weeks when the snow was at its worst. The Wicklow hills have been snow covered since before Christmas - the longest period of continuous snow covering that I can remember - and our end of Blessington lake was frozen over for a couple of weeks. I won't entitle this diary a photoblog because my eyesight is too poor to take good photographs and I only have an iPhone for company in any case. However I hope this story of rustic life in north-west Wicklow will be of some wider interest...
The cold weather has finally impelled me to take on some much delayed projects to improve the insulation of our home. The 30 year old house was more or less best practice at the time it was built, but 1.5 inches of insulation in the cavity walls, 4 inches of fibreglass insulation in the attic, some single glazing and other double glazing that has long since lost its vacuum seal allied to a relatively inefficient kerosene burning kitchen range have often produced indoor temperatures of not much more than 10 degrees centigrade unless the solid fuel sitting room stove was also lit.
However the sitting room is normally only used when guests are around and so I often made do with an extra jumper. Now however I am arranging to have the 4 inch cavity walls fully pumped with foam insulation, the attic insulation upgraded to 12 inches, and some of the most inefficient single and double glazed units replaced with current best practice double glazing. The Kerosene stove will have to make do for a while - it doubles as a cooker and oven - but longer term I will consider replacing it with a wood pellet boiler.
Country living has its compensations however, and I regularly walked past 25 Whooper Swans as I walk down through the fields below my home toward Blessington lake. Whooper Swans are quite large with a wingspan of up to 275cm and a weight of up to 20 KG. They can fly for hundreds of miles despite their size and weight and migrate from Iceland to over-winter in Ireland.
They graze in my brother-in-law's field below my home:
Once you get within 50 metres they exit stage left into the wind...this means they need something of a flat runway with no hedges or trees in the way if they are to make it airborne. They will therefore tend to congregate on the leeward side of a field to give themselves space to take off.
Getting their ducks - eh swans - in a row also helps, but there's always one who doesn't stay on message and flutters about in the rear...
as they head for their alternative grazing patch on a neighbouring farm beneath Kippure mountain here seen from the north west.
We also have about 50 Brant Geese grazing the field below our home, but they weren't at home on the days I was taking these photographs. They migrate all the way from Greenland for the winter and can, combined with the Swans eat as much grass as a small herd of cows. Fortunately the farmer, my brother-in-law, has no problem with them feeding on his land, as his own dairy herd are fed with grass silage for the winter.
Another friend and neighbour has bought 30 acres of Scots pine woodland in a mountain valley nearby and is busy thinning it so he can plant a native Oak forest as a pension investment for his children! It is a labour of love for him as doing so on this scale is not really a commercial proposition.
You have to be careful what use you put Irish wood to as it grows much more rapidly than trees grown in colder climates and is thus not of the same quality as (say) Finnish wood. The wide rings in the tree below indicate how rapidly the tree has grown each year.
Some of this wood is only good for firing but its high moisture content can lead to poor heat values and spitting. The best way to dry it is to do so vertically: I.e. kill the tree by cutting its bark and then fell it six months later after the wind has whistled though the trees and dried them in a vertical position.