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Springtime in Wicklow

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.




The culprit...

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.

suggest to your neighbour that pigs enjoy woodland living more than fields and so raising them there would be an excellent use of the resource.

He might also consider moving to permaculture, going nuts and fruits in that forest instead of just oak. For firewood I recommend coppiced ash. Even if he himself isn't interested in the short term, it would be a fine investment for 10 - 20 years from now.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat Mar 27th, 2010 at 11:36:35 AM EST
He runs the Natural Medicine Company which specialises in natural, herbal and homoeopathic remedies, and so may well be receptive to the nuts and berries.  As a vegetarian he may not wish to rear pigs!

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Mar 27th, 2010 at 11:47:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is one inspiring area to live!

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Mar 27th, 2010 at 12:25:21 PM EST
And yet it is within 30km of Dublin and so secluded yet not remote.  I will do another diary on the wildlife around the lake - ducks, deer, pheasant, swans and a multitude of other birds I can't name if I get a few goo pics.  I haven't seen Mr. Fox in ages but the rabbits will soon be plentiful again.  One of the benefits of less artificial fertiliser use in recent years is that bird populations have grown enormously.  That may also be partly why we didn't have mice in the house for the first winter in ages, but Alo our cat may also have had a say in that!

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Mar 27th, 2010 at 02:12:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I lived 6 years in a 250 year old wooden rectory with a meandering river around the garden and ancient oak trees all around, reached by a wooden bridge. The house was in the middle of one of the oldest and most patinated farming areas in Finland. There was a Bronze Age site on the huge hill behind the house - 9 metres above sea level. Leifen, our local farmer, played classical music to his many pigs, and rotated crops on the fields around us.

It was at a peak career time and the house was an extremely valuable antidote to the frenzy of building up a largish media company. I was much fitter then because an estate like that takes a lot of work, even if the local handball team had a yearly autumn gig clearing away leaves (they were always collecting for team travel)

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Mar 27th, 2010 at 02:57:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
beautiful diary, Frank.

your iphone does a fine job, and the shots of the swans are really special.

what gorgeous countryside!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Mar 27th, 2010 at 03:10:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by sgr2 on Sat Mar 27th, 2010 at 02:09:12 PM EST
A beautiful diary, Frank! The terrain reminds me of the Ozarks, which are ancient, being the remains of a plateau thrust up in pre-Cambrian times. Seasonal follow-up diaries with photos are certainly in order.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Mar 28th, 2010 at 11:34:31 AM EST
Great diary, Frank! It looks like an ideal place for an ET summer camp... ;-)

"Ce qui vient au monde pour ne rien troubler ne mérite ni égards ni patience." René Char
by Melanchthon on Sun Mar 28th, 2010 at 12:57:20 PM EST
You're all welcome any time!

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Mar 28th, 2010 at 03:51:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't count the winter out yet: you're due snow this week.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 28th, 2010 at 01:03:19 PM EST
Attic and wall insulation being gone tomorrow!

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Mar 28th, 2010 at 03:53:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
being done tomorrow

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Mar 28th, 2010 at 03:54:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
thank you!

The point is not to be right, but to get to right.
by marco on Mon Mar 29th, 2010 at 05:03:34 AM EST

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