25 January 2012

Ireland recce, day II

I started the day with what they called a full Irish breakfast. This was THE day of the reconnaissance mission to Ireland, and it would be a long and tiring, but splendid, day. My plan was to check out the field sites where my students would do their own projects. If any time would be left I would go and see some of a walk I would do as a day excursion.

I was lucky; as I was visiting several sites in some far north-western corner, so I got to take a car of my own. A cute little brand new Hyundai ix20. Freedom! I would have happily given Lou a ride, but the Irish busses already catered sufficiently to her needs. So in largely the same configuration as the day before we dispersed into the region.

I had prioritised a project concerning large boulders on a beach; one of the beaches has blocks of sometimes several metres long on it, and one may wonder how that happened. Were they put there by a glacier? A tsunami? A storm? Do they move? If so, what does it take to move them? How often does that happen? Many things one can wonder.

Last year the students surveyed in 60 of these. This year a new cohort will find them back and re-survey them. That will tell them if they have moved in the past year. And if so, how far. And whether they all move or just some, and if some, then which. But I had to get there first, to see if it could be done; can one find them back? I had practiced with the GPS on campus, but now it was time to do it for real. And this time at a very exposed Atlantic beach in January.

While driving up there I saw another beach, and I thought I recognised is as Pol Sallach; a venue for a project that wouldn’t run this year. But just out of curiosity I had a look anyway. A spectacular place! And after admiring the general view I noticed there was an addition to this scene: a dead whale. Of course I had to have a look. It looked like it had been dead for a while! It was a pilot whale; they are infamous for stranding on beaches. This one had gotten pretty far up, though… Would that have been a victim of the storms raging over Europe around Christmas?

The churning sea at Pol Sallach. Notice the boulder beach on the far left.

The poor pilot whale that had gone to meet its maker

The sun even gave some acte de présence!

But enough time spent on whales: time for my boulders! I parked my car in the tiny village of Fanore, got the GPS out, and saw my boulders were 4km away. I figured that would be an appropriately sized walk. I might see interesting things on the way!

After only tens of metres I walked past a house. It turned out to be guarded by a border collie, who seemed eager to keep me away from this premise. How I obliged! I wanted to be 4km further north. And when the dog saw I wasn’t keen on entering the garden she then seemed to contemplate other possibilities. I could be a friend! So she followed me.

My charming companion

For 4 km I walked on tracks and on the beach and scrambled over more of these rocks, with a happy dog running around me. She surely liked a day on the beach! When I got to my boulders, though, I bored her a little; she saw no fun in standing on top or a boulder with some electronic device in your hand. I found what I wanted, though; the boulders weren’t marked anymore, but the GPS, which even had pictures of the measured boulders in its memory, made me find them back after all. And some seemed to have moved; the students can have an interesting project!

Work to be done!

And again, the sun showed itself briefly

Not easy, but very pleasant, to do your job with such an affectionate assistant 

Tide came in with lots of foam
At some point I realised I had more to do, and was getting hungry, and still had quite a walk back to perform, and the tide was too high to get to the lower boulders, so I called it a morning. To the great pleasure of the dog! So together we made our way back inland. In order to save time I had decided to walk over the road, this time. On my way there I met a lady; she turned out to be a Franciscan Sister who was worried about me, a young and vulnerable woman alone in these remote places! I initially thought she was afraid of me falling off a rock, banging my head, and nobody finding out until I was properly dead, but instead she worried about scary men. She’d pray for me! As she said, while the dog was over-excitedly licking her boots. That was sweet. Both the praying and the enthusiasm of the dog, actually.

When I continued my path I passed another farm-with-dog; one bark from this male sent my companion racing in the opposite direction. I don’t think she likes any display of aggression! So I walked back alone, but when passing the same house again I was glad to see she had, as expected, gotten there before me.

I figured I had spent too much time on that beach to warrant a relaxed pub lunch; I went to the shop to see if they would sell a sandwich. The lady behind the counter offered to make a fresh one for me. Grand! And in order to not spent the time waiting for my lunch in silence I started a conversation. I told of my charming companion for the day. To my surprise she said “that might have been my dog! She was missing for hours!” I was glad to reassure her the dog was back. The lady didn’t seem too certain she would not one day bugger off for real with some random stranger…

Scenery on the way back

With my sandwich I said goodbye to Fanore and went further north. I had another project there; a spit (a tongue of sediment (partially) closing off a bay), of which the students will have to decide, on proper earth scientific and managerial grounds, whether it merits official protection. So I had to have a look first! But I started by having my lunch in the sun, and sheltered form the pounding wind.


After lunch I wandered over the spit. An interesting feature! But quite big. And as exposed as the beach with the boulders. I had to hold on to my note book with force; otherwise the wind would run off with it. When I came off again I was tired! But I still had another task to do. The owner of the lake wanted to show me some device. So I drove back to my little lake, where the man showed me a benchmark. Most useful! But that marked the end of my to do list for the day.

The spit starts like this...

...and 2 km further on it ends like this!

I had another half hour or so of daylight to go; I decided to drive back, but stop at interesting stuff I’d pass on the way. And in Ireland, that’s quite some stuff, believe me. I managed to fit in two ruined fortifications before it got too dark. Not bad!

The region is littered with impressive ruins

When I got back to the hotel I found out that all the others were already back. Later we would go into town for dinner, but for now some were enjoying the facilities of the hotel (pool with Jacuzzi!), and Alison, unfortunately, had to tend to a dog bite she had sustained that day. It was the day of the dogs, and I had drawn the long straw!

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