Reading My Way Around the World

Friday 31 December 2021

Happy New Year

From the Mourne to the Cooleys - winter sunshine

Happy New Year dear blogger friends.   May 2022 be kind to us all. 

Lots of love and blessings


Thursday 23 December 2021

Winter Blessings

From our house to yours
Wishing you blessings of the season on these short days.  

Wherever you are in the world and however or whether you celebrate this winter holiday, I wish you peace, joy and good health for the coming days and months.  

Tuesday 30 November 2021

Gorgeous Autumn walk

It takes me ages to get photos organised and get around to writing about outings but as Autumn turns to winter I was looking through some photos and thought I'd share a trip we took a couple of weekends ago when the leaves were still holding on to the branches and those that were lying on the ground were begging to be rustled through and kicked in the air.    

We took the caravan out for the last trip of the year, thinking we'd be the only ones mad enough to go at the end of November.   But boy were we wrong.   We went to CastleWard in Co. Down and the park was full - so we're not the only nutters lol.  But the van was so cosy and comfortable and we were blessed with the most perfect Autumn weather.   

CastleWard is a stately home and estate, one of the few run by the National Trust here in Ireland, and it is a fabulous estate.   We couldn't go into the house itself, and in truth it didn't look that inviting, but the park is situated on the shores of Strangford Lough and it really is magnificent.   The last time I was there, many moons ago, was to see NI Opera doing a traditional opera performance - tradional in that there was a 90 minute interval where we all headed outside to enjoy a champagne picnic on the lawns - a really memorable experience (couldn't tell you what the opera was though lol)

There are lots of walks mapped out and as one couple we met said, it's much easier to get out for walks when you're away from home and it's planned out for you.  

On the way from the caravan park to the main house ... 

crisp leaves waiting to be kicked up 

Playing in the shadows 

Lots of knobbly trees 

this one was a fabulous shape

and enticing views of the water

A really cute, full man size bug hotel and lots of activity spaces for children - very well managed.

Arriving at the old stables that was used as the set for Winterfell in Game of Thrones 

And on to the big house .... 

The view to Strangford Lough from the front of the main house - it was very windswept standing at the front of the house looking down, (probably the reason the door is at the back).   The family have a fascinating history - the couple who built the house had totally opposing tastes and apparently the house is a mad mix of styles.   I look forward to going back someday to get a look around inside.  

There are lots of different gardens beautifully maintained including a pristine sunken garden 

and amazingly for the middle of November there was lots of colour still around. 

As I said, this is one of the few National Trust properties over here and while it is beautifully managed and cared for it was disappointing to find no local crafts or art on sale in their shop - except for Game of Thrones memorabilia and a few items from very big producers in Belfast or down south - and the craft village has been reduced from 18 to 2 crafters.  I did manage to find a really nice ornament for my garden though (something for my Spend Local gift) and it was a total delight to find a really good second hand bookshop with an honour system of paying.  Poor Tom got to carry a pile of stuff back to the van.   

So looking forward to the next trip away once the festive season eases off.  

Friday 12 November 2021

A walk around and about today

Hello friends, it's been a while.   
Life has been picking up again and there are so many excuses for not keeping up with blogging and social media-ing (is that a word yet?).  And Autumn has been so lovely.   There's not been too much wind yet to scatter the leaves and the colours have been spectacular.   

Along the beach it's been calm and gradually turning to brown.  

Here in NI  all adults have been given a £100 voucher to spend locally to help the local economy after all the lockdowns.  What a treat!  And we've been encouraged to think of it that way ... as a treat.   And yesterday  I finally spent a bit of it - just on some lovely locally made scents for the house, but it felt like being a child again.   You remember the times when you had £1 or £5 to spend and you took forever choosing exactly what to spend it on?  Well it was like that - and everyone is the same.   While many will be glad of the extra cash for winter fuel or extra foodstuffs, those of us who are a bit luckier have been thinking about shoes, or something for the garden, or money towards a new piece of furniture or a new coat or .....  And lots of places are offering extra if you spend it in their shop.   

So what would you spend a treat of £100 on?  Not online,  not on alcohol or gambling - they're the only exclusions.  Lucky us.   

Saturday 18 September 2021

Getting into focus

I love taking photos and I use a very scientific method introduced to me by an American friend years ago - point, snap, take loads and hope that you get one or two decent ones out of every 500 you take!!!  Honestly, she had me driving around Pennsylvania one time with the camera out the window not even looking at what she was photographing and miraculously some did come out.   Such a laugh.  That friend is now battling with the debris of her house after Hurricane Ida - I wish I was closer to help.  

But, back to the photos - I'm not quite up to her standard but it is alarming how many of my snaps are out of focus - and they look perfectly lined up to me when I'm taking them .. Like these sheep above - I was sure I had the next cover of the Countryfile calendar - perfect composition - the sheep was out on the point looking in to the water - but my eyes deceived me.   I'll have to wait for my moment of glory some other time.  

But it's a bit like life at the moment - nothing is quite in focus yet - there's the promise of things happening but nothing certain, the queries about things perhaps happening but then nothing.   And it is very frustrating.   It spills into every part of life - it's like living in prolonged holiday mode where you just can't seem to get moving.  

So I'm still helping Belinda a couple of days a week in her gift shop and we had a lovely last minute run up to the north coast again - this time to Ballycastle and Fair Head  - that's one of those places that get mentioned on the shipping forecast.   Wow!  On the clear day we could see Rathlin, the Mull of Kintyre and Iona.  A giant like Finn McCool would have only needed one step to get to any of them:).   

So let's see what next week brings, what might open up and how much more into focus life may become.  

Wednesday 28 July 2021

Glorious weather, good books and new ventures

It's been a busy couple of weeks around these parts - my friend Belinda opened her second Good Craic gift shop on very short notice a few weeks ago, and both Tom and I have been helping her until her staffing settles down.   Such a leap going from a sole trader to having several staff to manage.   She's doing brilliantly, the shop is a joy to be in and the location of the new place, at the Silent Valley Reservoir, has been simply lovely to go to during this fabulous spell of weather.   

driving past Slieve Binnian on the way to Silent Valley

Silent Valley is one of three reservoirs in the Mourne Mountains that feed the greater Belfast area and with people staycationing this year lots of people from all over NI and the South of Ireland have been discovering this beautiful part of the world.   

photo from Wikipedia

Its name is said to come from the notion that the birds all disappeared after the explosions to flood the valley.  Before that it was known as Happy Valley because of the singing of the Cornish quarrymen who worked on it.  The greatest achievement was the tunnel that was dug by hand by two teams from both sides of the mountain, guided by candles to keep straight lines and arriving just inches out when the two teams met.   

In the middle of all that excitement my Mum celebrated her 94th birthday out in her garden picking fruit.   We had a gorgeous two days with her - she's still living on her own and managing well.  

And a few members of my Singmarra singing group got together in the park yesterday for the first time since last March.  It was so lovely to hear voices in real life and share a few songs and chat with each other.  We could hear thunder across the hills and there were reports of flooding a few miles away, but our singing must have kept the rain away:) Now it's just about time to figure out if and when we can actually sing together in a group indoors and plan things for the Autumn - the government guidelines are so unclear to read and our regulations are different here than in England and different again from the South, so it's all very confusing.   

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I am so far behind with my round the world book journey and reviews that it'll take me ages to catch up.   However, I just had to write about Days Without End and its sequel A Thousand Moons written by Sebastien Barry.   

"Even when you come out of bloodshed and disaster in the end you have got to learn to live."

These stories are set in the run up to and during the American Civil War - a soldier called Thomas McNulty is the narrator in the first one, and Winona, the Indian girl he rescues is the narrator of the second.   And I can honestly say I've never come across such exquisite writing.   I could almost feel the scratchiness of his uniform and smell the dirt and experience his guilt and disgust at what he was being asked to do.  And Winona walking through nature celebrates such detail of the ordinary.   I normally race through books, following the story, but in Days Without End you have to wait and hear Thomas speaking - his colloquialisms, his pace of speech, his observations - he says once that the sky looked like someone had drawn it with a paint brush and that's what the language is like - a slow, luxurious painting.   For sure, the wider subject matter is not jolly, but rather than a grand depiction of the epic proportions of war, it's about living - the feelings and thoughts of one man, or girl.   

100% a 5* from me. 

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And in other happenings, the squirrels are still coming back to feed from time to time

A new mural has appeared in Rostrevor - lovely work - on the wall of one of our restaurants which  is unfortunately closed again due to a bad Covid outbreak in the area - but that will hopefully pass soon.  

We've had the most exquisite sunsets 

and I've been enjoying playing with paints and plants


I've been popping in to keep up to date with how you all are but regular blogging is still not top of my list at the minute - this slower pace is great and I have to say I'm getting a lot more done than before, but there are a few things still needing to get back onto the regular list.  
I hope you are well and staying safe.  

Saturday 3 July 2021

Good news - a date for the diary and other updates

After deleting several blogs I sort of followed at one time, the spam problem went away and Hurrah I can see your blogs again.  Just in case, I've changed my password and am slowly working my way through all my password protected things - how did we end up with so many passwords!

So on to the good news ...

For the first time in 15 months I received an email during the week asking if we can still do our concert in October!   In Glenfarg Folk Club in Fife.  Woooohhhooooooo - I was expecting yet another, "sorry, but we're going to postpone again".   

All of a sudden there's a bit of focus and I'm beyond delighted.   

We've no indications yet of how group singing will work indoors, so planning for choirs is still up in the air - very frustrating for someone who is used to planning well ahead - so I'm contenting myself for another month or so to leave that side of things alone.   This not working lark is very contagious - I could do it forever lol.   

* * * * * * 

In one of my very rare cleaning spurts I came across some old envelopes. 

  This was how we used to copyright our new songs.   Put them on cassette, write out the lyrics, then post it to yourself and don't open it - the postmark confirmed the date.   

This one is Dreaming, one of the first songs I wrote - during one of our first trips to Germany when we were based for 6 weeks out in a tiny village in the country with limited German language knowledge and  "You eat someone" and "What you think about a whiskey!" the limits of our host's English.   I got very homesick, thankfully the only time that has happened to me and this song came out in actual dreams.  We still sing the song in our set - probably the only one we do that reflects the idiocy of life here in NI and I was surprised to find an extra verse in it that I'd forgotten about.   not sure why it wasn't included at the time but maybe I'll relearn it now.

With life being a bit lopsided it's lovely to be moving in to summer mode - the garden AND sport on the tele.   Brilliant.   We're good armchair sports coaches in this house!  Andy coped well at Wimbledon, Lewis is struggling a bit in the Grand Prix and I'm looking forward to seeing the Women's Formula One, Rory needs a good talking to in the golf and who knows what we have to look forward to once the Olympics start.  Of course there's always cricket if we get really fed up -  that's still a mystery to me much to the frustration of my Australian friends.  Football is the only no-no. 

I hope you're all well and enjoying little bits of freedom - the joy of having coffee or lunch with friends is fabulous - things still aren't open in the south yet so we can't take my mum out much but that'll come soon, fingers crossed.  

Wednesday 30 June 2021

My Green (and Blue) Garden House

Tom has been busy building in the garden ... 

and here I can reveal 

my Green House :)

Made from recycled windows and wood - I am so pleased.   He has done a brilliant job.   It's warm enough to sit in and bring a small table in to, but I've high hopes for the tomatoes and lettuce and chilli I've planted.  

We've thought of umpteen names for it, the Tardis coming up tops, but as my office already has that nickname it can't be used twice lol so I've opted for the Green House :)  

I'm gradually working on this wee area, the raspberry patch is swamped with ivy - and the raised bed has peas and onions coming on if we ever get enough heat for them to grow.  So this will eventually be a wee secret garden and a great sun trap.  

He also made this cracker trellis substitute from driftwood - my idea I have to boast, but he did the putting together - absolutely love it :)    

The rose looks a wee bit windswept - we're having fierce winds here at the moment and it gets very cold the minute your out of the sun - but the horse's head looks soooo good - he makes me smile every time I go past. 

Scratching my head now to see what's next on my list :) ... mwah haw haw ... 

Tuesday 29 June 2021

Spam posts

I've just been bombarded with dozens of blogs from Blender Ukraine and can't see any of your blogs for the past couple of days - already gone back 4 or 5 pages!!!   Grrrrr.   Anyone know how to delete blogs from the reader?   Not sure if it's safe to post.   Just using this to test.

It looks like somebody I'm following has been hacked ... I don't know a lot about this but I've changed my password, perhaps it might be worth checking and changing yours.   So annoying. 

Monday 21 June 2021

Happy Solstice

I can hardly believe it's Midyear's Day - and it still feels like the summer has to come.   How are you doing?  I wish you all the joy of the Solstice, whether winter or summer, and a continued happy and healthy rest of year to come.

We spent a week at the start of June up on the north coast of Co. Antrim, an area I absolutely love and which is gloriously unfamiliar to me - growing up in the west our summers were spent on the Donegal or Sligo coast.  It's part of the Wild Atlantic Way tourist route. The photo above was taken at White Park Bay just around the corner from the Giant's Causeway - there were only two other people walking there when we visited this 2 mile stretch of sandy beach.  Beautiful.  In a way it's a blessing at the moment not being able to travel far - we're getting to see parts of our own country with fresh eyes.
From there it's 20 miles west to Donegal and 11 miles east to Scotland.

White Park Bay from the road above with Tor head in the distance.

While we were there we spent an afternoon on Rathlin Island which is the most northernly part of Ireland, another place I've always wanted to visit.   You can see from this map how close we are to Scotland.

There's something really special to me about islands and this place is no different.   We were limited in the ferries we could get - lots of people very happy to be allowed back out to the island - so we didn't have a lot of time but it was still worth the few hours we were there and we'll definitely go back.   
(My photographs were terrible as I couldn't go down to the viewing platform so I've borrowed a few from the tourist board). 
photo DiscoverNorthernIreland

photo RSPB


Rathlin is special for many reasons, mainly as a roosting site for puffins and many different seabirds who migrate there each year.  The seabird centre, run by the RSPB, gives access to a viewing platform to watch the many nesting sites.  It was also the place that  Marconi used for his first transmissions across the Atlantic.  

One of our local authors, Bernie McGill, wrote a cracker novel based on Rathlin called The Watch House- definitely worth a read (imho) - set at the time of the modern world starting to impinge on island life.

The supervisor at the Caravan Park:)

Things otherwise here are fairly routine  - I've discovered that I work best to deadlines and without those practising is just a chore.   "I sing for other people" someone said recently and it resonated with me.   Still no dates for concerts as the arts centres and touring venues have no date to open and will need weeks to get the venues ready for people again.   But, there's lots of work getting done in the garden - it's finally taking shape and Tom has just finished building me a garden glass house made from reclaimed windows and wood - I knew there was a reason I married him lol