A seal experience

After reading a recent post of Becky’s my own comment on that post got me thinking back to an amazing wildlife experience I had at a place on the Lincolnshire coast back in 2007, so in the absence of a Monday walk I thought I would post an account and a few photos of that experience. I can’t remember now how I first found out about this particular place – probably from the camping forum I frequent – but the more I read about it the more I wanted to go there so I started doing some serious research and came across a very informative website for photographers.
Donna Nook National Nature Reserve covers 6.25 miles of the Lincolnshire coastline and is made up of sand dunes, sand and mud flats, salt marshes and inter-tidal areas ; it’s also part of a larger area owned by the Ministry of Defence and the sand flats are used during the week for RAF bombing practice. Interesting plant communities flourish in the salt marshes and 47 species of birds breed regularly in the area, with over 250 migrant species passing through, but the main attraction for visitors is the large colony of grey seals which, from the end of October to late December, use the sand flats and salt marshes in one particular area for breeding and giving birth to their pups before returning to sea.
A special enclosed double-fenced viewing area at the foot of the dunes is staffed by volunteer wardens from the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, but back in 2007 serious photographers were allowed to go out onto the sand flats to observe and photograph the seals at close quarters, though certain rules had to be followed. Anyone wanting to photograph these creatures close up would need  to be serious about it too as there was a bitingly cold wind blowing and the mile trek across the sand involved wading through water channels several inches deep ; it was necessary to wear at least three layers of warm clothing plus dark coloured waterproofs and wellies and in some instances to act like a seal by crawling or sliding along the wet sand.
In the course of my research that year I found out that there was a nice little camp site only a couple of miles from where the seals were so I booked four nights for myself, my partner and our caravan and off we went at the end of November, arriving at the site at lunch time. Our first full day there was treated as a recce of the seal area and even from behind the fence I could see that this place was pretty special ; hundreds of seals, both young and adult, were dotted about over a huge area and as far as the eye could see, and several were close up against the fence with one pup having its head actually under  the inner fence.
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A small part of the seal colony
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The following day, suitably dressed in warm layers, waterproofs and wellies, we set out from the viewing area on our trek across the sand and out towards the sea, following a designated marked out route to avoid the possibility of being blown up by some unexploded object buried in the sand – presumably, as long as we followed the rules and the route, we would survive with arms and legs etc intact. Eventually we got close to the sea – seals were dotted about everywhere and I spent well over an hour getting shots of various adults and pups. I got close but not too  close – I had to kneel, sit, crawl or lie on the wet sand several times but it meant that I got the shots I wanted without disturbing the seals so it was worth any minor discomfort.
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The next day we returned to the reserve as I hoped to see a seal pup being born, though this time we stayed behind the fence. Unfortunately I didn’t get to witness an actual birth but I did see a little one which had obviously been born not long before. I got several more photos of these wonderful creatures but the intermittent sunshine wasn’t enough to give any warmth to the day and it was bitterly cold so reluctantly I said goodbye to Donna Nook and we returned to the camp site for our final evening.
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A newborn pup
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Maybe the world looks better upside down
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A final view of Donna Nook
Five years later I went back to Donna Nook on my own. I’d enjoyed the previous experience of getting close to the seals on the sand flats so much that I wanted to repeat it but when I got there I found that things had changed – access to the sand flats and beach had been blocked and all  visitors had to stay behind the fence. On talking to one of the wardens I was told that since my previous visit the handful of serious photographers allowed onto the beach had turned into coachloads of visitors and as many as 300 people a time were walking out across the sand flats. This meant that at least 65 seal pups per season were being lost, abandoned by their mothers and left to die because of all the human disturbance.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that I couldn’t repeat my previous experience ; I was  disappointed as it had been such a fantastic thing to be able to do, but I fully understood and respected the reasons for preventing public access to the beach while the seals were there – just one pup lost to human interference is one too many. Seals have been breeding at Donna Nook since the 1970s and numbers have been increasing each year, with a total of 2,066 pups being born during the short 2018 season.  My once-in-a-lifetime experience back in 2007 had proved to be just that, but if I ever go to Donna Nook again I know I’ll still get some great photos even if I do have to stay behind the fence.
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Upside down

After reading a recent post on Jayne’s blog, in which I commented that a certain photo looked like it was upside down, she followed that with another post with some ‘upside down’ photos specially for me. Well that got me thinking – I knew that somewhere in my archives I had some photos which could be turned upside down and I’ve spent some time over the last few days searching for them so in the absence of a Monday walk and just for a bit of fun here they are, including one with some gravity-defying rocks. And just so certain people don’t have to stand on their heads to make sense of them I’ve also included the ‘right way up’ ones.
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One thing I’ve realised while doing this – if you look at certain ones long enough you end up not knowing which are the upside down ones and which are the right way up. I wonder if Jayne realises just what she started?…..

New Year’s Day walk 2019

After more than two weeks of almost constant gloomy and wet weather New Year’s Day was dry, bright and sunny so I took the opportunity to go for an afternoon walk round part of Leverhulme Park, a local place I hadn’t been to for about twenty years. Unfortunately though, I couldn’t take the dogs this time – with Sophie having recently had a major operation she wasn’t allowed out and it wouldn’t have been fair to take Poppie and leave Sophie behind so for once I was on my own.
Leverhulme Park is the largest of all the local parks and was gifted to the town by well-known local soap magnate and generous benefactor William Hesketh Lever (Lord Leverhulme). Back in 1914 Bolton Corporation was negotiating to buy 67 acres of land on the outskirts of town to turn into a park but when WW1 broke out government restrictions made it impossible to raise all the money necessary for the purchase. When William Lever heard about this he bought the land himself and presented it to the town, then went on to buy further pieces of land to extend the park to 98 acres – a total of 88 of these acres were donated by him and the park was eventually named Leverhulme Park in his honour.
Although the top end of the park provides the usual park facilities – well mown grass, bowling greens, cricket pitches, football pitch, playground, dog walking areas and more recently an up-to-date leisure centre and running track – the bottom end has more of a countryside look with wild meadows, woodland, two rivers and several unmade tracks and paths, and it was this part I was going to explore.
My walk started at the main car park close to the playground and followed a wide tree-lined tarmac path with the cricket pitches and a bowling green up a bank on my left. After a while the tarmac changed to cobbles and the path went downhill through a small wooded area, ending up close to a road where a row of cottages nestled in the shadow of the 86ft high Darcy Lever viaduct. This was once part of the railway line connecting Bolton to Bury but the line was closed in 1970 and the track was left derelict for many years, though more recently the viaduct has become part of a shared footpath/cycleway running from Bolton to Radcliffe.
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A few yards along from the cottages the River Tonge flowed down wide shallow steps and under the road ; footpaths ran both right and left of the river and I took the right hand one as I knew that would take me back into the park. I hadn’t gone far when the path split at the beginning of a wild meadow ; going straight on would take me directly across the meadow so I went left through a small coppice and followed the river round the meadow’s edge. At the point where Bradshaw Brook joined the river itself a man was throwing sticks into the water for his dog although it looked rather gloomy just there as the tall trees were keeping the sunlight at bay.
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The River Tonge
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Bradshaw Brook
At the far side of the meadow the path took me through a thicket of trees to a second meadow ; the man and his dog had given up playing in the river and were walking ahead of me. On the left was a bridge with stone parapets and railings, a bridge which I knew would lead to another more cultivated part of the park although I would save that one for another time. Continuing straight on the path led through more woodland but not sure of where I would end up I turned right and followed a nearby dirt track uphill.
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Bradshaw Brook near the bridge – a great spot for picnics and paddling in summer
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Looking towards the meadow from the bridge
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The top of the dirt track brought me out onto the main path through the top end of the park close to the running track ; although it was only just after 3 o’clock I was already losing the best of the sunlight so deciding that it was time to go home I followed the path past one of the more modern slide constructions and back to the car park.
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It had seemed strange walking without the dogs but although it hadn’t been a long walk – time-wise it had only taken 45 minutes – it had been a good one and it was nice to see that the bottom end of the park hadn’t really changed in the years since I was last there. I’d got some good photos too so I must remember to go back in the spring/early summer to see the differences a change of season will make.
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My walk, clockwise from yellow dot
It’s good to see that my blogging friend Jo is resuming her Monday walks when she can so I’m linking this with her latest, a walk round a nature reserve and salt marshes in Southern Spain, ending with some delicious-looking cake and cream.

2018 – Looking back

As 2018 draws to a close I thought I would recall just some of the events which have featured in my life and on this blog over the last twelve months. On January 3rd, after making an official complaint at the local hospital three weeks previously about the apparent misdiagnosis and lack of proper treatment of his broken ankle, Michael finally got to see the relevant specialist and was put on the emergency list for an operation asap. That took place just three days later when he had a bone graft and a plate and a couple of screws inserted to bring the broken bits together, followed by six weeks in plaster. His recovery was long, and certainly very painful in the early stages, but he finally went back to work ten-and-a-half months after he first broke the ankle.
Early February saw me succumbing to the much-talked-about-at-the-time Aussie flu virus and taking two weeks off work ; it was the first time in my life I’ve ever had flu of any sort and I’d never felt so ill before. The up side though, if you can call it that, was the opportunity to catch up on some reading and I got through several books in the time I was off work. Late in the month my washing machine gave up the ghost and after trying in vain to get someone to repair it I ended up getting a second-hand-but-almost-new one from a local shop ; it was in absolutely mint condition and is still working well. After several weeks of wet and often cold weather the last few days of February turned out dry and gloriously sunny so the end of the month saw me taking the dogs for a walk along one of my favourite routes through a local golf course and the Last Drop Village. It was a very pleasant and enjoyable walk and just rounded off the month nicely.
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The golf course pond
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The Last Drop Village
Early March saw the return of the sparrows which, the year before, had taken to perching on the outside window sill of the spare bedroom. I hadn’t expected them to come back so it was lovely to look through the glass and see them less than 3ft from where I sit when using my pc. In mid March, after several months of searching on the internet and in various camping stores, I finally ordered a new tent to replace my much-loved previous one which had sustained an irreparable tear in its roof the previous year. It wasn’t quite the same as my old one but it was near enough, it satisfied all my criteria and came at a good price with free delivery so I was more than happy. One evening late in the month saw part of my street turned into a river when a main water pipe burst and sent a substantial amount of water flooding across the road – it took two days for United Utilities to fix the problem but not before many gallons of fresh water had gone to waste down the drains. The end of the month saw the start of the Easter weekend and my 4-day break in North Wales, a break which wasn’t the best for many reasons and one in which the word ‘break’ could be taken literally.
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One of my feathered friends down in the garden
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My new tent
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A river in the street
The month of April certainly didn’t get off to a very good start for me. It rained on and off for most of the Easter weekend and put the kibosh on many of my plans, and on the Monday I woke to find that during an unexpected overnight snow shower which had turned to ice my brand new tent had collapsed on top of my belongings ; two of the three poles had broken completely and the end where I would have been sleeping had been totally flattened – thank goodness the dogs and I had been in the van. Fortunately the two broken poles were the only damages my new tent suffered and back at home a few days later I took them to my nearest camping store to get the broken sections replaced. The rest of April passed fairly uneventfully with the only other highlight being a visit to the animal sanctuary spring open day later in the month, and with Michael still being off work he came too – the first time he’d ever been there and he quite enjoyed it.
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My brand new tent – what a disaster!
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Disney at Bleakholt sanctuary
The beginning of May saw Michael finally going back to work on a phased return just over ten months since he first broke his ankle in June last year. It also saw a dramatic change in the weather with the rain of the previous months gone and the start of what was to be a very long and very hot summer. The first bank holiday weekend of the month saw me suggesting (very unwisely) that we go to a car boot sale on the Sunday and then on to St. Annes – the weather was extremely warm, the world and his wife were out on the roads and we ended up getting stuck in nose-to-tail traffic, going miles out of our way and missing the car boot sale completely. It took ages to find somewhere to park at St. Annes but once we did we had a very enjoyable afternoon with a good meal and a couple of dog walks along the beach. On the middle Saturday of the month I went to Hornby Castle gardens, somewhere I’d never been before and where I got some lovely photos, then the following day I managed to burn my foot with scalding water from a recently-boiled kettle. Silicone dressings prescribed by the doctor helped to ease the pain and promote healing, and after resting it as much as possible for a week I couldn’t ignore the continuing good weather any longer so the final weekend of the month saw me taking the dogs for a local walk to Smithills Hall and gardens.
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St. Annes promenade gardens
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The walled garden at Hornby Castle
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Smithills Hall gardens
My planned 11-day holiday on Anglesey at the beginning of June was shortened by several days due to circumstances beyond my control but I managed to get six days out of the eleven and with the continuing good weather I really made the most of them by exploring as many places as I could in the time that I had. The highlight of the week just had to be finding and photographing the old abandoned brick works at Porth Wen – it was difficult to get to and involved a long walk with a couple of hairy moments but it was an amazing place and well worth the effort for the photos I got. The rest of the month was fairly uneventful but then the 28th saw the start of a wildfire up on the moors not far from home, a fire which would eventually cover more than five square miles, mean the closure of several local roads including the one running past the end of my street, and would involve more than 30 fire crews while it was at it worst.
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Porth Wen old brick works
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Porth Wen sea arch
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Part of the Winter Hill fire on the west side
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Part of the fire on the east side
At the start of July Michael and I had a lovely day out in Southport then for his birthday in the middle of the month he went over to Ireland for a few days, where he encountered a coach driver who didn’t know the route from Dublin airport to Roscrea and had to be directed a couple of times. The highlight of the month though just had to be the tour of the new outdoor Coronation Street tv set ; with great weather, a very knowledgeable tour guide and the freedom to take as many photos as we wanted it was a great tour and one I would certainly do again.
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Southport promenade
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Lord Street gardens, Southport
Rovers return
This needs no explanation
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Our official photo
Although most of the Winter Hill fire had been extinguished by the middle of July and the number of fire crews reduced there were many hot spots still burning under the surface so it wasn’t until early August that it was officially declared to be completely out after a total of 41 days. On the 9th of the month I took my first walk up there the day after the land was reopened to the public and was shocked and saddened to see the large scale devastation the fire had caused. Two days later the highlight of the month came when, at the town’s central fire station open day, I got the opportunity to go up in the air on a fire engine hydraulic platform – from 100ft up the extensive views all round the town were brilliant and I got some great photos.
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Fire ravaged land on Winter Hill
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The hydraulic platform going up
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On the way up
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Winter Hill from 100ft in the air
The highlight of September came early on in the month when, during a Heritage Open Day, I got the opportunity to climb the 180ft bell tower at the local parish church and also try a bit of bell ringing. Although the weather wasn’t the best – the long hot summer had finally ended locally the day after my fire station visit – I still got some good photos from the tower roof and the bell ringing was quite an interesting experience. A very sad time came in the middle of the month when I accompanied my friend Janet on the day she had her dog Aphra put to sleep, then later in the month I had my second short holiday on Anglesey, with an impromptu visit to my blogging friend Eileen on the way there. The weather wasn’t the best to start with but it got better as the days went on so I still got out and about and had plenty of sunshine for my photos.
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A view from the parish church tower roof
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Aphra
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Benllech beach, Anglesey
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A Llanddwyn Island beach looking towards the Snowdonia mountains
Apart from when Storm Callum hit the UK towards the middle of the month October was really nice weather-wise and still quite warm for the time of year so I went on long walks with the dogs as often as I could, both to local places I’ve often been to and some I hadn’t even known about. In the process the lovely autumn colours gave me lots of great photos and I even had one featured in an online edition of the local evening paper.
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Farnworth park
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Firwood Fold’s hidden lake
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Close Park, Radcliffe
A dull day in early November saw me taking a photography trip to Preston Dock (now known as Preston Marina) after reading the very interesting history about it, then on brighter days I continued my autumn dog walks in the local area. The highlight of the month though was a dazzling light display which lit up the front of the local town hall on two consecutive evenings – unfortunately it was very poorly advertised and I think I may have missed some of it on both occasions but what I did see was amazing and I still got some reasonably good photos.
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Preston marina
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The town hall light display
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My short holiday in Ireland at the beginning of this month was very enjoyable and a day of exploration round Dublin city centre was so interesting that it left me determined to go back in the future and for much longer, as there’s so much to see that it can’t be done in just one day. Just over a week ago I developed a nasty sore throat, cough and cold which came from nowhere and robbed me of my appetite so Christmas in the Mouse House was rather a non-event, although as there was only me and Michael anyway it didn’t matter too much. I’m feeling much better now though and tonight we’ll probably drive up to the moorland road near here and watch the fireworks going off all over town.
So there it is, just some of the highlights of my year, and all that remains now is to thank everyone for visiting this blog over the last twelve months and to wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year – cheers!

From Roscrea to home

My final morning in Roscrea saw me getting the 9am coach to the airport ; my flight wasn’t until 1.50pm but I would have been cutting it a bit fine if I got the next coach at 11am, especially if it was late, so I was better being on the safe side. Michael wasn’t coming home until two days later but he came up to the bus stop with me to see me off and for once the coach was bang on time. With a slight delay going through Dublin city centre I arrived at the airport at 11.20 with a good couple of hours to kill, and once I was through the security check (with no problems) I spent some time looking round the shops before getting a sandwich and a drink and whiling away some more time in a quiet corner.
As I’d been walking through the airport building I’d noticed a run of large back-lit pictures on the walls, advertising Skoda cars – the pictures were based on several Irish myths and legends and though each one prominently featured a car I thought they were lovely enough to take a photo of. Luckily that section of the airport wasn’t too busy just then so I got my shots without anyone getting in the way.
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St. Patrick
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The Children of Lir
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Cu Chulainn
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The Salmon of Knowledge
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Tir Na Nog
Although the plane from Manchester a few days previously had been packed the one going back wasn’t ; I’d pre-booked the same window seat but with no-one sitting in the two seats next to me I could have spread myself out if I’d wanted to. There was no-one in the two rows of seats behind me or across the aisle and only one person in front of me – that’s the first time I’ve known a flight to or from Manchester not to be full.
As we got over to the English side of the water I tried to make out where we were but though the day was cloudy and I didn’t recognise anywhere I still took a few photos. It’s only since I’ve been back home and done a lot of studying of the map book and Google Maps that I’ve realised exactly where we were – passing a part of North Wales which I’m very familiar with.
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Turning towards the Dublin coast
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Right : Anglesey and the Menai Straits – centre : cloud over the Snowdonia mountains – centre foreground : Conwy estuary, Great Orme – moving left : Llandudno, Rhos-on-Sea, Colwyn Bay
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Right : Barkby beach – centre : Talacre beach
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The Dee estuary – right : Talacre beach – left : Mostyn Dock
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The River Mersey – right : Birkenhead – left : Liverpool
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Approaching Manchester airport
It was 2.40pm when the plane landed at Manchester and by the time I’d got through the airport and walked all the way to the station I’d just missed a train and had to wait half an hour for the next one. Although it wasn’t ideal it was only a minor irritation and I could live with it, but what I didn’t know then was how many things would go wrong in less than 24 hours. But regardless of any disasters to come I’d still had a really nice time in Ireland – and my day in Dublin had inspired me to want to go back to see more in the not-too-distant future.

A walk to Mount St. Joseph Abbey

Although Roscrea is only a small town and is surrounded by countryside there are no really good dog walks anywhere unless you take a long walk out of town or drive to somewhere so the only place I could reasonably go to with Trixie was Mount St. Joseph Abbey, two miles along the country road from the bottom of Nellie’s street. I’ve been there a couple of times before and in spite of the frequent passing traffic it’s a pleasant walk past open fields.
I wasn’t far from the monastery grounds when I experienced the second great coincidence of the holiday. Houses along the road were few and far between and as I got close to the last one a man suddenly appeared through the gate onto the road, startling Trixie and making her bark. He spoke to her in a friendly voice and apologised to me for startling her, we got chatting and I mentioned that Trixie wasn’t actually mine. When I said who she belongs to he told me he knew the family and Michael’s dad and said he knew a young lad from the family also called Michael – and he was really surprised when I told him that’s my son. That was so unbelievable – two miles from town in the middle of nowhere and out of the blue I meet someone who knows Michael!
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Wandering round the monastery grounds I noticed that the church door was open – I would have loved to go in and look round but I didn’t know if it was allowed and there was no-one around who I could ask so I wandered past the guest house and round to the back and discovered a lovely peaceful apple orchard with a couple of benches set alongside the paths. One of the paths led through an archway to a courtyard beyond, it looked a bit like a farm yard and as I didn’t know whether it belonged to the monastery or was private I didn’t go any further.
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The monastery grounds
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The guest house
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Part of the apple orchard
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Back on the main path I made my way round to the stream with the man-made waterfalls, and though it was in shade just like last year the full sunshine did make things a bit brighter. From the stream I made my way through the woods back to the main path then with the last three shots taken I set off on the 2-mile walk back to Nellie’s.
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Some local residents across the stream
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Back at the house, and tired out from her long walk, Trixie curled up on her cushion and didn’t move much until later in the evening – two miles each way is nothing to me but obviously she isn’t used to walking so far all at once. Later on I popped up the road to take some photos of the Christmas lights in the garden of the house a few doors away – they add something new every year and this time it was penguins and lights on the ground – then I settled in to watch tv for the rest of the evening.
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Before I went to bed I packed my case and backpack ready for the morning as I had a reasonably early start and I didn’t want to be on the last minute. It was strange though – compared to here at home Roscrea is such a small quiet town that I wouldn’t want to live there permanently, but over the last few days I’d got so settled that somehow I felt reluctant to come home. Michael’s dad may no longer be around but it’s nice to be part of his home and the Roscrea life for a short while, and I know it won’t be long before I go back there again.

St. Cronan’s Church, Roscrea – a feast of stained glass

My last full day in Roscrea arrived with sunshine and blue sky and after breakfast my first task was to find some nice artificial flowers to replace the ones I left on Michael’s dad’s grave last year. Although I really wanted a single large arrangement I couldn’t find one so I settled for six small bunches, three red and three white, and back at the house I filched a length of Nellie’s green knitting wool and tied them all together into one arrangement before taking them up to the grave. While I was up there I noticed that the lantern and plaques that Michael and I had left at the time of the funeral were looking a bit grubby so I took them back to the house, gave them a good clean then went to return them to the grave. I took my camera with me too as I’d seen that the church was open so I went in to see if I could get some photos of the stained glass windows which I didn’t get shots of on a previous occasion.
The construction of St. Cronan’s RC Church started in 1844 just before the Great Hunger and in spite of the best efforts of the parish priest and the local community it proved impossible to complete during the famine years. After various fund raising efforts both in the community and in America the church was finally opened for worship in 1855 although it still didn’t have a roof at that time. In the 1870s the towers flanking the west end of the building were added, and before his death in 1902 John Francis Bentley, the architect of Westminster Cathedral, said that the hand carved altar pinnacle and screen was the most beautiful piece of church architecture he had seen in Ireland. In 1913 lightning seriously damaged the apse so restoration and redecoration was carried out on the whole church, then in the 1920s the statue of St. Cronan was added, which now stands above the main door.
It seemed like I was the only person in the church at that time so with no interruptions I wandered round freely and managed to get shots of every stained glass window in there. Someone belonging to the church must have been there somewhere though as only a few minutes after I’d gone out I heard the main door being closed and locked from the inside – it seemed I’d got my photos just at the right time.
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Back at the house Nellie made me a coffee and a couple of sandwiches then I got ready for the next part of my day ; earlier in the holiday I’d promised Trixie that I would take her for a good walk and as it was still a lovely day weather-wise that’s just what I was going to do.