Out walking the other day I noticed a skip outside one of the last little cottages in the area. It’s occupant had died the previous week after a long illness. Her good neighbours could be seen in recent times going in to visit, or out walking her dog. Now she is gone and there is the possibility of the cottage being sold, rented or kept empty as a holiday home. The whole thing made me melancholy, not only that this lovely lady who had lived with her husband in their unassuming cottage overlooking the sea had left, but also what their departure emphasised – the accelerating creep of suburbia. Most of the houses here now are relatively modern but are modest compared to some of the newer builds which have settled like rotten teeth in the lower jaw of the coastal loop. Inexplicably it seems easier to get planning for two-storied ugly things the closer you are to the sea.
The most recent cottage to receive a makeover around here now has a shiny new roof and modern window frames. Not bad you might say but far worse is the collection of tightly packed structures dropped, seemingly at random, into the small plot which was once a shady habitat behind the cottage. Now, with the hawthorn around it cut back, the slanting black planes, unbroken by windows, redact the skyline. It’s cramped, dark angles, senselessly crowded into the small space, induces claustrophobia even walking past. But change is inevitable and I suppose those that came before mourned the new bungalows and those living in ditches despised the cottages when they were first built.
There are still one or two old cottages left, some green spaces fiercely protected. If you concentrate on them, and on the rumpled fields and headlands, the reddish brown cliffs, the wheeling birds, you can, imagine it as it once was before blow-ins like me took root. The cottages low and drifting smoke on the chill evenings as figures crossed the blue fields behind their cows. The road, then just a track where people stopped to swap tales or along which they hurried to borrow milk or share a catch of mackerel, or visit a sick neighbour. Some things don’t change. As the night closes in and the owls and badgers and foxes start their shift, the warm lights in the windows dim and go out one by one and beyond, barely visible but constant to the ear, the heaving sea.
Last week I rock-pooled and as those in the know, know, rockpooling is like heroin – for anoraks like me anyway. So I was at it again this week. This time also saw some Snakelock Anemones, below. Those chaps can’t retract their tentacles. Awkward. The ones I didn’t name last week (even further below) are Dahlia Anenomes.
What weather we are having this week; clear blue skies and deliciously warm sun, a treat after an extra long, extra wet and dreary winter. So what if there’s a razor of chill in the air and a haze that lingers, especially near the coast. It only adds a sharpness to the taste of spring and layers the landscape in misty blues. Even if you have been working in the city all week like I have, this weather is balm for the soul. I have caught the tail end of some of these days, racing out the road to see the blue sea fade to white, the metal man’s pillars glow warmly before their familiar shapes dwindle into the dusk and everything is still and pinky-purple. What days for swims too in water smooth and silky yet viciously icy enough to wake hibernating innards. So I imagine but my blasted ear and its lingering, occasional stabbing pain – someone with a voodoo doll perhaps?- prevents me from taking the plunge for now.
Last Sunday I walked out for an hour or so on the narrow road parallel to the coast. I have heard it said around here that Cromwell’s army marched this way, most likely to Waterford from Dunhill (where they took that castle after an unfortunate incident involving beer – a lack of it believe it or not) although I remember looking for evidence of the route before and not finding any. I stopped at the old church on top of the hill going down to Kilfarrasy. It is a ruin and is on private land but you can just about see it over the spring-time ditch. This is the townland of Islandikane – once O’Kane’s Island, though it is not an island rather a headland – and it may possibly have been a possession of the Templar Knights but I can’t be be bothered checking. Kilfarrasy means Church of Fergus so perhaps that is the name of the church.
Then yesterday, Friday, a day off, was spent mostly pottering and putting the house to rights, a house thats somehow seems to upend itself when I am not in it. Is it possible I have a raft of giant toddler poltergeists? Still, I got a good walk in the evening, down to the nearest little beach. The smell of fresh cut grass mingled with the occasional hint of a turf fire and the primroses are peeking out. The daffodils are still with us, nodding or stretching earnestly towards the light. The hedgerows squeak and chirp and rustle with the busy shapes within. On the beach the tide was low and as the sun set I poked around some of the rock pools for anenomes. To my delight I not only spotted a common Beadlet Anenome, those jelly-like reddish, brown ones but a small, chubby, pale lavender Jewel Anenome as well as another small one I have not seen before and have not yet found a name for. I also spotted a small, deliciously spotty, Strawberry Anenome. Except perhaps for the Beadlet Anenome, these anenomes are not immediately visible so if you want to see them you need to crouch and crawl around the rocks. It’s a surprisingly soothing past time, teetering on slippy rocks, staring into what, initially anyway, seem to be dank pools. Disregarding how nerdish this may seem or the funny looks you get, you find, as with life, the closer you look the more treasure you see.