2014 – Day Thirty Four

Chris really is a good boy. He didn’t even hint that it might be a nuisance to back track. All he asks is that I get up early, and I promise I will…and I do! It’s got to be my earliest wake up call to date. But up I get and race around to get ready, beating Chris to it and helping him with a steady chant of “come on, come on, COME ON!!!!!” Very excited.

We’re quickly on the road and back in Cushendun. We’ve no idea where to go, as despite Glenmona House being listed as National Trust, it’s not in the book, or in the map. Still, it’s only small and we’ve already seen most of it, so we press on undeterred. Luck is on our side and as we pull up to a local tourist map, we see we are parked right in front of it. It must be a new Trust acquisition as it’s looking a bit shabby and is unmanned. But there’s a gate which leads into the garden…and there it is, the red squirrel’s playground! Someone has take a great deal of time to get it right. There are three old trees, triangulated with a thick rope, a rope bridge, if you will. One side has a lead rope into the forest that surrounds the garden. There is also a trapeze bridge between two of the trees, and in the centre is a laddered A frame. Each of the corners and/or the centre of each feature has a well stocked feeder.

What it doesn’t have, is squirrels.

We can see that they are everywhere though – the trees are full of nests. Some, Have up to 6 drays. And I can hear 2 of them chittering loudly at each other, but try as I might, I can’t coax or flush anyone into view. I try being still, I try hiding, I try walking through the forest and I try hiding in the playground, but I’m fooling no-one. Disappointed. But even so, absolutely thrilled to think that there are people here who care for them, and have gone to so much trouble to set this up for me. And most importantly, that they feed them. It’s so important that they survive and flourish. Chris gives up after a while and waits in the car, and eventually, I do too.

On to Cushendall. Hopefully we will have more luck there. Chusendall promises a red squirrel walk through their natural habitat and provides a helpful map. It is also organised by the red squirrel support group. We set off, with me a little more subdued after our first effort. Chris to his credit, does not point out that we have driven backwards and missed out on seeing a squirrel.

The walk is split into two parts, right in the heart of the village. One side is along side the wild side of the river and the other through a woodland that also seems to serve as a local walkway. It’s very pretty. The river is burbling away and you’d never know that we are metres from the village. It looks like a perfect setting for squirrels or even perhaps otters. Getting excited again….

There are regular feeders along the way, and we can see evidence of squirrel nibbles and there’s a very nice poster explained the work that the group does…..but…..

We cross over to the park area. The trees here are bigger and well established. Lots of feeders again, and another poster, and lots of nests…and then all of a sudden… success!!!!! Chris spots two in quick succession, high up, but clearly visible darting through the trees. The first one seems quite large, and he also has a darker tail than we have seen before. Success at last 🙂

We finish our walk, eyes cast ever upwards, but we see no more. We see lots of nests, which is a great sign, and we hear another one chittering away as we leave, but we can’t spot him.

Totally worth it. Two squirrels! It make us both very aware of how lucky we were to have the long and close encounter in the forest. Ireland has been very generous with the squirrels. As the locals say, tanks-a-lot!

Back on our way, we link up with the Antrim Coastal Causway, and make out way south, rounding the north eastern shore. The road follows the coast fairly faithfully and the sea is framed with white limestone making the water a beautiful aquamarine. Despite some
light rain, the sea (the Irish Sea here) is calm and you can see for miles.

We are shortly back in city traffic, only a short way out from Belfast so decide to head there for the night. I have mixed feelings about Belfast. The only thing I know about it is as a result of the news, and most of it bloody. As we approach, we drive through a street
featuring murals that wouldn’t look out of place in a war zone. Men in balaclavas carrying rifles, covered in militant slogans. It’s a bit scary. I understand that the government is slowly funding repainting of some of the more militant ones. I guess they haven’t here yet. Chris assures me it’s safe, and I have to trust him. I really want to see
the Titanic exhibition so we need to stay here.

We settle for the night and meet a Queensland couple, Mary Jane and Nick, who have been travelling for 18 month in a Queensland-registered Toyota troop carrier and a tent. They’re braver than me. They have a year more planned, but have bought a motorhome which they are picking up tomorrow. They’ve travelled though some great places – Korea, Russia, Mongolia, all across Europe. They’ve got great stories to tell and we spend a happy evening swapping tales.