Thursday, May 25, 2017

Badgers, Loughs and Belleek

We had a full day today as we visited the far west of Northern Ireland. In fact in our travels today we crossed over the border from Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland four times! It is so strange to be on a road that crosses over the border back and forth with no checkpoints of any type.

But let's back up to last night. In the forest across from our cottages there are badgers. Travis found a fresh badger sett yesterday afternoon, so we set up a trail camera I brought with us on the sett last night to see what we might see. The pictures tell the story!!

In the morning we explored a new location on Lough Erne - Castle Caldwell Forest. This location has the ruins of a 17th century estate house that was abandoned in the mid 1900s. It is amazing the way a place like this can degrade and the forest reclaim it in less than 100 years! It sets me in mind of where Jesus Said we should lay up or treasures in Matthew. The site sits on a peninsula on the lough and is very beautiful.

After our explorations in the forest, we headed in to the little town of Belleek. For lunch we headed to the local pub (actually the best place to get food in most towns). We have been coming to the Black Cat Cove on every trip and enjoy talking with the owner (you can see her in the picture serving us the left). The meal was fabulous and with full stomachs we headed to tour the Belleek factory.

Belleek is famous for its Parisian china, which is made totally by hand - no automation at all. The students were not sure what to think going in to this (some had imagined a "mom &a pop operation), only to be awed by the artisans who do the work here. Every time I visit I stand in awe at the work that goes in to each piece. They have been doing this for 160 years, and the tools and process has not changed much over that time.

That took us to the end of the day, a quiz on what they have been learning over the last few days and beginning to pack up to head to our final destination in Northern Ireland, Strangford Lough on the east side of the country. We may not have internet connections there (where we are staying is a new location for us, so we don't know), so don't worry if you don't here from us as frequently as you have.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Underground and down the Glen

We had a really nice day to explore Northern Ireland! We started the morning with a trip to Marble Arch Caves to go underground and see a wonderful example of God's creative handiwork underground. This river cave brings three different rivers together underground to carve out a magnificent world of stalagtights, stalagmites, and many other cave featues (see the porridge pot below) This underground world is only accessible via a short boat trip to reach dry ground. The path then stretches for 1 mile underground (part of over 13 miles of known connecting caves!)

In the afternoon we explored where the river emerges from under the ground. This beautiful glen cascades down from the caves and into a larger river. The glen is almost like walking through a temperate rain forest (like Olympic NP).

This afternoon we met our cottage neighbors, also from Michigan. They are working to set up a biological field station in this part of Ireland. Possible connections for our future here in Ireland. Tomorrow is part natural history and part cultural.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Worship, Patience and Majesty

It's been a couple of days since I have had a chance to post about our adventures. A lot has happened in the last three days, so read on to find out what has been happening in our lives.

Sunday was a Sabbath for the group. We had the wonderful privilege of getting to worship with a fellowship of believers at Portstewart Baptist Church. It was an awesome service and our students had an opportunity to have tea and donuts with members of the church after church. It was fun to see them interacting with other Christians from another culture.

Monday morning was an early morning, as Laura (my wife) and I dropped the students at a local station to take the train to our next destination. This 45 minute trip is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world through pastoral settings on one side and the ocean on the other. The train took them to Derry/Londonderry, where I met them to walk through the history that led to the Troubles, along the walls of the city, seeing the murals of Bloody Sunday - the start of tumultuous period in Northern Irish history and then to the Irish woolen shop where many purchased things to bring home.

After Derry/Londonderry, we began to make our way to County Fermanagh. On a side road part of our trip my wife's van ran over something in the road that left it with TWO flats! This began 3 1/2 hours on the phone and waiting. It's amazing what a group of college students in a natural history course can come up with to do! The snail racing was my favorite. The students were great through all of the waiting. God has His purposes in the whole affair. Some
we may never know, but one was a chance to interact with a taxi driver who came to collect us ( our van was not fixed until today). We had a great opportunity to minister to Eddie, hear his story of Christ beginning to work in he and his wife's lives though a miracle that happened in their family (ask the students about it!). We finally arrived at our destination and settled in.

Today we walked through one of my favorite forests, right across the street from where we are staying. I'm sure these gigantic old trees have many stories to tell!  The forest surrounds a manor house and looks out across a mountain. The flowers and birds are wonderful here and sound fills the air.

The afternoon took us to the base and lower slopes of  Culcaigh (pronounced "culky") mountain to study  the unique geology of this place (similar places are only found in Michigan and the Baltic states). Here the bedrock lies on the surface and creates a unique ecosystem. On up the slopes from there we were able to study the a blanket bog. This bog type is only found on the sides of mountains and is most likely the result of ancient farming gone bad. These bogs are now being protected, though some are still used for harvesting peat.  We ended the day with a traditional Irish birthday supper for one of our students. Speaking of peat, we might light a peat fire in the fireplace tonight. Tomorrow we go underground!
(More pictures coming)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Forests, Glens and Waterfalls

Today was a bit of a shorter day in the field. We started with some class business in the morning and then drove to Glenariff Forest Park in the Queen of the Glens - Glenariff. This beautiful park is near the top of the glen (a valley coming up from the sea) and has phenomenal views. The park has gone through dramatic changes in the last 7 years, as a fungal disease has atacked the forests leading to the removal of thousands of trees; but there are still beautiful views of waterfalls, flowers and flowing streams.

Our hike took us down about 200+ feet into the river bottom of the glen and then back up with larger and larger waterfalls along the way. Because of the precipitation and shade, the glen is reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest and Olympic Penninsula in Washington. This temperate rainforest condition means the walls of the glen are covered with moss, ferns, flowers and other lucious growth.

On our return trip, I took us on a route I had never taken before. We made our way down through Glenariff to the ocean and then came back up through another glen, Glenann. Here the sheep roam freely (and on the road), the peat is still cut and harvested by hand to sell as a home fuel and the sights are amazing (though it is a little hairy for the drivers on the narrow, twisting roads🙂).

Tomorrow we get the privilege of sharing in worship with other believers in another country! I can't wait! This is one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Puffins and Orchids

We were blessed with sunny skies and no rain today! This was very good for us as we did not have indoor accommodations today on Rathlin Island. Rathlin Island sits about 5 miles from the shore of Northern Ireland and is home to about 130 residents, lots of sheep, and more nesting birds than you can count!

Our theme for today was birds, flowers and how they interact with the environment. Rathlin is home to one of the largest bird nesting colonies in Ireland, with over 20,000 birds! After our ferry ride to the island, we were treated to stories of the Island by our bus driver Burt. Burt's Puffin Bus took us to the RSPB Seabird Center at the tip of the island.
There we were able to observe thousands of nesting ocean birds in the cliffs, especially the sought after bird - PUFFINS! We spent two hours watching the birds and then began our 5 mile hike back to the harbor.

Our hike took us through cliff top grasslands full of wildflowers because of the grazing by sheep, cattle, rabbits and Irish hares. These animals allow the biodiversity of the grassland to flourish.
The walk took us the rest of the afternoon and brought us back to the harbor where we were greeted by seals lounging along the shore.

Our ferry boat ride too us back to the harbor town of Ballycastle where enjoyed a wonderful Irish meal - fish and chips! Fish and chips in Ireland is very different than in the States. The fish fillet is about 12" long and there are probably two potatoes worth of fresh chips! Needless to say, everyone was full (but not too full to enjoy an ice cream from Morelli's).

Tomorrow we head to the famous Glens of Antrim to walk through the forests and see the wonderful waterfalls.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Dunes and Downhill

Greetings on another day from Ireland! Today we got to see all sorts of weather.  It was beautiful and sunny in the morning when we headed out to the Portstewart Strand  to study the dune ecology of Ireland.  We have a good day on the dunes and were able to see quite a number of wildflowers and bird species. 

We had our lunches right down on the beach looking at the ocean, but  Ireland's weather decided to take a change on us and we ended up in a short rain storm. However those do not last long and we were able to take our walk from the beach along the sea to the little seaside town that we are staying in. 

 In the afternoon, I took them to a location close by, but did not tell them where we were going. The location is a ruined  manor house and another building sitting on a cliff over the ocean. As you can see in the pictures it is a very beautiful location. We explored the ruins and then took a hike through a forested glen.  We were blessed with a beautiful rainbow early and are high as we walk through the rain storm to see the site.
 Tomorrow we are going on a ferry ride to an island off the coast of Ireland. Stay tuned for exciting pictures and news from our day there. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Giant's, Castles and Caves

Today our real explorations  began. We started our morning at the Giants Causeway. This unique world heritage site is an excellent display of volcanic geology that has shaped this part of  Northern Ireland. Our tour guide, Cliff, took us on a 2 1/2 hour tour around the site explaining this geology, plants, and some of the unique animals that live here. It was exciting to see the students getting excited about what they were seeing. Of course being right along the ocean with phenomenal views, it is a pretty easy sell.

After lunch on the roof of the visitor center (the visitor center is actually under ground), we went to our next destination. I did not tell the students where we were going, so when we turned the corner  in the road, they're right before them were the ruins of Dunluce castle.  This is one of the most picturesque castle ruins in all of Ireland. C. S. Lewis is said to have used these particular ruins as the basis for Cair Paravel in the Chronicles of Narnia.  We had a great time exploring the ruins and finding out about life at that time period.

 After visiting the castle, we continued on down the road to a site where the cliffs are made of chalk
and end at a beach into the sea. Because of this the sea storms shape the cliffs  and make beautiful formations. There are arches and sea caves to explore. The students found one sea cave that went about 300 feet into the side of the cliff.  This unique cave had some of the features that we will see in the cave we will be visiting next week. However, they also found the acoustics were fabulous and started to sing Holy Holy Holy in the cave.

 All of this filled up a pretty full day for us. Tomorrow we will be visiting the dune ecosystem just a short hike from where we are staying. Some of the students have already discovered this, but tomorrow will be a much more extensive visit.