Royal canal and Tolka valley

A short run whilst waiting for a friend's appointment in the Mater hospital. The Royal canal way was well worth the visit for barefoot running. The recently extended Luas tram line terminates at Broombridge where you can change to Irish Rail - one day I hope to explore these routes with my Free Travel pass.

Commuter train near Drumcondra

Up train from Broombridge

Down into the Tolka valley

Royal canal way

Early HH

Some while ago I posted about our Christian community experiences in the North. That lifestyle ended abruptly when a group of us moved down to the South to begin living together in HH. How HH was acquired is another story, little short of a miracle, that I was not involved in. My own story starts once we had moved in.

We had left the community in the North with little more than our bedroom furniture and the clothes on our back. Whilst we had free use of the HH property, we had no income and thus, once our meagre funds had run out, no food. But we did have a car, so a few of us borrowed a neighbour's ladder and drove into the outskirts of Dublin and offered to clean windows.  And it was winter, but rain and snow did not overly damp our spirits.

Early group photo at HH

Back then breakfast was a bowl of porridge and one slice of bread. Period. We had only one table, not large enough for all of us to sit around. The only source of heat was a wood stove in the basement kitchen / dining room, or an open fireplace in the lounge and then only if we could find enough waste timber. Packed lunches were often a mashed potato and pickle sandwich followed by a homemade-sort-of-cheese sandwich which some privately called "sludge". You ate all you were given. On one occasion I had saved half a sandwich for later, and then forgot to eat it. When the girl on kitchen duty found the remains she gave me a very strong dressing down - how dare I waste food! And due to lack of funds and amenities we were restricted to one bath every 5 days (there were no showers back then) unless doing something like sorting out the septic system.

But all this was infinitely preferable to our experience in the North so we were happy enough. We were bound together by a common vision to survive. In due course the window cleaning business morphed into painting and decorating, and then general building work and, finally (for me), a move back into electronics. And the rest is history...

And now a new generation has grown up that knew not Joseph. Food is plentiful and the children often don't eat all they are given and no-one bats an eyelid. Well, no-one except us oldies who remember the lean times.


Flavia de Luce

Flavia in her chemistry lab

Alan Bradley, author of the Flavia de Luce detective stories, was formerly an electronics engineer - so there's hope for me yet... He is Canadian by birth and now lives on the Isle of Man but the books are set in 1950's England, reminiscent of my own childhood. Flavia is the youngest of three daughters of widowed Haviland de Luce and in Alan's words she is just your ordinary precocious 11-year-old girl with a passion for poisons. Oh, yes, and she has violet eyes. An 11-year-old is on the cusp: neither girl nor woman; man nor boy. It is a magical age, when, given the gift of wonder, anything – anything! – is possible. And she has pigtails, is a sleuth extraordinaire and rides a bike called Gladys. 


The plots are intriguing but what I like most of all is the tenderness that Alan bestows to Flavia's narration together with her vivid descriptions. The following example finds her rushing back home from some prank and meeting her grieving and rather distant father: 

What are we going to do with you?” he asked suddenly.
“I don’t know, sir,” I replied.
The “sir” came out of nowhere. I had never addressed my father in that way before, but it seemed perfectly the right thing to do.
“It’s just that sometimes … sometimes—I think that I am very like my mother.”
There! I had said it!
I could only wait now to see what damage I had done.
“You are not like your mother, Flavia.”
I gulped at the blow.
“You are your mother.”
My mind was a swarm—a beehive, a tornado, a tropical storm. Were my ears actually hearing this? For the past several years my sisters had increasingly tried to convince me that I was adopted; a changeling; a lump of coal left by a cruel Father Christmas in their stockings.
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about this for some time,” Father said, fidgeting as if he were looking for something lost in the pockets of his dressing gown. “I may as well come straight to the point.”
My chin was trembling. What was going to happen? What was he going to say?
Was he about to tear a strip off me for ruining my best coat?
“I am aware that your life has not always been—” he began unexpectedly. “That is to say, I know that you sometimes …”
He looked at me in misery, his face flickering in the candlelight. “Damn it all,” he said.
He began again. “As was your mother, you have been given the fatal gift of genius. Because of it, your life will not be an easy one—nor must you expect it to be. You must remember always that great gifts come at great cost. Are there any questions?”

with her sisters

There are occasional glitches that show his Canadian start, like the colour coding of mains wiring as brown for live and blue for neutral. Back then it would have been red and black. Or a reference to "clapboards" which are weatherboards over here. But such hiccups are a small price to pay for the joy of living inside Flavia.

This video clip, shot years ago, is of another genius: someone I know rather well who reminds me a bit of Flavia, or should I say Flavia reminds me a bit of her.

So far there are eleven books in the series, possibly still counting, and I am currently on No. 5, so I've got a fair bit of enjoyment ahead of me. If you like stories involving intrigue, coming of age, that are well written and with characters that are vibrant but which you can relate to, I can heartily recommend this series.

  1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie 
  2. The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
  3. A Red Herring Without Mustard
  4. I Am Half Sick of Shadows
  5. Speaking from Among the Bones
  6. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
  7. The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse
  8. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust
  9. Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d
  10. The Grave’s a Fine Place
  11. The Golden Tresses of the Dead


Hackpen Hill and wild swimming

My goal: to top my other recent Willand runs, scale Hackpen Hill and return via Culm valley for its beauty and a wild swim.

Hackpen Hill and its footpaths to Culmstock (top left)

My track: 14.2 miles, elevation gain 533m, average moving 5.46mph

Hackpen Hill was a bit disappointing but the descent and over-fields footpaths to Culmstock satisfied. I love running bare foot through grassy fields. Warm rain would have heightened the experience but you can't have everything.

The River Culm is the longest tributary to the River Exe and is responsible for place names Uffculme, Culmstock, Cullompton, Culm Davy and such like. And it flows past Willand hence my attraction.

River Culm catchment - I swam somewhere inside the yellow circle

As usual, my pictures are in reverse chronological order and can be clicked to enlarge.

My wild swimming hole (exact location secret)

Why is it called (naked) wild swimming? It makes swimming pools sound like the norm which I strongly contest because surely swimming in lakes, rivers and the sea came first. And anyway I hate swimming pools.  Kate Rew, who hails from the River Culm area, author of Wild Swim, would be proud of me.

Hunkin Wood thingummy

and the poem thereon by Elizabeth Rapp

Water meadow between Uffculme and Culmstock

River Culm at Culmstock

Culmstock parish church

Wondrous grassy footpath to Culmstock

The footpath took me past this neat thatched cottage

Footpath and style to next field

More footpath with Culmstock in the distance

Steep descent from Hackpen Hill

View from Hackpen Hill summit

Early morning milking procession



Another shopping trip was needed apparently (the last one was only yesterday) - having run out of bottled water and cream, two essentials for any trip away with Ali. Having duly shopped I parked the hire car in Cullompton and set off on another magical mystery run. Bradninch being the next place of any consequence south of Cullompton. Lots more glorious Devon countryside.

My track, 8.4 miles, elevation gain 286m

Gypsy or John Treagood?

Public footpath through an orchard - what could be better?

my most southerly point in Strathculm

Old mill in Strathculm

River Culm

Impassable footpath on left so I descended to Bradninch




Up at 0615, hoping for some warm rain (it was forecast but came later in the day) I had the foresight to bring a plastic bag with me for my Pixel-2. The goal: to explore yet uncharted (by me) territory. My track: 9.9 miles through Cullompton to Westcott. Nothing special... 

My track

Cullompton from Old Hill

Westcott signpost

Fairy glen, Cullompton

Duck promenade, Cullompton


Maiden Down

Here I am in Willand at Great Grandma's again with various opportunities to explore new venues. Perusing my OS 1:25k mapping in Orux I saw "Maiden Down" at top right and made it my objective, via my favourite Uffculme water meadows.

My track, 13 miles, bare foot of course

Maiden Down is a "Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)" but I could not find out its origin, although here are some historical maps of the area.

There are no rights of way marked on my OS map, but using this site and checking the box "Access Land & Dartmoor Commons" you get the interactive map below which shows "Footpath No. 10" in magenta and Maiden Down as common land. It's amazing the detail you can find on the internet for the UK. Much less in Ireland but it is improving with time.

Without the filter

With the commons filter

Footpath No. 10 was my way of entering Maiden Down. The tail end pointing due east was apparently added recently and has no signage. It led me into rough woodland and I had to plow through long grass. I disturbed some fallow deer before reaching the lake and the track which I followed to exit the area. I climbed over a gate to the public road - looking back it was marked "Private Property Keep Out" which was rather strange having done my homework on common land.

Most generally a "field" is a bounded region of influence. Thus the electric field due to a point charge has infinite bounds. Maiden Down can be regarded as a field with bounds indicated in pale orange in the above map. Given that one starts outside the field, to pass through it one must both enter and exit. If indeed it is Private, surely one ought to be impeded by a fence or notice, etc., both on entry and exit. But this was not the case, indeed is rarely the case in my experience, grounds I use for assuaging any conscience I might have for possibly trespassing.

In my various homework I found this reference to Maiden Down, suggesting that the number and type of livestock that can be freely grazed on this common land is severely limited and does not include myself, but then I did not stop to graze.

Here are my pictures, in reverse chronological order and click-able to view as usual:

Typical Devon lane

The lake in the centre of Maiden Down

Culmstock Beacon visible on horizon by leaf on left

A footpath across farmland that I followed

Chickens too

Another view of Culmstock Beacon

Uffculme water meadows

Closer to Willand


Our Lady of Lourdes and MRD

Recently we attended a catholic funeral of a friend. For me the surroundings seemed so alien. The liturgy was spoken and the responses made, robot like, in a sing-song voice and, later at the crematorium, we got a decade of Hail Marys. Afterwards one of our (non-catholic) group queried how could these people, in all good conscience, go through this seemingly empty ritual again and again without questioning it? And I wondered to myself if non-believers would likewise query as vain repetition our own church services.

Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Drogheda

mystical mural behind the altar

Strange how the strong conviction on which one person's life is built can be another person's anathema.

the skull belonging to MRD

They've just discovered MRD, a nearly complete 3.8-million-year-old skull in Ethiopia that has apparently changed views about human evolution. Strange how scientists allow such a paradigm shift and yet pooh pooh doubts expressed by those of lesser persuasions. Asked if this find was a "missing link" the scientist admitted "there are many links in the chain of human evolution and most if not nearly all of them are still missing". Is all of this more or less tenuous than belief in catholic transubstantiation? Or than in what you or I believe?