Real Moments: From Gardening to Glasgow to Graduation!

I’m well aware that there has been a lull in posts for the last few weeks – but that’s not for lack of things to say, trust me! An explanation by means of a life update felt in order.

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The most perfect of white camellias – which I cannot take the credit for finding. Tony, the head gardener at Inish Beg, discovered this beautiful botanical gem buried back behind the hydrangeas.

Apparently the letter ‘G’ has been the flavor of the past few weeks for me. What felt like immediately after my return from a month and a half of gardening in Ireland, but in actuality was only a week or so later, I set off on a trip to the homeland with my grandmother. My maternal grandparents hail from Glasgow, Scotland so we went over to visit a few relatives for two weeks.

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The view of Princess Street and beyond from Edinburgh Castle.

As I’ve been to Scotland a fair few times throughout my life prior to this trip, the travel bug wasn’t that strong and we didn’t venture off too far… with the exception of a day trip to the capital city. I must admit that I’m very proud of my 72 year old grandmother for trekking all over Edinburgh with me and not complaining once! We had a bonnie wee time to ourselves, we did.

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Took some time to go see The Elephant House – otherwise known as the birthplace of Harry Potter – while in Edinburgh. My nana was abhorred by the “graffiti” on the wall of the bathrooms but it’s common practice to sign a message when visiting.

I kid you not, the very next morning after flying back to the States from Scotland I drove off for a weekend of glowraging with my favorite girlfriends down in Maryland. The five of us met back in Cambridge, England last summer and this was a reunion mixed with a last hurrah. I’m so thankful to have made such lasting friendships with these ladies. They’re some of the most impressive, inspirational young women I have ever met and I just… well, I’m really grateful to know them. It was incredible to be down on their turf for a little while. Our weekend was over much too soon.

 

Upon returning it was straight on to preparing for the final tassel on the cap – my graduation! Technically I finished school back in December… and received my diploma in January… but the formal ceremony was in May and I did it!

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Took my family to one of my favorite spots after the ceremony – Punter’s Pub. A blurry cheers to 5 years was certainly in order!

I’m officially officially really definitely done with my undergraduate experience now. Please excuse me while I take a few seconds to mime the word “WHAT????” to this empty room I’m sitting in. It truly went by too quickly, but I’m thankful for the people I got to experience it with… most notably getting to go through it all with my very best friend in the whole wide world. It’s thanks to our alma mater that we were even brought together in the first place so leaving for the last time was a little bittersweet.

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This photo is the most tear inducing thing I’ve ever been a part of! 5 years later and still my absolute soul sister, twin moon, best friend. Cannot wait to see what the heck we end up making of our lives.

Now, it should come as a shock to no one that I’m pretty big on reflection and introspection so I’ll wrap this up with a few things I have to say about this here life I’ve been living lately. Over the past 3 months I’ve been unsettled in the best of ways. Most of my time was spent outside of my comfort zone, pushing personal boundaries, and learning new things. From the correct way to plant a tree to why patience is the ultimate virtue, from how to enjoy those precious few moments crossing the stage (instead of panicking about tripping over yourself in front of your entire class) to the significance of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and way, way more. But most of all I’ve been questioning whether, at the ripe old age of 23, I’m on the life/existence/etc. path/journey/etc. that I want to be on. My answer?

For SURE, I am. In the past year alone I’ve spent 1/3 of my months abroad. I attempted to list out all of the different things I’ve studied (in some way, shape, or form) over the course of said year but let’s not double up our word count, shall we? Instead let’s just say that it has been quite the experience, the last 3 months I’ve recounted to you in this post especially.

As always, thank you kindly for following along on all of these adventures with me! We’ve got a many more ahead of us, so stay tuned for the tales.

Inch by Inch, Row by Row: Life Lessons from the Garden

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Almost 2 months ago when I told my family I would be leaving to go work outside on an estate in Ireland for a little while, they were incredulous. To them, and friends, and many others, it didn’t fit their image of me. They couldn’t see why I felt a need to do this. But to me, a lot of my childhood was spent outside and a lot of my lifehood is spent searching for something, anything, new to learn.

So that’s why I did it.

I want to once again say thank you to Tony, the head gardener I had the privilege of working with at Inish Beg. We had many conversations over my 6 weeks in West Cork and while some days those conversations were more oriented towards my obsessions with potatoes and Ice Road Truckers, most days they were of a more reflective and thought provoking nature. Whether or not Tony was aware of all the cogs turning and perspectives shifting in my head is another story, but turn and shift they did and this post is only a handful of the ones I took away from it all.

A few weeks ago I watched a movie called “A Little Chaos” which is about the construction of the gardens at Versailles. Not only is the original score almost unbearably beautiful (highly recommend giving the title track a listen), but the story and design of the movie itself were really moving for me. There was a particular quote in the beginning of the film that struck me:

“God put us first into a garden, and when we lost Eden we were fated to search and reinvent it again.”

Maybe without the context of the film this isn’t so moving for you, but it’s definitely a notion that has stayed with me since I heard it. I love being outside, I’ve always loved being outside, and as a relatively young person a lot of my life now feels like a search for the places I feel most comfortable in.

In a way, this trip was a piece of my search for Eden – and here is what I found.


Give back what’s taken | bare root planting

I’m gonna kick this paragraph off by saying bare root planting is hard but it was probably the thing I enjoyed the most. Before this trip I had planted one single tree in my lifetime, on a study abroad trip, and it was quite a different lesson. People aren’t the only things that destroy nature (though I will definitely agree they’re the largest cause). The elements, disease, plain old coincidence and circumstance – they all have a hand to play. It became a sort of fundamental importance to put back into the earth whatever was taken, regardless of the cause. In the case of self-seeding plants, Mother Nature might just do it herself. But in the case of trees and hedge and fruits and veg a little human help is probably greatly appreciated.

Give and take has always been around, I’ve heard people saying it all my life. But now I see that it applies to all facets: to the things we consume and create as well as the friendships and kinships and small ships and big ships and what? Where was I going with that? Oh yeah, kindness finds its roots in giving – so that it can grow better branches to take from.

Keep it simple | small garden beds

Massive scale is hardly something I’ll be able to balance in my own future gardening endeavors, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still want to enjoy fresh foods, herbs, and flowers. Keeping it simple doesn’t always have to translate to keeping it small, that just happens to be how my own personal garden will manifest itself. In order to avoid feeling overwhelmed or discouraged it’s important to remember that a little can go a long way. So I’ll be starting with the basics: potatoes and maybe a flower or two.

Aside from gardens, there are a lot of aspects of my life that I want to simplify. I feel that there is so much overcomplication these days and that’s a huge stress trigger for me. I hate wasted space, I hate lugging around a huge closet of things I don’t even wear, I hate trying to make convoluted plans just to spend quality time with friends… so it’s all getting nixed! Simple eating, simple living, simple wearing, simple being – I’m here on out making the conscious effort.

Have vision | the winter season

Now, arriving to work on a garden in the winter season is not exactly the best idea if you want to see luscious, blooming flowers and fresh, green shrubbery. Most of what I worked with was brown and dampened, but I was conditioned into a sense of remembering that life was still in full swing all around us. Just because a plant was brown or wasn’t visible didn’t mean that it was dead. Winter is not a deadly season, it’s a resting season. Whenever I learned new plants or got assigned new tasks, we’d talk through what those plants would become or why those tasks were instrumental to promoting their growth. Creating those visions made me excited for the things I was doing because I had a better grasp on what was to come.

I consider myself a person with a healthy amount of creativity and a big imagination, but I also know that I struggle with preconception. If I’m working on something new, it’s fairly easy for me to open my mind but when it’s something I think I know and understand already, breaking down the walls to create that vision becomes more difficult. There are a million different adjectives you can use to describe this quality of myself (hey now, I heard that one!), but let’s just stick with visionistically impaired.

Work the lens both ways | the brassica bed & pruning the Rosa Rugosas

What I mean by that is step back just as much as you zoom in. The Rosa Rugosas were probably my favorite plants of the entire trip, and it’s a shame that I won’t get to see them in bloom. When I did a little research I discovered that they are not in fact a spell from Harry Potter but are actually noted in the US for being a tough dune plant, highly concentrated along the Northeast coastline. Pruning them, however, is relatively challenging considering the entirety of their branches are covered in small thorns. In gardening, there is a fine balance between the aesthetic and the practical. You have to be empirical in pruning back the roses because you want them to be healthy, however you also have to be conscious of the look and shape they will produce after said pruning. AKA you’ve got to step away every few cuts to make sure you haven’t lost sight of the bigger picture.

The brassica bed was a place I put a lot of work into my last few weeks. The bed itself was pretty much the only outdoor space we had providing fresh vegetables for the winter months, before the new seeds were sown and the new plants grown. Each week we’d pick through broccoli and cauliflower, parsley and wild chives, kale and assorted rainbow chards. In no way was the general health of any of these plants attributable to me, but I happily took on preparing and maintaining them for a bit. Pulling a few weeds, cutting off the dead or slug-eaten leaves, and giving the soil a good turn were all relatively minor tasks yet they made such a huge difference in the appearance of the bed. When stepping back suddenly the greens looked greener and the since-staked slumped over broccolis looked taller. I contented myself with knowing that for such small modifications, they seemed to make a world of difference in the grand scheme.

Be gentle… | encountering bugs & new growth

Honestly, I’m terrified of bugs. When I was little my tolerance had a hard stop at snails and worms. Hopefully it isn’t news to you that gardens have all manners of bugs but I had to learn to suck it up and accept that a lot of them were on our side (although the slugs had to go). Apparently bumblebees hibernate! They bury themselves in the soil over the winter and I came across several while working through the strawberry beds. The Cassie of yesteryears would have likely screamed and run away but knowing the importance, especially in the general population decline, of those bees I tried my best to leave them as undisturbed as possible… or at least move them to a safer spot of soil. I found myself feeling a lot more compassion towards bugs than I ever have before, so we’ll see how long that lasts.

Bumblebees weren’t the only things I had to be careful of though. New growth was everywhere, and I just had to learn how to look for it. What little gardening skill I brought with me on this trip culminated in the brute force method of weeding – tug that sucker out as hard as you can and rip at whatever is left. Wrong! I had to kick that habit upon arrival because in this garden, there was a necessity to be gentle. That new growth was usually hidden deep under all of the weeds I was clearing away, or even looked like a weed itself, so it became important to take my time and use whatever gentleness I could muster. There was a satisfaction that came from slowly working the entirety, roots and all, of a weed out of the ground and leaving the beautiful new plants safely undisturbed beside it. There is a gentleness and compassion that is warranted with even the most imperceptible of things – including the weeds. Make of that what you will.

… but not delicate pretty much everything!

Again, Ireland in the winter is not a forgiving climate and I wasn’t even there for the worst of it. That’s not to say that I was out battering the elements for the sake of tidying up a few dead stalks of parsley, but I still had to learn to embrace a little rain and mud. I was excited about getting my hands dirty for once. This whole experience was meant to push the comfort zones of my physical, mental, and emotional states – and I’m happy to report that it did. I worked hard at removing hesitation from anything I was asked to do because that’s how you learn and grow as a person (or something). I got comfortable with the dirt and the mud, the shoveling and the wheelbarrowing. Not being super strong didn’t stop me from trying as best I could and I like to think that I made my coworkers proud… because I can definitely say that I made me proud of me.

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A panorama from inside the Walled Garden. That big bed in the left-center is the brassica bed I worked on!

Books I Brought Abroad [@WestCorkIRL]

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Travel Tip: figure out if your hosts used to own a bookshop in London and therefore have MASSES of reading options available for your perusal before you travel…

Packing to go anywhere is a struggle for me, as it is for most others as well. Some agonize over shoes, some over makeup, some over sweatshirts. I happen to agonize most extremely over books. Depending on how far out from the trip I am, I can spend weeks planning what reads to take with me. They get stockpiled in a corner of my room until the dreaded day when I have to see what fits. This year, I almost had to leave behind two whole paperbacks but I made the game time decision to kick out a pair of nicer boots in order to fit them in my case and let me tell you, I don’t regret a thing.

Since reading is such a huge part of my life and experiences, I wanted to give a quick list and a little note on each of the books I took with me to Ireland. I’m not huge on reviews, but some thoughts and nice quotes never hurt anyone. Maybe you’ll see something that sparks your interest.

Note before going further: none of these books are contemporary so be advised that if you’re looking for the latest Stephen King novel you won’t find it here.

Okay, continue.


JANE EYRE | CHARLOTTE BRONTË

“I should have appealed to your nobleness and magnanimity at first, as I do now – opened to you plainly my life of agony – described to you my hunger and thirst after a higher and worthier existence – shown to you, not my resolution (that word is weak), but my resistless bent to love faithfully and well, where I am faithfully and well loved in return.”

This has been a long time pushed off book and to be honest, a huge motivation to read it recently has been all thanks to Netflix. Every time I logged in to my profile I would get the recent Jane Eyre movie as a recommendation and I swore never to watch it until I read it. Impatience got the best of me and here we are. One thing genuinely surprising about this book is its captivation. I adore Austen, don’t get me wrong, but her style is the first that comes to mind when thinking of 18th-19th century novels and how authors take a few pages to go off on descriptive tangents where they almost forget about the reader and write for themselves. Charlotte Brontë masters maintaining that connection and it genuinely turned this book into a hard to put down read for me. Not to mention it’s written as a memoir so there is a huge interest in following Jane’s life from early development to older (but still pretty young) adulthood. Not a crazy big fan of the ending, but all in all worth the weight.

THE TRIAL | FRANZ KAFKA

“He now decided to make better use of all his future Sunday mornings.”

We all know those people who use words like “Kafkaesque” and dolly garn I wanted to be one of them! Kafka, like Proust, is one of those authors I always assumed you needed a PhD to be able to read and a Masters to even consider reading. Now that I’ve read it, I can’t say that I agree. I also can’t say that I was 100% into this one because, well, I wasn’t. The day I began reading The Trial was the day I stopped by The Time Traveller’s Bookshop and while there I noticed a work titled “A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory” by J.A. Cuddon. Forget the fact that it looked to weigh a million pounds and yet I still spent serious time considering whether or not to purchase it (I did), I was curious to see if it had a definition of “Kafkaesque” somewhere in its many pages. It did. And The Trial is cited as a top example of all that the term implies. So while I didn’t necessarily like this book, or Kafka’s style at all to be quite honest, at least I know that I’m semi-qualified to use his literary namesake as a reference in the future.

DUBLINERS | JAMES JOYCE

“That takes the solitary, unique, and, if I may so call it, recherché biscuit!”

A friend gifted this to me a few years ago with a note explaining how it’s one of his favorites and I, being the terrible person that I am, put off reading it for soooo long. However, I couldn’t think of a better opportunity to start it than on a quick trip over to the homeland so it found its way into the stash. Dubliners is a collection of short stories about the lives and trials of middle class people from, you guessed it, Dublin in the early 1900s. The key word here is collection, as in not to be taken separately. At first, I felt that every story seemed to end too quickly, and very few actually provided a concrete resolution to the problem or issue presented. Worse, I couldn’t find any sort of lesson/message in them. However, that’s because I was reading the whole book incorrectly. The short stories are not meant to be taken as themselves individually but rather altogether as a compendium of life in Dublin. After looking back at the title, I feel like that’s probably obvious to everyone else but me? Anyways, just keep it in mind if you pick up a copy. My favorite of the collection was “A Little Cloud” though I’ve seen a lot of people suggest “Eveline” as the most noteworthy – both make you seriously consider the concept of alternatives, both I highly recommend.

TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES | THOMAS HARDY

“A very easy way to feel [souls] go is to lie on the grass at night and look straight up at some big bright star; and, by fixing your mind upon it, you will soon find that you are hundreds and hundreds o’ miles away from your body, which you don’t seem to want at all.”

God love Thomas Hardy. Also God love the edition of this novel I brought with me. It’s beautifully designed; I found it at Brookline Booksmith in Massachusetts so if you’re going to order a copy I highly recommend getting it from there. Support the independent sellers, y’all.

Anyways, back to Thomas Hardy. What a freaking writer! The style of that man is something else. I would say A but I’m inclined to say My Perfect Contrast with the king of simplification himself, Ernest Hemingway (my favorite male author, just a FYI). For every 1 word that’s needed, Hardy gives you 4. I love how descriptive he is and I would love to be able to emulate writing like that. However, that’s about all the love I can give for this book because to be completely honest I was not at all a fan of the story. I can absolutely see why this novel received so much criticism in its time of initial publication – but all I’ll say further on that matter is that those people were Wrong, with a capital W. The best example of a character you’re genuinely rooting for, despite all the malefactions that come her way.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS | EMILY BRONTË

“Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”

It wasn’t until I sat down to write this post that I realized I probably should have also brought one of dear Anne’s novels along with me to make it a real trilogy experience but alas. Wuthering Heights is one of my favorite rereadable books of all time and it is genuinely deserving of the habitual attention. I clarify rereadable because Anna Karenina is also a favorite but that puppy can only be tackled so many times, you know? And by so many I mean once for the very far off foreseeable future. I digress – for all intents and purposes I name this as my favorite book and this particular copy happens to go pretty much everywhere with me. It’s my safety novel. No matter where I am, I’ll always be able to turn to it in times of literary need. The story is unconventional to say the least. It’s chock-full of characters I love to hate because I hate to love them. It simultaneously invokes pity and indifference while conveying what it means to truly love someone, in all the ardent extremes. It’s also not everyone’s cup of tea, so if you’re looking for a sweet 19th century love affair allow me to direct you to the Austen shelf.

THE IDIOT | FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY

“And what’s more, flourishes are permitted, and a flourish is a most dangerous thing! A flourish calls for extraordinary taste; but if it succeeds, if the right proportion is found, a script like this is incomparable, you can even fall in love with it.”

This goes back to my November sudden obsession with Russian literature. I packed this without actually skimming through the publishing style and what a doozie! If the look of Kafka was frustrating to get through (it was, it really pilcrowing was) then bringing The Idiot along was borderline masochistic. I saved this book for last for a good reason: plane reading. I can read just about anything on a plane, including all safety procedural guides (which everyone really should be reading anyway!), and at the time of packing this seemed like a nice fallback for when I inevitably did what I did and suffered from War & Peace flashbacks within the first 20 pages. It’s taking a little bit longer for me to get into the mood for The Idiot.

At the time of publishing this post, I am approximately not very far through this book and therefore I’m unable to offer any sort of thoughts on it. I’d say so far, so good but in case you were wondering Goodreads says “In the end, Myshkin’s (the main character’s) honesty, goodness, and integrity are shown to be unequal to the moral emptiness of those around him.” So… make of that what you will!


Please do reach out with thoughts and suggestions of your own for what books you absolutely refuse to travel without. Also, check out how these bad boys helped me in my 20[16k] challenge!

Voyages: Welcome to Inish Beg! – Part II [@WestCorkIRL]

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Inish Beg House

The local West Corkonians joke about how everyone is always ready to talk about the weather here, but I love it and I feel like I fit right in with it so – allow me to tell you (mostly via showing you) about the beautiful Sunday afternoon I had wandering around the estate a few weeks ago.

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The first thing I saw when I set off on my adventure was that the sheep had been moved from one of the back fields to the front field! I munched on an apple as I walked alongside them, so it almost felt like we were having lunch together. I assume all of them are named Shaun. They’ve since been moved around again to prepare for lambing.

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Vitamin D was in full force and I couldn’t get enough of it. I tried to keep the sun on my person at all times, but it gets a little difficult in the dense woodland areas so a reflection had to suffice.

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I really love adding anecdotes with pictures for my voyages, don’t I? Well… Anecdote: As I approached this area of the island I couldn’t help but remember studying Robert Frost with a much beloved English teacher during my freshman year of high school – Miss A. I pursued this particular path at Inish Beg “because it was grassy and wanted wear.” But no matter where I am in my journeys at home and abroad, if I am ever to stumble across a peculiar looking area I always think of Miss A and choose to take the road less travelled by… “and that has made all the difference.”

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Another lesson I’ve learned over the years is to always turn around. Oftentimes when we set off in a direction, we pursue that specific direction until we reach where we’re going. If I’m out for a leisurely stroll I like to look all around me – upwards, sideways, backwards, etc. I probably appear to others as a crazy person but it’s worth it. Looking backwards in my less travelled haven gave me this blue-skied beautiful contrast of wild grasses.

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As I reached the edge of said wild grasses, I found a little beach-like area leading towards the water. At first I thought “cool! I’ll make my way down there as carefully as I can so as to leave whatever habitats might be around undisturbed!” Wrong. Just like on the opposite side of the island I immediately started to sink into the muddy banks and left quite the trail behind me. As the water was still a ways off, I turned back rather than risk being sunk up to my elbows.

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Isn’t this place just swell? Beautiful beautiful, and moments before taking this picture I spied a fox run off into the sanctuary of the bushes in front of me. Never had I ever seen fur that bright red, in fact never had I ever seen a fox in person before and I’m still kicking myself for not catching it on camera. Than again, can I really complain about getting to soak in this view with my very own eyeballs for a few seconds longer?

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This bridge to get onto the island is an actual architectural marvel. Believe you me, I’ve had my moments of shaking my head and saying “they just don’t make them like that anymore” on several occasions and each time I get laughed at for being an absolute baby child who has no concept of what being old even is. But it’s respected that I respect it, and that’s all that I can ask for. Rad to the highest degree, that’s what I dub this bridge.

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The Cassie of 4 weeks ago: look at this GIANT tree! The Cassie of now: look at this Monterey Cypress! Another member of the wicked-old-tree-family collection here on Inish Beg, situated just at the end of Rad Bridge. This big guy is actually my tried and true favorite tree on the estate because I spent my first day planting hedge alongside him.

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I’ve actually started calling the Monterey Cypress trees “Armadillo trees” because they have fascinating nuts that look like a cross between a Poke Ball and an Armadillo. These things find their way all over the island and they’re surprisingly hard to pull into bits. I swear I’m an adult and not a 4 year old. I swear.

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Couldn’t help myself with a little behind-the-scenes selfie in the front garden fountain. Also, my mom made this beanie for me, so can I call myself a hipster yet? Bonus content: that good old Irish weather hair frizz I’ve got going on.

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Yet another reason to look in every direction possible, no? Inish Beg is home to a very beautiful bamboo forest affectionately named “Bamboozle.”

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And finally right back to where I started: the marvelously marvelous (ace use of adjectives there, Cass) – Inish Beg House.

Unfortunately, my time here is drawing to a close and soon it’s back home to the States for me. But never fear, darling reader. Catch up on why I’m here at Inish Beg in the first place and skim through all my @WestCorkIRL adventures while you patiently wait to see what I’ve got in store for my next voyage…

Café Cake Crawl – Skibbereen Edition [@WestCorkIRL]

We all know how a bar/pub crawl works. It’s a feat of stamina, of endurance, and in the end mostly of regret. You might be wondering how I came up with the idea to do a Café Cake Crawl and the story is simple: I was sitting in a café, eating a piece of cake, and I wanted another. Skibbereen has so many incredible little cafés renowned for their baked goods and I thought to myself that this might be the best way to try them all out. Plus, look at that alliteration! How was I supposed to turn that down?

After excitedly planning out the route one afternoon, I opted to push the day of goodness off for another week so as to get a proper start at it. Well, friends… that week was last. And that cake was crawled. In a lot of ways, I felt just as wrecked as if I were drinking beer instead of eating cake. My stomach turned on me like a veritable Edward Cullen, just having to endure it as my blood sugar levels peaked to dangerous heights. But I ask you, what kind of crawl would it be without suffering and perseverance?

Please kindly leave your judgment at the homepage, and proceed to read about the 6 slices of cake I consumed with the aid of 3 pots of tea, 2 Americanos, and 1 mystery coffee. It was not one of the easiest things I’ve ever done, but it was definitely one of the unhealthiest.

As I reached the halfway point I wasn’t sure I could go on, but my best friend sent some encouragement from across the pond: “I believe in you. Mind over batter.” And with that, I found the strength to fight the good fight. I give you my very first Café Cake Crawl! Secondhand enjoy the experience.


Benedict’s Café

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Lemon Drizzle Cake with whipped cream & a pot of black tea

This was the first café I ever visited in Skibbereen so I found it a fitting beginning for my crawl. Benedict’s has an incredible family feel, which I’m pretty sure is due to it being run by an actual family (there is no website to confirm or deny that assumption so you’ll just have to trust me). Most people seemed to be there for the heartier meals, but I had my eyes on a very specific prize. Let me tell you – this was an ACE combo. The tang of the lemon in the icing was a perfect match for my ever so sweetened tea. I can this classic being ordered by the box for bridge night refreshments or book club. I also developed a quick obsession with the style of the tea ware. It’s a habit of mine to absentmindedly hold on to my mug for a while before setting it back on the saucer and that can get uncomfortable with a rounded handle. This set featured a perfect fit for the two fingers it actually takes to support the glass and I will definitely be trying to furnish any future homes with similarly designed goods.

I give this cake a go-to when someone orders “a wee cuppa and cake, please love” out of 10.

An Chistin Beag

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Lemon Sponge & a pot of black tea (guest appearance by some orange juice)

It was an almost unfortunate miss with this café because I literally didn’t know it was there. The difficult thing about Skibbereen is that the eatery attractions are not so easily googleable (is it even possible for me to go through a single post without mentioning Google?) so my research is done mostly via asking the locals. An Chistin Beag, literally “The Small Kitchen,” came highly recommended when I spoke of what I was doing (and let me tell you, trying to explain a solo Cake Crawl puts you in a very funny situation). I can confirm that even though I still have no idea how to pronounce its name correctly, this café’s cake did not disappoint.

They say in heaven cake comes first, and these ladies certainly made heaven a place on earth – otherwise known as the frosting on their Lemon Sponge. The whole café has a comfortable, welcoming look about it with exposed brick, wooden floors, and those word art wooden deco boards but it doesn’t stop there. The comfortable, welcoming attentiveness of my waitress left me thinking “she was just so nice, how can get that nice?” hours later. Basically, all good things to say about my experience here.

I give this cake a sweet dreams are made of these out of 10.

Apple Betty’s Café

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Coconut Jam Slice & an Americano

The number one thing I learned from Apple Betty’s Café is don’t judge a café by its cover. From the outside the place looked to be rather small, similar to an old American deli with a counter and maybe one or two metal tables inside, so I had avoided it on prior trips. Upon entering it for my crawl I found it to be huge! And extremely cozy! The Coconut Jam Slice jumped out as the most interesting choice and I’ll admit I went into it with absolutely 0 idea of what to expect because I don’t think I’d ever seen those things put together before. As Apply Betty’s is known for it’s coffee (there was a sign reading “As long as there is coffee in the world, how bad could things be?”) I had to go for an Americano, though I think tea would have been the better suited companion. Regardless, this was yet another void-of-disappointment stop along my crawl and the raspberry jam gets massive props for that. Also the woman/man (Betty?) who decided to put all the elements together to craft this; she/he rightfully deserves my many thanks.

I give this cake a pleasantest surprise out of 10.

Kalbos Café

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Brown Sugar and Espresso Pavlova with mixed berries & an Americano

Arriving at Kalbos, I was feeling pretty good as I scanned the multitude of options behind and on top of the glass casings. Several more obvious “cakes” jumped out at me for taste testing but look at that thing – I had to try the Pavlova. The outside is similar to a French macaron and the inside is of a softer, chewier consistency with amber sugary drizzles dispersed throughout then topped with cream and fruit. Definitely the most interesting dish of the day and I could not have imagined a more perfect pairing than the rich Americano I ordered to wash it down with.

Kalbos Café has one location next to the Uillinn, or West Cork Art Centre, and (as I’ve described before) it’s very aesthetically pleasing. I had a supremely difficult time choosing which treat to indulge in as my eyes were barraged with an overload of apple and pear and elderflower and chocolate and berries everywhere I looked. The cakes are renowned by the locals as legitimately award-winning (Best Café in Cork – 2016 Irish Restaurant Awards) and it’s been the most recommended Skibbereen eatery to me since my arrival. With a staff as friendly and courteous as they are, I 100% agree that Kalbos is a most fantastic establishment.

I give this cake a finished it in one go out of 10.

The Church Restaurant

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Church Apple Tart with fresh cream and apricot sauce & a pot of black tea

Again, you’ve seen the inner design of this place in my aforementioned Voyages post and this visit around it was in full lunch swing by the time I arrived. Mind you, at this point in the day my stomach was decidedly full with more sugar than anyone needed and I was truly unsure of what treat could possibly beckon my appetite when in such a state. The savoury smells flooding the premises helped to neutralize my stomach ache and as the waitress listed off the options, I jumped at the mention of Apple Tart. I’m not sure why I ever doubted The Church Restaurant, but I sat hoping with fingers crossed that it would be presented warmed up and I was not disappointed. This little slice of homey goodness was exactly what I needed to make it ever closer to the finish line. Not entirely sure, but I’m 87% positive that the sauce drizzled along the side was of an apricot nature and MAN, did I want to take gallons and gallons back home with me.

I give this cake a heartwarmingly delicious out of 10.

Field’s Café

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Double Chocolate Cake & a coffee

An adjoining-a-supermarket café, but I wanted to give it a chance. Field’s Supervalu keeps it simple. It is always the busiest place I visit because it’s peppered with many a weary shopper or gaggle of young children tugged out for a day of errands. I couldn’t see an actual name for this cake so I christened it the Double Chocolate. This beverage is listed as “coffee” on the menu but I’m not sure if that’s coffee in the American right or if it’s really an Americano? I kind of got a filtery taste out of it so if you told me this was good old fashioned drip coffee I’d probably believe you but let me tell you, I’m hard French-pressed to find that anywhere when I travel in Western Europe.

I give this cake a not waking up in the middle of the night for it out of 10. But Little Cassie would give it a *foot stomp* MOM PUH-LEASE out of 10.


At the end of the day I couldn’t imagine taking another bite. In fact, as I sit here writing this a few hours later I couldn’t imagine taking another bite. Further in fact, as I sit here editing one week later I still couldn’t imagine it.

Next time, I’d very much appreciate a friend to share in the sugary fare so let me know if you’ve got any noteworthy cake cities in mind and we’ll plan a trip – first cup of coffee on me!

Voyages: Skibbereen & Baltimore [@WestCorkIRL]

Note: Remember back in the good old days when you’d have to avoid a lot of images on a web page because loading them with dial-up was a nightmare? I wanted to warn you just in case you’re not all initiated into decent wi-fi / 4s / 1080p horsepower or whatever the heck the good internet is these days. This post is extremely photo heavy because I’m combining two voyages into one so sorry not sorry (just reminiscent) about it.


Saturday mornings in Skibbereen are starting to become a routine for me and I’m for sure going to miss them when I’m gone. I love every second I spend in the quaint little market town, which apparently confuses some of the locals who don’t see much to do there, but I’ve only got a short window of time left to enjoy it. This particular Saturday before last was a cold one. The rain had been at it all night long and I was sure it was never going to let up. Shortly after being dropped off in the earlier AM hours, I made the commitment to stay indoors and read for as long as possible until moving on to outdoor adventures in the afternoon.

At one point in the midmorning I overheard a waitress saying to a nearby couple “’tis cold, but ’tis jolly” and I decided that never in a million years could I have come up with a better depiction of Skibbereen on a late February morning than that.

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The streets were bustling on Saturday morning, with locals milling about the farmers market and meeting up with each other in cafes and restaurants. You better believe that the girl walking around with a giant backpack and a camera stood out as “NOT FROM HERE.”

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A few people told me to check out this Church-turned-Restaurant, for aesthetic reasons at the very least, and I was definitely not disappointed. The place was buzzing despite the early hour. Anecdote: I have a terrible habit of not being able to tune out other people around me when I’m trying to read in public places (like cafes) and at one point I overheard the man at the table next to me saying “something about the way they burn the barley makes it neutral… so you can have as much Guinness as you like… that’s what my doctor told me.” I’m not sure who that doctor is, but I’m going to go ahead and rely on that advice which I don’t fully understand (as I do with most doctors) because YUM.

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Take a peep at the interior of Church Restaurant. I could not get over the fact that the cakes and baked goods were all laid out on the altar. Talk about a religion I want to be a part of.

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After some breakfast I went to scout out the local book shop. I mean, come on do I even need to explain why?

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There’s just something about wood and books that makes for an intimately relaxed feel. That very feeling here at The Time Traveller’s Bookshop was what enticed me to spend well over an hour perusing the shelves. I even got to hold a first edition copy of “David Copperfield” and subsequently tried very hard not to hyperventilate on it. Seriously considering leaving all my clothes behind at the end of my trip in favor of filling my case with these rare beauties.

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I’m gonna go ahead and make a generalization that a lot of people don’t know that Skibbereen played a huge part in The Great Potato Famine of the 1840s. I was one of those people until Paul, my host, kindly told me a lot more information on the subject (and gave me a great book to read about it). The Heritage Centre features all sorts of resources about the Great Famine years, the marine marvel that is Lough Hyne, and tracing family trees.

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Kalbos Cafe is situated between the West Cork Art Centre and a tiny little body of water flowing down into the larger river which Google Maps is not providing me with the name of. The huge glass windows looking outside were very cool and the cafe itself had a really great, cozy interior style. There is an adjoining deck and I’m betting that all the glass windows open right up to let patrons enjoy the, what I assume to be infrequent, sunshine in the summer.

Later in the afternoon, after a few too many cups of coffee, I met up with Tony from Inish Beg and we set off to check out some of the local attractions outside of the Skibbereen town center. Thankfully the rain had in fact let up a bit, but the cold was still lingering. We braved through it though. First stop, Lough Hyne.

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Another Wild Atlantic Way sign! And this one happens to be situated at the site of the only salt-water lake (“Lough”) in Ireland. Word on the street is that its fascinating ecosystems and marine life make it one of the most studied bodies of water in the world. My hostess Georgie, ever the superwoman, swims at Lough Hyne pretty much all year round.

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We were visiting the Lough at a beautiful close-to-sunset hour and the lighting was breathtakingly reflective. Upon review, most of my pictures were just of the water’s surface. Way off in the distance down that little channel is the area known as “The Rapids” – aka the place where the salt water flows in and out from the Atlantic Ocean. Not really sure that I have to clarify how peaceful of a place Lough Hyne is, but I will just in case.

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Holy wells apparently exist all over Ireland and some quick Google searching has told me that they were of Pagan origin before becoming mostly Christianized way back when. Regardless, there is one nestled back in the trees by a freshwater brook close to Lough Hyne and we took a little hike to seek it out.

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Many people consider the wells to be sacred and spiritual so they come to pray or make wishes or leave offerings, etc. etc. This one happened to be my favorite because come on, you’ve seen my sidebar. I agree that a nice cold Bud Heavy in a frosted glass bottle can feel like a religious experience. Suffice it to say, I took a drink from the well hoping it was filled with the King of Beers but unfortunately it was just water.

After marveling at the Lough one last time, we set off for Baltimore. You might remember my mentioning how the island of Inish Beg is situated between two towns so it was only fitting that Baltimore receive ample exploration time as well. Much smaller than Skibbereen, but in some ways I thought more beautiful.

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We drove over a few hills to get to Baltimore and had to weave our way down towards the water before hairpinning back up to the cliffs on the outskirts. As we arrived into town you could just spot the harbor ahead.

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The hike up the cliffs was sufficiently terrifying and I relied on my zoom to get me as close as I wanted to the edge, while staying physically very very far away. The water and the wind and the cliffs made for such incredible scenery. Fresh sea air unfortunately not included with this photograph.

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This is The Beacon! The very thing we hiked up to see! They don’t mess around when it comes to naming things, these West Corkers (Corkians? Cortians? … *Googles* … “Corkonians” – I wasn’t far off). They stick with the practical: The Baltimore Beacon was (and still is?) meant to guide ships into the harbour. This picture doesn’t do the size justice, but this thing is huge. ~50 ft high huge.

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Another thing I couldn’t get over was the turquoise water, even though it was so cold! And February! I’m used to seeing dark blue borderline black waters in the wintertime Atlantic Ocean but here it looked almost tropical. Not quite enticing enough for cliff diving, but close.

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Tony is the Head Gardener at Inish Beg and we spend a few days a week working together around the estate. He was a good sport about hiking around in the cold with me! Even though he was in Converses and I had on the hiking boots, he was able to climb back down the muddy slopes way faster than I could ever hope to. Can you tell from the outfit (hint: mine was even MORE bundled) how that water is in no way, shape, or form tropical?

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Andddd another Wild Atlantic Way sign. There are tons of islands that people can get to in this part of Ireland and a ferry waits patiently in the harbour to usher around to each of them. My being prone to seasickness and overall aversion to being out on the water in the winter does not make me a good candidate for the experience but it’s cool to know that it happens!

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As we were leaving and the sun was tucking in for the night, I couldn’t help but be struck by the resemblance the empty Baltimore Harbour had to my own hometown and more specifically to the stretch of water right down the street from my house. Seeing this some might think of homesickness, but for me it was more like a fond reminder.

Adventuring around the localities was a day well spent and, as per usual on my travels, now that I’ve finally started feeling comfortable I have to prepare to say my goodbyes sooner than I’d like. A few more short weeks of huddling with my tea and cake in the Skibbereen coffee shops, then it’s back home to my little Rhode Island reminder of Baltimore.


Special shout out to Tony, Paul, and Georgie for their excellent West Corkonian benignity!

A List of Cooking Tips For A Novice Like Me [@WestCorkIRL]

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Go ahead and ask anyone who knows me and they’ll happily laugh in your face if you ask them about my past baking escapades. Nutella chocolate chip cookies? Apparently adding a whole jar of Nutella to the regular recipe is not how you do it. My misfortune extends into general cooking as well – I have a longstanding fear of chicken after all the times I’ve messed it up.

Now, this isn’t to say that I haven’t tried tried again over the years, because believe me I have. I find that I always get too experimental while baking, which requires being more exact, and too exact while cooking, which allows for being experimental.

Let’s quickly talk about the encore though because that certainly is something I excel in: I’ve been eating very well while here in West Cork. Georgie, my hostess, makes sure of that with whatever her berry crumble compote with homemade vanilla ice cream was last week (which I can confidently say I ate about half the pan of). And then there’s Fiona, the housekeeper here at Inish Beg, who (amongst many other kind things she does for me) has graciously invited me to family birthday gatherings with the headliners being her scrumptious cakes. If I didn’t know any better I’d say I’ve stepped right into the only child version of Hansel & Gretel.

This past weekend the Estate (Georgie & Fiona) was literally catering to a very large hen party and I had the extreme pleasure of being allowed to help out. Friday afternoon was spent preparing soup, main course, and dessert (though they call it “pudding” over here) for 26 hungry hens. While I helped with little bits and pieces of the main dishes, the two things I worked on in full were the loaves of Ciabatta bread and Parmesan Shortbread cookies (“biscuits”). Thankfully, Georgie & Fiona were constant fixtures in the kitchen so I was never lost for guidance. They’re seasoned professionals (are you having that???) in cooking and baking so many a word of wisdom was offered to a novice like me.

Throughout the afternoon I made a mental note of those little tips they told and showed me. While I’m confident that a few of them slipped through this flour-sifter-excuse-for-a-brain of mine, I hope you’re able to learn something useful from the list I’ve compiled here!


Check your ingredients before you start the cooking/mixing/baking/any preparation process. Seems pretty obvious, but I’ve messed this up with cereal before and that’s literally only two ingredients so I try to keep drilling it in and maybe you should too.

Pour the uncooked rice into the pot of boiling water, don’t pour the boiling water onto the pot of uncooked rice. This prevents the rice from sticking to the pan. However, you should also stir it to be on the sticking safe side because it can still happen. Not speaking from personal experience here, definitely not.

Clean your kitchen as you go. This was especially relevant given the amount of cooking we were doing throughout the day but in general I can see how nice it is to have everything tidied and put away when the fruit of your labor is ready to be enjoyed.

When a recipe calls for warm water, it means it should be on the border of just warm enough to not burn you when you put your fingers in it.

As you roll your dough, rotate it in a circle to keep it from sticking to the table. Assuming you already know to flour the surface you’re rolling on, put some flour on the rolling pin to keep it from sticking to that too. Also a little bit on your hands can’t hurt…

Pack your tablespoons.

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Oil everything when letting bread sit to rise. Similar to the whole flour concept, it’ll just make your life easier when you’re pulling it out of the bowl. Dough is incredibly sticky, who knew?

Save the foils from butter to use as an easy tool for greasing pans.

Give your bread a little tap on it’s underbelly when the bake time is up and if it sounds hollow, it’s done. The loaves we made were a bit thicker than the recipe had called for so Georgie turned them onto their backs for a few minutes to make sure the bottom cooked all the way through.

Fan ovens work best for baking. I’ve actually never even heard of a fan oven until I came over here. The circulation of the heat is really great for making your cakes and things bake evenly.

Egg whites are finished being whipped when you flip the bowl upside-down and they stay put. I had a mini heart attack watching Fiona test this one, I’ll be honest. Also as a side note, imagine how long it took to whip egg whites back in the pre-electric mixer days…

Taste test everything.


One of the most rewarding things I’ve ever experienced is watching the loaves of bread, my loaves of bread if you will, come out of the oven all goldened and ready to eat. It’s one thing to dump a box of mix into a bread maker; it’s a whole other thing to work in all the individual ingredients and watch it rise before coming to fruition in a good old fashioned oven.

These tips have certainly helped inspire me to feel more confident, but I can’t say I’ll be hosting any 5-course dinners at my place in the near future. It was so much fun to watch and learn from two incredibly talented women such as Georgie & Fiona and I got a lot out of the experience.

But my favorite thing of all that I learned about cooking and baking?

It’s as easy as bread & biscuits.

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Voyages: Welcome to Inish Beg! – Part I [@WestCorkIRL]

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Apparently the Wild Atlantic Way is a 2,500 km drive along Ireland’s West Coast and these signs mark popular spots to stop and take in the scenery! Doing the whole drive is definitely something I’m adding to the bucket list so, who wants to come with?

With a little less than a week gone by since I left the States, being at Inish Beg has already made me realize that it’s not so much the time to be alive as it is the place to be living. I absolutely adore this new short-term home of mine and I’ve been receiving many impatient inquiries as to what it’s like.

Before I get into it, I wanted to give a little bit of a rundown on the history of the area in which I am currently living. Inish Beg Estate is on the island of Inish Beg in West Cork, Ireland. It is situated just about halfway between two small towns, Baltimore and Skibbereen. The island itself has been inhabited for many centuries but the estate as a structure was not finished until 1899. The current owners, my wonderfully kind hosts Paul & Georgie Keane, moved to Inish Beg in 1997 and began restoration and development of the estate and island into a self-catering retreat (check out the website for more images of the actual properties).

Now, I already gave a quick explanation of what I’m doing here in a previous post and the only real amendment I wanted to make to that is my obvious accessibility to the internet! The weather has not been too kind, although it’s less up and down than New England temperatures seem to be at the moment, so adventuring around with my camera was a bit difficult. I did my very best for a lazy Sunday afternoon, but expect a possible Part II when the weather cooperates. Today’s goal was to get my bearings via walking around the outer paths of the island.

Also – the salty air from the nearby Atlantic Ocean was beckoning and I couldn’t bring myself to stray far from the water’s edge.


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The trees here are absolutely breathtaking. There are over 50 different species and the reforestation process as part of the estate’s rehabilitation is ongoing. Unfortunately, the harsh winter Ireland has had this year continues to wreak havoc on the older specimens but many of the big guys like this one are still standing.

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Take an extra close look and you’ll see an old church off in the background across the way… which I have quite the hankering to explore.

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The water was at relatively low tide today but patches of wildflowers spruced up the view when needed.

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There are dozens of little… I can only think to call them peninsulas but some were islands in their own right I suppose… with undisturbed tall grasses, hanging around the edges of Inish Beg. My wellies pretty much made me invincible so I ventured around a few and found some different fresh water streams to jump across.

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Weird anecdote: back in my messing around on photoshop days I used to be obsessed with frames. Any silly little collage I’d throw a random gilded frame into because apparently I liked the aesthetic and I find myself still leaning towards that framing theme when taking pictures now. However, this time my frames just happen to be trees.

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I couldn’t resist walking down to the water’s edge and I think the Atlantic knew I was coming back to visit it because every step sunk me deeper into the shore. Once it started crossing over my ankles I started to panic and turn back, though I desperately wish it were warm enough to keep going.

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I wanted to climb on this so badly!!! Can you imagine a better reading perch? Here, let me help you with that – no, no you cannot! This tree was l i t e r a l l y beckoning to me but I resisted possibly being the bough-breaker and sated myself by snapping a picture. *sigh*

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This is a little nook called Pumpkin’s Puddle. A beautiful magical wonderful little place and that’s all that needs to be said.

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I’m told this is a spot where many people like to get married on the estate, but I’m going to choose to believe that it’s actually a faerie ring and henceforth spend all of my free time coming back to hopefully catch a glimpse. If I can’t become the Banshee of Wigtown, the Faerie Queen of West Cork is certainly an equally attractive alternative.

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Sheepies! Still a little too traumatized from my kinder years of chasing them around the Scottish hillsides so for now I’m keeping my distance. They were very curious to see if I was coming up here to visit the…

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Horsies! Meet Thor and Loki! Not their actual names, but apparently people call them a lot of different things so it’s up for discussion… I think mine are first rate though. These guys are an absolute riot. Every morning and afternoon we bring them some sweet oats and they pick up on who brings the bucket verrrry quickly. Like I said, I’ve been here less than a week and I barely crested the hill to the stables when they started whinnying for me. They’re sweet little Shetlands.

And there you have it! This is just a quick glimpse of the adventure island I get to call home for the next 6 weeks, but you can bet I’ll be showing you around some more as soon as I can. But for now…

Welcome to Inish Beg!