Nestled between the village of Dunamanagh and the Sperrin mountains, we went exploring around Lough Ash to get a true sense of place. This part of Northern Ireland is still deeply entwined with its roots. Martin, a local ecologist, helped us unfold the landscape and its ecology, allowing us to explore the area through his eyes. Once we had taken it all in, we finished the day meeting Mable from Bradkeel Social Farm where we would bake & break bread together. At the very end of this post you can also find Mable's amazing recipe for Traditional soda scones!
This post was made possible with help from the Slow Adventure in the Northern Territories (SAINT) project. Read more about our fantastic sponsor here! Although this post is sponsored, all opinions are our own.
Slow Adventuring in Northern Irish countryside
Our slow adventures are always closely connected to nature and often include a focus on local food. Mainly because we're always hungry, but also because the culture of a place is so closely connected to and easily unlocked by food. On this slow adventure, we'd absorb some of the local landscapes through Martin's experience of ecology and interests in archeology, and then visit Bradkeel Social Farm for some animal cuddles, food, traditional baking and lovely conversations.
Unlocking the unseen with Landscape appreciation
Martin's tour of the local landscape was a very knowledge based tour. Landscape appreciation is a way to connect with the unseen, a way to discover how different aspects of nature relate to each other and highlight the beauty of the overall picture. It's a way to experience a landscape with more insight and lets nature tell you a story from the past.
Going back in time though the landscape
The essence of our tour with Martin was to gain more knowledge about how this landscape was shaped over time. By glaciers retreating, rivers running, weather, time and people gradually using the land. What we were taking in through our senses was a complex, unique tapestry of nature in motion.
A motion that also included people who utilised the land and adapted over time. Looking out over the landscape with knowledge about how it was shaped, and how people lived off the land, we gained a deep feeling of what it meant to be human.
Snacking on hedgerows
As we moved through the land, Martin pointed out different edibles growing in the hedgerows. Because of the late season most of the "menu" was long gone, but we still found wood sorrel and blackberries!
Importance of the wetlands
Bog is a boring word. It doesn't fill us with excitement to think about a bog. We'll call them ancient wetlands instead. We feel really strongly about their protection as natural, unique habitats to wildlife. Mark loves moss - so anyone messing with the mosses should be aware that he might come after you with a large stick, or whatever he can grab.
We learned loads about these wetlands, and how the raised bog is one of Western Europe's rarest and most threatened habitats. What was really interesting to us was how they work as environmental indicators, recording changes to climate, vegetation and the landscape since the last ice age. The peat locks up carbon, and the acidic water supports a unique range of wildlife.
To help protect these habitats, there's some simple conservation tips to stick to: buy peat-free products for your garden, help any local conservation measures that protect wetland habitats, and get the wellies on, bogs are really fun to explore!
Our visit to Bradkeel Social Farm
After our outdoor adventure, we visited Mabel at Bradkeel Social Farm to learn about self sufficiency, how to bake lovely soda scones and of course get involved with the animals!
About social farming at Bradkeel Social Farm
From their small, family run farm, Mabel and John provide health, social and educational services by opening up their farm to others. Kids, young people and adults can get involved with growing, planting, animal husbandry and traditional farming, providing a whole range of values around wellbeing, social inclusion and awareness. John and Mabel's own practice of self-sufficiency is an inspiration, and the farm yard animals make exploring a lot of fun.
Animals make you feel good
Ending our day at the Bradkeel farm was delightful. The day had been full of impressions and winding down at the farm felt both natural and homely. The first thing we did was walk around the farm and meet the animals. We fed the chickens, went on a egg hunt and got to pet the cow.
For the first part of our stay in Northern Ireland we stayed at Finn Valley Cottages and Mable had provided the breakfast hampers for our stay there, so to finally meet the cow & calf that provided the cream for our butter and the chickens that provided the eggs for our morning meals, felt not only good- it felt right.
Living off the land
The Bradkeel farm had not only animals, Mable and John also had an impressive poly-tunnel with lush vegetables, flowers and herbs bursting out from every corner. The smell of warm, moist soil and fresh mint awoke our senses and gave us a relaxing feeling which sparked a dream of building our own greenhouse at home.
One of the biggest benefits of Slow Adventure is its ability to inspire you to take something home. By inspiring us to grow our own produce since returning home, Bradkeel Farm has helped create meaningful memories for us in the future.
Baking traditional soda scones
As we got hungry, we went to Mabel's farm house to bake some traditional scones. It was fun to discover the similarities between Norwegian (Thea), Scottish (Mark) and Northern Irish (Mabel) traditional bread. Using local ingredients and a lot of love, we made a large batch of perfectly golden scones.
These ladies had a great time, giggling their way around the kitchen.
Mabel Campbell's recipe for traditional soda bread scones
1 lb Soda bread flour
2oz Caster Sugar
1/2 pint of buttermilk
Oven 220 or gas mark 7
(Optional: add 75 g of sultanas or cheese to your mix for a sweet or savoury touch)
Mix together margarin and sugar.
Add flour & milk and mix with a palette knife to make soft dough.
Place dough on a lightly floured work surface and knead.
Roll out dough 1.5 cm thick and cut out scones.
Place on baking tray and put in the oven for 12-15 minutes.
Combining landscape knowledge, sightseeing, animal interaction, foraging and baking was a unique way to experience a new place. We felt like we used all our senses and formed lasting memories.
For more information about combining landscape appreciation with a visit to the Bradkeel Social Farm, visit here: http://www.slowadventureni.com/natural-tour.html
Looking for a place to stay in Northern Ireland? Check out these self catered cottages: http://www.finnvalleycottages.com/
For a landscape appreciation tour with Martin email him on: firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his Facebook page: Landscape and countryside tours
To experience a local Northern Irish farm, e-mail Mabel on: email@example.com or check out their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/bradkeelsocialfarm/
We'd like to thank SAINT, the Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme, and the European Union for their support in making this post happen!
The SAINT project: www.saintproject.eu