Thursday, 27 November 2008

Salt Island: Maintenance Day

I continually forget to take the rush-hour into account, and leaving home just before half-eight yesterday morning was no exception. I'd arranged to meet Craig and the others at nine o'clock; nevertheless, I made it on time at about 9.02. We assembled at Whiterock, County Down.

The sea was almost high and it was calm. Cloudy and dry. Six of us set off for Salt Island shortly afterwards with lots of tools, including a crook and lassos in order to catch a goat! Salt Island is a property of the National Trust. It is quite close to Killyleagh and is situated in Strangford Lough.

It took us about half an hour to reach Salt Island. We anchored at Brandy Bay on the western side. The National Trust boat we used was robust, 22 feet long with a 100 horse-power outboard motor. The bothy is directly opposite Brandy Bay at the eastern side of the island.

I hadn't been to the island since early summer and, I have to say, everything was in very good shape. The bothy now looks great, with strong, black, lockable metal shutters covering the windows when not in use. Although the bothy is basic, it provides excellent shelter with its wood-burner; the walls are a foot thick; it is dry; and it has running water with some useful provisions too. The accommodation is very basic, with wooden platforms where you'd place your cushions or inflatable mattresses and sleeping-bags. There are lavatories provided, with two barbecues outside.

Today Craig, Natalie and Self were endeavouring to repair the stone wall which surrounds the bothy. The remnants of the original wall can still be seen, the old mortar holding it together. Hugh and the others were thinning some trees in the plantation behind the bothy. It was planted over twenty years ago and has matured well.

Having tidied up later in the afternoon, we trudged over to Brandy Bay with all our gear and set off on our boat which, by the way, had almost run aground! Beware of the tides on Strangford Lough; be ever vigilant.

En route to Darragh Island, we passed close by Sand Rock where there was a group of seals - and pups - resting. They kept a close eye on us! Further on, we were treated to quite a spectacle: a school of about six porpoises. These smaller cousins of the dolphin were swimming fast, in and out of the water for breath, doubtless finding plenty of rich pickings in the lough. Their fins could be clearly seen.

Stopping off at Darragh Island, where there is a herd of wild goats, the task was to catch two of them which had been seen limping. It was a relief to catch them quickly. They both required their hooves clipped and sprayed with anti-bacterial liquid. One young goat, worryingly, had a number of large, fat ticks which we pulled off.

So, after that, we boarded our boat again and headed back to Whiterock; and I arrived home about 5.40, just in time to motor up to the old school for the sixty-length constitutional.

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