Have a Wild Weekend.Seeking Relaxation, Comfort and a Healthy Dose of Activity, Margaret Scully Finds the Perfect Combination During a Nature Weekend in Galway.
Being a fan of yoga retreats, hiking trips and activity holidays I’m always open to heading off on my own and trying something new. Weekend in the Hills in East Galway promises to be a productive earthy weekend of learning ancient crafts and skills from longbow making to leather working and blacksmithing.
Twice yearly, in May and September, a group of craftspeople come together at Slieve Aughty, to share their ancient skills.
Electric Picnic’s Green Crafts area whetted my appetite for new age crafters with indigenous skills, especially herbalist Kes Clarke. Inside her beautifully decorated Herblore yurt, my inner alchemist is inspired by the sight of all the little brown bottles and jars of syrups and tinctures. I would love to know how to make my own medicinal treatments from native Irish plants.
Three week’s later I head to East Galway where Kes and other members of the environmental education charity, CELT, run the ‘Weekend in the Hills’. Weaving, carving, forgery, silver-smithing, leatherwork and sugan chair making are among the hands-on workshops on offer. I’ve booked into the Herblore course, to make herbal ointments, balms and tinctures from native Irish plants.
Arriving at the Slieve Aughty Cenre outside Loughrea, I’m surprised to find such a modern facility down a narrow boreen. The car registrations indicate that participants have travelled from far and wide for these unique workshops.
Following tutor Kes Clarke through the stable yard, we pass woodworkers, blacksmiths and sugan chair makers, before arriving into a gorgeous little rustic room filled with aromatic plants.
Freshly picked echinacea, borage, hypericum, wormwood and mugworth are introduced by our teacher as we gather around a candle-lit table for a delicious cup of fresh mint tea with honey.
Our group includes Nadia from Seattle, Fiona from Dundrum and a couple from Kildare. In response to questions about cures for family and friends, Kes cautions on the power of plants and suggests we make cures for ourselves and definitely not to share anything that is ingested.
She re-iterates that she is neither a pharmacist nor physician and that her recipes and remedies have been learned from her father and, herbalists she has met along the way.
After a forage along the boreen, we make a blackberry vinegar which has since proved very useful and effective for sore throats. Jars, bottles, alcohol, oil and materials are supplied at a cost of €20 and I’m in awe of the thoughtfulness, organisation and attention to detail that went into preparing for our course.
Fiona from Dundrum makes an annual pilgrimage to Weekend in the Hills with her family. One of her sons arrives in with a wallet and belt that he has just made in the leather craft class.
In the adjoining room, the silversmith group start tapping gently on their pieces of jewellery. Outside the blacksmiths are making knives.
In our herbalist’s cavern, the stove is lighting and we are making a soothing balm from calendula, rose-hip, chickweed, red clover and violet leaf. Coconut oil is the base for this aromatic ointment that once heated and strained is poured into a small brown jar to set.
It’s a busy workshop and over the weekend Kes shows us how to make dandelion coffee, smudge sticks, herb butter, syrups, tinctures and ointments. It’s a lot of information to retain so we are delighted to get the recipe sheets.
On Sunday afternoon eco trail experts Mary and Robert White lead a lively and entertaining foraging walk and I have my first taste of the delicious nutty salad leaves of the common weed, dreaded by Irish farmers, called Lambs Quarters.
Robert spots Flygaric mushrooms and tells us that these red and white classic toadstools are poisonous if eaten. He talks about the power of plants, especially the innocent looking white death cap mushroom, which when eaten is certain to kill a human within twenty-four hours. The scoop of the day are the edible Cep mushrooms in the forest, which have as much protein as a steak.
Mary says the beautiful bright red rowanberries make a terrific schnapps and the recipe is on their website(see below). Gathering cleavers from the hedge, she crowns Kes the Queen of the Herbs. And that she certainly is.
Leaving Slieve Aughty, I can hardly believe how much I produced in two days and leave laden with tinctures, syrups and balms, that ‘I’ made. All weekend in the woods participants are leaving with a new skill and their own creations of knives, chairs, jewellery, leather craft etc.
Even if I was never to use this knowledge again, the Weekend in the Hills experience is a very lovely therapeutic earthy way to spend a few days with like-minded souls in scenic East Galway. It got me started and I am hunting the hedgerows and making balms and tinctures ever since.
Nettles and cleavers are my spring favourites, and I’m having trouble trying to identify lots of the others so I may have to make a return pilgrimage to another Weekend in the Hills, and not drink so much wine on the Saturday night next time!
Weekend in the Hills.
Kes Clarke – Herbalist / Botanical enthusiast.
Website : www.evesorchard.wordpress.com
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 089 213 2404
Kes and CELT tutors are available throughout the year for festivals, events and demonstrations.
Accommodation & Meals: Slieve Aughty Centre rooms, chalets,
camping and restaurant. www.slieveaughtycentre.com
Hotels and B&B nearby in Loughrea and Portumna.
Mary and Robert White run foraging, hiking and eco-trails in Co.Carlow