Monthly Archives: October 2012


The nine Glens of Antrim, at the very northern tip of Northern Ireland, have been acclaimed, as only the Irish can, in song and verse for centuries.

Glenarm, the ancient and still present home of the McDonnell clan; Glencloy, with its lattice of stone dykes; Glenariff, with its ladder farms and waterfalls, described by William Makepeace Thackeray as “Switzerland in miniature”; bare Glenballyeamon, with its fragments of ancient forts; Glenaan, famous for the grave of the warrior poet, Ossian; Glencorp and Glentaisie, with their tidy hill farms; Glendun, with its bridges and fords and Glenshesk, wild and unspoiled.

Each glen and village has its own character and, remarkably, sometimes even its own accent of speech, dating from the times before a coastal road existed and all contact was via boat.


Bushmills Distillery

The Antrim Coast is sometimes known as the Causeway Coast after the world famous Giant’s Causeway, located between the towns of Bushmills– home of the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery – and Ballycastle, the commercial hub of the whole area.

The Giant's Causeway

The Giant’s Causeway

The Giant’s Causeway consists of thousands of strangely symmetrical basalt columns forming a promontory that wave action has eroded into three distinct sections: the Grand, Middle and Little Causeways. The Causeway is clearly of volcanic origin, but legend has it that it was built by Irish giant, Finn MacCool, in order to step across the Irish sea to do battle with a rival Scottish giant. Similar geological formations can be seen across the water in Fingal’s Cave on the island of Staffa.

Another interesting geological phenomenon in County Antrim is Loughareema, the famous vanishing lake. One day the lake can be brimming with water and full of fish. The next day it can be totally drained, as if an aquatic leprechaun had pulled a giant plug. Loughareema floods after heavy rain, but the bed of the lake consists of chalk overlaid with mud so the water quickly drains away. The fish have to retreat into the mud to survive.

The coastline of Antrim is like a ribbon of history. Farmers still regularly unearth arrowheads from Ireland’s first settlers who arrived on this coast over 9,000 years ago, probably from what is now Spain.

There are many ruined medieval castles on rugged cliff tops. Dunluce Castle, three kilometers west of Bushmills, is

Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle

particularly awesome. The site was perfect for defense in medieval times. As one early historian put it: “an insular perpendicular rock of 100 feet high, standing proudly among the boiling waves which foam around and wash its sides, and separated from the mainland by a precipitous chasm of about 20 feet wide, and nearly a 100 feet deep”.

There are several wrecks from the Spanish Armada along this coast, many of them a mere hundred meters or so offshore. Rathlin Island, accessible by ferry from Ballycastle, has a scuba diving center that offers wreck diving trips for those sufficiently adventurous.

For hikers, the Ulster Way, the path that meanders around the province, taking in some of the most beautiful scenery in Northern Ireland, passes through the glens. It is joined by the newer Moyle Way to offer a dramatic circuit of North Antrim.


Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Those with a good head for heights can try the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge over a 25 meter chasm or tackle the rocky North Coast and walk the Grey Man’s Path around Fair Head with its eagles, falcons and feral goats.

Finally, don’t miss the tiny, and typical, harbor hamlet of Portbraddon, at one end of the flawless strand of white beach known as Whitepark Bay, just east of the Giant’s Causeway. In Portbraddon you’ll find St. Gobban’s, the smallest church in Ireland.


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Take Some Thyme


Pun-provoking thyme is one of the most popular and commonly used culinary herbs.

It grows well in most climates and prefers a light, sandy, well-drained, dry soil in full sun. It is one of the easiest herbs to grow in containers on an apartment balcony, but is quite susceptible to root rot and fungal disease if grown in soil that is too moist or heavy.

Thyme does not require fertilizer and grows well with lavender and sage. This herb will attract bees to your garden and it will repel cabbageworms. Thyme can be propagated by seed, cuttings, root division or layering. Its fine root system makes it more difficult to transplant than most herbs. It should be moved well in advance of any risk of freezing. A layer of sand applied on the soil will help protect the delicate roots from frost.

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New Zealand’s Giant Fern

The frond of the giant fern, ten metres high, danced in the wind. It seemed like the plume of a warrior returning to reclaim his kingdom.
And how 
fitting, for the indigenous flora of New Zealand is slowly reconquering this area that has been devastated by fire, imported plants and animals and unsuccessful attempts at farming.

“Tramping” the Abel Tasman

We hiked or “tramped” – to use the local terminology – the trails of the park in the antipodal fall. The crowds and the heat were gone – although even at the height of summer neither get oppressive here – and we were able to enjoy the groves of manuka, beech and other native trees in their autumn beauty.

Most of the time we tramped the Coast Track. One minute we would be in the almost prehistoric ambience of a fern floored forest amid towering kauri and kahikates trees. The trail’s vista would then suddenly open to reveal stunning views of immense sandy beaches intersected by rocky granite headlands. It was not unusual to see dolphins, penguins and seals frolicking offshore. The land seemed truly enchanted with waterfalls spilling into tranquil lagoons and flora and fauna, unknown in the northern hemisphere, abounding.

The Coast Track took us across many tidal inlets. It is possible to walk across these usually within two hours of a low tide, so checking with a tide table is advisable.

Abel Tasman from the air

Awaroa is the largest and most fascinating of the estuaries and tidal inlets. Its sandbanks, mudflats and clear shallow winding streams are a mixture of patient and scurrying life. For an hour or two either side of a low tide the sea is off-stage in this sandy drama and shut out by the white arm of the sandspit.

The park owns and maintains several tramping huts and even more campsites. Pots and utensils may be available in some huts, but this is not to be relied upon. In the busy summer season huts may be overcrowded so camping gear should be carried.

No reservations are taken for the huts which operate on a first come, first served basis. Huts and campsites have a two night stay limit.

Other activities in the coastal area include sea kayaking, fishing, swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving. With a permit, hunting for wild pigs, goats and deer is allowed in the park.

The Canaan region in the southwest corner of the park is caving country. Here, hundreds of thousands of years ago, streams now long vanished, cut a 50 metre (150 feet) wide, 250 metre (750 feet) deep sinkhole in the limestone, marble and granite. It is the deepest straight drop in New Zealand and is known as Harwoods Hole.

Abel Tasman National Park is 134 kilometres (80 miles) from Nelson (population 34,000), the closest city, where you’ll find a range of hotels and motels to suit all tastes and budgets.

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One competing legend about angelica claims that a monk named the herb during the Black Death after an angel appeared and showed him that it could cure the plague. Another maintains the herb is named after St. Michael the Archangel because it blooms on the saint’s feast day, May 8th.

Angelica has a longstanding reputation as a protector against evil. In Medieval Europe, peasant children wore angelica leaf necklaces to protect them from illness and witchcraft. The herb was also sprinkled around the house, inside and out, to ward off evil. Added to your bath water, angelica will reputedly remove any curses or spells that someone has placed on you.

In the garden angelica is a biennial, growing as high as 2.5 meters, and hardy to Zone 3. In the first year the plant has no stem, but produces a cluster of divided leaves growing from a robust root. The herb is also known as wild parsnip because of this root and wild celery because of its bright green, celery-like foliage. The herb is best grown from seed and will thrive in rich, moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soil.

Dried angelica is subject to insect infestations and should be stored in sealed containers. The root must be harvested soon after the seeds ripen, as it will quickly rot in the ground after the plant

Angelica’s deadly lookalike, water hemlock

has matured. Do not wild craft angelica, as the wild herb is too easily confused with its deadly look-alike, water hemlock.Medicinally, both Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine recommend angelica for arthritis and respiratory problems caused by colds and flu. It is a warming and tonic herb, useful for indigestion, gas and colic. An old remedy recommends slowly chewing the stalks until flatulence is relieved. Combine with coltsfoot and white horehound for bronchial problems and with chamomile for indigestion, flatulence and loss of appetite. The leaves are used in the bath to stimulate the skin.

Angelica salve is helpful in cases of allergic rhinitis and sinusitis because it is warming and it dissolves mucus. Apply it twice daily to the area of the para-nasal sinuses, forehead, root of the nose, nose, cheeks and angle of the jaw. It also improves circulation to peripheral parts of the body. Under no circumstances should angelica be taken during pregnancy.

A recent clinical study on SagaPro, has shown this natural product made from Angelica by SagaMedica in Iceland, to be effective against nocturia in those with low or weakened bladder capacity. The placebo controlled study was recently published in the Scandinavian Journal of Urology and Nephrology.

For those subject to indigestion, the following makes a good homemade stomach bitters. Take 20-30 drops before meals.

Stomach Bitters

Take one handful each of the following herbs (preferably fresh):

· Angelica root

· Gentian root

· Wormwood herb

· Sweetflag root

· 1 cinnamon stick

· Grain alcohol, brandy or vodka

Fill a mason jar halfway with the finely chopped herbs. Add the cinnamon stick and pour in enough alcohol to fill the jar. Close it tightly and let the mixture steep for 2-3 weeks, shaking it occasionally. Strain the bitters and then place into dropper bottles.

Angelica’s unusual flavor is a musky, bittersweet mixture of celery and anise. The dried leaves make a fragrant addition to a potpourri. The fresh leaves may be added to salads, soups and stews. The dried, ground root has a stronger, earthier taste than the leaves and the Norwegians bake bread with it. However, the most common use of angelica in the kitchen involves the stem. In Iceland and Lapland the stems are eaten raw with butter. The young stalks can also be braised like celery and served with a white sauce.

Angelica-Wrapped Baked Halibut

· 2 medium halibut steaks

· ½ cup of basil pesto

· Enough angelica leaves to cover both steaks

Place one halibut steak on top of the other with a “sandwich” of pesto between them. Spread the rest of the pesto over the top and bottom of the steaks and wrap the steaks in the angelica leaves and secure with twine or toothpicks. Bake in a preheated oven at 190ºC for 30 minutes. Check for doneness by unwrapping some angelica leaves and cutting into the fish. If it is opaque and flakes easily with a fork, it is done. Spread the pesto evenly over the steaks before serving.

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Avebury henges

Thirty kilometers (18 miles) north of world-famous Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, is its lesser known, but larger cousin, Avebury.

Built at the same time as the second phase of Stonehenge, around 1600-2000BC, the stone circle at Avebury is the largest in the world.

Neolithic inhabitants of Britain built the first phase of Stonehenge about 500 years earlier. The second phase and the henge at Avebury were the work of the “Beaker” people, immigrants from continental Europe who may have introduced the idea of sun or sky worship. They were named after their habit of burying pottery-drinking vessels with their dead.

The Beaker people quickly established dominance over the indigenous tribes, partly due to their facility with metal, the main source of which was in Ireland. To maintain a supply of these metals they established trade routes, one of which followed the south coast of Wales. This probably accounts for the Beaker traders’ familiarity with the Pembrokeshire bluestone, which they selected for use at Stonehenge

The stones at Avebury which, unlike those at Stonehenge, have not been dressed to shape are a very hard sandstone occurring naturally on the local downs. They are called Sarsen Stones, possibly from the word “Saracen” meaning heathen.

In its original form the main circle of 98 stones surrounded two smaller circles of about 30 stones each, and there were still smaller arrangements of stones within these. The banks and ditches form a circle nearly one mile in circumference. The ditches, before thousands of years of erosion, used to be twice as deep and the bank, made up of chalk rubble from the ditches, was considerably higher and deeper. Originally, the henge would have been encircled by a startling white bank and ditch.

People without machines or the wheel carried out the great task of building Avebury. Ditches were dug with picks and rakes made of antlers, bone shovels and wooden tools. The chalk was moved in baskets.


The great stones themselves, from the Marlborough Downs, five kilometers (three miles) away, were probably dragged with leather ropes, wooden levers, tree trunk sledges and considerable manpower. As many as 100 men would have taken several days to drag one stone to Avebury.

The largest stone still standing weights about 67 tons. The Devil’s Chair, standing by the road to Marlborough, is the second largest at about 56 tons.

There has been far more destruction of the stones at Avebury than at Stonehenge. Most of the wrecking was done in the 18th-century, either to clear the ground for cultivation or to use the stone as building material. The stones were broken up by lighting fires beneath them and then pouring water over them.

In the 14th-century some of the stones were buried. In fact one man, a barber or surgeon, was killed when one of the stones he was attempting to demolish or bury fell on him. A pair of scissors and a lancet were found next to his skeleton and the stone is now called the Barber’s Stone.

The henge at Avebury is now a National Trust property and boasts an information center, a National Trust shop, the Alexander Keiler Museum and a restaurant. In the village of Avebury itself, encircled by the henge, good food and ale is available at the local pub. To get there from London, take the M4 west and turn south on the A4361 just past Swindon, a distance of about 140km (85 miles). Bristol is 50km (30 miles) due west on the old A4.


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Sneezin’ Season

Echinacea purpurea (Purple coneflower)

According to Deepak Chopra, M.D., we carry within us the perfect pharmacy. Our immune systems, if nurtured, will deliver the ideal medicine, in the exact dose, at the correct time, to the right cells and organs, and with no bad side effects.

This winter, look after yourselves and your loved ones with good food, unpolluted water, fresh air, exercise, adequate sleep and, for a little insurance, some herbal immune-system boosters.

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Misdiagnosing ADHD

There’s a popular T-shirt that reads, “I don’t have ADHD, I’m just ignoring you.”

Well, we all know that ADHD is no laughing matter, yet as with much humour, there’s a grain of truth in the joke. It’s axiomatic that Americans are addicted to pharmaceutical drugs. Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, writes in his review of Overdosed America by Dr. John Abramson, “Some of the nation’s worst drug dealers aren’t peddling on the street corners, they’re occupying corporate suites. Overdosed America reveals the greed and corruption that drive health care costs skyward and now threatens the public health. Before you see a doctor, you should read this book.”

In his book, Dr. John Abramson writes, “This is the mother of all sleights of hand: the transformation of medical science from a public good whose purpose is to improve health into a commodity whose primary function is to maximize financial returns.”

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