My mate, Marmite, Sunday 1 August, 2021

Written by Matthew

Our base for the week is Mary Larkin’s cottage, which is situated overlooking Carlingford Lough outside Rostrevor and a long way up a narrow, winding single-width lane that becomes little more that a rough stone track just before it reaches the cottage.

The view is splendid, we look down the valley towards Carlingford Lough. In front of the cottage there is a resident donkey in the field. Jojo is particularly excited about Donkey, she spends most of the time on her hind legs staring out the window at Donkey. I have introduced Zoly to Donkey, they had a good sniff of each other and were inquisitive, but neither seemed to be much bothered about each other. I don’t think we’ll do the same  with Jojo as I suspect her ‘loving gazes’ at donkey may be more ‘love at first bite’ rather than ‘love at first sight’.

After a little snooze (all four of us fit easily on the super king-sized bed in the cottage) we decided to explore the locality a little. First stop was the ASDA Super Centre in Kilkeel – neither super or much of a centre, think a big Tesco express. As this was Sunday I thought we’d better call in early to avoid getting caught out by any Sunday trading rules and a lack of essentials. Before arriving in Ireland, the UK media has been regularly reporting of food shortages in Ireland due to Brexit/COVID logistic issues. The threat of a ban on meat being allowed into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK meant we brought our own supply for the dogs. However, if the visit to ASDA Kilkeel was anything to go by, the media reports are a little exaggerated. The shelves were full – and they even has the super-size jars of Marmite, which have been in very short supply in our local ASDA Bedminster.  With my trolley filled I headed to the checkouts. I joined a short queue and  unloaded my shopping onto the conveyor belt. The man in front was having a lengthy chat with the cashier about the well-being of his (very) extended family. Cashier: “So how’s your wee mammie?” Shopper: “She’s good. Eighty-three now”. Cashier: “Never. Is she? Aww bless her” … you get the idea. All very nice, but the cashier wasn’t scanning a thing. Having spent many years in my teens with a part-time job behind a Tesco checkout, I know it is perfectly possible to chat and scan. I was wondering whether I should say something, when suddenly a checkout supervisor hollered: “Ok, you’re good to go”, while waving her arms up and down as if she was at the starting lines of Brands Hatch. What I hadn’t realised was that the Sunday trading laws here are different to England.  Back home six hours Sunday trading is permitted and supermarkets usually open between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, here, only five hour trading are permitted and it usually takes place between 1:00 – 6:00 pm (with browsing allowed a little early). Once the starting shot had been fired, everything was quickly scanned and we were on our way – super-sized Marmite in hand (which is going to prove to be very handy).

All checked out, the next stop was Silent Valley Country Park, a reservoir about ten minutes drive from Kilkeel with lots of good dog walking possibilities. Silent Valley was very popular, lots of families with picnics or heading for tea in the cafe. The reservoir was built between 1923 and 1933 to supply Belfast. There were interpretation boards telling the history of the site and how it was constructed (apparently all the poorly paid workers tolling 14 hour days to excavate the granite rock were as happy as Larry – I suspect not, and there was a plaque commemorating the nine men who were killed during the construction). We made our way towards the reservoir with the intention of doing a long walk to the second dam further along the valley. As we set off, nature took its course and Zoly started to do his first number two of the day. I prepared my poo bag as Mike and Jojo wandered ahead. As I prepared to scoop my eye was drawn to a small group of people ahead who were stood on the spot and waving their arms and hands furiously around their heads. Once Zoly had done his business (and I’d done the obligatory scoop) he began pulling to catch up with Mike and Jojo. Instead of his usual gallop, Zoly was doing some peculiar squat trot, while trying to nibble his bum as he moved – my initial though was that he needed to go again, but if he wanted to do that why didn’t he just stop and go? I then noticed Mike was also swatting his hands around his head and then I felt it – there were midges everywhere – and we were their prey! Poor Zoly was getting bitten on his bum; while me, Mike and any other human with flesh on display were also prime targets. A change of plan was needed… and quick.

We made a hasty retreat from our waterside walk and instead took the ‘mountainside trail’ which offered great views of the water and the Mourne Mountains – and a lot fewer midges. I had heard that Scottish lochs in August were to be avoided due to midge swarms, but I’d not heard the same of Northern Ireland, but now I know. I think that it is said that midges apparently don’t like the taste of Marmite in human blood – so it’s a high intake of ‘my mate Marmite’ for me for the rest of the holiday to keep the pesky blighters (or as we overheard one of the locals put it: ‘the wee bastards’) at bay!

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