Ballykelly Sloblands

Published Monday, 08 October 2012
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"Slob" is a great word. It almost sounds like the sucking noise your wellie-boot makes when you try to extricate it from the ooze to which the word refers.

It simply means mud, - in the case of Ballykelly it means the alluvial mud that's been deposited by the action of the currents and tides of the Foyle over thousands of years and which has now been reclaimed from the lough shore as farmland.

It's great stuff for growing things we're told, after you've drained it and got rid of the salt that also comes in with the tide. That's why the word's other meaning, a slovenly or lazy person, seems so inappropriate; this land has always required a lot of hard work.

And then, of course, there's the seashells, - still easily found among the ploughed furrows and still providing calcium carbonate to raise the pH level of the soil. Andy Sides of the Loughs Agency and I were able to pick up a handful of them in the space of a few minutes, which is just as well because it was absolutely freezing and the wind was tearing up the Foyle basin like a demented thing.

The flatness of the landscape, the vast and mostly empty space bracketed by Binevenagh on one side and Inishowen on the other, means that there is very little protection from the worst excesses of the weather.

We had arranged to meet Andy at the farm of the Barr family which is where we did most of the filming. Most of the farmland is at or below sea-level and without the dykes and pump-houses the Foyle wouldn't be long claiming it all back again. The stout banks offered little protection from the elements however and we kept having to dash back to the cars when the next icy shower came calling.

When we first arrived Andy was braving the winds with binoculars trained on the saltmarsh on the other side of the river. He was genuinely excited because there were four little egrets hopping around the tussocky terrain. These are recent and still rare visitors as any bird-watcher will tell you and Andy was anxious that we try to film them. The weather was so bad that they looked to me like four white rags flapping in the wind.

"Right," I said to Vinny, our cameraman, "those are very rare birds and we're very lucky to see them. See if you can get me a shot of them. I'm away to sit in the car till this blows over, there's no point in all of us getting soaked."

Vinny gave me one of those looks that he reserves for people who ask him for his last fruit pastille.
But he persevered and got soaked to the skin and got the shot.

You didn't see it on the programme because it looks like four white rags flapping about in the wind.
But there's one thing you can say about Vinny.

He's no slob.

© UTV News
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Joe Mahon
Joe Mahon

Joe Mahon is the presenter of UTV's long-running series Lesser Spotted Ulster.

He is a man who has seen more of the nooks and crannies of the Ulster countryside than anyone else.

His travels for the show have seen him cross land and sea finding the hidden histories of the local landscape.

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