Episode 9 Weather Watchers with Barra Best


Episode 9

Barra Best meets organic former John McCormick in County Down and explores the Marble Arch caves.


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Transcript


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It's all around us, it connects us.

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Should it be wind from the west,

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rain from the east or the sun above,

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it's our weather.

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'Today, I'm in County Down to meet up

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'with organic farmer John McCormick.'

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-How are you?

-I am very well, thank you.

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Perfect weather for the garden, isn't it?

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It's beautiful, a beautiful day.

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'John is passionate about growing organic food, locally produced

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'and completely dependent on our Northern Irish climate.'

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John, a nice big tunnel here of cherry tomatoes.

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They've done well with our weather this year.

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Yes, I'm very pleased with them.

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They are called Sakura, they are a very sweet tomato, so it would

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be incredibly popular with children, as you can well imagine.

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And you've got your normal amount of crops for this year?

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Erm, yes, by and large the cropping would appear to be good.

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We normally go for seven or eight trusses - this is a truss.

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They start at the bottom and work right up

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to the last truss at the top.

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This would be the eighth truss on this,

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So eight trusses is actually a very good yield if that,

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between now and the middle of October, grows and ripens.

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What doesn't ripen will go to chutney,

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-but they're actually doing very well.

-Very well.

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So another few weeks left and these boys will be ready to pick.

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Five, six weeks before I start taking them out.

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Food is a requirement for all life,

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but we need the right weather to grow it.

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County Down is one of the driest counties in Ireland -

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it must have some benefits for your farm.

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Well, I am very surprised to hear you say that!

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Because while parts of County Down are dry, we are in Helen's Bay,

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and Helen's Bay has a lough on one side

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and the hills on the other side

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and regularly, when it is raining here,

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I would phone my friends in Donaghadee or Newtonards, even,

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and the sun would be shining,

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and we would be sheltering from the rain.

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What can you do here that you can't do in the west?

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I suppose we are blessed, in the sense that

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if you want to be a vegetable grower, certainly you are far

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better off here on the east coast

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than you ever would be on the west coast.

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We can just about grow everything, except bananas and citrus.

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What I have noticed is, we seem to be getting extremes.

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We are breaking records left, right and centre.

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We're getting the hottest days that ever happened in the year,

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we're getting the wettest days that have ever happened in the year,

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and this does throw particular problems at farmers.

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These nets, John, do a good job protecting against pests

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and rabbits, that kind of thing,

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but they also protect against our bad weather.

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That's right, we are finding increasingly

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that in the summertime we are getting

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very, very heavy rainfall, and the result of that is

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it splashes the mud back up all over the lettuce and makes it unsellable.

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So the nets act as a barrier, so when the rain hits that,

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it diffuses and you don't get that splash.

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You've even had to dig trenches to keep the rainwater

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away from your greenhouses because they were flooding.

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Yes, what you find is, in the summertime, the ground is very hard.

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In the wintertime, the ground is soft

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and you tend not to work machinery.

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And when the ground is soft, it will absorb the rain

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and filter it and allow it to flow away.

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But when it's hard, as it is in the summertime,

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it hasn't got the capacity to do that.

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The water hits it and has to flow over the surface,

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rather than percolate through.

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So with this intensity of rain, what we are finding is, it is

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actually flowing into the tunnel and flooding our tunnels.

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You also keep bees here. How has the weather affected them?

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2015 has not been one of the great bee years.

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We had a cold May, which wouldn't have been nice for the bees,

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but they were busy enough and survived it

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and managed to build up to a decent brood size for June.

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And we had a nice June, a good June.

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So the bees were very busy in June, and there was plenty of nectar

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and pollen around and they started to bring in a lot of reserves.

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But then July turned wet.

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And by the end of August - we had another wet August -

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they had already started to eat into those reserves.

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There can be up to 50,000-60,000 bees in a colony

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and they all need to be fed every day.

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And if they can't get out to feed, they will eat the reserves.

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So we won't be taking much honey off the bees this year,

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simply because we want to

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leave them with the reserves that are there.

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They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating,

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so from earth to plate, I'm going to sample John's organic produce.

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Not often we get the sea air dining alfresco-style,

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food straight from the field.

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-You ready?

-I am indeed, yes.

-Let's tuck in, eh?

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Very sweet. Anyone who knows me knows that I don't like tomatoes,

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-but THAT I could eat all day.

-Wonderful.

-Very nice.

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Why don't you try a carrot, see what you think of the carrots?

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Very traditional.

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-Any difference of flavour, these? Just normal?

-You tell me.

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-Very nice, very sweet.

-It's nice and sweet.

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Well, the secret to retaining the sweetness in both tomatoes

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and carrots is, eat them fresh and don't cool them.

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The minute you put them in the fridge,

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they start to lose their sweetness.

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So if you can keep them at room temperature,

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they will always retain that sweetness for much longer.

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Everything you see on this plate, bar that bread, is actually

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grown within 40 metres of here.

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-Brilliant.

-I feel very privileged - I eat this every day for lunch.

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Well, thanks very much for letting me join you.

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-It was delicious.

-My pleasure.

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# Well, my momma told me there'd be days like this... #

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But she also told me there would be days like this too.

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Rain, rain, go to Spain, never show your face again.

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Nope, doesn't work.

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# Into each life some rain must fall... #

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In the wettest areas of Northern Ireland,

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over 55 days of rainfall is the norm in the three months of winter.

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And over 45 days in summer.

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I'd like to be able to report that the sun shines

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continuously in summer, but that just wouldn't be true.

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# All the ducks are swimming in the water... #

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You'd be disappointed if I didn't say it,

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so I'm not going to let you down.

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It's great weather for ducks.

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# All the ducks are swimming in the water... #

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And this isn't an old wives' tale.

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Research has confirmed that ducks like hanging out

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there in the pond to enjoy the rainy weather.

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Something else that relies on rain is bogland, and the blanket bog

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of Cuilcagh Mountain in County Fermanagh

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is one of the finest examples in Western Europe.

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This may look like a nice scenic path

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for the ordinary rambler, but of course

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it's doing something important for the conservation of this area.

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Yeah, the sole and only reason we put the boardwalk in is

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to help conserve the habitat.

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What was basically happening was, the footfall of walkers was

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eroding this rare blanket bog, so we had to take some remedial action.

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Today is quite a nice day here, but it's not great for the midges here.

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We're being eaten alive. I think we need to go for a higher altitude.

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Yes, I think so, try and find a bit of breeze.

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-We're halfway up.

-Mm-hm.

-It's longer than it looks, isn't it?

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-Yes, indeed.

-But some of the views, they are spectacular.

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The views are certainly worth it, there is no doubt.

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You're looking right across Fermanagh here,

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out into Donegal, Sligo, it's pretty breathtaking, all right.

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-So no trees.

-No trees, no.

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Peat is not a very good growing medium, so it is only

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specialised plants that can tolerate those nutrient-poor conditions.

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We are almost at the top.

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BARRA EXHALES

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'The trail across the bogland is over 7km long

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'and takes us to the summit of Cuilcagh Mountain, but so far

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'it's been worth it.'

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Well, here we are, Richard.

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Up to the top, 660 metres. And it's still quite squelchy, isn't it?

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You can really tell that the rainfall

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shaped this land in front of us.

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Yes, it has a profound effect on the landscape around us.

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'And how important is the bogland and why?'

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Well, the bog is important in its own right for its biodiversity

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and its intrinsic environmental value

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but, equally, it acts as a carbon store.

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This blanket bog and other bogs in Ireland are literally storing

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millions of tonnes of carbon.

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The peak is basically vegetation which hasn't completely rotted,

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so it is locked away in the bog over thousands

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and thousands of years, so this is almost playing

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the same role as the Amazon rainforest

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in helping with climate change.

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This is a European protected habitat,

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and without that level of rainfall, it wouldn't exist.

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So essentially, you don't mind Fermanagh being called

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one of the wettest counties of Northern Ireland,

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-if not Ireland?

-At times.

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No, on me day off I would rather it is a bit drier

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sometimes, but what can you do?

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But still, today the views are breathtaking, aren't they?

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It's fabulous, it really is.

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And from a breathtaking but treeless landscape, to a lush forestry,

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and my pathway to the underground, where the waters fell

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in Cuilcagh bogland have made their way to the Marble Arch Caves.

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-Michelle, how are you?

-Hello.

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God, that's some walk. SHE LAUGHS

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Great weather for it, though, isn't it?

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-Yes, ready to go underground?

-I am indeed, let's go.

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-Follow me, we will head on in.

-Perfect.

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'Michelle is going to be my guide through this fascinating

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'natural underworld of waterfalls, rivers, caves and winding passages.

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'It is beautiful and brilliant.

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'We are deep below Fermanagh, and you may be forgiven

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'for thinking that the weather above won't affect us, but it does.

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Yes, it does.

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The rainwater that falls on Cuilcagh Mountain,

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it's actually the catchment area for the three rivers that

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flow into the Marble Arch Caves.

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We are actually making our way up one of the rivers,

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which is called the Cladagh Glen.

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So you can imagine that the weather that we experience in Fermanagh

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and in particular up on Cuilcagh Mountain has

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a large impact in relation to the show cave.

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We are able to come comfortably through this cave, but it all

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depends on the amount of rainfall that we get above, doesn't it?

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This cave tour is very much weather-dependent.

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There are days where we have to opt that we don't

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have a cave tour available.

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It really depends on the blanket bog,

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whether the blanket bog is dry or if it's saturated.

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It depends if it's a local rain or it has fallen at a distance,

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and also depends what the rivers are like,

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if they have had a period of time where they have dried up

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or there is no water in it, that is why the staff that work here

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monitor the weather forecast on a daily basis.

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You're actually going outside

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and visually looking at Cuilcagh Mountain to see

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if it is under a cloud, if it's raining, what you think is

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happening on the mountain, because it has its own little climate.

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In terms of weather, what is your perfect scenario?

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Best-case scenario is probably the rarest situation that we

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ever have, a heatwave.

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I knew you were going to say that. SHE LAUGHS

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But even at the moment, we have had a period, a whole week now,

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where we have had just dry weather. It's not hot, it's not sunny,

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but there has been no rain up on Cuilcagh Mountain,

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And that changes everything.

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It changes the amount of water coming off the mountain,

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it changes the atmosphere in the cave.

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I really like it when we have had a little bit of rainwater

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and it is coming into the cave and the rivers are rising slightly,

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and you can hear the rumbling of the river.

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And that is part of the experience

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and the excitement for members of the public.

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So people who do arrive on a rainy day,

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I don't think they are losing out, I think they are seeing it

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in a different way, and to me that is what it is all about.

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-Every cloud has a silver lining.

-Yes, we could say that.

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THEY LAUGH

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The relationship we have with the weather is a complex one.

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We do enjoy sunshine, and we might complain about days being wet

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and cold, but rain is refreshing and wind is bracing.

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So I like to think that there is no such thing as bad,

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only different types of good weather.

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There is scientific evidence that the profusion of red hair,

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fair skin and freckles is the result of living in a sun-starved climate.

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I'm living proof. So there you have it,

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no doubt that the weather is part of who we are, what we are.

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Until next time, bye-bye.

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