In recent months my life has taken a considerable U-turn in the ‘slow’ direction. After spending nearly 4 years in Liverpool, a city with a population of just under 0.5 million, home to two premier league football clubs and named the 2008 European Capital of Culture I have relocated to Portaferry, a village on the east coast of Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland, with a population of less than 3000, home to Exploris – ‘The Northern Ireland Aquarium’, and location for the annual Portaferry Gala.
Swapping such a vibrant city for a countryside idyll was always going to come as a bit of a shock to the system. As a self-confessed foodie, discovering that my closest supermarket was now a good 30 minute drive away came as an undeniable blow! Add a handful of tractors to get stuck behind on the winding journey up to the nearest town to the equation and I was looking at a 2 hour trip just to stock up the cupboards. I have always been conscious of using independent shops and businesses and was a regular customer of my local greengrocer back in Merseyside. It was however, reassuring to know that at 9pm on a Tuesday I could pop into one of the many giant supermarkets that were within a 5 mile radius of my house to pick up that all-important, impossible to live without tin of coconut milk! My concerns at my current situation were a little premature as it turns out and I have been pleasantly surprised to discover that the village shops in my current little corner of the UK are thriving without the presence of the big chains. On the food front, Portaferry has two butchers, a bakers and a greengrocers as well as two Spars and a Centra to provide a mini supermarket fix.
Living on the Ards Peninsula, it is abundantly clear that the majority of the lush and fertile land in this area lends itself to the rearing of cows or sheep or the growing of crops (in true Irish tradition potatoes seem to be a local specialty). And all of the produce as seen in the fields surrounding my house can be bought in the shops in the village. There is even a mobile fishmonger that visits the town square every Friday morning selling the catch that has been freshly landed in Portavogie harbour just 8 miles away. It’s not just the independent village shops that sell local produce and it has been refreshing to see products such as Clandeboye Estate yoghurt and Glastry Farm ice cream, which are produced locally, for sale in the Spar and Centra shops despite these being national chain stores.
I can’t deny that occasionally I still have to venture up to the big supermarket or continue even further to Belfast to top up on my supplies of wasabi paste, tapioca flour and tahini, but it’s really great to know that all of the produce that I pass in the fields on my 30 mile journey up to my nearest ‘big smoke’ are on sale in the shops that are just a five minute walk from my front door. With the unfamiliarly large distances to reach the nearest supermarket, I was concerned that my own personal food retrieval miles were to soar now that I am living in the countryside; but in fact the polar opposite is true and I have never found it easier to track the journey of my food from field to plate and realise that a large amount of what I now eat really is produced on my door step.
Julia Calderwood is currently studying for a PhD at Queen’s University Belfast where her research is focusing on methods to improve yields in mussel farming. She is settling into life in her new coastal residence – a gorgeous lough side house with an aga and a view and will be providing some interesting recipes on a local/slow theme in the months to come. Her own foodie adventures can be found on her fascinating blog, Something Missing