Saturday, December 22, 2012

Part 3

 Wales and Ireland

Day 22 October 20th
Keswich to Ruthin (Wales)

Today started off very relaxed and quiet and ended up almost a nightmare courtesy of our sat nav gear.
I couldn't quite understand some of the Welsh names

 We found out that Keswick is the home of Derwent pencils which both of us have fond memories of as kids. The Cumberland Pencil Company still operates and includes Lakeland Pencils. Both brands are housed in a Pencil Museum which we negotiated for a £1.50 entry for both of us. The exit price was substantially higher following a need to buy a full set. If it gets Glenda back to her art work it will have been well worth it.
The Lakes District

 Some have called the Lake District a mini Scotland and arguably the lakes, with their autumn leaves have much in common with the lochs and glens further north. The towns here are brilliant in their old stone architecture and narrow streets and lanes. Unfortunately we couldn't stop to take photos as the traffic was heavy due to it being a Saturday and again the narrowness of the roads.

 The M6 provided a fast track south but we decided on a side trip to Lancaster to look at the castle. This proved a mistake as the sat nav took us on a couple of wrong turns, one leading us up to a car park with a height barrier. A couple of cars had to wait patiently while I did a five point turn to get us out of there. From a distance the castle looked impressive and worth a decent squiz.
This Kestrel was a month late flying back to North Africa

 By the time we were down towards Preston I was getting a tad tired so Glenda negotiated us to the Burton Mere where an RSPB reserve had been established. The narrowness of the lane in was nearly the end of me as we had to hug the hedge to allow smaller cars room to squeeze through. Two new birds resulted, a Little Grebe and a Hobby which everyone present was excited about as the second bird should have migrated to Africa a month ago.

 Being a weekend meant that most caravan parks were fully booked. This was the case at two spots I phoned so in desperation I found a farm stay park not too far away. The owner believed we were a long way away but could get to his farm with the help of the sat nav co ordinates. Mind you he said, the roads are fairly narrow. What an understatement!

 It was almost dark when we finally drove into his farm yard following the worst conditions we have experienced so far. Hedges lining narrow lanes are one thing but rock walls hemming you in on single lanes are quite threatening. The sav nat took us up some very windy and hilly lanes to places whose Welsh names I cant begin to fathom. Just when we thought it couldn't get any narrower the road became so.  We missed some turns because we thought they were driveways to private property and found ourselves once or twice with no choice but to do a seven point turn. On a couple of occasions I had to abandon these gefforts and push on to the next possibility.

 The farmer was a welcome sight and he helped us settle onto a pitch, suggesting we fix him up for the camp fee in the morning. There were no toilet or showers there but at £10 it was be okay. In reality there was no alternative until wed slept and the sun was up in the morning.

Day 23 October 21st
Dinbych to Holyhead

A night on a farm with no toilet or shower facilities
 A perfect day greeted us on the farm somewhere in the north of Wales. After talking to the farmer about the trouble we had getting there and listening to his directions in his Welsh tongue on how to get out we may never make it! At least that was my concern as we once again headed off along narrow lanes.
Bodelwyddan Castle

 We stumbled into Dinbych near Nantglyn where a police officer gave us directions to the A55 which we followed to Hollyhead. A castle on the way caught our attention so we drove in to take a look. It housed the National Portrait Museum and was furnished in nineteenth century furnishings. The castle was named Bodelwyddan Castle.
The bridge to Anglesey

 Hollyhead is a seaside town from which the ferry to Dublin embarks and is itself an island off the edge of the much larger Isle of Anglesey. Once on this much larger island we turned right and headed to Beaumaris and the ruins of its once great castle. The roads continued to be narrow with stone walls making the judgement between our motorhome and whatever was coming at us crucial.
Beaumaris Castle

 Built in the 12th Century by Edward 1 it was the first castle with a real moat that we have come across. Much of it is gone but the passageways with dim lighting gave an eerie feel for what negotiating around the place would have been like. Wales appears to be rich in its castles and history full stop.

 We managed to find a park not far from the ferry dock at a place called Blackthorn Farm CP at Porthdafarch South. No comment on the name.

 It was nicely placed on a cliff overlooking the Irish sea. It was closing soon for the winter but had a few motorhomes and caravans still coming in.
An English Kestrel

 I managed to stalk a kestrel that watched me carefully for some time. It looked very much like our Australian Kestrel but the vast distances between the species, apart from genetic differences separates them into two distinct species.

 Tonight we are planning our assault on Ireland. With only seven nights we are opting for the south coast only.

 Day 24 October 22nd
Holyhead to Wexford, Ireland

 The alarm went off at 6 a.m. but naturally we were both awake much earlier than that. Suffice to say that when it did go off we were both in that state of deep dreaming that often comes after a restless night.
A fishing boat attracted a large following of sea birds

 It was just light when we arrived at the ferry terminal and boarded the Stena Norwegia which took us steadily to Dublin. The sea was calm and the three hour trip was enjoyable. I managed to see two new birds, they being the Gannet and the Guillemot (an auk species).

 There were no customs or limitations so soon after arrival we were on our way, taking our trade mark wrong turn and heading north through a long tunnel towards Belfast instead of south. We had no network for the ipad or the mobile so we relied on a hard copy map to find our way south. Speed is measured in kilometres here so it was odd reversing our formula for calculating our arrival time and speed. We sat on 120 kms for much of the way but by the time we reached Wexford County the roads had narrowed to what we had begun to expect back in Wales and England.
 A White-fronted Goose

We came to the Wildfowl Sanctuary near Wexford town and had a brief look. A Whit-fronted Goose was the only addition but it was free to enter the sanctuary which was ahg change from recent weeks. Wexford the town wasn't too far and we checked the local Info Centre before groceries at Tesco and a new Irish sim card for the ipad. A Black- backed Gull near the Info Centre was unexpected.

 The caravan park is on the beach but is almost ready to close for the winter. Only one other van is here so it is understandable. The local hotel was recommended so we walked on down for a great meal of Salmon. it was a nice atmosphere but the place was quite large and not an Irish Pub in the sense of size. It was more like an upmarket hotel back in Australia so we'll have to suffer another try later this week.

 Day 25 October 23rd
Wexford to Cobh
Old buildings in Wexford

 A stubborn mist lay on the ocean when I arose not long after sunrise. I hadn't heard the term stubborn used to describe a mist or fog but this one was living up to its name as it didn't lift until mid morning. A lone bird was diving in close to the shore and I thought initially it was a common shag. Behold on closer inspection it was a Red-throated Diver, a lifer and a species I hadn't expected.
The lone heron

On a high from the bird sighting we drove through Wexford and along the coast to Waterford. Here was a tenth century tower on the wharf and in the main centre of the town. It was built for protection against the Vikings naturally enough.
Protection against Vikings

 Nearby was the Waterford Crystal Company which we took in. Their tour showed how their crystal ware is made and was worth the £7 each. No, there were no souvenirs like at the Pencil Factory.
Waterford Crystall

 The day remained drizzly but we stopped occasionally for some scenery and the odd ruin which seem to dot the landscape. Eventually we arrived late in the day at Cobh, pronounced "Cove".
The port city of Cobh

This natural harbour is the second largest in the world and is famous for being the last port of call to both the Titanic and the Lusitania. Being the 100th year since the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 there were displays and exhibitions everywhere.
Cobh Cathedral

 We couldn't find a caravan park anywhere in the town and ended up high on the hill in the park reserved for visitors to the impressive cathedral that towers over the town. An elderly lady directed me to the Info Centre where a helpful lady suggested we just park in the free parking area by the dock. And so we did.
The view from our motorhome

 This was a delightful spot despite the traffic (walkers, late night / early morning fisherman, tug boats and a train line beside us)! It was actually a nice spot. We found the Irish accents and dialects fascinating but our accents are equally confronting to some of the locals. This was demonstrated soon after we set up when l a asked directions from a young married couple walking their child past our motorhome;

"Excuse me but how far is it to the Town Centre?"

They looked at me blankly, "What?"

"How far is it to the Town Centre?"

"The Town Centre?...its dat way." (still looking puzzled)

"Yes, but how long would it take for me to walk up there?"

"Its up dat way. Its about 500 meters."

"Okay. Thanks."

 They walked on, obviously finding it difficult to understand me although I thought it was pretty straight forward.

 We walked into the town and entered Kelly's, the first of a number of Irish Pubs. Our hope was to get a feel for the Irish pub experience but this first one wasn't a good start. One middle aged guy in the bar stared straight ahead and had an air of menace about him. Nothing was said but sometimes your instincts kick in. Three young guys were playing cards and talking but the only word we could recognise was, fek. Glenda grinned at me as they spoke, her eyes telling me that the inability to understand their conversation was unexpected but good fun.

 We sat in the lounge until the menacing guy moved in and took up a position of dominance by the fireplace and continued his stare into space. We had one Guinness and left. Discretion is the better part of valour.

The next stop was across the road at Ryan's (I wont state the obvious). This was much better and despite a sudden silence in the crowd when we entered the bar tender and a couple of gents tried to make us welcome. It was a small bar full of middle aged and older guys watching the football on two televisions. When Glenda informed me that there were no ladies toilets we realized perhaps why there was that initial silence.

 The pub next door looked a tad rough as did the youngsters having a push and shove across the road by the park. We walked round the corner and entered The Rob Roy which was deserted. This was apparently a meeting place for some boarding the Titanic one hundred years ago according to the poster on the front façade. We bought a drink each but when the bar tender vented his anger at a footballer on the television screen;

"Yer feking Idjit! he muttered, we decided to call it quits.

 Day 26 October 24th
Cobh to Killarney
Cobh early morning

Today remained grey all day and was drizzly when I walked towards town to take some photos. I really wanted a good shot of the cathedral overlooking the town but the light wasn't too good. Some postcards will surely have it somewhere.

We drove into Cork but following a few wrong turns pushed on to Blarney and its castle.
Blarney Castle

This ruin was built in 1442 and although it had seen better days it was a necessary see if only to kiss the Blarney Stone.
The Blarney Stone ritual

 Yes, despite never being short for words I needed to climb to the top, lean backwards over an edge and kiss the rock that according to Irish folklore gives you "the gift of the gab".
 My grandmother, Rose White would never forgive me if I didn't. I covered the whole stone with my tongue but couldn't recognize anyone.

I felt relief when I got down rather than energized.
From the top of the keep

 The grounds surrounding the castle were in their autumn splendour and we enjoyed the stroll.

Old graveyard at mallow
We headed west, taking in small towns and coastal spots that the tourist guides recommended. One such place at Mallow had an ancient stone tower that the monks entered when threatened. Apparently it had an underground entrance and a number of levels that enabled them to wait out a siege.

 The tower was surrounded by tombstones and an old church which had some excellent engravings and old celtic crosses.

 Eventually we arrived at Killarney where we booked in to a Caravan Park to recharge everything. Free camping is great and cheap but without power to recharge the computer etc it is frustrating. If we had a usb plug to put into the vehicle our problem would be solved. In any case it was good to catch up on all the washing, both clothes and dishes.

 Day 27 October 25th
Killarney National Park

 Gloomy conditions were prominent all day and the sun barely broke through for a short time mid morning. We drove to the NP which wasn't far from our stay and began almost on the edge of the town. It hugged the lake before moving into the mountains and contained a number of ruins worth a visit.
The UK's tiniest bird - the Goldcrest

 As luck would have it I had my small lens on when a new bird, a Goldcrest appeared. It is the UK's smallest bird so my photo wasn't much chop.
Muckross Abbey

 First stop was the Muckross Abbey which was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell's men. Built in 1448 it contains the tombs of Gaelic chieftains and the graves of martyrs and poets. It was beautiful amidst the autumn tones and we enjoyed walking the darkened corridors which remained intact. People are still being buried here amidst the older tombs and graves.
Excellent interior ruins
Again the contrast with the autumn vegitation was magic

Small horse drawn carts called, "jaunty cars" are a feature of this area and quite a lot of owners were vying for tourists. I'm not sure what they were asking in terms of their fee as we weren't interested, preferring to walk the kilometre to the abbey and back.
 A "jaunting Car"

 We moved on to the Torc Falls which again was gorgeous amongst the oranges and reds. The trees were lavishly covered in thick green moulds and fungi which added to the effect.
Stairway near Torc Falls

 Finally we stopped at Lady's View which overlooked the lake and would be brilliant on a good day. We stopped on the way back and had lunch by the lake before heading on to Ross Castle where the friendliest Rooks met us with hungry eyes.
Ross Castle
"Igor" - a local Rook

 Locals like to think Bram Stoker was influenced by this castle in his writing as did those back in England. They point out that Gaelic for "bad blood" is "droch fola". True that may be but it doesn't prove anything other than speculation on their part. We returned to the motorhome for some more washing and an easy afternoon.

 Day 28 October 26th
The Ring of Kerry to Tralee

The weather was much better today as we made our way around the Ring of Kerry. This is a tourist attraction which encompasses some of the coastal areas not too far from Killarney.
Scene from part of the Ring of Kerry coastline

 It was a long drive with the usual moments of angst along narrow lane ways but in parts the scenery was breathtaking and would rival our Great Ocean Road. We lacked a good roadmap today and missed some places we would have liked to see. Those we did see made up for some of it.
The Skelligs loom on the horizon

 Of particular interest was the Skelligs, two islands off the coast near the town of Dunquin. Steps lead to a monastic outpost over 1000 years old and also a nesting place for Puffins and gannets in summer.
A Pub in Tralee

 Eventually we arrived at Tralee around 4 p.m. A walk into the town to an Irish Pub was a good relief from the rigors of sitting in a motorhome and driving all day. Sadly there was no live music as hoped for.

 On the side of the pub was a rendition of The rose of Tralee, a famous song inspired by a fair lass who lived nearby. It was all quite romantic.

 Day 29 October 27th
Dingle Peninsula

T was a frosty night which made for a beautiful clear day with no breeze. These were perfect conditions for exploring the Dingle Peninsula.

My early morning walk yielded little save frost bite but the clear sky held so much promise. The park manager was proving a real dag with a love for Australia where his three children currently work in Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide respectively. He cheerfully said, "G'day, mate" as we were leaving and we wished him well on his trip at Xmas to see his kids.
we almost turned back due to the narrowness of the lanes

 There is a place on the Dingle Peninsula called Inch which has had sightings of an uncommon bird called a Chough.  We wanted to try for it so Glenda plotted a course on an obscure road leading to the village. You guessed it; it was the narrowest of lanes which took us into some intriguing and spectacular countryside. The track took us up over the mountains where we stopped briefly to take in a fort dating back to 500 BC. It was outrageous to even contemplate life back then.
This was stunning scenery!

 There were a few oncoming vehicles but thankfully we managed to pass each other intact, the slope on the roads edge making it a bit tense. As we came over the crest of the mountain we were met with a truly breathtaking view of the bay. We sat for a long time taking in the beauty of bay and the mountains on the other side.

 A very thoughtful shepherd had chosen the markings for his sheep with much patriotism.
Pubs in Dingle Bay

Eventually we made it to Dingle Bay and had a walk around the town. It was a great little spot but lots of buses and weekenders were about as it was a long weekend for the Bank Holiday on Monday.

 A few souvenirs later and we were off along the Slea Head Drive. We stopped to look at old stone forts on the top of cliffs with spectacular coastline.

 We stopped for lunch at a beautiful sandy bay at Garraun Pt where the film, "Ryan's Daughter" was made. It was an excellent location choice by director, Sir David Lean and starred Robert Mitcham and a young Sarah Miles.
"Ryan's Daughter" was filmed here

 While we were eating a pair of Choughs glided down from the pasture land above and landed just behind the motorhome. I couldn't believe my luck! And the photos are there to prove it!

 We moved on and decided to spend another night in Tralee as the trip to Limerick would mean a late arrival. The park manager was delighted to see us and donned his Croc Dundee hat before signing us in.

We enjoyed watching a group of motorhome club members playing chuck the gum boot or an Irish equivalent plus a number of other games.  They were obviously having a great time and came from all round Ireland for a get together here. Not our cup of tea but they certainly made us feel welcome.

 Day 30 October 28th
Limerick to Tipperary to Dublin

 Not such a great day due to the weather and our decision to get to Dublin so we could have a full day there. It started off badly when I put my head out of the door around 8 a.m. to find the day very dark. Not to worry thought I, it was the start of daylight savings and I had already wound my watch forward an hour like at home....wrong!

 In the UK they have daylight saving in their winter and consequently begin by turning their clocks back an hour so that the sun is up when they start off for work. That gave me a two hour start! By the time I realized my mistake an extra long sleep in wasn't an option.
King John's Castle, Limmerick

Limerick was reached late morning and we decided on a look at King John's Castle. There wasn't much left of it but the information and films that went with it gave an understanding of the troubles faced by the Irish and the seeds for much of the dislike of the English. Our sat nav again lived up to its reputation by sending us into a bridge that was too low for our vehicle.

Worse, it was a one way street which didn't amuse the two small cars behind us who had to reverse to let us get out of there. Some limericks came to mind about the situation but I'll probably not record them.
The Rock of Cashal

 It was a long way to Tipperary (there, I've said it) but the town had very little in the way of attractions. I think the song refers to the county rather than the town as our next stop, Cashal had a few ruins and was a highlight in the tourist guides for the area. We looked briefly at The Rock of Cashal which was an old castle ruins before making it to Dublin and another wrong turn.

 Eventually we found the caravan park and drove to Tesco to get a drink to calm the nerves. A struggle to park almost resulted in some light humoured road rage with a couple of women who found it hard to negotiate their park around our vehicle. Sadly, if the same incident were to occur in Australia it would have been a bit less light hearted.

 Day 31 October 29th
The cathedral in Drogheda was very impressive

 Today we had planned to spend time in Dublin looking around but the park manager informed us that there were no buses as the Dublin Marathon was on with most of the city centre closed to traffic. He advised me not to drive there in the motorhome as it would surely be broken into. I didn't have my runners and it was a bit late to enter so we needed an alternative.

 Glenda read about a burial monument about an hour north of Dublin which we thought might be worth the trip so around midday we headed off. We parked near the city centre in Drogheda and walked about mainly closed shops. Across the road from an impressive cathedral was a cosy restaurant so we stopped for a coffee and a light lunch. We were hoping to buy some last minute souvenirs of Ireland in Dublin so things were looking bleak in this regard.
Restored burial mounds

 We drove to the Bru na Boinne Visitor Centre in the Boyne Valley and were shocked at the scale of the place. Basically a number of ancient burial mounds have been found and archaeological work has been going on since the 1960's. We joined a tour of the site known as the Knowth site (pronounced "nowth" as in south). One large mound surrounded by several smaller mounds had been excavated and brought back to a condition resembling what they would have been like in their contemporary time. Dating has the site active around 3000 BC, that's 1000 years before the pyramids at Giza.
Inner corridor to the burial chamber

 The tour guide was excellent and she told of how the mounds had been used by different groups over the centuries including the Normans who had built fortifications on the main mound.
Ancient srone carvings predate the Pyramids at Giza

 By the time we returned to the caravan park it was nearly 6 p.m. and getting dark. Tonight we are planning the last leg of this UK trip which is a further assault on Wales followed by a visit to Bath and then something special in Cornwall. We are both tired and agree that the pace over this four weeks has been a bit gruelling.

 Day 32 October 30th
Dublin to Bala, Wales
My best British Robin

It looked like a bad start to the day; my alarm went off an hour early at 5 a.m. because the phone hadn't gone to daylight saving time like they do in Australia. Not to worry, it gave me some extra time to get ready for the drive to the ferry at Dublin Port which was about 40 minutes away. When we finally left the pitch and arrived at the park gates we found them locked shut. It was now 7 o'clock and the ferry wanted us there at 7.45 at the latest.

 I knocked on the manager's private front door and was welcomed by his German Shepherd which really started the adrenalin going. The park gates suddenly opened automatically, probably on a timer so I hightailed it back to the motorhome before the manager and his dog appeared.
Leaving Dublin

 The traffic was fairly heavy as we headed along the main highway into the city before veering off towards the port. All was going well apart from a £10 toll for the tunnel when I suddenly missed the turn off to our ferry terminal and ended up on a road into the city centre. A few expletives later and an audacious U turn and we arrived at the check in a minute before the scheduled deadline.
A feeding frenzy midway

 The crossing was much like the one over but there weren't too many passengers and the ferry was smaller in size. Not long into the trip I came across a feeding frenzy with lots of species enjoying the booty.

 Despite the smaller vessel we arrived ahead of our ETA and were soon driving towards Caernarfon Castle in Wales.
Caernarfon Castle

 This castle is massive compared to some visited recently and fairly well preserved. Apart from being used to crown the Prince of Wales it also houses an outstanding military museum dedicated to the Welsh Guards.

 We visited most of the castle and climbed the inevitable turrets for views of the town. It is easy to see why these forts were so well conceived and so strategically placed.
This castle was huge and fascinating

 Across the road was a typical Welsh pub so we broke with our normal rules and went in for lunch. Like pubs everywhere around the UK it was decorated for Halloween. The meal was okay but the pint of beer nearly put me to sleep during the drive through Snowdonia to a small little place called Bala.

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