Ireland Road Trip Day 8 – Mon 18/4/2016

I was quite tempted to stay another night at the Insiara b&b as it was so nice but there was little of interest around it, with even the nearest village being over 5 miles away.

So at 10:00 and smelling of lavender after my shower, I set off for the short 9 mile drive to Kinsale…..a destination which totally underwhelmed me.

Yes it’s a cute fishing port and yes it has wonderful fish based restaurants where the food is probably so fresh that it’s still moving on the plates but it just wasn’t for me. I parked along the sea front and walked around the town, which took all of 30 minutes as there wasn’t much to see.

20160418_113146

I did visit the most recommended restaurant in Kinsale and the owner let me take photos inside as it wasn’t open for business at that time of the morning.

20160418_113323

20160418_104106

20160418_113405

I did make good use of the tourist office though and left armed with a series of lovely glossy guide books to all areas of Ireland which I found very useful for the rest of the trip.

20160518_170154

I’m not sure about the “pocket guide” descriptions though as you’d need very large, deep pockets to fit one of these guides inside.

Leaving the town behind, I drove south 10 miles to the Old Head of Kinsale but couldn’t go the last mile or so to the lighthouse because the land had been turned into a rather posh golf course and there was even a man by a stone portal who was making sure riff raff like me weren’t allowed to progress further.

Even telling him that I’d come all the way from Kinsale didn’t impress him !

Old Head Golf 4

At this point both sides of the path, for it wasn’t even a proper road, disappeared off down to the Atlantic but when the portal keeper saw my indecision, he helpfully told me to go to the right for better views.

And he was right.

20160418_151452

20160418_121748.jpg

20160418_151859

Craggy.  Definitely craggy.

I sat on that little sandy/grassy platform (top photo) and enjoyed the view for a while. Sea birds whirled around me before returning with food to their nesting sites. All in all it was a lovely spot and back at the car I thanked the portal keeper for his advice.

He asked me to wait a minute and went off to his little hut and returned with a gift for me…..a golf club brochure and here are 3 photos from it to show how dramatic a course it is and probably why it costs €240 to play 18 holes there. I’d probably lose balls to the same value if I played a round !  The last photo shows an aerial view of the course and the Old Head peninsula and I’ve added some text to show how far I got.

Old Head Golf 1

Old Head Golf 2

Old Head Golf 3a

I think there was a public route round to the lighthouse if I’d gone down from the path to the left instead of the right, but I was happy with the choice I’d made.

Driving back to the main roads, R604/R600/R603, I was meaning to go straight to Mizen Head but while sitting at that Old Head scenic spot I’d read the guide book from the tourist office in Kinsale and saw that a short detour would take me to Kilbrittain.

Why ?  Well obviously to see the skeleton of a fin whale that washed up on the beach and….oh let this sign tell the story……….

20160418_125640

It was 10 miles away and only a mile or so from my route anyway so worth a visit. When I got there I found that Kilbrittain consisted of 1 shop, a pub, a petrol station and 2 or 3 houses….maybe 4. The park where the skeleton was on display was basically a grassy hill with a small concrete area at the top where kids could kick a ball about BUT sure enough, in pride of place was the fin whale, or at least its bones.

I’m still not sure where the beach was as Kilbrittain is miles from the sea !  That whale was REALLY lost.

20160418_152101

20160418_151935

It was a bizarre sight and for some reason it made me hungry.

I hit the trail again and also the N71 towards Mizen Head. I was now on the Wild Atlantic Way and I’d recommend the website to anyone planning to drive around any section of the west coast of Ireland. I did mostly follow it but sometimes I wanted to be even closer to the water so would go off down narrow tracks to get to the very edge of peninsulas around the coast.

50 miles from Kilbrittain (and after leaving the N71 onto the R592) I came upon a grouping of stones just a few feet from the road so as there was a parking area, I pulled in and went to explore.

Altar Tomb

20160418_145958

20160418_152343

20160418_152412

Good spot for a sheltered bbq I’d have thought or sacrificing a local maiden at the weekend..

Nearby were some great views with the crashing Atlantic waves breaking spectacularly over the black rocks  There were also sheltered bays and despite the late hour, I enjoyed clambering around them like I used to love doing when I was a kid.  Not there of course but back in N. Ireland.

20160418_152844

Then it was on to Mizen Head. The R591 forked just over 6 miles from Mizen Head but the road that WASN’T the continuation of the R591 didn’t have a number but the sign at the fork said Barley Cove and Mizen Head so I took it. This narrow unnamed road proved the point that you can totally miss something scenic by going one way as I’ll explain later. By the time I got to Mizen Head, all my stopping and starting had left me too late to get onto the bridge shown in my photo below. I’d no idea there would be a visitor centre and gift shop which meant there were opening hours but it seems that at the end of every peninsula in western island, at least ones with lighthouses, there are commercial enterprises to take your money of you.

At least there was a bridge here that would need maintaining so fair enough…..and it was only €4.50 to go across BUT it all closed at 17:00 and I arrived at 16:30.  I asked how long was the walk to the bridge and was told 15 minutes so it made no sense to stay.

20160418_155713

Here are a couple of photos from the web site to show what I missed !

Mizen Head Bridge 1

Mizen Head Bridge 2

Ah well…..another day !

On my drive back along the unnamed road to rejoin the R591 and just 2 miles from Mizen Head, I saw a lovely beach to my right that I’d totally missed on the outward journey as it was hidden when driving that way. It was at Barley Cove and to get onto the beach, I had to park at some apartments and walk down a long private path. Being off season there was no one around to challenge me and after a few minutes I was on the sand dunes and then on the beach

20160418_181629

20160418_180229

20160418_180651

I walked to the far end but for some reason there was a smell of sewage where the beach swept around due to a long channel that might have had an overflow pipe somewhere along it. I came back along the sand dunes and with the sand there being much softer and deeper, I was pretty tired by the time I had to face the very steep climb back up to the car park area. I can tell you the walk up took 10 times longer than the walk down and I had to sit in the car for a while to get my heart rate down to normal !

By now it was well after 6pm and I wanted to leave Bantry till the next day so just 19 miles from Barley Cove and a quarter of a mile from Durrus, still on the R591, I saw a b&b sign and went to check it out.  It was called J0-Al because the owners were John and Alice Hickey and not because they came from the planet Krypton ! I’m not sure why, but John gave me a lovely double room for an amazing €30 and when you see photos of the breakfast, I think I got the b&b deal of the decade.

Again I had a bit of a rest before inquiring about places to eat. I was told it was a short walk to Durrus and there were a few good places there but I’d had enough walking so drove to the village and picked O’Sullivan’s Bar.

2016-04-18-07-31-57-54

20160418_195524

Non classic Irish bar with one local propping it up and thankfully no music. It was a warm evening so I sat well away from the fire and enjoyed my chicken in a basket and using the wifi to catch up on world events.

Back at the b&b I made my plans for the next day and then watched some more shows on the laptop but was ready for bed at midnight. Another long day with lots of exercise and I was asleep in minutes.

I didn’t know it then, but the next day was to be one of my favourites.

 

Ireland Road Trip Day 7 – Sun 17/4/2016

I’d like to say that I left Dawn House at….well dawn…..but I didn’t.  After another excellent Irish breakfast where I met and chatted with the 4 Kiwi guests who had arrived late the previous night, I packed up, paid the €40 and at 10:00, I headed off westwards to Cobh (pronounced Cove) along the N25.

It was a lovely sunny morning and the 90 minute drive to Cobh was delightful and gave me cause to believe from now on, I’d have lovely scenic coastal vistas for the rest of this Irish road trip…..in glorious sunshine.

And I pretty much did !

20160417_103050

35 miles from the b&b I crossed a bridge over the River Tourig and in doing so, left Co. Waterford and entered Co. Cork. Another 21 miles along the N25 and I turned off onto the R624 for the 5 mile drive south to the town of Cobh and arrived at 11:30, so made good time despite stopping several times to take photos, like the one above.

I’d never heard of Cobh before but soon discovered that it has strong links to both the RMS Titanic and the RMS Lusitania and was only too eager to highlight them for tourists.  It’s also Ireland’s only dedicated cruise ship terminal and over 100,000 passengers and crew arrive every year……..only to get onto buses to be taken to other tourist destinations !

No but seriously though, Cobh was a delightful little seaport with a population of under 10,000 and until I did a bit of research for this post, I wasn’t aware that Paddy Walsh, who taught at my old boarding school in my first year (and went on to become Bishop of Down & Connor) came from Cobh. Despite that, I quite liked the place.

Originally called Cove, the name changed to Queenstown in 1850 to commemorate a visit by Queen Victoria and then changed again to the Irish version of Cove, namely Cobh, in the late 1920’s.

So it was when it was Queenstown that RMS Titanic arrived from Cherburg to take on the last of its passengers before heading out into the Atlantic in 1912 for its appointment with an iceberg. The link to the RMS Lusitania was just as tragic as when sailing from the US to Liverpool during WW1, it was sunk near Cobh by a German U-boat with the loss of 1,198 passengers. Many of the 700 survivors, along with the bodies of the dead, were taken to the town and there are over 100 graves and a memorial above the town to remind tourists of that fateful event.

On a lighter note, the town sure has one big ass Cathedral.  I’ve never seen a town so dominated by one building before. It’s freakin’ massive and looms…..yes not like that squat Hook Head lighthouse….looms over the town and harbour like a modern day colossus.

Anyway I’m getting ahead of myself here. First of all I parked in a lovely area that could have come from any small town in France…..or from the set of ‘Allo, ‘Allo.

20160417_114046

As it was 11:30 on a Sunday in the off season, the town was as quiet as a very quiet mouse with laryngitis. The blue skies had also become grey so my first impressions of the town were not that favourable, despite the brightly painted buildings and the pretty harbour.

20160417_114028

20160417_122025

Walking to the end of the harbour jetty, I turned around and was overwhelmed by the sight of St. Colman’s Cathedral towering above the town. This massive Roman Catholic Cathedral, one of the tallest in Ireland, has the only church carillon in the country with 49 bells and they were getting a good workout when I was there because as well as being rung at regular times each hour, there was also a First Communion Mass in progress at the time.

20160417_122251-01

Apologies for the “white” sky but they say God moves in mysterious ways and providing nice weather for my visit to Cobh wasn’t one of His ways.

Leaving ground level, I climbed hundreds of steps up to the Cathedral, going against the flow of proud parents and their little darlings who were dressed in their First Communion finery. I’d seen a little girl in the town square on my arrival and as well as being dressed top to toe in white, she also had a cute little white parasol. Now I understood the reason.

I don’t know if the Cathedral would have been open later or charged for entry but as people were still leaving it after the Mass, I just went in.

If the outside had been impressive, the inside was even more so.  I’m not a fan of Cathedrals as I usually find them large, cold and impersonal places but this one was different. Yes it was large but it was more modern than most Cathedrals and so there wasn’t an abundance of cold, stone pillars, crumbling masonry and statues of local bigwigs that no one remembered anymore.

In fact the pillars were just like the ones in my old home church in Ballymoney.

By the time I’d reached the Cathedral, taken several large gulps of oxygen and waited for my heart to stop beating in my ears, the sun had come out and so once inside, the Cathedral was beautifully lit with that warm light that only nature and dozens of 200 watt spotlights can provide.

20160417_161639-02

20160417_125857-01

Outside the main doors, the large open area was now empty, except for a man who approached me from his clapped out car which was on the Cathedral grounds with its boot/trunk open. He was holding what looked like loops of nasty string over his wrist and when he asked me where I was from, I was a bit taken aback so just said England rather than ignoring him.

Having now discovered I was a tourist rather that a more savvy local, he asked if I wanted to buy some “blessed medals” and it was THEN that I ignored him !

I left him pacing around in front of the doors and didn’t have the heart to tell him there were no others inside and took a photo of the view back down to the harbour.

20160417_125316

Down at ground level I went to the Titanic Exhibition building at the side of the harbour because it was housed in the original office where those poor souls bought their tickets.

No refunds !

There was also a Titanic themed restaurant at the side of the building which I guess was to be expected but I have to say all these Titanic cash cows are a bit much. Sticking “Titanic” in front of a few menu items was a bit tacky.

20160417_124412

The ship was built in Belfast (N.Ireland)  and registered in Liverpool (England). On its fateful maiden voyage it sailed from Southampton (England) to Cherburg (France) and finally to Queenstown (Ireland) before setting off to New York (US) but hit an iceberg and sank 400 miles south of Newfoundland (Canada).

All these locations have exhibits of some sort which is ok by me.  But when a company called Titanic Artifacts Inc found the sunken remains of the ship and brought many of its “treasures” to the surface, this opened up a whole new can of maritime worms to be exploited. These artifacts travel the world from Las Vegas to Cape Town and have probably repaid the salvage fees many times over. Many locations completely unrelated to anything to do with the Titanic have parts of museums containing its story in some way.

Branson, Missouri and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee for example !

Oh well, if you build them, they will come, as someone once said in a movie that, ironically, not many people went to see.

20160417_122908

20160417_123022

There was a gift shop of course and I did have a bit of a laugh at this one item……..

20160417_123152

I heard some singing coming from the harbour so went to investigate. I found 6 locals entertaining about 7 people and two dogs with their lively shanty type music so I captured most of one song which, given its simple tune and repetitive chorus could well be the next Irish Eurovision entry.

Finally, to end with, here are a couple of non Titanic related photos just for the hell of it. The first is a statue of some local woman who won a silver medal at the Olympics and the other is a photo of some pretty sea shells…..from the seashore no less !

20160417_122730

20160417_115704

It was time to leave Cobh so I drove back to the N25 and continued westwards to Cork and managed to get a great central parking place right on St. Patrick’s Street. I wasn’t up for a great deal of walking but I did my best.

20160417_170749

Despite, or maybe because, it was a Sunday, it was really busy in the city. Ignoring the Burger King across the road, I found a Subway with wifi and caught up on emails and messages while having a slightly more healthy meal.

IMG-20160417-WA0006

After this unfulfilling feast, I left and was still very tempted by the menu at a nearby eatery……..

20160417_162926

It’s not often I find a menu with so many meals I could order…….but I was good and walked on.

After a few hours exploring the city centre I’d had enough and returned to the car, taking in a few last scenes.

20160417_15363920160417_16385020160417_170225

I so prefer the countryside to cities !

I left at 17:00 and immediately started looking for a b&b along the R600 towards Kinsale. Just 9 miles from my parking bay in Cork and 4 miles from the airport, I saw a sign for the Insiara b&b which looked great from the roadside so I stopped to ask for availability and rates.

20160418_112930

Once again I had the benefit of touring in the off season so the owner, John, offered me a family room for €35 which was the best deal at the best b&b on my whole trip. The room was huge with a lovely en suite bathroom and the lavender soap and shower gel were so good that a few days later I bought 3 of each at a store to bring home before I left Ireland !

20160417_180535

20160417_180613

20160417_180708

I had a bit of a rest before heading out to find a place to eat.

John told me there was a good pub just 5 miles further down the R600 towards Kinsale so I took his advice and had a great chicken curry from the bar menu at The Huntsman in Belgooly.

2016-04-17-07-24-37-23

Back at the b&b I met John’s wife, Eileen, and we arranged the time for breakfast (I always picked 08:30) and after watching a couple of shows on the laptop, this wuss was in bed by 23:00.

Well I’d done a lot of walking and I’ve got little legs….with an old, overweight, unfit body on top of them.

I’d also crossed the 1000 mile mark since setting off from Leeds (1025 to be precise) 

I slept like a very tired log.

 

Ireland Road Trip Day 6 – Sat 16/4/2016

After the dull weather of the last few days and the rain last night, I woke to a beautiful morning at my first b&b in Ireland on this trip.

Then I scalded myself in the shower !

It had one of those concertina type doors that I hate as you get wet just turning the shower on. I let the water run for a minute or so and then got in and closed the door. Suddenly the water temp shot up to way above a safe level and I had nowhere to hide. I was being scalded everywhere it was hitting me and without my glasses on, I couldn’t see which way to turn the temp knob and in any case, I needed to just get out !  Quickly.

The door made this very awkward as it opened inwards, thus keeping me in the firing line even longer. My feet were burning as I was in the standing water which was hot enough to boil an egg ! My language was just as hot !

Finally I got out and looking like a lobster in places, I sat on the bed just to get my feet off the floor. After some time, things improved a lot and I decided I’d had enough of that shower and just got dressed and went to breakfast. My feet and parts of my back were pretty tender for the rest of the day but there were no lasting effects.

I told the owner what had happened and she said the showers had all been checked just recently and she didn’t know how that had happened but all I can say is that no shower should be able to get to those temps even if turned to the highest setting – imagine if a child had been in there ! Maybe there are no Health & Safety regulations in Ireland.

20160416_100134a

After breakfast I decided to pay yesterday’s M50 toll charge online (€3.10) before leaving the b&b in case I didn’t get wifi again before the 8pm deadline. Last night in Wexford I’d used an ATM to get enough Euros to last me the rest of the trip. I’d used my “special” European credit card for this transaction which has no fees and just gives me the current exchange rate so I needed to  pay that off before incurring any interest.

I tried to do this online at the b&b but the Barclays app didn’t like the slow wifi speed and wouldn’t let me do it !  Pah.

All these unexpected tasks delayed my departure from Ferrycarrig Lodge and I didn’t get away until just after 10am.  The driveway ended at the R730 so I just turned left to rejoin the N11 towards Wexford and came to a lovely view across the River Slaney to the N11 road bridge I’d crossed in the drizzle yesterday before finding the b&b.

It looked much better with a blue sky background.

20160416_102440

I’d seen enough of Wexford last night so at a roundabout before the town, I took the N25 towards Rosslare before taking the R733 westwards as I was heading for Hook Lighthouse, only a 45 minute drive from the b&b and a scenic drive before going to Waterford for the afternoon.

I’m deliberately adding a lot of details from this post onwards as I really believe if anyone is planning to do a road trip around the south and west of Ireland, they couldn’t do better than follow my route.  I loved every single kilometer of it and if you have more time than I had, then just add to the roads I travelled on and you’ll have a fabulous drive.  I was also very fortunate with the b&bs I found but experiencing them as a not very fussy single guest, I’m not in a position to recommend them for couples or families. Every b&b was ensuite and had free wifi which were my two basic requirements ! 

Before setting off from Leeds, my resolution was to hug the coast wherever possible and go to the end of any peninsula that permitted a car to do so…..even if that meant leaving the normal tourist road and going down a dirt track ! This didn’t apply at Hook Head peninsula as a decent road led right to the end…..and to the lighthouse. I’ve always felt that if you reach a lighthouse on a peninsula you’re pretty much at the end of it !

I turned left off the R733 onto the R737 to go south to Hook Head. This was an area of rugged rocks and shingle bays just with the lighthouse in the distance. I almost typed “looming in the distance” but this was one of the least spectacular lighthouses I’ve ever seen and it definitely didn’t loom.

20160416_115002

20160416_111700

Hook Head is the oldest working lighthouse in Ireland although according to the info at the place, it’s the oldest in the world. I prefer my title of it being the least looming !

20160416_112438

Those buildings give some sort of scale but honestly, it’s almost as wide as it is tall but then it is high above the water and can be easily seen for miles which has to be the main reason d’etre for a lighthouse !

There was a tiny maritime museum to the left of those white buildings with some interesting local exhibits including a Bristol Wagon, a rescue vehicle used in the 19th century…………

20160416_11264420160416_11255820160416_112743

Looking to the left of the wagon there is an example of a rescue cradle which was basically a lifebelt as is still used today but with an attached pair of pants (or breeches, hence the name – breeches buoy) to make it easier (and more comfortable) to winch people off stricken ships after ropes had been sent across using rockets from the cart. You could sit snugly with your arms over the lifebelt singing sea shanties with your legs dangling from the pants and even have your family jewels well supported !   Luxury !

Reading the info on that top photo about how the breeches buoy was replaced by a helicopter must be an example of the most impressive update ever in maritime rescue equipment.

20160416_11281820160416_112830

Leaving Hook Head and heading for Waterford meant returning north the way I’d arrived as there was no bridge across the River Barrow which separated County Wexford from County Waterford. But about 10 minutes from the lighthouse I turned left onto the L4045, only because that’s the way Google Maps was telling me to go and as if it knew what I liked, I came upon a lovely beach.

Well “came upon” is a bit strong as I drove past the almost hidden turn off to the beach and only just caught sight of a sign saying Dollar Beach as I flew by. I’d been seeing lovely bays all along the road but this was the first one with a sign and a road of some sort down to it so I did a u-turn and headed down the narrow road, just wide enough for one car.

Just 100 yds or so down this road there was a passing point and from there, the road suddenly dropped down at 45 degrees to a dead end but I decided to go on anyway. I rounded a corner to find a car already at the end point but as I could see the couple on the beach, I parked behind their car safe in the knowledge that I could leave when they left.

I just hoped no one would park behind me !

The first photo was one I took out my car window in case I had to make a quick return without being able to take any more.

20160416_122848

20160416_12222220160416_12255120160416_122532

I met up with the couple on the beach and told them I’d leave when they did and I had a lovely walk along the beach before noticing another car had in fact arrived and was parking behind me.

The 3 of us had decided to leave together anyway so we climbed up to our cars and found an American couple waiting to take our places but it took a fair bit of maneuvering to achieve this and I had to reverse up to the small passing area before being able to face the other way and return to the road.

It was all worth it.

The L4045 led to the R733 and this led back to the N25 which finally crossed the River Barrow at New Ross so I could turn south to get all the way down to Waterford.

When I got to the city I was pretty hungry and didn’t care where I ate…..and I also needed to pay off that Halifax credit card balance before I racked up even one day’s interest on the Euros I’d got from the ATM in Wexford yesterday.  I parked outside a Dealz store on Michael Street in the city centre and despite it being a pay and display slot, I saw no pay machines so after a few locals told me I’d be fine on a Saturday (?), I just took the risk and left to find food.

The first place I found that also had wifi was a Burger King so I ate there and then managed to pay off the credit card balance as the internet speed, although slow, was acceptable to the Barclays phone app.

I spent the next few hours exploring Waterford but I’m not a city person and didn’t see much to keep me there for longer. I left the city heading westwards on the R680 to join up with the N25 beyond the toll section (thank you TomTom), keeping an eye out for a b&b along the road. Less than 10 miles from my parking spot in Waterford I saw a sign for a b&b just a few feet off the N25 so although it was relatively early, I fancied a restful evening to have a meal and watch some shows on my laptop.

The b&b was a family bungalow called Dawn House and it was probably the most basic of all the b&bs I found on my trip but despite this, it was clean, was ensuite, had wifi and best of all had a shower that wouldn’t scald me and had a proper door on it !

Twin-Dawn-BB-Gallery

That was a photo of my room that is on the web site and one below is one I took today.

20160416_164908

I’d passed a small row of shops along the R680 just 3 miles before the turn for Dawn House on the N25 and I knew one was a Chinese restaurant/takeaway so after a bit of a rest, I headed back to it and got a meal which I ate back at the house.

Mountain View Chinese Restaurant

Then I lay on the bed and watched some shows I’d downloaded onto the laptop and after some noisy guests from New Zealand arrived late in the rooms across from me, I was asleep by midnight and all set for my drive to Cobh and then on to Cork in the morning.

 

Ireland Road Trip Day 5 – Fri 15/4/2016

If it hadn’t been for the flooding issues that caused the first b&b to cancel on me, I’d have been waking up in S. Ireland this morning. As it was, I was still in Magherafelt and all set to get going on my road trip for real. After some lovely daily drives around my old stamping grounds in Norn Iron in mostly decent weather, it was a bit dull and overcast when I set off just before 10am.

My route was to take me across the border, around Dublin, over the Wicklow Mountains and on to the Enniscorthy b&b near Wexford. It didn’t quite work out that way though.

I had road choices all the way and as I initially didn’t want to head towards Belfast, I took the potentially slower route around the west side of Lough Neagh, which is the largest lake in the British Isles and provides 40% of N. Ireland’s water.

Big mistake.

Every few miles I came to small towns with 30mph speed limits, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and of course, local drivers who would just stop and chat with friends and not care if they held up traffic behind them !  It took me over an hour just to drive 20 miles and with 200 miles to cover to get to the b&b, it was not a great start.

I finally realised I’d crossed the border when the A1 that I was on became the N1 and I saw a sign reminding me that road distances would now be given in kilometers. I don’t even remember seeing a sign saying “Welcome to Ireland” or any such derivation thereof.  Some, but not me, would say I’d already been in Ireland since Monday !

If only all border crossings were that easy !  Then again, probably a good idea that they’re not !

It was at this point that things went slightly off plan and this was partly, just partly, due to some lack of knowledge on my side.

When on my road trips, I try my best to avoid tolls. It’s not just that I don’t like paying to use these roads; it’s more because they’re always motorways and when abroad, I prefer to be on minor roads to get the real local experience and usually better scenery. So I always set my GPS/SatNav to direct me away from toll roads but therein lay the problem.

I was using 2 devices.

Before leaving Leeds, I knew my navigation device of choice wouldn’t work in Ireland as I wasn’t paying for using my phone abroad. So I’d brought along my old (mostly) dependable TomTom which already had all the maps for Western Europe stored internally. The downside to using the TomTom was that its maps had never been updated since I bought it a decade or more ago so sometimes it got a bit confused and me with it.

I remembered that a relatively new feature of Google Maps was you could download large map areas for use offline so before setting off from Leeds, I’d downloaded the whole map of Ireland BUT I assumed this would only be helpful when walking around towns – in other words it would just be like having a map on my phone that I could manually manipulate (zooming in and out etc and maybe using a search option) and that would be all I could expect from it.

Not so, as it turned out.

A few miles across the border and the Google Navigation (GPS) app on the phone was still working happily. It seemed to have switched smoothly to using the offline maps I’d downloaded and so didn’t need a phone signal to continue working as a GPS. This really was a bonus and something I’d never expected. Just to be sure I wasn’t racking up data charges, I tried to start the Waze app but it said there was no signal so I was happy that the Google app really was working offline.

I also had the TomTom going next to it as I still expected the phone app to pack in at any moment……but it never did !  It seems that by downloading the maps of Ireland offline, I’d allowed the Google app to continue working as a GPS with only a few options being unavailable…..ones I never noticed, so didn’t care about.

Brilliant. But, and I believe this was the crux of the first problem today, one feature it didn’t have was the ability to know about toll roads !  When I got to the M50 which goes around Dublin, the TomTom, bless its heart, was trying to take me away from it while the phone app was telling me to get on it.  I didn’t know the reasons why the TomTom was acting like this as before leaving Leeds I’d checked which roads in Ireland were toll roads and I didn’t think the M50 WAS one.

But it seems a small section of it WAS.

So being more up to date, I trusted the phone app and went onto the M50 and being a motorway, I soon made up time after the slow start. At no point on the entry slip road or once on the motorway did I ever see a sign saying it was a toll road. Then I saw a gantry ahead telling me I was about to have my licence plate photographed and if I’d not prepaid the toll charge, I would have until 8pm the next evening to pay it by phone or online !

Grrrrrrrr.

Anyway, this seems a good point to show the dashboard setup I had at the start of the trip….before I trusted that the phone app would work all the time. Then I was able to remove the TomTom and keep it under my seat as a backup. It was never needed again.

The units at the front are the GoPro (white power lead plugged in) being used as a dashcam,  the phone with the Google Navigation app and the TomTom. Below them is my little mp3 player (yes ok it’s pink.  don’t judge me) which is connected to an FM transmitter allowing it to play through the car speakers via the radio and all are powered from one “cigarette lighter” supply point !

Told you my car is a basic model.

DSCN1233

I couldn’t stay angry about the toll road fiasco for long as I needed to keep my wits about me in order to know when to leave the M50 below Dublin.

I wanted to go over the Wicklow Mountains on a specific road, the Old Military Road, as it looked really scenic on Google Street View, a lot like the North Yorkshire Moors near my home. I didn’t mind being away from the eastern coastline on the drive south and this road looked like it would provide a great alternative to motorways and main roads on my way to Enniscorthy.

And it did.

It’s hard to describe the scenery along this mountain road, so different from the coastal scenery I’d be seeing for the rest of the road trip, so I’ve put up a short 52 sec video onto YouTube and here it is……………

Sadly the sky was overcast but at least it was dry and remember, I was just driving down the east side of Ireland to quickly get to Wexford anyway. The scenery changed so many times on that road that I think I experienced the full range from what you saw in that video, to almost alpine views and through to full forest sections on the way back down to sea level.

20160415_182840

Much better than being on a motorway.

By 16:30 I was approaching Enniscorthy only to discover it wasn’t the classic small Irish town by a river that I expected. I seemed to hit it at rush hour and was stuck in very slow moving traffic for the last km as I headed for the town centre and the b&b. I’d suspected parking would be an issue when looking on Street View but the owner assured me via email that there was ample street parking by the b&b.

Well after going around the area 3 times and having to contend with the slow moving traffic each time, I didn’t agree. All the street parking was pay and display and all the bays were taken so after about an hour of getting more frustrated, I’d had enough of Enniscorthy and I drove on towards Wexford.

Along the road I stopped and sent the owner an email apologising for not “turning up” but I explained the situation and left it at that. I never got a reply !

Staying on the N11, I came to a bridge over the River Slaney near Wexford having just seen a b&b sign for a place called Ferrycarrig Lodge. As it was now 17:30 and I really didn’t want to go into Wexford to look for a b&b, I did a u-turn after crossing the bridge and turned right, onto the R730. A few hundred yds down the road I found the driveway for the b&b and was immediately impressed with the lodge.

And the price….€50….or £39….or $56 which still turned out to be the most I had to pay for any b&b on the whole trip.

20160415_171821

Having checked out its web site for this blog post, I seem to have been given a room not mentioned on the site. It also seemed to have more than 4 rooms so I’m not sure why the site hasn’t been updated accordingly but in any case, I was happy to be settled for my first night in Ireland and looking back now, I’d not made use of either of the b&bs I’d provisionally booked before leaving Leeds !

20160415_172924

20160415_203140

20160415_203206

20160415_202937

I took the time to have a cup of tea and rest up for a while after the 197 mile drive from Magherafelt before heading the short distance into Wexford to have a look around and find somewhere to eat.

20160415_173455

I’d been to Wexford before and will always remember it as we (myself with US friends Debby & Dennis Braman) had stopped off there on 17th March 2004 to watch the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

It looked a lot different this time as it was getting dark, was starting to rain and the streets were mostly deserted. I had something to eat and went back to the b&b for a quiet evening and to plan the route for the next day….when I’d go to Waterford and the start of the westward coastal drive and the Wild Atlantic Way.

 

Ireland Road Trip Day 4 – Thu 14/4/2016

By now I was itching to get the road trip started for real but with the b&b issue (see yesterday’s post), I had another day in Norn Iron.

First up was a short drive to Randalstown to visit another cousin (I’ve a huge family !) and also to see my only remaining maternal aunt, who I think is in her mid 90’s and suffering with macular degeneration which runs in the family.

Yes I’m worried about it too but get checked as part of my annual eye test.

Apart from this, and being a bit deaf, my aunt has all her ducks in a row, so to speak and it was great to visit with them both. As I’ve said many times, my mum was one of 12 but only two are still with us….this aunt in Norn Iron and my uncle, the youngest of the 12, who lives in Derbyshire in England.  He too is in the early stages on macular degeneration.

I’m not uploading photos of family members as for one thing I’ve not got their permission but also, that’s a bit too personal for a public blog.

After the visit I wanted to go to the twin seaside towns of Portrush and Portstewart and as that drive would take me very close to one of the Game of Thrones filming locations, I felt another visit there would be a good way to mix up the journey.

The Dark Hedges (on Bregagh Road), near my home town of Ballymoney, seems to have become the No.1 stop off for the hordes of Thrones fans who now descend annually on specialist tours of N. Ireland. Growing up in the area I was never aware of this short tree lined stretch of road as, to be honest, it’s not unique in N. Ireland, or many other places for that matter. But due to the tv series, it’s now a popular location for die hard Thrones fans but the locals aren’t particularly happy with the influx of coaches and cars that park up on the grass verges while their occupants get out to set up tripods etc to take their own shots up, or down, the road.

Thankfully when I got there today, I pretty much had the entire road to myself. I took a few photos with the phone camera and used a bit of onboard software to make one image look a bit more Throne-like !

20160414_140725b

A local later told me that there had been some storm damage last year and a few trees had to be cut down, as evidenced by the one on the right of that photo.

You can see that I had the road to myself and what a difference that makes to photos when you want to create a “dark” image. The sight of a modern tour coach or dozens of fans on the road would have really spoiled the effect. I drove up and down the road taking video footage and then a tour bus arrived, parked at the top end and disgorged a load of Middle Eastern tourists, mostly women wearing traditional clothing, some with only their eyes showing. It was quite a sight to see them taking photos and jumping up and down with excitement so I guess Thrones is popular over there too !

Then I headed off to the seaside town of Portrush, 17 miles to the north, where we’d spent many family Sunday afternoons either walking along the promenade or sitting in the car eating ice creams if the weather was typically changeable.

I drove around the harbour and took a few panoramic photos from the roof of the yacht club looking back across the harbour towards the promenade’s shops and houses.

20160414_151402

I drove on to the twin town of Portstewart and busy as it was, I was lucky enough to find a parking spot right on the promenade. On my way to my choice of eatery, I spotted a chippy with an unusual menu option on a pavement board.

I’ve never heard of “a poke of chips” but I assume it’s their name for a cone of chips which seems to be the favourite way to have them as takeout when at the seaside. At £2, I’d expect any sauce to be free !  Looking inside, the full menu was one of the most varied I’d ever seen with many options new to me.

20160414_153838

Hungry as I was, I went on and entered Morelli’s where Daphne, Stephen and I had eaten the last time I was in Portstewart and which was our family’s choice for ice cream back in the day.

20160414_154038

20160414_154926

20160414_163732

As it was after 15:30, the place was pretty quiet but I was starving and so I passed on the ice cream and went straight for……yes the all day breakfast.  Well, why stop the habit now !

With my energy levels renewed, I drove the 17 miles to Ballymoney as it was on the way back to Magherafelt and I wanted to go inside the Catholic church, Our Lady & St. Patrick’s. When I’d visited on the 12th, I’d tried to enter via the main door but it was locked. I thought this was due to security against vandalism but I was told later that after a big refurbishment, a new door had been built on the side nearest the car park. I’d seen this door on the 12th but ignored it as I never thought it was now the only entrance to the church as it was just like a side door.

I was convinced that I’d not like the improvements as my memories of this church are very important to me as we spent a LOT of time in it when I was growing up in Ballymoney.  To my delight I discovered that they’d not touched the main altar and the improvements had changed the rest of the church out of all recognition….for the good.  The flooring and new font were stunning and the new layout of the seating on both sides of the forward altar was a great idea.

20160427_180835

20160414_173628

20160414_174419

Not bad for a small town of 10,000 with a minority Catholic population.

It was time to head off to Magherafelt and I was back for 19:00 and a light supper after the meal at Morelli’s. I seemed to have crammed a lot in today but distance wise I’d only driven 118 miles. That’s the thing about N.Ireland…..so many wonderful places to visit in a very small area.

In the evening I started to get things ready for the start of the proper road trip.  As Buzz O’Lightyear often said…..to the South and beyond !

 

 

Ireland Road Trip Day 3 – Wed 13/4/2016

So far I’d only driven 360 miles since leaving home but then this was never going to be a particularly long distance road trip.

Before setting off I’d done a fair bit of planning for the trip. I wanted to drive around the coast wherever possible and initially discovered a route called the Wild Atlantic Way which seemed to “do” the hard route work for me. It runs 1600 miles from near Derry in the North down the west coast and ends in Kinsale, near Cork in the South.

Wild Atlantic Way

So I started creating day by day relatively short drives so I could enjoy the scenery. Apart from the first two, I wasn’t going to book b&bs in advance as I’d tried that last year when touring France/Spain/Portugal and found it very restricting and sometimes meant I had to rush my sightseeing in order to get to the next night’s reservation.

I knew there would be many b&b options in Ireland, most with the prices on the signs so I’d not have to spend time stopping to find this out. After planning a few days worth of drives, I then made a key decision which ended up changing the whole focus of the trip and went a huge way towards making it one of the best road trips I’ve ever made.

I change my mind and decided to drive the other way around Ireland !

I’ve been so incredibly lucky with the weather on all my road trips but maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit for the planning I’ve done beforehand. I looked at the long range weather forecast and knew the first week would be dry but not particularly sunny and so I decided to scrap the daily routes I’d already planned and drive clockwise around the coast as that would mean the first few cloudy days would be spent going down the East side of Ireland which I was not excited about doing anyway. For me, the real start of the road trip would be westwards from Wexford and by the time I got there, I hoped the weather would be awesome for the rest of the trip.

And boy, was it !

There was another reason for going clockwise. I’m left handed.  Not just that but I’m totally left thinking. I don’t have a single action I do right sided, to the point where, if I’m lost, I’ll always turn to the left at a junction or a split in the road. This affects my sightseeing when driving as despite being on the right side of the car, I much prefer to look further to my left at scenery rather than the closer right.

But that’s enough about the planning for now….on with what I did on Day 3, which started with a colour coordinated breakfast.

20160413_095032

And no Tiny.

As forecast, it was a dull, overcast day but I still set off at 10:15 for the 40 mile drive to Cushendall on the north east coast. All the towns along the Causeway Coast have huge significance for me and the ones I visited today were especially significant as they all related to the 7 years I spent at Garron Tower boarding school because we’d drive to them or through them to get to/from the school.

My first stop in Cushendall was at the home of the mother of one of my school friends and I always made it a point to call with her if I was in the area and she always appreciated this. When I’d visited in 2011 she wasn’t at home so it was probably back in 2003 when I last saw her when I was over for my mother’s funeral.

A man came to the door and told me the lady had been in poor health for some time and had moved in with her son, my school friend, who lived in Ballymena. This man now owned the house so there was nothing more to do and I drove on along the coast road.

I had some family in the area so once I was through the village of Waterfoot, I visited their house but didn’t call in as I knew the sole occupant was in poor health and a sudden visit wouldn’t have been appropriate.

Instead I took a photo of this cutie.

20160413_122646

Then I saw some distant lambs in a nearby field and stopped to take another photo.  It was raining again so I didn’t hang around outside the car and it wasn’t until I was looking at the photo later that I realised the lambs were wearing little rain jackets, probably more for warmth as much as keeping them dry !

20160413_124732

At this point on the Causeway Coast (the A2), the road sweeps around a bay where there is a church and parochial house where we (my family) once stayed while the priest went on his annual summer holidays. As a kid this was great as we were right by the sea and nearby were the ruins of an arch over the road and I’d climb up on top and wave at the passing cars and got ridiculously excited when the occupants would wave back.

Ah happy days !

20160413_131038

Then it was only a couple of miles to the road up to my old school so I just had to pop up to see it now. Back in my day it was an all boy’s boarding school but that’s all changed now, including the name. It’s now called St. Killian’s College and it’s non boarding and co-ed.

So just a bit different.

The road up to St. Killian’s from the A2 now has a name, Tower Road, and as you can imagine, it brought back many memories. The entrance to the college was unchanged, as was the “castle” facade.

20160413_132422

I parked up and followed the instructions on the signs and went to reception to check in. I just wanted to walk around the grounds to see what had changed but that was not to be. You can’t “be a stranger” and walk around schools these days……fair enough. In the past, on the few occasions I’d visited the school and walked all over, I guess it had been in the summer when it was effectively closed.

I asked if I could take a few photos of the nearby buildings but again……no.

“in case some boys would be in the photos”.

So I left the school just as I did in 1970. Glad to be going and with only negative thoughts.

A few miles south along the A2 I came to the small fishng town of Carnlough where my parents took me on most Sundays to eat fish and chips along the sea wall when I’d be “allowed out” for the afternoon. It hadn’t changed a bit in the 46 years since those days but on the few occasions since then, I have a new tradition……..

….a meal at the Harbour Lights Cafe overlooking…..well the harbour.

20160413_140940

20160413_142734

I guess most of my meals on this trip so far have looked very similar but then I’m a sucker for a fry up. The good news, I can now reveal, is that despite all these “bad” meals, I actually lost weight over the 3 weeks as I did so much walking.

Carnlough itself is a lovely little port but on this day, with the overcast weather, it wasn’t showing itself off at its best.

20160413_152235

20160413_140914

20160413_152042

I did go into a local store (no family connection) and when I spotted one product, I just had to buy it.  I loved these coconut coated fluffy delights when I was growing up and I still do today. So I sat on the harbour wall (seen above) and ate one….or two…..and thought back to those far off days when they’d be a post fish and chips treat on Sundays.

20160413_152609

20160413_153350

As it was only 15:30 I decided that before returning to Magherafelt, I’d call with an aunt who had been a large part of my life growing up. She now lives in a lovely new house just outside the village of Dervock which was on the way back anyway. It was lovely to see her again after 13 years.

After this visit, I was back in Magherafelt by 19:00 for supper.

So despite the dull weather I’d had an interesting day out but my plans all changed when I got an email from the owner of the first b&b I’d booked for tomorrow night in Carrickmacross, south of Dundalk.  Yes my road trip proper was due to start in the morning.

She told me there had been a flooding issue due to a boiler fault and I wouldn’t be able to stay. Like the only other b&b I’d reserved, it was just an email booking with no money paid up front so that wasn’t a problem. I looked at the map and reminded myself that I’d only picked this b&b as I was planning on visiting with a cousin on the way to Carrickmacross so didn’t want it to be to far to drive afterwards.

I thought things over and if I didn’t take the detour to visit this cousin until I was back in Magherafelt, I could just drive straight to the 2nd b&b on the first night instead. Like I’ve said, I wasn’t all that interested in the eastern side of the trip and just wanted to get down to Wexford as fast as possible.

So with the next day now free, I asked if it would be ok to stay one more day/night in Magherafelt, which it was, and so before going to bed I made new plans for what to do.

And they involved visiting more relatives, a Game of Thrones location and a meal by the seaside.

 

Ireland Road Trip Day 2 – Tues 12/4/2016

The thing about being in N. Ireland for a few days before starting on the main road trip was that I’d really been to all the “sights” many times before.  I was born there after all !

The morning has started overcast with even some rain at times and so despite getting up at 08:30, I initially didn’t feel like going out anywhere. I had breakfast with Tiny, the family cat in attendance and as well as the first draft of his new book, I was glad to see he’d brought the lint roller with him. My black trousers appreciated that.

20160412_094542

I’m not so sure he was all that happy that I was using his mug.

By the afternoon I was getting stir crazy so I jumped in the car with no particular destination in mind but I wanted to visit Ballymoney, my birth town where I’d spent the first 18 years of my life and many return visits since then.

It was only 27 miles from my cousin’s house in Magherafelt to Ballymoney but it took nearly 50 min to get there. Most trips in Norn Iron take longer than you’d expect because you invariably go through small towns and villages that seem to have more traffic lights than their sizes would lead you to believe they’d have.

But the main delays can be summed up by the fact that you’re in a country (and I include the South in this) where the pace of life is much slower and drivers will just stop in a town’s narrow streets to pass the time of day with another driver or pedestrian !  There is no point in getting stressed by this and after a few hours you find yourself slowing down too and just enjoying a drive in the beautiful countryside and taking the opportunity to do an in-car tidy up when one of these cross car conversations takes place in front of you.

Never mind individual towns…..I think the whole country should just be twinned with Jamaica ! 

The other reason for driving delays is because Ireland is mainly a farming country so you WILL be stuck behind farm vehicles of all shapes and sizes and farm animals being moved from field to field. Again, you need to just chill.

On the other hand, passing is quite easy as many of the minor roads are as straight as a Roman’s ruler although they are rarely flat, with dangerous hidden dips which will certainly get your heart racing if you attempt an overtake and suddenly see a car appearing from below one of them.

Anyway I set off at 13:00 and as my drive took me past the graveyard where my parents are buried, I stopped off to pay my respects and have a quiet time with them.

20160412_135459

A few rows towards the start of the graveyard I also stopped for a few moments at a much larger plot where members of my mum’s family are buried. I think it has to be “full” now and anyway only 2 of the family (of 14) are still alive and will be buried elsewhere.

The top two on the headstone were my maternal grandparents and the other 4 were aunts and uncles.

20160412_135642

After returning to the car, I decided to drive the short distance to my old home in Ballymoney despite it now being rented by someone I obviously didn’t know. My parents had lived in the house from 1948 or 1949 till my dad died in 1986 and then my mum lived there on her own till she died in 2003 so it played a large part in my life for over 50 years and I wanted to see it again. It was originally a council house but was bought for a song by a cousin of mine a few years before my mum’s death and then it was sold to another party for rental and it shows. The house had been kept in immaculate condition by my parents despite never being the owners but it definitely needed a lot of tlc now.

20160412_143711

Being at the end of a terrace, at least we’d had off road parking although given mum’s driving skills, we usually left the car on the street, just as my little Clio is in this photo.

With my mood now as somber as the weather, I needed cheering up so just drove through the town and headed for Ballycastle, 16 miles away on the north east coast.

This was a drive we’d made many many times when I was growing up. I had, and still have, family in Ballycastle and back in the day we’d visit regularly as my uncle and aunt’s farm was there and when you’re a kid, a farm could be a magical, if slightly dangerous, place. It was at this farm that I fell off a tractor being driven by my uncle and which was pulling a set of discs which were cutting up and turning over a field in preparation for……well for something !  I can’t remember what.

This incident became known as the family miracle because despite being run over by these sharp discs and bleeding heavily, all I was left with was a small scar on my forehead, still visible to this day. Needless to say I’ve no memory of this accident but as I had been sitting in the space between the huge wheel arch and the driver’s seat and slipped off backwards, I’ve no idea how I got away so lightly.

My main reason for going to Ballycastle now was because that’s where I’d find one of my favourite cafes, Margo’s at 22 Ann Street. I won’t go into the history now but on previous visits to Ballycastle, most recently in 2011, this quickly became my cafe of choice when in the area.  As I’d had such a late start to the day, it was 15:00 by the time I reached the cafe and with supper waiting for me back in Magherafelt, I decided to just have a mini Ulster Fry !

Margo's Cafe Fry

They even managed a decent egg over easy !

Remembering me from 2011 (ok after I’d shown them the photos from that day), they agreed to have another group photo taken and dragged the cooks out of the kitchen for this update.

20160412_153529

Sadly even after all this comradery, I didn’t get a discount !  Sighhhhh.

Before leaving Ballycastle and returning to Magherafelt, I drove to the harbour and had a walk around and even revisited the small terminal for the Rathlin Island ferry that we’d taken in 2011.   By now there was a slight but persistent drizzle so this photo was taken through the windscreen.

20160412_160242

After a 41 mile drive back to Magherafelt (which took 70 minutes), we had supper and then went to visit my cousin’s sister and her family who lived a few miles away and had a lovely evening there.

And that was day 2 over. Not very exciting but stick with me as things do get better !

Honest.

Oh and tiny was excited to see me back.

20160412_183302