After nearly seven fantastic weeks our time in Ireland is at an end. As I type we are somewhere between Belfast and Liverpool. It’s an eight hour crossing and we’ve splashed out on a cabin. We’ll see how good Stena Lines’ free Wi-Fi is when I come to send this.
Well, what a great time we’ve had in Downpatrick staying with our friend who is over from Brighton visiting family. Patsy has had a rest too as we’ve been staying in the house. She’s had a wash and a partial polish outside and a spring, well late summer clean inside too.
Right, let’s do the usual and get up to date in this, the last blog on our Ireland tour.
As I said in the last blog, it was raining when we crossed the border into Northern Ireland but it soon eased – until later on anyway. It was a straightforward run, passing through Newry, then Rathrilland where the plethora of Union and Northern Ireland flags left us in no doubt where their loyalties lay.
Lawrence and his family always make us welcome and this time was no different, proving that Northern Irish hospitality is every bit as good as down south – and I’ve got the waistline to prove it. Charlene, Lawrence's’ sister cooked for us most nights and always ensured we waddled back to the house stuffed to the gills.
Rosie, our bright red tug has had a rest too – Lawrence offered to do the driving and we let him. After dinner on the first night – and after the returning rain had cleared – we headed out for a run, pausing first at the Quoile Pondage, which fans of Game of Thrones may recognise.
Further on was Strangford, sitting on the southern end of the Lough of the same name. We watched the ferry, coming from Portoferry on the opposite bank fight the incoming current as it glided across.
Delamont country park is but a few miles away and after breakfast on the Saturday we took Buster – Lawrence’s dog – for a walk to stretch both his legs and ours. At various points along the walk are instruments of torture masquerading as exercise equipment and we had a very brief go on most of them. A look out point – after a considerable climb – affords truly fantastic views of Strangford Lough below and The Mourne Mountains behind. The fact that it was a beautiful sunny morning helped! It is a lovely park, and the Camping & Caravan Club have a site here too.
The afternoon saw us at the Air Show, further south and on the coast at Newcastle. I’d never been to an air show before so it was all the more fun for me, and what fun too. It seemed an age for the first plane to arrive but things soon got going.
Highlights for me were the dear old Vulcan, first lumbering up the coast. smoke trailing then performing some truly stunning manoeuvres that belied it’s bulk, and the roar of the Oympus engines as it climbed skyward was something else.
Following the Vulcan was the Typhoon, newer, smaller and a lot more nimble – and a LOT noisier. The sound was just incredible as the pilot lit the afterburners and sent the plane almost vertical. It was also the most difficult to photograph as it was so damn fast!
The stars of the show were without doubt the Red Arrows. I’ve seen ‘em countless times on the telly of course when they looked impressive enough but in the flesh they really are something.
It was a great - and unplanned – afternoon. The rain threatened but the mountains held it at bay and the many people who turned out were certainly rewarded.
Monday saw us at the Titanic Experience in Belfast adjacent to the Harland & Wolf shipyard, where the Titanic was built. Of course much of the story of the Titanic has already been told but you also learn a lot of Belfast’s history and it’s rise as a big Industrial powerhouse of Britain. There are some very clever audio visual displays and even Titanic aficionados may well learn something new. We thoroughly enjoyed it – not particularly cheap – when you consider they knock you up for parking too, but a must if you visit Belfast.
The afternoon saw us drive – well, Lawrence drive and us relax – around the coast, stopping for a late lunch in Bangor, then catching the ferry back across to Strangford and home.
Tuesday was blog day, so while I swore at the laptop Trev caught up with some washing and Ironing. later on we walked in to Downpatrick for a mooch around a bit of shopping.
Wednesday saw us on the road again, heading through Belfast and along the Antrim Coast. Some may recall we traversed this route a couple of years ago on our British Isles Tour. It was cold, wet and windy then and we’d hoped to repeat the experience but in better weather. Sadly not, and having stopped for lunch we headed inland and home where of course, predictably it brightened up!
Thursday saw us lavish some attention on Patsy. Having been washed all over, I polished as much as the roof as I could reach – which wasn’t a lot, even with my gangly arms. Trev took care of the inside and by close of play Her Ladyship was looking spick and span again.
Our last full day in Ireland was pretty relaxed – with nothing more strenuous than an excellent pub lunch with Lawrence and his family.
And so, this morning came and it was time to say goodbye. It has been a fantastic trip – in fact I consider it our best ever. I’ve gone on and on about the scenery – and it has been fantastic – but we’ve seen a lot of Britain and there’s many many pretty parts there too. Of course the roads are generally much quieter here, the sites are excellent and in the vast majority of places you’re treated as a person and not just a tourist or cash cow. There’s one thing however that makes Ireland such a great place to visit – and that’s the people. We’ve met some truly great characters who’ve made us feel so welcome both down south and in the North, that we’re really sad to be leaving. I’m afraid there’s a price to pay for your great hospitality though – we WILL be back, have no doubt!