A Celtic Carry On – Part 12

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

A Celtic Carry On - Part 11

Hi all, from a sunny, yes SUNNY! Downpatrick. In fact, apart from Sunday, when it poured pretty much all day, the weather has been kind to us. We’ve had a great time so far too - we staying with friends and even Patsy is having a rest from her labours.

Those with a passing knowledge of geography will note that we have now left Ireland - the Republic of Ireland that is - and are now installed in our friends house in County Down, Northern Ireland. We’re here until Saturday, when the journey back home begins. It’s frightening how quickly the time has passed to - but I guess that’s a sign that we’ve enjoyed it - and we certainly have. Anyway, time to get caught up. A bit.

It didn’t stop raining on the Saturday - in fact it rained all night and was still at it Sunday morning too. We hung around for a bit but eventually decided that the awning would have to go in the car wet and put up in Dublin to dry out, as we wanted to get going. Of course only an hour or so after we loose folded the drenched awning in a ground sheet and on the back seat of the car, the rain eased. Typical!

The journey to Dublin - some 120 miles or so, couldn’t have been easier - however it was a little strange suddenly seeing traffic again as we approached the outskirts of Dublin. The site was easy to find, being just off of one of the main arteries out of the city, and we even managed to avoid the M50 ring road, finding, what proved to be a very handy shortcut.

I’s a council run site, and the biggest we’ve been on on this trip bay far, but the welcome and service from the young lady on reception was no less welcoming or helpful than we have become used to. Just over 3 hours after leaving Lough Arrow we were getting the legs down.

The weather was kind to us - in fact it couldn’t have been much better - the sun was out and the wind had got up. Perfect weather for drying out an awning. we inflated it, loose pegged it and within an hour and a half it was bone dry and back in the bag. It’s also for sale if anyone is interested.

Monday, saw our first look around Dublin - at least since we were last here over 12 years ago. The local Bus company - imaginatively titled ‘Dublin Bus’ call at the site every hour or so and will transport you in to the city for €3.05 - exact fare, cash only. Alternatively,  a hop-on/hop-off tour bus calls at the site in the morning on the way into the city and charges only €2.00. You can guess which one we used!

The city was pretty quiet when we arrived - it was a public holiday here after all - and we wandered around DSC_0002somewhat aimlessly, at least until we found a cafe offering a suitably priced breakfast. With caffeine and cholesterol levels suitably boosted we set of again, first around the north of the river - O’Connell Street and around, where you’ll find many of the usual chain stores.

The ‘Floozy in the Jacuzzi’ water feature in O’Connell street has been replaced by ‘The Spire of Dublin’ - a 400 feet high stainless steel pin. Predictably Dubliner's have re-christened it - Stiffy at the (river) Liffey and Stiletto in the Ghetto are just two of many.

We crossed the river and had a wander around Temple Bar. Clearly public holidays are taken more seriously here as a lot of the independent shops remained closed. We checked out the grounds of Dublin Castle too before crossing back over the river and watching the world go by.

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The tour bus didn’t return until 4:30pm and we were at the stop in plenty of time. In truth we could have taken an earlier bus had we not been such cheapskates but we weren't the only ones as there were a number of faces form the campsite loitering about. Summoning all my reserves of willpower I resisted the lure of the pub right by the bus stop. Just!

Back at the site, it was a lovely afternoon, so we cremated some chicken and burgers on the bbq and made the most of the sun. The site is very pretty - hedges separate large spacious pitches and trees line the roads through the site. As well as the usual electric there is water and waste hook-up on all pitches and free wi-fi though that was a little intermittent. Sadly the facilities were not so great. Showers were extra, which is not unusual in Ireland but the water flow was poor and they were barely tepid on some days. Neither were they particularly clean. We ended up using the on-board shower. Not only is it the most expensive site we have stayed at, but, given it’s location to the nearby ports it’s also the first and last stop for many campers in Ireland and they could well get the wrong impression of campsites in Ireland. A pity but there it is.

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Tuesday, saw us back in Dublin, but this time with more of a plan. Trinity College was first, Dublin’s prestigious and premier educational establishment. There was a fair bit of work going on including the painstaking relaying of the cobblestones in an area of the main courtyard. It was impressive enough but, as in a number of college’s in our old home town of Cambridge - (and Oxford too) 60’s built ugly additions to the site try and detract from the beautiful architecture of the original buildings. Why did they do this? Talking of Oxbridge, we overheard one of the tour guides explaining the nationalities that make up the students of the college. Just 2% from England he said - and most of them are Oxbridge rejects! I’m not sure the Master of Trinity would be too pleased to hear that!

The book of Kells is housed here in the old library, but the queue was pretty long and we decided against joining it.

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Moving on, St Stephen’s Green was next, a pretty park through at the other end of the busy pedestrianised thoroughfare of Grafton Street and a little oasis in the hustle and bustle of this busy area of Dublin.

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DSC_0039Lunch was now making it’s way swiftly to the top of the agenda as we paused in the pretty Powerscourt Shopping Centre but we ended up with burger and chips in a fast food chain around the corner but not before stopping for the statue of Molly Mallone, predictably renamed by locals as ‘The tart with the cart’

The Temple Bar area was last on our list and was definitely more lively than the day before. Temple Bar’s pubs and bars are well known and a popular destination for stag and hen parties, but plenty of interesting Independent shops tempt you to part with your cash as well.

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We were early again for the bus and this time the lure of a pint became too much. We got a taste of Dublin’s Bar prices too. Ouch!

The next two days saw us back in Dublin again at various times. On Wednesday, we picked up a couple of friends at the airport then dropped the car off at the site, returning in by bus for a trawl around Temple Bar. It was fun, but in no way cheap. If you’re ordering things like gin & tonic, always specify which gin you want otherwise you’ll end up with the most expensive one.

Sadly too, whilst most bar’s in the city had proved as friendly and welcoming as their country counterparts, there was one that was the exception to the rule, and I’m ashamed to admit it was a gay bar too, and am even more ashamed to admit that this is not unusual. We only stayed for one, then moved on to somewhere more welcoming.

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On Thursday we met a little earlier for a late lunch, but with everyone feeling the effects of the previous days activities a little - on the body AND the wallet - we took it easy.

So, Friday morning and our time in Ireland was at an end. I must admit to feeling pretty melancholy as we pulled out of the site and on to the ring road for our journey north. We’d had such a fabulous time but it had suddenly all passed so quickly and it seemed only fitting that, as we crossed the border in to Northern Ireland - it started raining!

Right, nearly there. Check back soon, for the last part of a Celtic Carry On from County Down, Northern Ireland.

A Celtic Carry On - Part 10

Hi again, it’s our last day in Lough Arrow - well, not in it obviously, and our preparations to depart tomorrow - i.e. taking down the awning - have been halted because, yes, you've guessed correctly - it’s raining!

So, with the rain gently tapping on the roof  and the ‘van vibrating to a jack  hammer - or maybe it’s Trev’s snoring - its seemed a sensible time to try and bash one out. A blog that is. Oh honestly!

To be honest it feels a bit that the main part of the trip is over, for tomorrow we move to a site just outside Dublin. It seems that all the wonderful scenery, relaxed way of life and genuine unfettered hospitality may well be behind us. Now don’t get me wrong, I like cities, but I’ve got so chilled and attuned to rural Ireland and all it has to offer - which is a lot - an awful lot - that I’m a little reluctant to leave it. Still we have five days to give Dublin the Nonsense! treatment as well as to meet  up with a couple of friends from Brighton before we head up to the North to catch up with more friends in Downpatrick for just over a week before joining the ferry over to Liverpool

Our second week here has been no less enjoyable than the first although we haven’t actually done that much - in fact if the weather had been better we’d have done even less. I’ve done a lot of reading - there’s several shelves full of books here - and I’ve  happily managed to find the latest issue of ‘Private Eye’ too.

We’ve had a few trips out - the beginning of the week saw us in Carrick-on-Shannon, located - believe it or not on the banks of the Shannon river. Lovely looking flats overlook the quayside - and judging by the boats bobbing around there IS some money about by, apparently many of the flats are empty. The town centre was pleasant, but not exactly bustling on an overcast Monday morning. There are several retail parks located on the edge of town and it brought to mind Holyhead in Anglesey. Some will recall we were there a couple of years ago and commented at the time how a proliferation of out of town retail parks had ripped the heart out of the town centre there. I hope they’re not making the same mistake here.

Anyway, an excellent discount shop provided the opportunity to procure some bits and bobs and the newsagent nearby was the no doubt grateful recipient of a couple of euros out of the Nonsense! kitty for a copy of ‘Private Eye’ - the first place I’ve found that stocks it since we’ve been over here.

On the bridge coming in to town you will find padlocks fastened to the steel support wires. Writing on the padlocks suggest marriage - but if anyone knows exactly what it’s all about please let me know.

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Mary from the site pointed in the direction of a couple of smaller lakes  - Lough Bo, and the smaller Lough Nasool, also know as the disappearing lake because every 25 years or so, it well, disappears. It looked pretty low to me but locals in the pub tell us that it’s the highest it’s been for 40 years.

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At the cross roads to the Lough sits a now dilapidated caravan - and that apparently was a common site years ago. Now we’re not talking about our travelling friends here. There’s no large orange gas cylinders or plastic kids trikes scattered around outside. No, fishermen used to bring their vans here for somewhere to stay when not waving their tackle about on the lake - and caravans could be seen in lay-by’s and the corners of fields too. There was no worries about vandalism so they just left them here. Mary was telling us that when their initial application for a caravan site was turned down  - they went out and photographed all these ‘vans littered about to support their appeal. It obviously worked, and we’re so glad it did!

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Surprisingly for us we’ve managed to avoid fast food joints - well until this week anyway. Any burgers we’ve indulged in have been in pubs, so clearly that doesn’t count! However, if you find yourself over here and in need of a quick scoff you’ll do a lot worse than a chain called Supermacs. We had a steak baguette and chips with the usual half gallon of fizz to accompany - but the quality was far superior to anything we’ve ever had at McDonalds and their ilk. Good value and Irish owned, so more of your hard earned will be staying in the local economy too.

Which brings us nicely to the pub. Well, no it doesn’t particularly but that’s what I’m going on about next anyway. We’ve spent a few evenings in here - and nearly always stayed longer than intended. There are some wonderful characters in here - including a few ex-pats who have some wonderful stories to tell. Originally a tiny one room bar, Des’s also functions as a shop and there are still a couple of petrol pumps outside, now unused but there IS still some petrol in one of the tanks should someone be desperate. It even functioned as a school for a year when the one nearby was being renovated in the 60’s.

Thankfully some pub chain has not got hold of this place - and hopefully they never will because they’ll destroy it’s quaint charm. It’s more than a pub however - the sense of community is palpable - and as we’ve discovered, a good source of cream crackers for some late night cheese and biccies to satisfy those post beer munchies!

Des passed away some years ago, but the place is now ably run by his widow Mary - a nicer woman you couldn’t wish to meet - and her son Connor. Shamus helps out several nights a week. All have been so friendly and genuinely interested in our trip. We’re heading back tonight for our last visit and are really going to miss it.

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We will miss the site too. Different again as they all have been and - not a typically friendly Irish welcome this time but an English one. Terry & Mary have owned and run the site for the last seventeen years or so building it up from scratch - literally. It has cracking views - Lough Arrow at the front and a valley at the rear where we are. There’s all the usual facilities - a large shed laid out with tables and chairs and a fridge by the tent area and the main block houses the reception, toilets and showers - which, I might add are the best of the trip so far, immaculate and free. Upstairs are a couple of rooms allowing them to offer Bed & Breakfast too. Again, caravanners and campers can enjoy a holiday with their non-caravanning friends.

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There is a club room too. Here you will find books to swap as well as leaflets and maps on the area and the TV.

Saturday afternoons they fire up the BBQ. Just bring your grub and grog and they’ll do the rest. Weather is not a barrier as you can see!

Wi-Fi is available  and breakfast is offered to those not in the B & B and having sampled it this morning can tell you its is very nice. It’s a good meeting point at night too. Campers gather for a chinwag and a drink or three, and we called in last night after the pub. In a scene reminiscent of another age, all the woman sat at one end up the table and the men sat around the fireplace! Again, chat was easy as everyone is so friendly.

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Terry & Mary get a lot of repeat business - they already seem to know almost everyone that pulls up - which suggest they are clearly doing things right, in fact at times it’s less like a caravan site and more like a family. It’s great that they are so well though of and they’ve undoubtedly put an awful lot in to this place to make - and keep it what it is. Whoever they eventually pass the reigns to has got a VERY hard act to follow.

Right, it will be Sunday by the time this is published. Check back soon for a look around Dublin and then the final part from Downpatrick in the North. Any maybe, just maybe, some sun!