How are things in Glocca Morra this fine day?
28th April 2018 Continuing the Grey Haired Nomads’ 2,200 mile journey by motorhome, clockwise around Ireland
Out of Co Mayo and into Co Sligo.
A chilly wind was howling through the trees, but a window of blue sky had chosen to travel along with us for the rest of the day. It was nearly closing time when we arrived at the Visitor Centre at Carrowmore Megalithic Graves near our campsite on the rocky beach at Strandhill, Sligo. Time for a quick recce before tea.
Dating back as far as 3,500BC - 3000 BC, these stone grave-sites, spread across the nearby fields, are truly fascinating. I could stand there for ages, just thinking about the lives of these people. There are numerous other similar sites across Ireland. What will today’s man leave as his legacy in 5,000 years, I wonder? There is no evidence to suggest that man could read or write back then, but many quite exceptional writers have left us with a great legacy in more recent times and, like Shakespeare, their
story might well be kept alive that long.
There was a delightful statue of W B Yeats, the Irish poet, in Sligo. He is buried a little further north in St Columba’s Church, in Drumcliffe. You will doubtless know some of his works. He actually died in the South of France in 1938 and his body was moved to Drumcliffe ten years later. The tale goes that he asked his wife to dig him up and put him to rest in his beloved Co Sligo. It’s an odd story, but my guess is he must have left her a note - and she didn’t get around to reading it for ten years.
Perhaps we were not in the right frame of mind, but Sligo failed to leave a lasting impression: a town with little to say for itself, practical and functional with an attractive riverfront and that’s about it. An hour or two following the tourist trail and poking around in side streets was sufficient for us. Time to move on.
Whilst chasing the coastline, we came across enigmatic Classiebawn Castle silhouetted against the cloud-swept skyline above the cliffs
at Mullaghmore. It’s a wonderful sight out there beyond the crashing waves, and doubtless it was a wonderful home for Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, until his death, along with his grandson and two officers, when his boat was blown up offshore in 1979. Mountbatten was the great-grandson of Queen Victoria and uncle of the Duke of Edinburgh. I recall the shock of that day quite vividly. I also recall the day of the senseless killing in Enniskillen in the north.
With all this sad talk you may be thinking we were getting depressed, but the truth is quite the opposite. All that is thought provoking of course, but the sun shone almost non-stop all day - that’s a first and cause for celebration. I say almost, as there was the occasional brief shower to fulfil Ireland’s daily quota.
Motorhoming differs from caravanning in many ways - there are pluses and minuses for both. Our choice allows us to travel continuously, however wavy the line, and take to the narrow country roads whenever the fancy takes us. On a whim, we turned off the main road at Mullaghmore into the Dartry Mountains. It’s another
one of those lovely narrow country roads built for sheep and donkeys rather than motorcars but it took us to the peaceful Gleniff Horsehoe, a brief circular tour behind Ben Bulben, a truly magical spot to stand and stare in wonder, enveloped in the beating heart of staggeringly beautiful mountains. We were totally alone there for more than an hour, cocooned in the midst of a silent valley. Not a car. Not a walker, Not a single farmer. Just us, a bit of glorious sunshine and a handful of sheep.
Away from the peace and quiet of Gleniff we stopped beside the tour buses parked at the Belleek Pottery, where they were disgorging their passengers for a tour of the showrooms and factory. Most were looking totally bored, standing waiting for their turn on the guided tour. I guess that’s the problem with coach tours - you end up where they take you. We took a quick peek in the showroom as we were passing and we’re agreed that Belleek is not particularly our cup of tea - even if the teapot is fine bone-china.
With the tea-pot in mind,
( how frightfully English) we set off for our camp for the night. In a blink of an eye we were out of Eire and into Northern Ireland, UK, near Ballyshannon: red telephone boxes, red pillar boxes, the postman in his red van, speed limit signs in mph, and fuel and food, and our campground fee, all in £UK. But don’t hold your breath. We’ll be back in the land of Euros and kilometres in Eire tomorrow. The border is all a bit wiggly along this bit of coast. There’s no sign to tell you there’s a border: no Customs, no ‘Her Majesty welcomes you to the UK’ sign, no, ‘Goodbye, come back soon’ - though things could well change as the UK dives headfirst into that great unknown hole called Brexit. This short deviation took us around the north of Lower Lough Erne to our campground at Lisnarick, in the Castle Archdale National Park, early enough for that cup of tea and a welcome walk to stretch our legs.
And next morning, northwards once again into Donegal, up and over high moorland, back into km per hour and police cars marked Garda. Donegal surprised us both.
Perhaps we were expecting another Sligo, but indeed, this little county town is really rather pleasant. What is it about a town that gives it life - that spring in its step to lighten the heart?
It’s many a year since we’ve seen more than a handful of fishing trawlers in harbour. I can still remember the hundreds of boats at Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth and Grimsby. The boats are bigger and technically more sophisticated these days, so fewer boats and fewer men are required, the seas have been overfished over the years, and stocks remain depleted. It’s a cruel way to treat a living creature: to take it from the water to suffocate to death anyway, isn’t it? All that said, there were dozens of trawlers moored up in Killybegs harbour west of Donegal, a wonderful sight: small, large and very large, and two huge Spanish refrigerated lorries standing on the quay, generators humming at the ready. All is not always what it seems - that fish you were eating on the Costa Brava last week was not fresh from the Med and not Spanish after all, but all the way from Killybegs. You might recall the
name Killybegs from the 1947 stage musical, and subsequent 1968 film, Finian’s Rainbow.
How are things in Glocca Morra? Is that little brook still leaping there? Does it still run down to Donny Cove? Through Killybegs, Kilkerry and Kildare? How are things in Glocca Morra this fine day?
We’ll not be going to Glocca Morra. You might wonder why.
A turning off the coast road further west on the peninsula led us to Slieve League Cliffs, a popular spot for tourists to experience the Atlantic air from way above the sea. We chose the bottom car park and a tough one-mile hike to the top, but a number of better-informed drivers opened the sheep-gate and passed us on the steep incline to the end of the road. No pain, no gain, Janice always reminds me. The views are nothing less than stunning - on a fine sunny day. Our day remained that way until late evening, but we did meet a ‘younger’ campervan couple who had been caught out on their walk that morning. They were drying their clothes on the sea wall overlooking Narin beach
and still laughing it off. It’s all part of the adventure we call travelling. The wild road back inland meanders across stunning high moorland, finally dropping down into the Malaid Ghleann Gheis, a signature glaciated valley nestling between the Glengesh and Mulmosog mountains. This was yet another stop for yet another photograph. Breathtaking.
There are two roads off the N56 towards Mhachaire where we planned to stop for the night. We chose the one to the south. Bad move. Soon it became single track, then our worst nightmare, single track with grass down the middle, little more than a farm track, rising and falling in switchback fashion on blind hairpins and up-and-over funfair hilltops. We gave up eventually, totally exhausted, and parked for the night overlooking Gweebarra Bay from Crochy Head, in the most remote place imaginable. Absolutely delightful as it turned out. The following morning we discovered a great Aire with all facilities a few miles further along the road and the other, much improved road to the north, back to the mainland.
Temptation drove us around Horn Head off Dunfanaghy, Co Donegal, to experience the vast panoramic views across bleak moorland and
out over the northwest coast. Here we could be a hundred miles from the nearest habitation, a walk on sodden heather moor, rising and falling on steep, black, peat-lined paths, high above the towering cliffs, to the ruins of a seventeenth century signal tower at the top of the headland. We love a challenge! Fulmars were busy on the nesting ledges and rafts of guillemots bobbed on the waves; just contemplating the mating season and all the work that will entail over the summer months. The puffins and razorbills have yet to make an appearance. They are still bouncing up and down on the waves, way out at sea.
That old black magic of the pull of a lighthouse lured us to the tip of Fanad Head. This one, all shiny and white, is on a rocky outcrop with a tempting tiny cove below, accessible by climbing over a barbed-wire fence and scrambling down a steep grassy slope. There’s a charge to enter the lighthouse compound, which includes a tour at a guess, but one has to ask, ‘How many lighthouses do you need to see in one lifetime?’ Let’s just enjoy the moment.
All of these western headlands are a wondrous sight, those of County Donegal as much as any: moor and mountain, bog and heather both brown right now, but surely a sight to behold when the heather is in bloom. We know nothing of the potential of midges and mozzies as one might expect in Scotland from July to September, but suspect there could be a similar problem here around that time. Winding single- track roads diminish on the horizon, past magnificent new homes built in out of the way hamlets- second homes perhaps, or built for retirement in perfect peace - and the wind and rain.
By now, you will have twigged that we are circumnavigating this Island of Ireland in a clockwise direction, starting and ending in Dublin. You might also have realised we have been keeping to the coast. The truth is we like the sea and all its drama, sandy beaches and rocky cliffs, sea birds and boats in tiny harbours. And many a fine town finds its way to where the boats are moored. It’s also the way we did it on our seventeen months and 40,000 miles, circumnavigating North America, back in
2006/7. With so little time to see and learn so much we have come to realise you can’t do it all. Hopefully, our endeavours allow us to get a feel for those countries we visit. Let’s just say it’s habit and leave it at that.
Our reading suggested a humming little town of Portsalon with a picturesque quayside, tempting us to to drive down the steep narrow road to the quay. Big mistake. Huge! Cars were parked everywhere, the tiny car park was full and we had nowhere to turn around - except on the quay itself. Other drivers had the same idea and it took a while for us to extricate our way out of the ‘town’; a total of a couple of houses and a cafe-cum bar as far as we could see.
There’s a campsite nearby, just a twenty minute walk from huge Ballymastocker beach, notable for a long past entry in a magazine no one has ever heard of, as, ‘voted the second best beach in the world’. OK it’s long and sandy, not a pebble in sight and backed by giant dunes, but the beach was well trodden as a result,
all footprints for a hundred yards down to the tide line. The sun was on the wane by then and a chill wind, sufficient to bend stiff marram grasses on the dunes, quickly turned us away.
It was the last day of April. There was a frost overnight at Portsalon and cold air was somehow trapped from sea level up to around 200 ft. The effect was stunning, great swathes of snow-white cloud swept across distant mountains leaving their heads in bright sunshine against a brilliant blue sky. Such are the thrills of our lifestyle. Portsalon is one of those rare resorts facing eastwards and this modest shelter from the Gulf Stream may account for our first sighting of rabbits. Apart from the merlin seen down in the south, we had not seen any other raptors until that day, when Janice spotted a buzzard, a common bird at home these days. We have been surprised by the lack of wildlife generally, though the wild wind and damp and boggy ground conditions could account for much of this.
Not so thrilling were the numerous roadblocks sending us way out of our way on bumpy roads.
We encountered three such annoying diversions on our way out to Malin Head, that name you might hear on shipping forecasts and the most northerly point on the Irish mainland. At a guess, they were filling in holes in the bumpy roads before the Bank Holiday visitors arrived, the following weekend.
The sight of Sandwich terns, guillemots and gannets at Fort Dunree Beach helped to soothe our troubled brows and the breathtaking view of a broad and calm turquoise sea at Pollan Bay set our pulses racing once more. But our sights were set on Malin Head, that enigmatic point of no return: Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and the United States, way out there across the thin white cloud line on the horizon. That’s our sort of place: wild, remote, great rocky headlands and sparkling blue seas. Wow! An hour or two along the cliffs on peaty paths set us out to the headland and back before lunch.
Dark moorland turned to patches of green as we turned inland, pasture bright as emerald on gentle slopes, hedges of bright golden gorse replacing the dry-stone walls of further south. There has been no evidence of cultivated
Malaid Ghleann Gheis
..........a signature glaciated valley
fields in the week we have travelled the west coast here. Where the moor and mountain lands end, there is pasture, more pasture, occasional freshly tilled fields and sheep, millions of ‘em, their backs delicately brightened with pink, blue, red and green spots after lambing.
It’s a good job our plans are flexible. The Lough Foyle Ferry runs from the mouth of the Lough at Greencastle across towards Limavady in Ulster (Northern Ireland). That would save us both time and miles.
But right there Murphy’s law kicked in. You guessed it, ‘No Sailings Today’ in neon lights. Plan B sent us on the long loop around the Lough, to Quigley’s Point, north of Derry.
Rain and high winds greeted us as we passed through Londonderry, or Derry as it’s known to some. Cities are not our favourite places, we’re country folk at heart. We gave Derry with all its morning rush-hour traffic a miss, in favour of a couple of days in Belfast and Dublin before we finally depart this green and pleasant land. Fine weather had befriended us for several days but this is indeed Ireland, rain returned with a biting wind
as its partner in crime. Slate-roofed cottages, bright and white, soon turned to suburban houses, the landscape more gentle, shallow hills and more traffic than we had seen for nearly two weeks.
Many years ago I worked for the Decca Navigator Company and one of my many tours took me to Royal Air Force, Ballykelly, to the west of Derry. Like most other airfields of my day, there is now no sign of an airfield, but we had to take a look, just in case, for memory’s sake. The same could be said for much of our journey along this northern coast which I had visited previously.
This County Antrim Causeway Coast offers some superb and very popular beaches: amongst them, Castle Rock, Port Stewart and Port Rush. I recalled that you could drive your car along the magnificent Port Stewart beach when I last visited back in 1959. (Yes, I’m that old) No need to use the car park or pay. But this is evidently National Trust land and you know what that means - £6.50 per car. Absolutely outrageous. Beaches are public property - what happened to freedom to roam? We came
across similar in north Wales some years ago. As it happens, we’re members of The National Trust, having joined last year on our journey through Scotland. I’ve had occasion in the past to write letters to The Trust about inflated prices in their restaurants. It’s all in a good cause you might say. Discussion closed.
Port Stewart, that place with the outrageous car-parking charge, does have a rather magnificent beach to tickle your toes though, and the town itself is rather pleasant, fronted with Victorian architecture and just a touch touristy. They were preparing all the local roads for the North West 200 motorcycle race later in May, a sort of Isle of Man TT for the Irish. All the lampposts through Portrush, Portstewart, Coleraine, Ballymoney and Limavady, have serious padding and huge blocks of blue plastic-covered sponge adorn the most severe bends. That will certainly draw the crowds!
There are several other National Trust properties in this locality. Eighteenth century Downhill Demesne, once the home of eccentric Earl Bishop Frederick Hervey, is now a ruin, having burnt to the ground many years back, but it has an eerie feel to it for all
that, a little tingle down your spine if you think about it for too long. The walled garden offers little other than a few recently planted fruit trees and patches of grass, but the Italianate Mussenden temple, perched precariously on the cliff top is quite stunning. You’ll not find this experience particularly worth the money - but don’t let that stop you going if you’re a NT member. We have a simple philosophy: we’ve paid for it, so let’s do it, we leave ourselves at risk of learning something.
About twenty coach loads of tourists were suffering the strains of tourist necessity in gale-force winds and sleety rain as we arrived at The Giants Causeway, mid afternoon, most of them huddled in the visitor centre out of the cold. Conditions were absolutely appalling and after much deliberation, we chose to delay our walk until early the following day in the hope of fairer weather and less congestion. Anyway, there was a better option on offer for a rainy day - The Bushmills Irish Whisky experience, just five minutes down the road, in the tidy town of Bushmills. And a touch of malt just happens to be Janice’s
Next day we’re off to The Giant’s Causeway. I guess you’ve heard of that. We’ll see you there - around 7am, so get yourself tucked up in bed and set the alarm.
David and Janice
….and Todd came too.
Scroll down for more pictures and up for the panorama slideshow!
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