Ireland - only for the Brave 1
14th April 2018 “Did we get on the wrong boat, Janice?”
There’s only one piece of the jigsaw left for us to complete our motorhome map of mainland Europe. It’s green and it’s an expensive ferry ride away. Eyes there are smiling, mountains sweep down to the sea and it’s a long way to somewhere or other. They have shamrock, fairies and leprechauns and jet-black beer with froth and a toucan on the top. Got it yet?
It’s mid April: the snowdrops in our garden at home in Norfolk, UK, are finally over and the daffodils are just about hanging on. Frog spawn appeared in the pond overnight and a blackcap was singing its heart out somewhere close by in the forest. Rain and cold weather seem to have been our constant companions so far this year, leaving the gardener in us with muddy boots and the average Brit well wrapped up in hat and scarf - and looking rather depressed. We’re far from average as you will doubtless realise, and as yet we’re not too depressed, but it is time
for a change in routine. So, we’re off to Ireland, specifically renowned for its emerald green, the natural consequence of rain. Yep, it’s going to rain for us in Ireland, perhaps that’s why we have left it so long. But we’re well prepared: waterproof hats, jackets and trousers, ponchos, stout walking boots and anti-shrink cream.
Rain is just one of Ireland’s downsides. There’s a big choice of ferries to get us there with our motorhome, but the cost is more than double that to get us to France or Holland en route to almost anywhere you might like to dream of, or drive to. And there is yet another downside for us, in that it’s a six- hour journey from our home to Holyhead, on the north coast of Wales, to catch said ferry! So, it’s bite the bullet time if we want to see what makes this island tick. Janice has completed her diligent research and set us a clockwise itinerary around the whole of Ireland in one month, starting and finishing in Dublin. Somewhere en route we hope to find a fairy or two for luck, and even the odd leprechaun perhaps.
All port traffic passes through the centre of the city
Rather than take on too much in one go, (the ferry crossing is three hours plus) we opted to stop over in Holyhead, on Anglesey, and catch the early ferry on Sunday morning. That gave us the chance to enjoy an afternoon of walks and a bit of birding in bright sunshine and clear blue skies. Guillemots and kittiwakes we’re courting and preparing their nests on the rock- face, stonechats perched on bright gorse on the heath and groups of choughs spiralled on the thermals over the cliffs. Spring was In the air! Puffins also nest on South Stack on the Holyhead peninsula, but, much to Janice’s disappointment, they had not yet arrived.
A raft of black guillemots and a few gannets greeted us as our Stenna Line ferry cruised into Dublin Bay at midday, Sunday. All traffic from the port passes through the busy city centre; we joined the long train of vehicles, turning south following the low grey cloud and rain showers along the banks of the River Liffey and into the mountains, and Sally Gap, on County Wicklow’s narrow winding roads.
Rain was beating its Marconi morse on the fibreglass roof
It's there in the mist somewhere!
Have a nice day!
as we passed through rolling hills of chequered green fields and spruce forest, climbing, ever climbing, winding up on to the misty moorland of boulder-strewn peat-bog, past sparkling pools and tumbling streams, a barren landscape of bronze and copper, golden bracken and dark-chocolate heather of the Wicklow Mountains awaiting the first signs of spring.
Nearing the high peaks we were met with brief patches of snow by the roadside, swirling low cloud and dense mist with visibility down to less than twenty metres, making driving extremely hazardous and, whilst there was little traffic, passing places on the narrow mountain road were few and far between. We were not going to enjoy the promised sight of the glorious Wicklow Mountains that day - or at all, at all.
So, this is Ireland and this is Irish weather. Welcome to Ireland.
Visibility eventually improved a little as we descended beyond the mountaintops at Sally Gap but we decided to call it a day, cut short our first day’s itinerary and head for a nearby campsite. The best made plans of mice and men and all that. We could come back another day, perhaps
before we head home next month if the weather improved. It’s close enough to Dublin.
Early morning blue skies offered hope, but this soon gave way to dense leaden cloud once again as we headed to the monastic settlement at Glendalough, the ‘valley of two lakes’ next morning.
St Kevin came here to live the life of a hermit back in the 6th century and it’s easy to understand his intentions; the valley is extremely beautiful and the vistas from the lakeside, truly stunning - a good excuse to tie up the bootlaces and head off up the hill through moss-carpeted woodland, along the lake and up to the waterfall. With more rain forecast for later in the day, there was time enough to step through the Monastic City gateway, where a lady was playing the Irish pipes, to visit an ancient settlement; a fascinating and remarkably peaceful cluster of monastic buildings, the ruins of seven churches and a Cathedral dating back to the 12th century. This is a place of considerable importance as one of the earliest Christian sites in Ireland. There are gravestones in the grounds here dating back many centuries. At its centre
is a 30m high stone Round Tower (a belfry cum-watchtower) and the ruins of Reefert Church, locally regarded as the burial place of the chieftain’s clan, the O’Tooles.
Having missed the glorious sight of high moorland at Sally Gap yesterday, we took the mountain road with renewed enthusiasm, up over the high grassy bog-land of Wicklow Gap, just a few miles to the north-west. Our route for the day passed through the little village of Shillelagh - which is one of those things you might have under your arm when you have a twinkle in your eye and you’re off to Tipperary in the morning. There’s a local craftsman still making these instruments of authority apparently, but we were unable to find his workshop. I really wanted to know what a Shillelagh looked like and if Shillelagh was named after the Shillelagh, or the Shillelagh was named after Shillelagh. (A touch of the Irish that).
That day we saw our first swallow sweeping low over the water, but we all know that one swallow doesn’t make a summer, that's for sure. Winter still held the leaves at bay on barren trees as a chill
...and feral goats!
breeze teased dark patches of marshy grass on a pastoral landscape of bright-green and gentle, sheep-clad hills.
It was raining by the time we reached Enniscorthy, the market town at the centre of the 1798 Rebellion against British rule. The town sits beside the River Slaney and boasts St Aidan’s Cathedral and a 13th-century castle, but with the weather as it was we chose to by-pass much of the town itself and head for Wexford, and our campsite, a short walk across the bridge. By now, a force-nine gale was blowing to add to our woes. The municipal campground behind the town swimming pool is rather reminiscent of a disused airfield: concrete hardstandings on a flat grass field and not a tree in sight. But the facilities were excellent and it’s close to town. There was just one other pitch taken on the site, a caravan, parked looking out over the windswept estuary, swaying about in the wind like a fishing smack on the high seas. They’d had enough by 5pm and we watched as they packed up all their caravan trappings in the rain, hitched up their 4X4 and headed off home. Right at that moment
it sounded like a good idea. The gale was still enjoying its torment next morning, after a disturbed nights sleep in our motorhome more akin to a night-ride on a rocking horse.
‘It’s more like Iceland than Ireland,’ I was heard to say over breakfast that morning. ‘There’s only one letter difference. Did we get on the wrong boat, Janice?’
It’s not in our makeup to let a little bit of wind and rain stop our enjoyment of travel. It’s just an inconvenience. There’s always a plan B. Today it’s got to be a ‘town’ day instead of our tour of the local bird reserves that promised so much. But there will be birds and pleasant walks somewhere else no doubt - we have the best part of a month here. This weather couldn’t last forever, could it?
So it was off to the county town of Wexford at the mouth of the River Slaney: a delightful mix of Georgian and Victorian buildings across the town pond near where we parked, long terraces of front doors of assorted colours opening directly onto the street, a handful of fishing boats in the
attractive harbour and numerous fine modern properties. A lady stopped to talk as I was taking a photograph. She was clearly proud of her home town. ‘Do you know all about our fine buildings?’ She asked. She pointed out the smart Opera House, where we later stopped for coffee. They might be a bit rusty from all that rain, but they’re a friendly lot, these Irish.
Ferries to and from Fishguard, Pembroke, Cherbourg and Roscoff, dock at nearby Rosslare at the south-eastern tip of Ireland. But we were moving westwards, across County Wexford to Hook Head, out on a long spit, where, what is thought to be Europe's oldest lighthouse, a robust monument, stands facing a fierce south-westerly gale. What is it about lighthouses that draws us to them? Is it perhaps the suggested stubborn resilience to everything nature can throw at them, a figure of power, a light of hope and safety to brave mariners? Whatever, we can’t resist them!
The River Barrow flows out through Waterford Harbour to the Celtic Sea just here and a little way up the estuary a Cistercian Abbey was founded in the 12th century. Tintern, as it
is know, was named after Tintern in Wales, when monks from there travelled to Ireland. North of the abbey is the Kennedy Homestead, the birthplace of John F Kennedy’s great-grandfather, Patrick Kennedy. The estate is still farmed by his descendants we’re told. And one generation stopped in its tracks Across the Pond at the hand of a madman with a gun. From there, its a swift, very affordable ferry-ride across the Barrow, to Waterford.
Waterford is thought to be Ireland’s oldest city. They’re proud of their Viking heritage here. There are all sorts of Viking treasures on show in Reginald’s Tower by the river. This medieval city has many fine Georgian buildings, particularly around Cathedral square, and a busy waterfront lined with both fishing and pleasure boats. But it’s Crystal that hits the top of the list when visiting Waterford.
Waterford Crystal has been produced here on-and-off for more than 200 years and today the crystal plant occupies a vast city centre production facility and showroom. Visitors can take the factory tour for a small fee and ogle at some of the most marvellous creations, including an awesome four-foot high crystal harp - very
All breakages must be paid for!
apt, in the mind-blowing, crystal sparkling, showroom. There is nothing quite like a good whisky (or whiskey, as it’s spelled in Ireland and the USA) from a fine crystal tumbler. Mine’s a double! The company has endured a somewhat checkered history over time but today it incorporates many other names you will doubtless recognise: Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Royal Albert and Rogasta, amongst them.
A gent of the legal profession grabbed my elbow as we stood outside the Christ Church Cathedral, in Waterford. He sported a pin stripe shirt, a very smart waistcoat and old school tie. His jacket was doubtless somewhere back at court - and there we were in sweaters, hats and jackets. In an instant we’re like old chums, he has his arm around my shoulder as he pointed. ‘That’s a lovely building, isn’t it? There are two cathedrals here,’ he said. ‘I’m taking a break from a case in court and I just had to come to see them. I’m not from around here, you see. They’re so different.’ Enough said, we visited both. The Catholic, Holy Trinity Cathedral, and Anglican, Christ Church, are indeed very different. You might wish to see them for
There is generally little traffic in the countryside outside of office hours and school runs. We pass through small hamlets, always aware that speed limits are in kph, the quick calculation X 0.6 converting our mph speedometer reading. I’ve always admired the substantial white-painted bungalows here in Ireland, with their slate roofs and tidy shrub gardens. It’s a delight to see such creative architecture here where half-acre plots seem to be the norm once beyond the bounds of suburbia. Some are chalets with dormer windows, neat tarmac drives and freshly cut stripes on the lawn. Its a bit like nicely polished shoes, isn’t it? It says something about the character of the people. We’ll doubtless meet many more as we continue our travels westward. You are welcome to join us while we continue our hunt for those fairies and leprechauns.
David and Janice
Don't forget to watch the panorama slideshow at the beginning - and more pictures below.
And Todd came too (along with Suzie, and Puff, the penguin, of course)
Holyhead, Anglesea, Wales: Pen- Y- Llyn Caravan Site. Excellent.
Ten minutes from the port.
Wicklow: Hidden Valley, Rathdrum. Family campsite - best out of season for oldies like us!
Wexford: Ferrybank, Tincone. Rather bland, featureless, but convenient for town.
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