After a brilliant stay in NI we had a couple of travel transition days, moving down the island from North to West.
When you try to gauge distances using Google Maps, it’s easy to fall into the trap of equating distance with time. It doesn’t work that way in Ireland! Unless you travel on the main highways (predictably boring as they bypass all the towns), travel is slow. The roads, even in towns were designed for horse and cart width and are bordered by hedges – high, thick ones that you don’t want to wrangle with in your rental car. It’s virtually impossible to see what’s coming around the corner or over the rise and I’ve taken to closing my eyes and holding my breath in each instance so that I don’t make involuntary shrieks that might distract the driver. Generally, all drivers are very considerate and one person or the other will pull in tight to the hedgerow to let the other pass but, as in every country, there are a fair share of hoons who overtake or just whiz around the bends with no thought for anyone’s safety. As a result of all of the above, travel is slow. This doesn’t worry us as we are in no rush to get from place to place, the journey, not the destination being the priority for us on this trip.
As you cross the border there’s nothing to tell you you’re changing countries, from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland except that the bunting – a regular feature in most towns and outside many houses, changes from the Ulster flag accompanied by the Union Jack to the green, white and orange of the Irish flag, the speed limits are in kms instead of miles and you suddenly have to pay in Euro rather than Stirling.
From Ballycastle we drove down through Derry and Donegal to our overnight stop at Dromahair. It was here we struck our first issue with accommodation because, a) the place was hard to find, b) there was no sign of life when we got there except an elderly man who mistook Geoff for a ‘Jimmy’ (policeman) and got quite agitated believing that he had come to complain about some kids who were ‘no any of his responsibility’. Thankfully we have Sophie’s UK phone for such events but when she rang the owners they told her the apartment wouldn’t be ready for check in till 5pm because the laundry was late!
|Old Mill Apartments - don't stay here|
To fill the time we drove back into the closest big town, Sligo and checked out the Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery. I usually find standing stones quite fascinating but at the end of a long day, and at 13 Euro, we were struggling to find our zen and this field looked pretty much like any paddock around Dundonnell at home. The information provided was interesting though and it is certainly fascinating to know you are looking at evidence of a civilisation that existed 6000 years ago.
Back at Dromahair, still no sign of a check in person meant another phone call to be advised that someone would come and let us in immediately. Immediately in this case turned out to be 20 minutes, so it was nearly 7 by the time we were settled. Given that the check out next morning was 9, the price seemed a little excessive for a 14 hr stay! To add insult to injury, there was no wifi (even though it was advertised) and no toaster. One of our travel issues is avoiding Taine’s ‘hangriness’ (getting angry because you’re hungry) and morning hangriness is the worst.
Given the lack of toaster it wasn’t hard to make an early start the next morning to the Connemara. This drive took us down through Westport where we stopped for lunch at a lovely café in the main street. From Westport you enter a whole new landscape, one that’s difficult to describe. It’s a bit like the Scottish Highlands meets the Otway Forest by the sea!
The paddocks were dotted with black faced sheep (who cross the road whenever they feel like it), there were fishing boats of every description out on the fjord and crofters in the fields harvesting peat. I didn’t even know that was still done.
|Why did the sheep cross the road?|
Clifden is the hub of the Connemara and like all other coastal towns in Summer, full of people. We’re staying in the penthouse of the Tom Barry House apartments. It’s a penthouse because it’s at the top of the building, up 66 stairs from the ground, above a bookmaker’s shop! We even have a little decking outside the lounge window. Unfortunately this is a shared decking and has public access so anyone who wants to sit up there looks straight in our windows but so far no one has so it’s a lovely little kingdom at the top of the town. And it has a toaster. And wifi!
We used the 2 night layover opportunity to have a bit of a sleep in and then took a drive around the Sky Road with a view to hiring bikes and going back around it later in the day. The Sky Road is beautiful with expansive views out over the coastline. Despite its close proximity to the town, this is a quiet and laid back countryside, punctuated by little farms, lots of Connemarra ponies, tiny harbours and the odd B and B. I’m not sure the photos will do justice to the kaleidoscope of colours.
We’d packed a picnic lunch so we drove out to the National Park looking for a nice walk to get our steps up for the day. Geoff spotted a mountain (it was called a Diamond Hill, but I know a mountain when I see one) and discovered on his Maps.me that it was only a 3km walk away. I hate climbing things but holidays are all about family bonding and the sun was shining so I agreed to walk the base track and maybe wait for them to do the climb. Of course, one base track led to another and there were small children gallivanting on in front of me so on I tramped until suddenly we were committed to the one way track to the summit. With Geoff physically dragging me up the steep bits and the kids making encouraging noises I managed to make it to the top, only truly losing the plot when the uneven stone steps became an actual rock climb and the wind threatened to pick me up and throw me over the edge.
|Should have stopped here|
|Panic attack. But at least Taine looks good in the pic!|
The fun really began as we started our descent and the weather turned from sunny to wild and windy to sleet followed by rain so heavy that no one could see, especially not the old lady wearing glasses. Sophie got the giggles as I crawled sideways, blind and Gollum like, down the steepest bits, clinging to Geoff’s hand in the hope he might be able to drag me back up if I fell. Keeping in mind that I managed to fall flat on my face walking down the street in Montreal, falling off the mountain was a definite possibility!
|At least may phone still works|
Completely soaked, we finally made it to the base track and so desperate was I to get back to cover (and the toilet) that I broke into a jog for the last bit. I sincerely hope I am able to walk well enough tomorrow to get down the 66 steps to the car. I may need to be removed with a crane.
|Actual running- bloody mountain in the background|
Tom Barry House let us down by not having any hot water when we got back, the only black mark in an otherwise perfect accommodation.We’ve been trying to get to an Irish pub for dinner since we got here. We tried again tonight and finally got a spot at Guys. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any live music but the pub next door to us does so we’ll open the window and listen to that for free.