A-Z of low cal heroes

Low calorie (and low carb) foods that I rely on when I’m watching the calories and carbs eg on the 5:2 or Fast 800 approaches.  Inspired by my friend Helen’s A-Z of  Scottish Dancing, here’s my list of foods I find help me enjoy cooking and eating this way.

A- Anchovies.  Yes, those wee fish you find on pizzas.  A few snipped into a salad add a real salty tang, as well as a hit of protein.

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B- Bovril.  Although I don’t eat meat I’m not a strict vege (or pesce-) tarian, and a mug of Bovril is very satisfying when hunger pangs strike. A 12g spoonful is 17 cals, and 4g of protein.

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C- Cottage cheese.  A useful non-egg breakfast, I like a spoonful of this with radishes, cucumber or tomato, and a sprinkle of za’atar (see later)

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D- dulse.  This dried seaweed is a bit of an Irish seaside tradtion, but Belfast wans can get it in Sawyers or greengrocers. Chewy and salty with a hint of the ocean, it packs a few useful vitamins as well,  Try it as an alternative to nori or other seaweeds in miso soup (see later) or a Bhudda Bowl.

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E – eggplant, or aubergine.  Very useful in making dips like baba ganosh, or cut into steaks and spread with miso (see later) paste as a “steak”.  Essential element of ratatouille, or as caponata.

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F- Frozen berries.  I try not to have too much fruit, but once a week or so I’ll make overnight oats or chia pots.  Mixed berries keep well in the freezer, and are ideal for this.  If added to the dish the night before they will have defrosted by morning.

G – Greek Yoghurt.  There is always a vigourous debate on social media about the “best” or “right” Greek yoghurt to get, unsurprising given the wide variety of natural, plain, Greek, Greek-style, Skyr etc available.  Check the label, avoid extra additives,  and don’t go for low-fat.

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H – Herbal teas.  I surf through the day on water (see later) black coffee, and herbal teas,  I keep a little “lucky dip” carousel at work, but the Yogi Choc flavour is heavenly when you need a hit of chocolate.

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I – Itsu brand.  Miso soup (see later) is a great standby for light lunches or quick pick-m-ups.  I like this brand, at 21 cals per sachet.

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J – jackfruit.  As a not-quite-vegetarian, I’m always on the lookout for ways to add more variety.  Jackfruit, available in cans, make a good sturdy textured addition to curries and stews.

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K – Konjac noodles.  Substiture noodles, pasta and rice made from konjac root are sold under names like Slim or Naked.  They are not to everyone’s taste, some say they taste like rubber bands, and can have a  fishy odour when the sachet is opened, but when well rinsed they can have the right look and feel.

L – lemon and lime.  Always in my fridge, add a slice of either to hot or cold water, squeeze over salads or in stirfries.  Keep some wedges in the freezer to add instead of an ice cube to cold drinks.

M – miso soup.  You can buy sachets to which you just add hot water, or make your own with miso paste.  I like to make a “fully loaded” version with thinly sliced mushooms, cubes of tofu, beansprouts, spring onions, and a sprinkle of dulse (see above).

N – nuts.  Useful for ading a wee bit of protein, though not as much as some people believe.  Cashews are great in stir fries, walnuts are lovely with a bit of blue cheese, and almonds have a satisfying crunch.

O – Olive oil.  The best oil to use.  I also use coconut oil, and locally grown rapeseed.

P – prawns. These pack an amazing protein to calorie ratio, are great hot or cold, in spicy dishes or in cool salads.  I try to keep frozen raw prawns as a freezer standby, they can be defrosting under cold running water.

Q – quinoa. I cut right back on cereals and grains, but quinoa has protein content as well, and cooks in 15 mintues.

R – rainbow.  Eat the rainbow!  Aim to get a range of colourful foods, like beetroot, peppers, courgettes, cauliflower, tomatoes.

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S – spices are key to maing food tasty.  And don’t underestimate the importance of Sleep.

T – Trout, Tuna, Tofu.  Great protein sources.  I prefer smoked trout to salmon, it is tastier and has slightly fewer calories.

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U – Un-alcoholic drinks.  Ok I know that’s not a real word!  There’s a great many not-gins on the market at the minute, add a frozen lime wedge and a diet tonic to a large glass and you’ll not feel you are missing out at all.

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V- vegetables.  Eat lots of them, especially those that grow above the ground.  Spinach, pak choi, broccoli, mushrooms, and salad veg like tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, are always in my veg drawer.  And onions!  But no potatoes.

W – water. Drink lots of water.  I aim for 2l a day, and try to keep a bottle by me at all times.  First thing in the morning, start with a  large glass.

X – F.U.N.E.X? S, V.F.X.  So goes the old Two Ronnies sketch, and S, I always have a plentiful supply of X.  I go for large free-range, local if possible.  I probably eat at least one a day, love a quick scramble with whatever veggies are about for breakfast.  My Sunday standard breakfast is a soft boiled egg with asparagus dippers, and I usually boil a couple of extras to have during the week.  I’ll also whip up a a batch of fritattas with eggs, cheese, and veg – spinach, cooked cauli, spring onions, roast peppers, olives.  They make a handy portable late breakfast to have at work, and can be frozen.

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Y – Yukata, is another brand I like for miso soups, sushi ginger, and other Asian ingredients.

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Z – za-atar, one of my favourite spice mixes to sprinkle on scrambled egg, soups, or cottage cheese.

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Jackfruit Curry

Low calorie, low carb, vegetarian or vegan.

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I’m always keen to try new foods and recipes, and I was intrigued by jackfruit, which is getting used in many vegetarian meals these days.  It’s most often seen as some sort of BBQ pulled dish, which I don’t care for.  So I made a curry instead.

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Ingredients:

1 tin jackfruit

1 onion (80-100g)

1 red pepper (100g)

100g button mushrooms, quartered

1 tin tomatoes

1 tsp coconut oil

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Curry spice – I used garlic paste from a tube, a tsp of chillies from a jar, turmeric, ground coriander, and cos I had them, curry leaves,  I also threw in a cinnamon stick and a star anise.

Sweat the finely chopped onion in the coconut oil until translucent.

Add the diced red peppers, and continue to cook on a low heat, covered, for 5 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and stir everything well together.

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Add in the curry spices and stir well.

Add the tinned tomatoes, and give everything a good stir.  Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer while you prep the rice.

Coconut Lime Cauli-rice

For each serving:

150g cauliflower florets, grated.  I use my special cauli Iron Maiden.

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Melt a tbsp coconut oil in a frying pan and add the cauli rice, stirring to get it covered in the oil.  Let it cook gently for 5-8 minutes, until itstarts to get a bit nutty.  Add salt and pepper, and half a lime squeezed.  I threw in some chopped parsley from my gardon for colour. Add in some grated coconut (10g)

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Serve with a blob of yoghurt (or vegan alternative) and a sprinkle of coriander leaves.

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I got 3 “my size” servings from this, 300 cals with the rice, but it would make 2 generous portions.

Note: I like the jars of easy chilli.  It’s easy to control the heat of the end result, as opposed to actual chillies.  When the jar is empty, I half fill it with water, give a good shake, and used that chill flavoured liquid to add a kick to soups, stews etc.

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Athlone

Waving a fond farewell to Tralee, we set off for the town at Ireland’s centre, Athlone.

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This wasn’t a straight motorway route, so we stopped off at a Spar in Borrisokane for a bag of crisps and bottle of water (no loos).  Tractors a-plenty in this part of the world!

There were roadworks in town, and the sat-nav decided we should not under any circumstances take the N52.  I wasn’t going to argue, the smaller roads were pleasant to drive along.

Shortly after lunch, we arrived at our home for the night, the Athlone Springs Hotel.  It’s on teh edge of town, so no aimless wandering to be enjoyed, but it DOES have a gym and a pool.  We booked a slot for a dip at 3.30.  You have to book to ensure social distancing, the steam room and sauna were not in use, and there were increased chemicals in the jacuzzi, which my eyes complained about.  But I managed a good few lengths, it’s been quite a while since I’ve swum!

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As part of the relaxation of regulations, outdoor weddings can now take place with a numbers limit, and we were able to watch procedings from out our window.  But the room had no air-con (although there was a fan cooler) and so it wasn’t as relaxing as it might have been .

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We had booked a dinner slot for 6.30, and chatted beforehand to a family from Dundalk, comparing the joys of staycationing.IMG_3820For dinner I had mushroom soup and brown bread which was delicious.  The only veggie main was a stirfry with rice, which was OK, rather spicy and far too much.

I didn’t have a great night’s sleep with the fan going all night, but I couldn’t hear any wedding noises.

The breakfast hot and cold buffet were dished out by a member of staff.  I had some grapefruit segments, followed by scrambled egg and mushroom.

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Into Athlone,  we parked by the castle, across the road from Saints Peter and Paul chuch with its twin towers, and set of for some very pleasant aimless wandering.  The town is on the river Shannon, at quite a wide point, and there is plenty of activity on the water, including a lock.

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IMG_3840It’s also home to what claims to be Ireland’s oldest bar, sadly of course closed these days.

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We walked all the way round the barracks, and Count John McCormack’s statue.

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The names of some of the shops were reminiscent of Handmaid’s Tale, and there seemed to be many Thai restaurants and meditation retreats.

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It’s a charming town, well worth spending some time in, and it does make a great stopover destination.

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Tralee

After the Cliffs , we were back at the Ballygarry House Hotel, one of our favourite spots. Our stay included one evening meal, but the restaurant wasn’t open till Wednesday. So we booked a table for then, and tonight (Monday) ate in the brasserie.  I had the veggie curry, which was rather heavy on bell peppers.

There is a lovely spa at the hotel, but during the ongoing restructions they have a limit on the number of clients they can have, and what treatments are on offer.  I’d missed out on booking something in time on our previous trip, so I was looking forward to my back massage later today.  So with the morning free we headed into Tralee for a bit of a potter around.

I found a colourful Billabong skirt in a charity shop, and we had a mooch around the fine grey stone courthouse.  We also booked a dinner reervation in the Ashe Hotel just as a change of scene.

There was a sale on in Mountain Warehouse, and I found a great relaxed easy care dress WITH POCKETS that I loved.  So I bought it in 3 colourways.

From there we walked around Tralee town park, on what turned out to be the parkrun route!  There is a sundial dedicated to Neil Armstrong, who’d once trod these paths, and of course many Rose of Tralee related things to look at and admire.  Back in 2002 when I was in Luxembourg, it was decided to inaugurate a Lux Rose competition, and I had some peripheral connection (tap dancing at the Rose Ball, Jemima Irish dancing in a display, my good pal Anne-Marie being one of the contestants). 

So it was with a wistful smile and fond memories of bygone times that I read down the names of the roses from around the world.  No competition this year, a huge loss to the town, and yet another indicator of just what a ubiquitous impact Covid was exerting.

Time for my spa!  I had my temperature checked and filled out a detailed form.  Then I had some time to soak up the rare sunshine in the open air hot tub.  The spa provided a pair of disposable knickers for me to change into, though it took a while to work out which way round they went.  My masseuse worked wonders on my knotty shoulders, and I relaxed in the chill out zone for a while.

Back at our room, I had no key with me, could hear the TV going, but there was no answer to my knocking.  I still had the spa-undies on, though thankfully with a coverall beach dress over them, and I was clutching a plastic bag with my wet swimsuit.  Not really how I wanted to start a search of the hotel looking for R and the key!  When I found him on the terasse, he hadn’t a key with him!  Luckliy reception had a spare, and I was able to dry off properly, change into something more fitting before pretending I was in France and sipping a cocktail on the sun-filled terasse.

Wearing one of my new mountain warehouse dresses, we rang a taxi to take us into town, and the very friendly Albert arrived. 

At the Ashe, I ordered the fish special, which was hake with a sun-dried tomato tapenade, and absolutely delicious.  We went for a bit of a stroll after dinner, before calling Albert again to take us home.  Times were tough he confided.  No Roses, no ‘merican tourists, and no students.

Back at the hotel, I wandered the grounds enjoying the sunset before retiring.

Wednesday was the day we had set aside for doing the Slea Head Drive, and I’d been anxiously checking weather forecasts for over a week.  I needn’t have worried, we had blue sky and sunshine all the way.  After a breakfast of porridge with the hotel’s own honey I donned another of my new dresses and off we set.  Past the Blennerville windmill, and into a Dingle traffic jam.

First stop was Castlegregory Beach.  There is a good car park here, and some clean loos.  Which probably explains why most of the carpark was taken up by motorhomes, in spite of the sign banning them.  The bay is calm, though a little rocky, but seemed popular with swimmers and dog walkers.

Next, the Connor Pass!  No trucks or buses allowed, however there were loads of cyclists.  Is there a special cerfickatick they get for plodding all the way up here?

At the viewpoint there were great views in both directions – back down to Castlegregory to the north, with Mount Brandon brooding over it, and down to the picturesque Dingle to the south.  We swooped down into the town, had a minor kerfuffle finding the right road to the centre, but found a great parking spot by the church, which is free, and in easy walking distance of the the town and the harbour.

We stolled downhill, past the long queue outside the coffee shop – that must be some special brew!  After an ice-cream and short look at some tweed jackets, our next destination was the Ryan’s Daughter beach.  Given the sunny day, that seemed to be the destination of about a billion other people also.  The small car park at the top of the path was jam packed, and cars were parked right down the laneway onto the beach. 

Manoevering around was extremely stressful, and I left R to be amused by the attempts to get up and down, while climbed up Dumore Head, the most westerly point of the mainland.  It’s a specacular view, looking out towards the Blaskets, no wonder it was used for some of the filming of Star Wars.

Carrying on round the drive, our next stop was the fairly new Blasket Centre, and its brand new viewing platform.  When seen from above, this viewpoint is the wiggly W of the WAW sign.  There is also a stunning stained glass window in the centre itself, depicting various aspects of life on the islands.

Saw no dolphins.

The hills on Sybill Head look like solid waves as you approach, and are called the three sisters.

We stopped at abillboard advertised cafe-pottery, only to find the cafe closed and the pottery overpriced.  We should have stopped in Ballyferriter, I’m sure I saw Darth Vadar and Yoda standing ouside a pub!

The hotel has bicycles for use by residents, so we had a few laughs as we made our way to the nearby Ballyseedy Wood.  Thank goodness we both managed to stay upright.

Back at the hotel, we changed for our special dinner in the main restaurant, which was wonderful.

There was heavy rain overnight, but it eased by about 8, so I got into my running gear, and R took me into Tralee town park to do a freedom parkrun.  It’s a nice route, not too hilly, and I’m realiably informed the team here are great, so I’ll look forward to the day when I can run it for real.

Back at the hotel for a late breakfast of chia seed pot, and eggs benedict with no ham.  Then it was time to pack, and head off to the next leg.

 

Cliffs of Moher and more

 

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Always happy with a map in my hand

The next stage of our trip was to pick up the Wild Atlantic Way and head south.  Two years ago we had done the WAW from Sligo as far down as Galway, so it was good to be taking the next part of it.

After breakfast we compared maps and sat navs.  We wanted to take the ferry-to-Kerry, to cut out going through Limerick, and I discovered it was slightly cheaper if we booked online. (18-90 for a car) But we had to persuade the sat nav that we didn’t want to go straight there, but rather take the very scenic coastal route.

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After driving round the bare grey rocks of the Burren, we stopped for a leg stretch at Bishops Quarter beach, which seemed a very calm bay popular with swimmers.  I could see that the sat nav then wanted to take us inland to the cliffs (huh?) while I wanted to hug the WAW.  R agreed to take my suggestion, which I think he regretted the whole rest of the way, as the roads were very narrow indeed, and oncoming vehicles didn’t always pull over where they could.  So the air was blue, but oh my, the views were just breathtaking!  The Aran islands basking in a vivid blue sea, the sun glinting on the waves.  After we turned a corner, there were the cliffs, brown sheer drops bordered by green at the top and blue below. And there was the odd compulsory WAW point for me to try and fail to get the full name in.

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We had booked entrance tickets in advance, and enjoyed a look around the visitor exhibition, using the clean loos, and having a cooling ice cream.

It’s a bit of a walk to the various viewing points, and there are quite a few steps to climb.  There are marked busking points along the way, and there were a variety of musicians playing away.  Although the weather was warm and sunny, it was a little hazy, and I couldn’t quite make out the Kerry mountains to the south or the Twelve Pins to the north.

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As well as the usual tourist gifts in the visitor centre, there are a few more shops near by, including aran jumpers, musical instruments, and jewellry.  I fell in love with a set of items created by a local designer, whose sister was the sales assistant.  They were inspired by the colours of the WAW, and used three different blue stones: agate for the ruggedness of the coast, larimar for the ocean, and topaz for the sky.  I took my time decididng which piece to buy.  I asked the assistant how they were surviving in these unusual times.  She shook her had sadly and said “Normally at this time of year there would be 10 coaches of Americans parked outside.”

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I took time to be thankful that there weren’t huge crowds around, I’m not great in very busy spots.

We waved goodbye and put in the co-ords for the ferry.  Again, I wanted to stick to the WAW, while Sally Satnav kept wanting to take us inland, on more minor roads.  Our eta was just after 2, and as the ferry departed every hour on the hour, we were not expecting to catch that one.  But we pulled up to Killimer dock just as they were finishing boarding, and a crew member motioned us on baord, and to the head of one of the lanes.  The boat cast off straight away, but so smooth was it that R didn’t acutally realise we were moving.  Coronoavirus notices advised everyone to stay inside their vehicles, though not everyone obeyed that instruction.  I had the ticket as a barcode on my phone ready to be scanned, hands free.

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Saw no dolphins.

The queue at Tarbert to go the other direction seemed much longer that ours.  We were reminded that there are many Tarberts in Scotland also – I think the name means something to do with fish, and they are all ports.

The journey from there to Tralee was unremarkable – we went inland rather than yet more coastal driving, and soon were back at the Ballygarry House Hotel, which we’d enjoyed so much on a recent visit , that one of the first things we did when we got home was to book this return trip.

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This time, we were taking advantage of a special offer that was 2 nights for the price of 3, and included one dinner and a welcoming prosecco cocktail!  R only likes drinks that start with S, end in F, and have a mirno in the middle, so, both for me!  In my matching frock and all!

 

 

Galway

You say staycation, I say holidays in Ireland.

Covid restirctions mean that far flung travel is still fraught with difficulties.  Many countries are on the quarantine list, and more can be added literally overnight.  Take into the mix the health risks of flying, and who wants to go on a cruise these days, means that holidaying closer to home becomes even more attractive.

I’d tried and failed to visit Galway previously, so I was really excited to be starting our trip in the City of Tribes.

The journey took about 4 hours on good motorways.  We did stop at a service station which was in Kildare, and as it was one of the counties that had recently been put under more restrictions, I wondered if this would apply here.  But it was open,  I was surrpised that the food outlets were still operating, including the touch screen ordering at Burger King.  And eat-in was an option.  It’s amazing how my brain now picks up things like hand sanitiser stations, supervision of numbers on-site, one-way social distancing flows……..or the lack of same.

Our destination was the Harbour Hotel, right by the marina, which was very well located, and had ample car parking at the rear.  My map reading and the sat nav instructions were in agreement, tourist maps and leaflets acquired, and we were soon heading out for our first wander around.  Plenty of covid-conspiracy grafitti.

Pubs that don’t serve food are still closed, and other cafes and restaurants either have a queue to get a table, or you need to book in advance.  We decided to reserve a table in the hotel restaurant tonight, rather than run into difficulties finding somewhere in town.  The only spot they had was at 5.30.  As my friend Sarah would say, “Norn Irn tea time!”

We strolled past the large (and smelly) boats in the harbour, and found that the gate at the far side was closed.  R leaped over the fence, but I was more reluctant.  A passer-by was trying to shout instructions across the road, but I couldn’t make him out, and he picked his way through the traffic to open the gate for me.  Thank you!

We found ourselves at Spanish Arch, and our first expereince of the ever-present busking in this lively and musical city.

A trio were delighting people in the bright sunny square with some rock covers, the sun was shining, swans were gliding on the River Corrib, and a Galway hooker was putting up its sails.

The main street into Latin Quarter looked quite busy, so we wore our masks and took our time dandering past the cladagh jewellers and aran jumper shops.  I found a Murphys ice cream emporium, and cooled down with my favourite Dingle gin flavour whilst enjoying some more busking.  We found a Morrocan restaurant that looked interesting, and booked a table for tomorrow night’s dinner there.

Back at the hotel, I changed into a holiday maxi for dinner.  The Dillisk restaurant has a strong marine theme, including a seaweed garnished High and Dry gin cocktail, and seaweed flavoured wheaten bread.  There was sea bass on the menu, but it was supposed to come with gnocchi, which I don’t really care for.  But the staff volunteered to swap that for chips.

After dinner I took a stroll through the Claddagh, an open grassy are popular with young people who were relaxing with a few drinks.

We had booked a breakfast slot at 8.30, and the serve yourself buffet had plates individually wrapped in cling film.  I had some bread and cheese, and ordered scrambled eggs.  I was a little concerned that all the customers were being seated at adjacent tables, rather than spreading us out a bit more.  Ther was a mysterious bra abandoned by the lift – I’m guessing what happens in Galway stays in Galway.

It was a Sunday morning, which makes for a pleasant wander through less crowded streets.  We got some iced coffees to sip while people watching at Eyre Square, and I bought an enamel brooch from a chatty jeweller, who suggested we take the “ferry to Kerry” on our journey south, which would avoid going through Limerick.

I did my “not parkrun” by sticking to the water’s edge and running out the 1km causeway to Mutton Island.

The weather was glorious – normally we’d find somewhere to sit and enjoy a drink in the sunshine, but current restricitons make that more diffuclt.  We found a quiet-ish spot down Kirwan’s Lane, and ordered some food to go with our drinks.  I get the feeling the noisy girls beside us had ordered one plate of chips between them, so no doubt there are ways around the rules.

To our restaurant for dinner – I ordered a veggie tagine and a glass of chardonnay…..to be told that they don’t serve alcohol!  But the waiter helpfully gave directions to a Spar round the corner where I procured a bottle for us to share.  Much cheaper that way anyway.  The food was delicious, and we took the long way home via Long Walk, soaking up the colourful atmosphere.

I booked a ticket for the Shannon ferry online, ready for our trip next day to the Cliffs of Moher and beyond.

 

 

Mostly Munster

Munster consists of the following counties: Kerry, Cork, Limerick, Clare, Tipperary and Waterford.  Time to Take A Break – how many of them could I visit in a short trip, the first venture since the Covid-19 pandemic turned the world upside down?

Wednesday

I like following a map, not for navigation purposes (the sat nav handles that), but just to get a feel for geography, to know which those mountains are, to spot any points of interest along the way.  The road map I was using on this adventure was 15 years old, but to be honest, roads don’t change that much.  Even the new motorways are often just upgraded N roads.  So it was interesting and useful enough to follow.

Drogheda is as busy as it ever was – back in the old days the Belfast-Dublin route used to go through the centre of town, with huge delays and traffic hold ups.

I had a cuppa at a cute little place in Ashbourne Industrial estate.  Face masks are mandatory in indoor retail places, so I was getting used to having mine always to hand.

We stayed at the Maldron Hotel Newlands Cross, and booked a table at the Chinese across the road, the Hong Han.  They used to specialise in buffet style food, but that’s no longer feasible.  However, they were doing a non-stop- roaring trade in takeaway for collection.

I realised it was the first time I’d eaten out in over 4 months, and I thoroughly enjoyed my king prawn and broccoli. The prawn crackers were served with what I’m sure was gravy.

Thursday

I had a rejuvenating night’s sleep in crisp white sheets, though the bright standby light on the telly was annoying.  Is there a travel hack to get around this problem?  The shower was noisy and underpowered.  Breakfast was another area where previous practices have had to be changed.  No more communal queueing and handling of the buffet serving spoons, instead food has to be ordered from a menu.  I had the vegan thyme mushrooms on toasted sourdough, which was nice and light and damn tasty.

We enjoyed surfing through local radio stations as we travelled.  On South East radio they announce recent death notices, followed by a piece of sombre music.  Very Hunger Games!

In Wexford I found the statue of John Barry at the Crescent.  He became known as “The father of the American Navy”, and every year a wreath is laid at this statue.  I was impressed at a photo of JFK taking part in this ceremony.   History has its eyes on you!  There was a teeny alleyway leading up to the main shopping street.  The train crawls through here at a very slow speed.

The John Barry pub on the corner, like all other “wet pubs” which don’t serve food, was closed, with a suitably depressing notice on the door.  This feature was sadly repeated everywhere we went.

I love bridges, and was very impressed with the new  Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, very fine indeed.  At 887m, it is Ireland’s longest, and was opened earlier in 2020.  It crosses the River Barrow from Wexford into Kilkenny.  And now we were into Munster, and crossing the Rice bridge over the River Suir into Waterford city– does the central span lift, I wonder?

Our route took us over another stunning cablestay modern bridge, the Thomas Francis Meagher , and we changed radio stations to WLR.

We stayed in Clonmel – home of Magners/ Bulmers cider.  The Raheen House Hotel had a sign-in sheet for contact tracing, lots of sanitiser about the place, and it was not possible just to have a drink at the bar.  There are beautiful gardens with a wide variety of plants, which allowed for a pleasant stroll.  The magnolia (rhododendron?) blossoms were as big as my hand.  Dinner was served in a soft gentle atmosphere, with candles in the fireplace and classical music playing in the background.  I tucked into some tasty fish and chips with great tartare and mushy peas.  Early to bed, and slept well.

Friday

We had pre-ordered breakfast the night before – I chose grapefruit segments and a 2 egg omelette with mushroom and cheese.  I was a little bit worried about the bowl of sugar and salt sachets on the table – how Covid safe is that?  Imagine I had glitter on my fingers….

The radio was on in the background, and I was struck by how non-aggressive the interviewing style was.  That combative “not letting you finish what you’re saying before repeating the question more animatedly” technique is now rife in the BBC, and it’s not helpful to actually hearing what people have to say.  After breakfast I took a walk by the river.

We found ourselves listening to the morning show on RTE Lyric,  what a strange mix of music, including Goodness Gracious Me, which you would never be able to publish these days.  There was a cooking slot, and I must admit the recipe for mango salsa sounded delicious, I might try that with some grilled halloumi or prawns.

Over there are the Galtee mountains, where the cheese comes from.  This part of the country has rich fertile ground, meaning lots of farming traffic, and roadside stalls selling strawberries and potatoes.

“Welcome to Tipperary – you’ve come a long way” says the sign at the edge of town.  The N24 goes through the centre of town, which is jam packed with delivery lorries.  I could see protest placards about the “road of death” but I wasn’t immediately sure whether they were for or against a bypass.

We stopped in Newmarket, Co Cork, which probably hasn’t changed in years.  Into a coffee shop – there was a limit on numbers entering, and hand sanitiser….but sachets of ketchup in a common bowl.  A sign in sheet for contact tracing, was by the till, with a communal pen, but no-one was ensuring that everyone used it.  Still a 10 euro limit on credit card (ie contactless) payments.  I ordered a cheese scone with my coffee, which came with a mound of grated cheese, a new one on me.  Was I supposed to sprinkle it on the scone or was it just for decoration?

I had to use the cash machine in the Spar , but I did find a a lovely rust jacket in a sale in an old fashioned drapers.  “That’s not a local accent?” said the lady behind the till, and we chatted about how the pandemic has affected everyone in different ways.  Those in the arts sector found their work ceased overnight, with little prospect of getting back to normality any time soon.  Whereas farmers and local shops like this, not so dependent on tourist trade, are impacted less.

Sadly I missed a phone-call from the spa where I had been on the waiting list. Oh well, no-one really wants to see my runners’ toes!

The road carried on over the mountains, where it’s hard to have straight roads.

We skirted Limerick, where the signpost as you enter the motorway made it clear what vehicles were not allowed to use it!

Into Tralee, Co Kerry, where this year’s Rose Festival has sadly had to be cancelled.  We stayed at the Ballygarry House Hotel, just on the edge of town.  There was limited mask wearing, though we later clarified it was only mandatory in retail outlets, rather than hotels.  I changed into a colourful holiday maxi dress and we had dinner in brasserie, halloumi salad and not-Chardonnay.  I felt bad having to say no to this and sending the wine back, the waitress even produced the till receipt to show that it did indeed say “Chardonnay”.  All I can say is, my palate has had a lot of practice over the years.  Never mind, I switched to Pinot Grigio, which was fresh and light and a good accompaniment to the salad.

Saturday

Well that was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in ages!  The beds are ginormous, and the white cotton bed linen crisp and inviting.

The breakfast buffet is still there, but not help yourself.  You point at or ask for what you want and it is served to you by a member of staff.  Hot food is ordered from a laminated menu.  All the menus have a little box explaining what changes have been made to keep everyone safe.  I had a glass of cranberry juice and poached eggs on avocado and tomato toast.  The portion sizes were just right, and the menu held lots of tempting choices, including porridge with their own honey.  We watched the bees outside the window and spotted the hives a bit further back.  Lovely grounds, must be popular for weddings….which have of course been severely hit by the Covid restrictions.

Running gear on, we headed to Inch beach, a popular surfing spot and an official parkrun route.  Grey and dull, I couldn’t see any mountains, though Ireland’s tallest are just over there.

Lots of other runners were around, some bravely barefoot, as with the number of jellyfish I was dodging I wouldn’t be setting foot in the sea without a wetsuit.

The loos were open, an unusual feature in these times, so I was able to change into loose black trousers and jade shirt.  Cafes and  BnB are right next to the beach, which I will note for when parkruns are eventually back up and running, as it were. Jogging on sand is always challenging, but I enjoyed the sea air and listening to the Hamilton soundtrack.

Our next stop was Minard Castle in the mizzle, with conspiracy graffiti on the coronavirus notices.

From there we went into Dingle which was packed!  After a bit of a wait for a parking space, we wandered by the harbour, watching the tourist boats fill up with hopeful dolphin-watchers. I’m not sure I’d want to be on a boat with lots of others jostling around on the ocean waves.

We called into a café within a store, and I was appalled:

  • Very little mask wearing (even though this is a retail store)
  • No sanitiser at entrance to café
  • Tables held communal cutlery, sugar, salt and pepper shakers, milk jug
  • No sign in sheet
  • Didn’t see tables being sanitised between uses.
  • No paper towels in the gents (so when were they last checked?)

We felt uncomfortable and didn’t stay any longer than we had to.

We treated ourselves to some fabulous ice cream at Murphys – Dingle gin, sea salt, and Irish brown bread flavours. Breakfast of champions!

There were too many people around, no social distancing being practiced, crowding round the ice cream shops etc, so we decided to head back to car.  The heavens opened,  the wind threatened to blow us all away, and we got absolutely drenched.  Luckily the dogs’ towel was there.

Back we went  through Anascaul, home of Antarctic explorer Tom Crean, and the north side of the peninsula.  Showered and chilled out in the hotel’s fluffy white robe and slippers.

I went for a walk in Ballyseedy Wood, but I didn’t spot any of the otters or red squirrels.

Dinner in the brasserie, where the menus are on disposable paper, discarded after each use.  I chose a goat cheese in a nut crumb with spiced pear and beetroot salsa.  There was very good attention to cleaning tables and sanitising between use from the staff.

Sunday

Lovely breakfast – chia seed pudding, French toast, and a drizzle of their honey.

We had an insightful chat with the manager, who remained very visible throughout our stay, and who was very conscious of the damage that one photo on social media could do.  So his brief to staff was – customers have their eyes on you.  And his clear objective was to persuade customers that You’ll be Back.

We listened to Hamilton en route back home, reaching Barak Obama Plaza just as One Last Time was playing (R’ s favourite version of that number has Obama himself delivering Washington’s farewell address).  Obama, like many US presidents, has Irish roots, and he and Michelle visited relatives here back in 2011, including pouring a pint of Guinness in a nearby pub.  Someone had the Offaly bright idea of turning the service station into an attraction in itself, and there is now a mini conference centre upstairs.  The dog holding area is called “Central Bark”.

Home

What did I miss?  Well, I don’t think we managed to cross into Clare, so I didn’t quite tick off the full Munster House.

And it won’t be “One Last Time”, as we enjoyed our stay so much that we straight away booked for another visit!  I shall get my reservation in to the spa in good time, so I’ll be able to report back on that.  The honey and Irish whiskey body scrub sounds fabulous, I’ll just have to be patient while I wait for it…..

 

parkrun tourism: Crawfordsburn Country

parkrun #285 event #71

Reason for visit: New Norn Irn one I haven’t been to yet!



Access:
The postcode given on the site, BT19 1JT, took me straight to the gorgeous grounds of Crawfordsburn Country Park, though I did have the traditional argument with the SatNav, because I knew about the Sydenham bypass roadworks and it didn’t.  So Yaa Boo Sat Nav!

There are plenty of car parking spaces, but parkrunners are asked to use the lower or beach ones, leaving those closest to the centre for older and maybe less fit users.  We don’t want them complaining about parkrun ruining their tradtional Saturday morning treat.

The centre doesn’t open till 10, but there are clean loos down at the beach car park, a gentle jog away.

Crowd:

I attended event number 3, and there were 120 that day.  The inaugural attracted 246.  The RD was a recently elected MLA, and I chatted to him about an Alan Turing qute he’d used in his maiden speech.  The chap giving the first timers briefing was someone I knew from a recent work project.  And I was meeting up for the first time with the NI parkrun toruist gang. 

It’s a dog friendly course, but very challenging for buggies or wheelchairs (though I believe it has been done with a buggy!).

Course:

Ah the course.  It’s by the sea, innit, must be flattish?  Wrong!  It’s a single lap course which takes quite a meadnering route incorporating the coastal path. 

The verbal description was quite detailed, and in the past some runners have got lost and ended up in nearby Helens Bay! 

Start and finish are both at the centre.  At some point you run with the river on your left, later it’s on your right. 

Do NOT run under the viaduct.  And this is the only course I know of with a volunteer role of Lollipop lady!

It’s VERY hilly, and the downhill sections can be steep and twisty.  Did I say it was dog-friendly?  I think a mountain goat would be more appropriate!  One with a built in sat nav……

And I suggest there should be a badge or cerfickatick declaring “I didn’t get lost at Crawfordsburn Country :-)”

Gear:

For ease of recognition I was wearing my 50 events Tshirt, which of course is now 21 events out of date.  I do still have my cotton T shirt with a button sewn on for each event visited, though the Belfast patch is getting very crowded.

I had my lovely flowery leggings, my new zippy pouch, green gloves, and of course cow cowl.  My Garmin was useless, I really am going to upgrade it soon.

Theme tune:

I was running with no music, but I did sing “Let’s ready to parkrun!”, a variation of the PJ and Duncan hit, when I was washing my hands for 20 seconds.

Parkfaff:

The cafe for post parkrun cafe had a fabulous range of scones and traybakes.  I tucked into a warmed apple and cinnamon scone thing, which was served by some delightfully friendly staff.  I can see why this place is such a popular spot!

And the rest:

I’m writing this in the middle of March 2020.  The UK has just moved from “contain” to “delay” phase of response to the Covid 19 pandemic.  Around the world, parkruns in other countries have already been cancelled, including our neighbours in Ireland.  The feeling is that the UK will soon follow suit, so this might well be the last one I get to attend for a while. So as I was jiggy-jogging around the challenging course, I was thankful for the beautiful views, and most of all for my health, while I still have it.

All my parkruns:

NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

parkrun tourism: Lower Drummans

parkrun #284 event #70

This is a short one, and no photos or lots of access or facilities details, cos it was my first at a closed event. (No mobile phones allowed, nor doggos!)

And what a great experience it was!

I remember first hearing about parkruns in prisons (Black Combe was the original) and thinking what a great idea! We all know running is good for your physical and mental health. And as part of the rehabilitation of inmates, having an activity they can share with friends and family, as well as continue when they are out, is very valuable. The guys take on the volunteering roles, and there are lots of familiar features in the start pop-up, hi-viz jackets and barcode scanning routine.

My 250 shirt drew some attention, and I chatted about how amazing the parkrun community is, no matter where you go.

I’m not going to describe the course in detail, but the views of Binevenagh and Inishowen reminded me how picturesque this part of the world is.

Well done to everyone for getting this event up and running, and keeping it going!

All my parkruns

parkrun tourism: Kingston

parkrun #283 event #69
Reason for visit:  a rare chance to see both my little darlings being marvellous!

I was in London as J had been nominated in 2 categories for the National Dance awards, and I was also staying to see H’s latest West End venture. Originally the plan had been to do Bushy for H’s 50th, but when he couldn’t make it I switched to Kingston as the next closest.

Access:

I was staying in the Traveloge Teddington, a handy 4 minute walk from the railway station, and very close to Teddington High Street, along which many buses travel.

From there I was able to jog the mile or so down High Street, trying not to be distracted by the delightful little boutiques. Helpful indicators that I was near the river, across the footbridge, and another 500m down to the Hawker centre.

The 285 bus goes between Heathrow and Kinsgton, handy tourist knowledge.  Allow an hour to get to the airport though, what with traffic and roadworks.

Facilites:

There are clean loos in the Hawker centre, and presentation of your barcode gets 15% off in the cafe.

First timers briefing takes place here also.

Course:

The course is a sort of lollipop shape.  The start is around 200m further towards Kingston, runs on a tarmac path alongside the river, onto the towpath under the footbridge, along to Ham field.  This can get a bit mucky!

From there it’s back along the same route, finishing at the Hawker centre.  There’s one small section where runners are going in both directions, so keep left! And there’s a slight incline coming out of the field, otherwise it’s pretty flat.

There was a minor bit of panic early in the week as the council were carrying out work to the path, with a possible cancellation warning.  But they finished on the Friday, just in time.  I was still able to win “parkrun cancellation Top Trumps” with my Crissy Field story.

It can be a narrow path at times, but the crowd soon thins out.

Crowd:

There’s usually around 400 runners, some buggy runners bravely taking on the field.  I saw a  few dogs, though the sitepage says it’s a “no dogs” course, and quite a few adults accompanying thier under 11s.

It’s a popular one with toruists, I got chatting to a number of cow cowls and bobble hats, as well as some world tourists who were doing their 90th event!  Letter K is also a popular one for alphabeteers and name-spellers.  And look, a lesser spotted 500 shirt.

I got a shout out in the briefing as having come the furthest, and during the run got a “Well done Miss Northern Ireland!”, which was nice.

Gear:

I was wearing my purple Jog Lisburn top, with gloves and headband agaisnt the cold wind.  My purple skort is getting a bit tight, i really must lose weight. I’ve managed to find my missing zippy belt, and theres a ziped pocket in the back of the trousers where i kept my hotel key card, away from my phone.  No watch or music, so I was using counting to 100 and back down again as a distraction technique.  Hokkas were a good choice of footwear for this mixed terrain.

And the rest:

Well J was just amazing.  She looked stunning in her jacket by Adam Brady (not the Scottish dancer) and giant soled shoes.

A cross between Cruella de Ville and will.a.am.

The talent in the garden room at The Barbican was electrifying, and I really enjoyed meeting critic Donald Hutera, who I’ve followed on Twitter for some time.  And the awards ceremony was really well done, with short video clips of all the nominees shown in each category.

The next day I was able to meet up with my son, who’s working backstage on Magic Mike Live, an energetic and exciting show with lots of impressive dancing and cheeky audience interraction.

Thank you Magic Unicorn!

All my parkruns