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: Poolbeg

parkrun #255 event #62

Reason for visit: Dublin Scottish Dance groups’s annual dance.

I’ve attended this dance every year for the past 4 years, and each time I’ve managed to tick off another Dublin parkrun.  This year I was staying at the Uni halls of residence, Trinity Hall, in Rathmines and the closest event not yet done was Poolbeg.

Access:

I knew there wasn’t much parking nearby, and wanted to be considerate of residents, but I set my Sat Nav for Seaforth Avenue (since it reminded me of Ser Davos Seaworth in GOT), and found a pay and display car park with plenty of spaces.  It was 1 euro per hour, so I popped in a 2 euro coin.

I’d passed a few other car parks on the sea front, which would give you a nice little warm up jog before the start.  As I walked towards the start (doing the ususal lookout for other parkrunners), a taxi was letting out a group of about 6 obvious runner types.  And I met some others who had walked from the city centre.  So it’s good one to aim for if you are staying centrally.

Course:

From the start point, it’s back towards the city centre, a lap of Sean Moore Park, and when you pass the start point again that’s 1.5 km done.  From there, it’s 1km out through the Nature Reserve, one sneaky wee hill at the turn point,

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back to the start/finish point and another lap of Sean Moore.  There are a few parts where runners are going in both directions, so keep left, and the surface is largely packed gravel or tarmac. All the pinch points are well marshalled, and how fab is the view enjoyed by the person at the turnaround point!

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I absolutely loved the scenery, the sights and smells of the various flora, and the sounds of birds. And of course being by the sea always makes my heart sing.

Gear:

I’m still loving the cheers I get when wearing my 250 shirt.  My Garmin and headphones all behaved impeccably, and my cow cowl allowed me to identify other tourists.

Strangely-appropriate-song-on-shuffle:

Most of my playlist is Eurovision songs, but there is the odd Scottish Dance tune, and I love the music to Red House.

Crowd:

I was enormously struck by the diversity and community spirit. I met Alison, another northern lass who’d come down to see The Spice Girls, and we discovered a number of friends in common.  The crowd getting out of the taxi were cast and crew from “The King and I”, in town for 2 weeks, and I chatted to them about how my son, on another touring show, enjoys getting out with a few colleagues to get their Saturdays off to the best possible good start.  There must be potential for a “theatre touring parkrunners” group surely!  Doing the “Top Trumps” of number of events, furtherest travelled etc, I was doing quite well on my 62nd event, until Colin revealed he’d done over 200!  Mucho impressedo.

 

But what struck a real chord with me was the   Sanctuary Runners.  For people receiving Direct Assistance, who may have little access to physical exercise, this group makes sure they have the opportunity to take part in a parkrun each week.  What a fabulous way to embody the community “for everyone” ethos of parkrun.  And I’m going to explore if such a thing exists or could happen here in Norn Irn.

Facilities:

The start and finish are at the same point, so you can leave coats and stuff by the bench.  There are no nearby loos.  Post-run coffees are at the very lovely Dunne and Crescenzi, which serendiptously turned out to be right beside where I’d parked!  I thoroughly enjoyed my avo and poached egg on toasted sourdough with pistachio crumb – yum!  And I made myself useful by helping with the token sorting, one of my favourite jobs.

All my parkruns:

NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

 

parkrun tourism: Deerpark, Carlanstown

parkrun#241 event#57 Reason for visiting – to get Wilson Index number 9!

Access:

It was a really frosty morning when I visited, in fact 100s of parkruns were cancelled across the UK.  But the Facebook page had posted the night before that being a sort of trail run that it was likely to be frost resistant. So I kept the faith as I scraped the ice from my windscreen at 7.30 and set off.  I took the J16 turn-off south of Dundalk, which allowed me to call in to the Applegreen services before J15, as there are no loos at the event.  At Ardee I mistakenly carried on the N2 towards Derry, and had to backtrack and go INTO Ardee before finding the N52 towards Kells and Mullingar.  This road is VERY winding, so I couldn’t make up a lot of time.  But arrived with 5 minutes to spare, as opposed to my usual 20 minutes.

From the little village of Carlanstown itself, there were helpful yellow parkrun arrows pointing to the entrance to Deerpark.  Parking is at a premium, and I had to negotiate frosty grass to get into place.

Crowd:

The volunteers were super friendly, and were leading a warm-up session as I made my way to the start.  Only one other doggy, but quite a few younsters, and a good handful of walkers.

Facilities:

No loos, but tea and coffee and fruit is provided afterwards.

The start and finish are in different places, so a volunteer carried my shiny new Jog Lisburn puffa jacket to a shed by the finish.

Course:

There’s a short spur out to the main route, with a sharp left hand bend.

IMG_0745

 

From there it’s 3 rather undulating laps, with some cute motiviational signs, and each kilometre is marked.  It’s packed gravel/ trail all the way, which is good to run on.

Gear:

My Garmin behaved itself, my earphones worked, it was the opening match of the 6 Nations so I wore my Ireland rugby top, with gloves and headband as it was about 0 degrees.

Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

As I crossed into County Louth (Mornin’ Border!) the radio was playing Ride Like the Wind “Got such a long way to go, to make it to the border of Mexico….”

IMG_0749

Time:

Breathing was tricky in the temperatures, and I stopped on Lap 3 to take pictures, so I was pleased enough with a time just over 30 mins.  2nd in my age category…..to the woman who crossed the line 10 seconds ahead of me.

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All My parkruns:

all my parkruns

 

parkrun tourism: Ardgillan

Event # 54 parkrun # 224

Being the 14th birthday of parkrun UK, it was International parkrun day!  Last year I’d had the pleasure of joining a whole rake of UK parkrun tourists at Bushy Dublin (and producing a bottle of Bushmills for anyone who had “double Bushy-ed”).  But there were no obvious plans for this year’s get together.

However, the parkrun legend that is Nicola had hinted she might be at Ardgillan, just north of Dublin, and when local toruist Ben said he’d be heading there, I decided to join him at what was my 2nd closest NENDY.

Access:

This is an easy get-to for Norn Irn tourists.  Junction 6 on the M1, and it’s clearly marked with brown signs from there.  The Applgreen makes a handy stop for wee-wees and leg stretches, and make sure you have some euro coins for the Boyne Bridge toll. (é1.90 each way at time of writing)

Facilities:

Ardillan Castle is set in gorgeous surrounds, and is well appointed with car parking.  There is a large park as you enter the estate, and a smaller one closer to the start. 

There are cute loos on the edge of the castle, and a cafe that allows dogs for aferwards. Oh, and stunning sea views.  What more could you ask!

Course:

It’s a toughie!  Staring at the castle, it follows a gentle downwards track before 2 loops through forest, which have an upward undulating section, followed by a final uphill 300 m.

Even Minnie, my hill-getter-upper, was looking at me at this stage and going “you cannot be serious!”

Each km is well marked.

The surface is mostly gravel, with a few forest trails.  But those views!

Crowd:

There aren’t big numbers here, just over 50 on my visit, and that’s typical.  There’s a very relaxed feel to the pre-run brief, though we did get a shout out to Nicola doing her 400th run!

  For me, as a running-with-dog person, this was perfect.  The starting crowd thins out pretty quickly, and I cen let Minnie do her bit without worrying about tripping up or getting in the way of others.

 

Gear:

My darling husband had given me an early birthday present of bone-conduction earphones. Road races in NI are becoming more strict about using earphones while running, but these kind are acceptable as you can still hear what’s going on around you, cars, instrcutions from marshalls etc.  They were fab.

Strangely Approproiate Song On Shuffle:

I really enjoyed having music to accompany my run on this clear crisp Autumn morning, and my Eurovision soundtrack brought many smiles to my face. But the Dixie Chicks version of “Some Days You Gotta Dance” summed up my mood.

Time:

I was aiming for sub-30 and managed it.  I do hope I can come back some time to  try and knock off a few seconds!

All My parkruns:

NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

 

parkrun tourism: Dungannon Park

Event #51 parkrun #217

There’s always a debate about whether to attend inaugurals or not. For a regionnaire, the temptation is to keep that status up to date. But some parkruns prefer a soft launch so that they are not overwhelmed by unusually high numbers on day one, putting their volunteer team under stress. However, I hadn’t seen any requests to stay away from the first outing for NI’s newest baby, Dungannon Park. And so off I went!

Access:
There is a camping/ caravan park situated here, so the brown signs are very helpful. Directions on the parkrun page are spot on, and I only had a teeny disagreement with my sat nav before pulling into the car park. It’s just over 30 miles from me, practically all motorway, so about a 35 min journey. Definitely a feasible one to repeat easily.

Crowd:

I’d expected more at an inaugural: there were about 150, so I imagine the usual numbers will be about half that.  Local running clubs were well represented, there were a few dogs (Hi, other Minnie!) and at least one pram.  The RD and volunteer team were very friendly and welcoming.

Course:

The start is in a wide clearing a short distance from the car park.

This makes it easy for some speed-self-seeding, and the runners have thinned out by the time they get to a slightly narrower path around the lake.  There is a bit of a tight bridge at the top of the lake, but good running etiquette will prevent this becoming a bottleneck.

Past a stunning waterfall, up a short hill,

and then through the trees before reaching a rather challenging hill!

2 laps and a bit, so the finish line is a bit away from the start line, should you wish to leave coats and belongings somewhere.  The ground is either tarmac or gravel.  It is a very pretty course, with ducks, flowers, and some lovely foresty trail paths.  Minnie gives it paws-up!

Facilities:

Being at a caravan park, there is an excellent toilet block.  There are showers too, but they may only be available to people staying there.  If you were touring Ireland by motorhome or camping, this would be one to add to your itinerary. There is also a very pleasant cafe with a tempting array of ice creams!

Time:

I haven’t been running a lot recently, so I’m easing myself back in gradually.  I was happy enough with my pace on the first lap, but allowed myself to stop and take photos on the 2nd.  What is it I always say?  Never knock yourself out on a first visit – make it easy to come back and PB!  So a 32 minute bar which I will definitely be back sometime to beat.

Strangely Appropriate Song:

I was running without music – it does help when with a dog, to be able to call out and hear other people telling you where they are overtaking.  Plus running through woods like this I always like to listen to the sounds of nature.

And the rest:

I’ve missed parkrun recently becuse I’ve been away doing a dance course.  And I’ve just found out that I passed!  So there was a spring in my step, and a lightness in my soul.  And if you need a Scottish dance ceilidh some time, give me a shout 🙂

NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

 

What A Week: Wild Atlantic Way

The vision……
R has long fancied holidaying in a motorhome. The biker in him loves the call of the open road, and he likes camping weekends consisting of a lot of standing or sitting in fields doing not very much.  The plan was to rent one for a week, hit the west coast of Ireland with son and dog on board, and see how we got on.  You’ll love it, they said, you can just stop where you like, make a wee cuppa, enjoy the freedom and the relaxation, bond with nature. Yeah right.

R’s personality type means he likes things open, spontaneous, to be able to decide on the hoof.  By contrast, I like to research and plan. It was hard to find some common approach to the holiday, but we did agree it was sensible to book in somewhere for the first night, and wanted to do as much of the Wild Atlantic Way as we could.  So this gave me enough material to research.  I joined the Motorhome Craic facebook group, who were very friendly and helpful, and purchased the “Britstops” book, which gives deatils of some stopping places near local businesses (pubs, smokehouses, fruit farms etc).  My big worry was that we would driving around frantically at 6 or 7 at night unable to find somewhere to stay, so I drafted a rough itinerary with some suggestions.  Here’s how we got on.

Day 1: pick up van. Enniskillen

Handover, showing us where all the bits and bobs were and how to operate the various functions, including the all important chemical toilet.  We loaded up and set off for Enniskillen.  I sat in the back with Minnie, who was a bit restless at these new surroundings, and couldn’t find a comfortable spot. My first impression was of how rattly the van is!  There’s also no aircon, so it’s not the most comfortable of rides.  But we make it to Lochside Marina (£20, no extra for showers) with no issues, and do our first electric hook up (EHU).  I’d had hoped that the site would be close enough to the city centre to walk for fish and chips or something, but it was about a mile out.  We decided to get a Chinese delivered, which was rather tasty.  But I’m still struggling to see the attaction, plus being by the loch there’s quite a few biting insects around.

Day 2: Downpatrick Head

After a not-bad night’s sleep, I make tea!  And a one-eyed-jack (known in our house as Amy’s Eggs) for breakfast.  We headed for Sligo, where we would pick up the coastal route branded the “Wild Atlantic Way”.  This genius marketing ploy was devised by Leo Varadkhar when he was tourism minister, and since there were already a few coastal scenic atlantic drives in existence, it was just a matter of joining them up, adding a few wiggly signs, and sitting back to await the influx of tourists.

Except Sligo isn’t terribly helpful in pointing me in the right direction.  I scoured in vain for the wiggly sign, or even a sign for the airport, but all I can see is “Sligo Core” or “Sligo Ring”, which mean nothing to me.  We programme the sat nav for Strandhill, and shortly afterwards find a lovely pub restaurant called The Venue, with outdoor seating where we order lunch (chowder for me, roast lamb for R, fresh water for Minnie despite her barking at the kind waitress).  Parking in the car park is a bit awkward – we take up 2 spaces and hope that we don’t get blocked in.

We continue along the WAW, learning as we go how to differentiate between the main route (marked S or N) and the little fingers out to a viewpoint.  We stop at Lacken Strand, a vast expanse of golden sand with drones and air surfers overhead.  Minnie leaps to freedom and enjoys a few zoomies around the place.  It’s tricky drying off her paws, especially in such limited space.

Onward to Downpatrick Head, a spot which was recommended to us by a Swiss couple last night.  It’s a dramatic headland, and as we approach it in the afternoon sunshine we can see other headlands and islands dotted along he coastline to the west.  There are no stopping places to try to capture this in a photograph, but it would be impossible to do it justice even if there were.  The glorious panorama takes in big blue skies, azure seas, and green-grey granite slabs. I set off with Minnie towards the headland, but a sign says that dogs are not allowed, so I leave her back to the van with the boys and continue alone.  It is stunning – sheer cliffs, blowholes, and the 50m high Dun Briste sea stack.

 

Back in the car park, I order hot dogs and chips from Patsy’s van, and he delivers them to our door!

This is our first time trying “wild camping” ie no electric or water, and it feels strange to watch the car park gradually empty of day visitors and have the place to ourselves.  Well, almost, there is one other van in this car park, and another motorhome parked up in the next one down.  My hopes for a wild Atlantic sunset are dashed, though, as a surly sea mist rolls in and turns the sky 40 shades of grey.

We have problems with the chemical toilet, and decide that wild camping is not for us.  Patsy had recommended staying by the beer garden in Healys pub in Ballycastle, so that might have been a better option.

Day 3: Achill Island

Back on the coastal road, the views are stunning, but there are very few places to pull in.  What was that lie in the vision – you can just stop where you fancy? No, not really, you have to choose a spot that you can get in and out of safely without inconveniencing other road users.  But we find a great big car park opposite a fab Spar in Barr na Tra.  A fellow motorhomer with a lovely Boxer dog pulls in too, and we compare notes on how best to dispose of rubbish. The Irish government is promoting a recyling policy, and charging for landfill rubbish.  This does mean that there are very few bins around that we can use.  We try to keep recyclables separate and find the appropriate bottle banks etc, but I find that I’m using black bags, wet wipes and kitchen towel at a greater rate that I would at home, and can’t find many food watse disposal points.  But hey, it’s bound to be more environmentally friendly than flying somewhere.  Fuel topped up, and homemade scones purchased for later, we decide to skip Belmullet, and do the square loop at Blacksod Bay.  Suitable stopping point found opposite a pub, we turn on the gas to make soup and sandwiches.

After admiring the peaks of Achill over lunch, it’s lovely to make our way onto the island, and follow the signs to the newly opened Achill Seal Caves site (28 euro). The facilities are excellent, with loos and showers (1 euro for 3 minutes, plenty of space to leave towel and clothes), and a campervan servicing bay.  As I’m guiding the van into this, the rear brake light cover strikes a not-very-obvious grey wall and smashes. Ouch!  Oh well, it’s a bit of a rite of passage, and could have been much worse – no bodywork damage.  R gets the roll of clear tape and sets about doing the jigsaw of the smashed pieces.  The rest of us explore the beach.

It is golden sandy with rolling waves, but the sand is a little soft and rocky, and there are quite a few jelly fish washed up, so I’m not tempted to go for a dip.  The Strand Hotel nearby advertises “home cooked food all day!” but this turns out to be only at weekends,  So back to the van for rather tasty steak and veg that we brought with us.  Afterwards, we admire kites being flown on the beach, including an impressive whale, advertising a local pizza place.

Day 4: Keogh’s, Ballyconneely

The morning dawns cloudy but pleasant. so I take Minnie for a run.  However, the loose sheep give us problems: they see her and bolt, she sees them dashing off and wants to give chase. But it’s good to get the endorphins shuggling round my brain, and running on the beach in such surroundings is very therapeutic.

We pack up and head for Westport, one of the places I’d been looking forward to pottering around in.  But it’s a very popular spot, and driving through the town is more than a bit hair raising, with lots of cars double parked, and delivery vans reducing the available lanes.  So that vision of spending some time wandering among the colourful pubs and shops quickly vanishes.  We can’t see anywhere to park, so continue out along the southern shores of Clew Bay, and stop near Croagh Patrick, for a cheese-and-crisp based lunch. From there, it’s my favouite road in the whole world, the Doo Lough pass.  Again, not enough places to stop and photograph, but we enjoy the scenery around Killary Harbour and Leenaun.  Just past Kylemore Abbey, there is a narrow bit of road, and we see another motorhome approach us.  “Breathe in!” I say, but the 2 wing mirrors clip, at a combined speed of about 80 mph, and the mirrors pop out and smash.  We pull over, and the German couple do turn around and come back to us.  I get out the accident form and start completing it, my rusty German being tested severely (Indicator light? Mirror housing? And what date is it anyway?)  A Garda car stops and makes sure there are no injuries, and if we are happy enough just to exchange insurance details then he will leave us to it.  But it’s not just the mirror that is shattered – I’m feeling very stressed out after this, tensed up as if I was in a dentist’s chair, and my heart is in my mouth around each tight bend in the road.

Tonight we are staying at Keogh’s, one of the aires in my Britstops book, which is a large gravelly car park beside a pub-restaurant-shop-filling station. (You had me at pub-restaurant).  Manoevering is made a bit more difficult without a wing mirror, but we get set up, and head across the road to enjoy a super dinner in the outdoor seating area.  The menu is very impressive, and I am spoiled for choice, settling eventually for the seafood platter, including oysters, crab claws and steamed mussels.  It is absolutely delicious.

Day 5: Galway

Overnight, some travelling fair trucks have parked up near us, getting ready for this weekend’s Ballyconneely Show.  But we manage to pick our way out of the park.  No loos in the shop, which opens at 8, only in the pub, which opens at 10.  So we head off for Galway, having researched where the Ford parts dealer is, in the hope that a replacement mirror can be procured. Driving around the iconic stony green Connemara landscape, I imagine a sort of Craft-coffee-shop-with-loos, and lo and behold!  At Glinsk such a miracle appears!  It is lovely, with a very extensive gift shop where we spend some time, and beautiful gardens with a stunning view of the mountains.  I treat myself to a Connemara marble worry stone – just rub it and your worries will disappear!

Soon we are driving along Galway Bay, and stop at Spiddal to make ham-and-crisp sandwiches.  I have a little mosey around the Craft Village, with intriguing basketweaving, glass painting, silver jewellery etc shops.  Well worth a visit!

The sat-nav leads us through the narrow streets in Galway centre, where again double parking and delivery vans make the journey more difficult than it should be.  The parts place is on Headford Road, a large industrial and retail zone with a big Dunnes Stores, Halfords, and  a Pet World. Bad news is they don’t have that mirror in stock, but they can get one for tomorrow.  We head for Salthill camp and caravan park, to find them closed for lunch.  But we can wait.  It’s 40+ euros for the night!  There’s a per adult and per dog charge (what facilities is she going to be using?), 1 euro for shower, 50 cents for hot water to do dishes, 5 for laundry, another 5 for drying, and lots of dictatorial dos and donts on signs around the site.  Depending on which sign you read, check out could be 10.30, 11 or 11.30, so it’s obviously been a contentious issue. I can’t find the promised beach, but I do find Joyce’s supermarket, which is an absolute haven of edible goodies and local produce.  I buy some fancy artisanal yoghurt for breakfast, and some mushrooms which I add to a pack of microwave rice cooked in a saucepan, with crispy bacon for dinner.

I stroll along the coastal path in the evening light, before we join some fellow campers in the recreation room to watch the England-Croatia match.

Day 6: Lough Ennell

Minnie wakes early, and I take her along the coastal path as the sun is rising.  Some photographers are setting up tripods in the outdoor pool and diving area, but I’m not sure what they are expecting. I shower using a plastic bag method: put clean clothes in bag and hang on hook.  Take off dirty clothes and leave in a corner.  Shower, dry, put on clean dry clothes, and place dirty ones in bag.  I do some sun salutation yoga strecthes, and enjoy my hand-knitted hippy yoghurt in the sunshine.   All the hard stands have a grey water drain, so it’s simple enough to get everything ready to go.  Back to the motorparts place, I go for a bit of a walk, and enjoy a cup of tea and a croissant in Dunnes cafe.  I think that’s another thing I find hard on this sort of trip – finding some me-space.   The mirror arrives, R fits it easily enough, and we are soon underway.  We’ve chosen somewhere to stay tonight somewhere that’s on the way home, so it’s goodbye to the Wild Atlantic Way.  And goodbye to the City of Tribes which I didn’t really get to experience – I shall have to return some other time.

We set off on the N6, M6.  There are no service stations, but eventually we find a pull over place, and I rustle up soup and sandwiches and a mug-shot with added cheese for lunch.  Lough Ennell is well signposted, and is a large well spaced site with plenty of wide available spots with EHU and water.  28 euro.  There is a small shop on site (no wine….), but we get some bacon and eggs for dinner.  Being by the Lough, there are quite a few flies around, but a charming family of swans with a group of fluffy cygnets are playing by the water’s edge.  We settle in to watch Lilo and Stich on DVD, an old family favourite, and have an early night.

Day 7: Home

A good night’s sleep, a shower (1 euro), plenty of tea and bacon butties for breakfast, and I’m almost human again. An uneventful journey home (the van is much less rattly on smooth main roads), and we’re home mid afternoon, in time to give the van a good final clean before handing back.

Final verdict?  Motorhoming is not something I’ll be rushing to do again.  It’s a big beast which limits where you can park, and I like to be able to make tea, go pee, and have a shower, without it being a major faff.  But the scenery was marvellous, and I’ll definitely revisit the WAW some day.  Maybe in a sports car……

List of things we should have brought:

  • The list!  Which I thought I’d left on the kitchen table, but which turned up about 3 days in.
  • Scissors
  • Ziplock bags
  • cleaning wipes
  • J cloths
  • Hand towel
  • travel dog crate whcih can be used outside
  • Tether point for long lead
  • handwash
  • Crocs for everyone (I was the ony one who’d packed some, and had to share.  I should have charged by the 3 minutes, same as the campsite showers!)