Jersey parkrun

Event #64, and parkrun #262

Reason for visit – elusive letter  J at a dancing weekend.

Having fallen at Sixmilewater 6 weeks ago, my parkrun activity has been restricted to volunteering at juniors.  Including a memorable time with my “brunch bunch” chums where we ended up with a flat tyre! But that’s another story.

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Anyhoo, I’d been planning this trip for months.  It was to attend the Jersey Scottish dance weekend, I’d booked flights and accommodation, and spent every Wednesday night with my dancing travelling companions going through the rather tricksy dance program.  So I was dammed sure I wasn’t going to let a lousy broken metatarsal stand in my way of alphabeteering my letter J.

Access:

Flights to Jersey from Belfast only go once a week, but there’s a daily flight from Dublin.  I caught the X1 airport bus which picks up at Sprucefield and drops you to the door of the the shiny glass terminal for £17 return.  On the island, the Liberty bus service is superb, and the number 15 picks up right outside the airport door.  £2.30 cash fare, £2 if you use contactless, other day and 3 day fares are available, but make sure you’d actually use them.

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It’s the same bus you need to take you to the parkrun site at Les Quennevais (rhymes with kennedy) Sports centre.  Don Farm is the bus stop you need.

There’s ample car parking – although on the day I was there a hockey tournament was taking place, so parking places were a bit more scarce.

Crowd:

Understandably, a letter J is a huge draw for alphabeteer tourists, and I got chatting to quite a few cow cowls, AND a world tourist cap wearer!

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There were 414 this day – I know that cos I was tailwalker, so I was that number.

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As I set off, there was a granny, mum and daughter trio in front of me.  The daughter was in flip flops, and the granny in her 80s, so they only did one lap (and well done to them!)

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There’s a lead bike, a few prams and dogs, and LOTS of tourists. Biggest problem at the start line is keeping people QUIET!

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Course:

2 laps of the cycle track, and then breaks off onto a trail spur, with 2 turnaround points.  Well marshalled throughout, and I loved the cute umbrella hats that the volunteers wore.

I have to say, even with the glimpses of the sea at various points, it’s not the most dramatically scenic course, but it’s relatively flat (until that final uphill section), and either tarmac or packed sand/gravel underfoot.

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Facilities:

If you’re catching the bus from St Helier, there are loos there.

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Toilets also in the sports centre.  And the cafe does 10% off on presentation of your barcode.  So a mug of tea and a toasted teackae was less than £3.  And of course the cafe was packed full of chatty parkrunners, playing their Top Trumps and generally enjoying the post run adrenalin.

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Time:

I’ was walking, it took me just over an hour.  And oh, it’s good to be back!

And the rest:

My weekend in Jersey.

A dance weekend in Jersey

All My parkruns:

NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

 

parkrun tourism: pont y bala

parkrun# 254 event #61

Reason for visit: climbing Snowden with my son

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Harry is a keen climber/ hill-walker, and had already done Ben Nevis, Scafell and even been to base camp at Everest.  We had together climbed Slieve Donard and Carrauntoohil, the highest peaks in northern and southern Ireland, so I was delighted when he suggested we do Snowden together, to complete his set.

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Access:

We  stayed in ffestiniog, a tiny village in Snowdonia, a vast and rugged national park.  The tourist tool showed that the closest run was 15 miles away at pont y bala, which had just recently started.   I’d flown in to Liverpool John Lennon airport, which is 2 hours drive away. IMG_1142

The sat nav details on the course page took us via some tiny winding and gloriously empty roads to the large car park beside the fire station, which is now £3 for the required stay.

Facilities:

There are clean loos on site, start and finish are at the same spot right by the car park, so you can leave coats or bags there.  Coffee and chat post-run are in the Hub cafe nearby, and Bala has many other shops and restaurants should you wish to tarry a while.

Course:

Out and back, twice.  It’s a narrow path, and so no dogs are allowed (but a beautiful golden retreiver was inviting tummy rubs at the start). The surface is packed gravel, and all the turn points are well marshalled.

Crowd:

Numbers have been small to date, around 50-70, which gives a friendly welcoming feel.  I saw a few other cow cowls, and tourists were invited to sign the pb board.  A couple of buggies, and a few young people at arms length.  Visitors were encouraged to sign the pb board.

Gear:

I was debut-ing my 250 shirt, which is a very good quality technical fabric, and was lovely to run in.  My contra leggings – I’d had to send them back as the stitching was unravelling, so this replacement pair are performing better.  My Garmin found a signal easily, and my headphones were fine. I always travel in my second best trainers, and the Karrimors were perfect for this surface.

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Strangely-appropriate-song-on-shuffle:

It was Eurovision day, and I love running to some of my favourite songs from years gone by.  One of the most undermarked and overlooked UK entries is Joe and Jake with “You’re not alone”, which sums up parkrun to me.  My daughter had reminded me of Sheryl Crow “Every Day is a Winding Road” which was very much the soundtrack to driving around north Wales!  And I also reworked the lyrics to Alannis Morisset’s “Ironic” as follows….

It’s the post being late, with your milestone T

And your Garmin watch has a flat battery

The results are late, when you’ve got a PB

And do not forget your barcode

Isn’t it parkrun-ic….

Time:

I’d run 34 mins last week so was keen to replicate that.  Out and back twice meant divide target time by 4 and hit 8 to 9 minutes for each section.  Which I did.  Even with stopping for photos, I still made 34 something.  The first runner came home in 17 minutes, and was way ahead of the rest of the pack -much applause!

All My parkruns:

all my parkruns

And the rest:

Well, here’s a whole blog about  Climbing Snowden

But I loved my first visit to Liverpool, was really impressed by the friendliness of the people, and I got to sit next to Sir Ian McKellen!

 

Climbing Snowden

Note:  Never “Mount” Snowden – just the name, or the Welsh Yr Wyddfa.

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At 1,085 m, it’s the highest point on the British Isles outside of Scotland.  My son Harry is a keen climber, and had already done Ben Nevis, Scafell and Carrauntoohil, so he was keen to add this one to complete the set.  And I was delighted to tag along.

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I flew into Liverpool, and then we drove to Ffestiniog, a little village in stunningly beautiful Snowdonia National Park.  We stayed at Y Pengwern, which I would love to believe is Welsh for penguin, despite any evidence to support this.

IMG_1169 It’s a community run pub/ restaurant/ accommodation, and is very good value.  The staff were friendly and helpful, rooms comfortable, and the food and drinks tasty and well priced.  It’s the only facility in the village apart from a well stocked store, but nearby Blaenau Ffestiniog 3 miles away has a greater selection of restaurants and shops.

 

There are a number of tried and tested routes up the mountain, and we had originally planned to use the most popular and easiest Llanberis route.  But when we checked our location, it was on the other side of the mountain, about 40 miles away, and so we looked at closer trail heads.  Watkin’s Path was only 15 miles away, and appeared to be within our capabilities.

 

Car parking is available across the road from the start – the machine didn’t seem to be working, though.  And there are loos here too.

 

 

The route starts up some stone steps before opening out into lovely old woodland.  The birdsong was wonderful, and I even heard my first spring cuckoo!  I shall write to The Times forthwith.

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Coming out of the woodland the hillside was a hazy carpet of bluebells, with some pretty waterfalls to the right.  We passed Gladstone Rock, and remarked on the Welsh singing tradition (insert Bill Bailey cheese-on-toast gag here).

There was a ruined bulding, formerly used to house copper miners.  The copper gives the lakes their greenish tinge.  The path continues in slate steps and packed stone, and is very well maintained.

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Are there any fish in the clear pools, I wondered.  How would they get there, asked H.  Well, see, when a Mummy fish and a Daddy fish love each other very much….I explained.

After a brief stop for one of Harry’s sweet potato muffins, where a very enterprising seagull edged closer and closer to me, we reached the final and trickiest section, which was very steep and required some scrambling and hand holding.

I saw some slugs en route.  How did they get here?  Ans: very slowly.

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After having had the path mostly to oursleves, the busy cafe at the top, Hafod Eryri,  was a bit of a contrast.  It was very blowy, but there was a decent enough view despite the clouds.  The Llanberis path runs alongside a narrow guage and pinion railway, which does make the summit accessible for many people.  I was amazed at the number of dogs who had made the climb, and enjoyed reading all the information boards about the history, geology, and legends associated with the mountain.

My fingers had become red and swollen during the climb, and so I was alternating holding each hand up to my shoulder.  Occasionally I had both hands up, and I must have looked like a surrendering prisoner trotting along behind H.  On the descent I was tiring, and I stumbled now and again, but the only serious injury I sustained was a paper cut from the lid of my hot chocolate in the cafe.

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It took us 3 hours to get to the summit, and 2 1/2 to come back down.  Having been sunny all week, it was rainy when we got up, but the rain soon passed.  It was overcast, but clear, which was good climbing conditions.  And we felt very proud of ourselves once we’d finished.

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parkrun tourism: Bois du Boulogne, Paris

parkrun #249 event #60
Reason for visit: supporting a friend running the Paris marathon.

Access:
The parkrun website acknowledges that it can be hard to find the start of this one, and helpfully gives a guide for English speaking visitors. Having chosen my hotel based on its proximity to the parkrun, I was only a few metro stops away from Porte d’Auteuil, on line number 9. Be aware, this stop is on a little one way loop section, so you may find yourself going back one stop to change direction. Taking the “hippodrome” exit, I was getting my bearings when another runner came and joined us.

He had the co-ordinates on google maps, and so we continued together, comparing parkrun histories, and crossing the big dual carriageway into the main parc. At this point we should have hovered near the car park until more likely suspects arrived, but we continued into the woods, were unsure where we were, tried asking a few others for directions (my French is OK but rusty), were sent to a different running route, found a really helpful chap in blue with a dog, who made sure we found our way back to the start point. By which stage there were lots more runners assembling, familiar parkrun signs were visible, and marathon man Simon found us.

Top tip – stick near the car park, there’s bound to be runners arriving there.  Oh, and monsieur en bleu, merci mille fois.

Facilities:

There are no loos in the parc, but there is one just as you exit the Metro, which is free to use.  Post run coffee and chat takes place at the little kiosk.

A volunteer led those of us who wanted to deposit coats and bags at the finish, reassuring us that there would always be someone there.

Crowd:

Surprisingly parkrun is not that big in France, there are only 2 events in Paris.  This one usually attracts 40-50 runners, but every year during marathon weekend those numbers are quadrupled.  The pre run brief starting by asking if there was actually anyone French here – one hand went up.

And how many were here for the marathon? Lots of hands raised!  Couple of dogs and prams.

Course:

One big loop and then 2 smaller ones. The paths are packed soil and gravel or tarmac, and wide enough to avoid any bottlenecks.  It’s a popular spot for dog walkers, so look out for dog poo……

Strangely appropriate song on shuffle:

Since were were in la belle France, and had spent some time looking for the start, I did smile when the French Eurovision entry “J’ai cherche” came on.

Time:

My running times aren’t great at the moment, but I was happy achieving my target of 35 mins.  Interestingly, French parkruns take very seriously the “it’s a run, not a race” concept, and the results are listed alphabetically, rather than by position.  And the result email doesn’t say “you came second in your age category” or anything like that.

 

And the rest:

It certainly was a memorable weekend!  We went along to the start of the marathon on the Sunday, a straight run on the metro from our hotel, and at each stop more runners got on, filling the carriages with the rustle of plastic bags and the smell of Tiger balm.

We’d agreed to meet Simon and his friends at the Disney Store, and volunteered to take their bags to the drop off zone.  While we were waiting, a girl came up and explained that she was supposed to be meeting Paul here, but she was late, and if we saw him, he had brown hair and maybe a beard, could we tell him that Helen had gone on……After watching the various time groups set off, we struggled to find the place to deposit the bags, and things got a little fraught as time was ticking by.  But, mission accomplished, we made our way to Porte d’Auteuil again, which was Mile 21, where we’d arranged to supply Simon with a bottle of flat coke to get him past “the wall”.  The sun was shining, a samba band was playing, we found a brasserie to enjoy a glass of wine in, and followed Simon’s progress on the brilliant marathon tracker app.  Flat coke duly handed over, we were delighted that he beat his target time of 4 hours.  Other Simon who I’d met at the parkrun did it in an impressive 3hr 15!

On the Monday, we checked out of our hotel and decided to pass a few hours on an open top bus, to save our legs and lugging bags around.  As I went through the metro turnstile, the flappy door which stops tailgaters came back and whacked me on the eyebrow.  You know how in cartoons there are little birds and stars flying round a whacked person’s head? That.  And my brain was going “Oh, someone’s going to come and ask me what happened, and I’m not sure how to say that in French, is it le truc m’a frappe?”  Meanwhile my husband was trying to stop me sobbing, and offering me a tissue for the blood that was dripping.  And no, no staff members came over to see if I was OK.  Once on the metro, the dirty looks my poor husband was getting….

Open top bus was a sensible use of time, and the bright sunny morning showed Paris in all its glory.  We passed Notre Dame, remarking on what a beautiful old building it was was, and then made our way out to the airport.  It was only when the plane landed back in Belfast, and everyone turned their phones back on, that a collective gasp spread amongst the passengers, seeing the news of the terrible fire that had taken place in the cathedral, everyone saying “but we were only there a few hours ago!”

All my parkruns:

 

All my parkruns

parkrun tourism: Weymouth

parkrun #246 event #59

Reason for visit: Scottish Dancing at the local group’s annual Highland Ball, invited by my fellow teaching candidate Irene.

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Access:

The parkrun takes place at Lodmoor Park, down near the beautiful seafront.  How many places have a town beach!  We arrived in style in Irene’s MX5, and parked for 50p an hour.  Free car parking is available a little further away in the College.

I’d travelled from Ggeorge Best Belfast City airport to Southampton, and bumped into local sleb Julian Simmonds doing his bit for Red Nose Day.

 

Crowd:

There were over 300 runners this visit, and a great range of ages and abilities. It was the final of the 6 nations, and there was some good natured rugby banter with some runners from England and Wales.  And plenty of cow cowls to be seen.  I was the runniest female.

I admired one guy in his vest with tags from all the parkruns he’d visited.  Some very fine looking doggies were also  participating.

Facilities:

There are toilets at the car park (though I coudn’t work out how to open the door), and all the equipment is stored in a little shed, where runners can also leave coats etc.

Volunteers:

I have to give a special mention to the volunteers, who included one Gregory Bailey, the first person to run 250 parkruns with no repeated events., as well as a “Friendship” and a “Dance”.

Today he was sporting a boot on his injured foot, poor thing, but his sister posed for photos with me.   There was a lead bike, and a new role to me – a buddy runner.

For newbies or anyone who might struggle and need a bit of support, running around the 35-40 minute pace.  What a super idea!

Course:

The surface is a bit of tarmac with a lot of compacted gravel, and can get muddy.  Having said that, Storm Hannah was causing havoc for parkruns up and down the country, and Weymouth got away lightly with just a stiff breezze to contend with.  It didn’t seem too bunchy at the start, a lap and a bit round the miniature train track, and then it’s out and back to the pineapple statue by the park and ride, which has its own dedicated marshall.

There’s a section here where runners are going in both directions, so keep left. No real hills to worry about, and I tried a hop skip and jump to get a flying feet photo.

Wooden km markers.

Time:

I was happy enough to knock 3 minutes off last week’s time though I still have lots of room for improvement.

 

Unexpectedly Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

An all time favourite – Some Days You Gotta Dance by the Dixie Chicks.

 

Gear:

My Garmin had a flat battery so I didn’t know my pace, but I’m learning how to guage that without the use of a watch.  Headphones worked well.  Apricot T and cow leggings make it easy to find myself in photos ( for which many thanks to Ken Hewitt).

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And the rest….:

I think this might be my most southerly run to date.  I was absolutely charmed by Weymouth, with its bascule bridge, and even found a pub selling Muff gin, which I needed for a photo competition.  Muff is a little village on the Irish border, before you ask.  The dancing on Saturday evening was lots of fun, and it was wonderful to meet up with old and new friends.  I dare say I’ll be back!

All my parkruns:

NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

 

parkrun tourism: Coventry

Event #55 parkrun # 225

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My little darlings are both in showbiz, which often sees me poring over tour schedules, trying to match up cheap flights, affordable accommodation and nearby parkruns.  It’s very rare that they are in the same place at the same time, but this year, on my birthday, all the stars seemed to align!

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Except…….

Storm Callum arrived.  My Friday morning flight had been due to take off at 8.30 am, and Jemima’s show was in Coventry at 7 pm.  I’d been saying all week I could cope with a delay of several hours.  But FlyBe made the decision to cancel all their morning departures from Belfast City airport, leaving me in a bit of a panic, booking alternatives.  (To be fair to FlyBe, propeller planes do not take kindly to the gale force winds that we were subjected to).  So EasyJet to the rescue, from the much maligned Belfast International.  Check in and security were all very smooth, and I caught a train from Birmingham International straight to Coventry with no problems.

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Saw Jemima’s show, i-Infinite that evening, and was ready for my Saturday morning parkrun fix.

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Access:

I was staying at the Ibis hotel close to the station, which was an easy 15 minute stroll to War Memorial park.   There are a number of buses which pass by, and a decent sized car park.

Facilities:

I was there well before 8.30, but already the team of volunteers was setting up (and storm Callum wasn’t helping them keep the cones in place!).  This is a large parkrun, so a small army of volunteers is needed.  They were very friendly and welcoming, and pointed me in the direction of the loos, in a very smart looking building.

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Loos are clean and warm, and are opened about 8.30.  I got chatting in the queue to a local student, and also the tail-walker/ first-timers-briefer for today.  This is also the cafe where runners meet afterwards for cake and conversation, and where I enjoyed a bacon butty and cup of tea for under £5.

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Course:

2 and a bit laps around the beautiful park.  In October when I visited the trees were looking stunning in their autumnal splendour, but causing quite a bit of twigs and seed cases on the ground.  It’s mostly tarmac all the way, not totally flat, but with cheery and encouraging marshalls at various points ringing bells and calling out “keep smiling!”.  There’s a finish funnel, so keep in order and keep moving.  Scanning takes place up by the cafe.

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Crowd:

It’s a University town, so expect a good few speedy twenty-somethings.  The start has signs for you to line up based on your expected finish time, which does make for a smoother and less bottle-necked first 200m. IMG_0355

There were also a couple of dogs and prams, and a wide age range from under 10s to….ahem, people even older than me.  Numbers are usually around 600.

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Gear:

I’d forgotten to bring any sort of waist belt or pouch!  When I’m running with Minnie there is a zippy pocket on the running belt, and I always have something to transport poo bags and treats.  So I had to be inventive – I tucked some money and my hotel key into my wristband/ sweatband, and shoved my phone into my sports bra.  My Garmin and headphones worked perfectly.  I wore my black 100 shirt, and my cow cowl, which was recognised by fellow tourist Beth,  though this is her local run.

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Time:

Ugh, 35 minutes.  But you know what?  It doesn’t matter.

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And the rest:

After a welcome shower back at the hotel, I caught a train to Birmingham New Street, which is a massive station with its own branch of John Lewis attached!  Harry’s theatre, the New Alexandra, was right beside the Station Street exit,

and we met for a lovely lunch at Cherry Reds cafe.  Service a bit slow, but funky and fabulous food. Motown the Musical is a non-stop feel good megamix of hits – guaranteed to leave you smiling.  And a busy show for Harry as Head of Automation, lots going on all the time.

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I caught a train back to the airport station, my goodness this is a big airport!  I’d had to get on the phone to FlyBe earlier, since if you don’t take your outward flight they automatically cancel your return leg. But my 8 pm flight was very hassle free, and I was back home at 9.30 pm.  That was certainly a fun packed couple of days, and a birthday to remember.

All my parkruns:

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!)