Scotland 2021 – In Flora’s Footsteps

Day 1

An early start to catch the 7.30 ferry to Cairn Ryan.  This becomes somewhat of a theme.  We had booked seats in the Hygge lounge, highly recommended for some peace and quiet in comfy seats.  Covid restrictions on-board included mask wearing while moving about the ship, social distancing in queues, and a limit on the number of people allowed in the shop.

As we headed north, I felt echoes of Scottish dances as we passed signs for Ardrossan, Dumbarton, Breadalbane.

We crossed the lofty Erskine Bridge and stopped at Starbucks for a quick lunch.  Limited seating indoors, and a one-way system.

The road up the side of Loch Lomond is quite narrow, very busy, and there are a number of roadworks.  This was our longest driving day, and our next stop was at the famous Green Welly, where travellers can take a comfort break, get a coffee, something to eat, and browse the extensive range of gifts and outdoor gear.  I got a jigsaw, a tartan notebook (in which to record these thoughts and observations), and a Green Welly bauble for the Christmas tree!  I buy a new decoration each year, usually on vacation, as it’s lovely to have these reminiscences when decorating the tree in the first weekend of December. It’s tradition, dontchayno.

From here, the scenery really becomes glorious, especially the stunning steep sided Glen Coe.  Though I’m never quite sure whether as a Campbell I’m strictly allowed here….

We were staying in the Ben Nevis Hotel in Fort William.  It’s a bit outside the town centre, but has plenty of parking.  It’s showing its age and is a bit rough round the edges.  There is a swimming pool, but you need to book a time, so I wasn’t that organised.  We also had to book a time for dinner, so at 6 pm we settled at our table in the bar.  It is table service only, and they are quite strict about this.  The staff appeared to be struggling, and weren’t really watching the room.  I know the hospitality industry has suffered greatly during the pandemic, and post-brexit it is difficult to recruit new employees for this type of work. 

The food arrived – but no cutlery.  Even though the knives and forks are in a basket on the bar top, you are not allowed to go and just lift some.  My salmon and prawn starter was tasty, but the spinach tortellini got a bit cold during the wait for cutlery.  The waitress didn’t know what wine they had, or what the soup of the day was.

The England football match was on.  It was being shown on a big screen in a large room next to the bar – you were supposed to book a seat, but that did not deter some determined fans who snuck in anyway.

We spotted the “Harry Potter” steam train shunting into a nearby siding, and that gave us an idea for the next day’s adventure…..

I fell asleep during the football and only discovered the next day that Italy had won!  I knew I had a bet on them so I waited for the betting site to let me know what my winnings were.

Day 2

Having seen the Hogwarts Express we decided to see if we could get tickets on The Jacobite, a famous steam train that goes twice a day between Fort William and Mallaig.  Seats, especially first class, are booked out months in advance, but a helpful sales assistant on the phone revealed that there are a few seats available on the day from the train itself.  Cash only (£49 each), queue up where indicated and then head for coach D.  Be careful where you leave your car – don’t park in Morrisons car park, use the Long Stay one instead (£4 for 10 hours).

The train itself has a teensy Harry Potter shop where you can purchase chocolate frogs, every flavour jelly beans, magic wands etc, as well as jigsaw puzzles featuring the famous viaduct.  (It even appears on the back of a Scottish tenner!) There’s a small buffet car too, but you can bring your own food on board, so I bought a packet of haggis crisps in the shop in the station.

The passengers are a mix of Potter fans and steam train nerds.  The view from the left hand side approaching the viaduct is the better one, and there is a short stop in Glenfinnan where we admired the old carriages and even a snow plough.  A kilted piper stuck up a few tunes – I was tempted to ask if he knew Flora McDonald and offer to dance…..

The train has a distinctive noise and feel – the chuff-de-chuff and “I think I can, I think I can” chant as we rattle along, the smoke obscuring the view from the windows coming out of tunnels, and the little black “smutties” that come through the open windows.

We stopped for precisely one minute at Ardrisaig.  This is so that the train spotters can say that they have been to the most westerly mainland railway station.

Past the Sands of Morar (another dance) and we are soon pulling into Mallaig station, where lots of seagulls are nesting.  The nearest loos are just past the police station, and cost 30p, though you can pay contactless.  Mallaig is a busy port, with fishing vessels and Cal-Mac ferries, as well as plenty of cafes and restaurants.  We found the cute little Harry Potter shop in Haggard Alley, where I was tempted by the Cloak of Invisibility. 

Lunch was in The Cabin, a delicious meal accompanied by a salad mercifully free of red onion, and some friendly service.

We left Mallaig at 2.10, I haven’t quite worked out how the engine got to the other side of the train, for there is no turntable.

One coach was now empty, as the passengers had only journeyed one way, so we were able to find seats on the side with the better view.  There are loads of bystanders and onlookers waving in the vicinity of the viaduct itself, and people also  wave and video and photograph from the road which runs parallel to the track for most of the journey.  On a sadder note, the only white wine on board was sauvignon blanc.

Back just after 4, the weather was a wee bit dreich, as they say in these parts, so we didn’t attempt any more sight-not-seeing.

I don’t think my emails are updating properly – still haven’t heard from the betting site.

Day 3

Early start, and after breakfast we set off around 8 am.  We stopped at the Glenfinnan Monument, where Bonnie Prince Charlie  ( to give him his full name Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart)  raised his standard to commence the Jacobite Rebellion.  The view from the little mound behind the visitor centre is amazing.  It’s a short uphill walk, but definitely worth it.

We reached Mallaig at 10, where we were catching the ferry over to Armadale on Skye.  It was a bit misty and murky, but at £16 for the crossing, this is easily the best way to get to Skye.  Had a cup of tea, saw no dolphins.

We stopped for lunch in the Broadford Hotel, rather fine bowls of Cullen skink with warm crusty rolls. 

I’d read of the legend of Sligachan Bridge, (built by Thomas Telford), where a local female warrior Scathach did battle with our own Cú Chulainn, but when they resolved their differences without causing mass world destruction the fairies granted the gift of eternal beauty to anyone who immersed their face in the river for 7 seconds.  Made perfect sense to me, and of course I had a go!  So if you don’t recognise me next time we meet this’ll be why. There is also a statue of a pair of mountaineers who mapped out routes in the mighty Cuillin Mountains.

The next stop was colourful Portree, where we had an ice cream and a wee dander.  As we had plenty of time, we decided to try going to Flora McDonald’s grave and memorial, but it was a narrow and twisty single track road so we gave up.

We stayed at the Skeabost View B and B, it’s a little bit remote but has lovely views, and a friendly and welcoming host.  After a bit of chillaxing time, we drove back into Portree for fish and chips by the pier.  There’s a bit of a wait for these, as it’s a really popular spot.

Back at the B and B we enjoyed watching the sun set and the tide come in, while spotting rabbits in the fields and a sea eagle soaring overhead.

Day 4

We had ordered breakfast the day before.  Very fine black pudding indeed comes from Charles Macleod.  I had veggie sosig and scrambled legs.  We had another early start to catch the ferry at Uig, and were there just before 8.30. There’s not much in Uig, but a rather nice little pottery shop does have some tempting wares.  This ferry (to Lough Maddy on North Uist) goes at some peculiar times, and not the same time every day, so double check if you are planning on using this route.   The views departing Skye are just gorgeous, and there’s plenty of spaces in the lounges, but it’s breezy on deck!  Cal-Mac are quite good at keeping social distancing, especially at avoiding congregating on stairs when returning to vehicles.  Saw no dolphins.

We arrived in the Outer Hebrides to rather grey and overcast weather, but made our way down some narrow lanes to Baleshare Beach.  Windswept and deserted, large pebbles, turquoise surf rolling in, and a very strong breeze!

The guidebook that I’d bought at the Green Welly didn’t show many roads on the map, but it did have an attraction in “Flora McDonald’s House”.  It took a bit of hunting down, and was reached down a farmer’s lane, where at the foot of the mound on which it stood were a group of cows and what appeared to be a bull.  I made my way to the monument with some trepidation, trying to exude lots of “I come in peace!” vibes to the cattle, but it was unnerving.

The memorial could really do with some (OK, a lot) of TLC.  There is an inscription, but it was so old I couldn’t make it out.  I had planned to video myself doing the highland dance “Flora McDonald’s Fancy” on this spot.  I started, but went wrong in the second step as I was a wee bitty nervous about antagonising the coos!  So I abandoned that and tiptoed my way back to the car saying “there there, nice cattle” in what I hoped was a soothing voice.

Having left from Skye and already been on North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist, we thought we might as well add another island to our itinerary, and crossed the causeway to Eriskay, bemused by the “Otters crossing” sign as we did.  The causeway only opened 20 years ago and was a much welcomed transport link.  We visited the well-stocked Eriskay shop, where I bought a colourful wall calendar for next year.  And had a drink in Am Politician, the pub named after the vessel which ran aground near here carrying a valuable cargo of whisky, inspiring the book and film “Whisky Galore”.

Our stopover this evening was the Borrodale Hotel, in a lovely room that had recently been refurbished and has a bath with Jacuzzi jets!  Their anti-Covid measures were being very well observed, with one way systems and social distancing.

Dinner was langoustines and seafood linguine, though I was disappointed to find crab sticks as part of the seafood.  Early to bed as we had a very early start next day to catch yet another ferry.

Day 5

The hotel had provided a takeaway breakfast for us as we were leaving so early – fruit juice, sandwiches, crisps, piece of fruit, yoghurt and a chocolate biscuit.  We arrived just before 6 am at Lough Boisdale terminal, which is small but efficient. This was a long ferry crossing, and I found a good spot on the top deck to take in the stunning views as we left Uist, and sailed between Skye and the “cocktail islands” of Eigg, Muck and Rum.  And Canna.

Saw dolphins!  Several pods of orca, with their black fins repeatedly breaking the surface.  A keen passenger with binoculars did exclaim “whale!” at one point, but I didn’t see it.

Disembarking was well organised, with staff ensuring that there was no congregating on the stairs.  We were quickly off into Mallaig (again) and back down the Road to the Isles.  We had hoped that our timings might allow us to photograph the Jacobite as our paths crossed, but it was stopped at Glenfinnan station as we passed.

The sun was shining on Ben Nevis and the surrounding scenery as we made our way to Oban and the Great Western Hotel.  There is some parking to the front, which is £6 per night and protected by lockable bollards.

We took an “aimless wander” along the seafront, and had a drink at the Oban Inn, watching the constant stream of maritime traffic across the bay.  Continuing on to South Pier I had scampi and chips while he had battered black pudding!

Back to the hotel we checked in and unpacked.  I walked up the steep hill to McCaig’s folly, where I posted a “where’s Linda” Facebook picture.  And lo, one of my old pals from Luxembourg said that she lives in Oban and we arranged to meet for coffee the next day.

We had dinner at Coast – I had veggie curry which was rather nice.

Day 6

I found a chatbox on my betting site to see why my winnings hadn’t been paid out…..only to discover I’d bet on the wrong flippin’ competition!  I headed out early for a run, and my headphones were not working, so I was full of self-recrimination and negative thoughts as I ran to Ganavan Sands, where the parkrun would be, if it were on.

Breakfast was a bit slow, having to wait to be served, and for tea/ coffee top ups. 

We had hoped to visit the “hollow mountain” dam at Cruachan, but their phone line said that they would remain closed throughout 2020 (sic).  (Rumour has it a major blockbuster movie is currently being filmed there).  Instead, we visited the rugged stronghold at Dunstaffnage Castle, home to my Campbell ancestors, and where Flora McDonald was held after BPC’s escape.  The castle is currently closed to visitors, but there’s a lovely old chapel in the grounds, and the information board mentioned other old stones at Ardchattan Priory, so we went there next.  But while the Priory is open to walk around its extensive gardens (£5), the stones are a good 1800m walk away.  Across a field.  Uphill.  With livestock.  So we didn’t.

In Connel we attempted finding the Falls of Lora but without success.  For future reference they are a weir under the bridge, so check the tide times for the best views of kayakers attempting it.

Back in Oban, we tried to book a table in famous fish restaurant Ee Usk, but nothing was available, so instead we booked at the Piazza next door, given that it had lovely views over the bay. We had a light lunch of mackerel pate and Haggis pot at the Oban Inn, though we had to wait for cutlery to be brought out.  After an ice cream we had a quick potter round the charity shops, where I found an aboyne blouse for my highland dancing.  Then I went to Roxy’s bakery on Argyll Square where I met up with Clare, and we chatted about old times over a tasty lemon and blueberry slice.  She’s a bit of a whisky expert so we took a quick look into the shop at the distillery in the centre of town, and she gave me some tips and suggestions for what I might like.

I changed into a holiday maxi dress for dinner, and we headed to la Piazza.  We shared a garlic flatbread to start, and then I had very tasty seabass on leeks and linguine.  But the noise levels inside this glass box were rising alarmingly, and I slipped out as soon as I had eaten.

Wandering back to the hotel, a piper on one of the boats docked at North Pier struck up a few tunes.  I should’ve called over and asked if he could play Flora McDonald, but it was probably a bit too slippy to dance on the slipway.

Day 7

For breakfast I had fruit salad and a croissant.  The weather was a bit misty, but we braved the tight and twisty road up to Pulpit Hill, where we enjoyed great views of the bay, even though we couldn’t see too much of the islands beyond.

We took the long way round the Argyll coast to our next destination, and even managed a detour to the Clachan Bridge onto Sheil Island, the “Bridge over the Atlantic”.  This is a scarily steep bridge, we were astonished that lorries and coaches made their way over it.  It is the only way onto and off the island – so don’t listen to the satnav telling you to carry on down the road to Easdale, you’ll just have to come back on yourself.

A brief stop off at Loch Melfort Hotel to enjoy the view, and then a stop at Lochgilphead for lunch.  There is an extensive programme of work upgrading the seafront, I look forward to returning when it is complete.  We dined in a little Italian chipper, where I had a mozzarella and mushroom toastie, before getting an ice cream while we wandered to the teeny stone bridge at the edge of town and carefully crossed the road to see the Crinan Canal.  Sadly no boats were passing needing to use the swing bridge.

Our journey continued along the sumptuous shores of Loch Fyne and through Inverary.  We had a break in the Loch Fyne Oyster complex, where I stocked up on a few essentials (Oban chocolates, haggis crisps, seaweed lip balm) in the little deli, before reaching the Tarbet Hotel.

This is a very old brownstone building which stands right on a major junction in north Loch Lomond.  Traffic heading further north to Oban and Fort William makes a right hand turn here, and it is amusing (and a little scary) to watch some vehicles miss the main turn off and then try to cut down the lane meant for traffic approaching from the other direction.  I’m amazed there aren’t more accidents here! The sun was shining, we had a table outside, and the views across to Ben Lomond over the sparkling water were beautiful.

I was a little concerned at their Covid practices.  Everywhere else we had been was strict table service:  here, you just grab a table that’s free, even if there are empty glasses and crockery on it (ie it has not been sanitised between uses), and then queue at the bar for your drink.  The staff try to remind people to socially distance and wear masks, but it’s not well observed.  The revolving door was in use (at the last hotel their revolving door was NOT to be used). 

The hotel is showing its age, the floors are a bit uneven and creaky, and whilst there is a lift, you still have to negotiate stairs to get to your room.  The bedroom itself was bright and airy, though with the road nearby it’s noisy.

We’d ordered a set dinner.  I had mushroom arancini, which were not bad, and he had filo wrapped prawns.  For mains, I had the only veggie option which was a curry.  It was OK, could’ve been spicier and a few more chickpeas wouldn’t go amiss.  R ordered lamb but without the mint gravy.  Of course, it came swimming in gravy. For dessert I had churros with a very nice chocolate sauce.

After dinner we walked to the loch shore.  It’s a very busy spot, full of motorhomes and picnickers.

Day 8

Worst. Breakfast. Ever

I’d gone for an early morning run, which instead turned into a hike through the Tarbet Isle woods, with some lovely views over the loch. Came back, showered, and we went down for our allotted time of 9 am, since we were not in a huge rush.  We had booked this location as it’s only about a 3 hour drive from here to the ferry home.

Tea and coffee came OK, as well as some rather nice toast.  I ordered porridge, R the cooked breakfast with no bacon, beans or tomato, but extra haggis and 2 poached eggs.  We waited.  And waited.  After 25 mins R went to chase up the missing food.  A large bowl of grey goo with an unwiped splodge on the edge of the plate was given to me.  R got a plate containing…..2 poached eggs and some haggis.  We complained again, and asked for extra toast.  I pushed around my rather unappetising porridge, which had neither honey nor compote that the menu had promised. R’s plate arrived back.  The eggs were hard, as was the tattie scone and lorne sausage.  We asked to speak to the manager, or the most senior person in charge.  He agreed it was unacceptable, and deducted the cost of breakfast from our bill.

I do get it, staff are hard to come by and need time to be trained.  But this was clearly not just an issue for ourselves, given some of the recent reviews on Trip Advisor.  I had a bet on the extra toast arriving, but no surprises given my gambling prowess that it did not.

Packing and checkout done, we took a route via Garelochhead which avoided the heavy traffic down Lomond’s side.  This is still the nuclear naval base, which provided for a different sort of view.  We stopped in Helensburgh for an ice cream at Dino’s, admiring the black sails of the boats racing on the water.

Back across the Erskine Bridge and the scenery is a lot more mundane.  Slow moving traffic and roadworks held us up a bit, and I didn’t get to do a five minute stop for shortbread-and-tablet-for-the-office.  Ach well, it’s for their own good!

Final ferry home was grand, I do love watching the H&W cranes loom large as we approach.  No dolphins though.

Haste Ye Back, say all the signs as you leave a wee village or toon.  Don’t worry, we will.

The One With The Travelling 60th Tee – part 1

Well, this started with my cousin’s 60th birthday. Which happened to be in March 2021. The UK was still in the throes of Coronavirus restrictions, so his party was held over Zoom. I thought it would be amusing to get him a special T shirt to wear, and I duly found and ordered one off t’internet.

Except it didn’t arrive in time for the actual do 😦 So what to do? Keep it give it to someone else? Give it to D anyway as a souvenir? As I ran the options passed him we came up with a more brilliant idea – I would pass it to him, he would pass it on to someone else having their 60th in the near future, who in turn would pass it on…..you get the picture. Bit like those bottle bags which continually get passed from giver to recipient, or the theory about there only being one box of After Eights. All being well it might arrive back with me for my 60th in October. When hopefully we won’t be in lockdown or quarantine any more and I can have a proper party. Yay!

The rules – such as they are- take a photo wearing the T, send it to me, and I’ll do a blog entry on who’s wearing it, where, and what shenanigans it got up to. And who’s next. We did consider awarding bonus points for Most Interesting Stain, but that just sounds like asking for trouble with a capital T. hashtag60Tee

I got some takeaway coffees and we did a doorstep handover. Good luck, lil Tee shirt, travel safe!

While you’re here, if you’d like to make a donation to my marathon fundraising please click the link below. And let’s get everyone smiling.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Linda-Harley6?utm_source=Sharethis&utm_medium=fundraising&utm_content=Linda-Harley6&utm_campaign=pfp-email&utm_term=6712ef4f37c8474abddc1546696e9878.

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.

bothforme

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: Kingston

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

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

Access:

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

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

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

Facilites:

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

First timers briefing takes place here also.

Course:

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

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

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

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

Crowd:

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

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

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

Gear:

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

And the rest:

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

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

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

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

Thank you Magic Unicorn!

All my parkruns

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!

jersey tourists

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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