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The Pococks in Ireland and Scotland 2012 PDF Printable Version E-mail

POCOCKS TRAVELS in IRELAND & SCOTLAND

Audrey and Graham Pocock
November 2012

Continued from the following series:

Pococks Travels from Norway to Greece

Pococks Travels in Turkey Part One

Pococks Travels in Turkey Part Two

Pococks Travels from Turkey to Ireland

We met Audrey and Graham in January 2012 at Camping Finikes near Finikounda in the Greek Peloponnese. A retired Australian couple, touring Europe and Turkey in their motorhome (Bruce) bought in the UK, they left Finikes at the beginning of February. Audrey sent accounts of travels in Turkey and now continues with a journey through Ireland and so into Scotland, the country of Audrey's birth.

Ireland (continued)

My last article finished in Donegal on the beautiful RosGuill peninsula

Continuing from there was a delight to the eye – all of Donegal is lovely, wild, desolate and rocky. AND green! No wonder they call it the Emerald Isle. That would be on account of the rain of course, of which we were growing fed up. Now on looking back we know that it was one of, if not the, wettest summers on record.

We continued southwards and then west to County Mayo. We stopped at the Ceide Fields, a prehistoric site, which had been covered by a blanket bog for thousands of years. Underneath was revealed a unique Neolithic landscape, with evidence pointing to a community having lived there. Very interesting, as no one knew of it until it was discovered by a farmer in the 20th century. The entry was real value for money, as not only do they take you around the site outside, but you are shown a film and there is also a museum. 2 hours for 3 euro: not bad!

Connemara was so beautiful. Rugged and full of stones. I am told there are 12 Bens there (mountains) but, to be sure, we didn't get to see one single one of them (because of the low cloud), shame and all. The National Park was soaked and the peat - well sod the peat!! I was upset to say the least and would have liked to go back and round the road again but old father time was pushing us on.

Seriously, peat is certainly still in demand today and there is enough to last for a few more hundred years. It is such a familiar site in Ireland, dug up in the shape of the implement and left to dry out. There is no other country that peat has made such a mark on as it has in Ireland.

We followed the coastline down to Westport and had our first flavour of Irish music in Matt Malloy's pub. Fiddle music. Trouble is, they don't start until about 9.30 pm and by that time we're always ready to call it a day. Westport is a lovely little town, once we cleared the windscreen wipers. Very clean, neat and tidy; even the river was getting a spruce up with two council men in up to their waists trying to collect all the weeds and flora that were floating around.

And then it was on to Galway, which we loved. We parked at the port along with lots of other motorhomes and walked the 5 minutes into town. Galway is a student town and is loud and friendly. Its pubs are great. We walked from one to the other and managed to see some Irish dancing in one of them. The street scene is fantastic too and draws large crowds. What a fun place. We spent a good hour with a lovely young Irishman listening to the craic. A town definitely to be recommended.

From there we drove to the Burren and then on to a little place called Doolin, where we parked behind the ticket office for the Aran Isles. It was a beautiful night and we could see the start of the Cliffs of Moher. Next day we took a boat to the first island, got off and had a walk right round it. All the pony carts were taking the rest of the tourists up to the castle so we had most of the walk to ourselves between the little stone dykes and another lovely day to boot. On the way back the boat took us to the base of the Cliffs of Moher sailing really close in so that we could view the puffins and guillemots clearly. It was fabulous to see the Cliffs from the bottom knowing that the next day we would see them from the top. For once I had left my camera in the motorhome, so I took a good look round at everyone taking photos and decided on a mild-looking Irishman, asking him if he could email me some of the bird photos. Needless to say within a couple of days I received them. Such kindness! We slept back at the same spot again, but not before going to buy a couple of Aran sweaters, mine my birthday treat, Graham's – well his eyes were a little green so he had to have one too!!

Next day we had arranged to meet very close friends of ours from Sydney, Jan and Don Espey, who were doing a whirlwind tour of Ireland going the opposite way from us. We met at the Cliffs of Moher and spent the day with them, walking around marvelling at the beautiful scenery and later joining them for dinner in Liscannor, a town very close to the cliffs. Short and sweet and the next day they left to go north while we continued south.

Crossing the Shannon we drove on to the first of the southwestern peninsulas, the Dingle Peninsula. We drove right to the most westerly point, where we stopped. I visited the Famine Houses there; so sad to see how they managed with so little, you do feel a bit like a voyeur. The scenery round the end of the Dingle Peninsula is absolutely stunning with the road cut out along the cliff, sandy beaches below, green green hills to the right and jagged cliffs and small cut offs of islands jutting out, I couldn't stop taking photos. It was awesome!

From there we drove round the Ring of Kerry Peninsula, beautiful also, and then turned inland towards Killarney, the road breath-taking with of course the dampness and rain lending an ethereal feel to it all. The lakes were simply gorgeous. Killarney itself we didn't stay long in, as it wasn't a park friendly place and wasn't doing too much for us, so we continued on to the Beara Peninsula. This was, we decided, the loveliest and probably the quietest too. We stopped for the night in a churchyard where we made friends with the local cat and went for a drink in the village pub. It was the most beautiful of evenings with a lovely light to the sky giving us a warm glow all around. One of my favourite nights of the trip.

By that time we were all 'peninsula'd' out and decided to give the last one a miss and head for Skibbereen, where I had my hair highlighted by a lovely Lithuanian girl from Vilnius. I was able to tell her I had been there a few weeks prior. That evening we reached the lovely village/town of Blarney, visiting the largest Irish shop in the world. It's in an old warehouse and is full of wonderful Irish linen, Aran jumpers, Irish Whiskey etc, etc, etc. You could spend hours in this and part with lots of money. They obviously send their wares all over the world.

Next morning, to Graham's disgust, I kissed the Blarney Stone. Not easy, I may say, as it requires someone to hold onto you as you attempt to lower yourself to the shiny part of the stone and perform a contortion. Graham asked the man helping if he ever cleaned it and he answered “yes, once a day and twice on Sunday”, with a twinkle in his eye. I did view the cleaning fluid and it was Sunday and I'm still here and hey, there is a lot of rain gets down that hole in the castle rock!

We stayed in the grounds of the castle, walking around enjoying it before driving on through Cork. We didn't stop there but kept on going to Cobh, last town on the Titanic's route for the United States on that fateful trip. Here was a trip down Nostalgia Lane with some ladies and gentlemen dressed up in the clothes of that time. There are a couple of museums there, indeed a brand new one, called I think 'The Titanic Experience'. We didn't go to either but did enjoy a walk through the wonderful cathedral in Cobh. The stained glass windows are magnificent, as is the altarpiece.

After leaving Cobh we headed along the south coast, knowing that we would have to hurry this part but happy that we had spent so much time in the West. Accordingly, we missed a lot of this region including Kilkenny and much of the garden county of Wicklow, although we did drive through it. However, we wanted to have a good couple of days in Dublin so something had to give.

We drove to Howth, a lovely satellite town for Dublin on the northeast shore, and parked at the harbour where there were a few more motorhomes. We could even plug in for electricity and the Aire was free to boot. We spent the next two days taking the train into the centre of Dublin and spending the day there before arriving back exhausted at night. The co-ordinates for the Howth Aire are N53.23.372 W6.04.130

We loved Dublin, the people and the sights. We took one of the tour buses that you can get on and off for both days. The man driving the bus on the first day was a born comedian. We couldn't stop laughing at him. Normally you get a taped commentary but with him it was live. He should be paid more. He was so funny. Wonderful Irish humour. First day was the obligatory stop for Graham at the Guinness factory. I found it really interesting also, and we both enjoyed a pint of the black stuff at the end of the tour.

Then the next day we went to Trinity College and saw the Book of Kells. Amazing! What workmanship in such early times. We got to see the library at Trinity! As soon as I walked to the top of the stairs I burst out crying at the sheer beauty of the room, the books stacked in those beautiful arched bookshelves and the round staircase. You are not allowed to photo it, so buying a postcard is a must.

We walked and walked and walked until we were so sore. We liked the Poet's Pub with all the clever sayings by famous Irish Playwrights and Authors scribbled all over the outside, particularly Oscar Wilde but many others also.

Then we went to see Riverdance, a show we had missed when it first came out. It was a cut down version in that there were only 1/3 of the dancers in it, as it was a very small theatre, but they played the whole original show and it was wonderful.

We left the Irish Free State via the 'Battle of the Boyne' site northwest of Dublin and crossed over to the north, once again overnighting at the Aire in Carrickfergus. I was so impressed by this Aire that I wrote to the Town Council extolling its virtues and, lo and behold, a lovely letter of thanks arrived in Scotland for me, saying that it's nice when someone lets you know how appreciative they are. This came with a CD of Carrickfergus and a pen. I thank them for their thanks. The postcode for the Carrickfergus Aire is BT38 7BE.

Scotland

Next day we headed for Larne and the ferry back to Stranraer, where we drove up the Ayrshire coast, a coast I know well, to Ayr. We stayed here with my brother and his wife for a few days catching up with washing, cleaning of van etc before heading off again.

Friends took us to Glasgow for a day and we visited Glasgow Cathedral. What a magnificent piece of Gothic work. One of my favourite cathedrals now, far more exotic than Edinburgh's St Giles. They have opened up the Crypt and down there is a well where water must have been drawn up and used. It is so atmospheric. The stained glass windows are something else too. And of course not far away is the wonderful Necropolis, with John Knox's forbidding character looking down on everyone from on high – also other well knowns. It is a definite must on a trip to Glasgow.

After that we drove through to Edinburgh and were really lucky to get tickets for the Tattoo. It was the time of the Edinburgh Fringe also and we enjoyed walking about watching the scene. We were even luckier, in that we were able to park Bruce in the New Town in the residents' car park of friends of ours. They had just moved and still had the old sticker for the old house. Oh Bliss! We could just take a bus in and we were in the centre. I had never been to the Tattoo before (although being born a Scot), so was really looking forward to it and it didn't disappoint. It was superb, even though we had to sit in ponchos. Next day we spent some time with our friends before leaving and heading over to the west coast.

What Wimbledon was to me, Islay is to Graham, so we drove down to Kennacraig before taking the ferry across to the isle on the most beautiful of days. We left Bruce in the car park surrounded by lots of cars for company. At the other end, do you think they could co-ordinate a bus with the ferry coming in? – of course not! Anyway, we walked 3 kilometres (no hardship, very enjoyable) to Lagavulin, the Holy Grail! We joined a tour group to participate in the wondrous (to some) process of distilling the amber nectar. I was told on no account when it came to the tasting part was I to say “no, I don't drink it.” Graham was lucky as it was someone's 50th birthday and along came another couple of tasters of a different Lagavulin, so all in all he did very well. It was a lovely day all round and a pleasant trip back with the sun in our eyes watching the isle disappear from view. So beautiful.

From there we drove up via Oban to Fort William, turning left to follow the road to Mallaig. There is a railway line from FW to Mallaig and part of the road runs parallel with it. I had always heard that this was one of the most lovely train rides to take. Well, it wasn't at all bad to do it by road either. The country was magnificent. Mallaig was a bit ho-hum, I have to say, but the journey there coming round the corner and seeing the islands of Eigg and Muck draws such superlatives. And of course driving back again was just as lovely, with Ben Nevis and the other mountains as a backdrop to Fort William - outstanding.

After that we headed up Loch Ness, which I have to say totally underwhelmed me. Through Inverness (didn't stop) and on up toward John o'Groats, which I hadn't been to before. A bit bleak, I thought, but I liked Dunnet Head (the northernmost point of the mainland) much better. However, as we began to cross the very north with the Orkneys in full view, it just got better and better. We stopped on the Kyle of Tongue with the tide out and the 360 degree views were outstanding. Obviously other people thought so too, as another 3 motorhomes joined us.

There are not many people living up there but when we went for a walk we met two of them, and I discovered they had walked the Camino (to Santiago de Compostela) the same year as me. Small world! She was German and I wondered what made her stay up here in such a remote spot. He was a local. I guess it was love.

The Journey from the Kyle of Tongue to Ullapool was quite extraordinary and if you have never been you have to go. Without doubt it is one of the most exquisite journeys we have embarked on. Yes, Norway is beautiful, yes Switzerland is too, but in its own way that part of Scotland, which most of the tourists never see, is just as beautiful, but different. Maybe it was the time of year, with the heather blooming so boldly. I don't know, but both of us were in awe of the craggy beauty of it. Against a backdrop of desolation and water all around , the stillness and sheer beauty was absolutely stunning. We enjoyed it so much and were really sorry when we arrived at Ullapool. From Ullapool to Kyle of Lochalsh is lovely but nothing compared to further north.

Another place of extreme beauty is Skye and we drove over where once one would cross by ferry to that lovely isle. The Cuillins take some beating I have to say, broad and sweeping, a Scottish version of Monument Valley. We drove all the way up on the northeast part and stopped at the Peat Houses where Flora Macdonald is buried (she of Bonnie Prince Charlie fame).

From Skye it was back to Kyle of Lochalsh and a quick photo opportunity for the well photographed Eilean Donan Castle, well worthy of such praise. From there to Fort William and we were back to the usual tourist spots - Glencoe, the Trossachs, Callander etc - and back to Glasgow for some family visiting. On to Ayr, where we recuperated for a couple of days before driving to Peebles to visit some old friends from our Vienna days. I do think the Borders is a part of the country that is really lovely and not visited in quite the numbers that the Highlands get. It is also within reach of Edinburgh. A place to spend one's retirement, as our friends clearly decided.

Back to Ayr and a farewell to Scotland, with Bruce in dry dock again in Dreghorn Van Storage, 9 Corsehill Mount Road, Dreghorn, Ayrshire, KA114 (and cheap too at 1GBP a day).