9 June – 27 June 2011: Galway > Dublin

9 June 2011 (Thursday) Galway

We get the local bus into Galway for a day of sightseeing.  Galway is made up of the new and old parts of town and we mainly stayed in the old parts visiting Colelgiate Church of St Nicholas  of Myra, Lynch’s Castle, Spanish Arch & Medieval Walls, Galway Cathedral, Eyre Square and surprising the most interesting of places the Salmon Weir.  We talked to one of the gentlemen there fishing and he told us he booked his six hour spot of fishing nearly a year ago.  There is even a camera inside the lodge so you can see where you are casting and where the salmon are.  Luckily after all that effort, he had managed to catch a salmon.  We continued walkingW through the town, whereby Tracy found a bookstore and bought another bag of books – in case there is a nuclear disaster and there are no more to purchase. 

We catch the bus back to closeby the caravan park whereby Tracy spots a local hairdresser who can fit her in for a cut while Scott heads off some r&r at the campsite.

10 June 2011 (Friday) – Galway ->  Renvyle

We left Galway to head towards Renvyle as there is a ScubaPro Test Dive Weekend at Scuba Dive West (http://www.scubadivewest.com/index.php).  Leaving Galway we followed the coast road (R336) in the usual rainy weather.  The scenery is wonderful, all cliffs and small roads with tiny farming hamlets.  We stopped at Ballyconneely to pick up some smoked fish that Scott has become a fan off.  Before heading through to Renvyle where we drove to Scuba Dive West and had a tour of the facilities and put our names down for tomorrow.

We then parked up for the night at the Connemara Caravan & Camping Park, Lettergesh Renvyle, Leenane, Connemara, Co. Galway.  We were the only non-static motor home here, so got a great spot on the top of the hill with the oceans and cliffs surrounding us.  We had a walk along the coast as far as we could, although when it started to feel like we were walking in quicksand we gave up and headed back watching the wonderful sunset.  Strangely the weather has improved and there isn’t a cloud in the lovely pinkish sunset.

11 June 2011 (Saturday):  Renvyle

Up early as we had run out of gas and needed to get a refill.  Unfortunately at this time in the morning, things aren’t open or they don’t have exactly what we need.  So we give up and headed into the Scuba Dive West (http://www.scubadivewest.com/index.php) where everything is all set up.  The scuba complex here is fantastic.  The classrooms and everything are all on site and you just walk out the front door and down a small ramp and you are in a small sheltered bay where you can dive to about 10m in with the kelp and natural reef.  There are approximately 40 other dive sits in the immediate vicinity that can be reached via small boats.  In the complex there is a shop, chill out area, ample parking, showers and large change-rooms that can be reached from outside steps that also allow you to wash your gear and hang it up.  A well set up area and definitely worth going to.  We sign up and grab a new dry suit, gloves, hoods etc (and because it is a dry-suit my seawing nova’s don’t fit, so I had to get a larger size boot and a larger size fin.  We headed out to the sheltered bay for me to practice in a dry suit.  Okay from the beginning, this is definitely not for me, I found the dry suit overly complicated as you need to inflat and deflate it, as well as your bcd and manage the camera.  The neck had been tightened for me and I started to find that a bit uncomfortable and not least of all, found it very difficult to control my buoyancy, so after much frustration from Scott, we eventually gave up.  On the good side i was toasty and warm and dry.  We came back into shore where I swapped my dry suit for a Nova Scotia semi-dry and that was it we were away, I loved it.  I think having my own boots and fins also helped as they weren’t so floaty. 

Again we just did the reef dives and it is amazing just how much sealife there is.  Considering it is about 10 degrees, I would have thought most things would have given up.  There were huge crabs, eels, loads of nudibrachs, slugs, kelps, corals and even starfish.  It was great fun fossicking around.

Scott signed up for the boat dives being held tomorrow, but I thought I would give it a miss as it will give Scott an opportunity to try out some more of the Scubapro gear without having to worry if I am rocketing to the surface or not.

The best thing about the Scubapro day is that you get to hand everything back at the end of the day and don’t have to worry about gear being wet etc.   The other benefit is the discount if you buy anything making is considerably if not nearly half the price of items in Australia.  If only we had known that before we left.

We headed off to a different camp-site tonight as we wanted to be closer to some of the larger towns to try and get gas, but alas it turns out that our motorhome isn’t set-up to accommodate the European gas cylinders and fittings, so we head back to Renvyle Beach Caravan & Camping Park, Renvyle Peninsula, Connemara Co. Galway (www.renvylebeachcaravanpark.com) for a rethink of what we should do.  The campsite doesn’t have the same views as yesterday, but it is right next to the ocean and there is nothing better than falling asleep listening to the waves.

 12 June 2011 (Sunday) – Renvyle

And what a difference a day makes.  Got up this morning to a howling gale and wind.  Hmm not boding well for diving, but we are here, so off we got to Scuba Dive West where Scott rugs up and heads out for his first dive and as I am not with him, he opts for the Scubapro dry suit.  I spend the morning pottering around in the van doing some bits and pieces, although mainly reading watching the increasing storms around me.  Scott only does one dive today as he was cold even in a dry suit with climacool underneaths. 

We head off into the nearest big town and start the process of changing the fittings in the van over the EU standard and hope that we don’t blow ourselves up in the meantime.  However, it seems after fitting all the bits and a new cylinder, we can get gas into the van, but the pressure readings and gauges don’t work, so that is another thing to fix later.

We head back to Renvyle Beach Caravan & Camping Park where we spent last night as that is closer to the main motorways for tomorrow’s drive down to County Clare and the Cliffs of Moher.

13 June 2011 (Monday):  Renvyle -> Doolin

We bite the bullet and take the main road down through Galway into County Clare as I think Scott is a bit over all the small laneways.

The scenery therefore is relatively bland and depressing with house after house for sale, and the ones that have for sale signs that look really old are actually empty along with lots of new housing estates where the work seems to have just stopped.

We have decided to drive along the coast from Galway and see some of the pretty inland towns in County Clare.  We get to Doolin which is also a ferry point for the Aran Islands, which we haven’t made it to yet as we went scuba diving instead.  We park up at the O’Connors Riverside Camping & Caravan Park, Doolin, Co. Clare (www.oconnorsdoolin.com) which is a small site backing onto a river, with a pub, shop, etc just across the road – perfect for us.  Scott goes for a job and I read a book.  I do think my method of training for the London Marathon is far better.

When Scott gets back etc we head across the road to the tourist information counter to get the ferry times for the Aran Islands and then pop into Fitz’s Bar for a quick drink and maybe a snack.  That quick drink turned into many as we met an old Irish couple and listened to the spontaneous irish music being played.  It all became a bit of a blur after that and all I can say is that I had just the one too many.

14 June 2011 (Tuesday):     Doolin

Well I got up and then decided it was heaps better if I actually just stayed in bed with some panadol and a glass of water.  Scott annoyingly was his usual chirpy self.

Eventually I got up after lunchtime and we had a short walk down to the ferry port and looked through some of the shops and basically just pottered around.  There is no way i can get on a ferry , of course there is no way I can get into the car, so we are stuck until I start to feel slightly more human.  Luckily it isn’t the best weather today, so ideal for doing nothing.

15 June 2011 (Wednesday):  Doolin -> Killarney

We drive into Killarney not actually knowing much about it to be faced with a large very touristy city that has American flags hanging everywhere.  We park Vinnie and walk around the town which is very pretty.  We find a lovely little cafe for lunch before deciding to stay for a couple of days and head out to Fleming’s White Bridge Caravan & Camping Park, White Bridge, Ballycasheen Rd, Killarney, Co. Kerry (www.killarneycamping.com), although we also looked at another caravan park nearby but it was a bit further out of the town.

We settled Vinnie in and put on our walking shoes and headed back into Killarney for a walk through the laneways and a visit to the local tourist information centre to get some information on tours of the area.  As the roads are tiny here and it is about time Scott had a day off driving, we have decided to do the tourist thing and do a bus tour of the Ring of Kerry.  We stop in at a little pub for Scott to have another Guinness (just to ensure that it is the same as everywhere else) and list to some local music for a while.  Scott loves the fact that most pubs at some point play the Pogues, I am still missing Abba, so can’t really comment.  We then wander back through town and find a kitchen shop and actually buy a decent knife, a small thing, but very important. 

16 June 2011 (Thursday):  Killarney 

We pay for our tour of the Ring of Kerry and the bus picks us up from the front of Fleming’s White Bridge Caravan & Camping Park.  We head into Killarney where we all change to the relevant buses for our tour and head off.  The bus is full of mainly Americans – we just can’t get over how many of them are here.  First up we follow the N72 which takes us through to Killorglin, before turning onto the smaller road of the N70 and passing through Glenbeigh where we now see Dingle Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

We drive through the peat bogs and stop at a local pub and bog museum (Scott opted for an irish coffee instead of the museum tour).  I of course spend more time just listening to the mindless drivel of other tourists who I would hazard a guess have never been anywhere else in their lives.

We then stop at several of the tourist towns for differing size breaks.  Although I would have preferred to by-pass these and stop at some of the old ruins etc to take photos, but you know what it is like when you are on a coach tour, need to make everyone happy.

After the tour we get dropped off at the caravan park and Scott goes for a jog and on his return we head into Killarney for a nice pizza and a few drinks at some of the different pubs before walking back in the rain to the campsite. 

17 June 2011 (Friday):  Killarney -> Skibbereen 

We leave Killarney via the main road, as the smaller roads were very tight for Vinnie as we saw yesterday on the drive through the Ring of Kerry.  However, we managed to make it across the Killabunane Road (not suitable for HGVs or buses – hah, Vinnie made it) which cuts through the Caha Mountains.  This is some of the most bleak terrain we have come across.  The villages are little more than one or two houses and the area is mainly sheep farming.

Bantry:  After the hectic driving, we stop in the town of Bantry for lunch. On the entry into the harbour there are loads of loads of oysters and mussle farms, so we figure this must be the main type of industry.  We find that Friday’s is the Friday Market in town and there is a wide selection of both food and other vendors – you can even buy a pony.  Damn won’t fit in Vinnie, so we venture into a local pub and have a soup and chowder.   

Durrus:  we wind our way through some very small roads, laneways and what even appear to be people’s driveways to get to Durrus Cheese.  This is a small local producer of cheese what we have seen advertised.  When we get there Jaffa Gill has just left to go to England, so we speak to her husband who we purchase some cheese from and he explains the set-up and the property.  They bought a almost beyond repair old cottage in the 1970’s and have been restoring it ever since.  It is now a lovely home that fits perfectly into the surroundings – so jealous.  We then have to rewind our drive back through the laneways etc to the main road.

and to the town of Baltimore and it is a lovely picturesque town that is definitely a sailor’s paradise, protected good pubs, restaurants and views.  We tried the local dive shop, but it is closed, so Scott calls them and there is no diving tomorrow due to bad weather.  We park in one of the many car parks and have a walk around the town in the sunshine.  We are thinking of camping here tonight, but as there is no diving we will head into Skibbereen for the farmers market tomorrow.  So we head to The Hideaway Camping & Caravan Park, Skibbereen, Co. Cork which was recommended by a lovely Dutch/German couple parked next to us.

18 June 2011 (Saturday):  Skibbereen -> Baltimore

As there is no scuba diving today due to bad weather we head into the Saturday farmers market for Skibbereen (runs from 10am to 1:30pm).  This is just a short walk away from The Hideaway Camping & Caravan Park, so we wander into the market town which has a worn down look.  There are a lot of shops and empty properties, but no different to most of the market towns we have been through nearly everywhere in Ireland.  Anyway we eventually find the farmers market behind the Supervalue and it has a great range of local organic produce including veggies, seafood, meats, baking etc.  So we purchase a few nibbles including some very gorgeous looking samphire and wander around tasting and trying different items.  This was definitely worth a visit and we picked up some venison burgers, salmon, veggies, tarts, olives, hummus, samphire etc – we are going to live like royalty for the next few days.  The weather is of course not the best, but you have to be realistic and go with the flow, so we wander back through the town and head back to the campsite where we use a break in the weather to do some maintenance on the van and actually do some “housework”.

19 June 2011 (Sunday):  Baltimore 

Up early and down to Aquaventures Scuba Diving in Baltimore for two boat dives.  We pick up our rental thermal wetsuits, hoods, gloves, weights and cylinders.  Not as luxurious as last weekend for the Scubapro Try day, but hopefully we will be warm enough.  We then do a quick 5 minute walk down to the pier with the other four divers and onto our dive boat, which is even fitted with a dive lift so there is no lugging your wet gear etc – awesome is my thoughts on this matter.  Anyway today we are blessed with sunshine and relatively warmth, so our first dive is about 10 minute boat trip out of the harbour to dive with the seals in a giant kelp beds near a couple of islands.  We kit up, grab the camera and jump in and omg it is freezing – well only a little bit freezing, anyway, Scott and I head off in a different direction to the other divers and start fossicking around in the kelp and come across a huge area just jam packed full of giant crabs and lobsters plus the most beautiful jellyfish.  There are a couple of crab pots down there that are empty and you are so tempted to cut them loose.  We continue going in and out of the kelp, but can’t find any seals, and they don’t come and find us – they are mostly lazing in the sun on the islands.  After about 30 minutes we have frozen through so head up to the surface where the boat comes to us and we stand on the lift and wella we are onboard.  Again awesome.

We motor around to the other side of the island for our second dive which is a wreck in between 20 and 5 metres of water.  However this time as soon as we both get in we are cold – it is 10 degrees.  We have a quick swim around the wreck which is really interesting and there is loads of marine life and the visibility is really good.  The camera either doesn’t like the cold or is having a day off and has decided not to work on this dive.  After 25 minutes we head up to the safety stop and spend our three minutes shivering before surfacing and being lifted onto the boat.  This is one of the easiest dives I have ever done.

We head back to the pier and unpack the boat and have a shower at the dive centre.  We then park Vinnie on the waterfront near the harbour and head up to the town centre where the pub is packed with people taking advantage of this one day of summer and have a drink with a couple we met at the dive school.  We are parking Vinnie in the harbour and camping there tonight, so head back and sit and watch the sunset over the bay. 

20 June 2011 (Monday):  Baltimore -> Blarney

On a total opposite from yesterday the weather is very grey, windy and rainy.  Obviously yesterday was summer.

Drombeg Stone Circle:  according to the map should be signposted; alas no signpost was visible anywhere near where we had expected this to be, so we gave up.  Secretly I am sure Scott was pleased as I think he has had enough of stone circles, cairns, piles of rocks, standing rocks or any other form of rock.

Clonakilty:    we were going to stop at Clonakilty as it is the birthplace of Michael Collins, but were unable to get a parking bay.  It seems towns either encourage people with cars over 1.5metres or they don’t and Clonakilty was a don’t town, so we just drove through.

Kinsale:  is a lovely seaside town with windy streets and picturesque settings.  We even managed to squeeze through some of the smaller streets as we looked for a parking bay, however, we soon managed to get into town and yet again find a good parking spot in the centre of town and had a quick walk around where we managed to get soaked and settled on a fairly average pub for a hot meal.  When we ventured back outside, it is raining (hard) and extremely windy, so we head to the not very appropriately named town of Summercove to see Charles Fort.  This is a fascinating star shaped fort which was originally built in the 17th century.  It has fantastic views over Kinsale harbour and you can walk and wander through the buildings.  Although most of them are derelict (they were burnt down by the Irish in 1921 so that nobody could use them) there are a couple that have been restored and now hold exhibitions showing photos and items from the early 1900’s.  We also listened to a talk by one of the guides on the history of the fort and the changes over time.  Very informative and only 4 Euros per person.  If the weather had been nicer there was plenty more buildings to explore, but as we were now totally drenched headed back to Vinnie for some warm clothes and heating.

We left Kinsale and headed up via the M27 skirting through Cork to Blarney Caravan & Camping Park, Stone View, Blarney, Co. Cork (www.blarneycaravanpark.com).  This campsite is nicely laid out and has the huge added benefit of unlimited hot showers.  We also did the boring and mundane washing and drying of clothes.   

21 June 2011 (Tuesday):  Blarney -> Tramore

Blarney Castle:   We got up early to ensure that we weren’t standing in the queue with hordes of American tourists.  The park opened at 9:00am and we were there by 9:30am with only a few other people around.  We headed into the park (10 Euro per person) surrounding Blarney Castle where you are gradually led to Blarney Castle itself.  The stone sits atop the 15th century castle and you wander up the spiral staircase through various rooms and plaques describing castle life in its heyday.   Once you do make it to the top and walk around the battlements a lovely old gentleman will help you lean over backwards and hang onto two rails as you kiss the blarney stone.  Because I did it first, Scott didn’t want to lose face so he did it as well.  Although we must both confess we didn’t actually kiss the stone – gross.  We meandered back down as the crowds were starting to stream in as a couple of bus loads had deposited their cargoes.  We headed into the Poison Garden which is made up of medicinal and toxic plants.  We were surprised how many of them we have in the garden, so now we may rethink a couple of things.  The funniest part was the exhibition of cannabis plants with a sign that the bed is currently empty due to the Garda not recognising the permit that the castle has to display them.  We then did the walk through the Rock Close, which is described as breathtaking, hmm not sure it is the words I would use, and even the waterfalls are installed.  It does look like it has been abandoned though.  You are meant to walk up and down a set of stone steps with your eyes shut and think of nothing except the wish you want to be granted.  Unfortunately the four loud Americans that were there who were too worried about how many steps they had to go etc didn’t quite get it.

Barryscourt Castle:   We popped into Carrigtwohill to have a look at this castle and it was certainly a roundabout drive as the signposts make you go in circles, finally getting to the Castle.  This is a 12th century castle which has been restored.  We lucked in and tacked on the end of the tour that had just started (this castle is free but still has guided tours).  Take note it was a great tour and you went through the history of the castle, the restoration work done and the life of the families since then who lived in it.  The gardens are also well maintained and restored.  Not sure how this all gets funded but it was extremely informative, interesting to hear about the history and be able to put it in perspective.

Youghal:  After Barryscourt we thought we would head to Youghal for some lunch.  It didn’t get a good wrap in the Lonely Planet, however, it was the place where John Huston filmed Gregory Peck in Moby Dick and I wanted to see harbour etc.  We found a parking spot (free for three hours) right in the middle of the town and walked across the road to The Nook (or Treacy’s Bar) for a great home cooked lunch and even a local ale for Scott.  The pub was fantastic and the staff very helpful.  They recommended we head up to the church, so off we ventured to St Mary’s Collegiate Church which was originally built in 1220.  The graveyard is fascinating, they have set up a walk through the gravestones and there was even a guy sitting there singing and playing his guitar (not even busking), all leading to a very other worldy feeling.  As well as a walk they had information pillars about the plants and wildlife and yet again didn’t charge for this.  However, the church was locked so you couldn’t go in.  We then followed the medieval walk through the city past the Clock Tower (1770) and down to the pier to see the harbour.  It is really a great city with plenty to see and do and worth a stop.

This morning when we left Blarney we had thought we could make it all the way up to Kilkenny for tonight, but on a realistic rethink and how long we have spent sightseeing today, we have decided to make for Tramore for a break before continuing tomorrow.  We find the Newtown Cove Caravan & Camping Park, Newtown road, Tramore, Co. Waterford (www.newtowncove.com) which is on the beach and only a 2 km walk into the town centre.

Wednesday 22 June 2011: Tramore -> Kilkenny

As usual it is raining, so we leave the seaside resort of Tramore and drive inland to Kilkenny bypassing Cork.  Scott is getting a tad sick of Guinness so thinks maybe Kilkenny will refresh the tastebuds.  We park up at the only campsite we can find and then do the short walk into Kilkenny for a look around and to see what is happening.  Kilkenny seems to be a relatively typically Irish town with a new part and an old part.  There is loads of history as well.

Thursday 23 June 2011: in Kilkenny

Up early and after making a few calls to the English and Australian embassy to try and locate the “missing passport” we head into Kilkenny and walk around some of the old sites and also do the Kilkenny brewery tour which was actually good fun.  The guy giving the tour had worked there all his life and knew a lot of the history and information and you could see he was just holding himself back from keeping us there all day.  After the tour there was the free pint (at least as he poured some extras) so Scott had a few more. 

Can Scott manage all those beers....
Can Scott manage all those beers....

We walked back through the town enjoying the sights.  We stopped for a late lunch and for Scott yet another pint before heading back to the campsite and a afternoon nanna nap.  Kilkeeny was great and a must stop on the tourist trail.

Friday 24 June 2011: Kilkenny -> Redcross

Up early into the horrible weather again and we are now heading to Redcross which and going through County Wicklow.  The scenery is lovely, not that we could see much as it was raining buckets, no surprise there.  We got a call from the Australian embassy to say that the passport has been located and Scott can pick it up on Monday morning – yeah, we can now leave Ireland and go anywhere. 

Once we get to Redcross, the weather has not improved and Scott and I seem to be a bit sick of being stuck inside so spend the afternoon ignoring each other until dinner time when we venture into the pub that is attached to the campsite for a drink and a meal.  Inside the pub it is defeaning with kids screaming etc, I understand it is raining, but a dull roar would be much nicer for everyone else.  Anyway, we had our meals etc and wandered back to the wet motorhome.

Saturday 25 June 2011: Redcross -> Dublin

We make a beeline for Dublin now.  We will be staying back at Camac Valley where they have free wi-fi so we can book ferry crossings etc for France.  We are now on a tight deadline to make the start of the tour.  Tracy wants to spend the day chilling out in the sun (yes it is sunny) but Scott wants to potter on the van which includes him having to keep driving to the equivalent of Bunnings for spare parts and therefore everything to be packed away each time.  A tad annoying to say the least.

Sunday 26 June 2011: in Dublin

The waiting game continues.  We didn’t do a lot in Dublin, as we had already done our sightseeing, so and as the weather was vaguely warmish we did some maintenance on the van, with Scott doing additional trips to the hardware shop and setting up the inverter etc all ready for the purchase of a TV when we get back into England.

Monday 27 June 2011: in Dublin

Scott headed off at the crack of dawn to the UK embassy to get his Australian passport back, along with a shiny long-term UK visa, so now he can come and go as he pleases without, hopefully, any of the problems previously encountered at Heathrow.  After he returned to the campsite, we headed back into Dublin to buy my gorgeous god-daughter a pair of Irish dancing shoes and posted them to Australia and went for a celebratory lunch and drink in Temple Bar, before getting the bus back to Carnac Valley Camping Group and packing up the van for the trip to the UK tomorrow.

Wednesday 08 June 2011 : Keel -> Galway

Wednesday 08 June 2011
Keel -> Galway
Overnight, the rain poured and the wind howled around the campsite.  Even though the stabilizers are down, Vinny shook, rocked and rolled in the storms which by morning time had almost blown itself out, although it was still windy with offshore breeze and heavy drizzle when we finally got up.  Not to mention that Tracy had spent most of the night away worried that vinnie may topple over.  From our cozy motorhome, looking down the campsite we surveyed some of the damage done to a group of guys who were sleeping in small tents.  Despite their best efforts last night to move their group of tents into a hollow and use their cars as a bit of a windbreak, this morning one of the tents was destroyed, one of its flexible poles now stands erect with rags from its shredded tent still attached and flapping in the breeze.  People are still scurrying to the amenities block and back to their camps, but there doesn’t appear to be anyone else about. Even the beach is deserted. We can see why kitesurfing is becoming increasingly popular in Keel, but even none of them are foolish enough to come out today.
We had originally thought we may stay an extra day here, but the weather is not conducive to anything outdoors, so we decided to head off and make our way to Cong to see a 12th century Augustinian Abbey. 
The strong winds and even stronger gusts didn’t make driving off Achill Island an easy experience, the rain didn’t help much either, but as we got further inland the weather started to abate and we even got to see the Sun at times! We headed south along the west coast of Clew Bay and then turned south-east to head towards Ballinrobe.  It had been a long drive in the conditions and I needed a break.  Conveniently we found a Tesco and did some shopping to top on some food items (vegemite for Scott, but no bbq chippies for Tracy) and then got back onto the road.  
We made it to Cong a little after lunch time and spent an hour or so wandering through the remains of the old Abbey and its grounds.  This is a 12th century Augustinian abbey which has been destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries, although now it is just a shell, but the grounds it stands in are beautiful and well worth a visit.  The town itself is famous for being the setting of the John Wayne film “The Quiet Man” and there is a museum etc for that.  There is also a salmon hatchery and we could see why when we looked into the crystal-clear fast-flowing freezing-cold river flowing through the town.  We had a quick peruse through the TIC then headed to a local pub for a bite to eat.  Inside, there was a peat “fire” smoldering in the hearth; behind the bar was a lad listening to American counrty and western music, whilst playing bingo on his laptop computer and watching Sky News on the big screen in the front room.  We ordered our lunch; I wasn’t hopeful of getting much so I was pleasantly surprised with a decent beef pie and Tracy enjoyed her brie filled panini. After lunch, we went back into the remains of the Abbey for a couple more photos and then clambered back into Vinny to finish the trip to Galway.

Galway is the biggest city we have been in since leaving Dublin, the traffic congestion and roadworks were not a welcome sight. Eventually we made it to the camp site which is nestled on Galway Bay (Salthill Caravan Camping Park, Knocknacarra, Salthill, Galway (www.salthillcaravanpark.com).  We got an excellent pitch right on the waterfront. After we had established camp, we went for a sojourn along the waterfront promenade, Tracy walked and I ran.  Even though the wind is still cold and there were passing drizzles, there were still people out and about, walking their dogs, jogging, cycling, and even a dozen or so lunatics swimming in the freezing cold waters of the Bay! After making it back to the camp and showering etc it was time for dinner and a glass of wine.  As we watched the tide come in and the sun (very) slowly set, we noticed people were still out and about along the waterfront promenade. We recall the arguments about daylight-saving in WA, well, people here don’t seem to have any issues with nearly 17 hours of daylight (sunrise tomorrow is at 05:12 and sunset at 21:55) and people are actually USING the time! The twilight sailing that is happening at the other end of the bay started at about 8:30 and was wonderful to see so many boats out.

Tuesday 07 June 2011 : Strandhill -> Keel

Tuesday 07 June 2011
Strandhill -> Keel
We packed up our site and headed out, intending to visit a couple of historically-significant sites enroute to Keel.  Our first stop was to see Knocknarea which is the (alleged) gravesite of legendary Queen Maeve (or Mab) who may or may not have actually existed (think Arthurian legend). As we drove to the site, some of the signs had been turned around and without any specific directions we ended up going off in the wrong direction (even Sean (our GPS) didn’t even know where the site was!) We managed to navigate the wrong-pointing signs and the road closed for roadworks ruses and eventually made it to the carpark from where we could walk to the site.  Tracy had mis-read in the Lonely Planet that it should have been a ten minute walk to the top of the hill (Later, we discovered that the NEXT site involves a ten minute walk and THIS site involves a 45 minute walk uphill along barely visible tracks through open farmland with the only thoughts going through our minds being Nepali Flat and reminiscences of Annapurna!) Anyway, it wasn’t raining when we set off but it did drizzle a couple of times on the ascent.  When we reached the top of the hill, we saw the cairn. For those not familiar with the term cairn, it means pile of rocks, and that’s exactly what was on the very top of the hill, a big pile of rocks! As no-one has ever excavated the site to determine if the remains of someone who didn’t actually exist might be buried underneath, we had no idea whether the site was actually significant or whether someone was playing some sort of long running practical joke? The views from the hilltop were spectacular though, so the walk was not completely in vain.  Of course, as soon as we started down the hill it started to rain and as we were only expecting a quick ten minutes to the top, we didn’t bring any wet weather gear.  This oversight was rammed home to us when we passed a tour of people on their way up to the cairn, fully equipped with wet weather gear, walking poles and water bottles, all the stuff we happened to have left in Vinny.

Miffed with the pile of rocks experience and the weather, we decided to forego the Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetary visit (the one with the actual ten minute walk to the summit) and headed for Ballina (pronounced bally-nar) which is the reported salmon capital of Ireland. The drive itself was uneventful, although the weather came and went making driving conditions at times, wonderful and at other times, treacherous.  Eventually we made it into Ballina and found a park for Vinny whilst we wandered around in the heavy drizzle looking for a salmon-monger and a pub reported for their food in Lonley Planet. Eventually we found them, side-by-side on the same street.  We had an OK lunch of smoked salmon sandwiches on homemade Irish wholemeal soda bread and Tracy had something less fishy! Afterwards we went to the fishmonger and purchased a sheet of smoked farm salmon and a piece of fresh wild salmon. On the way back to the van, we stopped in a 3-mobile store to see if we could get a technology glitch sorted out, but the man seemed completely disinterested in solving our issue instead preferring to try to sell us an alternative.  Needless to say, he made no sale at all and we left.

The next stop on the way was just after Ballycastle on the rugged northern coast of County Mayo at another historical site, Ceide Fields which was a Stone Age settlement uncovered accidentally by a farmer in the 1930s.  On the site now is a large pyramid shaped information centre and “experience” which was interesting, but although the Lonely Planet recommends a guided tour of the surrounding area, we declined and as the LP says, all we saw was a series of small walls! we did learn a thing or two about peat bogs, which came in handy for just after Ciede Fields we started noticing farmers digging up and drying their peat bricks in the fields alongside the roads. We weren’t sure if they were digging up such vast quantities of the stuff to dry and burn as fuel in their own homes in the winter months, or whether they were selling the stuff to distilleries to be used in whisky (whiskey) making processes. Regardless of the destination, the peat “harvesting” was in full swing for many miles.  Knowing the history of peat bogs, the farming practices are only relatively short lived as once you have dug them up they don’t regenerate and nothing will grow on the land itself.  This area was once forests, but when they were burnted down they created a layer of carbon which stops anything from being absorbed into the ground, hence the land becomes sodden and nothing breaks down properly.  However it is a cheap solution for fuel and lets face it nobody cares about the future here – Ireland is very similar to Australia in that concept.  As we reached the western end of the county and headed south, the roads got narrower and the surfaces worse.  Driving was not enjoyable that afternoon. A lot of the road works have been partially supported and funded by the Eu, but that doesn’t seem to help, just gives somebody money to help put tarmac between ever growing pothols.  Eventually we made it across the bridge onto Achill Island and pulled into the seaside hamlet of Keel (Keel Sandylands Camping & Caravan Park). We checked into the park and the lady at reception was overjoyed to have Australians staying, she has friends in Perth and loves visiting whenever she has the opportunity. It also turned out she was born and lived near Trim and was fascinated to hear that we loved our guided tour of Trim Castle.

We pitched Vinny and went for a walk along the beach.  The weather was cold and it was windy but as were to discover, things would be much worse later.  Keel is another “surfing” spot, popular too with kitesurfers although none of those activities were happening when we arrived.  The beach was almost deserted except for a Dad out playing with his kids on the sand (they were dressed for their day at the beach, wetsuits and beanies!)  The toe-test proved the water was not any warmer here than further north at Strandhill.  we walked up from the beach and through the township, doing our usual routine of counting the pubs and restaurants.  Often we noticed the adverse effect of the economy; in several places renovations started some time ago had just abruptly stopped without ever being finished, one large, new building was stopped so abruptly there was still cement piles on boards in the middle of the work-site which would have been used by the bricklayers. It also seems as if every second building is for sale.  Maybe if they built smaller macmansions they wouldn’t have to sell, but again like Australia some people just build the tackiest macmansions with little forethought to financial and environmental outcomes.  There are a lot of housing estates here where all the buildings are so alike, similar to Perth where people like in housing estates and just build whatever the builders tell them too without thinking about something different, after all don’t want to be an individual, just follow the rest of the herd.  The lady at the park had said that Keel was “thumping” over the bank weekend, but now all was quiet again and it was just the locals out collecting a take away meal or coming home from a day (somewhere), and the occasional tourists wandering through the sleepy town.

We made it back to the park as the rain started down and the wind started to pick up a bit.  Any ambitions of a late afternoon run were squashed, and the bar opened instead!  I cooked up the piece of wild salmon purchased earlier in the day
at Ballina; this was the BEST fish I have ever eaten and combined with a simple salad and some boiled potatoes formed the best meal I have eaten in a VERY long time.  It’s a pity we aren’t going back to Ballina because I’d be buying a lot more of this.

Monday 06 June 2011 : Lough Arrow -> Strandhill

Monday 06 June 2011
Lough Arrow -> Strandhill
When we awoke, the first thing we noticed was that it had finally stopped raining! We were leaving Lough Arrow today, so did our usual pre-departure chores, paid our monies to the park proprieters and headed off.  We were expecting a lot of end-of-the-bank-holiday traffic but were pleasantly surprised to find many of the roads almost devoid of traffic.  First up was a trip to Carrowkeel Passage Tomb Cemetery which was a short walk (1km) from the car park.  However, this turned into bit of a furfy with a 5 km trek to what appeared to be a knocked down old shed.  Not exactly the eerie and uplifting experience we had anticipated.  So off we headed.  The country roads were only a short part of the journey today, we spent the best part of the (short) drive on the N4 heading towards Sligo.  Of course, when we did get to Sligo, because of the bank holiday everything was shut!  The shops were shut, the pubs were shut.  There were a few people driving around the city, so we assumed, like us they were travellers looking for a bite to eat and to do a spot of shopping.  As there wasn’t anything else to do here, we headed just out of town on the airport road to Strandhill where we would be staying for the night.  Strandhill is the local surfing spot, so it felt a little like old Dunsborough or old Yallingup.  From what we saw the surf was not that good and the water was very cold (toe tested).  The Gulf Stream is supposed to arrive here and keep the water temperatures “moderate” so we are now starting to get worried about diving in Ireland if they think ‘that’ water is moderate. We watched a couple of groups attend their surf school lessons on the beach before heading out into the shallow chop for their first attempts to surf.  Each student is dressed head to toe in thick wetsuits, booties, gloves and hoods. When they emerge from the water they looked excited enough to have tried surfing, but we surmised some of the smiles must have contained some element of grimace from the cold. 

Surfing Ireland style!
Surfing Ireland style!

We went for a short walk into the town (the campsite is literally at the back of the buildings on the “main” street) to count at least four surf schools, along with the surfing town favourites; bakery, three pubs, seaweed massage and spa centre, ice-cream parlour and a couple of restaurants. we decided to head to one of the pubs and had a great lunch washed down with some drinks. 

Scott is starting to believe the Guinness marketing!
Scott is starting to believe the Guinness marketing!

Afterwards, we went for a longer walk along the beach.  The top of the beach was made up of large rocks, washed smooth by eons of tumbling in the surf, but there was sand and bedrock which, as the tide was out, left rockpools near the waterline. There were a few people out walking dogs or otherwise meandering along the beach as we were doing.  Surprisingly, there was not a lot of life in the rock pools except some seagrasses and kelps, when we expected to see at least one crab or a small fish or something, but nothing.  Undoubtedly due to the fact it was freezing.
We walked back to Vinny and made dinner, but then decided we should see if the nightlife of Strandhill matched Dunsborough or Yallingup, so went back to the pub where we had eaten lunch.  There were still people at the bar, some of them may have even been there when we were there earlier in the day, but it was quieter now, so we laid out our maps and planned the next days drive over a couple of drinks.  There were a couple of guys with long lengths of PVC piping laid out on the floor of the pub as rails, using a platform with some skateboard tracks as some sort of carriage.  We watched with bemusement as they used hacksaws and fiddled with their system, right there in the pub.  We couldn’t figure out if they were making some system to move equipment, or whether they were prototyping some adventure ride!  We didn’t bother to ask, thinking it more fun to leave things to our imaginations than let the truth intervene. So with not much else happening at the pub, we headed back to the park.

Sunday 05 June 2011 : at Lough Arrow

Sunday 05 June 2011
at Lough Arrow

During the night, it pissed down!  And, when we got up in the morning, it was still doing it!  It rained all day.  At about lunch time, I was going a little stir-crazy so decided to go for a run.  It was still raining.  Tracy also decided she need to get out of the van and do something so she headed out for a walk.  It was still raining.  We headed off in the same direction.  It was still raining.  Just over an hour later I arrived back the van to find Tracy had just emerged from the shower after her walk. It was still raining.  I was soaked through and cold, but after a shower and some hot soup I felt a lot better.  It was still raining. Mid-afternoon, we decided to check out the establishment next door, we had seen it on the drive into the park but not on any of our walks or exercise regimes.  It was still raining.  We initially thought it was a pub as the park brochure made mention of a pub closeby, but alas it was a hostel and not what we had expected.  It was still raining.  We walked back to the park and curled up on the couches for a night in.  It was still raining.

Saturday 04 June 2011 : Lough Ramor -> Lough Arrow

Saturday 04 June 2011
Lough Ramor -> Lough Arrow
In the morning, there were slightly fewer midges but the air was still heavy with them.  The wind had picked up a bit and the sky was cloudy but it wasn’t raining, yet.  We decided to make a break for it whilst the weather was still reasonable, so broke camp and headed off for our second lake-side destination at Lough Arrow. We weren’t originally going to Lough Arrow, but we couldn’t get a reservation where we wanted and the other site which was recommended did not get ANY good reviews, so we were lucky the Lough Arrow people were going to squeeze us in on their busiest weekend of the year.  On the way we passed more silage cutting and tractors on the roads. The small laneways were barely big enough for one vehicle in any direction, so to have Vinny and tractors crossing was scary (especially as Vinny is left-hand drive). The area in County Cavan and County Leitrim could be called the lakes district because of all the water, but whatever its called it made for some spectacular scenery en-route.

We stopped in the largest town in the area, Carrick on Shannon to top up on supplies and grab a bite to eat at the pub.  As we walked out of the shopping centre with our hands full of bags, of course, it started raining. We went into one pub on the riverbank to grab a bite to eat.  The pub was brilliantly located, with a massive beer garden overlooking the river as well as upstairs and downstairs areas to keep every cosy in the winter, but, they didn’t serve food! We crossed over the river into the “main” part of town and joined the queue for the ATM.  We found another “nice” pub, nice in the regard they served food and had a great pub-grub lunch.  We spent the time observing some of the subtle differences between pubs at home and here.  Here, pubs still serve honest pub-grub.  Here, bring your kids.  Here, guys will sit on stools at the bar and quietly chat and drink moderately. Here, hand driers in the bathrooms can remove paint from a Boeing 747 (they all seem to be made by Dyson!) Here, dogs are allowed inside and are offered water bowls.  Anyway replete and content, we picked up Vinnie and headed off for the drive through the lake district.  Luckily, as we pulled into the drive at the campsite at Lough Arrow the rain stopped and wind dropped (briefly).  We were supposed to be getting an un-powered site on the fringe of the park, but a resident caravan owner wasn’t going to make it this weekend so we could snuggle Vinny up to his van and use his power supply ourselves. The sun was still out, so we pulled out the camp chairs and had a chat with our neighbour for a while; I later had a snooze whilst Tracy continued reading through her travelling library. Later we went for a walk beside the lake, following some directions a park visitor had given us.  We didn’t walk that far but far enough, and made plans to go further the next day.

A sunny day - Scott finally has some shorts on but hasn't let go of the jumper yet.
A sunny day - Scott finally has some shorts on but hasn

At the furtherest point on our walk there was the pad of a house under construction.  The pad was huge and the house will eventually have 360 views over two different lakes, so maybe the economic times are not tough for everyone here?  Although it should be noted that it looked like the site had almost been abandoned and nothing had happened for some time.  We went back to the park for dinner and a drink or two, then an early-ish night.

Friday 03 June 2011 : Carlingford -> Lough Ramor

Friday 03 June 2011
Carlingford -> Lough Ramor

There was no middle-of-the-night knock on the door from the Garda (police) or council rangers, so we were quite surprised when we woke up after an uninterrupted sleep. The sun was shining and it seemed the weather was on the improve as Ireland was heading into a Bank Holiday long weekend.  We had a quick brekkie and headed off to get inland before the expected long weekend rush.  The countryside was very green (I presume that is why Ireland is called the emerald isle), so very different to home where it is all brown.  There were lots of farmers working to cut their grass (silage) and get it into storage/processing whilst the sun was shining, so the country lanes were frequented by tractors with large trailers, driven by young teenagers (some would have been lucky to be 12 or 13!).  Apparently if they get it cut now and with some good weather they may get another crop in towards the end of August.  We stopped in Cavan, namesake of the county and visited the TIC to pick up some brochures on local events etc.  We were amazed by the amount of water-borne holidays available in the region, canalling is a very popular past-time and there are many, many lakes and rivers for fishing. We had a reservation beside a lake (or lough, pronounced almost the same as a Scottish loch) so were full of anticipation.  Armed with loads of brochures for all over island and plenty of help from the lady at the TIC, not long after leaving Carvan, we arrived at our campsite by the lake.

Just like all the farmers we had seen that day, the owner was cutting the grass in the sunshine, but gave us enough time to book in and showed us around his site before jumping back on his ride-on mower to finish his chores in preparation for the expected weekend rush. The sun was shining, the wind had abated, so it was time to roll out the awning and the camp chairs for their first uses. Tracy took the opportunity to catch a few rays and I went for a run, then a shower, then a cold beer under the shade of the awning (not to mention a little nap). 

All set up for the sun - perfect
All set up for the sun - perfect

A little later we went for a walk up the hill to the local shops to buy some more ciders, summer-esque snacking foods and dinner victuals.  Back at the campsite, next door, a bloke had arrived with his three kids.  He had a brand new tent, which he didn’t know how to erect, so Scott and another site visitor lent a hand.  After their tent was finally up, the bloke opened up his brand new outdoor table and chair setting to find a bolt missing, so had to improvise with whatever he found in his car.  By the time his wife finally arrived, the young kids were bored and had wandered off to make themselves fun, and it was getting near dinner time.  He opened up his brand new two-burner cooker to find it didn’t have a gas regulator, but he did have a brand new small single burner cooker which was complete and allowed him to eventually get dinner ready for his family! Our offers to provide assistance were politely turned down; so we simply enjoyed our first bbq meal.  Meanwhile, while all this was happening, the park was slowly filling up with long weekend visitors and for every site that was pitched a new cloud of midges was disturbed.  By early evening the sky was almost black with midges; if we had a bug zapper, the serenity would have been commensurate with Bonnydoon! From relative safety behind our flyscreens we watched as the sun set and the fishermen returned to the camp from the lakeside; no-one carried anything other than that which they left with, it seemed no-one caught anything! (This pattern would continue in coming days).

Thursday 02 June 2011 : Dublin -> Carlingford

Thursday 02 June 2011
Dublin -> Carlingford
We got up relatively early and readied ourselves for our trip around Ireland.  We were all packed up and ready to go, but we needed a few bits and pieces from the shops, but they weren’t open yet so we had to have yet another coffee to bide our time.  We left the campsite and made our way onto the motorways to find a shopping centre we had seen previously and had been recommended to us as having everything we would need.  When we got there, the centre was open however most of the individual shops were still shut except the bookstore where Tracy managed to find yet another book she hadn’t already accumulated.  Luckily everything we needed soon opened and we finally hit the road in earnest.
It seems that whenever we take Vinny somewhere the weather is against us, today was no exception; although the sun was briefly visible, for the most part it was wet and windy, as usual.  we got off the main motorways and found ourselves in quiet Trim. 

Trim Castle
Trim Castle

This was the town where “Braveheart” was partly filmed (although we didn’t know this yet). In the centre of town was the Trim Castle, left over from the 14th century and one of the last well preserved Normal castles from when the British first arrived and conquered (well technically that is what they say) the area.  It was picturesque and displayed some promising “modern” defensive capabilities for its era.  We were pleasantly surprised not to get stiffed on the entry fee, so were happy to pay 4 Euro each for entry and a guided tour of the keep itself.  It was 3 Euro just to tour the grounds, so this sounded somewhat of a bargain and luck would have it there was a tour started in about 10 minutes, so we did a quick wander through the grounds and waited for the tour guide.  The tour was a real highlight (only let down by another tour of hooligans, I mean school children, who despite the best efforts of their teachers and guides could not get them to stop screaming throughout the castle.  Yes we know it has great acoustics kids!) Our tour guide was exceptionally knowledgeable and very enthusiastic, she even added stories about the filming when Mel (I am not endearing myself to the local population) Gibson was pelted with real rotten fruit and stones during part of the movie when his character is being led to his execution.  After the tour we had another meander through the grounds and then into town to have lunch at a local cafe.  This was a lovely little town with good parking for the motorhome.  It seems like all the towns are in a big competition for tidy town status and Trim would be up there with the streets clean, more flowers than you can imagine and everyone was friendly.

Our next stop was in Tara (or more precisely Hill of Tara) which is described as the most sacred ground in Ireland and where there were supposed to be some interesting tombs and other religiously significant objects in a field on the side of a hill from pagan times. 

Hill of Tara
Hill of Tara

Yes, there was a lovely grassy hill with panoramic views of the surrounding valleys.  Yes, there was a tomb.  Yes, there were some ditches and other earthly-diggings.  No, it wasn’t interesting.  Or, was it that it might have been interesting if we had paid for the self-guided audio tour instead of relying on a couple of paragraphs from the Lonely Planet?  I am not going to argue the point.

It was getting on in the day and we had barely covered any distance, so buoyed by the Trim experience and deflated by the Tara experience we made a beeline for Carlingford.  There was some interesting countryside enroute and the weather was behaving itself better, so the drive was quite pleasurable, not sure if the road was worthy of being a toll road, but it certainly kept the traffic down.  We made it into Carlingford just before the TIC shut for the day.  The lady there told Tracy there was no camping site in Carlingford, the nearest site was some way up the road, so up the road we went, and back again because we couldn’t find where she was talking about!  Our guide book showed the closest park was too far away so we decided to “rough camp” for the night.  We drove Vinny to a seldom used suburban street near an almost-abandoned building site (signs of the tough economic times here) but we had views over the estuary and could watch the tide come and go. However interesting the tide might be, more interest was found by walking into the small town and counting the pubs! It seemed every building was a pub, but the old ruins of Taffee’s Castle just off the main street certainly did house a pub, with cold beer and wine. After a couple of visits to the bar, we wandered back through the little town and then back to the van for roadside dinner and sleep.