Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Wild Atlantic Way - Part 2



Let's talk about the roads in Ireland. Maybe I was a little harsh in my last post. Basically, there are 'M' roads, which are the big, multi-lane highways, some of which are also toll roads. These are great, but we really didn't spend much time on there because the Wild Atlantic Way is off in the far reaches of the western coast. Then there are 'N' roads, 'N' for National. In many places these roads are fairly equal to the 'M' roads, only not as big. In other places they are skinny, requiring some butt-clinching sidewalk driving through town. Also in many places the 'N' roads remind us of Alaska - chipseal, narrow and pitchy. I guess building roads on the bog is as hard as it is on permafrost, only without the freeze/thaw part.

This is a great R road! A new one, which is kind of rare.

Then there are the 'R' roads, 'R' for "regional". Because we were traveling along the coast and off the big highways, for the most part, these were our favorite, we knew what we were getting with an 'R' road. In some places we could actually zip along at a tire-squealing 80 kms (50 mph) an hour. That usually didn't last long, though, because all around the 'R' roads are free-range sheep. They loooooove to eat the stuff right next to the road. In other places the lanes were especially narrow, and there is no such thing as a shoulder. Or setbacks, for that matter. Someone's front door might open right out onto the road. There is usually a four-inch drop-off on one side, which you really don't want to fall off of, and hedgerows growing right on the road, so a rogue branch can do a bit of damage to your paint job. So then the choice becomes scratch your vehicle or move a tad to the center. This is when your brain really gets rattled, because the Irish do not install drains, manhole covers or road hardware flush. Everything is an inch or three above the surface. So now, with the center line filled with road turtles, your drive becomes, "ker-THUNK, ker-THUNK, ker-THUNK. It drove me mad. On some roads there were turtles on BOTH sides of the lane, so we got a double-dose of ker-THUNK, because the lanes were so skinny there was no way to avoid them. My Queendom for an extra few inches of lane width!

And then there are the dreaded 'L' roads. These are the 'Local' roads which can look like someone's driveway, usually one lane, may or may not be paved, grass growing in the middle, hedgerows on both sides. Tiny. These are the roads we tried to avoid, but spent a good amount of time on because if you want to get to the little village on the coast, you've gotta drive down an 'L' road. It is on these roads that I learned to drive Bijou backwards. 

Oh, hello Mr. Bus, shall I just back up a kilometer so you can carry on? Sidewalks? Sheep? Traffic? No problem!


This is our route for this leg of our WAW adventure.

Anyway, all that is to say that as we drove the Wild Atlantic Way, we learned a few tricks. One of which is to leave early if there is a specific place we want to be that involves anticipated traffic, tour buses or an 'L' road, as most destinations do. Which brings me to our next stop, the Slieve League Cliffs, or "Sliabh Liag" in Irish, one of the crown jewels of the WAW. The sea cliffs are the highest in Ireland and are also one of the many pilgrim paths. Our timing was perfect, as there has been a recent investment of over $5 million to install a rock path. I can't speak for Steven, but it is one of my favorite hikes. LOL, okay, so I've only done about five hikes in my entire life, and one of them happened to be a really long one, but other than that, Slieve League is my favorite. 

It was a cold and rainy day, but we arrived before anyone else and got the parking spot for Bijou that we had scoped out on Google Earth. We knew she would be safe for the day and that we'd be able to get out when we returned to her later on.


The perfect spot for Bijou! 

  
Slieve League cliff sheep. You know what that means, right? I’ve gotten used to it but our boots are suffering.

Slieve League Sea Cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.


Lobster rolls on offer after our hike! Better than any of the ones we had in Maine.

Exhausted from our hike, we made our way to a quiet little marina on Lough Melvin, one of my most favorite overnight stops, which means it comes in at number 18 on my Top Ten Favorites List. Of course we had to travel about eight kilometers on an 'L' road to reach it, but this little marina was so perfect, we had to stay two nights. We had bought a few food items at the Donegal Food Festival, and did a fairly big shop a couple of days prior, and honestly, all I wanted to do was nest and cook. I just wanted to be in my home. Of course, it was pouring rain nearly the entire time we were there, so it was easy to just focus on anything but the outdoors. It was here that we fired up Bijou's oven for the very first time and cooked a leg of lamb. Granted, it was a tiny leg, but it was soooooo delicious. Now we are in love with our oven! It's so much more functional than we thought it would be!

Tiny marina on Lough Melvin. Still close enough to Northern Ireland that our phones would try to connect to towers there.

Just part of a leg of lamb.

The Irish rain fell the entire time we were there, somewhere between a drizzle and a soaking rain. It reminded me of the rain in Seattle, which I always loved when I was at home, cozy, cooking something, or just relaxing with a glass of wine. It was familiar and perfect. 

When we hit the road we had planned a big day with three sightseeing stops. This time we were heading to Mullaghmore, a lovely seashore town and the location of the beautiful Classiebawn Castle. This was the summer home of Lord Mountbatten, who was, among other things, a mentor to Prince Charles, and who was killed in an explosion on his boat by the IRA. The castle is now privately owned and we weren't allowed to go in, but the next best thing was a distant view, which we, and a few tour buses full of folks made do with. It's funny, because I'd say we had 80 percent of the WAW to ourselves. But get close to some kind of drama, and here come the tour buses. 

We try not to park this way if it blocks the sidewalks (that’s illegal, actually) but this one was nice and wide.

Classiebawn Castle.

Oh, hello bus tours. Are we in your way?

Our second stop of the day was at the grave of W.B. Yates, the famous Irish poet. Found in the churchyard, his grave is marked with a simple headstone with the inscription, "cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman, pass by." This was Yeats' self penned epitaph together with the instructions that the grave consist of "no marble, no conventional phrase". There is, of course, a gift shop at the church, and we had to go in and buy something. We adopted another little blackfaced sheepie, and named her Ceili. That's Kayleigh, to you. Now we have two sheep in our flock. LOL, when Zoë was little, and we were reticent to get a pet because of the care involved, she asked, "Is there a pet that doesn't poopie?" Yes, Zoë, yes there is and their names are Kevin and Ceili. They don't shed, either.  

  

Of course we adopted a lazy one.

At our next stop, the Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, we had a guide who was educated and passionate. We learned a lot about the history of Ireland, including the fact that the very first people to set food on the island following the retreat of glaciers were dark-skinned and blue-eyed, a combo that as a people, no longer exists. We learned a lot about Irish mythology and honestly, they give the Greeks a run for their money. 

Learning about the monoliths.


After our stops, we made our way to the Lough Arrow Caravan Touring Park, a lovely place recently purchased by two Brits looking to ditch the corporate world and slow down. We had a nice stay there for two days, catching up on laundry and cleaning. Why does it seem like we have so much of that? I suppose it's because we carry fewer things with us, and without laundry facilities of our own, we take advantage of the machines when we can. This place was out in the boonies, so other than Steven walking in the rain to a nearby church ruin, we didn't do anything in the way of sightseeing. 

  
This was a day of rainbows. We saw at least three!          Steven went to explore this old church from the 16th century.

It always feels good to get chores done, especially when we're headed to a place where we know we'll be out and about seeing things. For our next stop, we headed to Achill Island, Co. Mayo. Though it may look like it would sound like a sneeze, it's pronounced "Ackle". Achill is the largest of the Irish islands at about 57 square miles. Like much of Ireland it has a history of comings and goings, settlements and immigration. In my humble estimates there are more sheep than people, by far. And, this is fact, the island is 87 percent peat bog. 

  
Island traffic and sheepies scratching their itch on the sign. 

On the way to the deserted village of Slievemore on Achill Island.

A “Booley House” where people would live in the summer months and let their cattle graze the hills.



Not a bad view for breakfast, eh?

Have I mentioned my obsession with the peat bogs of Ireland? Have you ever sat in front of a peat, or turf, fire? Man, they burn hot! They have a smell you either love or hate, or get used to, it's kind of sickly sweet. As we would drive into a little village, it's the first thing we'd smell. Even if it wasn't all that cold outside, there will still be homes with the fires burning, to keep the damp at bay. The first time I sat in front of a peat fire was in 1999 at a cottage on Inishmore in the Aran Islands just south of Achill Island. It was in March and still chilly out, and I remember the heat coming off that thing, it was so cozy and fab! My sister-in-law, Jackie, loves a good turf fire, and says the Irish are "mad for the heat". I can understand why, we haven't exactly had a warm summer, but we've sure not suffered any more heatwaves! I'll take a little chill over a heatwave any time.

Harvesting peat from the bog. It’s considered about as environmentally friendly as coal. 😬


This would be me back in the day, a peat fire and my pipe!

From Achill Island we made a beeline south to the Salthill area of Galway. We had tickets to the theater to see "The Miami Showband Story". Our friend Aileen Mythen (wife of Steven's bestie Kieran) was among the ensemble cast. Not only did we want to see her performance, but it was the only time we were able to see Aileen as she was performing in Belfast before they took the show on the road across Ireland. Back in the 70s, the Miami Showband were popular across Ireland. Sadly, one night as they crossed the border from the Republic into Northern Ireland, as they had done many times before, members of a paramilitary group opened fire and all but two of the the band's members were essentially massacred. The incident sent a shock wave across the country, and there are still questions today as to why this happened. 

 
Galway city and uileann pipe musician. “Uileann” is Irish for “elbow” which is used to pump air instead of blowing like bagpipes..

We met up with Kieran for a few drinks and dinner before the show, and made our way to the theater. The timeline of the show was a bit hard for us to follow, but the audience was filled with fans of the Miami Showband and they knew the entire history. It was wonderful to see Aileen in her professional environment, she is a very talented gal!

With Kieran and Aileen in Galway.

In order to make it to Galway in time for the show, we skipped over the Connemara National Park, a place we both really wanted to visit. So rather than continue south, we headed north again and made our way through the park. We went to the visitors center which had a whole section on peat bogs and how it was so important to the way of life in Ireland. We looked at the hikes available in the park and chose Diamond Hill to do the next day. For a wonderful overnight location, we made our way to Killary Harbor. We had the place to ourselves. We started our hike early the next morning and I was reminded that while I might enjoy a long-distance hike or two, I am not, even in the slightest, interested in scrambling up a mountain. More on that next time. 

Kylemore Abbey, a Benedictine monastery founded in 1920. The castle part hosts modern events, including weddings.

Sunset on Killary Harbour.



An aerial view of our spot in Killary Harbour.

UP NEXT: WAW, Part III

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The Wild Atlantic Way - Part 1



The Wild Atlantic Way is a driving route that, in the north of Ireland, begins in the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal. It was here, after returning from our quick jaunt into Northern Ireland, that we began our journey along the coast. 

The Wild Atlantic Way is about 1,550 miles (2,500 kms) which is quite the distance for a relatively small island. There is a lot of zig zaggy coastline, and that's what the WAW is all about. The wild coastlines, the cliffs, the small communities and their way of life. Mostly, though, it's the fantastic scenery that is the star of the show. 

As a tourist route, the WAW was introduced by the Office of Tourism in 2014. While it has done a good job of bringing tourism to the coastal communities, the one thing lacking is good road infrastructure. Then again, you could say that about the entire country. So I will. With the exception of the 'M’ roads, which would be like our Interstate highways in the U.S., the roads in Ireland suck. We have been rattled to our very cores and poor Bijou has lurched and bounced over countless rough and pitchy lanes and probably has more screws loose than we can count. Having said all that, it was a fantastic journey that we would do again in a heartbeat and would highly recommend to others!

Planning a trip on the WAW is a daunting task. There are 157 Discovery Points, nearly 1,000 attractions and twice that many activities. Even though we had a few weeks to make our trip, we still had to focus on the places and attractions that interested us the most. There is a great website (https://www.wildatlanticway.com) which was perfect for discovering places, but it was a little clunky for actually routing our trip. Also, connectivity was even more of an issue, as we typically planned our activities and our route only a day or two in advance, and we weren't always able to connect when we needed to. We needed something old school. Fortunately, Steven had purchased a little "Wild Atlantic Way Pocket Map" and it became our most valuable planning tool. 


You can see how many places we circled and wanted to visit. 

What was great about the map is that it had tons of information about numerous stops along the way. We read through all the information, circling those stops that appealed to us. We also joined a wonderful Facebook group called Total Motorhome Ireland, whose members were quick to respond to our questions with detailed information. 

Our goal was to visit at least three places on our way to our next overnight stop. It didn't always happen because sometimes we needed to slow down, but for the most part, we managed it. There were days that the distance between stops was just a few kilometers, so often we didn't travel far. We really enjoyed traveling this way.

This is our route for this leg of our WAW adventure.

We chose our first stop, Malin Head, on the Inishowen Peninsula because it is the most northerly point in Ireland. There is not really much to see at Malin Head, but there was a beautiful cliff trail we were able to walk as the sun finally peaked out from behind the clouds. There is an area called Devil's Bridge and Hell Hole, which on a stormy day acts a bit like Thunder Hole in Acadia, spewing thunderous sprays of the Atlantic high in the sky. But, as these things can go, it was a fairly calm day when we were visiting. 




 
The letters behind Steven were to aid pilots with navigation.

Cliff walker.

Malin Head was wild, rugged and remote. A welcome alternative to the usual packed tourist venues.

Up next, we made our way to the Doagh Famine Village in Ballyliffin, Co Donegal. I am of two minds about this place, because it was presented in two completely different formats. The first part was fabulous. We were taken through thatched roof cottages by a tour guide who actually lived in them as a boy. He spoke of their way of life and how quickly it all changed, in the 1980s! The two things that facilitated change were television and technology. With the former came glimpses of life outside the village and with the latter came jobs that caused the younger generation to move away.

Our tour guide actually grew up here and lived in one of these cottages.


  
The first half of our tour was full of promise with rich stories from times past.

The second part of the village was, comparatively, hokey. And we got a new tour guide that simply spewed memorized information and was not nearly as interesting as our first guide. That doesn't mean we didn't learn anything about the famine, we did, but the presentation was just terrible. Thank goodness for the first part of the tour was so excellent.

There is nothing funny about the famine, but these displays were hilarious.


Grim reminders of life during the Irish famine.

Our third and final stop for the day was Grianan of Aileach, a circular stone hill fort in Burt, Co. Donegal. Our GPS had difficulty finding it, but when we finally did get headed in the right direction, it was down a one-lane track, then up, up, up to the top of the hill. While there is evidence the fort was used as early as 1700 BC (!!) during our visit it was being used by a wedding party for photographs. I have to say it was a pretty spectacular place for that, but not wanting to get in their way, I steered clear of climbing to the top. Plus, we don't have chocks for Bijou and I had visions of her rolling off the hill, so I stayed fairly close to her while Steven got in some drone flying time with Buzzy Buzzandra. The views were astounding in all directions!

Another rural traffic jam!

No, that’s not Steven, although he did think about it!


The bride and groom.

Wedding photographs were well under way as we got ready to leave.

Beautiful views as we drove down from the fort.

We managed to get off the hill and find our way to the parking lot at Inch Island Waterfowl Reserve on Lough Swilly, which is where we parked up for the night. This was a fabulous place! There was an 8 km loop around the reserve, which we were planning to walk the following morning before taking off, but it was not meant to be. At some point in the evening, Steven realized he had left his camera at the Doagh Famine Village. He called and sure enough, they had found it and assured him it was in a safe place. Whew! We got up early and retraced our steps to retrieve the camera. Two hours later, we were back in our spot at the reserve cooking breakfast!

Safe and sound at the waterfowl reserve.


From Inishowen Peninsula the next logical place to go is to Fanad Head Lighthouse and the gorgeous Ballymastocker Bay, but we had already visited those places the week before when we were with family in Portsalon. Instead of retracing our steps, we made our way southwest to Donegal Town. It was here I think I reached a turning point in my driving skills. The town was heaving with traffic and people for the annual food festival and something just clicked. I stopped being freaked out by it all. We inched our way to the docks where we had planned to overnight, only to find it filled with food trucks. We had no Plan B, so we carried on, got turned around and inched our way back through the crowds to luckily find another spot for overnight camping, designated by the town for the festival. How nice! We got parked up and walked right back into town to join the fun!

The food festival was worth the trip plus Linda got the Irish stew she had been craving.

Never a day went by without a sheep, even at the food festival.

Lots of traffic and people in Donegal Town.

These ladies played for hours. Even after we had spent hours walking, drinking and eating, they were still going at it!!

I got captured by the honey bees.

We awoke the next morning and while trying to prepare our breakfast, we realized we had run out of propane. Such a rookie move, right? While propane is available in Ireland, it isn't on every street corner. But as luck would have it, the only place around us for 100 kilometers was right on our way to our next stop, Glencolumcille Folk Village. That's a mouthful, isn't it? This was Steven's pick, he really wanted to visit this place, but all I could think was "Great, another hokey village", but it wasn't at all. 

We stopped for propane on the way and arrived at the folk village fairly early in the day. We planned to stay there all day and overnight, as motorhome parking is allowed, so this would be our only stop of the day. It was a fabulous place, because just out our front window was the most gorgeous view of the Glencolumcille Beach. 

Glencolumcille village has cottages with displays spanning three centuries.

  

This lady was a little startled when we walked in. 

  

Back at the village we took the tour which we enjoyed and after, we were allowed to look around on our own as long as we wanted. For the most part, we had the village to ourselves. I made my way to the café and ordered some soup and brown bread (such delicious and simple food!) while Steven took photos. He joined me before long and we made our way across the street back to Bijou. By the afternoon the place was jam-packed with tourists. Bus after bus showed up and the people just kept coming. I guess it's a blessing and a curse, as these tours help keep places like folk villages in business. But wow, it's unpleasant to be in such crowds!

Soup and brown bread. Food for the soul.

Kevin, our new traveling buddy, spots a few friends from the Glencolumcille parking lot.

The tide is out at Glencolumcille beach.


We were parked right beside the picturesque Glencolumcille beach. The gorgeous sunset was a perfect ending to the day.

And that's it for our first three days on the WAW! I might have to speed up a bit, otherwise it'll be like blogging in real-time, which I should have done, but didn't. Oh well. 

NEXT UP: More WAW!