I’m back On The Road again. This time in company with Messrs. Chapman and Glynn. These fine gentlemen wish to do a long-distance walk together – while staying in the same place each night; Bernie’s holiday home in County Sligo. I’ve been roped in as their chauffeur. By popular (?) request, I’ve been invited to Blog about the trip.
To state the blindingly obvious from the outset; it will be my perspective on things, so maybe not so much about the splendour of the Irish countryside viewed from rugged mountain-tops as the boys will be seeing it, more the inside of a few coffee shops and sedentary town-based activities.
Right, introduction over, here are a few words about the journey out here…
Bright and breezy, Chappers picked me up a little before 08:00. The day had already started out unusually as Radio 2’s travel news had announced the road outside my house to be closed. Bit close to home, I thought, and odd to be on Radio 2 – not least as it is hardly a nationally vital arterial route. Dave had heard this too, and picked his way round the back streets to get to me. Turns out there was a nasty job overnight involving a railway worker getting run over by his own van as it was being stolen. Bad news anyway, but especially so happening in MY village!
An uneventful drive up to Bernie’s, north of Chesterfield, the only traffic we hit inevitably being the run into “town” along the A61. At Bernie’s I met Mrs. Bernie and the bundle of unlimited energy that is Pip the Dog. A welcome mug of coffee and a few minutes of entertaining the dog was followed by a wonderful game of repeatedly extracting him from the car as Bernie loaded-up. Pip was evidently convinced he was coming with us and was going to make sure he wasn’t left behind.
The trip is being undertaken in Bernie’s Primera. Dave made the mistake of being disparaging about the eight year old/140,000 mile vehicle (which is being replaced at the end of the month anyway). Fair to say he’d have got less reaction from Bernie had he questioned his parentage – clearly the vehicle is a chink in Bernie’s otherwise tough exterior!
Wet North Wales
We stayed ahead of the forecast rain until we joined the M56 SW of Manchester, but all through North Wales it absolutely tipped it down (and sometimes upwards too!). Nevertheless, Bernie navigated us to Holyhead almost to the minute of our planned arrival – one hour before sailing time of 13:50. We joined the queue of vehicles and tucked into our sandwiches. Bernie had kindly provided some for me (Dave had, of course, been sent off by Noeline with a feast of a pack-up) but I hadn’t given food a thought – assuming “something would happen”. There was a bit of a false dawn as a PA announcement said boarding was about to commence and we drove quite a distance around the docks – only to join a second queue. To Be Fair; this wasn’t too long a wait and before long we were parked-up aboard the Stena Adventurer and enjoying the second coffee of the day.
Given the dismal weather, the crossing was expected to be, as Captain Eric Davies said on the PA, “moderate”, but he assured us the ship had stabilisers. Either way, as it turned out, although it pitched and rolled a bit, it wasn’t at all queasy-inducing. We positioned ourselves in comfy seats at the front of the boat, looking out to where we were going so Chappers could “drive”. ETA to Dublin was given as 17:05 and it didn’t seem long at all before we could see the vague outline of land ahoy. Then there was a further PA announcement to the effect that another ferry was occupying our berth and had had a problem, meaning we would have to wait for it to leave (and I thought platforming/stand issues only occurred in train or air travel!). A revised ETA of 17:45 was given and we slowed our progress discernibly.
The Boys on the Boat
The land we could see turned out to be Howth, near the entrance to Dublin Harbour, but it stubbornly refused to grow much. So, at the time we should have docked, we were still meandering our way into the mouth of the Liffy. Insult to injury, we were then overtaken by an Irish Ferry service which had left Holyhead behind us. True to the promise made some time earlier, we docked around 17:45 and were fairly quickly off the boat. A cursory stop & question by Customs as we headed for the exit from the Port, only to join a massive traffic jam, mainly formed by the vehicles coming off that Irish Ferry. Turned out a broken down vehicle — with a “Garda Traffic Corps” car behind it — had taken out one lane leading into the city.
All things considered, I was very impressed at just how simple the process of getting over on the ferry had been. Not sure how or why I’d thought it would be more difficult, but there you go.
Once past the obstruction we threaded our way very slowly through the Dublin evening rush hour traffic. As we passed the O2 Arena we saw lines of people outside, and as we queued in the traffic there were streams of – mostly – teenage girls heading the other way. Turns out Jesse J was “in da house”. By now dusk was falling and the skyline of (mostly new) office blocks lining the Liffy was quite striking. We crossed the river and went past haunts of a previous visit to Dublin including Messrs. Maguire’s and The Porterhouse. It was over an hour after disembarking before we got past the traffic and left Dublin on the M4 heading north west.
During the long and very dark drive, I was left pondering several things about this new found part of the world: Firstly, just how dark the sky was, despite being almost a full moon, with the clouds having cleared and the lack of light pollution leading to a star filled sky. Secondly, how new yet empty the roads were. Bernie was telling us that almost all the route across to Sligo has been built in the last ten years or so – the result of the booming Irish economy (pre-2008 crash) and not a little European funding. Whereas once upon a time this journey would pass through interminable villages, it now bypasses all but a handful. Another feature of Irish trunk roads, once off the new motorway & dual carriageway, is the wide lane margin on each side. This is used by cyclists and, potentially, breakdowns, but is mostly to allow slower vehicles to simply move over and let more hurried drivers pass. This seemed to work well, a lorry doing just this for us and a line of cars. The downside was revealed a little later when we were confronted by an oncoming lorry doing the manoeuvre in reverse, forcing us over into the fortunately clear edge lane. The final point of pondering on the journey was how reminiscent it was of being in Australia: Driving on the left with distances/speeds in kilometres. This has a the definite advantage of large looking distances seeming to count-down much, much faster!
Bernie, being driver, was in charge of the radio for the journey. On the UK leg this was Five Live and a never-ending cycle of Plebgate and England’s World Cup chances (or lack of them as the pundits would seemingly have it). In Ireland it was RTE1, including an intriguing story about a planned Shell gas pipeline in Co Mayo. A sorry tale of a “cock up by the EPA” (Environment Protection Agency – which inevitably had me thinking of the Simpsons Movie!) unfolded. It was clear there was a sub-text to the story which, if I were to express it here, would undoubtedly be libellous. Suffice to say it didn’t reflect well on government affairs in Ireland, so it was somewhat refreshing to know our powers-that-be don’t have the monopoly on incompetence!
Half way on our journey to the west, we stopped at a service area. I was astounded to see it incorporated a Tim Horton’s coffee shop. I had no idea this chain had spread out of Canada (other than to the most northern reaches of the US). I can’t imaging why they don’t continue their journey over the Irish Sea? We passed on the opportunity of greasy burger food from a local chain call Super Macs, and pressed on to Bernie’s House for supper.
Having arrived, unloaded the car, and staved-off hunger, we walked the few hundred metres/yards up the hill to the Mayflower. I shall wax lyrical about this establishment in a subsequent instalment of this blog – as I suspect [er, know] that we ail be in there often over the next eight days.
Enough for now. I’ll tell you about where I am as I type this and what I’ve done this morning in my next bout of tryping.
The Perfect End To The Day