Monday, April 3, 2017

Ireland Part Three

A year or two Back Paul and I watched a TV series called Monty Halls Great Irish Escape. Monty Hall travelled to Connemara in 2010 to stay for 6 months and enjoy the delights that Connemara had to offer ( this obviously shows how far behind our TV is in New Zealand). Any way Paul and I enjoyed watching it as it showcased Connemara, so when we decided to do this trip, Connemara had to be on our itinerary. After leaving Kinvarra near Galway, our trip to Westport included a side trip to Roundstone and part of the Connemara coast, via the Wild Atlantic Way. You may ask what is this Wild Atlantic Way? It is a road route that follows the coast of Western Ireland, from Cork in the South to Donegal in the north. We had already followed some of its routes around the coast, so today we set off for more.
Our first stop was Oughterard and Lough Corrib, a rather impressive island studded lake to the north and west of Galway. We nervously headed down Pier Road, nervous because it got narrower and narrower the further we went. It ended in a carpark, so we parked up and wandered out onto the pier for a look at this glorious lake, if only we had a little yacht it would have been a real pleasure to sail on.

The Pier on Lough Corrib.

Back to the car and onwards towards Connemara. Another side trip was a short drive up the Maumturk Valley, beautiful scenery a bit like Scotland, bracken, peat bogs, and impressive rocky massifs on either side veiled in low misty cloud. 

The Maumturk Valley. 

The Wild Atlantic Way veered off on a loop from the main road near here, this loop took us to Roundstone, Ballyconnelly and Clifden. The road was narrow and the landscape boggy and freckled with rocks. As we got closer to Roundstone the coast appeared indented with estuaries, with tentacle like arms of land poking out into Galway Bay and the Atlantic. Everywhere you looked little cottages rose up out of the rocky landscape, most surrounded by rock enclosures providing some protection from the elements. We stopped in Roundstone for a walk around, being winter there was not a lot happening, most shops were shut. We investigated the Harbour and walked down to the school and old Fransican Monastry, stumbling on the Roundstone Bodhran makers premises. I have a Bodhran, and I attempt to play it on occasion so this place interested me. I should probably explain what a Bodhran (pronounced Bowran) is, it is a hand drum with a round wooden frame and goatskin or other stretched over it, it is played either with the hand or with a tipper (stick). Inside the shop was a huge selection of Bodhran and the usual Irish tourist kitsch, so we had a scout around the shop. As we were about to leave we were greeted by Gifty Lawson Kearns the wife of the Bodhran make Malachy Kearns. Gifty gave us a brief tour of the factory, which was closed for the winter, and then we had a very interesting discussion about Refugees in Ireland. Gifty was from Ghana, and had come to Ireland as a immigrant herself, an interesting and lovely lady to talk to. 

Roundstone Harbour.

Killary Harbour, and yes the weather was closing in.

We left Roundstone expecting to now enter the Ireland of wind swept rocky coastline covered with bogs and sparsely scattered with random white stone cottages. We were a bit disappointed to find that as we drove around the coast to Ballyconnely the cottages were not sparse. By this time we needed a pee stop, and we did think we might just be able to stop at some secluded spot for a quick pee in the bushes, but unfortunately there was no secluded spot. The cottages were everywhere along the coast, mostly holiday batches probably, but not being sure we just crossed our legs and held on. Arriving in the next village we searched for a public loo, but they are few are far between. Eventually in desperation we went into a restaurant and asked if we could use the toilet, the Lady was very nice, and I think because we were foreign took pity on us. By this time it was starting to get on a bit and we still had a ways to go to get to Westport, so we continued driving onto Clifden were we stopped for a late picnic lunch down by the fish port. Continuing on around the Wild Atlantic Way we passed Letterfrack and Fjord like Killary Harbour. All along the road and in the surrounding countryside were huge Gunnera plants, they looked so out of place, we later found out that they were a terrible weed that is causing big problems for the native plants.

Along the Coastal route around Connemara.

At last we arrived in Westport, a town situated on Clew Bay in County Mayo. We were greeted at our BnB "The Clog Factory" by Evleen, our very warm and friendly host. We settled into our room, and had a cup of coffee with Evleen before setting out for a local restaurant for dinner. A lovely nights sleep was had then up for coffee and toast and a chat with Evleen again, she showed us her garden, which unfortunately was not at its best in winter and the extensions she was having done on her home, we found this quite fascinating as the homes here are very well insulated compared to ours in New Zealand. We then set out for Crough Patrick, one of the most spiritual Mountains in Ireland. Every year pilgrims traverse a well worn but rugged track to Crough  Patrick's peak to show their respect to Saint Patrick and visit the small chapel at the summit. Paul and I ventured only about 300 metres up the slope to take in the amazing views of Clew Bay, and ponder the devotion of these pilgrims. Back at the carpark, there is a lovely chapel with amazing views up to the peak for worshippers to visit and spend spiritual time.

The Crough Patrick Chapel at the foot of the pilgrimage.

That's me on the Pilgrimage trail to Crough Patrick.

Views over Clew Bay.

We headed back to "The Clog Factory" and parked up the car, then walked into Westport along the Greenway (the old train line). It took us right into the town and we had a good old wander around the shops and along the river. We ended up in the Porterhouse Pub, as you do, having a Guinness and talking to a local radio host named Norman Whylie, he is one of the hosts for a volunteer radio station in the area. Brexit was one of the topics of conversation along with the All Blacks and our cricket team. A slow stroll back to our home base as the evening set in, then it was an easy dinner in house and a few wines with our host. Evleen told us about what life was like in "The Troubles", at that time she lived in Donegal (Ireland ) but to get work they needed to cross into Northern Ireland on a daily basis. The procedure for crossing the border sounded pretty daunting, searches of their car, interrogations, being held for long hours, even with children in the car. Intimidation was the main driver in these encounters. 

The lovely town of Westport.

We from New Zealand find it hard to comprehend how anyone could live like that. The freedoms we have and the relative harmony that we enjoy are far different to the political and social unrest, conflict and domination endured by the inhabitants of other countries. But we at home do not see how good we have it, we try to spoil our idyllic country with petty squabbles, and carrying old grudges from one generation to the next. Ireland and Northern Ireland are attempting to move on from "The Troubles", to get over any sort of troubled past you need to forgive, forget and look forward to a brighter future.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ireland part 2

Xavier had flown back to London, so Paul and I were again on our own exploring the Irish countryside. Thursday 8th November dawned looking a lot more promising than the past few days, the sun was shining and the mist had cleared from the river valley, so we could see the view over to the Boggeragh Mountains. We decided that this would be the best day to do the famous"Ring of Kerry" drive, so we packed a lunch and set out for the 170km round trip. We first had to go toward Killarney and past Muckross Abbey, then it was up into the mountains. The landscape was beautiful, streams flowed down through the rock and braken to the small lakes nestled bowl like in the valleys, stone cottages mostly painted white stood out in stark contrast to the browns and greys of terrain. Autumn was on the wain, but still the colours were vibrant in the landscape, even as some lowering cloud came down near the mountain tops the colours shone out.
Looking towards Killarney to the left is the Magillicuddy Reeks.

Over the mountain pass and down into Kenmare we went, stopping at the local stone circle for a wander around, then a drive through town a toilet stop and off to the next sight. 

Kenmare stone circle.

Continuing on around the coastal road along Kenmare Bay down to Waterville, the scenery and the amazing rocky landscape draped in low cloud was stunning. These were the views of Ireland that I had imagined, with the lone white cottage on the stark landscape. In reality the cottage was there but not alone, when you zoom in enough you can create the illusion.

Ring of Kerry cottages

We arrived in Waterville to check out the Craft Market that we had seen on the TV, but again I was disappointed as it was full of Woollens and Irish kitsch. Onwards toward Cahersiveen and the marina that we had spotted on the map, finding some stunning scenery on the way. We had a picnic lunch at the marina and a quick scout around the ruined church and graveyard, then continued on towards the Castlemaine Harbour side of the Kerry Peninsula. It was a amazingly scenic drive and we should have stopped and spent more time, but our time was short. We arrived back at the cottage just after sunset at 4.30pm feeling a bit dazed by the blur of the trip.

Stunning coastline with the Atlantic roaring in.

Looking toward the Dingle Peninsula from the Ring of Kerry route.

Friday the 9th we decided to have a quieter day and went to visit some of the local Castle ruins near our cottage. Castle ruins are scattered all over Ireland, they are all in different states of repair, some you can visit for free others you have to pay for ie: Blarney Castle. The town of Mallow, which was only 30 km away was our first stop. This was an example of a Castle ruin with the newer Castle built beside it, sometimes they even used the stones from the old Castle to build the new one.
Mallow old Castle
Mallow newer Castle or stately home really.

As we drove back to our digs we saw a sign for Kanturk Castle so we thought, why not check that out. This one sort of leapt out at us from the trees, a mammoth structure right beside the road, after having a good wander around we decided to head to Kanturk town and have a look. It was another one of those lovely little villages you can come across that is a bit off the beaten track. 

Kanturk Castle.

We were on the move again on Saturday, this time heading to a little village called Kinvarra in County Galway. Our route took us through Limerick where we stopped for a glimpse of the river Shannon. Unfortunately it was a bit grey and gloomy, and the river was grey and gloomy, even Limerick city did not appeal to us. The streets were jammed with shoppers getting ready for Christmas, bands were playing, stalls were bustling with customers, but turn the corner and it was grey and gloomy..baa humbug.

Limerick Castle and the river Shannon.

Leaving Limerick we drove to Castletown and a crafts and Antiques centre we had seen on TV. There was an amazing collection of antiques, nothing like what we have at home, but the crafts were a little limited, very friendly little centre though. Back in the car our next port was the Cliffs of Moher, a famed tourist spot with spectacular cliff views. We drove around the Wild Atlantic Way route admiring the typical West coast scenery of rocks and broken, arriving at the Cliffs of Moher carpark. As we drove past the entrance to the Cliffs there were 5 buses lined up in the Bus Park, with little ant people walking over the hills to the cliffs. The car park was half full and pricey, so we drove on, disappointed. We had expected a remote carpark, with a track to the Cliffs, with no tourist development, but we forgot we are in Europe not the Antipodes. The rest of our drive took us through an area called the Burren, a rock strewn, empty corner of Ireland. An amazing plateau of huge limestone flagstones, cracked and broken after Millenia of rain erosion, an unusual but dramatic landscape. 

A random Castle like structure on the Wild Atlantic Way

The Burren

We arrived in Kinvarra at 4 pm and went to the local pub for an early dinner, we then checked into our cabin. The owners had lit a the fire, so it was toasty warm and very cute. This Airbnb was a nearly off the grid cottage, with a composting type toilet, solar panels and with what would now be called tiny house characteristics, right up our alley. After a lovely nights sleep we awoke to a sunny day and the thought of Exploring Galway. 

Our little cottage.

Sunday 11th December we drove to the centre of Galway and parked near the docks which were near the middle of town, and off we set to explore. After checking out the yachts at the dock we spotted a long break water that connected with Mutton Island, it seemed a popular walk on a Sunday and we could see a Lighthouse on the Island, so off we set to look at the Lighthouse. After quite a hike we arrived at the Island and the gates were shut, no visiting the Lighthouse, the Island appeared to be the cities sewerage treatment plant, hence no access, odd place for something like that, right in the middle of Galway Bay. So back to the city we set in the never ending search for a public toilet, we eventually went to a pub. Galway city is built on a river/canal much like Limerick, but it was a more vibrant city. A lot of the city centre has streets blocked to traffic, street performers, and people were milling everywhere, Christmas shopping was in full swing. The Christmas carnival was underway with Fair rides, and stalls selling Christmas food and cheer. We explored the Galway cathedral, walked the streets, watched the swans, explored shops and the selection of Guinness at the pub. Galway seemed like our sort of city, we loved the seaside atmosphere and the history of the place.

Looking out toward Mutton Island Galway Bay.

One of the many street performers.

Galway Cathedral, only 50 years old but spectacular.

Mr Bojangles Galway style.

It was back to the cottage to relax after an amazing day and quiet night with a few drams to send us to sleep. The next day we explored Kinvarra village the location of our cottage,  we were starting to feel very travel weary so a rest day was called. Tuesday the 13th of December we set forth towards Connemara and Westport, but that will have to wait till Part 3. Cheers for now

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Ireland part 1

So we had arrived on Irelands shores, setting foot on the tarmac on Friday 25th of November after winging our way across the Irish Sea. As I said, I felt I had arrived in my spiritual home, the land of my forebears. To be honest I probably have more English and German in my blood than Irish, but I have always felt an affinity towards my Great Grandfather Michael Daniel Gladstone Mulcahy (Mick). He originated from Irish stock, his Father, my Great great Grandfather Patrick Mulcahy came from County Tipperary. So coming to Ireland is a bit like a pilgrimage for me, I only hope that I will not be disappointed by it.
Our night in Dublin was great, we had only travelled about 5 km from the Airport, but sleeping in a heated room with shower and flushing toilet and a queen sized bed was luxury after 7 weeks in the motorhome. The next morning we set out for our first cottage stay in County Laiose (pronounced Leash) stopping at Port Laiose on the way for groceries. We were both quite amazed at how busy it was in Dublin and then on the roads, but the traffic did decrease as we got further into the countryside. Our cottage was just outside the village of Clogh (Clough) down a one lane road next to a farm. Geoghegans Cottage was built in the 1600's and up until 2005 was owned by Tommie Geoghegan ( Gegan), it was built of local stone with walls 2ft thick and slab stone floors. The cast iron freestanding fire was built into the old fire nook, with the old crane still in place ( the crane being the cast iron arm that you hung pots over the fire with). With only two rooms plus a bathroom it was quaint and cosy. The best part for me was that the bedroom had a 4 poster bed of considerable proportions, and it was extremely comfortable. We settled in to our new home ready for a week of exploring the counties of Laiose, Kilkenny, Carlow and Tipperary. 

Geoghegans Cottage

Sunday the 27th November saw us heading for Kilkenny City, we wove our way across the green rolling landscape that very much reminded us of home. Kilkenny City is built on the River Nore and the town slopes up from the river, it is well known for its Gothic Cathedrals and Round Tower, and Castle Kilkenny. We did a historic walk through the city discovering 4 of its many churches and Cathedrals within spitting distance of each other. Lanes and alleys slip off to left and right leading to courtyards and other lanes, old buildings towering over you in the darkened lanes give it all a ghosty feel. We had a pint and lunch at Kyteler's Inn, once the home of the convicted witch Alice Kyteler who fled to the USA leaving her maid to be burned at the stake. The Kilkenny Design Centre had some lovely items, lots of Waterford Crystal and Silverware, knitted items and jewellery, all this is showcased in the Castles former stable block. We walked around Kilkenny Castle and then followed the river back into the centre of the City. We found our car and headed back to Abbeyleix (Abbeyleeks) for some essentials..toilet paper, then home to the cottage.

Saint Canices Cathedral, Kilkenny with the first of the many round towers we would see.

Winter is nearly here and the sun is getting later and later, it gets up at about 8.30 and goes down by 4.30 so our days are short. Trying to fit the touring around into a short day can be a bit limiting, but we manage to see plenty. The 28th saw us off to County Carlow to explore an Iron Age ring Fort near the town of Tullow. The country side is a patchwork of paddocks worked with hedges, rolling across as far as the eye can see, houses are stark intrusions on the fabric covering. Little lanes branch off from the main road leading to the innumerable cottages that are dotted everywhere. The large sweeps of farming land that we have in New Zealand are not as common here in Ireland, smaller, what we would call lifestyle blocks abound. 

Some of the Rathgall ring Fort 
We found the Iron Age ring Fort down one of the lanes, it was situated on a small hill with views all around. The original structure would have been very impressive back in the day. It was comprised of 2 outer ditches and mounds and then 2 inner stone walls approximately 2 metres thick. We walked around the  circle imagining the life led here by the people, and what had happened for it to end, no one knows. We continued on our way toward Carlow town for a walk around, we found Carlow Castle and The Museum, everything else was shops, so we left after finding a toilet. Public toilets are not thick on the ground in Ireland so we have discovered, finding one when the need arises can become a pretty desperate search. We drove back to Abbeyleix and stopped at the famous Morrissey's Pub for a pint. This pub was once a grocery store as well as a pub, apparently this was quite common in Ireland, we also saw the hardware store/pub mix, the perfect manshop. In the guide book Morrissey's was the quintessential Irish pub, but then we found another two pubs laying claim to the same thing. 

The Rock of Dunamaise.

View from Dunamaise

Tuesday 29th was a quiet day with just a visit to Rathdowney, a local village, and a walk round Grantstown lake. We collected Xavier from the bus at about 7pm, he was joining us for a week of our tour. Wednesday we explored the Rock of Dunamaise, a Castle built in the 12th century on the site of a 9th century Fort on an amazing craggy hill top. The Castle was "rendered harmless" by Cromwells forces in the 1600's, partially restored in the late 18th Century then left to diminish to its current state, an amazing ruin. We next visited Timahoe and its famous round tower built in the mid 12th Century, apparently one of the best examples in Ireland, then it was back to Abbeyleix for a walking tour of the town, visiting the Catholic Cathedral and admiring the old buildings.
Timahoe round tower.

The very grand Catholic Cathedral in Abbeyleix.

Thursday 1st December we decided to do a bit of bush walking in the Slieve Bloom Mountains and the Clamp Hole waterfall. We had woken up with a -1c frost, and when we arrived at the walks parking lot the ice was still on the ground, but intrepidly we set out. It was a beautiful walk through some lovely forest, the water fall was freezing cold and ice had formed on the rocks around the falls. The wooden walkway was iced over, but hundreds of nails driven into the wood kept them reasonably none skid, like kids we had a great time cracking the ice on the puddles. We got back to the car by 1pm and the ice was still there, it had warmed up to 4 C by then. We continued on in a loop around the Slieve Blooms Mountains, which in all honesty are only hills, but the locals are very proud of them. Friday was more of the same exploring the local area, seeing more castles and pubs than you could poke a stick at.
Slieve Bloom Mountains walk.

Birr town square and the Santa train.

Saturday the 3rd we left our little cottage and County Laiose setting a course for County Cork and our next cottage experience. The Mountain River view cottage had 4 bedrooms, so Xavier was able to have a bed instead of the sofa. The view from the house was of the Boggeragh Mountains and the Black River a beautiful sight, which was unfortunately shrouded most of the time by mist or cloud. Yes our weather had turned a bit on us, but this did not stop us exploring the surrounding district. 

Mountain river cottage at sunrise.

Sunday 4th Dec we headed to the Dingle Peninsula via Tralee, as we had quite a way to go and a short day we had to miss looking at Tralee. The drive over the backbone of the Dingle mountains was very scenic but no photos as the road was a bit narrow and windy with not a lot of pull off stops. We stopped briefly in Anascaul at the South Pole Inn, once owned by Tom Crean, a gentleman famous for serving with both Scott and Shackleton in Antartica, the pub was shut unfortunately so we continued on to Dingle town. We did a quick tour around Dingle town, and along the waterfront, then Paul decided he wanted to have lunch back at the South Pole Inn, so we quickly shot out to Slea Head to admire the rugged terrain of the coastline, then back to Anascaul and the pub. Our mission was thwarted though as the pub was not serving food due to a kitchen renovation, so after a quick look at the memorabilia We decided to continue on back to Killarney trying to find something for lunch on the way. Eventually we stopped in Castlemaine at a pub for chips and a pint, then on to Killarney for supplies at the Tesco's and then home to our cottage.

Amazing stone buildings at Slea Head.

Monday we spent the day in Killarney exploring Muckross Abbey a Franciscan Friary founded in circa 1445, the monks were established here on and off until Cromwells forces drove them out in 1652, this Cromwell dude wreaked havoc in Ireland and England. Unfortunately the rain had found us just as we set out for our walk to the Abbey, but it didn't spoil the visit in fact it added to the atmosphere of the ruin. The Cloisters surrounded a courtyard with a Yew tree majestically reaching up to the sky, a little Robin was hopping around under the tree obviously at home. The ruins themselves were surprisingly intact, with many rooms enclosed. I was expecting to find evidence of occupation by the homeless, but apparently this is not an issue in County Kerry, more on that later. Muckross Abbey was one of the best preserved Abbey ruins we had seen, and we had seen a few, it was a real pleasure to walk amongst the history of this place. 

Muckross Abbey

The Cloisters

The Yew tree in the Courtyard.

We left in the rain feeling slightly damp but happy with our discovery, our next stop was Muckross Castle and grounds. Luckily the rain had eased a bit and we were able to take a wander around the grounds of the Castle and have a look at the ubiquitous Castle shop selling local woollens and Irish tourist kitsch. Our next stop was the city of Killarney, known as the Lake District of Ireland, we were hoping that it was not the case as we had not had a great experience in the real Lake District in the U.K. We located a very central carpark and visited the Information Centre who gave us a walking tour guide of the central city, so off we set to have a gander. Killarney is a lovely city, but very touristy, loaded with enough Motels and Resort complexes to rival any major city. The streets were decorated for Christmas and there was a holiday feel about the place. Jaunting car rides were available from the city to the lakes area, these are gaily decorated carts pulled by forlorn looking horses, unfortunately I was not allowed a ride as it was a bit expensive, oh well. After an ice cream at Murphy's Icecream Parlour, a famous Dingle company, we headed back to the cottage for a good rest.
Tuesday the 6th, Xavier suggested we go to Blarney Castle the epitome of tourist traps, as we made our way there a misty drizzle was with us, but when we arrived in Blarney it cleared. We parked up next to the Castle Woollen Mill shop, wandered over to the Castle entry and paid our €30 entry fee, not expecting to get to much value for our money. The walk to the Castle itself was actually quite scenic, over a lovely stream and grassed meadows. As you come upon the Castle it rises above you, standing high and stark against the sky. Underneath are caves and earthworks used in the past for dungeons, storage and escape routes. 

Blarney Castle as you walk up the path.

You make your way past the Guard Tower and into the Castle entry navigating over the oubliette, a trapdoor set in the entrance that could be triggered if unwelcome visitors had arrived. We then began our ascent through the Castle, this was achieved by climbing a very narrow circular stone staircase, this took us up through about 4 levels to the ramparts. The Castle was actually quite fascinating in itself with enough of it remaining to be able to envisage the actual layout of the levels. 

At the top preparing to plant your kisser.

We arrived at the top and got set to do the most corniest thing in the world, Paul and I had said that it was probably the least likely thing we would do in Ireland and there we were puckering up to a stone like 50,000 other people do every year. You have to lie on your back and bend backward out over the side of the Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone, the attendant has a grip on your clothing so you can't slip and they snap your photo for you, we snapped our own hence they are a bit dodgy. You can ask for an antiseptic wipe if you desire, but on the day we were there the couple of other punters looked pretty healthy. 

That's me kissing the Blarney Stone, no blarney. 

After that rather awkward experience we went off to explore the rest of Blarney Castle and Gardens, it was a beautiful place, with lovely gardens that would be picturesque in the summer months. The boys were very daring and went off and explored the caves under the Castle, no treasure or Princesses to be found.

Blarney Castle built on a craggy outcrop.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Castle and felt it was well worth the entry fee, so we were glad Xavier convinced us to go. Back at the Blarney Castle Woollen Mill shop I broke down and purchased a piece of Irish Kitsch for myself, had to happen. 
Wednesday, Xavier had to head back to London, so we drove him to the Cork airport and again it was misty, drizzly and gusty. After dropping him off at the airport we did a tour around some of Cork County, visiting Macroom, Millstreet and Rathmore. This drive took us over the Boggeragh Mountains, beside the Black River and down towards the southern coast of Cork. Again beautiful scenery abounds, but always with houses in the mix and not a lot of emptiness. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Part 11 the last of England for now.

We arrived in Bath on the 17th November after stopping at a pub stop overnight in an unremarkable village called Bradford on Tone. As we arrived and settled into the campsite the rain came tumbling down, it lasted for a few hours, but then we were able to head off along the tow path of the Avon Canal. We abandoned the canal path after twenty minutes of walking, as it was a mud bath, eventually making our way to the Botanic Gardens. After a quick scout around we hightailed it back to camp, making home just before the rain started again. We had booked two nights at the campsite in the hope that on Friday we would get some better weather and a chance to see the delights of Bath.

One of the Roman Baths.

Friday dawned cloudy and cold but the rain had reduced to the odd patches of drizzle, so we got ourselves rugged up and caught the bus into the centre of Bath. Our first stop was the Roman Baths, at a pricey £15 each we hoped it was going to be worth it, and yes it was. We spent nearly three hours wandering through the amazing ruins and listening to the audio guide, which pads out the story of what happened at this amazing sight. The baths were part of a Temple complex for the goddess Sulis Minerva, a combination of Sulis a local pagan goddess and Minerva the Roman Goddess. The Temple ruins are set up in such a way that you can imagine how it looked when it was in its complete state, the plumbing, underfloor heating, pools and chambers are all there for you to complete the picture. We are always so amazed at the age of things here in Europe, coming from such a young country we do not have the eons of history to draw on, but our history is pretty amazing in its own right. So we gaped and we gawked and we imagined as we continued on our explorations. The finale was getting to taste the waters at the end of the tour, and honestly it was only slightly palatable, I do feel sorry for all of those people who were prescribed the waters back in the day, apparently some had to drink up to 4 litres of it a day, bleah. 

Some of the original water ducts used to disperse the heated mineral water to the seperate baths.

Lead piping used in the plumbing.

These piles were holding up the floor and were part of the underfloor heating system.

Steam rising from the pools.

We returned to Regency period Bath and continued our tour of the city. I have read a few romances in my time, especially Georgette Heyer, and Bath was one of the places portrayed in these novels. The Pump room, attached to the Roman Baths and the Assembly Rooms, where Balls and gatherings were held, were  often mentioned, so of course we had to go and see them. The Pump Room is now a restaurant, but we were able to look in at the Georgian grandeur of the place. The Assembly Rooms are open to viewing except when they are booked for a function, and unfortunately they had been booked for a Mozart Festival, but using my Kiwi charm they  allowed us in to have a look and take photos, hence all of the chairs and tables in the ballroom. We continued on to the Royal Crescent and the gorgeous Georgian Houses around the city, my imagination ran wild, with High breasted Regency gowns, galant men in tight fitted trousers, hose and coats, high stepping horses and gleaming carriages. Bliss....Coming back down to earth we headed down to the Tesco's for some supplies before racing through the drizzle to catch the bus back to the campsite. Oh how ones dreams can be dashed with the cruel splash of an oncoming rain shower. 

Just part of the Assembly Rooms

Part of the Royal Crescent built in the late 1700's


Saturday 19th started out pretty chilly with -1 Celsius greeting us, and a heavy frost on the camper. We set out earlier than usual to avoid any heavy traffic, stopping outside Chippenham for morning tea, then continuing on to Semington for our Pub stop. The Avon and Kennet canal runs beside the village of Semington so of course we had to go and explore it, we managed to take the long muddy trek through a few paddocks to get there, but it was lovely once we arrived. Back at the pub we had a beer and watched the All Blacks vs Ireland match then headed home to the camper for dinner and a good sleep, the rain on the roof sending us off.

Avebury stones

More stones

Silbury Hill.

The next days plan was a visit to Avebury, an historic site noted for its standing stones, circular ditches and burial mounds. We arrived just on 11am with the temperature having risen to a whooping 4 degrees, so wrapping up warmly we started exploring the area with its 4000 years of history. We find it hard to comprehend the age of these historic wonders, to us from NZ 700 years is old. But here history is oozing from every rock and mound, from every collapsed stone cottage or tumbled down Castle, from pubs, shops and houses even. And the efforts of these history makers is astonishing to comprehend, the earth moved, the stones placed and monuments built all without our modern day technology. If only we had the community initiative now that was needed for some of these feats of construction. We left Avebury suitably awed and drove around to Silbury Hill another mound created by these amazing individuals over 4000 years ago, standing at 40 metres high it was created by hand, people carrying up turf and dirt to build a hill. Photos were snapped and an apple tree raided of some beautiful Bramley apples. Onward to our next pub stop.
We arrived at the pub just on 3.30pm and unfortunately it had started to rain, so we agreed to go straight in and warm up by the fire and have a pint or two. We walked through the door and the locals and owners were seated around the room, the Pub had actually shut at 3pm but we were invited to have a drink. We were greeted by the Town Crier and warmly included into the local banter, in the end we stayed for 2 hours and had a number of pints. We eventually had to suck it up and head back to the cold motorhome but we had been warmed by the welcome in this village.
The 21st we stopped at the market town of Marlborough to print out our Ryanair tickets for Ireland, we were going to use the Library but it was shut on Mondays, so we found a lovely lady in a printing shop who did it for us for 40p. It is the experiences either good or bad, that we have with people that I will remember the most, they can colour your whole memory of a place. Another pub stop at a unremarkable pub was on the agenda that night, but you have to take the good with the bad.
Tuesday morning we headed over to Stow on the Wold a well known (touristy) village in the Cotswolds. It is filled with Antique shops, cafes and home decor shops, the place for the well to do to come visiting on weekends. We gazed in the windows of the Antique shops not sure if we should enter with our Antipodean boots, building up the courage we moseyed in. These were real Antique shops, not the collectable type shops that we tend to have at home, the prices were about as stunning as the stock. One shop we went into there was this lovely old man minding the store, He asked us where we were from, he then proceeded to regale us with tales of his travels, and all the time his nose was dripping, a line of watery mucus entering his mouth. Because he was an old codger it didn't seem so bad, but luckily another customer came in and drew his attention away from us. We left Stow on the Wold and started to make our way back towards Bedfordshire in preparation for dropping the motorhome off, unfortunately the rain had come back again to dampen our spirits. So we stopped for lunch and the night in a little village called Fringford,( it is famous as being the village immortalised in the book "Lark rise to Candleford") and the pub "The Butchers Arms". Lunch turned into an afternoon as we were having a great old time with a local builder his sidekicks and the Landlady. They had completed laying a concrete floor on a house from the 1600's in the rain, and had come in for a few well deserved pints, they kept us entertained until dinner time.

The Butchers Arms in Fringford

Charming thatched houses in Fringford.

The 23rd, Wednesday saw us heading to the Henlow Bridge Motorcamp in preparation for handing back the motorhome, we wanted to catch up on washing, and give the camper a clean and top up on gas and Diesel. The campsite was about 25 miles from the Justgo Motorhome base, so we thought it would be an ideal spot to do all of the above...ha ha ha. Thursday we set out to top up the LPG, thinking this would be a simple task. We headed toward the petrol station at Ampthill, we had been told they did LPG fill, but that was not the case. Then we thought we would try the Tesco's at Flitwick, but again no joy. I phoned the Justgo Motorhome office to find the closest filling station, they told us that the petrol station on the High street in Toddington was the place, so off we set to Toddington. All this time we are navigating narrow roads and villages with two lanes and cars parked on both sides restricting the flow of traffic. We met with no joy in Toddington either, so it meant heading to the M1 and using a service centre. As you can imagine, me being the driver, was in a fractious mood by this point, but we made it to the service centre on the motorway and filled up with LPG. Thank God we were not doing this in the morning when we had limited time. We spent the rest of the day cleaning the camper and packing bags ready for the drop off the next day. Friday dawned, this was going to be a busy one, dropping off the motorhome, getting to the train station and catching our train to Luton, catching the shuttle from the train station to Luton Airport, boarding our flight to Dublin then collecting the rental car and navigating to our hotel. We did all of the above without a hitch. I can not believe how everything seems to fall into place for us ( perhaps I shouldn't say that as I might jinx the rest of our trip) I booked most of this trip 4-5 months in advance and so far there has been a smooth transition from one place to the next, may it continue.

Bidding England goodbye for now.
So we arrived in Dublin at about 3.30 in the afternoon, we collected our rental car and made it to the Motel without a hiccup, apart from not being able to find reverse when we arrived in the carpark at the Travelodge. We had reached Ireland at last, it feels like my spiritual home.