Saturday, September 25, 2021


The Kate Eliza Dress

Well it has been along time since I did any posting on the Westsailing Bum website. We have been working and working and more working over the last year or how ever long it is since I last posted. We still have our loved Westsail Kabuki and we have still been using her in the summers for sailing in the Bay of Islands here in New Zealand.
Working is not conducive to spending lots of time away sailing, but our working is for a reason. We are hopefully working our way to an early retirement. This has left us both with time on our hands during our non working times. Paul is tinkering with Kabuki, spending time with his Dad, and generally doing the things he likes to do. Me, well I have gone down the historical clothing rabbit hole in the last year or so. I have been sewing dresses and unpicking dresses, trailing sewing and drafting techniques, and basically messing about with fabric. On the side I have done some family history research, hence the photo's below.
I have had some old photos of my ancestors for some time and I have always been taken with the photo below of my 3rd Great Grandmother Kate Eliza Kelly(nee Maggs). Kate born in Westminster in London and her husband John born in Dublin, Ireland both moved to Australia in the 1850's or early 1860's. They met and married in Victoria, Australia in 1864 and then moved to Avoca in Victoria. According to my sister they had a Drapery in the town and were upstanding members of the community, but interestingly Kate was the brains behind the business. Sometime between 1870 and 1880's they moved to Wellington New Zealand. And it is still to be confirmed but Kate may have been working at Kirkcaldie and Stains a drapery company in Wellington, but she left with T Warnock and William Adkins to start their own business called Warnock, Kelly & Adkins in 1885. Any way she obviously was a pretty interesting woman.
All of this then led me down the path that I have now taken, reproducing the below dress for myself. After doing research on the clothing of the time, I will be unable to afford the fabric that I think was used in this dress (Silk and a burn out velvet or Devore) so I am making it from a cotton twill and some lovely quilting fabric. 

I have done a very mediocre attempt at colouring the photo to represent the colour scheme that I am going with, but you get the general idea. The base skirt appears to be pleated with a drapery of patterned fabric around the hips and then bustled to the back. I am taking artistic licence in having the paler blue colour on part of the drapery, but as I have chosen the black main ground it needed more colour. I have tried to date the style of dress and to my inexperienced eye it looks about mid to late 1880's so it may have been about the time she went into business (if she is the Mrs Kelly involved in the business)

To start this adventure I had to make everything that goes underneath the dress. This has been a very rewarding process and I have ended up with most of the layers required to provide the correct silhouette, one thing I have not done is a bustle cage. 
1.  because it does not look like she has the extreme shelved bustle look. 
2.  To me I am not that historically accurate.

Anyway let me introduce you to my model, Bertha. I made this dress form from a bootstrap dummy pattern, and it is fairly close to my measurements. Bertha will be highlighting in many photos to come.

So far we have got the seperate split drawers, which were becoming a little bit old fashioned by this time as the combinations (all in ones) were starting to become popular. We then have a chemise or shift that went under the corset to protect the corset from sweat and to keep the corset clean, on top of that is the corset, this would have had a steel busk at the front and some steel boning but would have mostly been bones with baleen (from whales). Mine is made with synthetic baleen (a bit like cable ties) and some steel boning. Over the stop you wore a corset cover to soften the lines of the corset and also a petticoat and bum pad (needs tweaking) to add that butt lift.

So now the skirt construction has started with the base layer of the skirt made out of cotton/calico this will have a frill on the bottom to add more width to the hemline.

Then we have the pleated black twill, in those days they only added the embellishment on the part of the dress/skirt that would be seen, so the pleating will start 10 inches down from the waist and the top part of the skirt will be covered by the drapery that will made with the contrast fabric.

The pleating is in progress, so far I have pleated about 4 metres of fabric only 21/2 to go. I measure and mark the pleating lines on the fabric with chalk then fold the pleats and pin. When I have finished a section I then iron with lots of steam and when cool apply masking tape to hold in place while I continue on with the remainder of the cloth. When I have finished the entire length I will either do a catch stitch on the back of each pleat to give them more structure or add a tape and catch stitch. Looking at the photo it appears that something like this has been done to hold the pleats in place. 

Anyway that is a catch up as to what we have been up to and what we are doing at the moment. Will keep you posted on the progress of the dress and yes there may even be Kabuki progress as we are due to haul the yacht out at the beginning of October.

Friday, May 18, 2018

What did we do this summer/autumn?

So what have we been up to this summer/Autumn?

I finished work on the 23rd of December, yahoo, but Paul continued working until the end of March.  We had the boat hauled out just before Christmas and steadily worked away at things until we re-launched at the end of January.  Our plan again had been to head off-shore, north to the Islands for the winter.  But after much expense over the years, installing an AIS, obtaining a life raft and all of the other many sundry items required for Cat 1, and much time adding locks to all the lockers, refining systems, finding storage spots etc etc, we have finally given the whole idea the heave ho.  We have joined the long list of people who have tried and failed to go offshore.  In some ways I felt like a failure, and we had lost our dream, but really truly, deep down, I am glad. 

Over the last 9 years we have been cruising our coast during the summers and working in the winters, we have toured the South and North Island’s on our motorbike, we have travelled Great Britain and Ireland for 3 months.  We have spent short and long periods of time living on board Kabuki either on the hard, on a mooring or at a Marina.  We have both tried different jobs, Paul doing Insurance Assessing work in Christchurch after the earthquake, and fly in fly out to Australia doing ore crusher re-lining.  I have done retail work at a local Emporium (interesting) and entered the office world of a Rates department at the Local Council, a total change from Mobile Librarian. Our lives have been full of meeting interesting people, seeing interesting and beautiful things.  Why do we need to spend more money (up to another $10,000 - $15,000) to put ourselves through sleep deprivation, nausea, anxiety and wear and tear on ourselves and Kabuki.  We have nothing to prove to ourselves by going, but everything to lose.

So we have embarked on a new dream, one that involves continuing on the same course that we have been on for the past 9 years.  Apparently we have been “ Living the Dream” for the past 9 years and we didn’t even know it.  We thought the dream was offshore voyaging, but for us it has become cruising the coastal waters of our beloved North Island, exploring our own backyard (New Zealand) and experiencing life as it comes.

So again, what did we do this summer? After Paul’s 60th Birthday at the end of March we set off in Kabuki for Taurikura Bay, at the head of Whangarei Harbour, hoping to sail north-west to the Bay of Islands. The wind unfortunately was from the north, so we waited a few days hoping it would turn in our favour, alas no.  I suggested that instead we head to Great Barrier Island which is to the south east and would be a beam reach in the prevailing wind.  So off we set, after first postponing my mammogram appointment (no great hardship).  We upped anchor in the early morning gloom and motored out to Fairway Buoy where there was enough wind to set the sails.  It ended up being a fast tight reach to Abercrombie Harbour, where we motored to the north east corner of Kairaara Bay and anchored up.  What a joy to be back after at least 4 years. 

Great Barrier is a great place for bush walking, bird watching, mussel gathering and meeting like minded cruisers.  We walked up to the kauri dam, bathed in the river, kayaked and absorbed the atmosphere.  We also had to endure the influx of many boats over the Easter weekend, running generators for hours on end, and anchoring slightly to close for comfort.  We bumped into our old friends John & Sue from Sir Francis and met a new friend, Ian from Souvenir.  We explored the Glenfern Nature Reserve, and experimented with our new Go Pro.  Then I received a call from work asking me if I was interested in returning for a time, also the weather was closing in with a blow set to arrive within a few days.  After past experiences of sitting out weather events at Great Barrier and knowing that I could commute to work from Opua, we decided to head north to the Bay of Islands with the favourable 15 knot south westerly that was forecast. 

It is approximately 100 miles to “The Bay” from Great Barrier Island, we took 17 hours to cover the distance averaging around 6 knots an hour for the trip and arriving at Paroranui Bay at about 3am.  It was a boisterous, choppy sail with spray flying and later in the night, Petrels dive bombing into our sails, with one ending up in the scuppers uninvited.  At first we did not think it had landed on the deck, but we heard a scuffling up near the Kayak.  On shining the torch in the direction of the noise the Petrel headed straight for the light and slid helter skelter into the cockpit. Westsail 32’s don’t have very big cockpits, and two adults and a flapping distressed bird was a bit cosy.  I managed to grab it and gently lift it over the side and release it.  I was amazed at how light and fragile it felt, it was all fluffy feathers and bony slim body underneath. 

I love arriving in the dark to an anchorage and then waking in the morning not sure what to expect outside, it always looks totally different by day light.  After only 4 hours sleep, we headed for the cockpit and our usual coffee whilst watching the day come alive on a brand you view.  As the weather system was still looming we motored up to Opua the next morning and hooked up to our mooring for a few days, this would give us a chance to do washing and have nice hot showers. The weather system turned into a fizzer for us, but our friends out at Great Barrier had it rough.

We love the Bay of Islands, the sailing is easy, you can always find a sheltered anchorage, there is activity on the water which makes life entertaining, and you are not far from town.  Sometimes there are a few to many boats around, but you have to take the good with the bad.  Our plan was for me to commute to work 3 days a week and then we could go off sailing in the Bay on my days off. Well this lasted for 2 weeks.  Paul was getting a bit bored on his own, and thought perhaps it was time for him to return to work and earn more freedom chips as well.  So the call was made, and ‘nek minute’, we were heading back to Whangarei.

Our sail, or should I say motor down the coast was lacking wind and uneventful.  We stopped at Whangamumu for one night, but with a 2 metre SE swell running it ended up being a wee bit rolly.  We made it to Taurikura after motoring all the next day, spotting a shark and a whale and hooking 2 fish, which promptly jumped off the lure.  The rain set in over night and we had a damp motor to Whangarei, with the sun coming out as we picked up the mooring lines.  It actually felt quite good to be home.

We are spending the winter on the boat this year, moving off the pile mooring and to the marina in June.  Marina living makes life far more civilised when you are working full time and it is cold.  Like many boats we have a problem with condensation in winter.  On the marina we will have electricity and can run a dehumidifier and a heater.  We have a ‘Dickinson Newport’ vented Gas fire which we will use at night, but for the 5.15 am starts the electric heater with a timer is the business.  It is certainly not as comfortable as living in a house, and Paul and I have to dance around each other on occasion in the confined space, but it is our home, and we love it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

When good boats go bad.

In our wanderings over the years we have always been observers of other yachts, as they are normally a picture of beauty no matter what shape or size. They can be slender and streamlined or chubby and accomodating, they can be racey and modern or traditional and slower paced, we love them all. But one thing that saddens us, is when a good boat is left to go bad.

There may be many reasons for this happening, and sometimes it is unavoidable. But it is such a shame to see a lovely boat, sitting on her mooring year after year, with no love being shown her, no care taken of most basic needs. Dotted around any mooring field anywhere in the world, there will always be the tired little Sloop, or the old wooden Ketch, or the smaller displacement launch moldering, rotting, slowly losing the battle with the elements, just waiting to slip to a watery grave.

Unfortunately we have had an unwitting part in the chain of events that have led to two yachts fall into this poor state. It has been so sad to see our much loved yachts of years ago now sitting, slowly moldering (according to my word program this is not a word, but it sounds so right for what happens to a neglected boat).

We purchased Nessie II in 1999, she is a 36ft Eric Cox design, built in 1966 in Whangarei by Alan Smith. We did not own her for long, only 8 months, but she was a lovely wooden boat. We realised that a wooden boat was not really our thing, so we did the wise thing and sold her, in the hope the new owner was the right one. But many years later we spotted Nessie on a mooring, slowly moldering away. I live in hope that someone has since come to her rescue. Nessie is not what prompted this little essay, what has sparked this written outburst is the plight of our last boat, Aragorn.

We purchased Aragorn, a Cavalier 32, in May 2002 from Auckland. We had plans of her being our forever boat, we had her transformed from a faded Yellow to a glowing white. We had an original design of a “White Tree” sign written on her hull (if you have any knowledge of The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn’s crest design was a White Tree), we upgraded and maintained. But as time passed we realised we wanted more room for living aboard. So the decision was made in March 2007 to sell Aragorn, and she was handed on to new owners, who we kept in touch with and they cared for her as we had. We lost track of her when she was again on-sold, until one day we spotted her, disguised under another name. To avoid embarrassment I will refrain from using her new name, mind you it is a name that sends Paul and I into spasms of embarrassment, and will have to live on the new owners conscience. 

At first we were pleased to see that she was cared for, and over the intervening years we have spotted her on occasion. It has been nearly 2 years since we last saw Aragorn, but two days ago we again spotted her on a trip down the harbour. What a sorry sight she has become, another good boat gone bad, She is covered in bird poo, her waterline is dirty, and her Bottom is fouled with weed and barnacles no doubt. She is not beyond redemption, but the slippery slide into moldering away has begun.

Aragorn today.

Aragorn covered in shite

Aragorn when we purchased her.

Aragorn when we sold her

Friday, January 5, 2018

The working life

Today I sit in our comfy little Townhouse watching the rain lashing the windows, hearing the wind scurling around the yard. The tarpaulin's covering the dinghies, puffing and rattling in the gusts. It is mid summer and we are at last having some much needed rain, after what had started as a hot dry spell of weather. The Christmas and New Year hype are a thing of the past for another year, and we can settle back into a normal routine.

I have finished my contract with the Whangarei District Council, so I am now an unemployed bum, but that is OK, as we have plans to go sailing again. Kabuki has been hauled out at Riverside Drive Marina for about 4 weeks now, but because of work and the festive season not a lot has been done, and now the weather is stepping in to slow work down. Paul is down at the yard cleaning and greasing the valves, but there is not a lot I can do, as painting is out. We are completing our annual haul out a bit later than usual, going sailing along the coast is a bit crowded over the Holiday period, so we thought we could do the work required then head off sailing when the hoards go back to work.

I can't wait to get away again, I have missed the live aboard lifestyle so much. It is a fresh, active, fulfilling way of life. No sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day looking at a computer screen, no office politics, no worrying about saying the wrong thing. Give me the fresh air, the smell of the sea, the activity required to live life on board a cruising yacht, and the freedom to expand....

Working shrinks my mind, it is hard to explain. When I work I have little desire to write, our lives are choked up with our work, it is what we talk about when we come home, it becomes that drudgery so often depicted in cartoons. This little video which I first saw shared on facebook earlier this year is a classic example.

We are getting to the age when our friends are getting sick or having life altering operations, others are dying before their time. We have realised that life is precious, time is precious and we do not want to squander any of our time on working unnecessarily for things we don't need. Work squashes our creativity, sucks up our energy, and tramples our being. Unfortunately we need to work to earn money to live, but here in lies the quandary. How much money do you really need to live the fulfilling life that you desire. How much do you need the things that money can buy you? and how much do you really need to spend on those things?

We have just purchased a new car, well new to us. It is 10 years old and the flashiest car we have ever owned, we are hoping this car will see us out i.e. to when we can no longer drive or when they no longer have petrol driven cars, which ever comes first. Some of you may say..What? Why buy such an old car? Yesterday we sold our previous car for $1000.00, it was 23 years old, still going well and it had cost us $2000.00, 8 years ago. We do not need a "new" car, we are quite happy with second hand. Second hand boat, second hand motorbike, second hand house, second hand bed. When we do buy new, we look after it and keep it for as long as possible.

Our philosophy is not to squander your life on working for "things". I am not saying don't work, we have worked our asses off over the years. We built a house and lived in the incomplete shell with 3 children, while we finished it off over 3 years. Paul has worked hard at his place of employment, and still works hard. I am not saying don't buy anything, get the things you need, do the things you want but, think... we did without expensive holidays (no taking the kids to Surfers Paradise, we went camping, no glamping here), we have always had old cars, our appliances last, we replace only when something dies, and we got our first credit card 8 years ago when we had to buy something from America on-line. Saving is a habit we have gotten into, we are still saving, but we are starting to enjoy the benefits of our saving.

Everybody's life choices are different, some people thrive on Career and work, they find it fulfilling and require the stress to survive. But for others like us, work is not the mainstay of our lives, we are not career minded. Work is a means to an end.

Viva la difference

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Home is were the freedom chips are.

Well it now feels as though the UK and Ireland are a lifetime ago. We are back into our winter working routine, saving some more freedom chips. Our big adventure overseas has only whetted our appetite for travel, and settling down to work took a lot longer than usual. The last few months have been a series of swings and roundabouts, scheming and planning, then planning and scheming, only to step back to reality and the long wait till summer.
Sunset, Bay of Islands

We kept Kabuki up on the mooring in the Bay of Islands for a few months, and after work on a Friday evening we would pack up and go, she was only an hour away and we had some lovely weekends floating around the Islands. Then on Friday the 14th March (easter weekend) we headed up to Opua  ready for the sail back down the coast to Whangarei. There had been a blow over Wednesday into Thursday and things had quietened down a little, but we were not to sure what the sea conditions were like. We got on board and got the old girl ready for going to sea, we had decided to head out and make the decision when we got closer to Cape Brett.

So off we set, saying good bye to Opua and the trusty mooring, we motored out past Paihia and Russell with the mainsail set, then it was off with the engine and out with the Headsail, the wind was about 10 knots at this stage. Going around Tapeka Point can be a bit hairy with an onshore swell, and the swell was expected to be 3 metres, but we sailed past with no worries. Our thoughts turned to getting Kabuki home, so the decision was made, we would head out round Cape Brett for the 60 mile dash down the coast to Whangarei Heads.
Sailing Home

As we got closer to Cape Brett and further out from the shelter of the Bay the swell got bigger and more confused, but Kabuki sailed on doing 7 knots down the back of some waves. We had a 3 metre swell from the E and the wind swell picked up from the NW, but with 15- 25 knots of wind we were flying if a bit uncomfortably. As we rounded Cape Brett the confusion eased and it turned from white knuckle sailing to glorious. The wind held for most of the way, but as per usual once we got near Tutukaka it died away and we slowed right down. So on with the Iron Genny and a motorsail to the Mad Woman (a rock formation off Bream Head), as we got closer to the entrance of Whangarei harbour the waves eased even more. We dropped sail and motored around to Taurikura in the dark, brandishing the flashlight in search of rogue moorings. We dropped anchor at 2300hrs and settled down for a quiet night in the arms of Taurikura Bay.

The next morning we were up early to catch the tide up the harbour to Whangarei, we now had a mission on our minds. We secured Kabuki to the Marina at the Town Basin, I think she was glad to be home after her holiday adventure in the Bay of Islands. We walked up the road to home and then got set for an evening of Westsail natter at a fellow owners place i.e. I whipped up a Cheesecake for a Pot Luck dinner with other likeminded sailors. We were so pleased we made it back for the dinner, we had a lovely time catching up with some overseas visitors who also have good taste and own a Westsail Yacht.

We kept Kabuki on the Marina for 3 weeks, doing some cleaning and preparing her for the winter ahead. Every year we take all of her sails off, including the Furling Headsail, we give her a good clean and top up the Diesel tanks to stop water condensing in them over the winter months. After 3 weeks we motored Kabuki down to our Pile moorings in the river. So there she sits, Paul has gone out every weekend to do other jobs like changing the engine oil, cleaning the filters and patching up little bits here and there.

Winter has arrived at last, in fact we are coming up to the shortest day, a veritable high point in the calendar, as once that is past the days only get longer, and we can see that summer is on its way again.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Ireland Part 4

15th December saw us having a slightly later start than usual. After a few bottles of vino with our delightful host Evleen the previous evening, a couple of cups of Evleen's lovely perked coffee was required to get the boiler started. We had told Evleen of our aborted attempt to see the Cliffs of Moher, so she recommended going to view the cliffs at Down Patrick, which were on our way north to Donegal. We left the Clog Factory at about 9.30am. Evleen's house is called the Clog factory, because in many years past the local Clog maker worked and lived there, supplying wooden clogs, the footwear du jour, to the local residents. 
As we drew nearer to Ballina and the turn off to Down Patrick Head the weather closed in, clouds lowered and rain started to obscure the countryside. When we reached Ballina we took the turning for Down Patrick, but it was one of those small country lanes, pot-holed and narrow, there was no guarantee that we would even get to see the Cliffs in this weather, so we turned back and continued on toward Donegal.
The weather continued in its blustery wet state for the remainder of the day. Paul guided us through County Sligo past the Dartry Mountains to a lunch spot in the little coastal village of Mullaghmore, during the summer I could imagine this would be a thriving holiday spot, but on a windy, wet winters day it was deserted, so we sat in the car and ate our packed lunch.
We continued on through the amazing countryside, flat coastal terrain to rocky escarpments and the Black Stack Mountains of County Donegal and onto our accommodation at Dunkineely, a village about 20kms west of Donegal town. Our cottage was beautiful a converted barn, done out to perfection, very stylish and comfortable.

         Our Lovely cottage at Dunkineely.

Very nice, and a coffee pod machine as well.

After a great nights sleep and a relaxing morning, we headed off to explore Donegal town. We followed our "Back Roads of Ireland" guide on a walking tour around Donegal town centre. The ruined Franciscan Abbey by the mouth of the Eske River which runs through the town, the lovely market diamond decked out for Christmas, the church with the Round Tower and the ever present Castle.

Donegal and the River Eske.

Back to the cottage for lunch and a rest, then off again to the famous Slieve League Cliffs. We were bound and determined to see some of Ireland's famous Cliffs at some point, so today was our opportunity. The weather was clearer after lunch so we negotiated our way through the countryside, discovering some beautiful little villages and amazing views on the way. We arrived at the carpark for the Cliffs, with the size of car park and the bus station obviously it can get pretty busy in the summer season. We left the car and headed off on the 1.5 km walk, up hill and down dale, beside small loughs and steep drops, sharing the stunning views with the local residents, the sheep. The whole landscape is bogs and rocks, with old peat workings dotted here and there. The Cliffs were pretty cool, at 600 metres they are amongst the tallest in Europe. Looking at them from the viewing platform, we were already over halfway up, so some of the drama was lost on us. In summer you can catch a boat from Teelin Pier to view them from the sea, this would be a more impressive way to view there sheer size. We had a good old stomp around, and a climb up some of the path to the top of the Cliffs (Paul adventured further than I), but alas the light was starting to wane and we wanted a quick stop in Killibegs on the way home, so we trekked back down to the car.

One of the locals on the way.

Some of the Cliffs, it looses its grandeur in a photo..

Killibegs is a major fishing port for Ireland, its Harbour is always busy with the North Sea fishing fleet. We did a quick tour around and a visit to St Catherine's Well, where people come to drink the water. By now dark was starting to flex its muscles so we bundled into the car and retraced our steps to the cottage for a warm up and a wine. 
On the 17th December we said goodbye to Dunkineely, beautiful Donegal Town and the "Wild Atlantic Way" which we had been following for some time. We headed north through County Donegal, between the Blue Stack Mountains and on to Lough Swilly. I sing and play my quitar for my own pleasure and one song that I do is called "On the shores of the Swilly" it is written by Phil Coulter, and is about the death of his Sister in Lough Swilly, so of course I wanted to see what I sang about. I was a little disappointed, it was just a big Harbour much like any other Harbour, but we did only see a small portion of it. But it was onward to Northern Ireland, and what we expected to be a border crossing... not a border in sight, just a change of roadside speed signs from Kilometres to Miles. We circled around Derry (Londonderry) then shot left on the A2 for the Causeway Coast route. We stopped briefly at Downhill beach were the now famous Mussenden Temple sits moodily on the cliff tops ( famous because of Game of Thrones).

Mussenden Temple.

By this time we were really needing a pee, and as I have said before public toilets are not particularly obvious to the newbie in town. We continued on around the coast to Bushmill (think Whiskey) then on to the Giants Causeway carpark, by this time we were getting a bit frantic, so we parked up and used the loo's. We had a real fright when we had to pay £18 to park the car for the Causeway, but after a bit of complaining we coughed up and went. We walked down to the Giants Causeway along with about 10 other people, you could also take the bus, but that was an extra cost. The Causeway itself is quite spectacular, it is as though someone has stacked these stepping stone like blocks one on top the other, then stood the piles of blocks close together to stop them toppling over. There were people everywhere, with a goodly supply of Attendants to keep everyone behaving themselves and not doing anything silly, like climbing to high up, bloody nanny state.

The beginning of the Causeway Coast.


Some of the Giants Causeway.

It was a bit hard to believe that I was there, I had heard about the Causeway so long ago and had always wanted to see it, and there I was standing on it, another one of those must see places ticked off my bucket list. We trudged back up the hill to the carpark, then onward to our next Airbnb stop in the village of Ballycastle. 
Ballycastle was quite a bustling little town, it is a jumping off point for ferry trips out to Rathlin Island and also over to the Kintyre Peninsula in Scotland. In summer it is a busy seaside resort with its proximity to the Causeway, and its lovely seashore being the draw card. Our accommodation was an older style villa that had been converted into three apartments, with views over the Ballycastle Harbour and out to Rathlin Island and Scotland in the misty distance. The next day the 18th December, we explored around the Causeway area, walking along the foreshore at Ballycastle, then driving over to the "Dark Hedges" another Game of Thrones sight, which turned out to be not so dark in winter as all the leaves had dropped off the trees. We then found an amazing little Castle ruin on a small peninsula washed by the cold Atlantic, down a perilous staircase. Kinbane Castle was built in 1547 by Colla MacDonnell and was one of many MacDonnell castles along the Antrim coast. Kinbane comes from the Gaelic " An Cionn B'an " meaning white head, as the head of the peninsula is of white chalk, dating back to the Cretaceous period. We really enjoyed stomping around this piece of magical history, what made it so magical? There was not another soul there, we had this wonder to ourselves.
The Dark hedges and Ballycastle town.
Kinbane Castle 

We left Ballycastle the next morning, we really liked this unassuming little town that was smack dab in the middle of such a tourist hotspot. We decided to follow the Antrim Coast along the Causeway Coast A2 scenic route, we were not disappointed. The A2 took us around the Glens of Antrim, quite spectacular ranges of mountains and hills that run down to the sea with amazing valleys (Glens) between each range. There are nine Glens in all with little fishing villages dotted along the coast at the foot of the Glens. We stopped in Carnlough, Glenarm and Larne, quaint villages edging the North Channel of the Irish Sea. There were small harbours bound by huge rock walls like we had seen in Scotland, Castles and sweeping views out to Scotland and the Irish Sea. 



Carnelough and the Glenarm Castle Barbican and walls.

We skirted around Belfast then headed south east to the Mountains of Mourne and Newcastle, a tourist hotspot in the summer with Bingo Halls, Casinos and Gaming Parlours, there was also a lovely beach a bit like Napier in New Zealand. The whole town was in Christmas mode with shoppers scurrying around laden with packages, decorations adorned the shops and hung over the streets. We had lunch in a local pub along with the usual cider and Guinness, then went in search of our Airbnb. Our hosts were so lovely when we arrived, and the house had views out to the Irish Sea, we settled into our room, then went back into Newcastle for some really nice curry for dinner.
The next morning the 20th December was our day to explore, we had a good chat with our hosts and they recommended a walk that they called Rosie's Walk. We set off towards the foot of Slieve Donard the highest peak in the Mountains of Mourne. The track was great going up, quite well defined, we stopped and patted some lovely Ponies on the way. We arrived at the river crossing, and got across safely, then we started down the rock strewn valley surrounded by peat bogs and gorse. The track had become less defined by this stage, so Paul and I separated, Paul chose the right one, were as I chose the wrong one, ending up in a bog surrounded by rocks and rivulets. Back on track we found the path and followed it down the hill to Bloody Bridge and on to the coast, along the foreshore and back to our accommodation, a very invigorating walk. The rest of the day was spent having more of a yarn with our hosts, and a tour of their lovely house, then we settled down for a quiet night in. 

Slieve Donard in the swirling clouds
Me lost in the boggy wilderness.
Our Airbnb front right Slieve Donard behind.

We left County Down and Northern Ireland the next day, skirting around the Mourne Mountains then up along Carlingford Lough to Newry then back the other side to Carlingford. We had lunch in the pub and a walk around Carlingford Village, with some amazing old buildings and ruins. Before we left Carlingford we had to do a bit of de-cluttering, we were handing back our rental car later in the afternoon and had to carry our packs from then on. So clutter free, it was into the car for the last leg to Dublin, it was a cruise down the M1 to the rental car depot, then into a shuttle to the Airport, then the bus into Dublin City centre to find our home for 2 nights. Dublin has an amazingly long tunnel, that takes you under some of the outer city and under the River Liffey, pretty spectacular. By the time we got to our digs it was 4pm, we were a bit early for the 5 o'clock meeting so we settled into a pub right next door to the apartment block (how convenient). The young lass was a bit late meeting us and there was some confusion, but we were there at last. This particular Airbnb was a bit of a let down after all our others, it was in a great spot in the heart of Dublin, but very tired and a bit musty. After a quick settle in we headed down Lord Edward Street to find dinner, and have a wee look at the night life of Dublin. 
The next morning Thursday 22nd December, we were up early to make the most of our one day in Dublin. After a 15 minute walk we arrived at Trinity College at 9am, a wee bit early so we had a cruise around the grounds checking out the lovely old buildings. At 9.30am we joined the queue to see the Book of Kells. For years I have been fascinated by the art of Calligraphy and the Book of Kells in particular, so there I was mooning over this amazing book. It was in a glass case so no touching and no turning the pages, but it was beautiful to see, the love that went into creating this work of art was obvious, I was in awe.There was also a display showing the other pages of the book and how it was created and the history behind it all. We then continued upstairs to the Trinity College Old Library, you could smell the books as you walked up the stairs, then it opened up in all its grandeur. It was the smell that I loved, old books have a smell of history about them, it is the leather coverings of course, but I so love that smell. I could have stayed there all day, but Paul was getting a bit restless by then so we headed downstairs to the gift shop, we had to get something!

       Trinity College Library and the River Liffey

The Famine Memorial on the banks of the Liffey and the Tara Brooch.
Bog bodies, amazingly preserved.

The rest of the day was spent doing a walking tour of Central Dublin, we checked out the Grand Canal then back via the River Liffey to Temple Bar. After lunch we navigated through the alleyways and malls to the Irish Museum of Archaeology, bog bodies, jewellery, weaponry, boats and a myriad of other collections it was pretty cool. Our walk back to the apartment was pretty spectacular as Christmas shopping was in full swing, the alleys and lanes were choked with people, we had to risk life and limb a few times to get across the flow of foot traffic. We were leaving early in the morning for England so we had a quiet dinner at Jury's Inn next door to our apartment, then early to bed.

Friday 23rd December saw us up at 4.30am to get ourselves packed and ready for our ferry trip to Holyhead in Wales. We were a little bit worried about the trip as our first booking had been cancelled due to a storm that was bearing down on the Irish Sea. The Taxi arrived a 6.15am to take us to the Port, the Ulysses (our ferry) was huge, think about twice the size of the Cook Strait Ferry, seeing the size of it allayed some of my fears about the crossing. Once on board we ensconced ourselves up the bow in some comfy chairs and watched the parade of cars that were being taken onboard. The Ulysses was quite flash for a Ferry, with movie rooms for the kids numerous bars and sleeping cabins if you required. As we left the protection of the Harbour and headed out to sea the conditions became a little less comfortable, and unfortunately some of the surrounding children became seasick. Trips to the toilet became quite hazardous due to the vomit making the slightly heaving floor quite slippery, but we both came through fine, Paul even had his last glass of Guinness, I stuck to Ginger Beer. We arrived at Holyhead late morning and boarded a bus to the train station, we had a 1.5 hours wait for the train but that gave us time for lunch, and a rest. 
The train ride through the Welsh and English countryside was quite fascinating and fast in places, but it got dark at 4.30pm so we lost our view of flashing countryside to flashing lights instead. We arrived in London at the Euston Street station at 5.40 pm on the Friday before Christmas, we were expecting crowds of people and that is what we got, but luckily they were all leaving London. We negotiated the two tube trains to West Brompton, then it was a brisk walk in the rain to our Airbnb. Maria had left the key out for us, and it was like coming home to something familiar for a change. Takeaways from the local Chinese for dinner and then we settled in for a sleep in a slightly familiar bed. 
The next morning being Christmas Eve we had to stock up with a few supplies for our Christmas party at Xaviers flat, so we set off to find the local Waitrose and have a look around at suburban life in London. It definitely has its own flavour, the area we were in had a diverse mix of Ethnicities, which added to the colour and flavour. Street stall vendors selling fruit and veg, seafood and even pots and pans, calling out their wares for all to hear. A local Church stall fundraising for renovations of the Church, and people of all colours, Genders and Creeds walking side by side. But everywhere we went there was litter, blowing down the roads, hitched around the feet of lamp posts, blown into piles down alleyways. We met Xavier back at our apartment for lunch then it was off to the shoppers paradise of Harrods and Oxford Street. We caught the bus to Harrods then entered this Temple to consumerism and the worship of money. Floor upon floor of Women's clothing, do dads, shoes and smelly stuff, they at least had a floor for men as well. The cost of some of the items were beyond belief, the gowns some with no price much are they? Toys, electronics, motorbikes, furniture, food you name it they had it. We left feeling very poor and grateful that we could not afford to shop there. As we left the queues outside had started to form to get into the shop, no wonder it was a shit fight to exit the building. 
Off to Hyde Park corner and the impressive Winter Wonderland themed Carnival, with all the rides and cotton candy. We skirted around the outside of this jam packed event, onto Oxford Street and down the street to look at the Christmas lights. Again we were amazed at the number of people out shopping, but it was Christmas Eve and the air was festive and the lights would have been spectacular if it was dark, but evening was setting in and they did show some of there sparkle. We passed shop upon shop upon shop, Swarovski, Debenhams, Marks and Spencer just to name a few it was all a bit overwhelming. By this point the buses had gone into lockdown because of the vast amount of traffic, so we hopped the Tube back to West Brompton and the apartment for a serving of the latest Star Wars movie and then dinner at The Goose.
Christmas morning was quiet for us, we were invited to go to Xaviers Flat for a "Orphans Christmas Party", most of the young people he flatted with were from the Antipodes, so we fit right in. We walked over to the flat late morning, through the eerily empty streets of London, to Fulham were the flat was. The lunch ended up being early dinner, so a lot of time was spent drinking and talking with some amazing young people who are all out experiencing life to the fullest. We had thought our Christmas would be lonely but it ended up being full of fun and laughter. We left the young people to their party at 6.30 and walked back to our digs feeling blessed that we had come.
Our last two days in London involved a small amount of shopping and a visit to the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, the shopping was fun on Boxing Day, as every man and his dog was out. The Museums were also pretty amazing and the queue to get into the Natural History Museum blew us away. By this time we were ready to head home, we were over the travelling, we were over the sight seeing, we were over the crowds. We wanted sleepy old New Zealand, and our beautiful home town of Whangarei.
Wednesday 28th December we left our digs early to take our last tube ride to Heathrow Airport, Xavier and His girlfriend Florence came to see us off at the airport, but I could sense that something was wrong between them, this made me anxious. I tried not to cry when we said goodbye, but I was so worried about Xavier, I fell apart after we walked away. The return home was a long, tedious and tiring 36hrs of travel with very little sleep and lots of sitting in uncomfortable seats, but we made it home and our son Jason was waiting at the airport for us. 
We had an amazing 3 months exploring the UK and Ireland, but we were so glad to be home, back to our own bed and familiar stuff. We spent a week resting up and then took off on our yacht for a few weeks to enjoy the beautiful summer, before we returned to work and the daily grind.


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.