Well, here we are in the land where Brexit is the absolute topic of conversation – on the TV, in the papers and on the newsstands. Boris has moved into No 10 causing a stir because his lady has quietly moved in the back door and we see that Queenie was in residence when we passed Buck House! It is actually good to be in a country where we speak the language “kind of”.
Being in London was a highlight because we got to catch up with Aaron, Anna, Alessia and Analie in Kensington Gardens. It was wonderful to spend time with family after travelling with strangers for over six weeks and the few hours went all too quickly.
We made our way from London yesterday to Salisbury stopping at the remarkable Stonehenge on the way. We now have some understanding about how this remarkable Neolithic structure was built and had never realised that the land around it, stretching for a few miles, has so many other structures and earth mounds forming part of the history of the time.
We drove through lovely open countryside of farmland seeing cattle but very few crops. We were surprised to hear that 93% of the UK is considered green area including parks, farmland etc. We drove south west towards the county of Somerset on the edge of the Cotswolds to Bath – this lovely limestone city built on a grid system in a nice orderly fashion and a UNESCO World Heritage site. This morning’s visit was to the Roman Baths dating back hundreds of years. It is incredible to think that the temple was constructed between 60-70 AD and the bathing complex was built up over the next 300 years. We investigated this pretty city’s parks and circular apartment buildings and busy shopping centre.
We walked our little legs off and came across the postman wheeling his rather large cart on the tiny street where we were walking. The health and safety officer I am travelling with grabbed me and pulled me aside to avoid me being spreadeagled by the cart but the postman announced “dorn’t wurry luv – I ‘aven’t knocked anyone orva for a few days – its me lucky week!” Mine too – thank goodness for that because I am running out of the stress remedy!
On we went through Cardiff in Wales where we notice a whole lot more sheep in this part of the country famous for St David, daffodils, King Arthur, the Jones’s (including Tom) and more castles per kilometre than any country in the world. On to Pembroke where we got on the ferry to cross the Irish Sea to Rossclare. Well, that was an experience in pretty rough seas on the edge of a storm with a large ferry boat of cars, coaches, trucks and hundreds of people. This boat was lurching in a large swell with bottles, glasses and china crashing and smashing in the bars and dining rooms, children crying and people feeling very unwell. The only good thing about the ferry ride was the welcome onto the boat – Cead Mile Failte – a thousand welcomes. The crossing took five hours because of a diversion and the Captain slowing the boat down to try and make the crossing a little more comfortable – all to no avail. We eventually reached Waterford at 11 pm and sat down to a late dinner at the hotel. After a good sleep we investigated Waterford and did a very interesting tour of the crystal factory watching these amazing craftsmen marking, cutting and engraving the crystal. Then it was on to Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone – now we kissed the Blarney Stone in 2008 (by the way kissing the Blarney Stone is supposed to give you the gift of eloquence – still waiting!) In 2019 we are 11 years older and, as you know, you get down in front of the stone, you roll onto your back and you are bent over backwards to kiss the stone – all this is done with the help of a strong Irishman who helps you get down, roll back, roll over and get up again! Now we just didn’t have time on this tour to make an appointment with the Physio to recover from kissing the stone and the queue was half a mile long so we did the beautiful walks around the castle in the lush green gardens and pastures and relived our visit here with Brendan, Victoria and one year old Oliver in 2008 when we nearly all kissed the stone (the safety officer doesn’t like heights so he volunteered to take on the role of minder for Oliver)! We found the boardwalk through the fern garden we did back then and enjoyed being outside on a pleasant Irish day!
On we travelled past Irish farms – average size 125 acres and were told in 2017 the average farmer in Ireland earned 32,000 Euros. Some grow crops to supplement the income but a lot of Ireland’s soil is peat which is difficult to farm and grow crops on. In fact this peat is everywhere making roads uneven and poor land for farming.
The Irish music is playing on the bus and we sing along to tunes like “It’s a long way to Tipperary; Danny Boy; Wild Colonial Boy and I’ll take you home again Kathleen”. My goodness – this bus is fair dancing it’s way to Blarney Castle past the green hills and fields on a grey day – perhaps a normal day! The one in charge of the B’s knows all the words to all these songs and is enjoying the music, tapping the feet and I am worried he is going to jump up and do a jig! Now I must tell you – we met Paddy the other day and asked him about his family and Paddy explained to us ‘e was worried about ‘is family so ‘e was because ‘is sister ‘ad t’ree brothers but ‘e ‘ad only two! Poor Paddy!
Yesterday we drove the Ring of Kerry – driving past the peat and bog lands of this Irish countryside and passing more pubs along de way all painted in de bright colours so they stand out on this lovely landscape. As ye will all know, in this land of Irish leprechauns there are more pubs than dairies or anything else for that matter. We left the hotel at 8 am to do this adventure but by 9 am we are stopping for an Irish coffee – oh yes – only in Ireland do you get a warm welcome in the coffee shop with the coffee laced with de Bayley’s at 9 am!!! Now the road of the Ring is narrow – Irish “narrow” meaning really meant for one car so all the coaches have to drive around anticlockwise because two coaches cannot pass – haven’t a hope of passing even if they are racing to get to the next pub – which is only up the road anyway! But the camper vans don’t seem to know about this Irish rule and they are coming at us as if there is no tomorrow – in fact we wondered if we would see tomorrow such was the squeeze at times between the stone walls on the side of the road and the passing vehicles! The heather is in bloom on the rocky hillsides, the little stone houses are tucked into the landscape, the stone walls are dividing up paddocks and farms and the cows look so laid back that perhaps they drink the Guinness too. The Irish people just love people and they welcome you and chat to you and nothing is too much trouble. We met an Irish lady who had been to NZ and “had a feckin wonderful time and loved every feckin part of it!” So she did!
A recently found relative here in Ireland by the name of John Culhane travelled an hour from his home to Killarney to meet up with us with his wife Helen and 16 year old daughter Rosheen. In true Irish fashion he arranged to meet us at the hotel at 6.45 pm so we waited in the foyer looking at every strange man who came through the door but not finding one called John. At 7.15 a guy wandered out of the bar down the corridor looking like he just might be looking for someone and it turned out to be John – we should have known an Irishman would be waiting in the bar!!
When we were here in 2008 with Brendan, Victoria and Oliver we asked directions to get to a place called New Grange out of Dublin. The man I asked took a very long time to explain to me that “ya knaw if I ‘ad a choice ma’am I wouldn’t be startin from ‘ere!” But we were starting from there so we were and then got the most convoluted directions that even Paddy ‘imself would not have been able to follow them past the first pub! They are hilarious lovely people.
Tonight we are in Athlone right beside the River Shannon – oh yes — it is here I flow at a rapid pace and the largest river in Ireland. There are signs with my name everywhere and the Gaelic spelling of Shannon is Sionainn – very pretty but can you imagine Kiwis trying to pronounce that – no – it wouldn’t come out right at all! Our visit to Bunratty Castle was cut short by heavy rain but you can always fill in time having a good Irish cuppa and scones or soup and Soda bread! The safety officer just loves the scones and the soda bread which is no help to the shrinking clothes! The Irish do not do small portions of anyt’ing at all whether it be food or Guinness – no – they are all into “upsizing”!
On the way to Dublin we visited the ancient reunions of Clonacnoise which is an early Christian site founded by St Ciaran in the mid-6th century and is on the eastern bank of the River Shannon. We arrived there at 9 am on a clear, crisp morning and it was almost eerie to see the remarkable remains of a cathedral, seven churches, two round towers, three high crosses and the largest collection of early Christian graveslabs in Western Europe.
The past few days have been in Dublin – this bustling city with a population of 1.5 million and its low rise Georgian brick buildings. We were fortunate enough to be staying at one of the city’s most historic hotels called The Shelbourne. There is a lot of history in this hotel so the Concierge treated us to a session last night about its past. Actually, the tradition here is that the Irish Rugby Team always leave from this hotel before playing a test at Lansdowne Road. We then set off about 40 minutes out of Dublin to an Irish Pub which was set up 25 years ago by a group of Irish musicians and there we were treated to wonderful Irish hospitality with the drinks flowing, the music pumping, the dancers kicking up their heels and tapping their feet and enough food to feed half of Ireland. The Irish are lovely people – they just love people, they love telling stories and they especially love having their pint of Guinness at any time of the day! Today Vern went on a tour to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells and I went and did a tour of the Guinness Storehouse – as part of our entry we were given two tickets to get a pint of Guinness – at 10 am! No – it didn’t happen – I had half a shot glass to do a tasting but honestly, I have to say it isn’t my cup of tea but I am full of admiration for the Guinness family who have been a very philanthropic family with a great social conscience and have done some very good things in this city and for other places in Ireland too.
Our final night in Dublin was a treat because we met up with David and Carol Coleman. David is a paediatric cardiologist here and they have lived here since 2003 but are currently packing up to come back to NZ and to live in Devonport – in our neighbourhood! Once again it was special to see family because we have been travelling with our Aussie neighbours for seven weeks now and we love meeting up with the ones we know. So, after a drink in the No 27 bar at The Shelbourne and a lovely dinner at an Irish restaurant up the road we said farewell to David and Carol and farewell to Dublin.
Right now we are crossing the Irish Sea – today we had breakfast in Ireland, have just had morning tea on the Irish Sea, we have lunch in Wales and dinner in England at Chester! It is just another day on this wonderful adventure. We now travel through Scotland so I will press the kilt for the one in charge of the B’s – but what does he wear under the kilt I wonder? I should have bought him some tartan nickers perhaps! No – he wouldn’t allow it. And what about the haggis? Oh dear – watch this space. So it is farewell from the Irish Sea from the one in charge of the P’s and the one in charge of the B’s. I have a few Euros in the bag which I must now go and see if I can get rid of!
The one in charge of the B’s just wants you to know the work he has to do and how exhausting it is BUT I tell him that is what he signed up for so just get on with it!!