Dublin and south

We felt the decision to book our ferry home a few days earlier than planned was vindicated when we had several wet and overcast days in succession preventing us from fully enjoying some of the amazing outdoor sites in Ireland.

Before checking into our Dublin campsite we enjoyed a delicious lunch and a lively couple of hours catching up with Pauline Boylan, the mother of a close friend of Annie’s. We then had two nights on a large campsite outside Dublin. This was only one we could find close enough to the city to have a bus route into the centre which still took nearly an hour each way.

Our first evening was spent having a walk around the city and visiting a couple of famous and very old pubs, The Long Hall (1766) and O’Donoghue’s (1789). This is a city we know quite well as Richard worked with a company headquartered here for three years so we had no need to revisit the most popular tourist attractions.

26 Dublin (29)

The second evening we had a real treat eating probably the best steak we have ever tasted at Shanahan’s on the Green, adjacent to St Stephen’s Green. Richard had been here on business and wanted to share the experience with Annie and it turned out to be every bit as good as he remembered.

Leaving Dublin on a wet misty day we headed south to the Wicklow Mountains (where the top of the Sugar Loaf was invisible, shrouded in cloud) and arrived at Glendalough the site of another ancient monastic centre just as the weather dried.

Glendalough, established in the 6th century by St Kevin has a magnificent setting in a wooded valley between two lakes.

27 Glendalough (6)

Once a centre of learning it was noted for manuscript writing, copying and illustration or ‘illumination’. The ruins, partially caused by continuous sacking by the Vikings and finally attacks by the English, continue to be a site of pilgrimage for many but are also a huge tourist attraction with people also coming to walk on the various marked out hiking trails in The Wicklow Mountains National Park.

Our final night on a campsite was spent at Roundwood, the highest village in Ireland, where in an effort to get our last treat of live Irish music we stumbled upon the most out of tune, dreary and downbeat trio we have ever seen! They were performing in a pub claiming to be the highest in Ireland but as with so many boasts we have discovered on this trip, there are others that also lay claim to this title with arguably better justification.

The following day dawned bright and sunny and we continued south enjoying a stroll around Wexford before arriving at Rosslare where we parked up on a headland with lovely views out to sea and overlooking the long sandy beach with the ferry harbour in the distance. After Annie had enjoyed a walk on the beach in the sunshine we decided it was the perfect spot for us to spend the night rather than looking for another grotty car park somewhere.

Being close to the port it was only a 15 minute drive the next morning for our 8am ferry back to Fishguard. So on Tuesday 14th August we relaxed on a calm 3½ hour crossing on a rather grubby Stena Line ferry before a 4 hour drive home.

28 Roundwood, Wexford, Rosslare (36)

We have a couple of one week breaks planned including a week in New York to celebrate Annie’s 60th, but our next ‘blogging trip’ is scheduled to be to Sri Lanka in October/November where coincidentally England have a three match test series.

28 Roundwood, Wexford, Rosslare (32)

Galway, Connemara and travelling East

On Monday 6th August we headed to Galway arriving in the rain to a busy bank holiday Monday. We decided not to stay overnight and instead opted for a quick walk around seeing the main sights which included Dillon’s, the first maker of the famous Irish Claddagh Rings.

The rest of the day was spent crossing the rugged Connemara landscape to the west coast at Clifden. 21 Clifden & Sky Road (48)This area is the old university stomping ground of our great friend John Hanson who has given a list of ‘must see’ sights. Parking up in the very exotic Clifden town coach park behind the public toilet (!) we got out the bikes and had a late afternoon cycle ride around the beautiful 17km Sky Road. In between rain showers and some sunshine we were rewarded with far reaching views and on returning to the town decided to spend the night in the lovely bus park.

21 Clifden & Sky Road (57)

The evening found us in one of the many pubs in town listening to some Irish music and spontaneous audience participation where others danced and sang.

The following day we called into The Connemara National Park and Annie climbed Diamond Hill on one the marked hiking trails in the Park close to the mountain range known as The Twelve Bens (or The Twelve Pins in some tourist information). We then followed a route John had suggested which included a brief stop at Kylemore Abbey, a beautiful lakeside castle in spectacular setting which was originally a family home, and since WW1 an abbey.

We continued on and through Leenane, a very small village at the head of ‘Kilary Harbour’ where The Field (with Richard Harris & John Hurt) was filmed before driving down a really tiny road along the north side of Lough Nafooey to a remote pub that John used to both work in part time and drink at. Quite where he was living to get to somewhere so remote was a mystery to us (we’ll ask when we get home)!

The day ended on a campsite at the town of Westport, still on the west coast and here we experienced a night of torrential rain and yet more leaks at the back of the motorhome that had to be mopped up in the middle of the night. The next day dawned bright and although neither of us felt especially bright there was Ireland’s Holy Mountain to conquer. Croagh Patrick is named after St Patrick who apparently spent 40 days and nights fasting and praying at the peak and is has become a place of pilgrimage for many who climb to the summit in his honour. Annie joined the masses clambering up the scree clad path and between rain showers enjoyed spectacular views across Clew Bay and the mountains behind.

23 Westport & Croagh Patrick (41)

Whilst Annie was hiking up Croagh Patrick Richard spent the time visiting the National Famine Memorial. It is worth noting our surprise (mainly through our own ignorance) that the ‘Great Famine’ of 1845-48 is still referred to by many people that we have met and in numerous memorials from the replica famine ship at New Ross in our first blog to this memorial and even publicans saying that a bar has been in the same family since ‘before the famine’. We’re ashamed to say that hadn’t realised how truly significant and how much it dominates the history of Ireland until this visit. It was caused by the total failure of the potato crop and blight for 3 consecutive years where over 1 million people died from hunger or disease and more than 2½ million people being forced to emigrate, the majority to America where a high proportion died on the ships during the voyage due to the horrendous conditions, disease and severe overcrowding. By 1900 the pre-famine population of 8 million had fallen by half.

23 Westport & Croagh Patrick (25)

24 Athlone & Clonmacnoise (12)The afternoon entailed a long drive east to a campsite on Lough Ree near Athlone. We were taking this route because we wanted to see the ancient but very different sights of both Clonmacnoise and Newgrange on our route to Dublin.

Clonmacnoise is the remains of St Ciarán’s monastery founded in 545 AD set on the banks of the river Shannon and although now a remote location was in medieval times perfectly located at the crossroads linking all areas of Ireland. It thrived from the 7th to 12th century where many kings were buried and as a result plundered by the Vikings and Anglo-Normans until its demise under the English in 1552.

Newgrange is even older at around 3200 BC and is the site of an ancient burial ground and passage grave with its unique feature being that at dawn on the winter equinox the sun penetrates through the roof lighting up the inside of the burial chamber. Both sites were fascinating and we were pleased we made the effort to visit them.

The day ended with us spending the night in a Pub car park before heading to Dublin for the weekend. We have a map of Ireland with all the pubs who welcome motorhomes to stay overnight in their carparks and some are clearly better than others.

Dingle & County Clare

The plan as we left Kilkenny was to spend at least 2 nights on the Dingle peninsular exploring and maybe doing a coastal walk. However the weather has turned typically Irish – sunshine, cloud and heavy showers and so we kept driving and ended up seeing much of the quite small peninsular in the one day.

The other challenge we have found is that there are very few paths for walkers, most involve walking along the narrow roads and dodging the traffic which really doesn’t make a country walk much fun unless you get pleasure from diving into hedgerows.

Our first stop was Inch beach, a stunning 3 mile stretch of pristine white sand and clear waters with free parking right on the sand. It was apparently featured in the film Ryan’s Daughter and even on a cloudy overcast day was busy.

13 Dingle Peninsular incl. Inch Beach, Blasket Islands & Dingle (55)The scenery was different again in this area of the country but equally spectacular and varied with lovely beaches, rugged cliffs and a mountain range above gently rolling hills with fields separated by ancient stone walls.

After a day touring around we settled for the night on a public car park in lively Dingle town overlooking the sea.

13 Dingle Peninsular incl. Inch Beach, Blasket Islands & Dingle (113)

Wandering around town we passed a pub full of people watching the All Ireland Hurling semi-final between Limerick and Cork, of course we had to go in and it was a gripping match won by Limerick after extra time.

Incidentally as we write this part of our blog we are in County Clare and the second semi-final is being re-played between Clare and Galway, the first being a draw even after extra time. There are Clare flags on many fences and gateposts and when we ventured into Galway briefly they were also flying their flags.

Dingle’s most famous ‘resident’ is Fungie the dolphin and regular boat trips leave the harbour packed with tourists who are guaranteed (?) a sighting of Fungie who has been seen in these waters for over 32 years. We had a very enjoyable evening in Dingle sampling some delicious seafood and spending an hour or so in the pubs listening to traditional music from a variety of musicians.

For the first time on this trip we came across some roads where motorhomes are banned so for instance we could not travel over what’s called Connors Pass to the 13 Dingle Peninsular incl. Inch Beach, Blasket Islands & Dingle (142)north of the Dingle peninsular due to the ancient stone walled roads with tight 90° turns and tiny bridges so had to take the more sensible route out on slightly wider roads. After our night on the harbour-side with several other motorhomes the following day was forecast once again to be rather unsettled so we decided to head north into County Clare. We broke the journey with a stop at a Windmill near Tralee and a walk around a pretty village called Adare. Adare not only had rows of thatched cottages, several expensive ladies clothes shops and lots of restaurants and bars but it also had the obligatory ruined Abbey and Castle.

14 Adare en-route to Corofin (17)

One of our must see sights when we left the UK was The Burren in County Clare. We hadn’t realised that The Burren covers a huge area (36,000 hectares) in the north of the county. It is a UNESCO Geopark made up of areas of dramatic limestone karst landscape and ancient archaeological sites all amongst villages, communities and hill farms. We hadn’t quite grasped the enormity of the area and were so pleased when the lovely but simple campsite we chose in Corofin was close to a particular smaller area designated as The Burren National Park. A free bus from the village took us to and from the National Park to enjoy marked out walking trails in this extraordinary rocky terrain.

When leaving Corofin a rainy day led to us driving around The Burren and stopping briefly at a number of old ruins, Poulnabrone Dolmen (which is an ancient tomb dating back over 2000 years BC) and Kinvarra, a pretty fishing village. We then headed back south to stay the night on a Car Park at Bunratty Castle close to Shannon Airport.

The reason for the oddly circular route is that Annie’s sister Joy has flown in to join us for 4 nights so we have to come back to Shannon Airport to both collect her and then to drop her off on Monday 6th August.

After welcoming Joy we drove to Doolin on the west coast. Unusually we have had to book our next two campsites as it is a Bank Holiday weekend in Ireland so not only is everywhere exceptionally busy but the campsites insist on a minimum 2 night stay. On both campsites we had really good pitches with grassy areas each side of us so Joy could pitch her tiny tent close by.

Our first day in Doolin was very wet and windy and so all we managed was a walk to the harbour and a visit to one of the local bars to listen to some live music packed in with lots of other visitors to the village. However the following day dawned fine and we enjoyed a lovely walk along the coastal path to a section of the Cliffs of Moher and then in the afternoon saw the impressive cliffs from the water when we took a boat trip along the coastline, even meeting with the boat company founder Bill O’Brien!

Our last two days with Joy were spent in The Glen of Aherlow, a beautiful green valley south of Tipperary.

We had a lovely view of the Galty Mountains from the campsite and enjoyed walking some of the marked routes in the nearby Nature Park, watching the GAA Hurling semi-final between Galway and Clare in the tiny local pub

and on our last night being spoilt by Joy to a meal out altogether at a nearby hotel.

P1050958 (2)

Ring of Kerry

Leaving the Beara peninsular we headed to the lovely town of Kenmare, the start of our Ring of Kerry road trip.

After a walk around the town and visiting the main attractions which included a tiny stone circle called the Druids Ring, we were excited to be staying on a nearby campsite that we had read about as an upmarket glamping site in the grounds of Dromquinna Manor. It was right beside the water with fantastic facilities, it really didn’t disappoint and we treated ourselves to a lovely meal in their highly rated Boathouse Restaurant.

The following day we started our drive around the south part of what is called the Ring of Kerry even though it is still part of the much longer Wild Atlantic Way.

11 Ring of Kerry, Valentia, Mick & Lucy (2)

We had been warned in the tourist office that going clockwise meant we were going against the route the tourist coaches take so may have some tricky passing moments on the more narrow roads. However despite slow progress in some places and resultant scratches from roadside hedgerow, we survived unscathed and enjoyed stopping at the many viewpoints en route and calling into some of the small seaside towns.

11 Ring of Kerry, Valentia, Mick & Lucy (32)

The village of Waterville must be an obligatory stop on the Ring of Kerry organised tours judging by the number of parked coaches and cheap ‘mass eating establishments’. Its claim to fame is that Charlie Chaplin used to come on holiday here and as a result there is even a small statue of him and every year they have a Charlie Chaplin festival where everyone dresses up to look like him. It also has a championship golf course apparently played by Tiger Woods and other Hollywood celebrities.

Our lunchtime stop was at a stunning beach in Ballingskellings, in fact there were two beautiful white sand beaches and a coastal walking trail called the Monks Trail which took us from, yes you have guessed it, a ruined castle to a ruined abbey!

11 Ring of Kerry, Valentia, Mick & Lucy (8)From here we veered off the ‘Ring of Kerry’ route and took ‘The Skellig Ring’ and we very quickly realised why the coaches don’t do this part of the peninsular as it consisted of even narrower lanes, if that’s possible, with thankfully regular passing places as once again we were going against the flow of the majority of the traffic. All of this would have been fine until we suddenly found ourselves driving up a very steep and frankly narrow scary mountain road to a high viewpoint and then down the other side accompanied yet again by the smell of burning brake pads. However we made it through and waited for the brakes to cool! The last stop of the day was to see the spectacular Cliffs of Kerry from several viewing points, all the time with views across the water to the dramatic Skellig Islands 11 miles offshore.

11 Ring of Kerry, Valentia, Mick & Lucy (101)

These Islands were used in the Star Wars movies so have become a major attraction for Americans and Japanese in particular we understand, even the local pub has a model of Darth Vader for people to stand next to for photos whilst pulling a pint of Guinness!

We spent the night on an award winning (not sure why) campsite in Cahersiveen and walked into town to explore and have a drink at a very traditional Irish pub called Mike Murs which was recommended by Mortimer the owner of our campsite. Typical of these older pubs they also act as the community hardware store and offer general provisions even including fishing tackle.

The following day we crossed over to Valentia Island and spent two days and nights with Mick and Lucy Duffy who moved here from west London a few years ago. Mick and Richard are golfing pals of 20 years standing, meeting each year on Richard’s annual French golf trip.

We had a wonderful time with Mick and Lucy who have a beautiful house in a stunning location looking out over the water to the mainland.

Their hospitality was overwhelming; the first day they took us for a drive around the Island which included a bracing walk to Bray Head point before enjoying a pub crawl sampling all three pubs on the island.

As it turned out we had arrived on Mick’s birthday so a very late night ensued.

11 Ring of Kerry, Valentia, Mick & Lucy (160)

The following day dawned wet, so after a slow morning Mick and Lucy took us to visit The Skellig Experience exhibition centre and restaurant, Mick had worked here for a summer after arriving on the island to help integrate himself into the community. This attraction included a film about the Skellig Islands, the largest of these inhospitable rocky outcrops out in the ocean, Skellig Michael used to be inhabited by an early Christian monastery dating back to 600 AD, the ‘earliest monastic settlement in Ireland’. We also enjoyed a lovely pub lunch on the mainland and as if we hadn’t eaten enough, then went to sample the delicious chocolate handmade at the nearby chocolate factory!

We finished this outing with a crossing on the very small car ferry back to the Valentia Island. After a reviving siesta we spent a happy evening in one of the island pubs listening to live music and it was lovely to also meet some of Mick and Lucy’s friends.

11 Ring of Kerry, Valentia, Mick & Lucy (187)

Two late nights were taking their toll on all of us and another slow morning followed. We finally said goodbye and in the pouring rain drove the final part of The Ring of Kerry arriving early afternoon in Killarney.

The campsite we chose was a 20 minute walk outside of the town but very close to the National Park and lakes. Killarney is clearly the start and ending points for tourists doing The Ring of Kerry on a bus tour as the road into town was lined with large hotels, smaller hotels and B&B’s and the town centre is set up for tourists with gift shops, restaurants and pubs in abundance where American accents predominate.

Our time here was initially spent dodging the pouring rain showers but happily we did manage a 3 hour bike ride around the National Park following a designated bike route and stopping off at all the main sights and viewpoints on the way.

12 Killarney (15)

One of the things we had to negotiate on our bike path was the many traditional horse and carriage rides which in this part of Ireland have the very apt name of ‘Jaunting Cars.’

The Wild Atlantic Way

5 Charles Fort, Kinsale & Old Head of Kinsale (53)Driving south from Kinsale we found the start of what has been titled The Wild Atlantic Way, a 2500 km coastal road route (if you drive all the in’s and out’s around bays and inlets!) which stretches all the way to Donegal. Of course we won’t be able to do it all but intend to enjoy as much of it as possible in the time available and assuming the roads are wide enough for us. We’ve already learned from bitter experience to avoid those roads with grass growing down the middle!

5 Charles Fort, Kinsale & Old Head of Kinsale (54)We started this journey by heading to The Old Head of Kinsale (site of the sinking of the Cunard liner, Lusitania, in WW1) but sadly couldn’t make it to lighthouse and the end of the peninsular. The reason being that the area is now given over to a rather exclusive golf club, so we parked up and took photos from a distance. From here we spent the night on a very quirky family run campsite with fabulous views over the hills just outside Timoleague, a small village on the Wild Atlantic Way with a ruined abbey and huge church.

5 Charles Fort, Kinsale & Old Head of Kinsale (63)

The following day saw us calling into the market town of Clonakilty known for its black pudding and the Clonakilty sausage. We were more intrigued by the elaborate shop signs than the town itself and noticed that most of the bars were offering live music.

Sadly we weren’t staying the night and journeyed on via tiny roads (for that read Annie hanging on tight and feeling somewhat anxious) to another peninsular on the Wild Atlantic Way called Baltimore. Here on the end of the cliffs we found a large white beacon used we think as a navigational aid for ships and enjoyed a lovely cliff walk with spectacular views all around.

The day ended with us finding our way down yet another peninsular to the very end point at a place called Mizen Head, billed as the furthest south west point of Ireland. 7 Mizen Head S W Ireland (50)From here we could both see the Fastnet rock and lighthouse and for a small fee into the visitors centre we also learnt about its construction and some of the sea faring disasters in the waters close-by. Fastnet is known as “Ireland’s Teardrop”, because it was the last part of Ireland that 19th century Irish emigrants saw as they sailed to North America. Mizen Head itself is a tiny island separated from the mainland but the views are mainly of the Atlantic Ocean! We spent the night here on the windy headland ‘wild camping’ with 9 other motorhomes.

P1050039

The next morning we passed through Bantry that had nothing much to offer other than a town centre hosting a car boot sale with all sorts of random goods and a fabulous supermarket called ‘Super Value’ that boasts locally grown produce, in-house cooked pies and cakes all laid out so beautifully we didn’t want to leave.

Arriving at a charming small town called Glengarriff we found a small campsite with a bar and evening Irish music so decided to stay for two nights. On our first day we took a boat with Kevin the local boatman, who in his prime had won two All-Ireland Hurling Championships with County Cork, to Garnish Island. This is a small island (37 acres) in Bantry Bay that over 100 years ago was turned into an exotic garden with plants and shrubs from all over the world with the main event being the Italian Gardens. It really was very beautiful with lots of areas all planted up differently.

P1050112

On Saturday 21st July we took a day trip out from the campsite and travelled eastwards for the day to enjoy watching the “Home International Regatta” at Inniscarra Lake on the River Lea west of Cork. Richard rowed here in the same event with the Welsh Junior Squad almost exactly 42 years ago in 1976. Sadly the current Welsh squad fared just as badly as Richard and his crewmates all that time ago but it was good to reminisce and send pictures to his old friends!

Leaving Glengarriff, after two late nights enjoying the bar and the music, and continuing on the Wild Atlantic Way we drove around what is known as The Beara Peninsular stopping at Dursey Head which is the second time we have been on a headland claiming to be the most south-westerly point of Ireland. The head itself is once again on a small island with an intriguing cable car that was originally built to transfer cargo and livestock (1 at a time) across the narrow sea channel.

Whilst here Annie enjoyed a cliff side walk in the swirling mist and cloud so missed many of what would have been spectacular views. The Beara Peninsular has a very wild rugged landscape, the roads are smaller and therefore we guessed is quieter than the famous Ring of Kerry as there didn’t appear to be any tourist coach trips.

After driving along tiny country roads where any oncoming vehicle gave us some real problems but witnessing some stunning scenery we turned a corner to see ‘Helens Bar’ in front of us. It had a car park opposite and was right by a small harbour with glorious hills beyond and groups of people, drinks in hand in the early evening sunshine listening to a live musician.

What more perfect an overnight spot could anyone hope for (showers excluded of course)? We spent a happy evening here that was only marred by several regulars finally going home very loudly and still singing at 2.30 and then 3.20am – on a Sunday night, or more accurately a Monday morning!

9 Castletown, Dursey Head & Helens Bar (65)

Ireland – The Emerald Isle

Having arrived home from Scandinavia for the wedding of Naomi and Dave, Naomi being the eldest daughter of Richard’s brother Jonathan and his wife Jackie, we have a 7 week window before their youngest daughter Esther marries her fiancée Toby so decided a tour around Ireland fits the schedule perfectly. It was a privilege to share in such a joyful celebration at Naomi and Dave’s wedding even if it did overlap with England beating Sweden in the World Cup!1 Home to Fisguard (3)

So Saturday 14th July saw us driving along the M4 and beyond, all the way to the west coast of Wales for an overnight stop in Fishguard. The town itself was a little disappointing however the coastal path provided us with some fresh air after our journey plus lovely views of the harbour and the beautiful coastline. The only mishap being that we lost a hubcap somewhere along the way which must have been a result of having the brake pads replaced after the numerous fjord descents and the hubcaps not being securely replaced as the other one was loose too.

Thankfully England hadn’t made the World Cup Final as our ferry to Rosslare clashed with the big match! There was some quiet conflict between passengers on the crossing as initially a little group of clearly avid tennis fans were watching the Wimbledon Men’s Final and then at the request of several football fans the channel was switched over mid tennis match and the football World Cup Final came on instead! On arrival we were greeted with Irish drizzle for our drive to a very basic campsite on the south coast at Duncannon.

Fortunately the rain cleared overnight and we were able to enjoy a drive around the “Ring of Hook” (the Hook Peninsular) visiting the lighthouse at Hook Head billed as the world’s oldest working lighthouse, built in 1172. We popped into Tintern Abbey, linked to its more famous and much larger cousin in Monmouthshire before continuing northwards to New Ross known mainly for the Dunbrody Famine Ship, a full scale reconstruction of the cargo ships that carried emigrants to the USA in horrendous conditions. It’s also the nearest town to the ancestral home of J F Kennedy: his grandfather being a famine emigrant.

Our second night was spent on a really lovely campsite just outside Kilkenny, a 30 minute walk along the river brought us into the pretty town which in the 13th Century was the medieval capital of Ireland. This resulted in many historic and ancient buildings still standing which included a rather austere and grim looking castle, a Black Abbey, lots of churches and St Chanice Cathedral. Annie was delighted to find a craft and design centre in the old Castle Stable Yard which housed a number of different craftsmen and women at work.

One of the things we had been looking forward to on this trip was experiencing the live traditional music in the local bars and pubs. In Kilkenny we were spoilt for choice as there was live music in several places and we luckily found some early in the evening while we were still in the town. However we are noticing that much of this music often doesn’t start until 10pm so for us this may mean we need to readjust our routines as it’s close to our bedtime!!

Ireland is full to bursting with old ruins and we have particularly noticed a number of tall round towers which we understand were built between the 10th and 12th Centuries mainly on monastic sites and were places of refuge and used defensively as lookout points. One of these we found the following day when we visited The Rock of Cashel, a medieval rocky stronghold and now mainly in ruins but rises majestically out of a flat landscape and originally was the seat of the Kings of Munster in the 4th and 5th century but became an important religious centre until 1647 when all 3000 occupants were massacred by Cromwell’s army.

4 Cashel, Swiss Cottage, Ardmore & Youghal (86)

We followed these ancient ruins with a quick visit to a very intriguing house deep in the woods south of Cashel called Swiss Cottage which has been beautifully restored and despite the pouring rain very picturesque. It was apparently a rustic hideaway or folly owned by Lord and Lady Cahir where they ‘played at bucolic bliss dressed as peasants’! Rather eccentric really when you think about it!

Our last ruin of the day was a visit to the seaside resort of Ardmore where we found what was left of St Declan’s Cathedral and another tall round tower. We had planned to stay the night on a motorhome park but decided we weren’t happy to spend €10 to park overnight in a field with absolutely no facilities except a water tap.

4 Cashel, Swiss Cottage, Ardmore & Youghal (117)We ended up parking for free on the Harbour Quay at another seaside town called Youghal sharing the carpark with at least six other motorhomes. We are finding that campsites are few and far between and most of them are really holiday parks with fixed static caravan / homes and a few spaces for caravans and motorhomes. We asked about this in Tourist Information and were told that the majority of motorhomers in Ireland ‘wild camp’. In other words, park up for the night anywhere they can, usually with a nice view. This has led us to muse over the term ‘wild camping’ as there really isn’t anything very wild about staying on a quayside carpark with easy reach of the pub and local shops. We will make every attempt to get wilder as the trip progresses!

The following day saw us visit Charles Fort, a star shaped fort on a headland built in the 1670s by the English to protect the town of Kinsale and we followed this by a visit to the small but pretty town known for its gourmet seafood restaurants and enjoyed a wander around the quaint backstreets and the small but lively food market.

Southern Netherlands and Home

j Netherlands 9 Workum (78)By crossing the Waddenzee on the 32km Afsluitdijk, a road which forms part of a major dam and isn’t much wider than the dual-carriageway itself (with the North Sea one side and the Ijlsselmeer lake the other), we entered the southern part of The Netherlands into North Holland.

Our first overnight stop was in the pretty town of Edam where we pulled out our underused bicycles to explore this town and its near neighbour Volendam both on the shores of the Ijlsselmeer Lake. Where Edam was quaint and relatively quiet with the requisite canals and lovely old buildings, Volendam on the other hand was the total opposite, set up as a tourist trap and a destination for day trippers from Amsterdam.

From here we crossed the peninsular to the North Sea coast stopping off on the way to visit another town, Monnickendam recommended in the guidebook (more of the same) and ending up at Bakkum on a campsite where we were given a very dark pitch under the trees in a dirty sandy corner of the site, it was the first campsite in the Netherlands that we found to be unkempt and rather depressing. Its saving grace was its location right in the dunes, a national park area and close to a wide long very windy beach.

The highlight of our stay on the west coast was a visit to Alkmaar to see the famous Friday Cheese Market, what a lovely spectacle right in the old central square and every week keeping up all the customs of a traditional cheese market. The cheeses are delivered by barge and then after a tasting by some important looking officials and we guess bidding by the purchasers, the cheeses are carried on sledges to the weigh house by porters who are all affiliated to different guilds (indicated by the colour of their hats).

The cheeses are then transported by another set of porters to the purchasers lorries. We weren’t sure if this was a show for the benefit of the hundreds of tourists watching or an authentic cheese auction but we enjoyed it anyway.

From Alkmaar we zig-zagged our way to Amersfoort stopping to admire Muiden castle, jumping on our bikes for a cycle ride along lovely forest trails to see the grand manor houses, Paleis Soestdijk and Kasteel Groeneveld, both easy reach from our campsite and both slightly over rated!

Amersfoort itself whilst a large town, has a delightful old central part with moated city gates, canal lined streets, interesting markets and great coffee shops!

Our next stop was Amsterdam that neither of us had previously visited and was a ‘bucket list’ destination. Over three separate trips into the city via a free ferry from near our campsite, we feel we saw most of the highlights, with the exception of the many expensive museums that needed to be booked in advance.

j Netherlands 18 Amsterdam day 1 (6)

Our first trip in happened to coincide with a Saturday afternoon and so of course we should have been prepared for the abundance of hen and stag parties and lots of very drunk tourists. We weren’t (!) realising that after 7 weeks of the gentle peace and tranquillity of Scandinavia we hadn’t been in a busy noisy environment for so long.

A ‘free’ walking tour and a canal cruise helped us see things we wouldn’t have found just by using our guidebook and map of the city. We did however walk for miles along the canals and across the many bridges, we took far too many photos of the sometimes grand and always distinctive canal side houses.

Whilst here we couldn’t resist another portion of the famous Dutch fries so queued up with others to try the No 1 Trip Advisor choice in Amsterdam! So far the fries we had in Workum win hands down.

It was lovely to stay in one place for several days and our campsite was unusual in that the majority of campers were at least 35 years younger than us, the only slight downside to this was the strong smell caused by the ever present cloud of cannabis smoke hanging in the air above the campsite!

j Netherlands 21 Rotterdam (71)Heading for Calais we stopped in overnight at Rotterdam to meet up with our friends Rob and Anja whom we met on our African adventure and last saw a year ago in Costa Rica. Before meeting up with them and enjoying their wonderful hospitality at their home outside the city we did a whistle stop cycle tour of Rotterdam city centre. We were bowled over by all its amazing modern architecture (most of the city was destroyed by bombing in WW2). Some of the buildings were very intriguing, in particular the cube shaped apartments and another arched apartment block built around a food market in the city centre.

A long drive to a campsite in France brought us close to Calais for our ferry home on Friday 29th June and back to the glorious sunshine in the UK.