The Adventures of Captain Jayneway
Carry On Up The Causeway
Sometimes I think a worm has crawled in my ear and eaten my brain while I’ve been asleep. It only happens on rare occasion, but it does happen. Sometimes it’s something that you can smokescreen without detection, other times it is not, like the day I was supposed to fly to Ireland.
I woke up with the birds chirping, which at this time of year is about 4.30am. I was very excited about going to Ireland and equally excited about boarding a plane again. I was beginning to feel like it had been forever since I was last on a plane, and I’m sat trying to think when it was. Last September, that’s right, far too long since. I’ve been plenty of places recently, and I’m always grateful for my drive to achieve those experiences, but I only absolutely feel like I’m really going somewhere completely different when I have to get up in the sky first to get there.
So, awake I was, and there was no going back to sleep, I was too excited. I just had to wait until a more human hour to get up because once the dogs hear me creaking about upstairs, that’s the end of silence around the whole house. So I read a bit of my current book for an hour, and I have to say I never realised what a coke fiend Stephen Fry used to be. It just goes to show, shoveling that stuff up your snout can’t zap that many brain cells. He’s a walking oober brain! I can’t do the fancy “U” with the dots on top to make it a proper oober, because I don’t know how. If that’s what fifteen years hammering the fairy dust daily does to you, well. I do like Stephen Fry, brains over brawn, every time.
At 5.30am I got up, went downstairs, did the daily morning routine with the pets, got Jetsy settled and then took Diggy and Flynn for a walk. All the way over the fields, I was organising in my head what I had to do, where I had to go, how long it would take me, what time I had to set off and what fun I was going to have when I got there. I reckoned I wouldn’t have to set off until about 10am, as I was only flying from Leeds Bradford airport. Zippadee-doo, skipping over thickets in my wellies and saying morning to the birds, trees and sheep, as is normal. ‘Come on boys! Have to go and pack! No time for rabbits this morning! Yeeeeeee!’
I was all ready to go at about 9.45am, always making time for dog hugs on my way out. The look on Diggy’s face is enough to break your heart when he knows I’m going somewhere. He won’t even wag his tail. Just a look of despair mixed with disgust, that’s all you get. I carried what little baggage I had out to the car and off I went on my way. I cruised all the way to the parking facility because I knew I had loads of time to spare. There’s one thing I can’t stand, and that’s rushing for anything. I like to keep things calm and chilled. I always set off early, that way you avoid stress. I don’t like getting rattled by time constraints, enforced by myself or anyone else just as much as I hate being late. If I’m ever late, you know that something serious has happened.
As I pulled into the airport parking it felt a little bit like coming home. Ever since I discovered the beauty of flying local, specifically from Leeds, I haven’t flown from anywhere else. Those guys who take care of your car just make travelling so easy for you, there’s no farting about. They drop you off at departures and pick you up off your flight when you come back, regardless of what unearthly hour it is. And they have your car waiting for you, with a smile. I can’t say enough good things about them. So, I knew exactly what the procedure was when I pulled in, this time with my recently upgraded hot rod… meet ‘my precious’. I was thinking to myself, I wonder if they’re up to speed with these cars that don’t have a proper handbrake, because it’s taken me bloody weeks to get the hang of it. I’ll never understand why they’re phasing out the good old yank it up handbrake. I don’t trust the button!
I made my way to the reception to hand my keys over. I showed my reservation booking and the guy behind the counter looked a bit confused. This is never a good omen. He said he’d never seen a flight go out of Leeds to Knock in Ireland before, but I assured him that it was the right one. I’d even put the information in my phone calendar when I’d booked it. 31st May, ‘GO TO IRELAND’ – where from? Leeds Bradford. The guy behind the desk looked at my flight details.
“You’re flying out of East Midlands!”
‘I can’t be?’
“You definitely are, look, that’s the letters for East Midlands. If you step on it, you might just make it”
‘I can’t believe I’ve come to the wrong airport’ I said, with a complete look of disbelief on my face. I paused for thought. By this time there were three people behind the reservation desk, two of which had appeared from nowhere to see what all the excitement was about.
“It’s a 50 mile per hour speed limit all the way to Derby because of the road works… but you can speed up in between the cameras”, a woman behind the counter offered.
“Don’t be stupid, it’s a speed average camera, it clocks you going from one camera to another”
“Well, I’ve never had a speeding ticket”
“Your car probably wouldn’t be capable of getting a speeding ticket”
And so the banter continued.
None of this was helping me, and I was wasting valuable time. Whilst chewing on my knuckles and feeling a bit stupid, I tried to work out in my head if I could actually make the flight, give or take a speeding fine or two.
The reality of the situation started to sink in. I looked at the clock behind the counter and it was 11.25am. My flight was due to depart at 1.05pm with the gates closing at 12.35pm. So I needed to get from Leeds to Nottingham in an hour, driving at 50mph. Not rocket science, exactly.
I legged it out of the reservation office, jumped in my car, punched in the GPS coordinates for East Midlands Airport and off I went wanting to drive like Lewis Hamilton, but restricted to a 50mph speed limit and a bucket load of traffic. Never a quitter, but there are times when logic just has to take the front seat. The GPS said I wouldn’t get there until well after my flight had taken off and I just had to accept that, as much as it pissed me off giving up. I drove for a couple of miles and did a full reality check. I pulled into a garage and went though all my options, which included getting the ferry but I thought the £340 tickets were a bit pricey for a few days in Ireland. By whichever means I got there, not going wasn’t an option. After the initial mortification, I thought it was all pretty funny. Nothing here that can’t be rectified! Fast-forward twenty-four hours.
When I arrived at East Midlands airport for a second stab at the prize, all I was thinking was ‘better late than never’. Compared to Manchester and Leeds airport parking, a completely different system was employed here. I’d never driven and flown from East Midlands and I found the ‘Meet & Greet’ thing a bit weird and devil may care. A man in the car park cracked a few jokes through my window and pointed where I should leave my car. I basically felt like I had abandoned my car in the middle of the car park and then preceded to hand my keys over to this other bloke. The only hint of reassurance I had was that he wrote down my mileage on a flap of paper that was then attached to my key. This was so I knew they hadn’t been off for a spin in it while I was away, I supposed. I was told to come back to the same spot when I returned. Ok, right.
It hasn’t happened for a while for whatever reason, but I got pulled up at customs. I always used to get lynched when I was flying backwards and forwards from Australia and New Zealand on my own, even once being accused of being a drug mule in Australia. I think a wave of suspicion floods through their brains when they see a young solo traveler. They can’t seem to comprehend that a female might like travelling the world on their own. I have had conversations with customs about this before while I’ve been grilled and their level of open-mindedness, lack thereof, is astounding. I walked through the x-ray machine and waited for my stuff to follow on the conveyer. My boots, laptop, camera and jacket all came through, but I sighed as I watched my hand luggage trundle off down into the naughty lane. Oh bollocks.
My hand luggage got searched and after my bag being rifled though, the culprit seemed to be my organic chemical free coconut deodorant, whoops, sorry, I forgot that was in there. Off the bag went again, for another run through the machine. I couldn’t believe it when it went down the naughty lane again. Five minuets away from the rubber glove treatment, I thought, here we go. My bag got worked over for a second time, but the officer couldn’t find anything. He then zipped it up and took it off to a separate table where he did the magic wand treatment on it. I’ve had this done so many times before; it’s a swab for ‘foreign substances’. Every time I stand there and I think, Jesus, that bag has been around the world with me to hundreds of places dating back the last twenty years. It’s been kicked around more different rooms, thrown on grubby hotel floors and wheeled around so many streets, more than I can even remember. Maybe there is something on the bag? There’s every chance there might be! I watched him put the swab into the machine. Clean! Phew!
I was glad to at last get to the boarding gate. We were all standing at the gate for quite some time waiting for budget wings to arrive. Everybody was stood staring at the void where the plane should be, but still queuing anyway. Especially eager were the one-upman’s who’d paid for priority boarding, this always makes me laugh! As I was waiting idling away the time, I couldn’t help overhearing these two blokes stood near me talking. The pair, who were obviously brothers because they looked like twins, had a Birmingham accent, which reminds me of Auf Wiedersehen Pet, and always amuses me. One was getting a bit irate with the other, and then it transpired what had happened as the argument unfolded. One of them had picked up his wife’s passport by mistake and they wouldn’t let him get on the flight. I apologised for ear wigging, but then asked if they wouldn’t let him board with his driver’s license as proof of identity? To which he replied, No! At that moment, I did feel sorry for him, but deep down inside I was thinking, ‘well, at least I’m not the only muppet around here’… At least he didn’t go to the wrong airport. That was quite impressive! Then I was thinking, how the hell did he get through security and all the other shite you have to do, waving his wife’s passport photo about? There was absolutely nothing effeminate about him! Airport security? I rest my case!
Finally on the plane! To my left I had a lovely Irish woman who fed me sweets all the way to Knock, when she wasn’t asleep that is. And on my right was a blonde chap; he’d collared the window seat, which always creates envy within. This is because I like looking at the clouds while I’m pressing my face on the window, you know, and making steam drawings, to amuse myself. I was in the middle seat because I refuse to pay for allocated seating, what a load of bollocks that is. The lovely Irish woman offered him sweets too, and to start with he declined. Soon though, he accepted sweets and when I pulled out my Lonely Planet guide to Ireland, him and I started talking. He was flying to Ireland to wrap up his business. I never got around to asking him what his business was, even though we talked all the way to Knock. We talked about everything from landmarks in Ireland to the pollution problems in China. Most amusing, the topics we covered, considering the language barrier. He had a set of the bluest eyes I have ever seen, the colour of glacial ice and quite mesmerising. When we were coming in to land you could tell the weather was not great, the turbulence was like being in a flight simulator, set to crash mode. I couldn’t believe it when my new buddy told me he didn’t like flying. This was a bit of an understatement on his part, I realised. I have never seen anyone shit themselves to that degree on any of the flights I’ve ever been on. As we were coming in to land the poor guy had sweat running down his face, which was bright red, and he was clinging on to the seat so hard it’s a wonder he didn’t break something. I couldn’t help laughing, but I did offer a token pat on the shoulder, don’t worry, you’ll be fine! (Snigger chortle…) By the time we reached Knock, I’d decided that he was definitely a Viking and his fear of flying was because he’d been used to being in boats. He was really interesting and I can’t believe we went off without exchanging names.
Knock airport is so small, but refreshingly uncomplicated. With no luggage to collect I was out of there like a shot and I collected my hire car just as swiftly. Because of the ‘slight flight delay’, my tour de Ireland had to change somewhat from my original plan, which was to head up to the North West coast on the first night. As I was now staying in my second night’s accommodation on my first night, I had a four-hour drive up to Port Rush ahead of me. The hire car was a little Hyundai and I felt like Mr. Bean getting in that after bombing about in my Insignia, but for a tiny car, it didn’t half have some poke. I had such a lovely drive up on the open road. There was hardly any other traffic around, which was totally refreshing after England’s endless road works, speed limits and traffic jams. Up at the farm, you forget about all that traffic bollocks and I truly love that, until you have to go somewhere. It’s just about the only time I get a radge head on, when I have to sit in queue’s of traffic watching minutes of my life drip away, when I’m thinking how much better that time could have been spent. All that made worse by reaching the end of five miles of road disruption, an added hour to your journey and to not see a single bit of work being done to get the job finished. The question is, why does it take so long to do a simple job, like implementing viable road structures throughout the country? Why, when people are begging for work, don’t they employ more people and get the job done faster? You don’t get the same problems driving in France, or Spain, or anywhere else I’ve been to. You can’t help but wonder if it’s all an evil ploy to make you use more fuel, so you have to buy more fuel. Cause more stress, so again, creating revenue though illness caused by stress. Maybe I think too much sometimes, but maybe I’m not that far off the mark. Anyway, it does my wig in, sort it out!
Lets move on, back to beautiful Ireland… After arriving in what the car hire company called a freak monsoon, the sky cracked a smile and gradually turned into a glorious afternoon. I was thinking to myself on the drive up there, if the clouds stay like this, I’m going to be in my photographic happy place. I drove up from Knock, through a hodgepodge of the most splendidly named Irish villages and towns, with names like Tubbercurry and Collooney. Tub of curry and Col’s a loony. Up past Sligo, to the west of Donegal, then passing through Stralolar, Strabane, Derry and then up to the North coast, finally arriving at Port Rush early evening. My place of rest for the first night was a wonderful old colonial building that had been converted into a hotel. For the price, it really was luxurious. When I walked into my room, I did do a little, ‘wow!’ jiggle. I later thanked the receptionist for giving me such a lovely room. I was quite taken aback by the opulence. The whole place was huge, and you can only ponder on thoughts of what it was like as a family home. The view from the hotel looked over the rugged coastline, which I could imagine was totally spellbinding as a home a few hundred years ago, before the world was built up around it. Today, Port Rush is busy town, with all the unfortunate trappings that come with the tourism industry, nonetheless though, a pleasant place to use as a base for exploring.
The beauty of this time of year is the light nights we are blessed with. And the light mornings, come to think about it. Light at 4.30am, dark at 11pm, I love all seasons, but I love the light, because I can see what I’m doing and I can get more things done. As soon as I’d dumped my bag in the room, I was off again. I just had to go and see if I could get to the Giant’s Causeway for the final dip of light. The short drive along the coast was so exciting, the castle on the way, was closed, but still amazing. When I got to the Causeway, it was closed. It was a bit silly of me to even consider that somewhere like this might be free to look at. When I looked at the signage it told me what the opening hours were, and it also told me that the National Trust managed this place. My first reaction to this was how did they manage to get their hands on this spot? My second response to these findings were to do a little 80’s ‘grab the air and pull my hand to my heart’ maneuver, as I realised I’d get in for free, being a member, for as many times as I liked, and wouldn’t have to pay a tenner for the privilege each time. Get in! Sunset, sunrise, stars in my eyes.
I drove back to the hotel positively buzzing with the knowledge of what I was going to be doing the following morning, and that was realising a childhood dream. I have always had a peculiar attraction to Ireland, for as long as I can remember, even as a child. It wasn’t until I bought the seaside house in Scarborough to renovate it in 2013 that I found out from the deeds that a Mr. William Dennis had bought the land and built the same house that I had just bought, in 1860. What is the likelihood of that? A little bit more fishing around, because I was truly intrigued, led to the possibility that Willy is most probably a relative, and chasing the family tree back shows that the Dennis side of the family originally came across to England from Ireland, to work in Lincoln because they were all tradesmen, joiner’s, builders and that is where the work was at that time… Some stayed in Lincoln, others migrated to Scarborough. I’m so busy all the time, but I desperately would love to know the full family tree, I find it fascinating. Don’t you wonder how you got here? It took a lot of generations to make you. I want to see the paperwork, the early photographs. I want to know where I came from before the event of writing, keeping records and the dawn of computers, don’t you? There have been various accounts of where the name Dennis comes from, and the best one yet is that donkey’s years ago we came across with the Normans, and we were Denis (Said in a Frenchie way), as opposed to Dennis, the extra ‘N’ got added in later, probably as part of a fashion of the time… like Blondie’s ‘Denis Denis’.
I arrived back at the hotel excited about what I was going to experience the following day. Lately I have this penchant for good real dark ale, so I thought I’d slip down to the bar and see what was on offer. I was poking my head over the bar to see what they had and couldn’t decide. As I was doing this, a local bloke came back to his seat that I was hovering over. A quick exchange of banter, a handshake and an apology from me for loitering around his bar stool followed. I didn’t realise anyone was sitting there, but I’m glad he was. I spent the rest of the night, not looking at my lonely planet guide, but getting drunk with this guy and the locals. He said his name was Cochran, like Eddie Cochran. His first name wasn’t, Eddie, but I couldn’t remember what that was after about the fifth beer and Eddie was as good a name as any. I got introduced to my new favourite drink, Black and Tan. It was the local ale, Smithwick’s, topped with Guinness, what else? As soon as I had my first mouthful, I was in love. What a refreshing drink! I’ve tried to get bar staff to make it while I’ve been out in Leeds since I’ve been back, but it’s nowhere close to being as good. It’s all down to the ale you put with the Guinness, as well as the quality of the black, for sure. We got on talking about why calling the drink Black and Tan became a bit of a ‘don’t go there’.
The beautiful thing about travelling to new places is meeting people like Eddie. These folk are a mine of information and once again, I learned something I knew nothing about minutes before hand. Forgive my loose translation and don’t quote me, but you’ll get the general idea… In 1919, The ‘Black and Tan’s’ were temporary constables, officially named The Royal Constabulary Reserve Force, recruited in Great Britain under Winston Churchill, who was then the Secretary of State for War. They were drafted into Ireland initially to control and fight the IRA, but became more infamous for their bloody attacks on civilians. The Black and Tan moniker comes from the uniforms they wore apparently, and were a mix of both British and Irish army regalia. To my mind, I’m thinking more shades of green for the uniforms, but never mind. It was definitely a bad time and still very much in the memory of the locals. I could see why calling my new favourite drink ‘a bit of this and a bit of that’ whilst pointing at the respective hand pulls was a more PC thing to do. We didn’t dwell on that part of the conversation for too long and decided that we ought to have another round of drinks. This carried on for a bit, until Eddie, who was working as a driver for some rich American golf semi-pro’s and had to be up at the crack of dawn the following morning to ferry them around, decided he’d better go to bed. He gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and off he went, the party sort of went a bit flat after he left. Ten minutes later he came back downstairs again, and we had another two rounds! He was brilliant! I’ve always loved the Irish, so cheeky, so fun, warm and lovable. He did suggest we have a roady in his room, because they’d given him a room big enough for three people, but I laughed and said they’d given me one of those too! He gave me his room number just incase… Cheeky, but you can’t blame a man for trying!
The next morning I was up early and to my amazement, no hangover what so ever! Like I said, my new favourite drink. I had an amazing Irish breakfast in a room the size of a house, of which I was the only occupant. I gazed around at the fittings and I reckoned the room used to be The Ballroom once upon a merry little colonial time. That was another bit of a sore point actually, the origin of the primary residents of the property, many moons ago, before it was transformed into a hotel. Not Irish. In fact, all the details of the proprietors of the early 20th century were on the lobby wall. The facts were interesting, but you can understand why the locals were pissed off, and still are to a degree, under breath and up sleeves. This is where I could launch the boat into a sea of sarcasm and comment on how far we’ve come since those brutal colonial days, but I won’t.
I checked out, with much thanks for my lovely room and very warm hospitality. After the drive the previous night, I knew exactly where I was going. To see The Giant, or The Causeway Giganticus, as I liked to call it, it doesn’t take much to amuse myself. I even made a little rap song up in my head on the way from the car to the entrance to the place, but I’ll spare you that because it’s just doesn’t work without the beat. With a little creative imagination, mix the 80’s hand clutch; now, grab the air to your heart (I’m getting in for free), with my Giganticus rapscallion big beat. What more could you ask for on a cold, windy, cloudy Irish day? Made me laugh, out loud probably. I’ve become one of those people who talk out loud to themselves, been like it for years actually, I don’t even realise I’m doing it half of the time… Am I in the slightest bit concerned? No.
I was greeted warmly at the paying desk, even though I wasn’t paying. Every time I accidentally come across trust properties on my travels, I thank my little get in free card, which I only paid £45 for, for a whole big fat year. It’s already paid for itself twice over. I had a quick look at the museum, but couldn’t be arsed reading all that information at that time of the day and just wanted to get down there. I was pointed in the direction of the Causeway. When I got outside I was amused to see that there was actually a lazy bus to take people down there, and then back up again. It really wasn’t that far, and a beautiful walk it was too. I wandered my way down the coastline. When I got to the main section of The Causeway, I was staggered. The landscape was everything I had ever imagined, and more. Ever since I was old enough to pick up a book, I’d seen pictures of the Giant’s Causeway somewhere and always wanted to go there, and now I was finally there. Another lifelong dream realised.
I spent about four hours walking around The Causeway and along the coastline and I couldn’t have been happier. I scaled the mountain of hexagonal shaped pillars that dripped off into the ocean, as I climbed along, touching the smoothness of the rocks with my hands. The energy around the place was pretty amazing. I definitely arrived at the place just at the right time, because an hour later the whole area was awash with hundreds of brightly coloured anoraks. As more and more people arrived I felt an intense urge to get away from everyone, so I did the coast walk to escape the mass of tourists. There really is some fantastic walking around that area, the rugged climbs and bracing Atlantic breeze was so energising, I felt like I was in a dream at times. There was a section on one of the tracks where there had been a big landslide, so the route was partially closed and diverted on to the cliff top. I had to turn back in order to ascend and on the way another comedy moment fell in to my lap.
I came to pass two larger than life American people. The man was looking at the world through an old camcorder and the woman was by his side trying to appreciate what he was looking at as he gave a running commentary. I couldn’t help but stop and listen because it sounded funny, even from 200 yards away. They had spotted a puffin. I asked what he was looking at, and I swear it was the voiceover guy for Buzz Lightyear that replied. I was quietly excited about the possibility of seeing a puffin, because I’ve never actually seen one in the wild before, and I do think they are beautiful. He was trying to point out where the bird was, and it took even my eagle eyes a while to track it down to the rocks below. There it was, a speck on the floor, way down below. We were so far away, the white of it’s feathers sort of looked a bit like bird shit on the rock, until it moved. To be honest I didn’t see the tell tale beak, it could have been a pied wagtail for all I could see. I’ll say one thing though, you have to love the over the top enthusiasm of the Americans. They’d been on a puffin hunt and now they’d finally seen one, even if it was through the wobbly lens of an old Sony DXC 1200. After walking around 10km, actually probably further than that, I was in a daze, but who’s counting. I made my way back to the car, totally exhilarated and content.
Fully charged after my morning, I decided I was going to see as much of the Causeway Coastal Route as I could, but not without fitting in a trip to see ‘The Dark Hedges’ along the way. Made famous through the epic Game of Thrones series, amongst other productions, this mesmerising avenue of ancient trees, I just had to see for my own eyes. I’ll tell you now; I don’t think there’s a Sat-Nav on the market that will take you there directly. My GPS wouldn’t even let me punch in the digits I’d been given. It took me hours to find the place and I only found it by asking in a nearby town when I’d run out of all other ideas, and they said if I found the golf course that was near there, I’d soon find the trees. When I did eventually find The Dark Hedges I was, once again, captivated. To be honest, I can’t remember seeing the trees on telly and I’m glad about that. I’d only found out about their existence through searching for things I might like to see while I was in Ireland, and being obsessed with trees, this was a must see. This place was totally amazing. Talk about capture your imagination. The energy of the place was overwhelming and had it not been for the constant flow of tourist cars that seemed to follow me there, I’d have been there all afternoon.
When I first arrived, I was the only person there. I really did have to step back when I walked down the avenue alone. I felt like the trees were trying to tell me something, talking to each other and then whispering to me. This might all sound a bit mad, but lets face it, it is I writing this. I recommend you experience the place for yourself, because it’s the only way you will ever understand. It was a truly magical place and I absolutely loved it. The only things I would have changed were perhaps the light, and the fact that other people that arrived after me, who were so bone idle, they felt it was acceptable to drive down the avenue and sit in the car and take photos out of their car window. Or drive down and dump their car on the verge in the middle of the trees and then waddle out with their smart phones with no regard for the trees or other people appreciating the magic. The light you can’t change at that moment, but if I do get back there, I’ll be there at the crack of dawn, or at the dead of night. The light will be perfect, and there’ll be nobody there but the ghosts and myself, haunted? I don’t doubt it. Amazing!
I drove away from this mysterious avenue feeling all sorts of emotions. By now the rain had passed, the sun was shining and I decided to go for a drive down the coastal road to Larne. This truly beautiful stretch of coastline took me through Cushendall, Glenariff, past Garron Point, Carnlough, Glenarm, Ballygally and Carnfunnock Country Park. There wasn’t a moment when I wasn’t in awe. The pure clear water of the ocean contrasted against the white cliffs and outcrops on one side, and the luscious glacial valleys on the other. The scenery and landscape were poetic and dreamy. I was in a land of beauty, without question, I’ll never forget it.
As the day drew on, I thought I’d better get my arse in gear and try and find the hotel for the second night, which I’d pre-booked. When I pulled into the hotel, it looked nice enough from the outside. When I got inside the place, it was as dark as the inside of a rabbit hole. There didn’t seem to be anybody there, not a soul. The receptionist eventually appeared and I got checked in. From the palatial colonial house in Portrush to Fawlty Towers in under 24 hours, wow! What a mad place that was! The reception desk was so dimly lit, you could hardly see what was going on. Try and get a drink from the bar, there was nobody there. I was stood there for twenty minutes, wondering if it was self-service. All you could see was Basil Fawlty running around like a mad man, in charge of the entire management of this place. There were cleaning products dumped on the bar, a stack of empty glasses from god knows who had used them, four senior people eating in the weird ‘restaurant’, the oddest tartan décor, and more empty seats than a Peter Andre concert. I did eventually get a drink, and I made sure it was a double, just incase I had to wait an hour to get another one. All right if I take it outside? I asked.
I sat outside pondering about such a place. How does somewhere as big and as empty as that manage to stay afloat? When I went back to the bar for a roady, I had a bit of a chat to Basil. Apparently there was a gym, a pool; you could even get a massage. In fact, the hotel boasted all the luxuries of a five star establishment. I’m not sure which photographs they used to advertise the place, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t there. I reckon I was the only person staying in there that night. I could write half a book about the place, but there’s no point really. The breakfast was fine, even if it felt like it was delivered in the same way the drinks had been the night before, rough around the edges. I was happy to check out and get out there really. I’m not going to mention the name, because that won’t do anybody any good. Hope they pull things together there because the place had so much potential. One thing I do a lot of, particularly when I’m travelling on my own is revamp ailing places of all shape, size and kind, in my mind. ‘I know how this could be better’ ‘This is what needs to be done to improve this’. Sometimes people listen. Most of the time they take the defensive alternative, which is never a winner, ever.
I had a sunny morning greeting me as I drove away from Fawlty Towers, my belly full of yet another Irish Breakfast. One fantastic thing about those hearty breakfasts, it’s all you need until about 6pm, if not all you need for the entire day. At home, my favourite start up is poached eggs and avocado on ciabatta bread, that’s if I have anything at all. The daily full Irish was like a three course meal to me. Lets be honest, if you’ve paid for a room and breakfast is included, unless you’re completely hungover to shit and can’t get out of bed, you’re not going to miss it are you?
I knew I had a bit of a drive ahead of me, but I love driving and distance is never an issue. I drove to Dover and back from the farm one day last year to pick up some spindles for a staircase that I’d found in a reclamation yard down there, it took me 14 hours there and back, in one go, via Peckham in London to pick up an antique fireplace. After I’d done that, I thought I was a bit mad, but the drive was no problem. I headed in the general direction of where I needed to be that night, but when I realised it wasn’t really all that far, only about 140 miles, I slung the Sat-Nav in the glove compartment and just followed my nose. That was the best decision I made that morning, because how the day unfolded could not have been any more spectacular. From County Derry, I drove across to County Donegal. The difference in the landscape was really amazing. From level pastureland, I found myself in mountain ranges similar to Scotland, in the North West pocket of Donegal. Every corner I turned I found myself saying Wow! Over and over again I was enchanted. I went to Muckish Mountain, I think that’s how you spell it! The whole landscape around there was amazing. The countryside and villages I drove through were so pretty. I’d been driving for quite a while and I needed a wee. Anyone who knows me knows that going alfresco is part of my character and I would rather have a wee outside than sit on a manky public toilet any day of the week. I was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the Derryveagh Mountains and thought this will be as good a place as any, nice view. I thought I’d take a few photos first. As I was photographing across the valley, there was a little bridge with a stream close by. There was not another soul in sight, just sheep. Then I saw a rusty wonky sign slapped on the side of the bridge that said ‘this site is being monitored by CCTV’. I couldn’t work out why anyone would have camera’s there, in the middle of crack arse nowhere, maybe somebody’s been nicking sheep? My arse is probably now quite famous. I’d like to think so.
I felt about two pints lighter after that and went on my merry little way. What happened next was completely not planned. I knew very little about County Donegal, so I wasn’t looking for any particular place, I was just having a nosey around. I’d driven along a long stretch of road, amazing traffic free car advert sort of roads, where you can just give it some. I came across this big gateway on my right hand side and it was the only distraction I had seen for ages. I had to pull in and have a look and see what was down there. Beyond these gates I found one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen, by chance.
I had no idea what was beyond, but I parked the car and found myself in a visitor centre. To where, I thought? There was a bus parked up, yet again, that seemed to be waiting to take tourists somewhere. I’d found Glenveagh Castle and National Park. In the visitor centre I asked how far it was to the castle, and it was only about 5km, so I walked it. An absolutely mind blowing place, the surrounding scenery reminded me of so many other places, but especially The Lake District. The walk to the castle was lovely, made all the more beautiful by the scorching hot day that I’d been blessed with. I got a bit of a sweat on hiking up there. According to my car gauge, it was about 26 degrees that day. Talk about dangling the summer carrot in front of the donkey, Baltic one minute, tropical the next. When I reached the castle I was captivated by the place. The gardens were lush and over flowing with amazing plants. There was such a massive area of land dedicated to this wonderful garden. I reckon there must have been over 50km of walking tracks around it, but I think the overall backdrop of the place was something like 40,000 acres. All this, right on the edge of an ancient glacial lake, if you were going to build a castle, this is how you go about it! A Scottish baronial style castellated mansion house built around 1870 by a bloke called Captain Adair. The history behind how the plans for the castle came into fruition is shrouded in tales of cruelty towards the local folk. Even though Adair was Irish, he’d gone off to America, made a fortune over there and then returned fully minted to buy up as much land as he could get his hands on, which included this estate. In order to implement his vision, he stopped at nothing to get what he wanted, this included evicting all the locals off the land by what ever means necessary. Wandering around there, it did look a fairytale, but after reading about the history, it really does make you think.
I spent a good chunk of the day hiking around the tracks, I would have easily done 20km and I only saw a fraction of it. The view from the terraces down to the lake was gorgeous and you could easily spend a few days there exploring it all. There was an intriguing set of steps hidden in the back of the place that was fenced off and I was gagging to sneak in there. I couldn’t get through the fence, but I would love to have seen what was at the top of them. There were about 70 steps with a really steep climb and all over grown with foliage, it was enchanting. Apparently the castle had some pretty glamorous people holiday there in its heyday, Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable. I could definitely see the appeal, especially standing by the outdoor swimming pool that had been built, almost like an early infinity pool, directly on the edge of the lake. Despite it’s immoral beginnings, the castle got the big thumbs up from me, I loved it.
Still stunning blue skies above when I left the castle, I decided to make my way up to the beach where I was going to be staying for the night. I ended up getting lost. This wasn’t an issue, because I did get to see an awful lot more of Donegal than I would have otherwise. The thing about this pocket of Ireland is that the road signs are in Irish, and I mean proper Irish. I don’t think any Sat Nav on the planet would have those place names on it. It was really funny and I didn’t have a clue where I was half of the time. Now and again, I would hit the coast, but then I would be inland again. Being lost in such a pretty place was great, but I reckon I must have done about a hundred miles around the western fringes and still hadn’t found the hotel. I did eventually find the place at about 7pm. Downings was the place, and as I discovered, this village had various names and that’s why it had been so illusive. It’s funny, because I was thinking as I was driving around lost, that when I did eventually find the place, it would be one of those pop-up towns. I think that’s exactly what it was. I think perhaps its old name had been modernised as the town had been developed, but the signpost to it still displayed the original name. This stunning bay of white sand and turquoise waters would once have been just that. Over time, like most places, the secret escapes out of the bag and the building starts. The hotel I stayed in was pristine, crisp and modern. I think it was called the Beach Hotel and it was literally a two-minute walk to the beach. If you ignored the static caravan site next door and the new houses going up everywhere, it was like being in The Coromandel in New Zealand. I watched the sunset on the beach, well sort of. I thought, being on the West I’d see the sun dip down across the ocean, but I hadn’t quite got my geography right. The coastal characteristics meant that I just happened to be in the wrong spot for that, but non-the less. The colour in that night sky was so beautiful, purples, mauves, greys, oranges and pinks. Apart from one other person, I had the whole beach to myself, another paradise and in heaven on earth, again. I had dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was really nice. I couldn’t get my new favourite drink, so I had wine instead. Having not had any wine for a while, I was quite pissed after two glasses. As is always the case, I got talking to a couple of people and the rest is history. I love that no matter where I go, no matter how random, I always meet such lovely human beings. ‘If we’d met you earlier, you could have stayed at our place, we’ve rented a five bedroom house up the road’. Bloody slipped up there, rock star pad! Damn!
The breakfast the following morning was lovely, this kind of masked over the soggy wet affair that I was looking at out of the window. Rain, I couldn’t get over the change from the previous day. The cloud was thick, and as optimistic as I am, I looked up at that sky and thought, there’s not going to be any sunshine getting past that today! You can’t let a little bit of precipitation get in the way of your plans. My plan for the day was to hike a little bit of The Glen Gesh Pass, and that’s what I set off to do. I really wanted to see the waterfall which I’d heard was spectacular and near to there. I had another big drive around. The sea fog was like a hearty soup. I did a little, shall we say, jog around a bit of The Pass and got quite wet. The highlight of this excursion, for me, was the view down the valley. The scenery really was beautiful and entrancing, capturing my imagination once again. I never did get to see the waterfall.
After The Pass, I was in a few minds of what to do with the remainder of the day. It really was pissing it down and as much as I’m up for anything, getting my camera out and taking some nice shots was what I really wanted to do. I drove up the west coast and enjoyed having a look around, but eventually gave in to the elements. The positive of this, I reckoned, was that I would get a chance to write this. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll go to the next hotel, at Kincasslagh, and I’ll get this baby down. I’m cool with that. I haven’t stopped all week. Let’s do it! So I headed off back up the northwest. A bit odd, you might think. That I was going in the opposite direction to where I was flying out of the following day. It was odd; it definitely felt odd going the wrong way and there were quite a few parts of me that were kicking each other for booking accommodation in advance. It would have been fine if I hadn’t missed my flight, but these folk had been so good to me. They had let me move my reservation from the day I missed my flight, to this day. This meant me not loosing quite a bit of money on the room for not showing up.
When I arrived at the hotel my heart sank a little bit. It was a strange little place from the outside; it looked like it had been somebody’s house once upon a time. The location was lovely, looking out across the bay, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to find inside. I got checked in, and sure enough, the place was a bit like being in somebody’s house. When in Rome, get a pint in. I took my laptop down to the bar, asked for my new favourite drink, which they mixed spectacularly. I grabbed myself a seat in the corner and set about penning the adventure. As I was sat trying to get started on this, there were two guys sat at the bar talking loudly. I guess you know what I’m going to say next? We got talking. To be honest, they just wouldn’t leave me be. They said they couldn’t bare me sitting on my own, which was fair enough, though I don’t mind being on my own one bit. After a bit of across the room banter, I took my laptop back up to my room knowing fine well that I wasn’t going to get anything written. I joined them back in the bar. What a fun afternoon that turned out to be. The ringleader, introduced by himself as ‘Cash’. Johnny Cash, he said was his name. In hindsight, his name was actually John; he just added the Cash bit in for effect. A musician from the 60’s, Scottish, and oh boy, had he been around. Talk about having a tale or two to tell, he was brilliant. I sat and got pissed with him all afternoon. By the end of the night, he was totally wasted and I just couldn’t believe it when the bar maid told me he’d been in there drinking since 10.30am. Now that’s stamina, at his young age, I’ll never forget Johnny Cash. He was what I would call the salt of the earth, unforgettable and bless his crazy heart. After Johnny left I was a bit shell-shocked. Yet again, mischief follows me around, or finds me. Two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, one of the greatest lyrics of all time and probably quite fitting for those few hours of our lives. Johnny drove home, we all tried to stop him. I’ll never forget him driving out of that car park with a fag hanging out of his gob, the ash an inch long. All while he’s trying to work out why the gear stick has moved and wasn’t where it used to be.
I just had time to get something to eat, so I ordered some food in the bar and I have to say that was one of the nicest seafood dishes I have ever had. I had medallions of monkfish in a cream of tarragon and brandy sauce, it was epic! That’s two of the best seafood dishes I’ve ever had, both coming out of Ireland. The first was seafood chowder down in the south a few years ago. Amazing. With Johnny gone, food ingested and lack of other interest, I retired for the night, though I can’t really remember going to bed to be honest.
The next morning the sun had finally cracked the clouds. I went down for breakfast and had to decipher the secret door in the wooden paneling in the bar to get to the breakfast room, which amused me at 8am. I was still picturing Johnny Cash at the bar, apparently his wife had rang and said he got home in one piece, which made me smile. I don’t think the morning chef was too much of a morning person, but the breakfast was nice, minus the cheery smile on delivery. I got settled up and on my way. Time to fly, time to leave this Island of Ireland, time to move on.
Three hours driving and at least I knew where I was going. I’d been up and down these roads so many times in the previous days it was like home. I did get chance to have a little look at the spectacular Benbulbin and also the place of rest of Yeats on the way to the airport. My little adventure, I felt completely fulfilled. I never know what my travels will bring, but I never tire of being on the move. I love Ireland. It is a magical place and a place that I will never get tired of. I guess the biggest question now is, which rock star am I going to be? I met two of the biggest stars on my trip. It has to be Janis Jopling…. Eddie Cochran, Johnny Cash and Me, Janis Dennis. I’m still trying to learn Bobby McGee on the guitar that I still can’t play, I’ll get there one day… More minutes in the day is what I need… Ha ha ha…
Keep on Loving the Life you live and Living the Life you Love…
Until Next time…
Captain Over X