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our holiday...

Friday

Filled up entire boot of car (!), and set off. On the way up we arranged to break the trip, hoping to get to Shrewbury. Unfortunately, we were actually in Telford, which is the epitome of everything that is Bad And Wrong about English New Towns. Well, Milton Keynes might actually be the epitome, but I reckon Telford would give it a run for its money. After getting lost due to bad signposts (foreshadowing!) and seeing the delights of the "town centre"'s one-way system, finally found the hotel by the motorway junction. (Which we would have come off at, if the radio hadn't said it was blocked, which it didn't appear to be.)

Hotel was a depersonalised "business centre"-type place. Nothing special, but served its purpose. It had a very small and dark pool (and I can only hope the water was that dark because the lightibng was low) with an extremely steep gradient-- something like 1 to 2.5m in a 10m length. Very warm, though. So after a good stretch, we braved the hotel dinner, and then pretty much collapsed. (Already!).

Saturday

Headed off in the morning and decided to stop off to see Caernaervon Castle on the way. This might not have been wise, since we ended up bombing it across Angelsey to check in for the ferry on time, but hey. I was interested in seeing the remains of Segontium, but there's not much to see (we drove past them the first time...) Caenaervon was kind of like I thought Nelson etc. should be... bustling little towns, as opposed to windswept planning disaster areas. Sad.

As intimated, we arrived at Holyhead with only 20 minutes or so to spare-- by the time the cars and set of Dutch bikers in front of us had managed to buy their tickets at the check-in gate (grrrr) everyone else had already been loaded onto the world's largest car ferry, so on we went. The ferry journey was OK (Sue has a deep-seated fear/loathing of flying) but no matter how they try, it's not something that can be made particularly interesting. At least, not if you've got to drive off it in three hours.

We emerged into Dublin City Port and immediately our problems with the signage started. Specifically, the signs not telling us we were being directed across a toll bridge. Did we have any €1 or €2 coins? Hell, no. After negotiating that, we had to find the N18. The signs helpfully took us to a five-way junction and then disappeared. We ended up back by the Liffey. Argh! Finally we managed to swing around Christchurch and down the right road. The signs weren't entirely done with us yet, but we managed to get the better of them from that point. Fortunately, it was mostly a case of going straight ahead for 40 miles, and trying not to spend too long looking at the scenery.

Eventually, we arrived in Baltinglass, where Sue stopped for "emergency rations". We already had emergency rations, of course-- I'd been ordered to buy bread, milk, ham and butter at a previous petrol station. But apparently a bacon joint was needed. Don't ask me.

The estate was 3 miles outside Baltinglass, but easy to spot due to the distinctive archway. We drove up to the main house to contact the owner, and got installed in the cottage itself. I know it's tacky to revel in the "quaintness" of such things... but that's what it was; and it was interesting to have a real wood fire to warm the place up (it fed the radiators and hot water too), and absolutely amazing how quiet and dark it was at night; bear in mind that our house has a street light, speed bump and boy racers just outside, the contrast was very welcome.

Sunday

We didn't do much on Sunday apart from drive over to nearby Carlow for -- you guessed it -- more supplies. Sue was ecstatic about there being Tesco in Ireland as well. How low have we sunk? However, we didn't go there for food, opting instead for the exotic wonders of "Superquinn's", which amongst other things features clover-leaf icons on your receipt telling you how much of what you bought was of Irish origin. Hmmm.

Don't think we did much else on Sunday except wander around the estate just outside the cottage. The estate is actually a working farm too (the landlord had given us a pint of fresh milk and other things (such as bread, butter etc.) as "emergency rations" to be waiting for us in the cottage), but apparently we got there in the week before the cows arrived. Lots of rabbits in the grass nearby, and lots of crows in the trees.

Actually, probably at some point on Sunday we wandered around Baltinglass Abbey (remains of).

Monday

Went via the Wicklow Gap to Glendalough. It was actually hot and sunny, typically on the day we're doing a fair bit of walking. Walked all the way to the top of the upper lake and back.

Went back "home" via Wicklow and a visit to a fish-n-chips shop (naughty!). Saw the seaside again; realised that Ireland appears to be practically devoid of pigeons and seagulls, but is swarming with crows and rooks.

Tuesday

Went (back) to Dublin. Managed to find city centre parking that was only extortionate rather than usurious. Did "museums and stuff" which tbh slips through my brain a bit-- certainly, we saw the Book of Kells, and the national Archaeological Museum. Should iomagine we did some other wandering around as well, but don't remember.

Wednesday

Rest day. Slobbed around all day reading, until finally went off back to Carlow to stock up on more alcohol.

Thursday

Went to the National Heritage Museum just outside Wexford, which is an outdoor how-we-lived-back-then walkthrough. Nice, though; esp. the Early Christian Monastery, which was a startling contrast to the oversized ruins of Rievaulx etc. (In fact, much more like Glendalough would have been). Sue recalled Viking reenactors sloping off to the Viking longhouse during festival season.

Friday

Dublin again. Went to Christchurch Cathedral and the attached "Dublinia" exhibition-- which if you've been around the Jorvik Viking Experience, well it's a very scaled-down version of that.

Wandered around town for a while. Failed to actually use the bus, trams (not running yet) or DART to get anywhere because we couldn't be bothered to go very far. But we did find the Celtic Whiskey Shop.

Once we were back home, spent much of Friday night packing.

Saturday

Time to go-- which of course means going to Dublin again, after leaving behind €15 to cover our electricity consumption (which, given the house was heated mainly by the wood fire, was probably mostly due to the fridge). No coin-operated meters here, thankfully.

Actually wandered around separately for most of the day due to my desire to avoid going in "another ****** tacky gift shop". Walked out to Phoenix Park, wandered round the Zoo. Failed to find the Park's visitor centre (Sue had the city maps) but got a lift back to town on a tour bus. Had a belated lunch in some pub somewhere, met back up again... our ferry departed early evening so we had time to grab some food before heading off to the port.

After convincing someone trying to wave us into a parking space that we were going to a ferry and definitely definitely not going to the Westlife concert that was apparently on, we got to the terminal in good time (i.e. people were still in the holding car park), and back onto the Largest Car Ferry In The World. Sue got all emotional as we pulled out of the harbor-- it's been her first proper holiday for 18 years or so. Watched some of the Eurovision Song Contest in the lounge (I already mentioned ferry journeys aren't very interesting). The ferry arrived back at Holyhead at about 0010. We managed to get onto the main road out of Holyhead probably 30-45 minutes after that. This was partly filled with a demonstration of people with cars much shorter than mine being unable to do the tight U-turn necessary to got onto the descending ramp. I thought it was amusing more than anything, but I think there were incidents of "ferry loading deck rage" waiting to happen elsewhere in the queue.

Arrived back in Reading well after dawn, probably about 6.30am. 24-hour motorway service stations may well be overpriced, but they're a god-send on occasions like this.


All in all, great fun, although the amount of driving I had to do was very tiring. (Sue doesn't have a license). But 1 week is hardly enough time to get wound down before it's time to go home. And there were lots of things on our "want-to-see" list that had to be skipped.

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Steve Haslam

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