Onwards, Upwards

Matt’s Week 3

Well what a week, we left Dublin and headed north to the UNESCO site of New Grange a series of stone age burial chambers dating back over 5000 years. What the people of the time had achieved without modern machinery is truly mind blowing. The size and scale of their ambitious undertakings give real meaning to the term ‘a life’s work’, taking 60 year (3 generations) to build.

From there we travelled into Northern Ireland and driving wise it was clear we had arrived in a different country. Far from the laid back driving style of the Irish, where following behind our motorhome seemed a nice way to slow the pace of life, the Northern Irish seem to have adopted the crazy, blind bend overtaking maneuvers we know so well from home.  However after upping the aggression of my driving style half a dozen notches things soon started to feel normal again.

We arrived at Tollymore Park campsite at the foot of the Mourne Mountains with our aim to climb the Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland’s highest peak. So the next morning, not being the most experienced hill walkers we gave ourselves plenty of time to reach the summit leaving at 9am.  Firstly we had to climb out of the forest where we staying which was a 280m rise and then back down again to 55m to reach the start of the main trail. From here we then started the climb up to the top, peaking at 852m. After about 3.5 hours after leaving the campsite we finally arrived at the top only to be surrounded by thick layer of fog and not a glimpse of the view that we had worked so hard to see! Then thinking the hardest part of the day was done we headed off back down only to realise that although walking down hill may be physically less tiring the concentration required stepping on the slippery rock added to the throbbing calves from getting the up the mountain made coming down the hill equally as tiring as the effort required to get to the top. The total trip took just over seven hours to complete. We covered some 12 miles or 36,000 steps, rising an average of 14cm per step on the way! and needless to say we were both totally knackered when we got back to the motorhome with the last small stretch to the motorhome seeming to take an age! The next day Ellie and I looked at each other and without saying a word we both knew how much the other one must ache!  We were however so pleased to have made it to the top as  it did feel like such an achievement.

Next we travelled north to the Giants Causeway a magical place that has such raw natural beauty and such a sense of mystique, which added to a humorous and informative audio guide and a magnificent architecturally impressive visitor centre (and our first decent cup of coffee for three days (thanks National Trust)) lead to what I am sure will be one of the highlights of our Irish adventure.

Whilst visiting the area we were staying at Bushmills Village the place where the famous whiskey comes from and although the campsite we were on had a toilet and shower block that would put many hospitals to shame for cleanliness the village itself seemed tired and dated with the exception of a lovely bronze sculpture which for some inexplicable reason they had decided to put behind the toilets next to the park and ride car park!

With our week almost over we headed west towards Enniskillen and on the drive decided to stop at Castle Coole a manor house run by The National Trust. What a real gem. I was slightly shocked when we arrived and thought it might be closed as the car park, which was not the largest, only had three or four cars in it, but we went off and started to explore and came across the visitor reception only to find out that you could only see the house as a guided tour and the next tour was a two hour wait. So we took advantage again of The National Trust coffee shop (only us and a little red robin in there) and waited for the tour to begin.

Our guide a lovely local lady was so enthusiastic about the house and its past and gave all eight of us on the tour, a fab experience in what was a stunning Neo-classical designed house designed by James Wyatt with great attention to detail of both symmetry and proportion. The internal furnishings and quality of restoration that had been undertaken by the National Trust was amazing and to see so much original furniture from when the house was originally commissioned just added to the overall charm of the experience. We finished the tour in the basement which is half way through restoration and this gave us a real insight to the conditions those who worked in the house would of lived in all those years ago.

That night we tried our first wild camping, this is basically where you pull up on the side of the road or find a carpark and don’t have to pay to stay at a campsite. It means no plug in electric but saves a lot of cash (campsites are about 20-30 euros a night). It was good to do this as when we are in mainland europe our aim is to wild camp or use free aires at least two nights a week.

Well our Irish adventure is almost over and what a great place it has been, we got to see so much but know there is still plenty more which we can save for our next visit. All the people we met have been so warm and friendly.

Next week we travel back to the uk to see some relatives and then on to celebrate El’s brothers 21st birthday.

So let the party begin!



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