Coming to the end

It’s been a while since we’ve posted and as our trip comes to an end, our schedules have filled up somewhat.
During a wonderful few days in Pembroke with friends we don’t see often enough, we drank a lot of tea, talked and laughed a lot and walked the coastal path. A really fab place to end our travels.

Following that, we set off for Buckinghamshire for our friends’ wedding. A gorgeous weekend of chocolate box perfect English countryside, old friends and a great party soon followed. If you ever need any bunting put up in a marquee, get in touch with John and I – we helped develop an ingenious tecnique involving the parcel shelf from a car… :-)

We’re off to another wedding this weekend too – John’s sister is getting married in North Yorkshire and the whole family has been involved in the preparations. I’ve been in Norfolk at my parent’s since Sunday night baking up a storm for the wedding cake and John will be doing the photos on the day. All very exciting!

In other exciting news, we have found a flat in Edinburgh. It’s a one bed place in Stockbridge with a great patio garden and access to lovely green spaces. Stockbridge is a really nice area with a good high street and close to the centre if town. We’re picking up the keys on August 1st so will be settling ourselves in over the next few weeks. We’ll be making sure we’ve got a comfy sofabed for guests so get in touch if you’re ever in Edinburgh!

Thanks so much to all of you who have been reading this blog this year, we’ve really enjoyed writing it and hope it’s been interesting to read. Hope to see some of you soon!

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Sun, glorious sun!

Summer has well and truly arrived in Ireland. We’ve had scorching hot days for almost a week now and its been so wonderful. From the fabulous Mannix Point campsite we did day trips to Valentia Island, Inny Strand beach and the Skellig Islands. We’ve been swimming in water so blue and clear and with sand so white you’d think you were in the Med. The Skelligs were a particular highlight – Tolkein like rocky pinnacles jutting out of the Atlantic. The larger of the two islands has the (very intact and impressive) remains of a monastery which was built and inhabited from the 6th to the 12th century. An incredible feat of human engineering with 600 stone steps cut and laid just to get to the point where they built the monastery itself… The islands are also an amazing habitat for sea birds with the smaller island housing several hundred gannets in the summer. Our boat drove around underneath and the noise and site of so many birds in one place was incredible. The island with the monastery has flocks and flocks of guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes, storm petrels, and best of all puffins! It’s nesting season and because the puffins don’t just nest in the cliffs but also in burrows amongst the sea campion on the ground, they were just absolutely everywhere! I fell totally in love with them and had to be dissuaded from stowing one away in my rucksack… :-) John has made up for my disappointment at not being able to keep a pet puffin by perfecting an impression of their call!

From Kerry we have come further east and south to Kinsale, Cork and now Rosslare. We had a wonderful seafood dinner in Kinsale last night and a great lunch from the English Market in Cork this afternoon, so we’ve been doing well on the culinary front. John is off to a stag do in Yorkshire tomorrow and I’m taking the van by boat on Saturday morning over to Pembroke to meet up with some very dear friends.

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A bit of work and a lot of play

Since our last post, we’ve continued our journey down the west coast of Ireland.

We spent a wet couple of days in Galway. We weren’t too sad about the weather, as I was stuck inside working on a magazine most of the time. A great spot to do this from was The Kitchen cafe at the Galway museum – incredible food, friendly people and free wifi. But it was good to get the magazine finally finished! We stayed at a campsite in Salthill, which had about the worst price to comfort factor ever! A high pitch fee, with any type of hot water metered left us feeling profoundly unwelcome. A rare exception, thankfully. At Salthill we met Kristy and Jared from the US, who are cycling through Ireland on a ‘gap year’ of their own. It was great to swap tales from the road, and offer them some shelter from the cold and rain.

From Galway we went on to Doolin, near the cliffs of Moher. Very dramatic views out to sea, but rather full of tourists, and with a very flashy visitors’ centre built into the hillside.

After Doolin we headed into Kerry, towards Dingle. We had a brilliant stay at the amazing Inch Peninsula – a 3 mile spit of sand which sticks out into Dingle Bay. We managed to camp for free in a car park (good karma after pricey Salthill). I had a great run on the beach beside the sea on flat sand, with the mountains in the distance.

Then we had a fantastic night at Greene’s Cafe Bistro. A delicious dinner of local fish and chips (perhaps the best I’ve eaten – and I’ve eaten a few!) followed by a few pints in the sunset. Then some live music, including a very appropriate cover of ‘King of the Bongo’. Most of the other people there were local, which made for a very friendly atmosphere.

After a late night we set off about lunchtime the next day to climb Brandon Mountain, a 952m/3500ft peak right by the sea. It was quite misty on the top, but we caught glimpses of a stupendous view out into the Atlantic, including the Skelligs. Our route back down the hill included a long tramp on the road in the hot sun – one of the hottest days I’ve experienced in Ireland, I think. So we were quite tired when we got back to the van.

Last night we drove over towards Valentia, and we’re now staying at Mannix Point camping. The contrast with Salthill couldn’t be greater – here the staff are welcoming and friendly, and everything is reasonably priced. Unsurprisingly, this site is famously rated in lots of guidebooks, and we would recommend it to anyone.

We’ll be here for a couple of days, and we’ll be making a boat trip to the famous Skelligs on Wednesday. Then at the weekend we head back to England.

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Way out West

It’s been a while since we wrote anything on the blog but I hope John’s pictures have provided a taste of the things we’ve been seeing.

We’re in Ireland for a couple of weeks now, enjoying the west coast. We’ve spent a week in Northern Ireland already visiting family and friends and enjoying staying in a house for a change with John’s mum! We even got a bit of sightseeing in and visited the Giants Causeway, the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge and went canoeing on the river Blackwater. The canoeing was particularly hilarious due to John’s kayak being too small for him. He lost all feeling in his legs and had to be lifted out bodily on to the Jetty where he lay for 10 minutes before he could move! Terrible to laugh at someone else’s misfortune I know but it was hard not to!

We then headed west and have been on Achill Island for the last couple of nights, camping right by the beach. We hired bikes yesterday and did a very sedate 25km ride that made is appreciate Thorina’s customised set up all the more… I think I’m just too big to for on most hire bikes!

Before leaving this morning we went for a swim in the beautiful clear waters (famous for the Atlantic rollers loved by surfers but pretty calm this morning). We got the surprise of our lives half way through enjoying our dip when we realised there was a pod of dolphins (about 10 we think) swimming and playing less than 50m away from us! I’ve never seen them that close before and to be in the water with them was amazing. Not a bad way to spend a Monday morning :-)

Next we head to Connemara to do some walking in the 12 pins and then on to Galway.

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More photos from Orkney, Glencoe and the north coast of Northern Ireland

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Bongo adventures, a set on Flickr.

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Bongo adventures – more photos

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Bongo adventures, a set on Flickr.

More photos online from the Highlands and Orkney

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From the edge of the mainland to the Orkneys

This might be a lengthy post – we’ve been to quite a few places in the past week. Photos coming soon, hopefully this evening.

After Assynt, we headed for Sandwood Bay, perhaps the most inaccessible beach in the UK. There’s a great unofficial campsite at the end of a single-track road, then the beach is a 4-mile walk over the rugged heath. The weather wasn’t brilliant for the beach when we set off (wet and windy) but it was definitely worth it. The beach was gloriously empty, with massive sand dunes and sea stacks off to one side.

Our edge of the coast theme continued as we went to Durness, near Cape Wrath. We camped on a brilliant clifftop campsite, though the wind was fierce. We went for a walk over near Cape Wrath, taking care to avoid the big artillery range there. The MoD info suggests bombarding the landscape keeps it more pristine than farming or deer-stalking, but I am a little sceptical.

We then set off in the direction of John O’ Groats, passing some doughty cyclists and dodging some highland cattle en route. We took the ferry from Gills Bay to St Margaret’s Hope. As we drove from South Ronaldsay to Orkney Mainland we saw quite a few rusting hulks in the waters of Scapa Flow – remnants of the German fleet perhaps?

Our first stop in Orkney was Kirkwall, a surprisingly big city, with small streets, old houses, a cathedral and lots of culture. I got my hair cut by a lady who said ‘We’re not the Hebrides’ – and I could see what she meant, as the Orkneys have quite a bit more bustle and self sufficiency about them. Generous amounts of free wifi helped me catch up with some freelance work, too.

The next day was mostly taken up with a prehistoric tour – we took in a series of 5,000-year-old sites including Maes Howe, a chambered grave, Skara Brae, an amazingly preserved village, and the Ring of Brodgar, a circle of standing stones. They were all really spectacular, and provoked the familiar questions – how to imagine people living so long ago, how (and why) did they move such enormous stones for the tombs? Will anything we build be visible in 5,000 years?

We’re currently camped in Stromness. Yesterday we paid a visit to Hoy, a small island with the the highest peaks in Orkney, and the famous ‘old man’ sea stack. The ferry was unusually crowded, as it was the Hoy half marathon. We weren’t tempted to join in though! There is a great trail from the ferry jetty all the way across Hoy to the Old Man. Rugged in the middle as you pass through the twin peaks, but remarkably well made for the final few miles.

The old man is amazing – we gaped at it and wondered how some friends of ours managed to climb it recently. The sea cliffs there are really high, and serve as apartment blocks for thousands of gulls and puffins. We had a great view of some puffins perched just below us.

We carried on round the edge of Hoy on what was described as a ‘demanding route suitable only for experienced hill walkers’. Not too bad though, apart from a steep descent into a corrie towards the end. What did make it challenging was a close encounter with a number of Great Skuas (Bonxies). These massive gulls defend their nests very aggressively, and a few of them subjected us to a rather scary dive-bombing attack. We didn’t actually get pecked, but we could hear the wind in their feathers as they swooped at us.

Eventually we got off the heath and away from the scary Bonxies. We lay on the beach in the sun while we waited for the ferry back to Stromness.

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