Nice name, shame about the….

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(I LOVE bunting. I have even been knitting bunting on this trip and there’s some on it’s way to Canada and Cashel…)

Remember I was saying there were all these wonderful free places to stay? Well, we’ve been mixing the free ones with the paying ones and everything was going well until last night… I will try to describe it, but my mother once told me if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all. Emm… the name was pretty. The End.

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(I like close-ups, here’s a close up of a monument)

I woke at 4am with the (not very melodious) sound of cows mooing… there were no fields and no cows when we went to bed. So possibly there was a mart, where farmers bring livestock to sell to other farmers. When I woke again at seven there was no mooing and I had a sinking feeling that the mart was not a mart but instead might be another place where cows go…maybe  an abattoir? I fell back to sleep and next time I woke it was time to get moving to someplace nicer, warmer and less attached to dead animals. I jumped out of bed and then jumped right back in again. It was freezing. Denis had installed an outdoor and indoor thermometer on the van when we came back from Portugal so I was inquisitive enough to hop out again and check if it was really as cold as it felt…

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(Nooooooooooo! (File Picture))

I know water freezes at 0ºC so it wasn’t technically freezing… it was 1.5ºC… so very close to freezing! In fact there was ice on the windscreen. Could this place get any worse? I was now suffering from sleep deprivation and hypothermia and I was feeling a little grumpy but the best thing to do was to get out of beg, get on the road and leave so I grabbed the de-icer thingy and opened the van door. Well… if you ever though it was impossible to change a grumpy mood into an excited mood in less time than it takes to say WOW, then I am here to tell you it is possible.

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(Looking up through the cloud at the town with the pretty name)

As I exited the van I happened to look up. At a cloud. Nothing exciting about a cloud, you’d think… but on the other side of this cloud was the town with the pretty name.

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(Our overnight parking is somewhere under that cloud)

All is forgiven, Mairead.

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Feeling the Sky

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(Star rising)

I wish I could show you the sky last night. It was the same as the sky above you but maybe you weren’t outside. Or maybe you were busy and you forgot to look up. Anyway, last night the sun started to set at 7.30pm and by 8.30pm I was sitting outside. I thought of taking a picture but they just don’t look the same and anyway it’s the feeling of being outside combined with the looking up that makes the difference and no one’s invented the camera to reproduce that… yet.


(We are here)

It felt like I was surrounded by a warm blanket, a knitted one that lets the light in, but in small pin holes. The blanket was black and dark black in the places where the trees blocked the sky. Surrounded by the blanket I felt safe and loved. I read somewhere recently the exact amount of time it takes for the light from a star to reach our eyes on earth. I can’t remember the number now but it was big – years and years. I heard that before but a bit like forgetting to look up at the sky I forgot that we live on a small rock in the middle of a huge space…


(Coffee and cards)

I worry about lots of little things. Like being late for something. Like saying something stupid. Like insulting someone unintentionally. Like doing something that makes people think about me. I never consider that people might be thinking something lovely, I worry that they are thinking something unlovely. The thing is, people rarely think either lovely or unlovely things about others, they mainly think about themselves… like I do when I worry. I worry about big things too. Like the rough seas between Ireland and France. Like the health of my family. Like my children. Like the people who are living in war. Like the people who are escaping war to find peace.


(Isn’t the postal system great, though?)

But then sometimes I don’t worry and I am not afraid… and when I am not afraid I am like I was sitting outside last night under the sky with the light of billions of stars reaching me on this small rock in the middle of a huge space and all is well. I am at peace. I am loved.

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(Star setting)

I wished I could show you the sky last night so that you would feel at peace and you would know you are loved, Mairead.

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Crossing Over to the Other Side

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(Path around the lake beside the aires at St-Amand-Montrond)

It’s September, the sun is shining, I am sitting in McDonalds drinking coffee and sharing their lovely wifi and their lovely electricity. We’re back in France! We crossed over on Saturday night and it was some cross over! I had got used to the kind of crossing I like – calm, no waves, gentle lulling to sleep when you lie down. We’ve been on lots of ferries in the past five years and they’ve all been like that. (Mind you there was one about five years and two months ago that was rough so I suppose it was time.) Anyways, fifteen hours in it became calm, so all ended well and we docked in Cherbourg to sunshine and blue skies.

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(There were quotes inside the door of every toilet at the first campsite… any idea what it says?)

From Cherbourg we drove south over the Loire river and spent our first two nights at a lakeside campsite between Orleans and Bourges. It was a quiet site with a handful of fishermen around a pretty lake. We chose this site in the usual way: pick a general area, look up one of the campsite books and pick one with facilities we want. Electricity and toilets are essential. If there’s a shop nearby that’s a nice bonus. If there’s a neighbourhood restaurant – triumph! This campsite had the basics and was close to a town so we figured the shop and the restaurant were very likely. We usually find this process works.

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(Huge cathedral in Bourges)

This time we’re trying something new… we bought a book called Escapades in a Camping-Car. (Camping-Car is what the French call camper vans and motorhomes.) The book consists of 5 to 17 day circuits around nineteen areas in France. It shows interesting places to visit and campsites where you can stay. It also shows free stops, aires. Aires are places you can park overnight, not a campsite and usually there’s no electricity or toilets… but it’s free! The book is great with only one tiny problem – it’s in French. But on the plus side our French reading is improving.

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(Pretty house in Bourges)

Yesterday morning we left our lakeside campsite at 8.30am and drove to the town of Bourges, where we parked in an aire. It’s often hard to find parking when we visit a town due to our size and we usually use a supermarket car park but this was better. From there we walked fifteen minutes into the town for a coffee. I also found a wool shop as I am knitting cheerful bunting on this trip and I was in danger of running out! Denis took the opportunity to get some mobile wifi from the Orange shop (we will get free updates if I mention them more than once in each blog… and a free t-shirt for every third mention, so watch for that!) They were very friendly in the Orange shop😉

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(While I was buying what I love – knitting yarn, Denis was buying what he loves – blue cheese!)

Actually, it’s something we are noticing this year…. the French are very friendly. Little things that make us believe the French really do love the Irish – thank you lovely Irish football supporters! We were in the petrol station buying the Camping-Car book when a French man, overhearing us talk as he walked into the shop, asked (in English) if we were Irish, he noticed we had left the petrol cover open on our car and wanted to tell us. Ok we didn’t have a car but still…. wasn’t that nice? And then in Bourges at the tourist office, where I went to locate the wool shop, the lady asked where we were from and beamed from ear to ear saying “ah Irlande!” Ok, not big things but last year in the tourist office in Carcassonne when I said I was from Ireland they said absolutely nothing… nothing. Silence. So I’m taking this as a win.

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(Look! Even McDonalds love us!)

After coffee we moved an hour south of Bourges to St-Amand-Montrond… and another free parking spot. It’s beside a pretty lake, there are toilets and it’s a five-minute walk to a hypermarket and a McDonalds. And it’s free… We will be moving to a campsite tomorrow because we need electricity to charge the computer and phone batteries and a hot shower would be nice!

From McDonalds, nowhere near an Orange shop (there’s my free t-shirt…) Mairead.

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We arrived in Scotland!

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(The unfinished Rosslyn Church in Rosslyn near Edinburgh)

Well… it’s been busy since the cow episode…. We finally reached Scotland. Where we saw a church from the movie, The Da Vinci Code and re-acquainted ourselves with some wee folk. It rained all the time we were there but to be fair to Scotland I think it was raining in the whole of the British Isles. But it didn’t matter to us because we were staying in a place where there was entertainment on tap all day, every day…

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(This hen is from England but very close to the Scottish Borders)

If you’re lucky enough to have children or you’re related to children, you will know of the time (or you might be in the middle of the time) when they talk to you and they listen to you, and it seems like they actually find you lovely and a bit interesting. Do you know that time? Isn’t it great? Our time has passed. Our “children” or whatever we should call offspring that have grown up, no longer seem to find us lovely or interesting. Well, to be honest we don’t often find ourselves lovely, but something amazing happened while we were in Scotland… We were lovely and interesting for a short moment in time!

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(This goose lives with her family at one of the motorway service areas in Scotland)

We were staying in a house with some very lovely wee folk (and their parents and one of their grandparents) and during our visit there were times when we wondered, is it possible they think we’re lovely? For example, when we spoke, one or other or even all of them, listened. Ok, you might say they were polite and they were… What about when we made a joke (not a very funny joke but a good effort) and they laughed, not always a forced laugh although I appreciate a kind-hearted forced laugh too. Again, possibly politeness. But the giveaway that we were interesting or dare I say lovely… was when they choose to sit beside us.

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(Sheep play hide-and-seek…)

There were two sofas in the sitting room and Denis was sitting on one and I was on the other (we just needed space nothing to do with our man eating cow problems) and one of the wee folk sat beside me and the other sat beside Denis. I passed a very enjoyable time talking about art and in particular colour, while Denis was discussing the merits of one programming language over another.

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(Sheep never attack humans…)

Well, I can tell you, feeling lovely does wonders for the self-confidence. Mairead.

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Beautiful English countryside spoiled by marriage-wrecking cows!

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(This is a map of the area where we think we were…)

We have arrived in County Durham… or maybe The Shire of Durham or possibly somewhere else entirely. There’s a distinct disadvantage to not having done British geography at school while at the same time having listened to British radio and watched British television… We think we know the places because we’ve heard the names so often but we haven’t a clue where they are or anything about them. For instance what’s the difference between a shire and a county? We think we know something but in the end it turns out we don’t… and because we speak English it’s easy to forget we are foreigners.

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(Ah, the beautiful arrow again)

Last week I was telling my brother, who lives in England and has done so for about twenty years, that we were in the Lake District but we hadn’t seen a lake. He though I was joking… It turns out we were near the Lake District and we needed to go west to see any lakes. When we did wander west it got very busy so we continued further west and saw the sea instead. Anyway, we love this around-the-Lake-District area so much we wandered around it for more than a week (still didn’t see any lakes). It might be called Cumbria or it might be Cumberland although there’s a strong possibility that’s just the name for a sausage and a beer…? And a pie? One thing I do know is why I like it – it’s beautiful.

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(Beautiful signpost… see the path worn by feet through the grass?)

We stayed in a large campsite on our first (second when counting the magic Wales spot) night near a town called Kendal (famous for mint cake, didn’t find any and not sure I want to try a minty cake). As soon as we had settled I went off to investigate something. The Public Footpaths. Following on from the Camino and Walking in the West I am drawn to the little arrows that point you towards a walk in the country. Here in England (and Scotland and Wales) they also have big signposts pointing the way. They are everywhere and they point to lots of different footpaths: lanes between fences, paths across the long grass, at the edge of a field of sheep or… cows, an old disused road with grass growing down the middle, a path through the forest, a path through a farmyard… The thing is people have walked along this way for hundreds of years.

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Being able to walk through the fields also brings up warm sun-shiny memories of childhood, walking through the fields around Cashel with my friend Mary. You get a different perspective from being inside the hedge. It’s also a bit of an adventure. I’ve been afraid of cows since they ran after my mother once (long story short – they thought she was feeding them, I thought they were eating her – I was traumatised). So… I would never willingly go into a field unless I was completely sure they’re were no cows but something about following the arrows gave me courage to go in once I didn’t actually see any cows. Turns out that’s not entirely foolproof…

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(Ok I like this one)

This is what happened… We were staying in a campsite on a farm near the very pretty town of Penrith. (By the way we have been staying in small campsites since and they are wonderful, what they lack in toilet and shower blocks they make up for in character. Basically this was a field on the farm, with electricity points, water taps, grey water disposal, chemical toilet disposal and a room with a view: one toilet with a little window looking out onto the rolling fields!) The lovely hostess told us there was a nice pub in the village and we could get to it through the gate at the bottom of our camping field and along the public footpath. After dinner the first night we set off. It was a lovely walk through a field of barley onto an empty field and then along a laneway into the village. The pub was lovely, the beer interesting and weird sounding. All was well with the world and the sun was still shining when we started our journey home.

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(Our view of the room with a view, on the right of the picture)

I was alerted to a problem when Denis said Oh. He’s a farmer’s son with a (misguided, in my opinion) lack of fear of farm animals but he has heard me explain how scary cows are and didn’t want to hear it again. He had spotted the cows approaching. This was the empty field, for goodness sake! I began to move faster than Denis. My instinct for self-preservation won out against my generosity of spirit and I thought if I was in front they might be happy to eat him instead of me. I’m not proud of these instincts and now I may have to go to marriage counselling all because of those cows!

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(Denis getting one last photo before joining me on the other side of the gate. Can you see that white one racing down the field to eat us?)

Suffice it to say I made it to the gate before the cows… and Denis. Mairead.

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The Narrow Roads of Wales

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(Leaving Dublin Port)

We’re supposed to be in Scotland at the moment. We drove to Dublin last Tuesday week, intending to get the 2am ferry to Holyhead. I was going to sleep in the van at the ferry car park while Denis did some work. He’d wake me to get on the ferry and when we got off we’d drive to a campsite we had booked near the town of Kendal. The sailing in the middle of the night seemed like a good idea… but now we’ll never know.

Here’s the story… so we arrived at the ferry terminal in Dublin Port and there was a long line of cars and trucks waiting for the ferry before ours. We joined the queue but then as we got closer we wondered if maybe there was room for us on this ferry. If there was, then we would arrive in Holyhead before midnight and we’d both have a full night’s sleep. The guy in the office checked and yes they did indeed have room (this ferry was full when we had initially booked). So we marvelled at our good luck and settled down somewhere quiet to enjoy the journey.

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(Saw this sailboat looking really eerie in the Irish Sea)

We were an hour into the sailing when I realised we had nowhere to stay when we docked…. Because of our good luck we were now going to be in Wales on May 31st but our booking was for June 1st (and three hours from the port). We have never camped in Wales or England and didn’t know the system. It turns out to be different from France or Spain or Portugal but not in a bad way. Anyway, we still had a guidebook we’d used in Portugal to find free camping spots and they had a section for Wales.

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(A hen… )

Just before midnight we headed off the ferry in the dark with surrounded by trucks. Soon we had left the motorway and were making our way via small roads on a thirty minute journey to our free spot for the night. The route was reminiscent of the early days in Portugal. Sometimes the road was only wide enough for the camper and I wasn’t sure what we would do if there was anything – even a bicycle – coming the other way. (Well I mean I wasn’t sure what Denis would do as I’d definitely be screaming something helpful like, get out-of-the-way!) Luckily there was nothing coming on the very narrow stretches and very little in general. They must go to bed early in Wales. Eventually the sat. nav. said, “You have reached your destination” and we drove into a car park with six other campers parked. It was pitch dark and silent so we tried to keep the noise down and went straight to bed.

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(Pretty flowers… )

Something woke me at 4am. The police? The land owner? I opened the blind as quietly as I could and looked out the window… it was kinda shocking: Sunshine, sand dunes, blue sea and birds tweeting. Just in case I was dreaming I took a picture and went back to sleep. We have had sunshine constantly since that morning, so we’ve been pottering around the shire of Cumbria, more about that next time.

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(That’s the view (out the back window of the camper, between the bikes) of the sea… at 4am)

As I write the rain pitter-patters on the awning but I’m not bothered because this trip seems to be filled with pixie dust and moonbeams! Mairead.

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Walking in the West

We’re in the UK at the moment but last weekend I went for a walk in the West of Ireland and this is that story.

Map of the area

I have been saying YES rather than NO to walking lately. Maybe it’s because of the Camino. When Julie asked me and another friend, Molly, to join her on a some walks near her hometown of Swinford, I said YES. 


Somewhere beautiful on route to Pontoon…

Sure why wouldn’t I? Julie was going to be driving us, her sister Maire was cooking for us, her Dad was welcoming us into their house and I’d even have my own room (no worries about the snoring then? Breaking news: Molly could hear me snoring from her room.) 


The view from Pontoon Bridge

We (Julie, Molly and I) set off on the journey on Friday evening and Julie’s cousin, Mary, would be joining us on Saturday afternoon.


Molly on Inishcrone beach

Saturday morning early (kinda early 9.30 ish…) we drove to Pontoon. Like me, you may know Pontoon only as a card game but it’s a place near the town of Foxford. I don’t think we ever got to Pontoon. We were so taken by photogenic Pontoon Bridge there was no time to see the place. Instead we drove around Lough Conn, through Ballina and on to the magnificent beach at Inishcrone. 


waterproof walking boots are useful on a beach…. or you could be barefoot…

This is a truly beautiful place. The sun shone down on us making it necessary to say: Isn’t Ireland the most beautiful place in the world? It is. We walked until hunger sent us back to Ballina for lunch but we left Inishcrone reluctantly. 


sand dunes at Inishcrone

Julie had planned a different walk for the afternoon so we collected Mary and set off for Turlough and the Country Life Museum. We did a quick tour of the car park and found the Greenway path. The Greenway is a walking/cycling path through the countryside. We set off for Castlebar 7km away.


a sign…

The sun continued to shine on us as we passed through farmland, over magic bridges (Mary said they were…) and around paddling calves.


paddling calf

It was past 6pm when we got to Castlebar and although the plan had been to walk back to the car, someone (might have been me…) remembered that Maire (Julie’s sister) had offered to pick us up if we were too tired to walk back to Turlough. I was definitely too tired. Maire picked us up. Then she cooked our dinner. Dinner goes on very late in the West. I was feeling tired again.


sun shiny water

Sunday morning and a different walk around one of the Callow Loughs near Swinford. This time we passed ancient walls and old stone cottages and bog fields with sods of turf drying in the sun. Maire joined us on this walk but not before she put Sunday lunch in the oven. 


turf drying in the bog

By the time we sat down for that lunch on Sunday afternoon we had walked almost 30km and Maire had cooked for almost 30 people. They must make them strong in the West, I fell asleep on the way home in the car. 

Fortunately Julie was driving… Mairead.

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