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.

Posted in Blogroll, Travel

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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view from our hostel in the town of Tomar

The journey’s over and I’m back home, back to normal… or maybe a new normal.

Before leaving Portugal I got a chance to do touristy things. We were in the town of Tomar, a two hour train ride north of Lisbon. It’s a pretty town on a river but the main attraction is up on the hill. 


covered corridors surrouding courtyard

Convento de Christo used to be a Templar Knights castle in the 12th century. Then it was a convent. Now it’s an historic monument on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

I really loved this place. We walked through corridors open on one side overlooking a courtyard on to the next corridor with courtyard, on and on. I could have spent all day here and not seen everything. It was raining, birds were singing, the sounds were magical. 


old door at the convent

Next day we returned to Lisbon for our flight home. We took a two hour train ride and passed through some of the towns we had walked into this week. It was strange seeing places we had passed on foot. Remembering the places we had stayed, the angels we had met, the battle wounds we had survived, the beauty we had witnessed and the pain, oh the pain. All the time following little yellow arrows. 

Jean,Madge, Rita and a yellow arrow the blue arrow is for Fatima (Alison took this picture)

Before I left home to go on this trip I had a few concerns…. How could I possibly walk the distances required? How could I live so closely with five people? I often wake myself up snoring, what if I wake the people I’m sharing a bedroom with? What if I can’t sleep in a strange place? Or if the bedroom is too hot or too cold? What if I get bitten and swell up and have to go to the hospital (that was one of those middle of the night manic thoughts…)? What if I get blisters and can’t walk? What if the heat is so intense I can’t keep walking?

When I was packing I tried to cover all these concerns. I bought a new top of the range water bottle to keep hydrated. The seasoned walkers had the plastic bottles the water comes in… lighter and free. When I lost my amazing bottle on the last day in Lisbon I was more excited by the weight saving than I was upset about losing such a good-looking product!


nice tiles

I bought a super light (not super light enough, though) sleeping bag and carried it back home unused. Many times I wanted to leave it behind but didn’t…. Just in case.

I did snore but it turns out everybody snores, I wasn’t any louder than anyone else (unless my room mates were lying to me?) 

When I couldn’t walk the distances there was a simple solution – I stopped. When the sun was too hot I found shade. I didn’t swell up or have to go to the hospital and when I got blisters I used the Compeed stuff.


Jean, Rita, Mary, Alison and me (Madge took this picture)

And as for living closely with five other people… I needn’t have worried. In their company I let go of so many hangups I should probably pay them! Instead of money though, I’ll offer my gratitude. 

Thank you, Alison, Madge, Mary, Rita and Jean. And thank you to the one who made me believe I could do this – Laura.

I did it, Mairead.

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Getting Lost… and Found by Angels


leaving Santrem at dawn

I joined the early group of walkers yesterday morning. Early means setting off at 6.30am. That always seemed like such a good idea when I lie in my bed at home but I never get out of my bed to check. Yesterday I checked. It is a very good idea!

The air was cool and the sun was rising and all around us people were setting off to work. We were setting off to walk. 


guiding bliog

 Remember I said there were four experienced walkers along with two newbies? The thing I didn’t explain was that the experienced Camino walkers are very organized. They don’t think they are – they joke about it all the time – but I think they are. For one thing they have books and printed blogs to guide us…. this might seem like an obvious addition but remember they are carrying those books for ever kilometer they walk. 

Anyway there we were, the three early risers. I was half-listening to the instructions and tips as the other two read from their books. All was going really well, really well…. until we passed a couple of gate posts. 


nice flat path

 As we sauntered straight past we could see there were beautiful yellow flowers growing in front of them, pretty. An hour later we saw the beautiful flowers again when we revisited the gate posts… We had missed the yellow arrow pointing left behind the flowers.

We had walked on, oblivious, enjoying hedge-less crop fields. We trudged over rutted farm roads. We marvelled at the height of the bamboo. It was only when we came to a junction and there was no guiding arrow that we realised there might be a problem…


yucky ruts

From time to time as we’ve walked along these Camino roads we’ve seen workers in the fields. In the blazing sun they plant tiny tomato plants where the automatic planter has left a gap. They wave Bem Dia but we have never had a chance to talk to them…. until now. 

Madge spotted them at the other side of the field and off we went to ask for their help. She explained our problem using a little Portuguese, a little Spanish and a little English and they understood! They knew exactly where we went wrong and they told us. Unifortunately, our Portuguese  wasn’t up to the challenge.

We thanked them and resigned ourselves to going back the way we had come. That was a sad moment for me (imagine some sad piano music here) because I’m not too fond of the deep ruts) but Rita reminded me that it was a beautiful day and sure what else do we have to do? 

Sad moment over, we retraced our steps. And that’s when the angel appeared!


this is what an angel looks like

In a jeep! One of the workers had taken pity on us when he realised we didn’t understand his directions. He hopped into his jeep,  picked us up…. and returned us via the non rutted field roads to the gate posts! Our thanks was profuse, in Portuguese, Spanish, English and Irish. He seemed to understand because a smile covered his face as he drove away.

The sun was hot, the legs were tired but we floated for kilometers after that.

Sometimes we miss the signs but it turns out there are more than arrows to guide our way, Mairead.

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the way

We got up early this morning and were on the road for 7 ish. I have a new respect for chilly morning air and I’m starting to miss rain…

Before I left Ireland I was excited  at the prospect of carrying my bag each day. I packed carefully, taking only the bare essentials. Well… I thought they were essentials.

walking along the old roman road

I happily trotted from the cathedral on day one but as the heat intensified and the road grew longer I began to wonder. By day two this carrying-my-bag thing was much less exciting.

Day 3 brought a new plan… bag collection. This is a miraculous thing. You book your accommodation for the night and a taxi to carry your bags and then you walk unburdened. I was getting excited again. 


tomato plants as far as the eye can see

Now I’m sitting on a tree stump. In spite of the lack of a bag I am tired. I did not want to stop. I wanted to push on. Strange. I knew I could stop, I knew it was a good idea to stop but I thought it would be giving up so I kept going for two more kilometers counting my steps to keep my mind occupied.


my view and my tree

Now here I am. I am listening to bird song sitting under the shade of a tree. It is 12.5 km to the next town but I am done. The nice man at our accommodation is sending his wife in the car to collect me. 

Sometimes it’s hard to do the thing you really need to do… Mairead.


this is the most i have walked in one day… ever! Ever!

Ps Lovely man’s lovely wife told me that today is the hottest day so far this year. She also brought me cold water! Then I checked my step counter and I had walked 25.6km! I am excited again!

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