Thursday, 15 March 2007

Is this the way to Crossmolina !

On the way to Achill Island (recommended by Mike Gorman – thanks Mike!!) we had to hunt for a new gas fitting as Calor in Ireland don’t have the same fittings or gas cylinders as the UK, and we were fast running out! After much phoning and running around between Ballina and Crossmolina we finally found the Calor gas depot cunningly disguised as a Driving School! We got a new gas regulator fitting and one of the cylinders re-filled.

After a brief tour around the island, it’s joined to the mainland by a low bridge, like the one that you cross on the A87 between Invershiel and Inverinate on the way to Skye, we pitched up right on the beach behind a wall of pebbles.

The day we arrived we saw this odd cloud formation on the hill, the following day I saw this other cloud rolling down the hill, dramatic huh!

The surf here is fantastic and makes a hell of a thundering noise constantly as it pounds on the beach. You get used to it though and it diminishes a bit at low tide.

We were amazed to see the huge buds of Gunnera starting to emerge, there were large patches of it everywhere and along with hedges made from tall strap leaved plants something like cordylines, it must look quite jungly and tropical here in the summer!

We walked along to the end of the pebble and sand beach for about two and a half hours to the base of the cliffs in the early morning, I really like this picture I took then of Peter and the dogs.

In the afternoon we watched the surfers and had a fire in the evening.

We walked to the other end of the beach the next morning and spent some time rootling around in the rock pools where we found little edible crabs (Cancer pagurus), common blennies (Blennius pholis ), rock gobys (Gobius paganellus), hermit crabs (Eupagurus bernhardus) and two firsts for me, two little pipefish (Syngnathus acus) with their cute little seahorse faces and some tiny little broad-clawed porcelain crabs (Porcellana platycheles).

We went over to the other side of the island stopping off at a megalithic tomb on the way.

The weather forecast told of worsening weather, gales again, so we headed inland.

Go West

Looking for some wilder remoter areas we headed West initially towards Glencolumbkille ( or Gleann Cholm Cille in Irish Gaelic, seeing as how this area is part of a Gaeltacht or Gaelic speaking area) County Donegal. . We went via Londonderry, or Derry as it is known in the South, Limavady, Strabane, Stranorlar, Ballbofey, Donegal and Killybegs. Killybegs is the largest fishing port in Ireland, so the Town name sign informed us. We got there after dark and reached as far as Carrick ( An Charraig) and decided to stop. We got some groceries from the local shop (not just for local people!) where we bought some wine, apparently the shops sell bottles of wine but you have to buy bottled beer from the pub! After being informed that there were no campsites nearby the woman at the shop assured us that we could stop in the large carpark by the shop if we tucked into the side so that the Garda ( Garda Siochana – Guardians of the Peace, in other words the Police) wouldn’t bother us. The Garda didn’t bother us…I wish they had come past as from around 9pm ‘til 1am at least, the local boy racers buzzed up and down the street doing ‘doughnuts’ in the carpark… they also thought it funny to beep their horns quite a lot too!

We moved off pretty early in the morning and carried on to Glencolumbkille, as the signs advised us that there were megalithic tombs and Dolmens to be found there. We stopped and hunted around and even asked some people there but were unable to locate these massive structures!! We did however find this lovely beach with fantastic surf waves.

And this little folk museum with a thatched roof.

Looking at the map we decided to head for the Belmullet (Beal an Mhuirthead) peninsula or Achill Island ( Oilean Acla) Co. Mayo, as they looked even more remote. On our way back we stopped at a layby just outside Dunkineely as we had picked up a wifi signal and were trying to catch up with emails etc. A little green car drew up on the other side of the road and an elderly gentleman approached us. He introduced himself as Mike Gorman who lived in Dunkineely. He told us he had been thinking of getting a campervan and inquired where we bought ours etc. We invited him in, showed him around and gave him info re Ebay (where we bought the ‘van from). We gave him our email address ( and he gave us his. Funnily enough he also names his old dog Henry in his email as we have our old dog Womble in ours. He explained that he writes children’s stories entitled Henry and Me about this dog who has no back legs, and that he also writes poetry and admires W B Yeats. He quoted Yeats’ “ The Lake Isle of Innisfree”

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

He then asked us to wait while he went home to bring back some info on Yeats for us and copies of some of his own poetry. He was gone quite a while, and explained when he returned that he had written a poem about us and our meeting. This is a copy of what he gave us –

At the Roadside

This place is like a magic carpet
The changing weather causing,
A continuous mood change to the sea.

The wind is moving the waves like a painter
Wielding his stubborn brush,
Creating a beauty in colour and shade.

Sea splashes and hazy rain on his
Jacket reflecting the sunbursts and
Glinting, glinting..

Now and then a melody on the wind
A piano – In this wind,
I raise my field glasses

And there in the distance a large house
Still larger windows, - overlooking the sea,
There she is ---Playing at her piano.

No wonder the Irish have stories about
Banshees and goolies and things that go
Bang – in the Knight ---‘Knight?’

‘Oh’ yes dear lady. A Knight, I hear you say,
‘Oh yea’, ‘Oh yea’, It was a knight,
Riding the biggest Sea Horse you ever saw.

A magic carpet of green.
Each time I step on it I hear another Legend.

I should
have stayed in bed.

Mike -------I think

Julie and Peter Hope you find your
Green field, yea I’m sure you will

Mike Gorman, at the roadside.
St. Valentine’s Day ‘07

This is another one of Mike’s poems, an homage to his hero, I think?


Ben Bul Bin, I am here
Not to see you did I come,
To see a friend at Drumcliffe,
To get some business done.

I feel the pull towards you come
When I enter your domain,
That towering mount above me
The footprint of Ben Bul Bin.

The awesome presence I felt, therein
Ben Bul Bin, when I came
The footprint of the ice is there
So glad am I to feel your name.

Names and stories of the past
Call out to me, I feel them,
I can’t ignore these feelings now
As I gaze on you Ben Bul Bin

Now to your home I came my friend
To learn your ill therein,
So no approach, I’ll make tonight
I’ll turn towards Ben Bul Bin.

I cast my shadow at your door
I’d like to say hello,
To leave you in Peace, tonight my friend
Towards Ben Bul Bin I go.

Ben Bul Bin, I am here
Not to see you did I come,
To see a friend at Drumcliffe
To get some business done.

WB Yeats is buried in the cemetery at St Columba’s Parish church in Drumcliffe under the shadow of the mountain Ben Bulben near Sligo. His Self-penned epitaph on his grave reads –

Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death
Horseman, pass by!

Some time later I visited and read some of Yeats’ poetry, I particularly like this one –

Men Improve with Years

I am worn out with dreams;
A weather-worn, marble triton
Among the streams;
And all day long I look
Upon this lady's beauty
As though I had found in a book
A pictured beauty,
Pleased to have filled the eyes
Or the discerning ears,
Delighted to be but wise,
For men improve with the years;
And yet, and yet,
Is this my dream, or the truth?
O would that we had met
When I had my burning youth!
But I grow old among dreams,
A weather-worn, marble triton
Among the streams.

The weather took a turn for the worse on our way round the coast, blowing a gale and raining stair-rods so we unfortunately didn’t manage to go and pay homage Yeats’ grave.

We stopped in Bundoran to get some milk and bread etc and were advised by the woman in the shop “not to stop and camp in Bundoran or we’d get ‘riddled’”!! We were not too sure what this meant, but decided not to hang around and find out. We managed to find a pitch at a campsite that was closed but they let us stay on their hard standing seeing as how we are self-sufficient. Pretty uninspiring and unwelcoming really!!

The next place we stopped, Ballycroy Co. Mayo, was much better. We had to stop on the way as the weather continued to worsen and we took stopped at Cleary’s pub and grocer shop and were permitted to pitch up in their car park for the night, just as the storm came to a head with thunder and lightning above our heads. We had tea then spent the evening in the pub playing pool and drinking Smithwicks!!
Cleary's bar and grocery shop with Ballycroy Post Office at right angles!
Irish Post Offices, post boxes and vans are green!

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Two ferries in two days!!

Travelled on down to Stranraer, well Cairnryan really, and caught the ferry over to Larne. Quite a few shouty Ian Paisley types on the boat…hope they’re not all like that!!

Thank goodness for SatNav, our little TomTom took us straight to Eva’s door… We’d never’ve been able to negotiate going through Belfast city with all the lane changes without it guiding the way. We took the dogs a walk up to the park then went out to the pub for a meal and a couple of beers. I had Salmon with Colcannon; mashed tatties and cabbage, and I think maybe neeps are in there too along with a bit of bacon ! Nice, but a bit too salty for me!

We saw, but forgot the camera so couldn’t get a piccy of, the heavily armoured police cars and stations that are still around. Will try and capture this bit of social history for you on our return visit!! Also a few of the nice wall murals they have and the red, white and blue kerbs etc.

We drove around looking for a place to camp after several phone calls came up with nothing open, and eventually a lovely bloke who owned a campsite that was closed let us camp there on the entrance-way. This was near the Mourne mountains and we went for a walk with the dogs round Tollymore Forest Park.

We managed to find a campsite just on the outskirts of Belfast city run by the local authority at Loughshore on the Belfast Lough. It is a one star rated site so quite basic. The place was clean, tidy; the showers were awesome… lots of hot water delivered at skin pummelling rates aaaaaahhhh lovely! And it was run by a lovely friendly bloke. We got a taxi from there into Belfast and after another night in a Belfast pub drinking Smithwicks (we’re saving the Guinness drinking ‘til we hit Dublin!) we headed off up to the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim. Some of the Irish towns and villages have gteat names. We passed by or spotted on signs... Ballymoney, Moneyglass, Moneydig, Ballybogy, Muff - on the Innishowen peninsula where we are reliably informed they have a diving club ;o)
Those who know us well will know we love our ales, we have found a couple brewed in Belfast - Belfast Ale and Clotworthy Dobbin! What a great name! Both brewed by the Whitewater Brewery in Belfast.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

A While in Bute...

Isle of Bute, Argyllshire

We travelled on down from Ballachulish towards the Isle of Bute. We had intended to visit Julie’s uncle Alan and his wife Alison who live in Rothesay, the main town on the island, but they must have been away for the week as we never managed to reach them at their home or mobile phones. We stopped off at a lay-by near Tighnabruich overlooking the Kyles of Bute. The following day we headed back round the coast and crossed over to Bute on the ferry at Colintraive. We bought a ‘Hopscotch’ ticket that permitted us to cross back again from Rothesay to Wemyss Bay thus cutting out a long journey all the way round via Glasgow.

We camped at Ettrick Bay the first night and Peter fished from the bay when the tide was coming in until it was too dark to continue!

I can’t find any other pictures from our time on Bute… I think we kept forgetting to take the camera with us each time we went for a walk. We went round the island visiting the chambered cairns at Kilmichael where I got a few twisted Honeysuckle sticks to make into Runestaffs. We camped at Kilchattan Bay for a couple of nights. I was delighted to find a wonderful source of sea glass and ceramics at an old midden there where people would have dumped their old and damaged glass and stoneware bottles and jars and crockery. The tumbling of the waves on this material on the shore rounds and smooths off rough edges and frosts the glass. I had built up a small collection of these materials when we stayed for a while at various places along the top North Eastern coast – Findochty, Fraserburgh, Portnockie etc for a week when we came back from Skye.

I have ideas for making jewellery, buttons and closures for knitwear clothes and bags using these along with glass beads and semi-precious stones.

Off at last ... first stop Ballachulish

We went to Ballachulish to visit Peter’s son Richard who works at a hotel there.

We parked the ‘van in the car park outside the Tourist Information building in the town.

The next morning was clear and frosty and we went for a walk along the shore and old harbour with the dogs.

The sheds here are made of Ballachulish slate; I like the composition of this picture and may get round to painting a picture of it sometime!!!

Later on we went round the coast and Peter picked a bagful of large mussels uncovered at low tide and I made mussels in garlic and white wine for dinner when Richard joined us after his shift. Peter must have eaten a bad mussel as he was very sick later that evening… I was quite fine and I can only imagine Richard was OK too as he didn’t phone to say otherwise!!!

Off round the coast towards the Isle of Bute tomorrow.

Back to Woodside again for a while...

Back in Woodside again…

Willow looks very happy with her new look!

The dogs are sitting in their own personal space at the back of the ‘van. This was originally a permanent double bed; we covered the mattress in a thick tarpaulin then an old sleeping bag and picnic rugs. The stair-gate was a later addition necessary to keep the dogs in their space when we are driving or when they are left on their own to keep them off our seating and dining area.

The cast iron coffee grinder found in a junk shop has come into its own; we hardly ever drink instant coffee now!!

We continue to take the dogs for walks along the river Don behind my parent’s home by what is now the Woodside Sports Complex but formally known as the Lad’s Club. We found these Oyster mushrooms one day on an old beech tree.

We took them back and had them fried with smoked bacon, wild rocket and tomatoes!

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) form tiers of brackets on the trunks of deciduous trees usually beech. These mushrooms can be found at all times of the year and it’s worth looking for them during winter months when there are very little other wild mushrooms around. We have also found other edible ones that can be found during winter months – Jew’s ear fungus (Hirneola auricular-judea) and velvet shank mushrooms (Flammulina velutipes).

I have taken quite a lot of pictures of trees that I might like to draw/paint at some later date. Here are some of my favourites!

On one of the days we were walking the dogs, Peter spotted a deer ahead of us and indicated to me to put the dogs leads on in order to give the deer a chance to run away without the dogs seeing and chasing it. The deer ran off but must have panicked and ran and jumped at a high security fence surrounding an electricity sub-station. It must have bashed into the strong straining post as it knocked itself out. We went to investigate and saw that it was out cold; it then began to roll its eyes and was kicking its legs. We didn’t give it much hope and were unsure whether to kill it quickly to avoid suffering or to leave it as it might only be concussed. We decided to leave it hidden in undergrowth and Peter would return later to see if it was still there and dead; if so he would take it back and butcher it for the meat, so that it would not go to waste. We hoped that it would not be there, but it was. Peter soon made short work of butchering the carcase into cuts and joints to eat and freeze.

We consulted Lady Claire Grant-Russell McPherson’s book “I Love Food” for venison and roe deer recipes. Mum and I made Collops of Roe Deer with Blueberry and Thyme Sauce for dinner! I gave this book (a signed copy from Morgan McVeigh’s!) to mum for Christmas one year. It has many excellent recipes using good, seasonal and wild foods and I ordered a copy from Amazon to take with me.

We went to Russell and Lyn’s home for dinner one weekend and they presented us with a copy of Rick Stein’s “Fruits of the Sea”; this will definitely be useful for when we stay at coastal places at find or buy fresh sea food!
We have also bought a copy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Cookbook. This also has sections and recipes for seasonal and wild foods. I have also bought a copy of Roger Phillips’ “Mushrooms”. This is a comprehensive guide to identifying mushrooms and fungi and will be essential to identify fungi before eating!! Roger Phillips also has an excellent searchable online database at

Forced stop off for a while...

4th January 2007

The wild weather continued for much of the rest of our stay and there were gale force winds when we tried to leave the island. The Skye bridge was closed to high sided vehicles and we decided to wait a bit before crossing. We eventually braved it when a couple of bigger vehicles left to cross over !

By the end of the day I had succumbed to the ‘flu with a nasty gastric twist…not great in a cramped camper and we eventually found a secluded lay-by near Invermoriston to hole up in whilst the bug ran its course. This is a couple of pics of the rushy, tumbly river that ran alongside the lay-by that I never saw, seeing as I was tucked up in bed for two days!!

Over the Sea to Skye for Hogmanay

This is the house where we all stayed this and last Hogmanay.
The house is called Duncaan after the very conspicuous and well-known landmark of Dun Caan Mountain on the Isle of Raasay that can be seen from the windows of the house overlooking the sea and Raasay. The house has three double bedrooms and a bunkroom with bunkbeds. It has a spacious kitchen with dining area with a utility room next to it where we were able to house our dogs. There is also a conservatory leading off the kitchen/dining room.

The hill behind the house is called Glamaig and Peter climbed to the top last year.

View of Isle of Raasay and Dun Caan Mountain from the shore front outside the house.

The kitchen and dining area of Duncaan from the conservatory. This picture is from the murder mystery night that Lyn and Russell had organized for the second night that we were there. We all had our own characters that we had to act out according to the instructions and lines to say from cards as part of the game.

From left: Aidan, Lyn, Russell, Mark, Mhaya (in front of Mark), Jodi and myself (seated).

Here are pics of some of us in our ‘costumes’. I can’t remember everyone’s character names but the title was ‘Death by Chocolate’ and took place while we were enjoying a three course meal prepared by Lyn and Russell.

Lyn Russell Mark

Me ( as Dr Doris Johnson, eminent eccentric archaeologist!!)

Peter recovered enough from his worst symptoms to join us all at the pub at The Sconser Lodge Hotel ( ) after ‘The Bells’ at midnight. The hotel is only a short distance walk from the house; which is just as well as this year the weather was dreadful and decided to herald in the new year with howling gales and rainstorms of biblical proportions! A couple of ‘likely lads’ came down with musical instruments and we all had a bit of a sing-song. Particular thanks must go to Norrie Macleod (on guitar) who lives just up the road from the house and kept us all entertained with his huge repertoire (ooh er missus!!).

The kids manage to beat us all to the best seats in the bar… they start ‘em young in Skye!!

Mhaya suffers some of Russell’s worst chat up lines with good grace!!! She’s gonna go far that one!

From left; Norrie, a friend of Norrie’s whose name escapes me now, but I do remember that he is a criminal justice social worker!!, Lyn, Russell holding their dog Rudi, and Jodi.

And finally… a great Hogmanay picture of Jodi, Mark and Mhaya with me, Lyn and Aidan in the background with only just over an hour to ‘the bells’!! Jodi’s T-shirt reads “Warning: Scottish and extremely HOT”!!!

We had a great time at the hotel and left to first foot Norrie and his wife Fiona at their house up the road.

A moody, atmospheric sunset over Norrie’s house taken from Duncaan.

We were welcomed in to a bowl of chilli and were entertained by tunes from Norrie and Fiona’s daughters Alais on the recorder and Aoife on her harp; albeit a bit reluctantly, Alais playing from the sitting-room next door and Aoife grudgingly played with initial reluctance which seemed to melt away as she stroked and plucked the strings to make music that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, harp music with attitude. Thanks to this talented family for making this one of the most memorable Hogmanays ever; the most memorable being the millennium Hogmanay when we climbed up Bennachie on a cloudless, starlit night by the light of flaming torches and candles in jars… but that’s another story!!!