The Longest Day

There’s something special about waking up to the sound of the sea gently lapping at the shore. Sliding open the door, the salty air outside mingles with the smell of coffee brewing on the van’s stove. We eat our breakfast while enjoying the view across the water, seagulls circling overhead hoping we’ll leave them something. The weather had been kind and remained calm overnight, Hook Head maintaining it’s serene beauty in the morning sunshine.

Our time in Ireland was coming to an end, we had one more night left followed by an early morning crossing. We decided to head back to Wexford and stay at the same campsite we’d used on the first night, it was near the ferry terminal and we felt we really ought to have a shower before getting on a boat full of people.

We stopped at the town of New Ross to visit the Dunbrody, one of the ‘Famine Ships’, also known as ‘Coffin Ships’, that plied the Atlantic emigration routes in the nineteenth century. It’s not the original ship, that was wrecked in 1875 and this replica was built in 2001. Along with the ship there’s a museum that gives a hint at the harsh realities of life for those on board and the problems the population were facing that led to emigration on such a large scale.

Dunbrody

Cap'n Rosana

A final stop along the way to pick up some fresh County Wexford strawberries to keep us going on the journey home before reaching the campsite and a much needed shower. An early morning ferry returned us to Fishguard and we were blessed with another calm crossing, much to Rosana’s relief. It was the summer solstice and since it was such a beautiful day we decided to extend our trip another day and headed up to the lighthouse at Strumble Point where we found a peaceful spot for the night that gave us a perfect view west over the ocean. There were a couple of other vans there and as sunset approached a number of locals arrived to enjoy the moment as well.

Strumble Head

Strumble Head

As the sun set on the longest day, it also set on another Betty Bus adventure. We’d come to Ireland and found a beautiful country full of colour, interest and friendly people. Our short trip only just scratched the surface, hopefully we’ll be able to return one day to experience more.

That Sinking Feeling

It’s nice to feel welcome.

We were guided into the town of Cobh by friendly little blue motorhome signs, directing us to the carpark by the railway station where there are dedicated bays for vans to stop for a night or two. It’s not a campsite and there are no facilities. It was just some parking spaces and a little sign saying that we’re happy to have you stay a couple of nights. And it was pretty much full. We only stayed one night, but we went out for dinner, visited a couple of the museums and went to the supermarket – not a bad return for the town of Cobh.

Feeling wanted

The view was great, overlooking Haulbowline Island and the approach into Cork harbour. Behind us was the line into the town’s train station. It’s true to say that the trains were a little noisy, but there weren’t many running overnight.

The view

Oh, and we were dwarfed. Our little van looked lost in a sea of enormous motorhomes. As we sat by the van having a cup of tea and watching the world go by we could hear a group of teens approaching along the promenade that ran between the parking area and the water. “That one’s really cool” they agreed, before noticing us sat there. We smiled. They looked startled, they blushed, giggled and hastily went upon their way. So there you have it, Betty Bus – officially declared to be much cooler than your average motorhome.

Tiny

Cobh has also been known by the names of Cove and Queenstown in the past and has a long history of emigration. Almost half of the people that emigrated from Ireland did so through the port of Cobh (then Queenstown). Many left via Cobh for entirely different reasons, as convicts loaded on ships to be transported to Australia. These in themselves were reason enough to visit the town, but there are also two infamous maritime tragedies are closely linked to the town.

Church

On 11th April, 1912 the RMS Titanic made it’s final port of call at Cobh before beginning the final leg of it’s fateful journey to New York, a destination it would never reach. Of the one hundred and twenty three passengers that boarded that day, only forty four survived. The story of the Titanic is one we all know, but the museum housed in the White Star Line’s ticket office is still worth a visit. The first part of the tour is guided and we were lucky enough to get the tour all to ourselves. The derelict pier where the passengers boarded the tenders to be taken to the ship (The Titanic was too large to dock at Cobh) still remains, a ghostly reminder of that tragic voyage.

RMS Titanic Model

Loading pier

Across the road is the Queenstown museum, which gives a much broader view of the towns history, including the WWI sinking of the RMS Lusitania on 7th May, 1915, victim to a U-Boat’s torpedo attack. Both survivors and the dead were bought ashore to Cobh and over one hundred of the one thousand, one hundred and ninety eight people who lost their lives are buried in the town. There have been many controvosies and conspiracy theories around the sinking of the Lusitania. The Germans claimed the ship was carrying ammunition and was therefore a legitimate target. The British have always denied this. Divers have found some evidence of munitions aboard the wreck, although not in any great quantity. Some believe the sinking could have been prevented and was allowed to happen to bring the Americans into the war, although if that were true it was a tactic that failed. The truth is lost in the mists of time.

We’d enjoyed our time in Cobh, it had been interesting and educational, but it was time to move on and head further East. We’d visited Hook Head when we first arrived in Ireland and it looked a great place to camp for the night, but a broken alternator belt had meant we’d had to find a campsite and an electric hookup to charge our batteries. We decided to try again. In the calmer sunny weather we were experiencing it felt a different, much less wild place than we’d seen two weeks earlier. It was the perfect place to spend the night.

Hook Head

Tea in the Park

van

After an evening hiding from the midges, we woke to another beautiful windless day and seemingly even more midges. There was only one thing for it, run for the coast and hope there would be enough breeze there to scupper the winged menaces.

beach

Able to squeeze under the height barriers at Rossbehy beach we breakfasted on the rocks and watched the tide quickly recede, revealing miles of sandy beach. We took long and thankfully midge free walk along a beach, paddling in the water, dodging jellyfish and startling hermit crabs.

Selfie

wrecked

After brushing the sand from between our toes it was time to get back on the Ring and head inland. For the next few days we would make our base Killarny, gateway to the Killarny National Park.

Starting from Muckross House, we took a walk around the lower lake, the trees sheltering us from the scorching sun for much of the route. All around us were purple hued mountains, some of the colour coming from the rock, some coming from great swarths of rhododendrons, an invasive species that has all but conquered the mountainsides.

trees

boats

Trees

bridge

It was too all too much of a temptation. After a stop for a cup of tea at a conveniently placed tea shop we decided to head up a hill, despite the heat. Following the well trodden path over Torc mountain we found a rarity in mountain walks as tree cover provided much needed shelter from the unrelenting sun. As we ran low on water a nearby stream constantly teased us, but we could find no way to get to it. Finally we happened across a small gully with enough water flowing to fill our bottle from.

sign

path

view

water

As we took a break at the bottom of the descent we chatted with Noel, an elderly gentleman who’d been out for his afternoon walk to the local waterfall. We learnt from him that it was Queen Victoria who had introduced the dreaded Rhododendrons to the area, but there wasn’t much they could do about it now and despite one of us being English, he didn’t hold us personally responsible. We thanked him and he recommended a trip to the Torc waterfall, so we took his advice and were rewarded with a lovely refreshing supply of water, although the fall was clearly not in full flow.

Torc falls

In need of a shower we picked a campsite for the evening and were settling in when another Westfalia California arrived, this one with Dutch plates. They parked up next to us as Westfalia law dictates. We chatted a while as we got our diner underway, making use of our dutch oven by strange coincidence.

Westfalia for the win!

Vanlife


 

Betty’s Recipe of the Day – Potato Wedges

Get a fire or bbq coals going.

Preheat the dutch oven using 1/4 of the coals below and 3/4 on the lid, we want an oven rather than a frying pan.

Ingredients:

A couple of potatoes, cut into wedges.
A couple of cloves of garlic, chopped.
Handful of mixed herbs, chopped. We used those old classics, Rosmary and Thyme.
Oil, we used Rapeseed.
If you want a little punch to your wedges, add a chili, chopped.

Method:

Mix the oil, herbs and garlic (and chili if using).
Mix in the wedges, coating each one liberally.

Fold a piece of tinfoil into a tray the approximate shape of the dutch oven base, with edges so that you can pick it up when loaded with wedges.

Place the wedges thick side down, pointy edge up, on the foil tray. drizzle with any left over oil/herb mix.

Quickly, so as not to lose too much heat, remove the lid of the oven lower in the foil tray of wedges and replace the lid.

It depends on the amount of heat you have, but roast for for around 40 mins or so, until they have a nice colour and are cooked through.


 

There are many ways to follow the road through the gap of Dunloe, a horse and cart can be hired for the journey, some cycle and many enjoy it on foot. Although the signposts recommend not to, the route can also be driven bearing in mind that it is a single track road filled with walkers, cyclists and horses.

horse

We chose to follow the route on foot, starting from Kate Kearneys Cottage. The Gap of Dunloe was formed by glaciers, leaving what is now a scenic pass between Purple Mountain and Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. It looked like it was going to be another scorcher of a day, so we set of early. Well, as early as we could manage, which probably isn’t exactly the same thing as early.

The road zigzags across streams, passing fields of horses and sheep. It’s all paved, so the walking is easy. The horse drawn carts pass us at regular intervals, some asking if we want a ride, others already full of customers, many waving at us as they pass us. The occasional car comes through as well, but not so many as to be a bother.

The heat is starting to do strange things to us. Dan starts dreaming of bacon sandwiches for some reason, while later on the return leg Rosana develops a craving for pizza. As we reach the end of our walk our thoughts turn to more immediate matters, tea and cake from the local cafe.

pretty

more pretty

sheep portrait

bridge

We examine our map of Ireland while we rest our feet, drink our tea and eat our cakes. We’ve heard there is something akin to a continental aire in the town of Cobh and knowing nothing about the place, we decide that should be our next destination.

Sign

Footprints in the Sand

Dry land. We’re staying on dry land, Rosana insisted. Sure, lied Dan. Well, not lied exactly, but he had his fingers crossed.

Mannix Point

Our fist stop was in Ballinskellig and something we’d seen while looking for a camping spot the previous evening, a chocolate factory. Skelligs Chocolate Factory is located near the coast and as well as offering tasting sessions, provided a great view of the Skellig Islands, certainly a better view than we’d had the day before when we were actually on them. An enthusiastic young chocoholic guided us through the various chocolatey offerings before we settled on some we really liked, rather than liked a lot, or merely just liked. Since we had a working fridge this year we bought a few bags with the intention of bringing them home. One bag even made it that far.

Beach

Stopping for lunch and a cup of tea on a lovely sandy beach we considered our next move. Valentia, suggested Dan, leaving off the word ‘Island’. Rosana was immediately suspicious. She was cleverer than that and knew it to be an Island. Ah, but we can get onto the island on the bridge at the southern end, explained Dan, failing to mention the ferry crossing back to the mainland from the Northern end of the Island.

An interesting and pretty place, Valentia Island takes you back though history. Quite a long way back as it happens.

Clock

Before we sent satellites to circle the planet, but some time after that era when dinosaurs were masters of the earth, all electronic communication across the atlantic was achieved using some very long strands of copper and Valentia was home to the first permanent communications cable between America and Europe. It was a story of real perseverance and there were a number of failed cable laying projects before a successful link was established. Today the site is marked with a memorial stone.

Stone

Speaking of dinosaurs – which we might have been a few seconds ago – if we step back in time a little more, say about 385 million years or so, we would have found little dinosaurs running around the place. Luckily the little critters left their footprints and dragged their tails through the mud to let us know that they’d been there. We’d had the argument before when we visited the Isle of Wight. Rosana didn’t believe that they were dinoprints. Dan will believe anything you tell him about dinosaurs (and still hasn’t forgiven Steven Spielberg over the whole Velociraptor thing). Slightly closer to now a man of science found some holes in the rocks and declared them to be Tetrapod footprints.

Sign

Dan saw the holes and agreed, declaring them to be wee footprints left by our prehistoric friends. Rosana declared Dan to be an fool who’ll believe anything you tell him.

Dinoprints.  Or not.

The argument raged on to the point that Rosana almost failed to notice the ferry crossing off the island. Back on the mainland we headed a little bit north around the Ring and found a picnic area to camp in. Up half a mile or so of unpaved, potholed, bumpy and suspension killing track, the spot would have been idyllic if not for the midges that descended upon us when the wind dropped.

Mystery Island

Portmagee

The early morning sea is calm as we cross the protected harbour waters of Portmagee. The previous day’s sunshine has gone, replaced by low grey cloud and we were not yet able to see our destination.

After an early start and breakfast in the colourful village, we were heading for the UNESCO World Herritage site of Skellig Michael, just over 7 miles off the coast. Lazy Atlantic rollers meet us head on as we make our way into open sea, our small boat to rising up the face of each wave before racing down the other side. Occassional waves crash over the side of the boat, dampening our clothes and shoes. Gannets fly overhead while razorbills race past at sea level and all the while, Rosana hangs on to the boat in fear of her very life.

Skellig Michael

Rock

The islands of Skellig Michael and Little Skellig emerge from the clouds as we draw closer, the summit of Skellig Michael never really reveals itself to us. We disembark and start the long climb to the top, up six hundred or more uneven steps. We don’t get very far before finding the first of the island’s many summer visitors.

Puffin

Puffins. Spending most of their lives at sea, the brightly coloured puffins come to land during the summer to breed. Despite their sad looking faces they are one of the most comical birds to watch. Landing on land is not something that comes naturally to them, their bright orange legs splayed out before them as they seemingly crash into ground.

Puffin in Burrow

Puffin

Puffin egg

Fish Dinner

There are other birds here too, the razorbill among those that make their home here.

Ninja birds

The birds are not the the reason for the UNESCO ranking though. Perched atop of the island is a Christian monastry dating back as early as six AD. It must have been a harsh life, living from this small patch of land and the sea. There is no natural fresh water source on the island, so they collected rain water instead. The low cloud adds to the atmosphere as we sit amongst the beehive shaped huts and listen to the warden talk of the islands history. Imagine living a life where you hoped for bad weather, for bad weather meant that the near constant attacks from viking marauders would cease – at least until the weather improved. It’s a privilege to walk amongst the two thousand year old buildings.

Steps

Beehive Cross

Beehive

Dragon Rock

We have a calmer trip back, travelling with the rolling waves this time. We enjoy the sights and sounds, if not the smell of Little Skellig along the way. It’s home to around twenty eight thousand breeding pairs of gannets and the rockfaces are jam packed with nesting birds. We’re not able to land on the island, but we get a good view from the boat.

Little Skellig

Back on shore we headed off to find somewhere to sleep. Unable to find a wild spot that we liked the look of we turned back to the ring and back to Mannix Point for another night. Mortimer the owner is pleased to see us again, probably because we smell so much better than when we had first arrived yesterday.