Monday, May 30, 2011

Heading Home

25 May
Heathrow Terminal 5
After a couple of pleasant days in London with relatives, we are waiting for our flight at Heathrow.
Yesterday we had a leisurely day in the City, catching up with more family over a long lunch at a Covent Garden Pub. Later we took in a matinee performance of the Christie classic “The Mousetrap”, now in its 59th year. We attended the 24,372nd performance. This is a must-do experience in London.
It is Wednesday here, but we won't be home until mid-morning Friday, Brisbane time. Even though we cancelled our plans for a week in Japan after the Tsunami, we are still flying home via Tokyo with a daytime stopover in a Narita hotel to catch some sleep.
26 May
ANA Crowne Plazza, Narita
Narita airport was like a ghost town when we arrived at about 9:30am. There were no queues at immigration and, in the Arrivals Hall, the cleaning staff outnumbered the passengers. Our Boeing 777 flight from London had only 91 passengers. We quickly swapped our seats, claiming whole vacant rows to ourselves. We weren't sure whether this was all due to the tsunami/radiation or if it was just a quiet part of the day. It's a bit of a shame we had to cancel our ten days in Japan. From the short exposure we've had getting to our hotel in Narita, it looks very interesting. Next time.
UK and Ireland in Review
We aren't sure what has changed in the UK. Our first visit here was in 1976. Can that really be almost 35 years ago? Then, we were very young and inexperienced travellers. At that time, the UK was a glum and unwelcoming place to us. How much of that was us and how much was the, to us, foreign country, its people and the wintry weather, we aren't too sure.
After all those years, and well more than two years accumulated travelling all over the world, including three previous visits to the UK, we are probably a lot more tolerant of the normal hassles associated with travel and more experienced in the basics of getting about in a foreign country. Having said that, is the UK really a foreign country? Probably far less so than 35 years ago.
So what has changed?
Dramatic as it might sound, The British Empire is far less a force in the world than it was even 35 years ago. In that time, the EU has become a reality for the British. Despite their resistance, they are part of the EU, except in one important aspect. They never joined the Euro Club, maintaining their own currency. Their 'part-in, part-out' approach says a lot about the general attitude here to Europe.
To the average UK citizen, Europe is still a very foreign place. As Australians travelling here, this is only good news. Our accents are immediately recognised, almost everybody has been to Australia or has relatives living there. This isn't just our jingoism, it's part of explaining why we feel very much at home in the UK now.
Still not sure whether it's them or us who have changed, but the rudeness we have experienced in the past is totally absent. Our experience has been quite the opposite on this trip. On the roads in particular, the British are courteous beyond belief. In heavy traffic, drivers will stop to let other vehicles join the flow. On motorways, cars and trucks will always let a merging vehicle in rather than speeding up to close a gap, as is common practice in Australia.
Maybe the world is just becoming a much smaller place.
Tensions between the north and south in Ireland have all but disappeared. Even relationships with the British have improved to the point that the Queen made an historic visit to the Irish Republic and was warmly welcomed. A decade ago, such a visit would have been unthinkable.
Times are tough in Ireland at the moment. The country is close to bankrupt due to the collapse of the housing market. Thousands of new homes have been constructed during the 'good years' that followed Ireland's entry into the EU and the adoption of the Euro. Real Estate speculation became a national obsession, with hundreds of thousands of families taking out mortgages to build new houses and even second properties as investments. The countryside is littered with unoccupied housing estates. When the Global Financial Crisis hit in 2008, mortgage defaults increased and the banking system collapsed.
In a way, history is repeating itself in Ireland, as those that can leave are doing so in droves. Young, well-educated, well-trained Irish workers are doing just as their forebears in times of crisis in the past did, 'jumping ship' for the New World. Australia and Canada seem to be the most popular destinations as our economies offer fairly abundant employment opportunities driven by the commodities boom.
One last comment about our whole trip.
The contrasts between the UK, Ireland, South Africa and home (Australia) are interesting to explore. The UK and Australia are further removed from South Africa than most people realise. While all three use the term 'two speed' to refer to their economies, it is in South Africa that this gap is greatest. In the UK and Australia it is about who has more and who has less. In South Africa it is; who has all and who has virtually nothing.
On returning home after a trip like this we are often asked, 'what was the best part'. Usually, our answer is 'all of it!'. This time however, South Africa stands out for us. Our trip there was our first, so naturally it was all new to us. But it was much more than just that. The scenery is varied and simply stunning. The culture is complex and intriguing. It is a country with enormous problems and challenges, but it has come a long way since the dark days of Apartheid and it is beginning to emerge as a real power on the African continent.
So. Where next? Alaska and Canada? South America? More of South East Asia? China? Russia????

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Peak District

17 May Downsdale Cottage, near Buxton, Staffordshire
After a rather long day yesterday, firstly picking up the new vehicle, playing Follow the Leader - in London traffic on a Monday morning - as we both headed to the van drop-off point, then negotiating the Motorways north from London to our rented cottage in Staffordshire, we hit the road again today, heading for York. While the little hire car is far easier to manage on the country roads than the van, we have to remember to bring everything we need for the day with us when we set out. Sounds obvious we know, but when you are accustomed to having everything with you, as you do in a campervan, it does require a little more planning. And the car has no toilet!

For probably only the second time in our whole trip, we awoke to a miserable rainy day, just what one would imagine for the Midlands. Undaunted, we set off for York, just over 100 kms away, as the crow flies. After more than two and a half hours, we finally arrived. Such is the reality of driving in the UK! At least the day had cleared up and we enjoyed an abbreviated visit to York Minister and a stroll through yet another grand English mansion, the Treasurer's House.
On our return trip, we diverted to the small Yorkshire town of Holmfirth. Not too many Australians would consider a visit to Holmfirth a necessary part of a tour of the UK. But then not too many Australians are fans of the classic UK TV series, “Last of the Summer Wine”.

In it's heyday, Holmfirth was a fairly ugly Textile Mill Town, processing the local wool clip. The dark mills are mostly gone, but the cottages of the mill workers still line the steep cobbled streets. Even without the association with a favourite TV show, the town would have been well worth a visit.

For those who aren't aware, and that would be most, “Last of the Summer Wine” is the longest-running comedy series on UK TV. Put simply, it is the day-to-day adventures of three retired men from vastly different backgrounds, who fill in their days roaming the streets and fields of a typical Yorkshire village, circa 1960. Many's the time we have passed three elderly gents sitting chatting on benches in towns all over the world, smirking to each other as we hum (or whistle) the theme song from the show. So it is easy to see why places like Sid's Cafe and Nora Batty's house are almost sacred sights to us.
19 May Downsdale Cottage, near Buxton, Staffordshire
Yet two more cathedrals and a classic country house.
Coventry, as most will remember, was fire-bombed during the Second World War. What is left of the Cathedral stands today as silent testament to the evil of war. Most of the central city was destroyed in that one attack. The new city had little of interest for us, so we exploited our National Trust membership again to visit Little Moreton House near Stoke-on-Trent.
On the way we dropped into Lichfield Cathedral, attracted,, mostly because it had the head of Saint Chad. Disappointed again! No head to be seen. All we discovered was a small brass door, behind which the head of Saint may have lurked. We were devastated. Those who have read our earlier blogs would know about our quest for the body parts of Saints. To date, our favourite is Saint Stephen's Hand in a glass case in Hungary.
Little Moreton House was a fairly original 15th century manor house, with warped timber floors and that crazy, bent-house look. The National Trust Membership has been fantastic for us. As lovers of history, we have visited a dozen or more sites, saving our initial membership fee many times over.

Have you ever sat and watched a paddock of sheep a month or two after spring lambing? Don't answer that question if it disturbs you at any level!!

As we sup our fine European beers in the sunny twilight here in Staffordshire, we overlook a whole hillside of black-faced ewes and their lambs. They are just hilarious. Lambs at this stage of their development must be learning flocking behaviour. Every evening about 6:00pm, they start to tear around the fields in 'gangs' of ever-increasing size. They head for the highest point available to them and cluster there looking lost, until one of them spots another vantage point and leads the 'gang' off in that direction. Now and then 'mother sheep' calls out and her young 'uns wheel off and drop back home for a quick feed. Does it remind you of real life, as much as it does for us?
After a hard day's sightseeing, it takes very little to amuse us.
20 May
Downsdale Cottage, near Buxton, Staffordshire
Buxton is our closest large town. We have driven through it a couple of times in the past few days. But today we stopped and had a walk around. It's a beautiful little town, with its opera house, 19th century gardens and pavilion and huge, domed university hall that was once a charity hospital. Billed as the northern Bath, Buxton is just as advertised. Smaller, less pretentious, but with much of the same Georgian charm.

Hanging about for a week or so in an area like this allows us to explore many of the lesser known places, off the tourist track. Eyam is a case in point. This tiny village has remained fairly unchanged since the Plagues of the mid 1600s devastated much of Europe. When the plague hit the village, courtesy of bolts of cloth imported from London, the local cleric persuaded the villagers to quarantine themselves, to prevent the spread of the disease to adjacent villages. Of the population of about 800, 300 died. Many of the 'plague houses' from the 17th century still stand on the main street. As does the parish church where plague victims are buried, including the wife of the minister. Miraculously, he survived.
21 May
Downsdale Cottage, near Buxton, Staffordshire
Hit the big smoke today, Manchester, the home of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. We were a little tentative about driving into such a big city, even though it was Saturday. No problem, though. Good roads and a couple of 'better than average' navigators, one electronic and one human, made it a breeze.
Manchester fell on hard times from the 1960's on, as competition from lower wages competitors in Asia forced the closure of much of its industry. Times were tough for a couple of decades, but the city has turned itself around. Redeveloped industrial areas are now home to great attractions like the northern base of the National War Museum and the fantastic Museum of Industry and Science. Both are fairly much a 'boy thing', just like the two iconic fields a stone's throw from the War Museum, Old Trafford and Manchester United's Headquarters.
It could be that we are a bit cultured out. But the Manchester Art Gallery was just a but ho-hum. We have developed a real taste for the French Impressionists and their collection was more than a bit light on. How pretentious is that!!?
22 May
Downsdale Cottage, near Buxton, Staffordshire
Off to London tomorrow morning. One day in the City, then off home with a stopover in Tokyo.
Ten weeks of drought in the UK and Europe threaten crops and urban water supplies. Not all that serious a situation in reality, not yet, but great times for us. Exchange rates heavily in our favour and fantastic weather have made this a great trip. We visited a fascinating, fully operational, traditional, water-powered flour mill today and Hardwick Hall, another of the great country houses of Britain. All our visits to these wonderful historic estates have been part of our membership of the UK National Trust.
Basing ourselves at a cottage like this is a great way to get to know an area. We have done it many times before on the Continent on our latest trip in 2008-9. Compared with our favoured travel mode, campervaning, it is way less adventurous, but far less stressful from the driving point of view. Expense wise, it is difficult to judge. Camping can cost nothing if we can find free camp sites, whereas cottage rental costs can be expensive, especially in prime locations at peak times. The other factor to consider is fuel. At over $2 AUD a ltr, the difference between running a 1.4L sedan and a heavy van is significant. Perhaps, the combination of both that we have experienced on our last couple of trips is the answer?

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Vortex

12 May
It's only about 18 months ago that we spent a week in Edinburgh, so this was just a nostalgic visit. We wandered the streets and picked up on a couple of things we missed last trip. Mary King's Close was the most interesting - a real step back into the past to the now-buried streets of 17th century Edinburgh. Even though it's a bit of a touristy attraction, it is largely authentic and worth a visit.
On our way up Princes Street, we did a few shops. Just because we could! In Marks and Spencer, now re-branded as M&S. We saw woven baskets just like the one we had bought in Swaziland. Here is a perfect example of the sort of exploitation that the West has indulged in for centuries. We bought our bag from a woman in a market in the Swazi city of Manzini for 25 Rand ($3 cents US). In M&S …. 12 Pound. At today's rate, approximately $18 US. We didn't even hassle with the poor girl in the Swaziland market, but you can bet that M&S paid a lot less per bag than we did. From 3 cents to $18 is more than a normal margin.

Well done M&S!!
15 May
Chertsey, London
Into the Vortex.
Making our way back to London has taken a couple of fairly hard days' driving, broken by quick visits to historic Jedburgh Abbey, the imposing Durham Cathedral and a much longer, conducted tour of the fabulous Fountains Abbey. We had only planned a quick visit here as well, but we were captured by a charming older volunteer guide who took us on a two and a half hour wander around the whole Abbey estate. It wasn't what we had signed up for , but by the end of the hike, we knew a lot more about the ancient Abbey and its surrounds than we could possibly have hoped for. Fantastic day!

Heading down the M1 towards London gave us that “Vortex” feeling. The closer the city gets, the more frenetic the pace becomes and we are drawn into the Vortex.
This we have experienced screaming up the Jersey Turnpike, as four lanes become six, then eight, then 10, all crowded with traffic and pouring into New York at speeds well above the 70 miles per hour limit. About 10 years ago, however, a hair-raising drive down the motorway into Istanbul - where the 5 marked lanes carry anything up to 10 lanes of honking, crazy Turks, on a headlong suicidal dash towards the Bosphorus, gave us the most intense Vortex experience of our lives.
Today being Sunday, the “Vortex” was still present, but far less intense than our other experiences. Must be a British thing.
Tonight is our last one in our van. Tomorrow we swap it for a zippy little hire car for our last week in a cottage in the Midlands.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Family links and The Bruce

10 May
Scone was the coronation place of the Kings of Scotland. At some stage, the English took the Stone to London and it became the 'seat' of coronation for English Kings. Now that the Stone of Scone has been returned to Scotland, all is well. At the moment!
The Stone of Scone has been beneath the seat of the Kings and Queens of England and Scotland for centuries. We saw the Stone ten years ago in Westminster Cathedral. We aren't sure where it is in Scotland since its return, but have no fear, we will find it!
Today, we did some more family geneology tracing, visiting the home of Janita's grandfather in Aberdeen. From No 77 John Street, Robert Gauld headed off to Australia sometime around 1905. Today, his grand-daughter stood at this fairly nondescript doorway, over a hundred years after his departure. Around the corner is the Robert Gordon school. We can only surmise that Robert attended this school because there are few family records of his life before he left Aberdeen.

There is a story here though!
Within walking distance from 77 John Street, is number 11 Summerfield Place, the home of Henrietta Baxter. Henrietta was a girlfriend of Bob's before he left for Australia. We don't know the exact circumstances of this relationship, but the fact of the matter is, he left for Australia and she became a buyer for one of the big department stores in Edinburgh. Bob married an Australian girl ,Lily Bell and they had two children, Janita's father and aunt. Sadly, Lily died young. Bob began corresponding with Henrietta again and she, brave woman that she was, came to Australia, married Bob and together they brought up the two children, not having children of their own. It must have been a huge shock to them when Janita's father and mother produced eight children.
As a postscript to this story, our home in Australia is called “Summerfield”, the street that Henrietta lived in, rather than “John” the street Robert lived in. Ask Janita's mother why it is so.
11 May
Robert The Bruce took up most of our day today. Most people would know him as Mel Gibson's sidekick in the movie “Braveheart”. The history of the relationship between Mel's character, William Wallace, and Robert The Bruce, King of Scotland, was a murky one and too complex to examine here. Suffice to say, Wallace was hung, drawn and quartered and The Bruce died in his bed. So is the way when commoners stride onto history's stage.
In real life, Robert The Bruce is Scotland's most revered hero. It was he who gave the English their most significant flogging on home turf, at the battle of Bannockburn, just outside Stirling. Vastly out numbered, the Scottish army still managed to destroy the English.
Bannockburn was a battle where the raw courage of the Scots won out over the superior numbers of the English - pikes against mounted knights. At the end of the day, the English army was slaughtered as they fell back against the river banks. Little wonder the Scots still sing the praises of Robert The Bruce.

This is a battlefield where you can really appreciate the situation on the day. The area is still mainly open fields, with the river against which the English were trapped clearly outlined by the trees that line the banks.
Elections for the Scottish Parliament were held last week. The Scottish National Party had a resounding victory. While this election wasn't fought on a separation platform, the vote says something about the feeling of the people about possible further independence from or within the United Kingdom. The deeds of Robert The Bruce may well still be in the minds of the Scots as they ponder their future as a nation.
To end the day, we visited the burial place of The Bruce in Dunfermline Abbey. It is a holy site for Scots, but it must be said that the embellishment of the tower of the (Victorian) church with the name of the king is a bit tacky!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Saucy Mary & the Stealth Campers

9 May
Nairn, Scotland
Just got back from the Isle Of Skye...

It's often not the big ticket attractions that catch our interest. On Skye, we were dazzled by the scenery, as you would expect on yet another couple of near perfect days, but it was Saucy Mary and the Stealth Camper that really caught our interest.
Saucy Mary first caught our eye when we pulled up for the night in the waterfront carpark in Kyleakin, just across from a Cafe and Backpackers that bore her name. We were definitely not alone on this sunny Saturday afternoon. About thirty vintage trucks (lorries) were lined up in the waterfront following their rally around the island. Classics they were! We didn't appreciate the importance of the name of the Cafe until the next night, when we returned to Kyleakin for another free night following our circumnavigation if the island. This night, we bedded down by the old ferry terminal, as our previous night's stay in the centre of the village had been a little disturbed by the revelry at one of the establishments that was even less reputable than Saucy Mary's.
From the ferry terminal we had a splendid view of the ruins of Moil Castle. The castle, an ancient seat of the Mackinnon clan, commanded the narrow strait between Skye and the mainland. According to local tradition, around 900 AD, Findaus Mackinnon married a Norse princess nicknamed Saucy Mary. Mary and Findaus ran a chain across the narrow waters and charged a toll for ships that were avoiding more dangerous passages north. No attempt has ever been made to rebuild the castle and it and the Saucy Mary Cafe and Backpackers stand as a 1000 year old memorial to a legendary wild Viking princess who, so legend says, lies buried in the mountains of Skye with her face turned towards her ancient Nordic homeland.

What about the Stealth Camper, you are thinking? Well there is absolutely no connection to Saucy Mary. Stealth Campers are inveterate 'free campers' who go as far as disguising their vans so as to avoid detection under any circumstances when camping. As you might expect, you don't spot Stealth Campers very often. For obvious reasons! But by us, as 'Sneaky', rather than Stealth Campers, they can be spotted from time to time. Such was the case on Skye today. First we spotted the Belgian number plate on a small commercial vehicle in rural Scotland. Then it was the greying 60's refugee hippies who drove it. Last clue was the dodgie advertising on the side door. Things like “Personal Haulage Contractors” or “Parking Consultant”, with non-existent contact numbers are the go. Inside, however, all the mod-cons needed by free-campers are obvious when the door slides open and the occupants emerge.
Yep, Stealth Campers.
They could camp outside Buckingham Palace. These guys are our heroes.
(NOTE - No photos of Stealth Campers are allowed!)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Scotalnd 1: The Quest for Mungo

4 May
Ballantrae, Scotland
Scotland, the home of the 'penny pinchers'. Imagine watching a show called “Super Scrimpers” in Scotland. Then think about how we travel. Some days, we do live a little rough, but not tonight! Penny Pinchers like us are well ahead of these TV programs. Here on the waterfront, just south of Ayr on the western coast of Scotland, we are parked by the beach with spectacular views of the Irish Sea and, as the sun sets, the golden glow colours the hills behind the village. Total cost? Zero. Sure, everybody wants different things out of travel. But for us, camping by the beach, for free, on a warm and sunny afternoon beats a night in a $300 a night flash room hands down.
This is just a little village with no advertised attractions to suck in the tourists but, like almost every corner of the UK, if you dig about, there is history here - relatively recent history by UK standards, but still interesting. The small harbour was only built in the 1840s, but some of the original fishing sheds and houses are still around the area where we are camped. What makes it interesting, is that there are plaques on the seafront with old photographs showing the golden age of the port. Some of the buildings in the old photos are still here. And it is all ours. Nobody else is here.
Our crossing from Belfast was just a bit lumpy this afternoon, but we hardly noticed as we read about the death of Osama Ben Laden. Well, hopefully the world will be safer for all, especially us travellers.
6 May
Glasgow once had the reputation of being a run-down, tough, industrial slum. This is probably more than a little unfair, even 20 years ago. Today, such images are way off the mark. Rich in culture, energetic, alive and forward looking, Glasgow is well worth a visit. And it has both Mungo and Blackadder

Before we descend into the banal story of Mungo, we must comment on two of the incredible museums the city has to offer. The Burrell Collection, is a museum made up entirely of the private collection of the wealthy industrialist Sir William Burrell (1861-1958). Sir William donated his collection, equal to many national level collections of art and antiquities, to the city in 1944. The second is Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. What a fantastic place! And what a creative philosophy of display. At first, things seemed to be all over the place. Stuffed animal specimens, painting and historical objects all in the same room? But there were themes that linked them all. Armour and swords arranged beside period paintings, with cases displaying relevant historical objects along side. Probably the best arranged museum collection we have ever seen – and we have seen a few! We particularly liked the wire-framed outlines of Scottish warriors, grasping real swords and shields as well as the Swinging Heads, a collection of heads, lit by a ghostly purple light from below, all with different expressions ranging from anguish to joy.
One more thing before Mungo. The 'Tenement House'. Every now and then, chance delivers a real gem to those interested in preserving the history of a city like Glasgow. For over 50 years, Miss Agnes Toward lived in a typical inner Glasgow tenement house, built in the late 19th century. Agnes wasn't one for change. She maintained the house in pristine condition from before the First World War until she was taken ill in the1960s, keeping her war-time ID card as well as her gas mask, and many other every-day documents, when many destroyed theirs. For the ten years she was in hospital, she continued to pay the rent and left her home locked up. On her death, the National Trust acquired the apartment, cleaned it up and opened it to the public. It is a time capsule, a glimpse of life through the first half of the 20th century.
On to Mungo. Part of our reason for visiting Glasgow was to visit the tomb of Mungo. Why? Simply because Mungo is such an unlikely name for a saint. Our pilgrimage took us through the majestic Victorian streets of this great city of the North, to the ancient Cathedral of Saint Mungo. You will understand our surprise when we discovered that, in the early 16th century, this holy place was also the haunt of none other than..... Archbishop Blacader. (Note authentic medieval spelling) The namesake of a character immortalised by Rowan Atkinson.

In the crypt of the cathedral, we finally found the chapel and tomb of the legendary Mungo. It was a truly mystical place! Just a few meters away was the chapel of Blacader. To top it all off, across the road, just up from the inspiring St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, was the Provand's Lordship, the oldest house in Glasgow AND.... once home to the Archbishops of Glasgow. Did Blacader live here? Nobody could tell us. Most were just puzzled at our interest.
In the Mungo museum, we found a photo of a statue that is the only known image of the great Mungo. It isn't in the Glasgow Cathedral, but in Cologne Cathedral. We were there a couple of years back but were blissfully unaware of the true treasures of the place. We must go back some day to see Mungo.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

More Ireland adventures

30 April

In the Hills - Clogheen
For over two centuries, the town known variously as Queenstown, Cove or Cobh has experienced a maritime history to rival far better known ports such as New York and Southampton. As we arrived, just after lunchtime today, the enormous cruise ship, the “Celebrity Eclipse” arrived in the ancient port known today by its Irish name of Cobh. Just as generations before them, the good folk of Cobh were out in the warm sunshine to welcome the “boat”in.

Hopefully, when the “Celebrity Eclipse” leaves, it will have a safe passage, unlike mega cruise ships of the past. Cobh was the last port of call for both the Titanic and the Lusitania which sank out in the Atlantic on their passage to America.
Most of the ships leaving Cobh managed to reach their destinations, though some were a long way from the luxury cruise ships of today. Irish convicts bound for Australia walked the wharves we walked to day, as did millions of Irish immigrants bound for better lives in America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
When their “Boat came in” today, hundreds of the good citizens of Cobh made their way down to the wharf. Families were waving, hawkers were selling and kids on holidays were showing off for the thousands of tourists flooding down the gang-planks.
The traffic is reversed for a while as the tourists spilled into Cobh. Who knows what will happen now as Ireland works to recover from a financial crisis that has seen it's economy 'bailed-out' by her European neighbours. Perhaps, yet another wave of emigration will see young Irish men and women yet again seeking their fortunes overseas.
Last night we stayed with Eamonn and Joan, at Strands End House, about 5 minutes along the Killarney Road from the charming town of Cahersiveen. Their B&B is a real Irish experience. All the excellently appointed rooms have en-suites, a welcome change from the days of shared bathroom facilities, that has brought B&B rooms like those offered by Eamonn and Joan, up to the sort of standards offered by hotels or motels. But Strands End House offers far more than all this. A warm welcome and taxi service to and from town for dinner , if you wish, is topped off by the stupendous Irish breakfast, which almost stopped us – but not quite! We love our food.

2 May Dublin
The Celtic Tiger days have changed Dublin significantly since our last visit 10 years ago. Then, the caravan park we are staying at, (the same one as on our first visit) was on the fringes of the city. Several kms of industry have sprung up beyond the park, a modern motorway system has been built around the city and new rail and tram systems are up and running. Other things tick on just as we remember them. The same bus pulls into the caravan park at the same time bound for the city. Last time we took this bus, it was snowing and blowing a gale. Flurries of snow were blowing into the bus. So unpleasant was the trip that the driver refused to take our money. Today there was bright sunshine and a bit of a breeze, so they did charge for the trip!
A couple of hours strolling around the central city and a visit to the national gallery was all we managed before our lunch date with the Irish clan of the partner of our younger son. That was that for the day, 'den'. After a long lunch with some charming new friends, it was time to jump the bus home. What a great way to spend the day.
Our run of good weather has indeed been record breaking. The UK has just experienced the hottest April and the driest March in over 50 years. Bush fires have broken out all over the country and in Ireland some rivers have dried up. All this after one of the most bitter winters recorded. What next?