The last few days have taken us through the Fermanagh lakelands and back into the Republic of Ireland and Donegal. The weather has been changeable, as you’ll be able to see from the photos, but we’ve had plenty of sunny interludes to keep our spirits up.
Overview: 4 days, 268 miles
Our first stop was at Castle Coole, a neo-classical mansion just outside Enniskillen. This gave us an opportunity to take out a new National Trust membership, our last one having expired during our 2016-2017 trip to the USA and Costa Rica. The Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede, and Mount Stewart (all on our to-do list for Northern Ireland) are all National Trust, so we should be able to start racking up the “Savings” straight away. Mark has started a new page in his “Savings” book…
We could only take exterior photos, unfortunately, as the furnishings in the house still belong to the family and Lord Belmore apparently doesn’t want them photographed…. I can confirm that the interior is all very tastefully done.
We were a bit disappointed as we drove along the Northern side of Lower Lough Erne that the road was much further from the shore than it seemed on the map, so that we actually saw very little of the lake. Spotting a sign for a WW2 flying boat base, we stopped at Castle Archdale Country Park, which offers woodland walks, a ruined castle in the woods somewhere, a tea room, and an exhibition on the flying boat base. Unfortunately, the exhibition turned out only to be open on Sundays and Public Holidays…. From an information board outside, we learned that this was the home of up to 2,000 personnel during WW2. Catalina and Sunderland flying boats patrolled the North Atlantic from here; a secret agreement with the Republic of Ireland (which was officially a neutral country) allowed them to use a narrow air corridor across Donegal.
We had another strange border crossing experience as we passed from Northern Ireland back into the Republic. The bunting (red, white, and blue of course) and flags on the Northern Ireland side did seem somewhat OTT to our eyes. July 12th wasn’t that long ago, so are the decorations still up from then, we wondered, or do they leave them up all year?
From our map, it looked as though the border would be on the far outskirts of the village of Pettigo; this time we were determined not to miss it. In the middle of the village, we suddenly came across a statue draped with green and yellow flags, and then more green and yellow as we continued along the main street. Damn, we’d obviously missed it – again. A bit of internet research reveals that the border is actually the river that runs right through the middle of the village. The very idea of anyone constructing a “hard border” does seem somewhat ludicrous once you’re on the ground here.
We’ve been specialising in overnight stops at marinas in Donegal. Here’s Friday night’s stop at Mountcharles Pier, a few kilometres West of the city of Donegal:
A sign informed us that the pier was built as a public works project during the famine, and to promote fishing. The thought at that time was that rather than just handing out charity, it was better to provide people with work. At least at Mountcharles they’ve built something useful. At Castletown House, the Palladian mansion that we visited near Dublin (blog post here), the toffs in residence got the starving locals to build them a 42 metre high folly at the bottom of their garden…..
Mention of the famine reminds me of a conundrum that’s been troubling us. At the Strokestown National Famine Museum (in our last post, here), we were informed that before the famine, the Irish ate an astounding 14lb of potatoes each per day, together with buttermilk and a small quantity of whatever else was available depending where they lived in the country. We were told that potatoes are full of vitamins and minerals, and that the Irish were therefore the most healthy peasants in Europe before the famine struck. So why is it, then, that you can’t count potatoes as one of your “five a day”? Do you need to eat 14lb of spuds to get a meaningful amount of nutrition from them? Or is the nanny state NHS just banning spuds out of a stubborn refusal to allow chips and crisps to be in any way “healthy”? Please do drop us a comment with your thoughts on this topic of great importance…..
Getting back to our travels, the scenery in Donegal really has been stunning:
Saturday night’s stop at Magheraroartys harbour was simply stunning:
There were a few vans lined up along the front, so SOK was in good company. Note the far van (next door but one to SOK) with the intriguing-looking snorkel emerging from the bonnet. We’ll meet it again later:
Donegal isn’t packed full of historical sights to look at; it’s more about the scenery. We did stop to look at the Grianan of Aileach, a circular stone fort built in the late 8th or early 9th centuries.
The fort was plundered by the Vikings in 904 and 939. We weren’t told what state it was in before it was “restored” in the 1870s.
We spent Sunday night at the most Easterly point of the Inishowen Peninsula. As we’ve mentioned before, when you travel around in a motorhome you do tend to stumble across events that you hadn’t even realised were happening. It turned out that the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race was leaving Derry / Londonderry (whichever name you prefer) on Sunday afternoon for the thirteenth and final leg of their adventure. To be absolutely honest, there was no wind and they were travelling very slowly indeed when they passed our vantage point.
The drone that was filming proceedings was much more exciting. The first thing we noticed was the meaty roar of a black Mercedes V8 hurtling into the car park. The drone then emerged and was prepared for flight. Apparently the footage wasn’t specifically of the yacht race; it was for a new series of “Wild Ireland”. I didn’t get a good shot of the drone with the black Mercedes; the black Peugeot in the photo below was an innocent bystander:
In case you’re fancying getting one, Mark did ask and it’s worth £50,000 (Sterling not Euros). Maybe not then…..
Monday saw us venturing up the Peninsula to Malin Head, which is the most Northerly point in Ireland. To avoid any confusion, let us just confirm that the most Northerly point in Ireland is NOT in Northern Ireland. Now if that isn’t Irish, I don’t know what is….
The scenery on the Inishowen Peninsula is just…. oh damn… I’ve run out of superlatives…..
We were pleased to see that Malin Head was almost completely uncommercialised. There are toilets and there were two vans, one selling coffee and the other selling souvenirs. The Star Wars theme (which we came across on the Ring of Kerry, old blog post here) has come back to haunt us; apparently part of The Last Jedi was filmed here.
SOK was, for half an hour or so, officially the most Northerly Motorhome in Ireland:
We saw the sign below and immediately thought of Liz W, who recently didn’t see any basking sharks off Cornwall. Apparently there are “Hundreds” of them here.
Mark scanned diligently with his binoculars but nope, he couldn’t see a single one…
With hindsight, “in the deep waters” was a brilliant cop-out.
The message “EIRE” in white-painted stones dates back to WW2 and was a navigational marker to alert pilots to the fact that they were over neutral Ireland (a polite way of saying “take your bombs home with you please”?). 83 lookout posts were set up around Ireland in 1939 to guard against invasion; this is number 80.
We had to stop and take a photo of this super-cute cottage! Thatched roofs commonly had to be secured in coastal areas in Ireland to stop them blowing away in a gale; in Donegal the traditional method is to tie them to stones jutting out from the wall at eaves level. These looked more like pegs inserted into the wall than stones jutting out….
We’re now parked up by yet another marina, this time at Fahan on the West coast of the Inishowen Peninsula:
We’re right by a beach and sand dunes; in better weather it must be lovely. When we arrived earlier this afternoon, there was just one other van here. It’s the same Dutch van that was parked near us on Saturday night!
Our neighbours soon invited us over to their van for a coffee. Incredible! That van has been to within 800km of Vladivostok and through every “-stan” you’ve ever heard of! Hence the snorkel…. apparently they had no problems at all; people are very friendly and helpful wherever you go (note: before you ask the obvious question, they seem like very sensible people, not lunatics; maybe we should be thinking along more adventurous lines for our future travels?).
I don’t normally mention the people we meet along the way on our travels, by the way, mainly because they might not thank me for plastering their names and stories across the internet (so if we’ve met you and haven’t mentioned you, please don’t be offended!). In this case, their adventures are just too impressive to leave out…..
Tomorrow’s plan is to cross the border back into Northern Ireland (third time lucky in terms of actually spotting the border?) and head along the North coast towards Dunluce Castle, the Giant’s Causeway, and Carrick-a-Rede.