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Springtime in Ireland and Scotland - Five Weeks Solo

Springtime in Ireland and Scotland - Five Weeks Solo

Jun 26th, 2010, 07:55 PM
  #1  
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Join Date: Dec 2005
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Springtime in Ireland and Scotland - Five Weeks Solo

This is my long overdue trip report from my 5-week Springtime trip to Ireland and Scotland. I have this two-country minimum idea that started on my first trip to Europe in 1985 with a college group. We spent a month in total, in Germany and Austria. So since then, my last few trips have been two-fers.

This trip didn’t begin as a long-planned for vacation, but more of a last-minute escape from months of frustrating job-hunting in an ice-cold market. The best thing I could think to do would be to let the season turn, and go drive on the left-side of the road for a while to refresh my attitude and thinking. And hopefully opportunity would thaw when I got home. I purchased a Dell Inspiron laptop for the trip, and borrowed my mother’s Sony digital camera (I still can’t decide which to buy for myself!) and every day or so, I would take photos and put them up on Facebook for family and friends to check if they wished. I really enjoyed the photography and would love to learn more about it.

So, I visited Ireland in 2007 but only had 5 days then. I have wanted to go back and stay longer, and logistically it seems the easiest to manage for me. For the second country, I’ve been reading lots of Fodor’s trip reports and itineraries for Scotland and it seemed to be the best option. I want to go to England sometime on a longer trip so I decided to do Scotland first. The majority of time (three weeks) was spent in Dingle with the most glorious weather I could have hoped for, with the added fun of the Dingle Film Festival, spending St. Patrick‘s Day in Cork with my new friends, and having one of the best nights of live music ever, of a favorite band at De Barra‘s Folk Club in Clonakilty, and finally ending with 4 nights in Kinsale.

To Scotland, I flew Aer Lingus from Cork to Edinburgh where I spent two nights in town, one night near St. Andrews, then a whole week in Perth and the last night near the airport in Glasgow.

Searching for alternatives to a hotel or B&B, I found an ad on Craigslist by a local resident in Dingle who rents out part of her home to traveling students, or teachers and she had some availability for me in March and we decided on a 3-week stay. She was also hosting another long-term traveler and I felt comfortable with the whole prospect. On the off chance it didn’t’ work out, I did check with a B&B I visited in 2007 just in case I had to make a change. Thankfully, it wasn’t necessary at all, we hit it off and I’m happy to have wonderful new friends in a beautiful part of the world.

The trip started out so well, check-in at Denver on Continental couldn’t have been easier, every person was so nice and helpful. The connection in Newark was easy, and the flight was great - I had the whole row to myself and the video, music screens kept me entertained.

I arrived in Shannon at about 6:30am (in the rain, of course!) and that was when I hit my first snag. I picked up my rental car, and having driven in Ireland before, I was aware of the insurance requirements and shopped a dozen different places, but the Autoeurope agent was very pro-active calling me back and assuring me of a final price which was nothing like what I encountered on my arrival. I called them immediately (“oh sorry the agent told you something totally wrong” ) and then and on my return but they are useless and stupid. Therefore, I can’t recommend Autoeurope. I wasn’t asking for much, just some customer service to perhaps deal with the misinformation, but I got a robot-woman telling me just to read my contract., Not helpful at all, but I had to let that go, because if I focused too much on it, I’d screw up the reason I was there in the first place!

So, in my little Nissan Micra, I headed up to Ennis for two nights (my first time). I can’t remember how I chose the Temple Gate Hotel, but since I had my new laptop in tow, I only wanted to stay in places that had wi-fi. The location is quite good, right in the middle of town, the room was comfortable and the window looks out over the courtyard which is literally around the corner from the town center. The staff was very helpful and I was happy with it. But I had one helluva time finding the place because I didn’t realize that Ennis is a maze of one-way streets, and unfortunately the directions I printed out on the hotel’s website were absolutely no help. A kind lady on the street tried to help and then finally found it entirely by accident. What a morning! I arrived too early for the room, but I was able to wait in the library and use my laptop and was content there with a cup of tea and a comfy chair for a short wait..

From my room, I could hear a busker just out of sight, so when I ventured out, he was stationed right by a nice café where I could enjoy a bit of my book, some coffee and music and start getting that “I’m really back in Ireland” feeling! I enjoyed the 2nd day looking into shops and meeting some nice locals. I was peeking through the fence at an old church when man on the street stopped and offered to call his friend to open the gate for me. We talked and he told me he‘d been to the states once years ago, and told me where to hear music in town - it was very nice. Then the ladies at the antique shop told me about their china collections and how they preferred collecting antiques to traveling because they could spend money and still have the object, whereas in their minds, once the trip is over, it’s gone, and besides they‘re not rich Americans! To each his own! I found a music store and picked up some music (Swell Season, and Lisa Hannigan) for the drive to Dingle the next day.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/5153695...7624239303327/
sheri_lp is offline  
Jun 26th, 2010, 08:15 PM
  #2  
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Dingle - I arrived mid-afternoon and was met by the other houseguest who welcomed me in, and we hit it off right away. She was planning to make us all dinner and I was so glad for such a nice welcome. She is a teacher from Canada who sold her house and was seeking a change and so decided to come live in Ireland for a while.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/5153695...7624364128780/

Interestingly, Canada and Ireland have a Visa program which allows people under age 35 (she’s 34) to come work for a year. She eventually got a job at the corner pub, and was recently accepted to a program at Cork University and will extend her stay further.

When my host Judy arrived (she was upstairs doing final fluffing of the room), we all sat down together with a drink and talked for a while and we all agreed that each of us was glad that the others were ‘cool’. We piled into Judy’s car and went “back west” which is what the locals call going out on the peninsula. We took a beach walk on Ventry Beach, then popped into Kruger’s Pub in Dunqun (Dun-queen as I heard it pronounced) to have a pint and hear the craic.

And that’s how three weeks of sleeping in late, and playing late night pool, and long drives, and plenty of photo-ops started. We would gather every night around the kitchen table and contribute a little bottle of wine, or foie gras, or have a shared dinner and talk late into the night.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/5153695...7624364363304/

One of the things I wanted to do in Dingle was to volunteer for the Dingle Film Festival which was happening during my stay. Then it occurred to me that it’s March and I’m in Ireland - unoh St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland? Cool! The girls already had plans to be in Cork that weekend and invited me along. They stayed two nights, but I came down just for the 17th and we all stayed at the Maldron Hotel. Cork is a great city, and harder to drive in than I imagined - but I was only lost for 30 minutes which I consider a great triumph! We went for Mexican food that night (which was pretty good!) and traveled to 3 pubs finally closing down the biggest and loudest of all after meeting up with another friend from Dingle.

I had a great time in Cork, but I was really anxious to get to West Cork to Clonakilty for the band's gig. I have been a fan of the Irish band Interference since I saw them perform a song in the movie “Once”. When I emailed the band’s website trying to find their music, the band leader, Fergus wrote back personally and so we’ve been corresponding casually for three years so I think of myself as a Fan/Friend.

When I knew I was coming, I asked if he had any gigs coming up (they don’t perform too often down there) and I struck gold, the band was at the famous DeBarra’s Folk Club in Clonakilty. The walls are literallly covered with photographs of every performer in the world who has been there (from Hendrix to McCartney to you name it). I was so excited to finally see them perform and the opening band LOWmountain is amazing, and such nice people. I enjoyed Interference’s set so much, and it was a joy to finally say hello to Fergus in person and if he can arrange it, they’ll bring the band back to the states.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/5153695...7624364828616/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lbw4RlGoFG4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90w1FmV2ZFk


Headed back to Dingle after Clonakilty, and unfortunately, the volunteer opportunity never materialized with the Film Festival, but we did pick up tickets to attend a showing of “Public Enemy” starring James Cagney and Jean Harlow. It was wonderful to see that gorgeous print on the big screen, I was happy I went. Following the movie, the festival presented the Gregory Peck Award for Excellence in Film, to the director Stephen Frears. I was so happy to see the director of such great films as My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity and the Snapper (for which the Irish audience loves him). He was kind enough to take photos with people and chat with everyone afterward, Then we all headed to Dick Mack’s pub for the film party and ended up meeting a new friend that night - another American to the group now!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/5153695...7624240191973/

Right away Judy arranged a big dinner party for later that weekend with the household, her French boss, the American we met at the film fest, a couple of her local friends who also brought two more couch surfers from America and before you know it, we‘ve gone from 4 to 10. Everyone pitched in and we had a great evening, and it was one of the most special evenings of my entire trip.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/5153695...7624239851167/

The last week of my stay was spent exploring single track roads over the tops of mountains, and poking around the shops. My greatest single expense was the purchase of some absolutely beautiful pottery. I stopped into Louis Mulcahy’s shop just to have a cup in the upstairs café, but I saw the most beautiful dark colored coffee set (on sale!) and they shipped it home for me. Then Judy recommended Anascaul Pottery, so I went in to see their work and then I really did some shopping. Zac, the potter and owner helped me out and the platter, cups, etc are a lovely light blue with white spirals. Everything was shipped home and it all arrived in perfect condition.

On my last evening, we all went to the Conair pub and they played one last game of pool, and had one final drink together and it was off to Kinsale the next day.

I found Marion’s Cottage online, and as it was situated directly across the street from The Spaniard pub, I thought it would be perfect., It’s a lovely spot, with private parking, a small garden, and the owners are right next door and available for anything. I really enjoyed the last four days of my trip all to myself. It was quiet, and I had a kitchen, large bedroom and huge bathroom all to myself along with my book and I was perfectly content. I went exploring the countryside, tried the local seafood places which were fantastic, and in four days, I never crossed the street to go to the pub!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/5153695...7624365074200/

Next - Bonnie Scotland!
sheri_lp is offline  
Jun 27th, 2010, 10:35 AM
  #3  
 
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Looking forward to your experiences in Scotland.
hopingtotravel is offline  
Jun 28th, 2010, 05:07 PM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jun 2010
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Lovely story! Less "doing" and more "being"--I feel like I really got your sense of your travel.
JessP is offline  
Jun 28th, 2010, 09:31 PM
  #5  
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Thank you! You're right, Jess, this trip was more of an adventure for myself than a schedule of museums or tours.
sheri_lp is offline  
Jun 28th, 2010, 09:52 PM
  #6  
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The flight from Cork to Edinburgh was only about an hour and very comfortable on Aer Lingus, with the row to myself and a half-empty plane. When I made my booking to stay at the Broughton Hotel (B&B 50 per night), I also called to arrange a ride from the airport. When I called the number on the B&B’s website, the man took my name and said just go to the stand and one of my friends will pick you up. I thought I was calling an individual, but maybe it was a general service? I don’t know, but my driver was waiting for me and took me straight over. Those little streets are tough! Lots of cobble stones, and I asked the driver how often he has to change tires, and he says about every 40k! Plus, the city is building a light rail system, so it’s full of detours (which made my departure two days later very interesting!)

The Broughton Hotel owners Freddy and Fiona are wonderful hosts. I arrived early and Freddy was bustling around getting breakfast for all the guests. He sat me at a table and got me some coffee until he could check me in. He even made me breakfast and was so nice and accommodating. The room upstairs had a double sized bed, roomy bath and a view to the street lined with the big gray stone buildings. It was a cold, drizzly morning and just as I thought I’d head out to explore the neighborhood, I sat on the bed and suddenly a nap seemed like the best idea. When I was in Kinsale, I had finished reading my James Patterson novel, and so I left it there and picked up another one. It was a bodice ripper SET in Scotland so of course I indulged in the story of the romantic Highlanders. I was on vacation, right?

That afternoon I got a taxi ride to the center of town for a Hop On-Hop Off Bus ride. I really like those tours. I like seeing the layout of the city. I stopped and did a little shopping for gifts and of course had to have shortbread cookies for the drive...Even though the weather as a bit rainy, I still enjoyed it. The hotel is located close to some shops and restaurants, and that afternoon I took a little tour of the neighborhood, and found an organic shop that sold some lovely deli items that made a nice dinner. The next morning I met the other owner of the hotel, Fiona who is so sweet and helpful. I didn’t know where I was going exactly after Edinburgh, and she gave me some ideas and suggestions, and was so gracious. When I checked out, she didn’t even charge me for the breakfast Freddy made me on my arrival day. The city, in that gray sky and rain, is monochromatic in a way I’d never experienced before. The buildings are absolutely massive and made from those huge gray stone blocks, it’s almost oppressive in a way. Beautiful, but very different and in such contrast to the people. Fiona wished I could see it in summer because everyone is out in the parks and gardens and it turns into a totally different place. Maybe next time!!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/5153695...7624256823967/

I picked up the car rental (a Kia wagon) at Waverley Station and remembering the trouble I had in Ireland, I was somewhat surprised when things went as scheduled. Only problem was that neither I NOR the girl in at the counter had a decent map of Edinburgh. So, I was following her directions except…detours. Okay so there I was lost for one hour trying to follow the instructions, not seeing any signs where she said they wold be for heaven’s sake…Then I managed to get on the right track, assisted by further directions by a very nice man at a gas station who comforted me with a pat on the arm telling me I was going the right direction. That was a relief!

I decided to head up the east coast toward St, Andrews, Many times, I’ve read people’s recommendations (thanks JanisJ!) for this area, and they’re right. It’s such a beautiful drive and although my path was soon to cross with a winter storm, I can see that these places would be amazing in summertime.

I did make one stop on the way, and that was at Crail Pottery. I picked up a beautiful blue pitcher, and a small green vase with a zinc crystalline glaze. It’s lovely and I would have purchased more, except they don’t ship! The owner told me it was too expensive, but I assured her I didn’t really care (I didn’t care that much anyway), but she said that in the time it takes to pack it, she could have made more pots…so. That’s it! Only buy what you can carry, I guess. Unless you have a friend nearby who will take that on for you.

http://www.crailpottery.com/Default.aspx

And here are the links to my other pottery shops in Ireland:

http://www.louismulcahy.com/

http://www.annascaulpottery.com/

So, the closer I drew to St. Andrews, the harder the wind blew, and colder the rain stung. What a beautiful town! I thought it would just be a big golf course, but it’s so lovely, and easy to get around in. The castle ruins are center stage, and the visitor center was kind enough to find me a room for the night about 15 minutes out of town and the Inn at Lathones for 50 Euro. That’s a good deal I realized when I arrived there.

http://www.innatlathones.com/

Due to a few walk-ins, the hotel had to bump me up to a one-bedroom suite which was amazing for the same low price. I had a large living room, an enormous bedroom and decks looking out to the surrounding fields. The property is about 400 years old and has a wonderful rustic feel to it. After I got settled, I went to the restaurant/bar, which was so cozy with a fire going, dark wood beams and very pleasant atmosphere. I could get wifi there, so I did email and downloaded photos and enjoyed my Besthaven beer, then a wonderful dinner. There were some other diners nearby and we chatted back and forth and it was so nice.

Walking back to my room was quite an event in the cold blasting wind and now stinging sleet. Wow. I don’t think I had ever heard such a storm before - the wind was tremendous and while I was comfy and warm until about 10pm when the power went out! And I mean OUT. Total black darkness, I’ve had a little flashlight on a keychain that I’ve always kept in my travel bag ‘just in cast’ and finally, after all these years, I had the chance to use it! So between that and my cell phone light, I could manage. But in the morning, the power was still out and the fields were covered with snow! The electric truck and crew were on the property and breakfast was limited, but it was still delicious, and the power came back on just in time to leave. After scraping my car, and getting the heat going, I was ready to go. But it was so strange, from the hotel it looked like snow everywhere, but as soon as I drove over the next hill - nothing! Just a few little snowballs on the side of the road, but everything was clear. A few days later I read an article about the hotel and they emphasized reports of three ghosts on the property! Thankfully I didn’t know that when I was in the black-out or I’d have been seeing things for sure.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/5153695...7624256509061/

Later I heard that storm had kept travelers stranded on a northern train for hours, and blocked roads all across the high country. I had thought I’d try to get up to the Isle of Skye, but it wasn’t looking so good right about then. So, based on suggestions from Fodorites and from Fiona in Edinburgh, I thought I’d try Perth. I passed by Elcho Castle on my way, but still being March, it wasn’t quite open yet, but qualifies as my first Scottish Castle visit. You literally have to drive by a guy’s barn and next to his parking spot to see it. From Perth I could certainly cover a lot of ground and see some lovely places, so when I drove through the town, I found the visitor center there (not an easy task!) and they were closed at 2pm! My innkeeper Peter wasn’t happy to hear about that!

I found that lovely row of B&B’s on Pitcullen Crescent. It stood out because the sign was the brightest and and they also offered free wifi. When I met Peter the owner, I told him where I’d been traveling and he said “now you’re in Bonnie Scotland! Such a nice guy, and he offered me a choice of a couple of rooms. I liked the downstairs one because it had a small desk I could use, and the bed was very nice, and private bath (40 per night for a single). The inn was a bit quiet midweek, so I really had the whole place to myself, Upstairs he has a small TV lounge and library with a computer for guests to use. The breakfast room is bright and lovely, and the food was excellent. I learned that Peter’s previous career as a butler had him traveling all over the world, so he’s pretty much been there and done that. He grew up near Perth and he’s happy to be back home and is the perfect host..

He also had loads of information available for sightseeing and ideas for drives and suggestions for the most scenic “local” routes, for which I was very happy to have. He told me about a great antiques store (where I did most of my shopping bits) and after staying one night and having one breakfast. I decided I couldn‘t do any better that this, so I extended my stay for a week through the Easter weekend, and made it my home base.

http://pitcullen.co.uk/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/5153695...7624257043517/

For the next week, I covered a lot of ground. As far as Glamis Castle to the north east, across the middle section from Blairgowrie to Dunkeld, up to Pitlochry, and Killiecrankie (my favorite name place of all!). I also took a day going out around Loch Tay to Killin, which due to a rash decision on my part, led me along the single-track on the south side of the Loch,. Only later did I realize that if I’d kept going in Kenmore, I’d have been on a proper road on the north side. Nevertheless, it was a great ride, and had more opportunity to share the track with a couple of big tractors and loads of sheep. Beautiful views too. Also got around Lochearnhead which is a lovely lake community.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/5153695...7624381576066/

Other days I made it to Callander, and Stirling. Unfortunately, I had messed around so much time on backroads that I didn’t go into Stirling Castle (I didn’t go into Edinburgh Castle either…). But I did get inside Glamis which I really enjoyed, it’s quite something to imagine that place as one’s childhood home. Also visited Scone, which I loved,. That’s closest to where I was staying and I saved it until last, they have the most amazing display of ceramics and china but sadly a no-camera policy.

The countryside in Perthshire seemed similar in many ways to my home in western Colorado. The farmlands and distant mountains have a familiar feel, and I loved exploring and seeing as much as I could, One of my puzzling discoveries were what I first could only describe as “tree islands”. Why, in the middle of all these fields, are there clumps of trees? I asked my friends back in Ireland and was told they’re called Fairy Forts, or Raths. They’re supposed to be remnants of some ancient people’s homes, and farmers are superstitious about removing them so they work around it. I don’t know if that’s what I saw, but I welcome any information!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/5153695...7624381645644/

I had to finally face the fact that the end of my wonderful trip was coming to an end, but I can’t think of a better thing to do being “between gigs”. I said goodbye to Peter and my little home away from home and ended the last night in an airport hotel of no particular interest, I chose it because of the shuttle and wifi (which was not free on either count).

On my departure morning, I began to have doubts about my plans. It looked so good on paper…but in reality, no one should really PLAN to go through four airports, and three security checks plus customs in one day! Nor should they give themselves 90 minutes to barely get through Newark so they end up being the last person to board the plane (due to a last minute gate change) and having a near meltdown on the phone with the hotel shuttle driver in Denver. No, no one should ever plan that.

As great as the flight was going over, the flight going home was crammed full, with NO movies or music as I appeared to be in the “dead zone” section of seats that had no service and out of the control of the crew to fix. Thankfully I grabbed a book in the airport on my way out, otherwise I’d have been in deep depression. As soon as I got to Denver, the shuttle driver pick up straightened out, I had to apologize to the guy for yelling and he was so nice, he said he understood and said “girl, you’re tired, you need a drink!”. When I left Denver for these weeks, I drove my car to Hotel 3737 which is part of the program that allows you to leave your car while you travel. So, they gave me 14 free days of parking, and afterward only $5 per day plus I’d stay the night of my return. Beats paying the airport! They had the free shuttle to and from the airport as well as free wifi and a continental breakfast. I never had a more comfortable bed during the whole trip!

I worked in radio for many years, and whenever I travel, I really love to get the local broadcasts, and a constant during my trip was radio. During my road trips, I had it going all day long. Whether in Scotland on the BBC or the RTE in Ireland, I heard some wonderful news stories, and pre-election coverage as the British election was called while I was there. I was so sad to hear that Gerry Ryan, one of the RTE broadcasters I really enjoyed passed away shortly after I came home. He had an amazing call-in show one day dedicated to the Church abuses in Ireland and I was riveted by the conversation happening there.

I was also really happy for the use of the camera - I didn’t realize how important it would become for the trip. I took so many photos of architecture, flora and fauna (posted a lamb-a-day on FB), and the glorious countryside. The fields went from springy yellow-green, to dark green blankets. Of the many photos of sheep, lambs, horses and cattle, I discovered that if you whistle, they will turn and pose beautifully for you. But, my favorite photo subject of all were trees. I suspect a past life as a druid, but without leaves, the branches were so dramatic and stark against the sky or fields that I couldn’t stop shooting. Not that I really know what I’m doing, but I clicked like crazy.

When I got back home to my place in Colorado, the season had indeed turned, the snow had melted and I was ready to attack a new round of job-hunting. Feeling enriched with my new friendships and experiences, I’m now thinking ahead to a 2012 trip with my niece to celebrate her high school graduation and a significant birthday for myself. But that last travel day did me in and for now, I’ll be happy with some domestic road trips for a while.
sheri_lp is offline  
Jun 29th, 2010, 02:29 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,256
Sheri, your niece will have an amazing trip to look forward to in 2012 judging from your trip report. Thanks for the report and I enjoyed your photos.

I know you said you had problems with your car rental, Autoeurope is a broker, we've used them in the past and I just booked with them for our first trip to Ireland so I was sorry you had such problems. Which company did autoeurope use for your car rental, I'm hoping it wasn't Avis!!! Deborah
DeborahAnn is offline  
Jun 29th, 2010, 03:23 PM
  #8  
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Thanks Deborah - I think it was Murrays at the Shannon airport. I've used AutoEurope before and had no trouble but this time just was a mess.

I have used Avis in Italy and had wonderful service. Your first trip to Ireland will be so fun! I hope you have a great time.
sheri_lp is offline  

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