Monday 29th May 2017 - The morning dawned wet and miserable - but what a fantastic end!
This morning we had a very well defined plan - but as often happens we didn't stick to it! We left the Dungloe campsite and headed south towards County Sligo, but specifically to Lough Melvin where we planned to have a cheeky free night in a car park. However, when we got there, after driving 50 odd kms - which included 8 down a single track road - we decided it wasn't really a good place for us to be because the car park was small and quite isolated, but that wasn't to detract from it's hypnotic mysterious beauty!
The lake is huge covering some 2000 hectares and it's famous with fishermen for it's early 'run' of Atlantic Salmon, but in the mysterious light which was cast through the drizzling rain and mist we really wouldn't have been surprised if Nessie's Irish cousin hadn't reared up out of the water 👾! And unsurprisingly, the Lough has it's own myth's and legends, one of which describes how it became so well stocked. The story tells of an old monk who had fasted for a long period and had nestled on Lough Melvin's rocky shores to seek solace and find himself. Upon completing his abstinence from food he combed the surrounding landscape to quell his hunger. He found mushrooms, but he wanted more, and he thought Lough Melvin would provide for him because having spent many days gazing upon it's vast expanse he had watched an abundance of wild salmon and various trout like fish frolicking in the water. However, after an evening of fishing his only reward was an old eel which was hardly worth roasting, and a duck egg that he had managed to retrieve from a nearby reed bed. So even though he was starving he sacrificed his catch by making a cross in the sand and leaving the eel and the egg there. Later, he opened his eyes and saw that they had been changed into two of the most beautiful golden bellied trout - specimens so splendid that he simply couldn't eat them, so he set them free to multiply in the vast waters of Lough Melvin!
So even though we were forced to sit inside the warm dry confines of T4rdis2 while we ate our lunch, we still gained quite a bit of pleasure from the place, but as we ate we pondered where should we go from here!
We choose Strandhill which was only another 30 or so miles into County Sligo, and being back on the coast it seemed to have plenty on offer according to our guide book! And there was also another added bonus - the campsite there was offering 4 nights for the price of 3 so we still got our cheeky free one!
We arrived just after 3pm, and after our obligatory cuppa, we strolled out along the lovely sea front promenade were we sat for a while in what was now wall to wall sunshine, and as we sat we watched the tide scampering up the beach. Then later we retired to a beach front bar to sip Guinness and watch the world go by - we already love it here so the next 3 days should be quite rewarding!
Tuesday 30th May 2017 - Rain first thing but then brightening to a lovely sunny but windy day!
Our views to the rear are also very remarkable with the towering heights of Knocknarea looking down on us, and it's lofty plateau, along with the Warrior Queen Maeve's tomb were our second target for today's walk. The first however was Killaspugbrone Church which can trace it's history back as far as the fifth century.
We left the site via the dunes and we were very quickly on the Killaspugbrone Loop - a seafront path that heads north and passes right by the tiny Sligo airport where the planes have to head directly towards the sea when getting ready for take off. Then it wasn't much further until we reached the ruins of the Church which is surrounded by a small 1 acre ancient cemetery that reputedly holds 700 graves! We found one that belonged to a gentleman who reached the grand age of 102 and was buried in 1884, however the area was used right up until 1961 when Thady Higgins was the last person to be laid to rest there.
From there it was forwards and onwards to the foot of Knocknarea itself, where the info board informed us that the mountain is 320 metres high and that it was formed from limestone over 300 million years ago. It went on to say that the summit would provide 360 degree panoramic views that would take in the Ox Mountains (which looked like a slumbering giant), Lough Gill, Benbulbin, and if we were lucky, Slieve League in Donegal - and all we had to do for that reward was climb it! We had chosen to ascend via the new Queen Maeve Trail which is a 2.4 km route that goes up the north side, and right from the start we found ourselves heading up deep steps - about 100 of them - and when we got to the top of that bit I thought the hard bit was done 😂😂!
Little did we know the 'bog bridge' was laying in wait! This is a series of 438 wooden steps that are about 2 feet wide and mostly unprotected on either side. They traverse steeply up through old pine woodland, and by the time we'd done about 300 I began to think I wasn't going to make it. However, luckily I'd had the forethought to pack chocolate, so with it's restorative effects we finally conquered our climb!
Then into sight sprang the cairn - a huge pile of stones that is thought to mark the grave of the legendary warrior Queen Maeve - she was supposedly buried standing upright facing her enemies in full battle gear and with her spear in her hand. Apparently the site was excavated back in 1820 and human bones, along with pottery and various jewellery artefacts were found there. However, the cairn wasn't the only thing to see. The views that had been mentioned on the info board at the bottom were stupendous - and if we looked very carefully, we could even see T4rdis2 nestled far below us.
So now all that was left was the trek back down, but that was accomplished quite quickly, but on the way we did have to pause several times to admire the wild orchids which seemed to be growing in great abundance on the upper slopes of the mountain.
Wednesday 31st May 2017 - Mostly 🌞😎🌞 but in the evening the clouds crept in!
Today our target was Lough Gill - a place that is described as having beautiful serene waters that are in sharp contrast to those of the turbulent Atlantic, and a place that inspired the poet Yeats to write about one of the twenty small islands that lie within it's 5 kms length - Innisfree - I think maybe a lot of people would dream of building a little home here!
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 honey-bee, and live alone in the bee-loud glade......The Lough sounded very inviting, and as there is a 40 km cycle route that circumnavigates the it we thought it would be a perfect place for a day out for us. However, to get there we had to face the not so tranquil roads of Sligo town - it was noisy, busy and disrupted by road works so we zipped through, both going and coming back as quickly as possible!
But then when we arrived at the lake side we found the above to be quite true, and although this ride didn't have the grandeur of our coastal routes we did have the pleasure of peddling along quiet roads, sometimes with far reaching lake views, and sometimes through old conifer and broad leaf woodlands where apparently strawberry trees grow and pine martins roam!
We didn't see either but we did take the time to sit on the Lough shore in a wooded glade while we ate a late picnic lunch and rested our weary limbs. In all today's ride was 40 miles, so by the time we got home we were well and truly ready to put our feet up for a while
Thursday 1st June 2017 - A rainy blustery day! 🐇🐰🐇
Well, after two strenuous days and a look at the weather forecast today's activities had been more or less decided upon last night - we were going to have an easy day! It was to be a lazy morning just with a few odd jobs - namely washing! Then lunch at a local pub, and then if the rain stopped, a gentle stroll on the beach - and for once, all were accomplished as planned!
The rain had pitter pattered on the roof for a good part of the night so we didn't roll out of bed until nearly 9, but so what - everybody deserves a lie in now and again! Then about 1ish, and once said tasks were done, we pottered the few hundred yards to a nearby watering hole called 'The Draft House' and there we indulged in a pint each of 'Full Irish' along with a very healthy chicken salad for John and not so healthy posh fish and chips for me!
And while I was scoffing them I was quite entertained by reading the 'newspaper' on which they were served which described the history and origins of this humble dish which it described as 'A National Treasure'. It said that fish and chips were first served together as a 'takeaway' around 1860, but that fried fish and cooked potatoes had been served on street corners long before this! Apparently Dickens made reference to 'Husky Chips' in 'A Tale of Two Cities'. I also learnt that from 1870 the fish and chip trade spread rapidly and that by 1927 the number of shops selling 'this nutritious treat' peaked at 35,000 in the UK. The sheet also went on to say that fish and chips helped win the First World War - it claimed that British soldiers identified each other during the 'D' Day landings by calling out 'fish' and the response password was 'chips' - any other response and they would certainly have had their chips. However, just like fish and chips, I think that comment needed to be taken with a large pinch of salt!
Anyway, after we'd cleared our plates we did manage a short walk and while so doing we noticed the closed 'Seaweed Bath Shop'. Apparently an ordinary bath is filled with hot sea water and seaweed is chucked in to release it's nutrients. Soaking in a seaweed bath is said to soothe aches and pains, relieve stress and promote healing - and even though John said he'd nip down onto the beach and collect some for me (to relieve my achy legs from the last couple of days strenuous activities) I told him not to bother because I didn't fancy it's cold slimey tendrils being draped over me in T4rdis2's shower which would be the nearest thing we could manage to a bath!
So that brings me to the end of our story from Strandhill, and although we've very much enjoyed this lovely place it will be time to move on tomorrow cos we've still got lots more to see and do in the next 6 weeks as we travel further south.
So bye for now 😚
Click here to see our Irish camping spots