23.01.2017 - 26.01.2017 6 °C
We spent our Monday morning wandering the streets of Donegal town, and found this a fairly delightful thing to do. It is a conveniently small town, rather surprisingly so – especially since it is the town after which the whole county is named. The main shops were arranged around an area called ‘The Diamond’, which was suspiciously triangular in shape, and then bits and pieces jutted off at all angles. We went from the castle to the pier, through the abbey graveyard and ended up lost in a ginormous tweed shop. After all that excitement, we settled in for potato and leek soup (getting into the Irish spirit of things) before hitting the road.
The highlight of the journey was a road sign that warned “Caution: chapel 250m ahead.” Now, I’ve seen some weird and wonderful signs in my time, and I’ve been warned against all manner of things, but I have NEVER before in my life been cautioned about the upcoming presence of a place of worship. Needless to say, we proceeded with extreme caution and managed to make it safely past the obstacle. You can never be too careful, eh?
We crossed into county Sligo and checked into our final Airbnb of the trip, in Ballintogher. I confess, the rest of the day was fairly uneventful – my enthusiasm for touristing was hindered by the acquisition of a severe case of the snuffles, and going into Sligo for food supplies was the extent of the excitement. Honey and lemon drinks all round.
On Tuesday morning, both now officially victims of The Common Cold, we took ourselves off on a ramble through the Sligo countryside. We took in the lakeside views of Slishwood – surely a made up name! – and then went on to Dooney Rock, a paradise for dog walkers, tree identifiers and dinosaur country enthusiasts. We went well prepared with food, water, walking boots and rain protection, because we had read the route description for Slishwood that stated it was a “strenuous” hike of 4.5km. We weren’t worried about the distance, but figured that it must be steep and cover difficult terrain to warrant such a label. At the end of the 4.5km, we had not even raised a sweat. And as for Dooney Rock being “moderate”… to be fair, there was one set of stairs, but even so… Now, either our fitness levels have increased to such a level that we are completely unstressed by all by the most extreme of walks – or (and this is the more likely explanation) the Irish have a very generous grading system on their walks. I guess the main focus of physical exertion here is on bicep curls (pint in hand, of course), and their idea of a “strenuous” walk is one which does not lead to a pub. Ah, cultural differences… isn’t that what travel is all about?
The next day we opted for an “easy” walk at the base of Benbulben, Sligo’s iconic mountain. For an “easy” route, there was a rather steep hill involved!! It took us through an interesting and unexpected mangrove forest, and then out into a pine plantation – and into the wind. Oh the wind! Stopped me in my tracks – literally. Lucky I’m not a slightly built young lady or I would have been blown off to the beach in the distance… The dry weather held out and let us complete our walk in relative peace, before we went home for the Standard Issue Nink Lunch – peanut butter sandwiches.
We headed to the Arigna Mining Experience in the afternoon, which boasted one of the finest (and windiest) viewpoints I’ve seen. It was a clear day, and you could see for miles – except that you had to see it all very quickly because it wasn’t actually that pleasant standing out there in the wind for an extended period of time.
Once inside, we watched a mildly (unintentionally) hilarious video about the mine from 1990, and then had a tour of the mine with Seamus. Because Ireland. Unfortunately, Seamus seemed less enthused about being there than Simon was. To be fair, that’s not all that hard, but he certainly lacked the excessive friendliness and jovial nature of his fellow countrymen. I must say, I would’ve found it difficult to be friendly and jovial if I had worked in those conditions…
Home for dinner, and then a wee walk down to the local (Moran’s – no relation to the underworld figures of Melbourne, apparently) to celebrate Burns Night. We had a lovely chat to the owners, and earned brownie points by ordering good scotch to drink by the fire.
We checked out the next morning, and drove through the most hilarious Irish roadworks to get to Enniskillen. Essentially just a man waving at cars… felt like we could’ve been in Australia, really. We found a free park in Enniskillen, had a free coffee at Caffe Nero and strolled the streets for free. Ninklife.
Feeling suitably refreshed, we continued on the road back to Belfast, checked ourselves into our hotel and headed out to the airport to return Spud to his rightful owners. The bus took us back into the centre, and we promptly headed up to admire the view at the top of the Victoria shopping centre. Then the moment of truth arrived. Same Happy. Was it open or was it not? I am pleased to report that it was OPEN! Huzzah! So in we went, and enjoyed some amazing char siu noodles and some average Hainan chicken (karma for going without Pat, Belinda and Emma) and then wandered home via a pub with live trad music. The musicians were playing plenty of Scottish tunes (which they had obviously mastered for Burns night and were intent on getting some mileage out of them) but didn’t know any Aussie songs. But really, what could be more Australian than drinking beer with my Italian husband in an Irish pub listening to Scottish music after eating Chinese food? Straya.