Goodbye Ireland

stenaferry[2305843009214797506]

Set alarm on watch for 5am but, shamefully, was next aware of Margaret with a cup of tea rather later.

After breakfast, I loaded the bike into David’s car and set off towards the docks, a journey that I had expected I would be making on my bike, and I increasingly realised what an unpleasant and confusing journey it would have been, made worse by the dismal morning. After working though rather more streets than I had expected we crossed into the commercial dock area with long bleak roadways and plenty of lorries.

The problem with taking a bike on a ferry is that you are sometimes classified as a pedestrian and sometimes a vehicle, despite the cycle storage invariably being on the vehicle deck where you lash your bike securely to racking along the the side of the hull.

If you are classified as a vehicle you follow the vehicle lanes and collect your documents from one of the booths. My grandson Mikey and I have often used the Harwich Ferry to Holland and quickly discovered that the safest way is to act like a vehicle and ride right in the middle of the vehicle lane, often with a large lorry in front and one behind. At Fishguard I had been classified as a bicycle with a separate entrance and allowed onto the boat when the vehicles had been loaded.

David dropped me outside the main reception to pick up my ticket and, when the boat was due to load, I was able to slip through a small gap into the vehicle area to load through the rear ramp. I chose to pay a supplement for the lounge, segregated from the hurly-burly, with my own table to work at and free hot and cold drinks. There was also free red and white wine, which interestingly, few passengers availed themselves of; the red was pleasant. Sailed out of Dublin Harbour with so many happy memories to recall.

Tralee to Dublin

Neil Armstrong

I had wanted to postpone booking my train back across Ireland and also the ferry journey via what was described in Ireland as “The Celtic Sea” from Dublin to the mainland, until after I had arrived at the furthest point west and could be certain how many days it would take to cycle to the railhead at Tralee. I then discovered that a potential problem was that for part of the journey I would have to reserve a place for my cycle well in advance as the number of places available on each train was limited. When I was at Killarney I booked the train from Tralee, leaving an extra day spare in case I needed it which, unexpectedly, turned out to be a sensible decision.

I had intended to take the night ferry to Liverpool, having previously used that service from Liverpool some years before. It was a vehicle ferry and the price included a shared cabin and an unlimited breakfast with the type of food that lorry drivers would like. I tried to book online but found that this was impossible as you had to book a vehicle at the same time and a bicycle did not count as a vehicle. I telephoned the ferry booking office but they refused to accept a booking for a bike. The result was that I now had to stay overnight in Dublin because the train I had booked from Tralee did not arrive until the middle of the day. Subsequently, I remembered that, last time, I had booked my bike as a motorcycle!

I arranged with my helpful host to leave my cycle at the B&B until I needed it later. I had to pick up my ticket from the station so went first to collect it in case of last-minute problems. I also needed a battery for my watch which had given up a few days before. One of the pleasures of the ride was that time had seemed irrelevant but, sadly, I was now back in the real world.

I asked my host for directions to the station which turned out to be through the maze of streets in the centre of the town. Sensing my confusion, my host pointed out a very tall church spire and said that if I aimed for that it would take me to the station. So, instead of going down the main road, l crossed it and was immediately in a park and heading along Neil Armstrong Way and soon passed a sculpture commemorating Neil Armstrong’s visit on the 18th April 1997 to open the Kerry County Museum Exploration of Space exhibition. After Neil Armstrong‘s death, it was decided to create the pathway to the museum to commemorate his visit, and the sculpture with an exhibition board had been moved there. (see photo at top of post). After passing the modern looking Museum and the rest of the park, I threaded my way through the attractive streets in the centre of Tralee aiming at the spire which, it turned out, overlooked the station.

I then searched for a shop to change the battery. Neither of the two watch shops could remove and replace the sealed back of my sports watch but both directed me to a watchmaker who they said would certainly be able to do it. I tracked him down in a small shop and he said that he had the appropriate battery and would do it straightaway. It was a fiddly job and there followed another of those moments when we sat and philosophised about the pleasures of Ireland. He would not take anything for the work which he said he had enjoyed doing for me.

The pattern of ferries to Holyhead involved main ferries early in the morning and the evening, and a fast ferry in the middle of the day. I had arranged to stay with friends in Chester who had invited me to pop in if I was in the area. When I found that I would have to be returning via Holyhead, I booked on the midday ferry.

The train journey turned to be as beautiful as I had hoped. The route headed south towards Killarney past the hills and then west to Mallow (where I had cycled on my way across Ireland), to connect to the Cork – Dublin line. I passed near a number of places I was familiar with including the level crossing at Rathmore where I had had a long wait. I was slightly worried about the connection to the Cork -Dublin line as there was not much leeway in the time shown but the train was waiting and the connection seemed quite a social occasion between the train staff, travellers and relations. Soon after leaving Mallow, to my surprise, I received a message on my mobile phone. It was bad news from Stena Ferries: it was likely that tomorrow’s midday ferry would be cancelled
because of bad weather and I was advised to rebook onto the early morning or evening ferry. I would now have to catch the morning ferry or else I would be stuck in Holyhead all night.

I had been looking forward to my overnight stay in Dublin and a leisurely start next morning which had fortuitously been arranged for me. I had been due to represent Britain in my 80 to 85 age group at the European Championships at Ibiza in the Sprint Duathlon in October. However, I thought that I had no possibility of being fit enough for an international by then so had informed British Triathlon who had then told the team captain, Joan Lennon, who I had got to know well at previous internationals and had great respect for. She had been in touch to say how sorry she was and, when I sent her a link to this blog, she emailed me to say that her family in Ireland would be more than happy to put me up for the night and that her sister Margaret and husband David lived
in Dublin. I telephoned them and, when I explained the circumstances, Margaret replied enthusiastically that they would certainly put me up and would enjoy hearing about my travels. She gave me directions to cycle from the station to their house which
was in easy cycling distance so I would have plenty of time in the morning to cycle
from there to catch my midday ferry.

On arrival at Hueston Station in Dublin, I set off to the address which was in a residential area on the other side of the centre and found myself in the evening commuter traffic heading along the Quays.  I recognised a bridge where I had once stood trying to cross the road and watched the heavy traffic with amazement; I was now in it! I found, as in London, it is not as bad as it looks when you are part of it and there were not the adrenaline charged cyclists jumping the lights as there are in London, they were far more courteous. I heard a bus behind me hoot but I dared not take my eyes of the road ahead. It hooted again and then pulled alongside, slowed down and the driver leaned out to point out that the strap holding my baggage had come loose – it could have got in my wheel and brought me off into the traffic.

Getting out of the centre, I started worriedly rehearsing what I would say about my early start and as soon as I got into the house I unburdened myself. Perhaps recognising my anxiety, David said with a smile, “Don’t worry I will drive you to the Docks and will wake you up at 5 o’clock”. What a relief!

A scrumptious meal was already waiting and we spent much of the evening chatting about a variety of interesting Irish and British subjects, but avoided Brexit. Margaret and David had the same relaxed and friendly manner as Joan and I felt really at home.

Day 20. Duncannon to Dungarvan

pe ferry

Woke to bright sunshine, first I had seen, up to then it was varieties of “Irish Mist”, never really raining but never sunny. I had been warned by Irish friends there would be plenty of days of this. I could now see the estuary properly. I looked around the small harbour and then followed the estuary until I reached the vehicle and foot ferry to Passage East. It was followed by a long climb over the hill to Waterford, made memorable by seeing my first pot hole.

pe on ferry

Waterford is a busy city and once an important shipbuilding port. The quays are now  deserted with some used as car parks, but behind the Quay there were bustling little lanes.

Its origins go back to the early tenth century when the Vikings built a settlement there and controlled much of that part of Ireland. It had city walls but most had been demolished, the Clifford Tower remains with a Viking boat displayed in front of it.

cliff tower

I sat down at a pavement cafe in the sun, had a snack and coffee and watched the congregation leave the cathedral, standing in groups chatting amiably, and tourists wandering by, a happy scene.

Waterford Crystal was founded in 1783 and has helped to create the town’s prosperity producing 45,000 pieces a year and I cycled by the recently built, and much larger, shop, easily accessible by coaches. The shop has beautiful displays of their crystal and the popular tours of the factory itself start from there.

I was heading for the Waterford Greenway, a 46k cycle and walking  trail opened last year between Waterford and my ultimate destination for the day of Dungarvan. There had once been a railway line which had closed and the area left derelict until a railway preservation company had opened about 7k of the route again. The trail was being heavily promoted by the Tourist Board as being spectacular and beautiful. Already, when mentioning my route, I had been told several times that I must take the trail. My host of the previous night had been one of these and she explained that not everyone had been in favour but it had been a great success. Along the way, access points had been created with car parks, and cafes had sprung up with activity areas and cycle hire.

The trail was very carefully designed with a tarmac surface wide enough for emergency vehicles. At first there were mainly a few walkers but the access points were very popular and the closer you approached one, the more cycling family parties there were. Near the access  I would usually come across several groups with very young children  learning how to cycle on the traffic-free way. There were many leisure cyclists and a few fast club cyclists but the family cyclists had claimed the territory for themselves. The families were arriving at the junction station from the small train running a shuttle service up and down the line. The platforms had displays and extra facilities for the families and walkers. I stopped and had a coffee and a couple of cereal bars, more sensible than the inviting ice cream.

station

The fields I came across were now mainly used for gazing. Many cattle were Friesians but there were Herefords, cross-breeds and a I saw a huge Charolais bull stalking round a field full of cows. Took a picture of yellow flowers which had been brightening up the verges, with a butterfly taking up the nectar.

butter 2

The landscape forms changed and the Greenway plunged downwards crossing increasingly steep valleys, eventually using viaducts. One is really impressive and much featured in the advertising. It seemed a long way down to the valley floor on the viaducts, which were matched by a couple of short tunnels and then a long lighted one. Through and outside this tunnel along the walls were colourful decorated stones and small slabs, each bearing a child’s name as part of the design. I was told that they had been put there by children from the local school.

waterford bay
Waterford Bay

For some time there had been an Irish mist and I was getting used to it; a sort of not quite rain with brighter intervals. I had started the day with it and it had cleared by the time I had reached Waterford Bay, which was a brilliant blue, but it returned about 10 miles along the route and then annoyingly turned into real rain and I put on my rain jacket. Just before the long tunnel it started coming down heavily and I waited for a couple of minutes on the exit for the heavy rain to clear. I then remembered a lesson my grandson Mikey, then aged 14, had taught me that for a few minutes heavy rain seems unpleasant but then you stop noticing it as it becomes the norm, so I set off again down increasingly  steep slopes. The rain eased, I shot round a corner and there was Dungarvan Bay with the rain clouds retreating.

d bay

After another 42 mile day I checked into a top quality hotel with another small, but cheap, room and, on advice, set off down to the quay to find a restaurant. The best seemed to be an Indian so I had a big meal, went back to the hotel and straight to sleep.

Day 18. Into Ireland

ferry to ireland

The day started at about 2 am with a bang as when I sat down on the toilet seat there was a loud noise and the seat started sliding off the side. Examination in the morning showed that a plastic part attaching the seat had broken. It could be a good omen, a problem out of the way before I set off.

There was no hurry in the morning as the ferry left at 1.15pm, arriving at 4.30pm. It was a Stena Line Ferry and when my grandson Mikey and I went on our cycle tours of Holland, Stena regarded us as vehicles and we joined the vehicles embarkation, with the foot passengers loaded much later. I got down early to be one of the first but was told on arrival at the ferry that I was a foot passenger, and then, on passing through security, was told to wait to go on with any cyclists on the connecting ferry train which arrived after the waiting foot passengers had loaded. Waited until all the foot passengers were off the train and passed through but there were no cyclists. Then I was sent up the gangway to be met with mutual leg pulling by the four loaders. The boat was then able to set sail.

It was a good trip, the facilities on the Stena boats are good, it was not crowded and we were greeted by a harbour porpoise as we slid into Rosslare. I had a good idea where my overnight stay was but on the ground it never is quite as you imagine it from the map. I was looking at the map when I noticed a cyclist passed me but soon he returned alongside me asking if I needed help. Told him where I was going and he said it was just up the road, “Och,” he said, “just follow me!” and deposited me at the Lodge. It was like a Travelodge, large room, no formalities, paid in advance by card, just depart when you want. Asked receptionist about the bike storage and he told me to leave it with him and took it off. After some of the small rooms I had before on my trip, it seemed palatial. They provided a continental breakfast and the receptionist told me of two pubs 16 minutes walk up the road where there was good food.

Later, the man from the next room came out at the same time as I did and headed out and we did that English thing, he held the first door for me, I held the next door for him and he held the outside door for me. I set off up the road and then noticed he was a little way behind but not catching me up, a bit of that male politeness as I wobbled up the rough grass more slowly than he would have. I stopped and spoke to him; he had received the same advice from the receptionist so we went to choose the pub together. Saw chowder on the menu, had not had it for years as it is rarely available in England. It turned out to be very special, substantial portions of a wide variety of fish. It was a good evening as it turned out as we had much in common in seeing the development of computing from the early days of Acorn when my Civil Service son, Ian, was tasked with persuading schools to take up the Government’s offer of a free Acorn designed computers, a bit scary for some smaller schools.