Day 26. Annascaul

Looking up towards Beenoskee 826 metres
Looking towards Beenoskee, 826 metres

The further west you go along the Dingle Peninsular, the more Celtic it becomes and the Gaelic language takes over. Almost all place names have a Gaelic alternative but, increasingly, some like my B & B were just Gaelic, and notices or explanation boards would be Gaelic first and “English” second.

Today was my spare day, earned by my speedy crossing of Ireland, so I planned to use it by exploring the hills. One problem had been that Teac Seain B & B only had a vacancy for one night but I had found a vacancy at the Dingle Gate Hostel two miles down the road.

Looking up the weather forecast the previous night it had not seemed promising: light rain from after 9am which turned into heavy rain, a slight remission in the middle of the day then heavy rain again, clearing later in the afternoon. When I peered around the curtains on waking I could see that there was the traditional Irish Mist with very poor visibility. Strangely, it does not seem to be raining but it immediately condenses on you once you start moving and without protection you are soon soaking. I went down for my usual breakfast, loads of cereals, toast, lots of orange juice and coffee and anything else laid out which looked interesting. Here, it was a large individual bowl of yogurt with lots of different fresh fruit and cream. By the time I had packed my panniers and was
ready to go the rain had really set in and the hostel was not open until 3pm.

I discussed my predicament with Kate, the proprietor, who was instantly very sympathetic. She would need the room but suggested that I left my bike in a hallway accessible from the outside and told me of a friendly little cafe along the street. I bought a newspaper in the village shop, ordered a coffee in the cafe and settled down to wait. The only other customers were a couple who had clearly also settled in for a long stay. I tried, unsuccessfully, to send by phone a photograph of what I assumed was a hydrant, to my friend Jim MacTaggart, a friend and very experienced touring cyclist from Kilmarnock in Scotland.. He has cycled across the USA three times, once with his wife Cathy, and it was he who had advised me on my choice of bike for the trip.

kilmarnock hydrant

The rain seemed to be easing slightly so I went back and collected my bike. Kate (and others) had told me I must not miss seeing the views at Lough Annascaul in the hills above Annascaul, accessible by a narrow lane which climbed up from the main street. I flew up, no panniers, a following wind and extra strength from a month’s touring. The views were magnificent. By now I had another photography problem, which I had met on another wet day in Wales, in that there was great difficulty in taking photographs in bad weather. It had now started raining heavily again, and to unlock the phone I had to have a dry finger and, even if I managed to get it open, if any wet touched the
screen when I was taking a photograph it would not work. I was determined to get a photograph, both up and down the high valley from the loch. The technique was to plunge my finger into my clothes until I found a dry garment, dry the finger and, with the phone as ready as possible, try to shelter it enough to take a photo quickly. After about 10 minutes I succeeded, though now I had much wetter underclothes!

looking down on valley

Throughout the village there had been notices and flags about two locals, Colm and Killian, who had been in a competition and I was able to photograph a couple of the signs the next day. They were all in the yellow and green, the colours of Kerry, and, as I had rode up the lane, they had been more splendid and frequent until there was a large flag outside a green farmhouse with detailing in yellow. Speeding back down the lane the rain almost seemed solid but I stopped and, with even more difficulty, managed to get a photo of the flag. Before I could set off, a tractor drew up, and the driver told me it was Gaelic Football and the previous weekend Kerry had won the All Ireland Minor Football Final with the two players from Annascaul in the team. I found out that it was for under 18s and there were 31 county teams. Kerry had defeated Galway 0-21 to  Galway’s 1-14 to claim their fifth All Ireland title in a row, the first time this feat has been achieved. A team of the year was chosen, taken from all the competitors in the finals, and this included Colm. Killian had hit 4 points in the final and chosen as Man of the Match.

Up the Kingdom

Proud of the boys and proud of The Kingdom of Kerry

 

As soon as I returned to the main street, I headed into the South Pole Inn and managed to find a very quiet corner, order a pint of local beer and started stripping off layers and putting as many of my wet clothes as was decent in a pile hidden against the corner wall  so I could begin warming up. It was getting towards 1pm and I ideally wanted to stay there until as near 3pm as possible. It was a big pub and every inch of the wall was covered with items about Tom Crean including many original photos and artifacts, all
of which I examined slowly and carefully; the pub was like a museum.

south pole inn

Tom was born in 1877 and had left school at 14, joined the Navy at 15 and, at 24, he volunteered to join Scott’s fatal expedition to the South Pole. During the expedition, his 35 mile walk across the Ross Ice Shelf to save the life of Edward Evans resulted in his being awarded the Albert Medal. He is probably most famous for Shackleton’s “Endurance” expedition, a copy of the request for volunteers I had seen the previous night outside the Inn. The centenary had given rise to a new book, films, TV series, and a large exhibition of the original equipment including the lifeboat. Shackleton had appointed Tom as Second Officer. The Endurance was crushed by a sudden movement of the ice and they dragged the food, gear and three lifeboats for 200 miles across the pack ice and then sailed and rowed the boats for 5 days to Elephant Island hoping for rescue.

inn

Shackleton decided, instead of continuing to wait, to sail a lifeboat the 800 miles to South Georgia. After what was described as one of the most extraordinary feats of navigation and seamanship, and through gales and snow squalls, they arrived on the 10th May 1916 at the island’s uninhabited south coast. With the boat having been damaged and some of the crew unfit to travel, Shackleton decided that the three fittest, himself, Crean and Worsley. should try to cross the 30 miles across the hilly, glaciated surface to a whaling station. It was the first recorded crossing of the mountainous island.

Inside the Inn

Tom returned to the Navy and, the next year, married Ellen Herlihy of Annascaul. He retired in 1920 and he and Ellen bought the public house which he renamed the South Pole Inn and they had three children. He died in 1938 following a burst appendix.

Fish and chips Annascaul style

Although I had not been pressed to order, eventually I ordered fish and chips which was delivered with probably the largest piece of fish I have had with such a meal. Collecting my bike I bought some food for my evening meal later at the hostel where I had booked a room rather than a place in the dormitory. The warden was cheerily informal, seemingly to start almost all his sentences to everyone with an upbeat “that’s no problem” including when it was discovered that I had paid for a room rather than a place in the dormitory. He quickly made up a room which was comfortable, and I later chatted with some of the other guests in the common room/kitchen. The opportunity to meet a variety of people makes hostels popular.

Dingle Gate Hostel.

Day 13. To St. David’s

mill wheel
Solva Mill Wheel

The forecast for this day was rain, heavy for two hours in the middle of the day, so I was anxious to make an early start. This was often difficult as Guest Houses and B&Bs reflected their owner and breakfast was usually from 8am or 8.30am; small pubs would often ask you what time you wanted breakfast and would not be enthusiastic if your choice was early. There was a good reason for this: a landlord cannot start clearing up until the last customer has reluctantly left the evening before and often would not want to go to bed until everything was washed up. Late nights do not make for early mornings!

The Mariners Hotel, however, included among its customers what used to be called “commercials” and offered breakfast from 7.15 at which time it was still fine and after the usual problem of finding the right way out of town I was bowling along to the famous rocky headlands and beautiful sandy coves of the South West Coast Path.

By the time I arrived at Broad Haven the rain had set in and the headlands clouded with mist. My friends Terry and Miriam had walked the Coast Path and I had intended to take photos of the path as it wound round the headlands but discovered the limits of my new smartphone which unlocks by touch of your fingerprint. The pad you touch has to be absolutely dry as does your finger. Everything was misty and as soon as I opened my phone the wet condensed on it and the only way to dry my finger was to shove it down my underpants which could be embarrassing except that virtually the only people around were the Lifeguards peering out of their huts into the mist. I managed, after about 10 minutes, to get a shot there but could not photo the rather small stone at The Druidstone and gave up.

verywet broad haven
A very wet Broad Haven
lifeguards view
Lifeguards’ view

The worst thing about pushing my laden bike up the narrow, winding and busy coast road was the traffic coming up behind me who were taking a chance if they tried to overtake me and it was with great relief when I arrived on to a quiet straight road heading inland until I saw a barrier and hut some distance ahead. I had clearly missed a turn but thought I had better enquire and a young serviceman carrying a gun emerged from the hut. It was Brawdy Air Base so he was very surprised at my question about a cycle route but, fortunately, another serviceman emerged and told me which direction to go.

By then it was throwing it down, which was predicted to last two hours, so when shooting down a hill and over a bridge I saw a sign to a Woollen Mill with a small tea shop I shot inside with great alacrity and ordered tea and cakes which were consumed in a very leisurely fashion and closely followed by coffee and Welsh cakes. I went inside the Mill, which I discovered was called Solva Mill, but nothing much was happening. It was Saturday and there was one small loom (see photos below) which had been in use and had a particularly completed piece of work, an information board explaining they produced woollen carpeting for sale in the adjacent shop or to order, and a short  video showing the loom in action. The shop itself was popular but no one stayed long in the Mill and when the heavy drumming of the rain on the roof eased, I set off for St. David’s.

mill clock
For clocking on at the Mill

loom1 loom2

St. David’s boasts a famous Cathedral where Ian, a friend from my National Service days in the RAF, had in 1978 been appointed as a Succenter. His obituary in The Church Times said that his skill at the organ and inspiration of choirs showed throughout his ministry. It also referred to his native wit, which he had had plenty of opportunity to use mentioning the absurdity of life in the National Service during winter nights in the huts where servicemen huddled around a red hot Tortoise stove.

By the time I got to St. David’s the rain had stopped. It is a surprisingly small  town, very pretty and full of tourists. Approaching the town you could see St David’s Cathedral tower for miles but in the town it was hidden until you walked though a gateway into the Close and there it was below you – it seemed immense in its setting. I went inside, and its grandiose was not lessened, reminding me of St. Albans, but I did not stay long as I was conscious of my bike and panniers standing outside unsupervised so I intended to return the following day.

stdavids cathedral
St. David’s Cathedral

The YHA Hostel  was only a couple of miles away and was a former farmhouse and situated down a very bumpy track. It was staffed between 5pm and 10am but I was given a cheery welcome when I arrived 15 minutes early. It didn’t provide food but there were pots of instant porridge, and curry and rice bags that you could heat up in the kitchen. I was surprised to find several mothers with young children but one explained that if you walked a bit further up the hill behind the buildings across some rough ground and then down there was a lovely sandy beach.