Sunday, July 31, 2011

Back to Blighty

Thanks for your patience readers (and Mum!). We've been moving fast and travelling a lot of an evening due to the fact that it doesn't get dark here at the moment till about 10pm. We've been using blogging time to keep moving - sorry.

You last heard from us in the lovely Tollymore Forest. We used this as a bit of a base to explore as much as we could of  Northern Ireland. One of the nicest trips was up one side of County Down along the Mourne Mountains and then down the coast on the other. We went to see Castle Espie Wetlands Centre on Strangford Loch, which is one of the primo wetlands for birds in the UK. The Brits love their dogs and their birds. There's huge numbers of  'twitchers' here (I think it's an alliterative play on 'bird watchers'). They have some great programs for conservation both here and in Europe trying to save the wetland environments from evil developers, pollution, over hunting and other forms of destruction.

Here's a photo of Linda in the Coffee lounge. This is how we like to twitch...

The weather had closed in on us by this stage and sunlight became pretty uncommon. Temps down to 10 degrees. Rain. The Irish have as many words for different rain as Eskimos have for snow! We liked (on the news) the "occasional spatterings of rain". If only it ended up being so innocuous.

...anyway we got to have another ferry ride at Portaferry!

The drive down the coastal side of Down (where the Mountains of Mourne do indeed come down to the sea) was spectacular. Always hard to get this sort of thing on camera!

We drove around Strangford loch then down to Carlingford Loch. Loved Ardglass, and watched a family of seals playing in the bay and the fishing boats coming and going.

This next shot is of the Narrow Water Castle  guarding the Clanrye River, near the Republic of Ireland border.

Just near here is the coronation stone of the Magennis'.

Then we had another couple of great rides thru Tollymore

Looking down on Newcastle (N.I.) from Curraghard, The Black Mountain....

All too soon it was over and we were heading back to Belfast and the ferry to Stranraer. Northern Ireland is relatively peaceful outside of the marching season, but we were more than a little disappointed to see the loyalists still hanging their banners and their flags all over towns and marching up and down near catholic streets. They just don't seem able to see that it's wrong.

We woke to a sunny day in Stranraer and spent the morning at the lighthouse. Did a bit of traipsing around looking for St Bridget's Well, but no-one remembers where it is anymore and the countryside was a bit coarse and wet so we gave up and drove up to the Agnew Memorial Tower which is set on a Novantae Hillfort.

That's all for now, lots more to come.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

We're Back!

Not back in Oz of course. Just back on the ethernet. We've been lucky and found the best camping ground in the whole of the British Isles. Tollymore Forest Park. Remember that name. Where the Mountains of Mourne come down to the sea. At Newcastle of all places. County Down, Northern Ireland. The best showers. You don't have to put any more money in or keep pressing the fershlugginer button to keep it going. Hot and strong. The (Northern) Irish could teach the Poms and the Scots a thing or two about showers.

It's pretty weird, but no matter what time of the morning I go to have my shower, I have never seen another guy. There's endless numbers of the fairer sex travelling to and fro for their morning ablutions...

Anyway, this place is great. The old seat of the Magennis' it's now a national park, and has some of the most beautiful forest we've seen yet. The Irish patriot John Parnell used to come here for his meditations. Some fantastic views and rides thru the mountains.

The other extraordinary thing which makes the place so special is that it has full strength 3G signal. There's obviously a transceiver up on the mountain which basks us in it's warm radiance. Ahhh...

We've had a wonderful full day up on the mountain on our bikes with barely a spot of rain to be felt. There were even a couple of moments of actual sunshine. Praise be!

The last you heard of us, dear reader, was in the forest of Knapdale in Scotland. On a whim we decided to catch the ferry over to Ireland just to ensure that we did in fact go there! Time can get away on one.

The Princess was feeling a bit poorly also, and she does so love ferry rides! Cheered her up no end. We drove down to Stranraer in Galloway, bought a ticket and drove onto the ferry to Belfast. 'Nuff said. Too easy!

The Stena Line ferry was packed with Rangers' supporters on their way to the annual match against the Northern Irish team Lindfield. The staff were concerned for our welfare enough to upgrade us to 'Stena Plus' and the Executive bathroom was ours. Also a great view from the Upper upper lounge, with free endless coffee and cake and a breakfast Gran would be proud of. The weather sort of held off for most of the trip and the Rangers' rooters had the bar all to themselves to sing endless verses of songs in accent unintelligible.

We almost got out of Belfast without buying anything, but happened on another TK Max and were tractor beamed inside before we got the shields up... A couple of skirts and a corduroy pants later and we were sucked into a Maplin, where I managed to get hold of a laser that I've been looking for. $45 - bargain!

Our first camp was at Gosford Forest Park, near Markethill. Luckily the rioters in Portadown let us thru without torching the van like the other ones.  The ancient art of Molotov cocktail making hasn't been lost to the youth of Northern Ireland it seems. Nothing like a bit of a march to get them all fired up. 

The Proddys take their parades seriously, and the '12th and the 13th' happened to coincide with our visit. They love to deck out the old town too. Here's a picture of Markethill in all it's glory.

Near to Gosford Forest Park is Navan Fort (Emain Macha), which was the ancient capital of Ulster. There's an amazing new centre opened there which incorporates a museum and auditorium which is the best we've come across in Britain so far, altho' the British Museum has to have been one of the highlights if only due to the quantity and quality of the artifacts on display. We spent most of a rainy Sunday at the Navan Centre. No rides unfortunately as it was just too cold and wet.

Next day (Monday) we zoomed off down here to the Mourne Mountains as we saw a rainbow that seemed to end over this way. By the time we got here tho' the Leprechaun had made off with the loot. You've got to be real quick over here. There's plenty of rainbows however, so we haven't given up yet!

That's enough talking. I know you just want the eye candy. Here's one of my favourite shots of a place I've wanted to see for a long time. Ailsa Cragh. Did anyone watch the Curling at the winter olympics? The Scots come over here to Ailsa for the granite boulders to make their curling stones with.


Friday, July 15, 2011

The Dream Continues...

Did I just say that you have to be careful about Google Maps on your iPhone? Coming into Glasgow on the motorway, dear readers, I was accused by The Princess of taking a wrong turn. Pointing out that I had been going straight ahead for a very long time now and would have thought I would have remembered turning off, she pointed to the Google Maps in her hand and said something to the effect that I was very much mistaken, as we were 'floating across the map' 'not on any of the lines'. I tried to drive back onto her map, but the traffic in the right hand lane started to object, and we happened to be 70 feet off the ground. The only answer was to get off and find reality again, so I did. Here is a picture of the new reality.

Welcome to Glaschu...

Turns out Google Maps hasn't yet incorporated the new motorway into Glasgow that was opened over a year ago. This was to cause us some more navigation problems in the future as it's now the backbone of intra-Glesghu travels.

Anyway, to cut a lang storey wee, we were lucky to find our hostess still as welcoming as she had sounded when we announced our Scottish sojourn, and we settled oor weary bones in tha' Pollokshields tenement, och aye.

Here is a photo of Fatima and Anna Maria in the window of their deli/cafe/restaurant 'Saladin'. Fatima is a great cook and I can recommend the poached pears with ice cream with star anise syrup.  The coffee was also great. I can't believe how bad British coffee making skills are. This was one of only two good cups of coffee I've had here...

Thursday came, and so too the pleading eyes of The Princess. "There's Salsa on tonite in town, honey". Enuf said. Us is there.

We had a great night with some friendly local salseros at the beautiful Hacienda Room.

We had some great rides about town and out in the country 'round Carswell country. Here is a photo leaving Moine Farm, between Carswell Farm and West Carswell Farm. Carswell Law on the right.

Next we cycled out to Dumbarton along the Clyde. Great ride, beautiful weather. Dumbarton Castle was the capital of the Strathclyde Britons for a couple of thousand years, and then the Vikings, then the Scots, then the British again. Land of Hope and Glory!

and another, on the top of the 'Rock of Dumbarton' (Dumbarton Castle)

Here is the Castle from Dumbarton town bridge.

The ride back was a lot longer than we remembered!, but there were lots of things to see. The Glaswegians have put up a lot of fancy new buildings along the river bank to hide the blank places where their shipyards used to be before they moved to Shanghai and Taiwan 

Looks familiar, huh? 

Locals call it 'the armadillo'.

Sadly, we had to leave a very comfortable, friendly and hospitable Glasgow and head off into the highlands. You take the high road and i'll take the low road and we'll all get to Oban together. First stop was as far north as we're going on this trip. We stayed two nights in a lovely sheltered camp ground which used to be a garden, with a twelve foot stone wall all around it, at Barcaldine which we used as a base to go to the island of Lismore. Again we were blessed with some great weather. We caught the passenger ferry across from Port Appin with our bikes and set off around the island. It's only about ten or twelve miles end to end, but has a great history. It used to be the burial site for the kings of the western picts. When christianity came with the Dalriadans from Ireland, one of the Dal Araidhe saints, Moluag was given the island in preference to Columba and it became the centre of evangelism amongst the picts, tho' much of this became self attributed to Columba via his official biographer. This in the 6th Century! Nothing changes...


After a wonderful day riding around the island, we caught the ferry back to Appin and had a seafood dinner on the pub terrace with all the port activity going on around us, the gulls calling and the seals watching from the rocks...

We stayed a couple of days, then headed down to Kilmartin Glen and Knapdale. One of the oldest inhabited landscapes in Europe, certainly in Britain. Also, one of the most diverse landscapes with high mountain forest, farmland, wild glens, lochs and the largest peat bog in Western Europe. Human habitation remains from 6,000 years ago. You want atmosphere, this place has got it.

Here's a photo of R+1 taking his rightful place at the High King's swearing-in rock at Dunadd

and the Princess with the Nether Largie South Standing Stone
The next day we cycled along the Crinan Canal, opened in 1801 and has 15 locks that links Central Scotland with the Irish Sea.

Today we're headed South again, thru Argyll. Communication remains a problem. We get phone service sometimes, 3G almost never. We rely on sometimes coming on people who loan us their static wireless service. Sometimes you can't even get a phone service in a reasonably large town. I've got 'Orange' and Linda has '3' but it may be 'O2' or another company which has Pwned the town, but mostly it just that no company thinks it's worhwhile to provide the service. It's a shemozzle here.

Anyway, gotta go. "Things to see, people to do" - hopefully we'll be able to do more frequent blogs now as we head south again.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Now Where Were We?

It's been five days since our last post and we're sitting in our comfy little campervan high up on Herding Hill Farm in Haltwhistle, Northumberland. We're just a couple of miles from Hadrians Wall. Despite forecast rain, we bravely headed off on a 'gruelling' (the Princess' words) 30km ride yesterday up 'hill and down dale, more up than down' (her words again...) thru the moor to Housestead Roman Fort.

Very picturesque, made even more so by the RAF Tornados flying VERY low level up and down the valley. The Brits are getting their sheep battle ready for special missions in Afghanistan... The Roman army used to send their soldiers here too for training against the Picts. It's that sort of a place.

Here is a view of the road out to the wall...

and the wall itself...

The day before, we had been in the old Roman-walled city of Chester. Chester is the only city in Britain still to have it's wall intact and surrounding the old city. It's citizens have at many times found it very useful over the last two thousand years!

The weather at this point had become fabulous and we were down to shorts and t-shirts for the first time on the trip. Chester is very traffic conscious and there's few cars allowed in the old city. There are cycle lanes everywhere, as well as along the river and the old canal tow-path, and they've converted the old rail line into a cycle way as well. It was fabulous, and everything that you could want as a cyclist (except the cobblestones if you don't have a 2.5 inch mountainbike tyre like moi...).

You're even allowed to ride your bicycle around on top of the Wall!! We didn't see anyone else doing it, but it was the mostest fun!


We also had our second good coffee in England here. 'Cafe Fuerza' in the Plaza, across from the library...

The day before, we went up the Wirral peninsular to Birkenhead to catch the ferry 'cross the Mersey...

We also did a bollywood karaoke video clip on the ferry. To be uploaded for your viewing pleasure if the editing works...
Before that we were in Lladudno, at the Great Orme, which was a very amazing Welsh holiday town. It also has the world's oldest copper mine (5,000 years old) which I have wanted to see for some time now. I was amazed at what English Heritage have managed to accomplish over the last few years to make the mines accessible and to inform. It will be one of the highlights of the trip. But then, I'm a nerd...

The weather had just become fabulous at this point, and we had a great camp on (another) hill farm, 'Tan y Bryn' and in the evening you could see the Isle of Man in the distance. The owners were excited as they'd lived there all their life and only seen it once before.

Before Llandudno, we had been at Shrewsbury and Much Wenlock, and the old Roman town of Viraconium at what is now Wroxeter. Can't catch you up on this as we have to get out of the car park now and be off to Vindolanda (google it you boofheads) before heading up to Glasgow. Stay real.  R+1 and The Princess.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Exmoor and Abingdon

Finally we have a campsite which has 3G! We don't realise how good our communications are in Australia. One of the most common sights here is people walking down the road waving their mobiles about in some sort of Druidic rite to catch their lost connection!

From New Forest we hit the road Westward. Linda's maternal line comes from Somerset, and more specifically a little town called South Petherton. A beautiful little town that's built almost entirely out of the same stone - 'Hamstone' which is mined just outside the town.

We managed to get hold of a little history booklet on the town from the pub and went on one of the walks. Here is a photo of South Petherton Central...

We met Wally Monkton's mate at the Brewer's Arms and learned how good draught cider can be. Also how bad the Scrumpy always is. They had an amazing tv screen nearly as big as the back wall and I watched Mark Webber get beat.

From here we continued on our cider way to Exmoor, via our favourite B road. The English don't seem to like  travelling on their smaller roads much, or maybe it's because EVERYONE uses their GPS. The A roads are bumper to bumper traffic queues, even the motorways. We seem to make much better times on the B roads, and get to actually see the countryside rather than the screening shrubs.

Exmoor is pretty amazing because even tho it's on the Irish Sea, and only a couple of miles from the Bristol Channel, it is really high up and it's main river the Exe actually drains into the English Channel at Exmouth. 
We had a pretty scary drive in to the camp ground. The gradient was 25% ...  Luckily we'd taken the shortcut and survived to actually use the proper road at a later date. We love Google Maps on iPhone, but you gotta be careful!

The campsite was gorgeous however and was right by the fast flowing mill stream with a bunch of weird Indian Runner ducks to point the way for Vasco Pyjama's boat. We will always regret not getting the photos of this.

Biggest discovery was the town of Dunster (we call it Dumpster) near Minehead. The Baron cleared out some years ago and left the whole town to the national trust. One of the oldest towns in the country. It had this amazing Yarn Market built in the middle of the street which dated back to the middle ages.

The town was built around an amazing castle on the hill.

and there were lots of pretty walks...
We did lots of other stuff too, but we have to move on, because it was important that we get to Glastonbury to pick up our son Oliver. We can prove we were there!

We had a great couple of days around Abingdon, near Oxford. We went to the The Carswell...

The Carswell was the original well spring for the town of Abingdon, which claims to be the oldest town in England.

Linda wants White Horsey pictures, so here we go. Abingdon is at the head of the Vale of the White Horse.

Oliver is now in Malaga having a well earned break on the beach sipping? Mojitos and we've come on up to Wales via Shrewsbury and Much Wenlock. More on that later, as we've got an early start in the morning and some photo editing yet to do.  Hope everyone's keeping well. We're having a great time. Touch base again soon.