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Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Great Gardens of Cornwall

Day 1

I'm off on my travels again today, staying in Falmouth for 5 days. I know Cornwall quite well and very little of this weeks itinerary will be new to me so I am looking forward to an easy time. 

A lot of the people travelling with us on this tour, I have met before. It's always nice to see some familiar faces. We didn't leave our depot today until 10am so we are going to have to press on today so that we arrive at our hotel at a reasonable time. We had a short comfort stop at motorway services before arriving at Endsleigh Garden Centre for a late lunch. Garden Centres are always a good choice when there is little time to spare, there is always good food and at a much more reasonable price than at motorway services.

I was born and grew up in this area and my family are still local here so my parents met me here for lunch and an old school friend who I haven't seen for nearly 20 years! (Oh my god, am I really that old!) 

From here we travelled directly to our hotel, arriving at 5 o'clock. For the next 4 nights we will be staying at the Falmouth Hotel.

The Falmouth Hotel is located in the historic harbour town of Falmouth and overlooks Falmouth Bay.  It boasts beautiful period architecture and spacious interiors and claims to offer the perfect base for a holiday in Cornwall.

The 5 acres of landscaped gardens are perfect for taking time out to relax and families can enjoy the close proximity to Castle Beach. I quote, "We offer a warm welcome with excellent service, comfortable accommodation, a range of facilities and award-winning food." I don't think we received a warm welcome. Nobody came onto the coach to welcome us and give the usual spiel of thank you for coming to stay with us. The courier collected the keys from reception and we handed them out on the coach. Even as our passengers walked past the reception to their rooms there was no one there saying hello, in fact, they were ignored. None of the passengers mentioned this to me but having stayed in some very nice hotels, I notice these little things which all add to an enjoyable stay.

Our evening meal was very nice but the service was a bit of a shambles. No one seemed to know what they should be doing, crockery was being dropped, but they managed to blunder their way through service in a reasonable time. There seems to have been a lack of staff training and a lack of direction from the management. Maybe I'm just getting too fussy. No one else has mentioned it and have all enjoyed their food. So long as they are happy, that is all that matters.

Day 2

I only have one criticism of breakfast this morning and that is that it was plated rather than buffet. I do like a buffet breakfast!

Ok, let's get this show on the road! Today we are heading for Trebah Gardens. This beautiful Cornish valley garden has over four miles of footpath. You can explore under canopies bursting with exotic blooms and follow vibrant tunnels of colour that cascade down to their very own secluded beach on the Helford River.

Trebah offers visitors a year round experience. In spring, Trebah comes alive with a colourful array of 100-year-old rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias; in summer, the giant gunnera is a must see for young and old. In autumn, Hydrangea Valley casts clouds of china blue and soft white across Mallard Pond and in winter, the spectacular champion trees dominate the landscape, whist plants from the southern hemisphere flower.

The group were split into two for a guided tour of the garden with two very passionate, informative guides who work here at the garden. I have done the guided tour here before so I opted to go to the beach and have an ice cream.

We stayed for long enough to make use of the cafe for lunch before we headed back to Falmouth where the group were booked on a 2 1/2hr circular boat trip. I would have liked to do this but I couldn't park the coach and get back on time so I missed out. The route took in views of Falmouth Harbour (the third natural deepest waters in the world), Falmouth Docks, Pendennis & St Mawes Castles, St Anthony's Lighthouse, (from the childrens programme Fraggle Rock), Black Rock, Beaches from the sea, Castle, Gyllyngvase, Swanpool & Maenporth; Rosemullion point, The Manacles, Durgan, Trebah beach (embarkation point for American troops on D Day, Manderley House (famed by the author Daphne Du Maurier, the film and book "Rebecca"), Helford Passage, Helford Village, Port Navas, (Duchy Oyster Farm) and finally a view of Daphne Du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek and many more places of interest. Plus the Wildlife: Dolphins, Basking Sharks, Seals but no one spotted any wildlife today.

Everyone enjoyed the trip and they now had a couple of hours to relax before dinner. Dinner service was a lot better this evening but that may have had something to do with them having to cater for a school prom after we had eaten and so they had to be switched on to get it done. Dinner was a lot more pleasurable this evening.

Day 3

The garden we are visiting today is Trelissick, a tranquil, varied garden in a fabulous position, with a superb collection of tender and exotic plants. On its own peninsula with ever-changing views of the estuary of the River Fal, Trelissick has one of the most amazing natural settings in the country.

There are more than 12 hectares (30 acres) of elevated garden to explore, with twisting paths that lead you through significant collections of hydrangeas, rhododendrons, camellias, ginger lilies and year-round exciting woodland plants.

As well as the garden, the 121-hectare (300-acre) estate, with its countryside, woodlands and coast, makes for breathtaking walks.

As well as the garden and countryside Trelissick has its own renowned art gallery with a wide range of work from local Cornish artists. Crofters café offers a range of light refreshments, hot luncheons and afternoon cream teas using seasonal and local produce. Trelissick also has a gift shop, second-hand bookshop and six of the best National Trust holiday cottages located around the Trelissick estate.

After spending 4hrs here we returned to Falmouth for a free afternoon where I enjoyed a glass of wine in the sun in the hotel garden.

Once again, the food was lovely at dinner this evening but the service was back to chaos. It was time to have a word but all the staff have disappeared!

Day 4

At breakfast this morning there was a familiar face. Jo, a waitress who I remember from my last stay here who was the one to resolve all our little niggles. We had a good chat, she took notes and I am confident tonight's dinner will go swimmingly!

Today we are going to Truro for some free time. I don't think there is a Cornish tour we do where we don't visit Truro so in my opinion, for this to be in the itinerary of a gardens tour is very boring and unimaginitive. I only gave them 1 1/2 hrs here, enough time to visit the cathedral and have a coffee before we move on to do what we have come here to do, and that is to visit another garden, The Lost Gardens of Heligan.

The award winning Lost Gardens of Heligan, asleep for more than seventy years, are the scene of the largest garden restoration project in Europe. In the spring of 1991, the Gardens of Heligan lay under a blanket of bramble, ivy, rampant laurel and fallen timber. A year later, the restoration team opened the gardens to enable the public to share in the excitement of their discovery. In the northern gardens are two and a half miles of footpaths, an Elizabethan mount, rockeries, summer houses, a crystal grotto, an Italian garden, a fine set of bee-boles, a wishing well and a superb collection of walled gardens. Remarkably much of the original plant collection has survived, sometimes to record sizes.

To the south lies 'Lost Valley' and 'The Jungle', a sub-tropical valley overlooking the picturesque fishing harbour of Mevagissey, and overflowing with palms, tree ferns, bamboos, gunnera and numerous exotic trees and shrubs. If The Secret Garden and Peter Rabbit captured your childhood imagination, then Heligan will not disappoint you. The story boards make the visit interesting even to the non-gardener!

The majority of my passengers have said that from the gardens they have visited this week, Heligan has been their favourite.

We returned to the hotel and as I expected, dinner ran like clockwork under the watchful eye of Jo. It's only taken them 4 days to get it right but they got there in the end! All the private guests I've spoken to have said how wonderful the hotel is so it seems that they haven't been too concerned about us because we are 'just the coach'! Which is the same attitude they had towards us the last time I stayed here.

Day 5

There is nothing planned for us today according to our itinerary other than to get home so today is down to me and I have a very nice day planned. I have delayed our arrival home this afternoon by one hour so that hopefully, the passengers will find today to be more comfortable and enjoyable than our day of doing nothing on departure day.

We left the hotel at 9:30 and travelled up to Bolventor on Bodmin Moor where we had an extended comfort stop for 45mins at Jamaica Inn, Cornwall's most famous Smugglers Inn.

Immortalised in Daphne du Maurier's eponymous tale of smugglers, rogues and pirates, this historic coaching house has welcomed travellers crossing Bodmin Moor for nearly 300 years. Full of legend, mystery, romance and even, according to folklore, the odd friendly spirit, Jamaica Inn is set in one of the most evocative moorland locations in Britain.

Coming in at number two of the Most Haunted Pubs in Britain in the Metro, the article refers to the numerous reports of ghostly goings on at the Inn which include previous managers of the Inn hearing conversations uttered in a foreign tongue, suggested to be Olde Worlde Cornish, and the sound of horses’ hooves and the metal rims of wheels on the rough cobbles, even when the courtyard is empty.  Who can be behind the uneasy footsteps heard pacing the corridors in the dead of night? Who is the strange man in a tricorne hat and cloak who appears and then walks through solid doors? To mention just a couple of the mysteries surrounding Jamaica Inn.

From here we travelled for another hour before stopping for lunch at Exeter Quay, where I had arranged to meet my parents again.

Exeter's Historic Quayside is one of the most attractive areas of the city, popular with locals and visitors alike for its fascinating history, interesting architecture and lively pubs and restaurants.

The Quayside has been enhanced to provide a fascinating mix of historic and contemporary design. It is the ideal place to browse in antique shops, walk and cycle, take a relaxing boat trip or find something good to eat. Our visit here went down very well with the group. 

From here we headed home with a quick comfort stop at motorway services, rolling in on time with a lot of happy people. Although I have done very little driving this week, I have had a lot more to do and think about outside of my role as a driver, than I expected. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed the week and I am satisfied with another good job done.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Ireland with the Farmers!

Day 1

I've only been at home for three days after coming back from Holland and I'm on my way out again. I am going to Ireland for 8 days with a group of mostly retired farmers who I took to Lille last year, and had a great deal of fun with. We have an interesting itinerary to say the least!

The group all met at a farm just outside of Stratford which was where I picked them up. I was there for 7:30am with the intention of being on the road for 8:00. I wasn't at all surprised that we didn't actually get moving until 8:15. I remember from last year that we nearly missed our ferry because they are all so laid back and in no hurry. Once we get on our ferry today, they can be as late as they like!

We are booked on the 2:30pm sailing from Fishguard to Rosslare. Coaches should be checked in at least an hour and a half before sailing. The last part of the journey to Fishguard is all single carriageway roads and the tractors were out in force today, trying to get the hay in after a window of good weather. This slowed us down a little but we were only 5 mins late to check in, not bad going really!

We were loaded onto the ferry and I was given a meal voucher and a cabin. I'd finished my lunch, pork in peppercorn sauce, before we set sail. I went on deck and admired the view as we sailed around the headland and out towards the Irish Sea before going down to my cabin for a couple of hours kip. 

The sea was like a millpond for the whole crossing and I'd got a good rest.

I went for a coffee and went back on deck to watch us coming into port. I was starting to get excited, I'm really looking forward to this tour.

We docked in Rosslare at 6:00pm and were on the road again by 6:20 for the 1hr journey across to Waterford, where we are spending the night at Treacy's Hotel. We checked in and learnt that 6 coaches were already here and so we were expecting the service at dinner to be very slow. However, serving dinner was like a military operation and we were seated and served very quickly and efficiently. We had a nice meal which I didn't really need after having a hot meal on the ferry, so I skipped starter but not pudding!

In the bar this evening there is live Irish music. I will be enjoying it one night this week, but not tonight. I, like many others of our group, went to bed almost straight after dinner. I don't know why I'm feeling so tired. It must be all the excitement!

Day 2

I was up for an early breakfast this morning because I would be loading cases while the rest of the group were eating. I had time for a short walk down the river before fetching the coach.

Logo Waterford Museum of TreasuresWaterford City was founded by Viking traders in 914 and it has an exciting medieval flavour and riverside bustle. 
Waterford Museum of Treasures tells the 1000-year-story of Waterford from the treasures of Viking Waterford at Reginald's Tower, the oldest civic urban building in Ireland, to the story of Georgian Waterford at the Bishop's Palace from 1700 to 1970.

Waterford Crystal Visitor CentreWaterford City is the home of Waterford Crystal, a lifestyle product of exquisite craftsmanship. A visit to the House of Crystal Visitor Centre includes an opportunity to choose from the world's largest selection of Waterford Crystal. The factory tour offers first hand access to all areas of traditional crystal production.

The city has a strong maritime tradition and an estimated 500,000 people enjoyed the colourful spectacle of the 2011 Tall Ships Race and festival of music and culture in the city and along the river Suir Estuary to Dunmore East. I was in Waterford for the Tall Ships Festival on tour and it was brilliant!

Unfortunately we have no time in Waterford. Today is our day of farm visits. Our first destination today is which is not far from Clonmel.

We were met by one of the farmers who gave the group a guided tour. I missed that to change a lightbulb which had gone. I don't know why they design these coaches to be so fiddley to change a bulb! Once I'd done that I went to say hello to Jeannie the donkey.

She kept trying to bite me! Obviously unimpressed that I had no titbits for her but with all the visitors they get here, I doubt she goes short!

The group thoroughly enjoyed their tour. The Traas family moved from The Netherlands to Ireland in the late 1960's to grow fruit. The Traas family had been growing fruit in Holland since the 1800's, but because it was difficult to find new land there for fruit-growing, Willem and Ali decided to make a move to Ireland. They looked at a number of farms, and decided on the one where The Apple Farm is now situated, between Cahir and Clonmel on the main Limerick-Waterford road. There was an old orchard on the farm, and they judged by the good crop they saw on these trees, that apples could be grown in this area. For the first few years, as well as establishing new apple and plum orchards, the family grew tulips, dried peas, grain crops and strawberries.

Because there was no structure to enable them to sell their fruit locally, they opened a shop at the farm in the early 1970's. It is the same barn that they use to this day to sell most of what they produce from 40 acres of fruit.

These days the produce on sale is quite diverse. 60 varieties of apples are grown on the farm, and about 15 types are available in the farm shop depending on when they ripen. Four varieties of strawberries, three of raspberry, four of cherry, three types of plums, and two pears compliment the range in the farm shop, again depending on when they ripen. Some of the strawberries are available as pick-your-own in the middle of summer.

In addition, a range of juices have been made on the farm since 1995. There is apple juice, mixtures including strawberry, raspberry, and blackcurrant juices, and some sparkling juices also. These are all made using fruits grown right there. 
Fruits from the farm are also used to make jams, jelly and cider vinegar.

We stayed here for a picnic lunch which we'd all bought before we left Waterford this morning, before we moved on to our next visit of the day, a dairy farm just outside of Cobh.

The reason for visiting this farm was because of its state of the art robotic milking technology! Robotic Milking is a voluntary system that allows the cow to set her own milking schedule by simply entering the machine, when she feels she needs milking. It follows an initial training period. Cows are milked with limited human interaction. Each cow on a dairy milking machine is fitted with an electronic tag. That allows the robot to identify the cow. When a cow enters the machine the robot reads the ID tag and ensures it is customized to each individual. Next, the robot cleans the teets and attaches the milk cups and begins the milking process. When this process is finished the cups are disconnected as each quarter finishes milking and the cow exits the robot. Milking occurs throughout the day and night. It's amazing the things I learn while doing my job, I never knew milking a cow could be so interesting!

After being here for an hour and a half we took the short journey to our hotel, The Commodore Hotel, situated on the harbour front in Cobh. There are two large cruise liners in Cobh Harbour for the day today which had brought a lot of people into town to have a look at them. Cars were abandoned on both sides of the road for the last mile into town and I was having a job fighting through the traffic. In the end it had to come down to "I'm bigger than you, get out of my way" or we would never have got through!

We finally arrived at the hotel where a space had been blocked off for me except a car had snuck in the end leaving it too short. The hotel rang the Garda who came out and 'bounced' the car out of my way! If only it could be that easy everywhere we took a coach! 

There was chaos at check in again today because this group seem to be incapable of staying on the coach when they're asked, so it became a free for all, grabbing for keys and no opportunity to tell them all the last bits of information they needed. Oh well, they're happy!

I was given 2 room keys and told to go and look at both rooms and decide which one I would like. The first room had a lovely view overlooking the harbour but that was the only thing going for it. It was pokey with a child sized single bed and the smallest shower cubicle I have ever seen. The receptionist had said this was the better of the 2 rooms so I was a little concerned of what I may find in the next one. This room was on the top floor and overlooked the dirty back yard of the hotel where you could watch the rats playing but the room itself, although looking a little tired, was clean and spacious. It was the double bed that sold this room to me!

I had a quick freshen up and change before going to the bar for a glass of wine and taking it to the roof terrace to watch the ships leave the harbour.

Above is the Queen Victoria which has a capacity of 2,500. Below is the Ruby Princess with a capacity of 4,500.

It was quite a sight to see these huge ships sailing quite close to the shore of this pretty little town. The Captain of the Queen Victoria obviously liked his air horn because he used it to excess! It took about an hour for the two ships to sail past the town and turn onto their course for the open sea. It was now 6pm which meant I had time for a quick kip before dinner at 7:30.

We ate as a group in the hotel this evening. The food was nice and there was plenty of it although the service was quite slow. I'm not sure that this hotel is used to feeding so many people at the same time. The group are relatively happy with the hotel. They don't mind that it is a little run down and they are all such sociable people that they don't notice how slow the service is because they are all so busy chatting! I know we wouldn't get away with using this hotel on one of our brochure holidays!

After dinner I went for a short walk along the front where I bumped into a couple of our group who dragged me kicking and screaming into Kelly's Bar for a drink! About 15 of our group were already there and it wasn't long before they were having a sing song! I stayed for one drink before going back to the hotel and straight to bed.

Day 3

I woke up this morning to blue sky and beautiful sunshine. The bay was looking even nicer this morning than it was yesterday.

I was one of the first at breakfast at about 8:15 where I found the waiting staff in a panic because they knew they were about to be descended on by 44 people all at once. I wasn't too impressed with breakfast. There wasn't a lot of choice of anything but what they did have was nice.

The group have the option today of either staying in Cobh or coming with me on the coach to Cork. Either place would be nice to spend the day.

Cobh (formerly Queenstown) is a pretty seaside town in County Cork. Cobh was the departure point for 2.5 million of the six million Irish people who emigrated to North America between 1848 and 1950. These included Annie Moore and her two brothers – the first immigrants to be processed on Ellis Island in New York. On 11 April 1912 Queenstown was the final port of call for the RMS Titanic as she set out across the Atlantic on her ill-fated maiden voyage. The RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-Boat off the Old Head of Kinsale on May 7, 1915. The survivors were brought to the town of Cobh, and over one hundred victims lie buried in the Old Church Cemetery about a mile north of the town. Famous boxer, entertainer, wrestler and playboy Jack Doyle is also buried in this cemetery.

Cobh is a pretty town built on a steep hill on Great Island in Cork Harbour. It is just 20 minutes from Cork city and there are hourly rail connections to and from the city. The town’s architecture and streetscape is distinctly Victorian. St. Colman’s Cathedral dominates the town. It’s 49-bell Carillon is the only such instrument in Ireland and is the largest in Ireland and Britain.

Attractions for tourists include shore and lake fishing, sailing and water sports, bird watching and countless sites of historical interest and importance. Harbour Boat trips and sea angling excursions are also available. Fota House, Gardens and Wildlife Park are located on the road to Cobh. The Titanic Trail walking tour departs daily throughout the year. The Queenstown Story Heritage centre is located in the Victorian Railway station near the town centre and next to the Cobh Cruise Liner Terminal. 

We left for Cork at 10am. Only 19 of the group decided that they would come with me to Cork but many had already made me aware of their intention to return to Cobh by train along the very scenic railway.

Cork City is Ireland's third city (after Dublin and Belfast) and has00_00026.jpg (25663 bytes) always been an important seaport. It began on an island in the swampy estuary of the River Lee (the name Corcaigh means a marsh), and gradually climbed up the steep banks on either side.

Today the river flows through Cork city in two main channels, so that you find yourself constantly crossing bridges and hence Cork City's coat of arms bears the motto 'A Safe Harbour for Ships'.

Some of the main streets are built over channels where ships nuzzled their anchor-chains a century ago. Along the South Mall, you will see large gateways at street level, under steps leading to a higher main door. These were once boathouses, when merchants arrived at their warehouses by water.

As the hilly streets go up and down, so do the voices of the citizens. They have a characteristic sing-song cadence, beloved of national comedians, and Corkonians are regarded as the most talkative of all the Irish.

St. Finbarr is the founder and patron saint. He founded a monastery in the seventh century where St. Finn Barre's Cathedral now stands, and it grew into an extensive and wealthy establishment.

It attracted the attention of the Viking sea-pirates who raided and burned the infant city, but returned in later years to settle and trade. The Anglo-Norman invasion in 1172 resulted in both the Danish lords and local McCarthy chiefs having to submit to Henry II, but Cork has always had a reputation for independence and stubborn resistance: it came to be known as "Rebel Cork".

The best way to see the city of Cork and sample the flavour of its life, is to walk. There is a signpost Walking Tour, so get the accompanying booklet and set off to explore the hilly streets and meet the people.

I left Cork at 3pm with only 8 people. Everyone else had caught the train. There was still time to explore a bit more of Cobh when we returned. I just enjoyed the peace and quiet on the roof terrace in the sun.

This evening we are all booked in for dinner at Gilbert's Restaurant in the middle of the town. Gilbert's is owned by the same family that we visited at the dairy farm yesterday. We had a very, very nice meal with lots of wine flowing and I ate far too much. We left the restaurant at 11pm. I went straight back to the hotel and to bed but I know that many wouldn't have made it past Kelly's Bar without calling in for a drink!

Day 4

We were loading cases again this morning and moving on to our next port of call which, for me, is our most exciting stay of the week. We left at 10:30am after buying picnics for lunch and travelled further west, picking up the 'West Coast Scenic Route' to Kinsale, where we had a quick coffee stop for 45 mins.

Originally a medieval fishing port, historic Kinsale is one of the most picturesque, popular and historic towns on the south west coast of Ireland. It has been hailed as the Gourmet Capital of Ireland, with no shortage of cafes, pubs and restaurants to suit every taste and budget. 
Only 18 miles from Cork, Kinsale marks the beginning of scenic West Cork and is ideally placed as a yachting and deep-sea angling centre and in recent years a world class golf destination.

This was a very pretty little town but I was just itching to reach today's final destination and so I didn't really appreciate this little place. 

From here we carried on along the scenic route to Timoleague. The scenery was outstanding and was made even more beautiful by the fact that it wasn't raining!

Timoleague is a picturesque village which is situated just 30 miles from Cork City on the Kinsale to Clonakilty coast road (the R600). Perched at the edge of a long sea inlet this friendly tourist village is dominated by the ruins of a 13th century Friary. The Friary was founded by the Franciscan order in 1240 A.D., on the site of a 6th century monastic settlement founded by  Saint Molaga. The name Timoleague comes from the Irish for House of Molaga (Tigh Molaga).

In August each year the village hosts the Timoleague Festival. This ten day harvest festival sees the streets thronged with locals and tourists alike trying to catch a glimpse of the many street activities which are organised for the event. Live street music, pig racing and the fancy dress competitions are among the most popular of these activities. A large marquee is also erected on the village green during the festival with many big name acts performing during the ten day period.

We stopped for our picnic in Timoleague, next to the ruin of a Franciscan Friary on the river estuary.

After an hour we started on the road again. We finished driving the scenic route through Clonakilty. We followed the road through to Skibbereen where we turned off the main road for Baltimore. I drove onto the harbour pier where all the luggage was unloaded and everyone got on the little foot ferry for Sherkin Island. I went to find a quiet corner of the harbour to park the coach, then walked back to wait for the next ferry which wasn't for another 1 1/2hrs. I was now officially and legally on rest until Friday morning so while I was waiting, I went for a cheeky glass of wine in the pub! Baltimore is a very small place with 2 pubs and a little supermarket.

I got on to the ferry across to Sherkin Island at 4:45pm and had to walk from there to our hotel, The Islanders Rest. I met the owner, Mark, and was told I was staying in a house down the road with 3 other couples from our group and if I could wait for 15 mins he would give me a lift. A lot of our group had settled into their rooms and were now in the bar, where I was bought another drink!

Mark drove me up to the house where the others were already settled. It was a single carriageway road across the island with grass growing in the middle and Mark told me this was the main highway on the island! We arrived at the house which was a newly built, 5 bedroom detached house with the most glorious views looking out to Cape Clear Island. There was no sign of the others, they must have gone for a walk, so I took the opportunity to have a good look around the house and make sure I'd not been left with the duff room! All the rooms were lovely and mine had an en suite so I was happy.

I'd had a freshen up and got changed before the others got back and it wasn't long before Mark came to collect us again to take us back to the hotel for dinner. There were 7 of us in total at the house who all needed a lift back to the hotel so Mark turned up in his van and opened the back where he had put two chairs which he'd taken from the bar! So we had 2 ladies in the front, myself and Angela on the chairs and the three men had to perch where they could! It was quite a terrifying ride! The chairs were sliding all over the place and I had white knuckles by the time we got to the hotel!

Dinner was a shambles but the food was very nice and there was plenty of it. Mark had arranged for live music in the bar for us which was a great deal of fun. We were the last to leave at 1am because we had to wait for Mark to drop the musicians at the ferry before he could take us back. I really enjoyed the evening and I am soooo excited about tomorrow's activities. I just can't wait! I think I must have the best job in the world!

Day 5

I woke up really early this morning after a good nights sleep. That's unlike me, especially on my day off. We were picked up for breakfast, another white knuckle ride, and found the service of breakfast to be equally as chaotic as at dinner the previous night! Nevertheless, we were in no hurry. After breakfast, there was the option of sightseeing boat trips or, for the men, going fishing. I opted to go fishing! 

There were about 7 or 8 of us who went out, taken by Mark on his little 3 tonne boat. I drove the boat out towards open sea before heading east to Kedge Island which has been inhabited by a colony of Gannets.

We were rocking and rolling a bit with some big waves coming in but once we started fishing we didn't notice. The first hooks had only been in the water for a few minutes before we caught 3 fish on one line, all Pollock.

And that was how it went on for the hour we were there. We'd filled our tub with fish so started throwing them back unless there was a possibility of it being biggest catch of the day. We only had enough equipment for 3 people to fish at a time, that soon became 2 when someone got a hook caught on the sea bed and lost the tackle. When we weren't fishing we were watching the Gannets diving and feeding the sea gulls.

The first fish I caught was a poisonous Gurney fish which was quite quickly thrown back. Then I caught a tiddler which was thrown back. Then I had a really quiet time on my line for a while until I finally got a bite. He was fighting me and I told the boys I'd got a shark! I pulled him in and sure enough, he was looking like a champ! Still only Pollock but this one was going to be the winner so he was marked and put in the tub.

We moved around to the opposite side of the island where it was a lot more sheltered, hoping to find Mackeral. We were still catching just as well but still only Pollock. There were a lot more Gannets diving and we saw a dolphin. We tried to track it and chopped some fish ready to feed it and although we had all had a good sighting of him, he didn't want to play and avoided the boat and disappeared. Another of the islanders had seen a Minky Whale on this side of the island too. Unfortunately I didn't manage any photos.

After we'd given up on the dolphin, Mark took us back towards the hotel marina, completing a whole lap of the island. We were just approaching the marina when we spotted another boat just on its way out of the bay on a sightseeing trip with some of our group, so we raced them, got in front, turned sharply away splashing them and leaving them riding our waves! We all thought it was great fun, however no one on the other boat agreed! So for the second time we headed back to the marina, doing a few 'donuts' before we landed! Boys and their toys!

We took our catch up to the hotel where a lot of our group were gathered in the bar. They were impressed with what we'd caught. The fish were taken through to the chef where they were weighed to find out who had won. The winner was to be announced at dinner tonight in front of the whole group. The chef gave us a lesson in filleting fish before he fried it up for us.

Can't get any fresher than that! I stayed for a drink in the bar. One couple travelling with us are celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary today so there was a surprise gathering for them accompanied by a few bottles of bubbly.

I was on a real high after this mornings shenanigans and I was keen to go and explore the island some more. Sherkin Island (from the Irish Inis Earcáin) lies southwest of County Cork alongside other islands of Roaringwater Bay. It has an average population of 100 people and measures 3 miles long by 1.5 miles wide (5 km by 3 km). The island has a primary school, two pubs with a hotel, B&B, community centre and a church.

Sherkin has its own special character. A West Cork anecdote has it that Sherkin's residents live off their art: island craft, paintings and book writing all inspired by Sherkins tranquil lifestyle. The busiest season starts with school summer holidays when people with young families visit the island. The busiest day of the year is a celebration of Sherkin Regatta, usually held on the 3rd weekend in July, but which is postponed to August if weather does not allow. On this day the island is crowded with sea rowers and their fans. Children's activities, music and food stalls are all part of this Sherkin fair.

Sherkin was once a busy island and had a population of around 1,000, which started diminishing during the Great Irish Famine in the mid-19th Century. Now the population is reduced and varies greatly between the summer and the winter months, with increases in summer as people return to holiday houses and tourists arrive. People from all over the globe discovered this secluded spot and consequently settled down here, these include: Americans, Australians, Canadians, Danish, French, Germans, British and Russians.

I had a nice afternoon walking around the island enjoying the tranquility and keeping an eye out for that dolphin, or even better, the Minky Whale but I had no luck with that. I arrived back at the house feeling quite exhausted so I had a shower and a quick kip before having to get ready for another nail biting ride to the hotel for dinner. I can't understand why it's the same two ladies getting the front seats all the time? I think they should also have to experience Sherkins luxury travel on the dodgy seats in the boot!

We had drinks before moving through to the restaurant for dinner. Once we were all seated, Edward and Tom got everyone's attention to announce the winner and present the prize for the fishing contest.

"This morning, a few of us men went out to sea doing men's things and had a good couple of hours catching fish and wildlife watching. We came back and enjoyed our catch, very kindly prepared and cooked by chef, for lunch. A good time was had by all. The fish were weighed and the results are in and us men, doing men things have been........ Beaten my Nina!" Yeeeees! Girl Power!!! My prize was a fridge magnet saying 'I ❤️ Sherkin'! Catch of the Day was mine!

We had another nice meal this evening and everything ran a lot smoother. There was live music again tonight but I went back to the house almost straight after dinner. I have had the most amazing day today but tomorrow is back to reality and back to work. Early night for me.

Day 6

There was a change in the weather last night. The wind was blowing a hooley and it was pouring with rain. It was certainly looking like we had the best day yesterday.

We were picked up, with our luggage, and taken to the hotel for breakfast. We had buffet breakfast this morning rather than plated and everything was much quicker. It seems that now we are leaving the hotel has got to grips with large groups!

After breakfast the van was loaded with luggage. We were split onto two ferries this morning. I went over on the first with 12 others. We loaded all the luggage onto the boat after travelling on top of it all in the back of the van down to the pier. The luggage stayed on the boat while the second group were collected, by which time I had checked the coach and moved it onto the pier in Baltimore. It was quite a rough crossing and some were looking quite queasy when they got onto the mainland. We loaded the luggage, still pouring rain and hit the road.

The intention today was to drive to Glengariff to catch the boat over to Garinish Island to visit the gardens. It was decided that because the weather was so foul and because the boats are open top, people wouldn't appreciate visiting the gardens today and so that idea was scrapped. From here on, we were winging it!

We still stopped in the town of Glengariff, people were ready for a coffee by the time we arrived. From here, it was suggested to drive over the Healy Pass to Kenmare where we would stop for lunch. When people came back to the coach absolutely soaking wet, many of them expressed their wishes to go directly to our hotel in Killarney. So that is what we did.

We had been driving what is known as the Wild Atlantic Way from Skibbereen up to Glengariff and on to Killarney. This road takes you over the Caha Pass and through the Turner Tunnels before dropping back down into Kenmare.
Image taken from Google

The Turner Tunnels are a series of four tunnels, one long one and 3 short ones. If the height of the tunnels is marked up correctly I had 5cm to spare and I was hoping the road hadn't been resurfaced!

I've driven this route before and I know that the views are breathtaking, but because the weather was so bad today and lots of low lying cloud, very little could be seen. 

Image taken from Google

It is still an interesting road from Kenmare to Killarney, passing through Moll's Gap to Ladies View before skirting the edge of the Killarney lakes with views of the Macgillycuddy's Reeks mountains behind.

Image taken from Google

It has been a bit of a day of nothing for the group today although I always enjoy a bit of a challenging drive. We are staying the night at the Killarney Plaza Hotel in Killarney. This is one of my favourite hotels. It's location is very central in the town. The only comments I've had about the rooms from the passengers have been to say how good and well equipped they are and the food here is outstanding. The whole hotel seems to be very well maintained and regularly decorated. It is a very nice place to be.

Killarney – Cill Airne – The Church of the Sloes. Recordings of human occupation in Killarney date from the Early Bronze Age, almost 4,000 years ago when copper was first mined at Ross Castle. In early Christian times, monastic settlements provide the main evidence of occupation in the area.  The most important of these was the monastery on Innisfallen founded by St. Finian the Leper which was occupied for 850 years. The Annals of Innisfallen, written there in the 11th-13th centuries, are an invaluable source of information on the early history of Ireland.

Tourism in Killarney dates back to the mid 18th century, when Thomas, fourth Viscount Kenmare (Lord Kenmare), worked at attracting visitors and new residents to the town. A visit by Queen Victoria in 1861 gave the town huge international exposure.

Killarney was heavily involved in the Irish War of Independence. The entire county, had strong republican ties, and skirmishes with the British forces happened on a regular basis. One of the most notable events during the war was the Headford Ambush when the IRA attacked a railway train a few miles from town.

However, divisions among former colleagues were quick to develop following the truce and treaty, and Killarney, like many other areas, suffered in the rash of increasing atrocities during the Civil War which ended in 1923.

Killarney is a very special place indeed. Brimmed full of history, heritage, activities, and world class hospitality. Killarney is populated with enthusiastic and welcoming people and has over 150 years experience in welcoming guests. With Ireland's finest choice of Accommodation, Dining & Entertainment, Touring & Shopping Options, Sporting Activities galore and many nearby Blue Flag Beaches, all located in the midst of breathtaking and ever-changing beautiful landscapes.

I had a nice hot bath before going to the organisers room where lots of people had been invited for drinks before dinner. As expected, we had a lovely meal. There were many bars in town with live music tonight so a lot of the group went out while I went to bed.

Day 7

This morning we are heading to Killaloe where the group are booked on an hour and a half boat trip on the River Shannon, finishing in Garrykennedy where I will meet them. Luckily the weather is better again today and the boat has a well stocked bar so everyone is happy.

The twin towns of Killaloe, Co Clare and Ballina, Co Tipperary are amongst Ireland's most picturesque attractions and are linked by a 13 arch bridge, which links not only the two towns, but also the counties of Clare and Tipperary. 

Situated on the banks of the River Shannon, Killaloe is well known as the birthplace of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland,(1002 - 1014). While Brian was High King, he ruled from Killaloe making it the "Capital of Ireland."

St. Flannan's Cathedral, unique for its stone carving inscriptions is in Killaloe, while both villages host restaurants, galleries, pubs, and shops as well as a Sunday Farmers Market.

Killaloe/Ballina have all the amenities that you would expect to find in an Irish village, with a range of boutiques, health and wellness centres, historical sites, and a choice of superb hotels, B&B's and self-catering accommodations.

Garrykennedy is a village and harbour on the eastern shore of the Shannon in North Tipperary. Garrykennedy Castle, a ruined tower house located beside the water was once an O'Kennedy clan home built in the 15th Century. By the mid-17th Century the castle was already a ruin.

The harbour was once important for transporting goods, particularly slate from nearby mines. The present quay, built about 1780 is classified as being of Architectural, Archaeological and Technical interest but is now a leisure facility with a modern marina nearby. Cruisers are particularly attracted here by the local pubs, known for their food and music.

We stayed at the little pub 'Larkins' in Garrykennedy for lunch and ice creams before we were back on the road, heading for Kilkenny where we are spending our final night at the Kilkenny Riverside Court Hotel.

Kilkenny's rich heritage is very evident in the fine historical buildings and landmarks of the city, culminating in the famous Kilkenny Castle. The city grew from a monastic settlement to a thriving Norman merchant town in the middle ages, and is now entering a new era as an important creative centre.

There was another drinks party before dinner this evening. Once again, the food was of a high standard. I went to my room straight after dinner, I'm going to have a long day tomorrow.

Day 8

We have no plans today other than to catch our ferry and travel home. We had a 2 hour journey to Dun  Laoghaire which has a purpose built port for high speed ferries. 

I hate travelling on this ship. The first time I travelled on her I was as sick as a dog for the whole crossing and the sea was like a millpond. Ever since, I have been a little nervous about travelling on her because I don't want to be sick again! 

Today there was a 2m swell at sea but I was fine. Many weren't! We had a relatively good journey home considering we were using the M6.

I have had the best week this week. I've been to lots of places I've not visited before and really enjoyed the company of my farmers. I hope they ask me back next year.