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Friday, 15 August 2014

Dublin and Wicklow

It's been a few weeks since my last post and I am a little out of the habit of writing so I will apologise now if this is short and sweet! 

On Friday afternoon, I had a phone call from my office, asking if I could cover a tour to Ireland as the allocated driver had been signed off sick. I agreed and was on my way out on Sunday morning after a full days work on Saturday, which left me very little time for route planning! Luckily, it looked a straight forward tour from a driving point of view and my courier for the week would be Karen, who I get along swimmingly with!

Day 1

It was pouring with rain this morning and as our passengers were arriving on their feeder vehicles there was a lot of complaints about the weather. We were on the road by 7:30, heading for Holyhead for our ferry to Dublin. We had too much time to go straight to the port so I had planned to stop at Beaumaris for an hour, but because the weather was so wet this morning, I was trying to think of a plan B while driving up the M6. We had a brief stop at motorway services. Everyone was dashing about, trying to get undercover. Karen and I didn't get off the coach. While we were waiting there, a man came over and said, "I've got some passengers for you!" 
Karen replied, "we have enough of our own thank you, you can keep them!" 
He half laughed and said, "no but seriously, I have some passengers for you."
"No seriously, they are not ours!"
"I have the paperwork I'm to meet your company here, I'll fetch it!"
So he went off and came back with his paperwork where I had to point out that we were not the company he was waiting for! With that, the coach he wanted pulled in! We had all our passengers back and so were on our way again, still trying to come up with plan B!

I had a vague recollection of seeing signs for a factory outlet store from the A55 so I asked Karen to do a google search to see if she could find it. Bingo! We told the passengers we were taking them to Tweedmill Shopping Outlet and that neither Karen or I had been there so we didn't really know what we were throwing them into, but we guaranteed that it wouldn't be raining inside!

So we arrived and were very pleasantly surprised. The whole place was very clean and tidy. There was a good range of shopping. A very nice cafe with lots of seating. And always a bonus, the toilets were clean! Everyone enjoyed the short time here and appreciated not being out in the weather.

Our next stop would now be at the ferry terminal at Holyhead Port. We checked in and sailed on time. Considering it had been forecast that we would be getting the tail end of Hurricane Bertha today, we had a very smooth crossing. I had a cabin so managed a couple of hours kip! We arrived in Dublin on time and had just a short drive to our hotel for the next 4 nights, The Esplanade Hotel in Bray.

The hotel is in a very nice location on the southern end of the sea front and just a short walk from shops and pubs and the town centre. Check in went smoothly and our evening meal was adequate. I certainly didn't go hungry! It had been an easy day for me.

Day 2

This morning we have a free morning in Bray. Bray is known as the “Gateway to the Garden of Ireland”, due to its location in Northeast Wicklow, Ireland’s most scenic county. The town shares a boundary with County Dublin and enjoys easy access to Ireland’s capital city. Bray has something for everyone from its rich heritage and splendid scenery to excellent transport links, a vibrant arts scene, a bustling Main Street and thriving industry.

After having time for lunch we went out to Powerscourt House and Gardens, near Enniskerry. Lonely Planet and National Geographic had voted Powerscourt Gardens number 3 in the Worlds Top Ten Gardens.

Like many of these old estates, the entrance gate was ridiculously skinny and my mirrors only just squeezed through. We collected the tickets and everyone went off to enjoy the estate. 

The gardens at Powerscourt were laid out over two main periods. Many of the people involved in their creation and development never saw the gardens completed in their lifetime. When the house was rebuilt in the decade after 1731, the surrounding grounds were also remodelled. The design reflected the desire to create a garden which was part of the wider landscape. And what a view it is! To the North formal tree plantations framed the vista from the house, while a walled garden, fish pond, cascades, grottos and terraces lay to the South. Walks wound through the wooded grounds and a fine tree lined avenue was created. When you arrive at the tree lined avenue today, hundreds of beech trees will guide your visit.

Powerscourt house today offers the warmest of welcomes to visitors and some of the best views in Ireland, overlooking the breath-taking Sugarloaf Mountain. It’s a wonderful place to relax and enjoy browsing range of bespoke stores or to indulge in a coffee and dessert in the famous Avoca Terrace CafĂ©.

We offered to run down to Powerscourt Waterfall, 6km away, for those who wanted. 
Powerscourt Waterfall is Ireland’s highest at 121m (398ft.). It is set in one of Ireland’s most beautiful parklands at the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains. As you drive from the gatelodge towards the Waterfall you are surrounded by Beech, Oak, Larch and Pine trees some of which were planted over 200 years ago. 

I had called the visitor centre yesterday to check that the waterfall was accessible for coaches, which I was told it is. When we parked up at the gardens there was a local coach driver already there and he was asking where we were visiting. I mentioned we were going down to the waterfall and he said my coach wouldn't fit! He said he had only ever been there in a mini bus and it was tight in that! Then he rang his mate Paddy and asked his opinion, which was that I would fit but he wouldn't do it. It's very tight with a narrow gate and a very skinny bridge. Then we rang Seamus who said, yes no problem," I've done it with a full size coach and it's no problem!" I was then told not to believe what Seamus tells you so we rang Robbie! Robbie said you can, but I wouldn't! So now I was feeling a little worried about going there and was considering cancelling. It wasn't in our itinery, it was just a little added extra I was putting in and it wasn't something I wanted to risk damaging my coach for. Then a service bus pulled in so I went to ask that driver. He said you can and the waterfall will look magnificent with all the water from the recent rain they had, but I wouldn't! I was really undecided what to do about this. We had already offered it and I didn't really want to back out but I wasn't feeling happy about going. So we rang the visitor centre again. They said yes it's narrow, yes you need to drive slow but we do have coaches regularly and it is do able. So we went. I really don't know what all the fuss was about. Yes the entrance gate and the bridge is skinnier than skinny and it's a real squeeze through, but it's ok. I wouldn't worry about going there again. And when we saw the waterfall, it was definitely all worth it.

We took some photos and had an ice cream then went back to collect the rest of the group before heading back to Bray. Everyone had enjoyed their day and there had still been no sign of Bertha!

There was live music in the hotel tonight. Many of our group stayed to listen and it was a very enjoyable evening.

Day 3

This morning the group are travelling on the DART from Bray to Malahide with a guide, Felicity, which meant that I had a nice run, empty, up to meet the group at Malahide. I always enjoy driving empty, radio on, knocking out the tunes! It seems the guided train journey was a hit with the group. When they arrived in Malahide they were taken straight to Duffys Bar where we were booked in for a cream tea before having some free time in the town, while I had to repair the broken microphone where Karen had been too heavy handed with it!

Malahide is known to have become a persistent settlement from the coming of the Vikings, who landed in 795, and used Malahide Estuary (along with Baldoyle) as a convenient base. With the arrival of the Anglo-Normans, the last Danish King of Dublin retired to the area in 1171. From the 1180s, the history of the area is tied to that of the Talbot family of Malahide Castle, who were granted extensive lands in the area and over the centuries following developed their estate, and the small harbour settlement.

In Malahide village there are extensive retail facilities and services including fashion boutiques, hair and beauty salons, florists, food outlets, and a small shopping centre. There is a wide selection of pubs (including Gibney's, Fowler's, Duffy's and Gilbert and Wright's) and restaurants and the 150-room Grand Hotel.

I collected the group and we had a brief visit to Malahide Castle. Malahide Castle, set on 250 acres of park land in the pretty seaside town of Malahide, was both a fortress and a private home for nearly 800 years and is an interesting mix of architectural styles.

The Talbot family lived here from 1185 to 1973, when the last Talbot died. The house is furnished with beautiful period furniture together with an extensive collection of Irish portrait paintings, mainly from the National Gallery.

The history of the Talbot family is recorded in the Great Hall, where portraits of generations of the family tell their own story of Ireland's stormy history. Many additions and alterations have been made to this romantic and beautiful structure, but the contours of the surrounding parklands have changed little in 800 years, retaining a sense of the past.

This visit wasn't on our itinery so we weren't booked in and couldn't go inside the castle without paying admission, which I was aware of, but we did have access to the gardens and grounds, the visitor centre and cafe and the few shops on site. It was a pleasant visit and just another bit of interest to add to the day. 

From here we went for a scenic drive out around the Howth Peninsula with a photo stop at 'the summit'. Typically, the cloud came down just as we started our drive and the views from the summit weren't that clear. The group seemed to appreciate it though. 

The hotel had prepared a quiz for tonight's entertainment but Karen had to be the quizmaster! We were both surprised when 24 people turned up for it! We had some fun doing it and taking the mickey out of Karens pronunciations! Gazpacho soup had been pronounced 'Gestapo!'

Day 4

Today's excursion was a day in Dublin. We were booked on a Liffey River Cruise for a 1 hr round trip leaving from the Jeannie Johnson Famine Ship. I couldn't park at the jetty so couldn't go on the boat. The group were saying they'd enjoyed it and the commentary had been good.

Then we'd arranged for a blue badge guide to join us on the coach and take us around the city. Helen was very good, if a little rough around the edges, and had a great sense of humour. First, she took us around Georgian Dublin and we had a quick photo stop at St. Patricks Cathedral.

Then we went to Phoenix Park where we had a half an hour comfort stop at the visitor centre before continuing on our tour, taking in the Flusie in the Jacuzzi and finishing with O'Connell Street, the Monument of Light and the GPO before dropping the group on Nassau Street for a couple of hours free time. I think we have succeeded in giving a good insight into the city.

After dinner, Karen was feeling she needed some time out so we went to a pub up the road for half an hour. We were just heading back to the hotel for tonight's live music when we bumped into some of our group who said the music was dreary and did we want to join them at the pub, so we did.

Day 5

We had a little more free time in Bray this morning before it was time to leave for our ferry home. Our hotel had been ok, not exceptional but nothing to really complain about. We checked all bills had been payed and left for Dun Laoghaire. We had only driven around the corner when I realised I had left my phone in my room! We looped back round to the hotel to pick it up but because of one way streets and low bridges it didn't just take a few minutes! So 20 minutes later we were leaving the hotel for the second time! We checked in and had a pleasant crossing, then were homeward bound with the pedal to the metal.

It has been a successful tour and as always I have enjoyed and had a lot of fun working with Karen. I'm looking forward to coming back to Ireland next month.