Well, it’s all happening on the Ireland trip. I’ll try to protect the innocent by giving them pseudonyms, let’s call them Ant and Reen.
We arrive at the hotel having not been booked in, fortunately, Ant has the paperwork to prove it and the girl could not be more helpful. I then have to go back to reception three times with a key that doesn’t work. I eventually ask for another room and they happily move me. Then, at 2 am Ant and Reen have someone enter their room. Presumably, their bedroom acrobatics are not sufficiently athletic and the would-be voyeurs left, bad news indeed when a film crew lose interest!
The flight is nondescript in the strict sense that there is nothing to describe with the exception of a minor hiccup on landing. We hit the runway like a brick! The priest behind eloquently sums things up, “Holy Shit!” he exclaimed. The two words don’t normally sit well together but his observation is acknowledged with a nervous ascent as the rest of the intrepid passengers reach for the Tenna pads. Interestingly, they’re now cleverly designed with padding appropriate to gender. I remark that the clouds are looking quite heavy as the door is thrown open to allow in a cold but refreshing draft. Ant observes that “It’s a bit moist” but I’m not sure at this stage if he’s referring to the weather or the effects of the landing.
We make our way to Hertz to complete the paperwork for the car and are directed to the holding area where we can pick it up; it’s just the other side of Tenerife and it’s raining with a force 10 blowing off the Atlantic.
The car is allocated by a very pleasant Irishman who eventually directs us out of the car park when Ant proves that it is possible to be lost even before setting off. We negotiate a barrier that intriguingly issues us a ticket as we leave – perhaps its an Irish thing but these things usually issue a ticket as you enter!
The weather is improving as we drive about aimlessly. I’m trying to decide on what to do about using the Maps App on my iPhone. I’m agonising on whether to invest in shares with EE before I turn on roaming on the principle that the subsequent rise in their value could create a bear market and enable me to cover the extortionate cost of turning it on. I’m relieved to discover it’s only £2 per day and only charged if you use it but in the meantime, we use the compass. We think Westport is south and I think Knock is on the coast. In legal terms, we’re individually and severally wrong on both counts but the countryside is nice even if the weather isn’t. Whilst I haven’t seen a Leprechaun yet, the ‘feel’ of this part of Ireland makes it an expectation. Ant decides to stop at a shop that also sells diesel and petrol. The pumps are mounted on the side of the road with no obvious forecourt and with no obvious health and safety issues. It begs the question of how we baby boomers of the ’50s and ’60s ever managed to survive childhood without the suffocating regulations that are now in place in the UK.
Westport is a delight and after several tours of the centre, we find the hotel. Clew Bay Hotel is well-reviewed and justifiably so. The receptionist, Elaine, had telephoned us earlier in the week to confirm the booking and she is the one who registers us today. She’s full of Irish charm as she tells us that the rooms are not quite ready. She explains it in such a way that we think she’s doing us a favour and go into town for a bite to eat.
Ant and Reen go for the Irish stew, which arrives in a giant bowl with some soda bread. I’m smitten with food envy as I tuck into my baguette which is fresh and well filled; I still fancy that stew though…
We drift back to the hotel and this time we can check-in. The rooms are huge, beautifully maintained and have king-sized beds. Things are looking good.
After a short while, one of us falls asleep so I have a word with the one that is marginally awake and agree that their second honeymoon should not be sacrificed to a gooseberry and after all the film crew had been left in Liverpool and the locks on these doors work…I go to the gym!
The gym is run by the local council but the hotel covers the cost so I’m smiling. The equipment is good and I emerge with a healthy glow and sated conscience, as I wasn’t really expecting to get a session in – I think that goes for Ant and Reen too! On the way out though I get lost and make a turn into an area designated for various ‘treatments’ many of which I don’t recognise (what’s reiki?). I turn a corner and a pretty young lady says “George, your massage”. The upward inflexion in her voice has turned it into a question. “Er, no”, says I and uncomfortably tried to remember how I got in. This isn’t the kind of happy ending that I am expecting. I manage to pass a reception desk where a gentleman called George O’Malley has come for a neck massage to relieve a trapped nerve. Well, at least I now know how she knew my name.
It’s evening time and as it is Good Friday and all of the pubs are shut (yes both words are correct, “all” and “shut”). We decide to stay at the hotel on account of they sell food and drink. Ant is toying with the idea of Stations of the Cross but is easily led.
In the lift, I fall into conversation with a lovely Irish lady. I’d spoken to her earlier in the day and she likes to forecast the weather. In that earlier discussion, she’d said, “Bit stormy but It’ll get out” in her wonderful Irish brogue. It was, in fact very stormy indeed. This time she says, “Bit stormy but it’ll get out tomorrow”. I smile and tell her that she’d said that earlier. Her immediate response was, “We’re a very optimistic people you know, it’ll get out!”. As things turn out, she’s right.
I meet my illustrious chums in the brasserie and we settle down for some Irish hospitality. The meal is good and Guinness is sublime and the staff seem to enjoy the witty banter (well we are allowed to stay if we move to the other room). The hotel bar is very busy but it’s not easy to tell if that’s just because it’s open or that it is normally like that. We bring on the Scrabble, yes Scrabble! Ant is sent on an errand and we fix the first game. Reen picks a 7 letter word and I pick an 8 letter one to follow that will utilise one of her letters as per the rules. Ant returns and we play our first game. Reen plays all her tiles and picks up 50 points plus then I play mine and do likewise. In fairness to Ant, he remains calm, competitive and cheerful. In fact, he remains stoical as he calls us a pair of lucky twats. Now I’m not one for bad language but I do think, on this occasion, it may be eminently justified.
Now then dear reader, please bear with me as Khama is about to strike. Immediately following our dastardly deed Ant seems to be drawing my attention away from a particular letter. It was irrelevant anyway as I could only go with a single syllable three-letter offering that scored 4. Ant smiled, he smiled the sort of smile that shouldn’t be allowed in a hotel bar after 5 pints of Guinness on a Friday night, a Good Friday night to boot. This smile says many things. It’s the smile of a winner, a smile of someone that is about to exact revenge and he plays all 7 tiles and extends the word that’s already on the board so claiming the 50 point bonus, PLUS the points for his word PLUS the points for the extended word PLUS various double word and triple letter scores. Of course, at this point, we have to tell him that we have cheated and as such the game is null and void. Ant examines his lexicon with a view to choosing the most appropriate response that will allow his wit and repartee to shine…”Fuck off!”, he says, “The game stands and I win”. We agree immediately of course. If an opponent can articulate his thoughts with such a brilliant command of the English language, how can we refuse!
I had to draw the line at 6 pints of Guinness as my chums can be a little fractious following the taking of drink!
It’s bright and early and the weather that was predicted by my lift friend hasn’t materialised yet. I go to the bistro area for breakfast and sit patiently for the waiter to arrive as the menu displayed in the foyer informed me that it is cooked to order. I’m reading the paper so the time passes quickly and I realise that I’ve been waiting almost 15 minutes. Fortunately, I’m about to be helped by a wonderful Irishman who tells me that if I’d like breakfast then it’d be more productive to move into the ‘breakfast room’ which is adjacent. I give him an embarrassed smile and move only to be met by ridicule from my illustrious chums. “Layfield, you’ve decided to join us then?”, says Ant. Reen just shakes her head incredulously and walks to a huge picture window where we can gaze outside.
There’s a beautiful stream on the other side with man-made cataracts creating swirling eddies that combine with sounds that hypnotise and relax. You’ve not had a big breakfast until you’ve had a full Irish. The following is this morning’s offering, bacon, sausage, white pudding, black pudding, beans, egg, mushroom, tomato and “Oh, will you be having some toast?” and “The weather is looking better” and “Be sure to go out and enjoy yourselves” and “Where is it that you’ll be going?”. She’s not listening to our response, the toast is coming anyway.
Ant has booked a trip with the imaginatively named Killary Cruises on the, not unsurprisingly named, Killary Fjord. It’s about 40 minutes from Westport and, although I don’t know it yet, it’s through some spectacular mountain scenery.
We make several attempts to get out of Westport on a road that will take us south but each time we end up north! We nearly have to ask someone but manage to avoid this dreadful act of weakness 🙂
The road has been well maintained so there are few potholes; however, it is a bit of a switchback. In America they would charge you to drive it such are its undulations and secret dips. The Partry Mountains are spectacular as the clouds break and the sun lights them just for us. I’m reminded of a beautiful song written by Dave Cousins: Glimpse of Heaven
The hillside was a patchwork quilt
Neatly stitched with tidy hedge
And crumbling grey stone wall
The trees were bare, but Spring was near
To conjure up its endless strings
Of green magic handkerchieves
Could you only see what I’ve seen
You would surely know what I mean
I think I must have caught a glimpse of heaven.
A string of diamonds formed a stream
That tumbled down the daunting cliff
To sparkle brightly on the beach.
Newborn lambs that sweetly played
Speckled eggs all newly laid
But for you, I would have stayed
We arrive at the harbour and ensure that we’re on the right sailing then go back to the Leenane Hotel. They’re not really open for drinks but they make us one anyway. The piano is silent and on closer inspection, it is obvious why there’s a huge ‘G’ clamp on the lid to hold it shut!
The Killary Cruise is a must, if you’re in this neck of the woods please do it. I’ll not describe it here, please take a look at the photographs.
It’s 90 minutes of visual bliss and on return, we decide on a trip to the seaside. We take a tiny road, not much more than a track to Rinvyle and the visual delights just continue.
The beach is populated with half a dozen people and there is no cloud in the sky, it’s unbelievably beautiful.
As we make our way back we stop at a store/cafe and there is a 4×4 outside with its engine running, I realise as I walk by that the reason for the running engine is that there are 2 dogs in it, the sun is shining strongly and so the owner has left the air-conditioning on for the dogs. In the UK it would have been gone in minutes 🙂
We make our way back to Westport through those fabulous mountain ranges with yellow gorse in abundance creating a yellow glow that’s so strong its like a vivid childhood memory of summer. A Glimpse of Heaven is playing in my head again.
We tour the town for a restaurant that is acceptable to Reen and will receive the DSA. This is a seal of approval that is only issued to establishments that have undergone a thorough inspection of the menu and at least a cursory glance at the facilities. Once issued then the rest of the team are allowed to partake of the offering. Tonight we test an Asian Fusion establishment that produces the most sublime fayre and we emerge a little heavier having consumed a significant meal complete with a bottle of wine and a bottle of Cobra apiece for the chaps and something a little more dainty for the lady.
We check out a few bars and eventually alight in one that shows promise as there are musicians scattered around and music has been heard from the outside. An Irish gentleman appears to be getting up so I gesture to Reen that the seats are becoming free and she takes that hint and sits down only to find the gentleman returns to sit next to her. I’m thinking that this is a promising line for my journal as the man in question is so intoxicated he can’t string a sentence together, in reality, he can’t string a word together and when he tries his facial expressions would put the world gurning champion to shame. He booms out half a dozen incoherent words, gurns a face that would frighten a gargoyle and then cackles a huge laugh at his own (very personal) joke. Reen, ever the lady, smiles at him and nods. Now here’s some advice. If you meet someone who is clearly off their head before they start drinking AND have subsequently been drinking heavily (I think rum was involved) then you really, I mean really, really, double don’t, smile or acknowledge them. This is an encounter that doesn’t need embellishment 🙂
We leave the pub following another ‘joke’ and championship nose to nose gurn followed by a window-rattling cackle by Reen’s new admirer and make our way back to the hotel bar to continue our Scrabble tournament. Reen leaves early (about 11) and Ant and I continue the Guinness sampling. It’s nearly 1 am and we’re on the outside of about a gallon of the stuff when Ant has a great idea. “Let’s go and see if there are any pubs still open”, says he. I, of course, being the sensible one who’s integrity is undiminished and sobriety unquestioned, make reference to the time and talk him out of it. So, you see, I rescue him again!
OK, I may have that a little confused, the roles are actually reversed but that’s not what I tell Reen in the morning. Either way, it was a very close call but mutual support and clear and articulate conversation maintained our impeccable profile to the bar staff and other drinkers. We retired from the bar with honour…I think.
The sun is shining again as I make my way to the Breakfast Room. It’s much nicer now I know where it is and I’m still known for sitting like a pratt in the Bistro thinking that it was always as quiet for the first meal of the day!
We’re going north for a change, well it’s a bit of a change, in actual fact, we set off north every day even when we wanted to go south such are our navigational skills. We’re even tempted to set off south just for consistency.
The initial part of the drive exposes us to fabulous pockets of mist in the valleys with trees and hills protruding above it, quite surreal and very beautiful.
We stop at a small town for a cuppa but it’s shut so we decide to move on and I spot a sign. Not a holy sign you understand, although there are plenty of shrines to different saints, I really think they’ve got most to the year covered.
The sign that I’m referring to is for the Wild Atlantic Way around an island that has an interesting area where the Spanish Armada had drifted along the west coast of Ireland and had eventually come ashore where they were promptly put to death (maybe they should have told the locals that they were Catholics!)
It takes about 40 minutes to circumnavigate the island and it’s well worth the detour; however, we never did find the site of the hapless Spanish. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
We eventually stop at either Mulranny or Newport for a toilet break and feed. I’m treated to a toilet that has a seat that when sat upon slides violently to the left. Now, you ladies may be used to this type of thing but we gentleman have rather more down there that could be under threat. The mix of vivid imagination and the guillotine-like shift of the toilet seat has left me with small beads of sweat on my forehead and three Adams apples. When I return to my happy chums Reen asks me if I’m OK. “Fine”, I squeak and order a sandwich.
On exit from the cafe we hear one of the locals talking to her friend “I promised the dog a pig’s ear for Easter…”, she was saying…I love the Irish!
We seem to be doing nothing but eat possibly on account of we’re not doing much else but eat. We are punctuating it with trips around areas of beauty that defy description.
The rest of the day includes another trip to the gym but without the ‘interesting’ exit described in my previous posting.
The evening is taken up with more eating, touring of pubs looking for music avoiding gurners and, once primed, a return to the hotel for a top-up of Guinness and the Scrabble tournament. I’m happy to report that I win all games and we send for two wheelbarrows to help my challengers get their bottom lips out of the room. In fairness, I think I’m having a bit of lucky spell as this has never happened before, Reen tends to win and I usually come second to Ant i.e. third and as there are only three of us; last!
Just before I sign off. There are a couple of things I’d like to say.
One, when I went to the gym for the first time I was told I didn’t need a Euro for the locker as my stuff was safe but by all means, use one if I wished.
Two, I stupidly left my bag outside when Ant and I went for a coffee in the sun in an area adjacent to the hotel. The bag contained my glasses (about £300), my camera (about £800) and other bits and pieces. I remembered it two hours later and went down to speak to the waiters to see if it had been handed in. “What colour is it?”, came the precautionary question, “Err, I’m colour blind”, says I. “Can you tell me what’s in it?”, came the supplementary question. I told him and he handed it over with a big Irish grin.
His grin was not as wide as mine… I love this place.