And breathe! After 45 nights, 3200 miles, 6 countries, 8 ferries, in a variety of weather, in a tin can on wheels, we have finally landed back at Chauffour. For a change it is not the usual week long slog of catching up with chores and excavating a path to our front door through the undergrowth that awaits me, as we have been fortunate enough to have some very bored house-sitters. As a family of 4, they must have toiled day and night to cover the amount of work they have done during their stay, which included tackling ten years growth of honeysuckle and conifers, rebuilding our barn doors and laying an impromptu patio. I have to admit that none of this was pre-planned nor even requisitioned, but it is gratefully received.
Our trip through Ireland was nothing short of magical. Firstly a weekend at the British Open golf, despite periodic torrential rain, set up a wonderful atmosphere in and around the pretty town of Portrush, which was crowded to bursting point. A win for an Irishman and bumping into a few old friends completed the event for us in style. From there it was across to Donegal, a place I had never been but somewhere I would surely head back to in a heartbeat. I know we shared our time between rural France and a backward town in East Fife where the pace of life in both spots is half that of England, but in Donegal, divide that by five. It was as though time stood still for the 2 weeks we were there, where farmers still pottered around their fields on antique tractors, and sheep grazed the roadsides. Not that the place was poor; to the contrary, the scale and style of the brand new holiday homes on every hillside was of the highest luxury. Around each bend was another cove with a white sandy beach with nobody on it. On numerous occasions, as we parked by the shore, locals would come along for a chat about this and that. Some had even heard of Brexit! After one of my regular unfruitful days fishing in a stream, one chap took pity on me and scooted off in his van, only to return an hour later with a bag of smoked mackerel fillets, such was the generosity of this forgotten corner of Europe.
When we were children, our family would visit the county of Mayo for our annual holidays. Back then I can recall some of my earliest memories, of high hedges of fuchsia and a large dining room full of waiters in waistcoats. I had since heard that the Great Southern hotel in Mulranny had closed down so it was to my pleasant surprise when we rounded the corner to reminisce and found it not only still there but open with rooms available. As this happened to coincide with the electrics failing in our camper, we jumped at the chance of not just some nostalgia but a bath with a sea-view. A short trip from there saw us on Achill Island and a pint in what they claimed to be the most westerly pub in Europe, an accolade that is disputed by at least two other establishments in Southern Ireland! One of my other memories of this place was sharks. No, not the sort who want to relieve you of your hard-earned, but great big real ones! This was quantified when we parked up in the small Keem harbour and saw a monument to what once a prosperous fishing industry when in the early 60s as many as 2000 basking sharks per year were caught here. Now the odd one can still be sighted and it is reported there was a ten metre long beast out there in the bay. Apparently it had grown at least 3 metres since it was last sighted in May!
And finally, the leg of our trip that was to be our destination, Galway Races. A lively event spanning an entire week, this is possibly one of the largest gatherings of Irish in the calendar year. We only had tickets for one day, my birthday, but so it seems did everyone else. As we jostled amongst the revellers, trying to get a look at the action, I managed to get a few bets on but narrowly missed out on the winnings every time. My wife, on the other hand, seemed to have the knack of picking winners just by looking at them, so the day didn’t turn out too costly. After a few evenings in Quay street, where the party-goers spilled from pubs aplenty, our ill-gotten gains were soon exchanged for pints of the black stuff!
We then ended up in Wales, on Anglesey to be precise. It was particularly busy, mainly with Scousers, and I have to announce that, in comparison, the service was as shocking as I remember it. Swiftly heading south east through Snowdonia we reached Bala and once again I tried my hand at catching a fish on the lake, this time adding more equipment to my tackle bag. Still nothing. A few more stops in Shropshire, Somerset and Dorset were all pleasant, principally because we realised pubs in England don’t mind you parking on their car-park for the night, free of charge, as long as you have a meal in their restaurants and drink a few ales, a proposition that suits me fine - especially when I am so uselessly adept at catching my own tea!
Then finally a few days in Brittany which was also very busy in their peak holiday period. We avoided the seaside, choosing a few inland rivers to park by. At last I managed to snare a fishy (fanfare!). I would send a photo to accompany this piece but it wouldn’t be a very big one!