Welcome to my blog. Thanks for dropping by. Hope you'll stay and enjoy reading about where I've been and what I've been doing!

I don't mean this to be a replacement for personal emails, but it gives me the chance to put up photos and my scrapbook layouts, so I don't block up your in-boxes, or have to send the same photos and stories to everyone separately!
Thanks, and welcome, to the followers of my blog. I'm very honoured that you enjoy it. Drop me some comments from time to time! It's good to hear what you think about the posts. Come back again soon.

Thanks also to Mary of Mary's Mixes for doing all the work on the blog's heading. You are great, Mary!

Thursday, 30 July 2009

U3A outing

What is the U3A?, I hear you ask. You did, didn't you? It's the University of the Third Age. Not a real bricks and mortar university or even an Open University, as it's all for interest's sake, for those of us oldies who are not in full time employment any more. No essays, no assessments, no exams, just pure enjoyment of learning about things you are interested in.

The website for the U3A says this:
U3As are self-help, self-managed lifelong learning co-operatives for older people no longer in full time work, providing opportunities for their members to share learning experiences in a wide range of interest groups and to pursue learning not for qualifications, but for fun."

Basically, you can join the group and simply attend the monthly meetings where there is a speaker on some generally interesting topic, but you can also join any of the sub-groups which are organised by the members themselves. Most involve some sort of learning curve, but there are the fun ones too, like the Lunch Group who meet at a different location on the second Wednesday of the month. I like that one!

I have also been a member of a Learn Spanish group - I learned some at school and thought I'd revive it, but it's so similar in many respects to Italian which I started to learn a few years ago that I was always mixing them up, so I decided to stick with Italian. Unfortunately there isn't an Italian group in our U3A though. Maybe I could do a beginners' group and teach what I already know! I also belonged to the Gardening Group, who usually meet on a Friday, a day I can't always get free - at the moment! Just another month to go till I retire altogether! I wanted also to be part of the Scenic Strollers too, but it actually never materialised this year! Anyway you can see that there is a wide range of interests offered. You could do poetry or pottery, Scottish Country Dancing, philosophy, Scottish History - I might try that if it's offered next session - or go to the theatre with the Theatre Group. You might learn about Famous Border Characters (famous people from our region of the Scottish Borders like Sir Walter Scott and the Chambers dictionary brothers - they came from Peebles and my great grandfather worked for them at one point in his career - or Hugh Macdiarmid, or James Hogg.......) Lots to choose from, and all offered by members of the local U3A from their own interests.

Today however was the group summer outing!!!!! There were 34 of us, taking the coach trip over to Ayrshire to visit a very new visitor attraction, Dumfries House. It took about an hour and a half to get there, during which time I fell asleep (the reason being that my friend Colin from Yorkshire, visiting overnight on his way home from a climbing expedition on Skye, replaced my smoke alarm yesterday and the old one kept on bleeping as it continued to run out of battery power. Before I went to bed last night I put it in the fridge to try and dull the sound, but every so often I woke to hear Bleep!... bleep!... bleep!... every 30 seconds. I can tell you what I thought of the bleeping thing! Bleep bleep bleep!!).

It was a short walk from the coach park to the house but a courtesy mini bus shuttled back and forwards too. Most of us walked as we were early for our appointed guided tour. The house from the exterior was magnificent. Redesigned by John, Robert and James Adams from a design done by their father William some years before, it had been commissioned by the 5th Earl of Dumfries to replace the 14th century tower house he had been living in till then. (It was demolished in 1771) He had been awarded the Order of the Thistle (the highest order in Scotland) by George II, and was so proud of the honour that he chose to have as many reminders of that fact in view in the ornamentation of his new house.
This photo is actually a composite picture made up by the wonders of technology from three photos, thus the not quite straight effect of all the bits!

Work began in 1754, and in 1759, on time and on budget, he moved in. When he began to commission furniture, Thomas Chippendale's work obviously impressed him greatly as he bought a great many chairs, sofas, tables, cabinets, buroes (sic), four poster beds, rococo mirrors, steel grates and fenders.....the list goes on..... from the Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director, a catalogue of "Elegant and Useful Designs of Household Furniture", all Chippendale's work. The work of other furniture makers was also commissioned, and what is amazing is that almost everything in the house has been documented over the last 250 years and invoices and notes are still in existence to give everything a provenance.

The rooms have been splendidly decorated with rococo plasterwork ceilings, cornices and niches, even picture frames to house specific paintings I presume. Unfortunately, photography was not permitted inside the house, but I can refer you to the website here. The first row of pictures is obviously of the exterior, and the next of the entrance hall with its painted and gilded plasterwork on the ceiling and walls. This is where you see most of the thistle ornamentation on the frieze above the pillars, on the chair backs, in the plaster ceiling design.... He would leave no-one in any doubt that he was proud of his achievement. It's such a shame that the photos on the website cannot be enlarged.

The cupolas to left and right of the main building and the wings behind them were not on the original plan but were added towards the end of the 19th century,

from the design of the leading Arts&Crafts architect Robert Weir Shultz.

In the picture of the house taken between 1890 and 1900 you can see that one wing has been completed, the other not begun. Photo from Detroit Photographic Company, 1905.

The drawing rooms and dining room are beautiful, the tapestry room amazing, with Shultz's Arts & Crafts decor to show off the huge tapestries, but it is the blue bed - the Best Bed -
on the right at the bottom that is quite stunning! Again it is by Chippendale, and wonderfully designed and constructed. Apparently it is quite unique as the only other one like it known to exist at one time has now completely vanished! No-one knows what happened to it.

The whole story of Dumfries House can be found on the internet, here for example, so I won't take up too much more time with that, only to say that after the death in 1993 of Eileen, Dowager Duchess of Bute - the Butes and the Dumfrieses had united the family by marriage - the house lay empty and was eventually to be sold, by Johnny Dumfries so he could concentrate on work on his other home, Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute.

It was only by the intervention of the Prince of Wales at almost literally the very last minute that it was saved, and a trust formed to restore it, so that it can be, for the first time in its history, open to the public. It still needs a lot of work done on it and it will be interesting to maybe return in a few years to see the difference.

Sorry only a few pictures this time, but do click on the links to see more of the house.

Talk again soon.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The weekend

A few interesting things happened over the weekend just gone!
I was walking along Peebles High Street on Friday when I saw all these old motor bikes parked by the pavement.

"Indians" they were!

That interested me, as when I was in NZ last year, I had been told by a friend, by the name of Munro herself, to look out for the display in Invercargill Museum about Burt Munro, the New Zealander who in 1967 broke the "under 1000cc" speed record on his modified 1920 Indian Scout bike, an event made famous in the film The World's Fastest Indian, starring Anthony Hopkins.
These bikes and their riders (of a certain age) were on their way to a rally at nearby Traquair, and of course I had to stop and take photos. They had come a long way. These ones were from Australia and America.

On Saturday I had an invitation from fellow blogger, and traveller, Alan, of garlic soup hunt and new yeti hunt fame, to join him on Sunday on a visit to a historic house in East Lothian where a friend of his was doing guided tours. I was happy to accept, and more of that in a bit, but on Saturday evening Linda and I headed off to South Queensferry to have a meal. The big "Homecoming" Festival gathering was taking place in Edinburgh city centre, so we made for out of town, thinking it would be quieter! Huh! That's what thought did! Queensferry was heaving! Was there another cruise ship out in the estuary, - there was one there last time - that people had come to see? No, not even that. It was just plain busy! A nice night, I suppose, and everyone had come down to the coast.

We did find somewhere to eat though, and eventually came back out onto the street to browse the shop windows. A new cafe bar is opening up this week on the north side of the street, with a huge picture window at the back looking out onto the Forth Bridges. It is a stunning view, so much so that, although the light was going, I decided to attempt a photo through the front glass window, to the bridge beyond the back glass window, and this...
... is what came out! You can clearly see the cafe through the front window, with the picture window and its view to the bridge, but above are perfect reflections of the buildings and the sky behind me, across the street, reflected in the front window! It's surreal!

There was rather a nice sunset too that evening, over - well, under, really - the Forth Road Bridge. I don't believe the saying Red sky at night, Shepherds' delight.... It generally rains the next day and it was wet in the morning!
However the sun came out for my meeting up with Alan. We spent a lovely afternoon, firstly having lunch in Haddington,
then driving out the short distance to Lennoxlove House, the country seat since 1946, of the Duke of Hamilton, whose ancestors would have been in line to the Scottish throne if Mary, Queen of Scots had not produced a son and heir.
We did the guided tour with Fay, Alan's friend, who has been showing visitors around the house for many years, so knows all the stories. No ghost though!!
It is a mixture of very old, old, and more up to date, originally having been a single fortified tower building with a barrel-vaulted ceiling in the great hall (this fireplace is a 20th century addition though it may have looked a lot like this in the past)with similar cellar beneath (now being used as a chapel), stairs within the 11 feet thick walls, sleeping accommodation on an upper floor and likely the troops in the uppermost section ready to defend the tower in the case of an attack from the English - as happened a lot in those days. That's not to say the Scots didn't do their share of attacking the towers and castles of the north of England, because they did, so each country was as bad as the other (says she, diplomatically).

Like in a large number of other towers alterations and modernisation took place in in about the 17/18th centuries when there was no further likelihood of attack. Stairways were moved, windows enlarged to allow more light in, and new buildings were added on to modernise still further. Various families have owned this house, the Hamiltons only moving here just over 60 years ago, and each has done their bit to create the house we see now.
I like this calm sitting room with its great glass chandelier, light blue painted walls, large fireplace and cosy chairs and sofas. There are plenty of ancestral portraits around the whole house, with the occasional one by Henry Raeburn and Augustus John.

We saw the room known as the Queen's bedroom, with its enormous four poster bed with intricately carved wooden decoration that may have come from India,
and the room where the large rent desk is to be found. There's a nice little touch about the desk, as once a payment had exchanged hands, been recorded in the accounts book and the money tucked into the large drawer, the Duke (or his factor) might offer a glass of liquid refreshment, and the corner metal embellishments were in fact covering doors that opened to reveal a convenient ledge on which to rest a glass.

Later, after tea and scones in the 20th century tearoom, Alan suggested that we should have a photo of the two of us and Fay, so we chose the sundial on the lawn in the sun, as the place to pose while the photos were taken.
So here we are, Fay, Alan and myself! Thanks again, Alan, for the invitation. It was great, and lovely to meet you.
From the sublime to the ridiculous - well not so ridiculous - Alan wanted to get to IKEA before he went home to Glasgow, and always happy to pay a visit there myself, I tagged along. I'm collecting ideas for my new-look living room and bedroom, after the alterations are done, and think I know what I will do with them - furniture-wise. This store features strongly in the "Where To Buy What" list.
Shopping completed and an ice-cream demolished, we parted company in the car park, he to Glasgow and I, supposedly to Peebles, but a sudden idea had me heading back once more to East Lothian to visit my friend Jean at Dirleton and her sister, my great pal Edwina, who is visiting with her husband, from Berkshire. It was great to see them all again and we spent the evening at Jean's house, having a good blether over tea and Jean's banana cake, before the night overtook us and I had to leave for home.
I talked earlier about going out with Linda on Saturday night, and recall listening to the car radio as I was driving up to Edinburgh to hear that the road between Peebles and Eddleston was closed because of an accident. My thought at the time was that it must have happened after I drove through Eddleston, but since then I think the report must have said the road had been closed but was now open - you know how these things are on the radio but you don't necessarily pay a lot of attention till you hear placenames you recognise. Anyway, I discovered yesterday that my Canadian friend and her sister were involved in the accident, and although Jean - another Jean - is now out of hospital, bruised and sore, her sister, who was visiting from Norway, will have to be air-lifted back to Norway for treatment. Jean couldn't speak too well on the phone when she called - too sore and miserable - so after ascertaining that she and Gigi were as well as could be expected, I said I would call on her next week, giving her time to feel a bit better, I hope. She and Jimmy had been due to fly back to Canada tomorrow, but now she will be staying put in Edinburgh for a while. I do hope both she and Gigi recover well.
Talk again soon.

How I met the Conneely family

Many years ago, about 35 probably, I went on a hitch hiking holiday round Ireland. (Mother didn't know I wasn't travelling by bus!) Those were the days! People were more than willing to pick up a hitch hiker who was going their way, and the craic was generally good. Now here I must explain that craic is pronounced crack, and isn't an illegal drug! Craic is a Gaelic word, Scottish and Irish, that means something like good fellowship, enjoying other people's company, as in Did you enjoy the crack?, or The crack was great tonight!

Now as is my habit even today when I go travelling, I like to read up about the places I am going to, and though nowadays that tends to be by way of the internet a lot of the time, in those days you still relied on the good old hard back book!! One book I read was called In Search of Ireland by HV Morton, quite an old book as it turned out but I didn't realise how old at the time and I obviously didn't read it properly.

In the book was a photograph of a village to the west of Galway city, called Claddagh. It was very attractive-looking in the photo - little old whitewashed houses with thatched roofs - and I was very keen to see them. So it was I came to Galway with my rucksack and tent on my back, having hitched my way from Larne, in Northern Ireland! I explored the city and then headed past the Spanish Arch, over the bridge and turned left along the quayside and past the church. This should be where the Claddagh was to be found, but not a sight of a whitewashed, let alone a thatched house did I see. There were signs that this was indeed Claddagh Quay, so where was I to look for the village. Instead there were rows of dreadful little concrete box houses, one with a canary in a wooden cage hanging outside, and others with painted scenes on the gable ends, while along the shore front were bigger nicer-looking houses, which, I only just discovered, were built for ex-servicemen.

I must have looked pretty mystified as suddenly a voice at my side made me jump.
"You look lost! Can I help?"
It was the coalman, delivering bags of coal and brickettes of peat from his lorry to the houses nearby.
I explained what I was looking for, and to his credit he didn't laugh, but kindly explained to me that I was actually standing in the Claddagh; that the old village had been done away with years before because it was insanitary, and the awful little houses were what had been put up in its place.

I must have looked very disappointed because he continued,

"Now just you carry on along this street till you come to number 20. That's where Mrs C. lives. She and I were brought up in the old village, and she'll tell you all about it and show you pictures."

I thanked him but wondered if I would in fact take up his suggestion. I wasn't as forward then as I am now!!!

"Just tell her Paddy Curran the coalman sent you!" he called, as I began to walk in the direction of Number 20. Of course I was hoping Paddy might carry on with his delivery and leave me to carry straight on and take the next turning out of sight.

Walking a little way, I turned round to see what Paddy might be doing. He was watching me and indicated that I should go on further, which of course then I had to! I arrived at the gate of number 20, and again turned round, hoping that perhaps he was satisfied I was going in the right direction and had gone on his way, but no! He was still watching and signed me to go in! So what else could I do?

Once through the gate there was no going back. The front room window overlooked the gate, and I knew that more than likely someone inside had seen me, so I crossed to the door and knocked (or was there a bell? I can't remember and anyway it doesn't matter!).

The door was opened by a grey haired, elderly - as I would have said then - woman wearing a wrap around apron. I explained why I was there and without further ado, I was welcomed in, and after being introduced to her husband and brother, ushered into that front room overlooking the gate, and shown two pictures hanging on the wall.

"You have a look at those while I go and make a cup of tea." she said.
These are the pictures, two paintings of the old Claddagh..... now on the wall of Michael and Bernadette's new house.

Yes, these were like the pictures I had seen before. Mrs C. came back from the kitchen with an enormous mug of tea for me, and some pictures from an old calendar. While I drank my tea she pointed out each house and told me who had lived there, who they were related to, how many were in the family..... All the houses were single storey except one, and all had thatched roofs. There were geese running around freely in the foreground of one or two, and the occasional old woman with black shawl wrapped around her head and shoulders was seen bustling along the road or standing on a corner in conversation with another, but the houses in these old black and white photos really didn't look that attractive. It was soon obvious why the village had finally been condemned.

We talked for a good while, then Mrs C. asked when had I eaten last. She would go and get me something to eat. The something was a huge plateful of bacon rashers, eggs, sausages, and goodness knows what else! What hospitality! Knowing that there was at that time no hostel in Galway, I enquired if there was somewhere nearby I could put up my tent for the night so it was duly pitched in the garden, and later when Mrs C's family called round, the two little girls, Roisin and Louise, had a great time playing in it! (I had a beautiful photo of the two of them in that tent, but it was lost, along with all my other photos, in a house fire some years later.)

Mrs C's son, Michael, had been born and brought up in the new village - in this very house - and was extremely passionate about the Claddagh and its history. He considered himself a Claddagh man before he was a Galwegian. His wife Bernadette was a lovely young woman, a lot quieter than her husband, and we all got on very well. Michael and I shared several interests, and even had the same favourite authors in Walter Macken and Maurice Walsh.

a pictorial map of the old Claddagh, drawn by Michael.

The time went on and soon the family were ready for home, by which time it had been decided that I would not sleep in the tent but in the spare bedroom, and that the next day I would go out on the boat with Michael and Berny, fishing on Galway Bay. I was so totally overwhelmed, but stay I did, and next day I first went to the market with Mrs C. for fresh produce that no doubt had come in straight from the country that morning. At that time the stalls were nothing more than flat boxes and baskets laid out on the flat donkey carts or on the road beside, and I remember Mrs C. chatting and discussing with some of the other women, one or two wrapped in their traditional Galway shawls. Michael and Berny came by again later and off we went to catch some mackerel in the bay which we brought back to number 20 and cooked. Never has fish tasted so good!

Next day I was persuaded to stay a bit longer and as Mrs C. was going to church with the girls, her grandchildren, I went along too, feeling slightly conspicuous for not taking part in the Mass, not being RC, but it was all very casual and laid-back, so I needn't have worried.
What else we did that weekend I don't remember, but we parted firm friends, and have kept in touch throughout the years. I visited on other occasions, staying with Mrs C, and have been visited by Michael and Berny in Scotland, and last time I visited was when Kathleen, as I learned to call Mrs C. was still alive, though Martin and Micky were gone, and an addition in the form of little Mary had been made to the family.

Here's a photo of the family in 1986 when Martin and Kathleen were obviously celebrating something with "juice of the grape" and cake! That's Berny on the left with Roisin in front, Daddy Martin and Kathleen next and that's Lulu on the right.

Now it is Daddy Michael instead of Daddy Martin (the family's title for grandfather), with his seven grandchildren, Roisin's four in Wales, Lulu 's two, just up the road a bit and Mary's little Ella.

As Michael said on this visit, Where did the years go? Indeed, indeed, but here we are, all these years later, and we have our memories of them as fresh as ever in our minds - nearly!

So, to Paddy, the now retired, coalman, I want to say SLAINTE, and a big thank you for indirectly introducing me to this wonderful family! Imagine if he had gone on his way and I had walked on past the gate at Number 20? What a friendship I would have missed!

Talk again soon.

Friday, 24 July 2009

The second week in Ireland

My first day with the family was a wonderfully relaxing chill-out day, just sitting drinking cups of tea and getting to know Mary and her beautiful little baby daughter. Michael had had to go to a funeral in London that morning (but was back late that night) while Berny was still at her nursery school with the rest of the week to go before the summer holidays - and her reluctant retirement. What she didn't know was that parents, friends and family were getting together the following day to give her a surprise party to thank her for the years of teaching. Some of the parents of children in school, including Lulu and Mary, were actually Berny's previous pupils themselves, and Berny's granddaughter Jess is one of the current class.

Chris, Lulu's fiance, with Jessica, their daughter

It turned out to be quite an emotional occasion but it was wonderful to see just how much she had been appreciated over the years. No surprise! She's a lovely kind gentle person with a great love for her charges and her work. It's just a shame that new regulations in Ireland have made it difficult for her to keep the nursery open.

She'll miss all of this lot every bit as much as they will miss her!

A couple of years ago Michael's sailing boat was sunk during a storm, and since then has been away being repaired, but at long last, while I was there,
it was delivered to Lough Corrib fully repaired, and the relaunch attempted.
It was an exciting day for Michael and the family, but not without its problems as it proved more difficult to get the boat into the water and off the trailer than was expected.
However eventually with a lot of help and manoevring - and some not so clever comments from an up-himself boatee - Fair Pearl II was free of the trailer and tied up at her temporary mooring - job done! To celebrate we all went to the pub at Cong before Tom and his colleagues headed back northwards, and we headed back to the other side of Galway. The mast would be fitted later and Fair Pearl would be ready to go! Michael wants to put her to sea eventually and to sail across to Scottish waters and the Caledonian Canal. He could go up the canal from Fort William to Inverness, sail down the east coast and head west again through the Forth and Clyde and the Union Canals, via the Falkirk Wheel I talked about before! I think he'd really like that.
However here is where Fair Pearl II will be moored for now, between expeditions out into the lough.

Another day Michael, Berny and I set off on a jaunt into the Burren again.
We had brunch at a great wee cafe in Ballyvaughan, right next to the signpost that even features on postcards. I can imagine there could be a few hold-ups at the junction while drivers find the sign they are looking for! I love the name of the cafe!

From there we visited Aillwee cave, a relatively new discovery in the surrounding limestone scenery. It is not one of the most exciting caverns I have seen,
but there are a few interesting stalgmite/tite formations and a "free-fall" waterfall, not cascading over rock, but through a hole in it, like a rush of water from a large downpipe.
It will be a few thousand years before the ~tite on the right will meet with the ~mite at the bottom!
Nearby there was a bird of prey centre where we enjoyed a display of some beautiful birds,

including thelittle owl,
and a demonstration of some of them flying and catching food catapaulted into the air by the young trainer.

Our intention next was to drive to the Flaggy Shore and enjoy a walk but the rain came on so that idea was shelved.

However we drove to have a look at Newtown Castle, , one of the "ten pound castles" of Ireland, that were built with grants from the British government in the 15th and 16th centuries, long before the Irish Free State came into being!.
This one has been restored and is open to the public... during the week... and of course it was the weekend when we were there! However, it's always possible to take photos, and this was the one I liked best, even if it misses out the Burren College of Art next door.

Next we saw the martello tower at Finvarra Point. Again we only saw it from the outside so I have no idea how it is set out inside. The last martello tower I saw was at Glengarriff where there was just one room on each of its two storeys, but I have seen diagrams of them having two rooms on each, with stores being kept on the ground floor and officers' quarters on the upper floor, these having been built as coastal "forts" to defend the British Isles, which also included southern Ireland, at the time of the Napoleonic threat.

The weather not being too bad later, we drove along the road above the Flaggy Shore and stopped now and again to venture on to the shore itself.
Erosion has created great slabs of worn down limestone, just like flags you might put down on your floor or make into a path, and everywhere you look you see the fossils of what look like some sort of seaweed. Michael knows all about fossils but I couldn't name even one type.

So it was time to head home again and as we went on our way we passed Mount Vernon, an 18th century country house where many of Ireland's literati came to live and work when the place was under the ownership of Lady Augusta Gregory one of the co-founders of Dublin's Abbey Theatre.

The rest of the week passed too quickly, just chilling out, and with a trip into the shops at Oranmore on my last day. It had been planned that we would visit Lulu, but roadworks outside her place had made it impossible to get to so we abandoned that idea.

The last few pictures are of the family - and the cats, Tilda and Coco.
I was so sad to leave them all as I left for Shannon once more. Thanks guys, for a brilliant time and I do hope to see you all again before too long.

That story of how I met the family? I'll tell you next time!
Talk again soon.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Catching up

Onwards then from Kilrush and Katie O'Connor's hostel. I should have asked Mary who ran the hostel who Katie was! I just didn't think at the time! So, on my way through county Clare, I stopped off at various places along the coast.
One place I loved was Quilty, because it really reminded me of the Ireland of my childhood, with lots of old traditional cottages, painted white or pastel blue, though none with thatched roofs these days. I found a beautiful little cottage that I loved - it's now my screensaver - and also found that in typical Irish style over the last few years some of the old houses just along the road had been knocked down and new ostentatious houses built in their place!

This was a house along the road!
Some of these wouldn't look out of place in Florida or California, for example, but in an area such as rural Quilty? Mmmm. Not the right place at all. It's sad that the old Ireland is being knocked down and what is replacing it is sometimes brash and more reminiscent of parts of America. Their heritage is gradually being lost. However the boom years in Ireland are over now and perhaps there won't be as much new building in the next few years.

Another stop was at the Cliffs of Moher, where now a subterranean visitor centre and a series of craft shops are more than ready to take your money. Car and coach parks cost you. The visitor interpretive centre costs more, and a climb up O'Brien's tower costs yet more. Where once you could actually walk to the cliff edges and look down to the sea, as we did years ago with Dad - well, we were allowed to lie flat on the ground and poke our noses over the edges while Dad held our feet to stop us going too far - there are now fences and walls to prevent access, and paths and steps and special viewing areas..... and worst of all, hundreds of people milling around, talking into their camcorders, and having their photos taken at strategic viewing points! Oh the scenery is spectacular but it was bliss to be on the road again.

Doolin wasn't far away, and I finally found the road I needed to be on. The place has grown somewhat in the years since I was there last, with new builds all along the road here too, and in the village.

This is how it used to look, probably not that long ago too, and here's how it is now.

The pub I remembered was still there, though I don't remember it serving meals, either inside or outside, at umbrella shaded tables in a designated area across the road, - well it was pouring with rain that visit so I wasn't for noticing anything really - and a few old cottages had been transformed into shops, one selling Irish musical instruments, and books on how to play them; CDs of traditional and contemporary Irish music, and more besides! There was a craft shop and a knitwear shop, another shop selling stained glass ornaments in Irish designs, and another CD shop full of Irish music along with a bit of a cafe. A sign indicated this was the last music cafe before America! Nice garden area to sit out in too! There was also a village shop selling everything for the visitors' needs, including postcards and ice cream, and supplies for the residents. Those definitely were not there last time!

The hostel - new too - was just along the road and over the bridge from the pub. You could see one from the other, and I booked in for the night, getting a small dormitory to myself, as in most of the other hostels during my trip, because of the quietness of the season so far. The hostel manger was Czech, and was keen to talk about his country when he heard I had visited it - a good number of years ago!

I had supper sitting outside the pub in the warm sunshine and later came inside to listen to a session of Irish music with a group of locals playing flute, fiddle, button accordion, tin whistle, spoons.... it was very entertaining, really rousing stuff! My accompanying ONE pint of Guinness went down very nicely with it. It's right what they say about Guinness! It doesn't travel well! It tastes so smooth in Ireland but over here I feel there is a sharpness to it that leaves a bit of an aftertaste.

Next day I was going to drive towards Galway, through an area of limestone country called the Burren, which at this time of year is just beautiful with wildflowers. After visiting the Burren Exhibition and film show at Kilfenora (photo of the church, not the exhibition), I was advised to take the coast road round Black Head if I wanted to see the wild flowers, so I chose that route over the one that takes you past prehistoric tombs and forts - this time.

Heading back to the coast I passed through the town of Lisdoonvarna, where a very unusual festival takes place each year. Single? Want to find a partner? Come to Lisdoonvarna's matchmaking festival in July. It seems to have grown into quite a popular event, with lonely visitors coming from all over the world in the hopes of meeting their someone special!

No time to hang around. I had to get on along to the coast road. Well, the scenery is amazing. It's rock as far as the eye can see, though there are bits of green too, and in a few more minutes I was to see why.

At one spot where cars and coaches obviously stopped and parked up, I did the same and wandered for a good hour over the limestone pavement, marvelling at the bare rock and the clusters of plants that grew in every crack and crevice. It was wonderful, and again I took loads of photos of the scenery and the flowers.......

I have to say I was amazed at this picture. As a thumbnail it looks like a painting of some mountain scenery, but click on it and see how it is actually a photo looking down a crack between two rocks! This was pure co-incidence!

Time was moving on and I was to meet Michael at their village road end at 5.00p.m. Not knowing how long it would take, but guesstimating that it would be about an hour, I continued my journey, round Black Head, past the lighthouse, through Ballyvaughan, into County Galway, pulling up at the road end in Kilcolgan just a few minutes before the appointed meeting time. However, Michael had just beaten me to it.

It's a long time since we last met, but despite his white beard, grown for his role as Santa Claus last year, I discovered, he was as recognisable as ever.

Big hugs, and then we got back into our cars so I could follow him along the narrow road to the new home he and Bernadette chose when they left the Claddagh, in Galway, a few years ago.

Bernadette and daughters, Louise and Mary with ther own littlies were there to greet me and I quickly felt at home again with the family!

Mischievous Jessica must be about the age her mother,Louise, was when I first met her. That's amazing!

(Have I told you the story of how I met this lovely family? Once upon a time...... I'll tell you next time!)

Baby Ella soon captured my heart, a little doll of a creature, with a fine head of the dark hair she was born with, and smiles on demand! Oh those smiles! She looks so alert and makes you think she follows everything intently, taking it all in. What an amazing little 9 week-old!

Michael took me for a little tour of the area, and down to the pier where the tide was high and the children were having a wonderful time swimming and splashing in the water. I was introduced to a few of the adults who had also come down to the gathering point and was shown the boat and a nearby house that belonged to one of them! Michael calls it - the house - "The Sea for Breakfast" which is the title of a book by Lilian Beckwith.
Here's the boat, the taller mast belong's to Pad's boat. I know you can't see it too well but you get the idea..........

.....and here's the house. Not bad, eh?
(Taken from the pier where the boat is moored)

We had supper later when Mary's fiance, Morgan, got home, and Louise, Jess and baby Connor had gone back to their own home. The only one missing is Chris, Lulu's fiance. Catch up with him soon.

What a time we had reminiscing, story telling and catching up on all the years! As Michael said "Where did they all go?"
Where indeed, Michael? Where indeed?

Talk again soon.