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English people from Scotland in Ireland

We continue to confuse people when they ask where we are visiting from…

It’s been a gorgeously sunny day here today. We’ve had daffodils in bloom, buds peeping through the soil and birds starting to sing on and off for a couple of weeks but today was warm, sunny and most definitely spring-like.

So we decided to visit the Cliffs of Moher. It had been recommended to us by several people and searching online for tourist-y things to do while in Ireland always brings it up. I’d also found details of The Burren and knew we’d be driving through that area too.

Along the way we caught sight of a very tall structure that looked almost like a space rocket so pulled off the road to take a closer look. It turned out to be the round tower at the monastery of Kilmacduagh so we had a wander around there, looking at the buildings and reading the gravestones.

We arrived at the Cliffs just after midday and had a lovely couple of hours wandering around there, mostly outside along the actual cliff edges (not as near as some of the visitors who were taking their life into their hands in pursuits of ever more daring photos. We were very sensible with our safety, if not our poses!) but also a look around the visitor centre including watching the video showing a gannet swooping around the cliff faces before diving into the water and swimming with dolphins, seals, whales, basking sharks and other sealife, then resurfacing and joining the other seabirds in flight and on nests including puffins and gulls. We saw mostly crows and gulls in real life. For a Tuesday in February it was very busy, I can only imagine how packed it must being during the tourist season in the summer. We downloaded the app to listen to the audio tour and had to correct our original proclamation to Scarlett that the next land was America when she claimed to be able to see it and we realised that actually Arran was rather nearer that New York!

On the way in we had driven past signs for Aillwee Cave. 14 years ago, back in 2004 we came to Ireland for a 3 or 4 night stay. It was not a great trip; our car was broken into and all of our stuff was stolen and our ferry home was cancelled due to a ferry strike meaning we ended up on a much longer, later ferry with two toddlers, getting home around 3am with a bin bag taped over the broken car window. But we did have some good times while we were here including a visit to Blarney castle to kiss the stone, a day at Bunratty village, an open topped bus tour around Dublin and a visit to Aillwee Cave. None of us had much memory of the cave itself (Davies as 3 and Scarlett was 1 so they are excused!) but we do recall buying Davies a little torch in the gift shop which he promptly lost. We looked everywhere for it and assumed he had dropped it. Back in England when tidying out the car after the new window was fitted we found the torch. It must have been in his pushchair and fallen out when we folded it up to put it in the boot. That torch was in the toy box in the playroom for years and years and may even still be in the small amount of stuff we have stored. So we had to visit the cave on the way back today, if only to see if they still sold the torches.

They don’t.

But the cave tour was really good. All the usual stalactites and stalagmites, weird and wonderful rock formations, the tour guide turning off all the lights for complete darkness, the amazing acoustics of being metres and metres underground.

I have no photos but the drive there and back was stunning. On the way we passed feral goats grazing on the Burren, loads of cattle with calves and sheep with lambs and the strange landscape of rocks, the big flat paving slab like formations which look like giant jigsaw puzzle pieces and the miles of grey which looks like a moon landing video clip or as though all the colour has been removed from your view leaving just black and white and shades of grey. On the way back the sun was setting after a glorious day of weather so we had pink skies streaked with orange above the grey. We got home just as it was getting dark but saw a huge murmuration of starlings in the distance and a smaller but closer group (murder) of crows flying in much the same way which I’ve never seen before. There are masses of crows here, I’ve never seen so many.

All of the natural beauty and wonder of Ireland today for sure.

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A trip back to the UK

Not mainland UK though – Northern Ireland.

Last week we had a lovely four nights staying with our friends in Northern Ireland. Scarlett and I had visited before, last spring, but it was Ady and Davies’ first time there. It’s a nice easy drive from where we are staying in County Mayo. Our friends were at school / work on Friday afternoon when we headed north so we took the opportunity to head into Belfast first and visit Titanic Belfast Scarlett and I had spotted it and heard a little about it last year so it was on our list of things to do.

The drive was slightly longer than we’d planned, mostly due to snow and ice on the roads at the start of the journey meaning a slower travel time but we had just over two hours and were there before the latest admission time. I would definitely recommend longer though – we saw everything but as (almost) proper grown ups Ady and I would have lingered longer over all the many interpretation and signs and read everything. You can see why it won 2016s world’s leading tourist attraction. Telling a story that everyone knows at least one version or retelling of in the very place it all started – right where the ship was built. An excellent mix of interactive displays, recordings, artefacts and more. I’m at risk of sounding like a tripadvisor review so I’ll stop but if you are anywhere near Belfast and have three or four hours I would highly recommend adding this to your itinery. Along with the many, many other things to do in the city.

Ady and I did a city bus tour around Belfast – similar but slightly different route to the one Scarlett and I had done last year but taking in the peace wall, the murals, various other landmarks of key places during The Troubles and many of the new and renovated parts of the city too. Amazing to see how much progress there has been even in the 10 months since I was last there. Belfast is a really lovely city. I like it a lot.

Another friend had flown across from Manchester to visit while we were in Northern Ireland which was a fantastic treat – we’ve not seen each other for about 8 years and it was so, so lovely to catch up in real life again. We met in another of the city’s landmarks – McHughs pub. Usually the location for traditional live music on a Saturday afternoon but that gave way to live coverage of Ireland winning a rugby match in the six nations. Not as exciting for me but judging by all the shouting and cheering at the various large screens throughout the pub no less exciting generally! We got to have a pint or two of Guinness and sample some top craic with friendly Irish folk though. It was all good.

It doesn’t take much for teenagers to turn completely nocturnal and I confess to heading that way myself in certain company so much late night antics were on the cards – for the teens it seemed to be consuming lots of processed snacks and fizzy drinks, heading out for late night walks and watching a lot of youtube clips. For the adults it was also fizzy drinks, along with some singing, ukulele playing and some peaceful craft skill sharing as we taught our friend how to crochet. We all watched quite a bit of the winter olympics too, but with the sound turned down, music turned up and our own commentary instead.

The crochet skills came in very handy on the Monday when our planned trip to the Giants Causeway had to be called off. It had snowed quite heavily overnight and when we checked travel information we realised all of the visitor services at the Causeway had been closed due to the weather. Of course we could still have gone, but a four hour round trip in poor driving conditions to an outside destination which is slippery even on a dry sunny day seemed foolish. So I held a crochet hexagon masterclass and we made our own! It does not quite have the majesty or breathtaking quality of the real thing but what it lacks in ancient geology, huge size and natural wonderment it almost makes up for in colourfulness, portability and entertainment value! We’ve left it with our friends in case of any more of their visitors having a planned trip to the Causeway fall through.

It does mean our plans for Northern Ireland are still not complete. Not this trip but a return visit is definitely on the cards.

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The hiatus continues

In December all four of us were laid low with a really nasty cold. Fortunately it hit us just at the right time to not interfere with anything we had planned or events such as birthdays or Christmas but it had all four of us feeling rough. Ady, Davies and I have all had another cold over the last two weeks or so. Scarlett miraculously managed to escape it but it took the rest of us to our beds for at least a day each with associated moping, whinging and lack of appetite around and about.

Living on a remote island with just 20 or so other residents with a mostly outdoors existence and a fairly healthy diet means we are pretty isolated from the usual germs and rarely get ill. It also means that we have not been exposed to anything for all these years and so when a germ is about we have next to no immunity against it.

These two illnesses – both just winter colds even if there were particularly nasty strains if the virus were made all the easier to deal with by having cosier living conditions than the caravan, more space to flop about in and not get in each others way, access to the chemist for over the counter remedies to ease the symptoms, nice soft tissues and warm bubble baths, even fresh lemons to make countless warm honey and lemon drinks. Mainland living (mainland UK and mainland Ireland) has definitely had it’s advantages over island life at these points. Although of course it could well be argued that if we’d still been on Rum for the winter we probably wouldn’t have come into contact with the germs in the first place…

I guess if nothing else we’ll be returning to Rum with better immune systems!

Aside from coughing and sneezing we’ve been working our way through a few dvd box sets picked up in charity shops. We also had a look at some of the titles our landlords lent us. I don’t think we share tastes in movies although we had watched a few black and white classics. Citizen Kane was a winner.

Davies and I have been going great guns with our studying. We are far ahead of where we are scheduled to be on the study planner which is great as it means no immediate pressure when we get back to Rum. We are both really enjoying the study – both the routine of a couple of hours each day, the snuggling up to work through stuff and the actual content is really interesting. We have both submitted our next assessments which should be marked and returned to us next week and completed a few more of the online assessments which go towards our final marks. We are almost three quarters of the way through the content now and starting to think about further study options.

I’ve been busy with my crochet hook too – if only to justify bringing off a very large bag of yarn with me from Rum which we have carried all around the place with us in our rather cramped car. I now have quite a collection of midges ready to sit on a shelf in the shed when we get back. Along with the pattern I usually use I also bought a pattern for a mosquito and made some adjustments to the pattern to make a midge and found some images online of smaller midges which I was able to work out a pattern for. I still prefer my freeform crochet as a past time but I didn’t bring any blank bags, notebooks or cases to stitch on to so midges it is for now. I can get creative again when we’re back on Rum and I have my usual view to inspire me.

The cold virus and the cold temperatures – we’ve had a few snow flurries – have mostly kept us indoors rather than out exploring but we’ve plans for the next few weeks to get out and about a bit more and make the most of our Irish base.

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February

We realised today that it was already gone 530pm and still not dark outside. Living in a house is definitely adding an additional layer of disconnect between us and nature. Back on Rum while there were days that passed without me going outside, particularly at this time of year I was definitely more aware of what was happening out there. I am both missing and enjoying not missing that I think.

Turning the calendar to a new page today means two entire calendar months have passed without us being on Rum – December and January. Both the worst months in terms of being there for the weather but also the best months for being there to celebrate Scarlett’s birthday, Solstice, Christmas, New Year, my birthday, Burns Night. We’ve built some fantastic memories of the 2017 and 2018 celebrations of those occasions in different locations instead, it feels strange not to have been there for them ‘at home’ though.

Last week was Burns night, my favourite celebration on Rum. I love the food preparation – we’ve been involved in making the ‘staggis’ (Rum venison haggis) for the last few years, the ceremony of the order of the evening, I love the actual food, the poetry, the communal eating, drinking and telling stories, I love the ‘Rum twist’ of customs that are very much our own held within the community we live in. We cooked and ate haggis here, toasted lads and lassies and thought about our Scottish connections.

We had another ‘when in Ireland’ adventure and visited Knock shrine. Site of an apparition and place of pilgrimage for thousands every year. It was very quiet being January but the museum was excellent with a fantastic audio tour, we visited the one holy souvenir shop open in whole street full of holy souvenir shops to buy plastic bottles to fill with holy water.

Davies and I got properly stuck back into studying, finishing and submitting our second assignments, Davies had a phone chat with his tutor and we started the third block of study. We are still slightly ahead thanks to our intense start back on Rum despite taking December and most of January off.

Easily the loveliest thing about the last week though was a visit from friends. It’s definitely been what the house and our time here so far has been waiting for – friends to make it feel like a home!