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14/08/2017

Choo Choo, the Toilet Train is leaving

Silver Bay Campsite, Ards Penninsula, Co Down was the venue for this latest camping trip, for just two nights over a weekend and not planned. I literally looked at the weather report, decided to go and just threw the contents of my hall (camping gear still there from my last trip) into the car in no particular order. I'd had an idea that I wanted to visit this campsite next because I saw a recommendation on Facebook and when I researched it the first thing that jumped out at me was it's coastal location. Bingo! You all know how I love a bit of deep blue sea.

It took me over two hours to get there on Friday afternoon, I managed to skip out of work a bit early and make it for about tea time. I met the warden, Stephen, who turns out lives in the static caravan opposite the amenity block and he drives a white van with 'warden' written on the number plate. He showed me to my pitch which was second from the end of a row of pitches which hugged the shore line of a field that was mostly steep, except for the shore. The top of the hill had a big ruined building which was accessible from the campsite. It is known locally as the 'White House' and is associated with the Savage Family who owned much of this area in days gone by.



The shore is stony, and when the tide goes out, it leaves the bay completely and leaves some great rock pools behind, mostly populated by hermit crabs. But when the tide comes in the water is lapping the rocks mere meters from the front of the tent. 

The Campsite is organised with posts along the shore line, roughly 6m apart. They are supposedly numbered, the one I was at did not have a number but the the pitch to my right, which was empty, was No 14. The name of the person who had booked it (and failed to turn up) was written on a piece of cardboard and stapled to the post. 


One issue for me is that 6m is not really enough for a pitch. This means that there wasn't a lot of privacy and the caravans in particular seemed squeezed in. When I put my tent up, I was touching guy ropes with the tent to my left. So much for a fire break!

That evening, for tea, I went to the mobile chippy beside the shop in Cloghey, Stephen the warden said it was good and he wasn't wrong, the chips were hand cut, fresh, hot and salty. The best I've tasted in a long time.

The Friday night was spoiled a bit by some camping neighbours who were playing club anthems on their car radio with the door open, and it was giving me a bad headache partly because the music was going thump thump thump and partly because I was annoyed at the selfishness of people. It was two Mums and a whole squad of kiddies. They were just as noisy the next day, radio on, car door open. I was so glad to see them packing up at lunchtime. It should be said the kids were great, it was the Mums that were the problem. From the point they left it was blissful, just the sound of the sea, the sqawking sea birds, the sound of chatter and kids playing, arguing and playing again.

I had looked at some reviews and learnt was that the amenity block was some considerable distance away from where the touring caravans and tents were. The Amenity block was about halfway through a static mobile home section, and having measured this on google maps, I can now determine it is 0.2 miles away from the campsite. In campsite terms that is quite a trek - particularly if you are desperate! I noticed that a lot of my camping neighbours were driving to the amenity block and did have a chuckle on the Sunday morning when I overheard the Dad in the big blue tent (who had a people carrier) announce 'CHOO CHOO - ALL ABOARD THE TOILET TRAIN - LEAVING NOW' to his family who numbered a few children amongst them. I was very tempted to pop my head out of the tent and say 'can I come too please'. 




I brought the Bell Tent this time and I did not bother going down the 'glamping' route at all. I've decided I'm not much of a glamper anyway. It's just a tent, I sleep in it and sit in it and make coffee in it, I can't be bothered with cushions and special furniture. The nearest I get to 'glamping' is throwing the blanket on the airbed at a jaunty angle so I can take a photo to put on this blog.

Ready Bed with throw, the closest I seem to get to 'Glamping'




Tide came in
So I went out and about a good bit on this brief holiday. First of all I went to the Exploris Aquarium in Portaferry. I have recently got a fish tank with a few tropical fish in it, (Ziggy the Betta, one little Rummy nosed Tetra called Rudolf, he has a red nose. And a peppered Corey called Beyonce because he/she wiggles his/her bum). So now I've gone crazy for all things fish, and the Aquarium was a real treat. In fact I went to Maidenhead Aquatics in Dobbies, Lisburn on the way home to look at more Aquariums and bought two algae eaters who are now settling into my tank.

I particularly loved the really big tank they have, called the Pirate Tank. It has been designed to mislead the eye so you can't really tell how big it is, and the angles of the glass distort the surface of the water. There are sharks and rays in there, as well as schooling fish. I include this photo below which is credited to Ards Tourist Info as I did not get a good enough photo.

These next photos are mine, just general shots of the Exploris Aquarium. 

The first picture shows the touch tank which has a talk at 11am every morning. The second photo is from the big Pirate Tank. Then lastly I found a 'reptile terrarium' with snakes, chameleons and then this 'nile croc' which looked a bit on the mean side.





Exploris Aquarium has a seal hospital and rehabilitates abandoned or injured seals and releases them again. All the seals in the hospital when I visited were pups around 6 weeks old and they were so adorable, very lively and active and had faces like little puppy dogs. Each one has a name, and there's a list of names of past released seals displayed. There was a 'Ben Fogle', a 'Charlie' etc and the reasons for their names are given on the boards.

This little boy was called Hans (named after an underwater cameraman) and he was so cute I could have brought him home.




Next up, I went to a National Trust village called Kearney. I had heard about this place last year when it was used as the location for the TV series 'My Mother and Other Strangers' which was a series set in 1943 featuring a true story about temptation and romance with an American GI, set in Northern Ireland and shown Nationwide on the sunday evening 'costume drama' BBC slot. 

I really enjoyed the TV show and really loved seeing it in real life. It looks like 'Coyne's' Pub was a completely new build on the set which would explain why I found the layout of the village not quite what I'd remembered from TV. 

This is what it looked like on TV
This is what it looks lilke in real life
My Mother and other Strangers

On the Saturday night my friend Violet landed with a bag full of groceries from Marks & Spencers. I had a small barbecue with me and so we made tea and had a really enjoyable evening sitting in the Bell Tent looking out at the view until the sun had long gone down and she left about 11pm. The following morning I got chatting to a Dutch couple who were staying in a campervan next to me and I was introduced to their family in Holland via facetime! A bit random but all part of the fun. 

The last thing I did, which was on the way home, was to properly visit Portaferry and that is where you get the ferry to Strangford across the sea and then home. It is possible to drive to here to Portaferry going the long way round the coast but I think going by Ferry adds to the feeling that you are going on a holiday. 

Portaferry Harbour

This is an area I would be happy to visit again, and I hope it won't be too long before that happens. The campsite has it's drawbacks, the pitches are just a little too squeezed together, and the loos are so far most people just drive. But the advantages are that it's an un-spoilt area, a real haven for wild life and particularly birds, butterflies and rock pool creatures. The view from the tent says it all for me!






07/08/2017

Camping gear used on my road trip Summer 2017

This was my first long solo camping trip. The kids are no longer kids, in fact they are 19 and 20 years old and so therefore the only company I had was the dog, Coco. The plan was to travel light and move often, but car trouble meant I had a two destination trip in the end. 

I've had many weekends and overnight solo camping trips, and am well used with travelling alone and so that was not a worry for me, although it was a worry for the rest of my family. My main concern was when the car started giving me trouble, I was concerned I would have to call upon family to come and get me and since I was 6 hours away from home that was a big ask! However I am with the AA and I would recommend that any solo campers would take out breakdown insurance with whichever company you prefer. 

I brought a tent I had bought at the end of last year, which is in fact the same make and model as a tent I bought for my son to use as a 'Pup tent' when we went to England last year. I had bought the Olpro Pop which is a three person small dome tent, but I gave it to my son to use when he's at University. So I bought myself another one at £54.99 it is a relatively inexpensive tent, and I fancied a different colour so I bought the orange one. The choice is green, blue or orange. 

So the plan was to keep the majority of my camping gear in the car, and just keep the tent out for sleeping in. That meant when I wanted or needed a chair, I'd just reach into the boot and retrieve it. I also kept a big rectangular bag with lots of external pockets that is permanently packed out with lightweight cooking equipment, and dry goods. This all worked really well in good weather. 

In bad weather it was not so convenient. The tarp I had brought became really important in the rain, as I had a few rainy days in Garretstown House and to make it worse I was without a car so all that stuff I planned to keep in the car had to get crammed into a small tent along with me and the dog. One night there was thunderstorms, lighting and very heavy rain. In that small tent it was like the walls were closing in.

I pitched the tarp low over the tent with an overhang so I could get in and out of the tent without getting wet, as well as having a small porch to cook in. It wasn't much fun though and this was part of the reason I moved East. 

Later in the holiday, when the sun was a bit too hot, the same tarp was invaluable for shade. It was also useful to have the longer guy ropes for hanging towels on. 

Other camping equipment I used was a Vango camping chair, a three legged Decathlon Quechua stool, a Coleman Mini Table, a backpacker type stove and windshield and a Decathlon Quechua single airbed with foil backed foam mat underneath, Unfortunately the airbed had a slow leak which I repaired but that only meant it went down a bit more slowly again. I found that it was ok as long as I went to sleep straight away but in the morning I woke up on the floor. I tried to source a replacement but the shops in the holiday areas were so expensive for a single airbed I wouldn't buy it. So I just put up with blowing the airbed up every night and waking up on the floor every morning. 

Most of my camping gear in one pic.


Coco on a cooling gel pad, in her crate, with a blanket to keep her in the shade

Olpro Pop tent at Garretstown House, Co Cork


Shade from the tarp, at Dunmore East, Co Waterford


Walking boots, cool box for the pink fizzy cider and one comfy chair.

06/08/2017

Dunmore East Campsite, Co Waterford



Looking up at the cliffs in one of the many coves around Dunmore East
For the second part of my holiday I went to Dunmore East. The reason was that I had been having intermittent car problems and although it had just been fixed, the issue was a 'trial and error' type fix and I wanted to be fairly close to a main route home. As Dunmore East is quite close to Waterford City, which itself is at the end of a motorway taking me to Dublin then home, then it made sense to go there. The area was also supposed to be warmer and drier with all the bad weather in the West. 

I went to Dunmore East Campsite which is associated with Dunmore Golf Club. The campsite is on the edge of the golf club grounds, although I did not have a direct view of the course from my pitch but it was on the other side of the bank. I arrived about 4pm to reception and found that the friendly welcome I had in Garretstown House was not to be replicated here. I did find the facilities very good and spotless, however there is more of a corporate air here and the staff really aren't that interested in the people who were using the campsite. They were busy so I was put in an overflow area which I was more than happy with. I had a more private pitch as a result. If I was here again, I would quite probably request this area again. 

My little orange tent with a tarp pitched over the top to help with the shade

pic credit to the ASCII website, they do accept ASCII cards here. This is the reception and amenity block.


Credit: Pitchup Website

View from the Clubhouse at Dunmore East Golf Club

seen from the Golf Club, a ship presumably carrying wind turbines
The village of Dunmore East is a historic port that is reminiscent of 'Doc Martin' which as you probably know, is a TV series filmed in Cornwall. It would be fair to say that this coast line has a Cornish feel, there's evidence of past copper mining and the coastline to the west of Dunmore is known as the Copper Coast. It's all very 'Poldark' with secret coves, towering cliffs and winding steps down to the shore. It is no surprise to find that geologically, this area shares much of it's mineral formations with the South West coast of England and therefore this is justifiably considered that this part of Ireland that is a bit like going to Cornwall, without all the Londoners. And to top it off, the weather here is so reliable that it is also known as the 'Sunny South East' of Ireland. 

I certainly had a good number of hot, sunny days - in fact it was really too much for me to bear! 

Copper Mining Works near Annestown, Co Waterford

The Strand Inn which is walking distance from the campsite (down a steep hill)


One of the many coves 

 This one is called the 'Mens Cove' 
That's one way to get down! No thanks....

The Strand Inn became a favourite place to hang out because of it's proximity to the campsite. There is a sort of unofficial route from the campsite that takes a shortcut to the road that leads down into the cove where the Strand Inn is situated. By going to the camping pitches that have the view across the bay, you'll find a gap in the fence. A well worn path across the field will lead to a gap in a hedge beside a gate. The campsite itself is at a much higher level than the village of Dunmore East, so therefore walking down is no problem...but walking back, well that's a different story! 

The Strand Inn does good breakfasts, however there are plenty of other places in the village of Dunmore to eat including two shops that sell Croissants and hot food. I found that the best fish and chips were in a place called O'Sheas which is beside the Fire Station. 

The Strand Inn, Dunmore East

Elsewhere, I visited the nearby village of Passage East, which is literally the name of the place. From it, you can get 'passage' in the form of a ferry, Eastwards! It is the sleepiest wee village and I suspect most people drive straight onto the ferry and don't explore the town. It was so pretty and I was struck by all the washing lines on top of the town wall beside the shingle beach. 

Passage East, the village that time forgot

Passage East, Washing lines beside the sea

To wind up this trip, I went to Waterford City and found a place to park up so I could explore for an hour before continuing on my journey home (which took 5 hours) through Dublin. 

Reginalds Tower, Waterford City

This hotel (below) is under renovation and the owner has decorated the building with an image representing the struggle of mental health.

Hotel across the River Suir, Waterford City
Christchurch Cathedral, Waterford City








Staying at Garretstown House, Co Cork

I had a rough plan. Just as well it was flexible and I didn't book anywhere as the plan changed as the holiday went on. What should have happened was that I went to Kinsale, spent two days then went North along the Wild Atlantic Way, calling in to Mannix Point in Caherciveen, then Co Clare, Connemara, Achill Island and finally the south Sligo coastline. What happened was that my car played silly buggers on the 6 hour journey south from Northern Ireland to Cork, on day it 2 went into a garage, and for days 3, 4 and 5 stayed in the garage while a 'fuel pressure gauge' was ordered, delivered and fitted. In that time the weather went pear shaped too, and so when I got my car back I went East instead of North. 

The Coach House in the background
I stayed in a campsite called Garretstown House near the village of Ballinaspittle which is a few miles outside Kinsale. It is a holiday park with mobile homes, touring sites and facilities set amongst the remains of a beautiful and ruined Georgian House. There are two historic buildings, one facing the other and with identical facades. The one that was a residence, is ruined, missing it's roof and too dangerous to go into therefore it is closed off. The other is an old Coach House which has been partially restored and has a large useful space indoors for group activities. There is also an Orangery which is being utilised as a sitting room for adults only. The courtyard houses facilities such as a campers kitchen, playrooms for different age groups and a takeaway. The campsite is placed on what would have been a croquet lawn, and has a magnificent view of the sea in the distance from steps leading down to it. It is a fantastic place, I really would recommend it for a family friendly campsite. The youngsters will love it as there are kids discos and kids movies being shown in the coach house on alternate nights. There is quite a steep hill going up through the holiday park from the main road, which is worth noting for those towing a caravan. You can walk to the beach, which is a 15 to 20 minute walk away, and is downhill all the way but uphill all the way back. The campsite is run by a family, Dennis Mawe is the main person but in my time there I met his sister and his brother and they are all active in the running of the site. The family are really friendly, this is the second generation running the site. They were so helpful when my car broke down and helped me find someone to fix the car. When the car was ready they brought me to the mechanic to pick my car up. When I had no car they were concerned and asking about my welfare. I have to say I enjoyed my chats with the family and felt like I was being looked after very well. 

panoramic photograph

The ruinous main residence


The Courtyard

My little Orange tent on the former Croquet Lawn 

view from the steps


Garretstown Beach 

Garretstown Beach is 0.8 miles from the campsites, although there is really two beaches side by side with a hill in between. I noticed plenty of icecream vans, food stalls and even a massage parlour! 

On my visit to Garretstown House I visited the historic town of Kinsale, which is a harbour town flanked by two forts. One of the forts is in great condition and can be visited. Unfortunately, because I had a dog with me I wasn't allowed into the inner courtyard, however I could visit the perimeter. Luckily this included a coastal path that quite honestly I probably wouldn't have bothered looking for if I hadn't been turned away at the ticket booth. 

Charles Fort 

Charles Fort

Charles Fort 

In Kinsale I visited the harbour, the historic narrow streets, and some outlying areas such as 'Summer Cove'. I found Kinsale to be a really pretty place, however very busy and parking is a problem. There is mostly paid parking spaces however Dennis from the campsite told me where the few free parking spaces where and I got lucky both times I visited Kinsale and got a free parking space. Kinsale puts me in mind Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast where I visited last year. Lots of cobblestown streets, narrow and very old. There's plenty of notices around giving the various histories of places and people which is a great touch. 

Kinsale



Desmond Castle which houses a wine museum
Scilly 





Summer Cove

Summer Cove



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