Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: Enjoying life right now. (Page 1 of 14)

Day 19: a boat ride and a grave.

Do you remember the two church spires from the last post? Here they are from the lake. Queen Elizabeth walked from one to the other (don’t ask me which is which) in that painting I showed you, which is currently in my suitcase.

Yes, we went on a boat ride to look at the ruins of a 6th century monastery on Devenish island.

However, before we got there, Ben the driver got the head count wrong and we drove off without the Canadian couple. It only took a few minutes before someone in the back raised the alarm, then just after that Ben said, “ And now here’s my phone ringing.”

When we got back to pick them up, someone said to the guy left behind, “You must’ve been worried when you saw the bus disappear.”

“Not really,” he replied. “ The bar was set to open in an hour!”

Once we got on the water it was serene and beautiful.
Along the way we saw a mother swan with her grey cygnets.
We heard about Eneskillen castle, we passed by a very medieval looking building with turrets.
“You see that building there, jutting out from the castle? “ said our guide on the boat. “ It’s called the water tower, but that’s just to confuse people because we never built one!”

We passed by a neighbourhood of pleasant looking semi-detached homes. “There were many years that we couldn’t see these homes from the river. Here was were the police lived and we had great shutters up to stop people shooting at the police. Now they’re down and we all hope it stays this way.”

Oscar Wilde and Samurai Beckett attended school here. “ Less famous are the 3 of us but give us time… you never know.”

Cows happily eating the impossibly, brilliantly green grass.

Looking at birds soaring overhead , the last time I saw birds from a boat was in South America. How lucky I am!

We arrived at the monastery on Devenish Island.

All we could hear was the wind and a few bird calls.

Legend has it was if you climb into this grave, lay down, and turn around 3 times you’ll lose any ailments you may have.

I suppose if you don’t have any, then you’ll pick up all the ailments that everyone else left behind.

We couldn’t climb the impossibly high tower, but we could climb this building. It used to hold the bell the monks would ring to mark their prayers.

I’m only 5’2” so I can pass through a lot of old doors pretty easily. But this door up to the top of the bell tower was tiny.

The spiral staircase was also not built for modern-sized humans.

Looking down from the tower, I closed my eyes after gazing out across the view to the mainland. I could imagine back in the olden days, toiling away at my farm over there, and the hearing the clear sound of the bell floating across from the monastery on the island.

It must have been greatly cherished.

I’m still very glad I was born now and not then. Even with these beautiful blue skies, the rain was approaching. Life would have been really hard back then.

The sound of the wind through the rushes is something I’ve never heard before, though I’ve read about it many times.

It was a long day of driving. Along the way to Yeats’ grave, there were roadworks and we were diverted into a series of narrow lanes…

… when the almost inevitable happened and a car came up the road towards us.
Did you notice the rubbish bin?

Yep, she backed straight into it. She was Not Happy.

As we drove past her, someone asked Ben why he didn’t back up to let her car go past,

“I might have done, but there was a wee bend behind us. If I’d started going backwards and a car ran into the back of me, I’d be in a world of pain. I don’t go looking for trouble because enough of it seems to find me without it.”

Prophetic words indeed. Today was not to be Ben’s best day.

The next stop was a visit to Yeats’ grave. The ‘George Yeats’ is his wife, who was called Georgiana but preferred to be called George.

He’s known for his poetry, and I love how he wrote a poem called ‘Under the shadow of Ben Bulben’ that details exactly how he wanted to be buried. When his body finally made it back to Ireland, they respected his words. Here they are:

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head

In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid,   

An ancestor was rector there

Long years ago; a church stands near,

By the road an ancient Cross.

No marble, no conventional phrase,   

On limestone quarried near the spot   

By his command these words are cut:

               Cast a cold eye   

               On life, on death.   

               Horseman, pass by!

It’s just an ordinary plot, u der the shadow of the mountain Ben Bulben.

Then I went into the gift shop, because it started raining, and I hit the JACKPOT.

Not this one.

Omg. I have been looking for a painting to represent my Antarctica trip. Here, in a churchyard gift shop in the middle of Ireland, I find it.

I was so happy.
I still am.

Here’s the ancient cross that was mentioned in Yeats’ poem. It was buried in Cromwell’s day to protect it.

Here’s something unusual that we saw at a’splash and dash’ stop at a roadside petrol station.

it’s a set of washers and dryers.

Today was definitely not our driver’s best day. After forgetting two people this morning and having to go back for them, he missed the turnoff to Galway and we were halfway to Limerick before the people at the back end of the bus alerted him.

It was an extra 40 minutes of driving time to retrace our steps.

He was trying to tell us jokes and information along the way, but in the end he said, “Come on Galway, I’m running out of material!”

Day 18: a quick trip to America and an even quicker walking tour of Derry.

We started off the day with a fabulous tour of Derry, half in the bus and then half walking over the Derry wall. It was a short tour, lasting less than half an hour which was a shame, because I was really interested in what the guide, Rory, had to say.

He grew up in what was known as “Bogside” in The Troubles – a Catholic area that was heavily involved in the fighting. The Netflix show ‘Derry Girls’ is set there at around the same time.

Derry, or Londonderry, was just as dangerous a place to live as Belfast was, back in the day. Here, however, we had a guide who was more upfront about what he’d experienced.
Our first hint of what life was like back then was when we drove past this famous piece of street art, a kid in a gas mask to protect himself against the gas bombs that the police would throw.

“I’ve seen things that no child should ever experience,” he said, matter-of-factly. “There’s a photo of me when I was 5, covered in dirt, standing in front of a burning bus,”

“ When I was about 12, I was walking along the street and bam! A man was shot in the head right beside me.”

Derry is mainly catholic. Unionists, the people/protestants who are happy to remain part of theBritish Empire, call the city Londonderry. The other side call it Derry. They believe that Britain is an illegal occupier and should be thrown out and they want an Irish government for the whole of Ireland.

In Belfast they had the Peace Wall to keep the two sides apart. In Derry it was the River Foyle.

“When I was a child we wouldn’t dare to cross the river except to go to the hospital or you’d take the road to Dublin. I didn’t ever speak to a Protestant person until I was 19.”

Imagine that.

He described how the police would come to their neighbourhood and burst in at 3 AM, breaking apart things and generally wrecking the place.

“ There might have been one house in the street where they were doing something for the IRA,” he said. “But they’d tear apart every house in the street. I can remember at 8 in the morning, police still throwing all that we owned on the floor, my mother kneeling down and putting my school tie on me and sending me off to school. Years later, I talked to her about it, saying, ‘ What were you doing, woman? Were you mad?’ She said, ‘ It was their job to disrupt our way of life;’ it was mine as a Mammy to maintain it.’”

He went on. “ We have a real problem here with the word ‘terrorist.’ Just who were the terrorists? The IRA or the police? It all depends on who you’re talking to and what side you’re on.”

But then he said something that was really heartening.

“Anyone born here after 1998 is blessed. They have never seen a thing. We older ones are traumatised by it all, but they are able to live in peace. It’s amazing how quickly we can clean up our own garden.”

This the Bloody Sunday monument for the civilians that were killed.

Bloody Sunday’ refers to the shooting dead by the British Army of 13 civilans (and the wounding of another 14 people, one of whom later died) during a Civil Rights march in Derry.

I remember reading an absolutely fantastic play called “ The Freedom of the City” back when I was a student. It was about a group of ordinary people attending a protest march in an Irish city who, blinded by tear gas, stumble into the guild hall to escape. The police outside think they’re terrorists making a political statement, but they weren’t. The audience knows their fate right from the start, and the play is heartbreaking.

Someone asked Rory if he’ll tell his 5 year old son what had happened to him when he was a boy. He thought about it, then said, “I don’t know. I don’t think so. I want him to have a childhood, as he should. If he asks me about it, maybe I will. But I don’t think I want him to know.”

The top of the wall was much wider than I thought it would be. I could imagine the Protestants having parades up here and dodging bullets from the people down below.

(Remember this image for later, everyone…)

We looked down from the old wall towards this section of the town, which was the Bogside. Rory grew up here. He said that when he was a kid, the streets were barricaded to keep the police out, with women banging trash can lids on the ground to warn the neighbours whenever they saw any hint of danger.

He said, “It’s funny. Twenty years ago this was one of the most violent places in Europe. Now it’s one of the safest. We had violence but hardly any crime. Crime doesn’t flourish here, because we have such a strong social network. Crime withers and dies when people look out for each other.”

Then, before I knew it, the tour was over. We went back to the bus but Ben wasn’t there with it. After a bit of discussion, we decided we’d go our separate ways and meet back at the bus in 30 minutes. That suited me just fine, (in fact, I’m fairly sure I suggested it) because there were some art shops nearby. I was still in search of my Ireland painting.

I ended up buying two. This one was a limited edition print of the view from the bridge that I’d seen half an hour before. The original painting was given to the writer or director (or someone) of The Derry Girls. Buying art where I feel I’ve been there is wonderful for my travel room.

Otherwise known as the Man Cave, where my plan is to gradually fill it with art from my travels. I wonder if Ryan28 has finished building the IKEA wall unit?

The other one has the green fields, stone walls and the fairy tree that James told me about when we were driving.
“If there’s a tree standing all alone in a field, no farmer will cut it down. You leave it be.”

A few years ago a motorway was scheduled to be built, but when the workmen realised that a fairy tree was needing to be cut down, everyone refused to do it. Eventually, the whole motorway was rerouted at a cost of millions of euros.

The fairy tree is still standing.

After this, we drove for a while until we came to an open-air park about the Irish migration to America. The Ulster American Folk Museum is very much like Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, but without the panning for gold and the rides in the stagecoaches.

It had interesting parts, but personally, I wouldn’t break my neck to be in a hurry to see it again. They had brought many buildings together, some fromIreland and then some from America, which they rebuilt. It’s all authentic as far as it goes… but meh.

On our way into Enniskillen, just before we reached our hotel, Gail from Texas called out, “Frogdancer! There’s an art gallery!”
I had some time to kill before dinner so I went over there and fell in love with this horse sculpture. Look at his long, foal-like but creepy legs!
Unfortunately he was already sold.
I left my email with the gallery owner and his manager to see if they could get the artist to make another one for me ( but to be honest, I’m not holding my breath. Her work is really expensive.)

We then kept talking for an hour or so about all sorts of things. I was telling them about how much I’ve learned about Irish history over the last few days. Before I left, they showed me a painting of a pivotal moment in Enniskillen, which happened here in 2012.

An historic moment for Queen Elizabeth II came in Enniskillen in 2012, when she made a famous walk from St Macartin’s Cathedral into St Michael’s church in the town. It was the first time a reigning monarch had entered a Catholic Church on Irish soil.

The people from the gallery gave me a print of the painting. I told Ben, the bus driver about it that night over dinner and he said, “The late queen was very much loved in this country. The only time she ever bent her head to a monument was to the one for all the people killed in the Troubles.”

Remember the two churches. Just saying… there might be something tomorrow.

Day 17: Irish whiskey and a Giant’s Causeway.

Today we were driving along the coast towards the oldest licensed whiskey maker in Ireland. I sit up near the front of the bus, so I get to see things like this tunnel before the rest of the bus.

Ireland is pretty lucky in that it has very docile fauna. As Ben, our bus driver put it, “You can pitch a tent at night. Nothing will sting, bite, or try to kill you. The only thing that might happen is that a cow might get the tent flap open and lick your toes.”

We saw many beautiful little fishing villages.

We were given 20 minutes to gallop around Camlough village.
“Hang on, “ said Doug, an enormously tall American with a wife of exactly the correct height for a human. (In other words, Cindy is around my height.). “Aren’t we still in Northern Ireland? Why is an Irish flag flying?”

“Maybe there’s a rebel living here who sneaks out in the dead of night to make a point?” I said.

I know I’ve said this before, but this vivid green is not photoshopped. (Anyway, even if I wanted to, I don’t know how.)

There’s Doug and his lovely wife Cindy, balancing out this shot with a pop of blue.

Such a pretty place, which looks out over the Irish Sea with a smudge of Scotland over the water.

We had a brief stop at this pretty litter place.

Portaneevey. If you look closely, you can see a top bridge between the mainland and the island. Hang on, I’ll zoom in for you.

See it now?

I just liked this shot.

There are huge hedges of fuchsias along the roads. Normally they’re red and purple, but these pale pink ones were at the car park here.

Before I had kids, I owned a collection of different fuchsias, around 24 of them if memory serves . Maybe I should buy another one.

We arrived at Bushmills whiskey distillery bang on 12, and in we went. I wasn’t expecting much from this tour, ( but was looking forward to taste-testing the end product) but it was actually really interesting.

They asked us not to take photos during the tour, but the big bonus for us was that we had to miss one of the steps to make whiskey, because they were cleaning out the vats or something, so we got a tiny bottle of the good stuff to keep. I was happy with that.

This is from the gift shop.
For the first time, I was glad that I was in a tour with people who don’t drink. I had 3 different whiskeys to try… their common run of the mill one that they recommend that you buy if you’re going to add Coke to it; their bourbon oak barrel infused one which was nicer; and their 12 year old one which was as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

Then it was onwards towards The Giant’s Causeway, without lunch.

The weather had turned against us and it was raining. It wasn’t a harsh rain, but it was persistent. When the guide from the causeway said there was a bus to take people there and back and that it was FREE for National Trust members, I gave a cheer. That’s another £1.30 I can take off the cost of my National Trust membership. ( Believe me, I’m keeping track!)

Even though it was raining, of course I was going to walk down the track to the causeway. What’s the point if you don’t?
Walking back up the hill is obviously another issue entirely.

Here’s the legend of the Giant’s Causeway:

The Myth

As legend has it, Northern Ireland was once home to a giant named Finn McCool (also called Fionn Mac Cumhaill). When another giant – Benandonner, across the Irish Sea in Scotland – threatened Ireland, Finn retaliated by tearing up great chunks of the Antrim coastline and hurling them into the sea. The newly-created path – the Giant’s Causeway – paved a route over the sea for Finn to reach Benandonner.

However, this turns out to be a bad idea as Benandonner is a massive giant, much bigger than Finn! In order to save himself, Finn retreats to Ireland and is disguised as a baby by his quick-thinking wife. When Benandonner arrives, he sees Finn disguised as a baby and realises that if a mere baby is that big, the father must be far larger than Benandonner himself!

Following this realisation, Benandonner rushes back to Scotland, tearing away as much of the Causeway as he can in his haste to put as much distance between Ireland and himself as possible. And thus, the myth of the Giant’s Causeway was born.

Perhaps a less interesting explanation, the scientific approach dictates that the Giant’s Causeway was first formed over 60 million years ago. The science says that the Causeway was created following a period of volcanic activity, where the lava cooled and formed these incredible interlocking basalt columns. Each column is near-perfectly hexagonal in shape; a lasting reminder of the power of the world’s natural beauty.

No matter which explanation you choose to believe, it’s undeniable that the Giant’s Causeway is a truly awe-inspiring natural wonder of the world.

(I didn’t write that explanation. I googled it.)

It’s crazy, but the rocks are hexagonal.

Despite the rain and the slippery rocks, people were doing their best Finn McCool impressions.

You can see here how the rocks have been thrust up from the earth. Imagine the forces big enough to accomplish this?

As I walked near the queue for the bus for the way up, I passed by Carol, who comes from Brisbane. She told me to make sure I went “around the back”, so I dutifully followed where she pointed.
She wasn’t wrong.

This is a random person here to give perspective as to how high this particular bit is. I love the lines throughout the rock.

There were people climbing the rocks all over the place, but even though I’d consumed 3 whiskeys and therefore felt invincible, I had enough common sense to know that I should probably stick to unslippery level ground.

Another Carol, this one a kindred spirit from Northampton in England who is also travelling alone, said that she found herself clinging to the cliff face by her toes, thinking, “ Carol, you’re an idiot!”
She wasn’t hyped up on Irish whiskey. She was the kind soul who gave me the bourbon one.

I stayed on this side of the causeway for quite a while. We had oodles of time… this tour is very relaxed.
I stood looking out at the ocean. The people seemed to disappear and the rain was irrelevant. ( Though I knew that my one dress, the unflattering grey sack, was getting very wet from where my Antarctica raincoat finished.)

The cliffs encircled me, the sea was rolling in and the area seemed timeless. It was a special moment that was only interrupted when a group of people asked me to take their photo.

Just a selfie to prove I am really here!

Day 16: Belfast.

As I travel, I often take notes on my phone to remind me of things, particularly when I’m listening to a really knowledgeable guide, like the one Deana and I struck at Ingateston Hall a few days ago. I take shots of information boards to help me remember things as I’m writing these posts. Corinna, Deana and James would all agree that they’ve heard me say, “This shot/place is definitely bloggable!!!” as they’ve been with me.

This day in Belfast was no different in one sense, though the feeling that I’m left with as I’m here in my hotel room before dinner is very different. I’m still processing it.

I’m left with a profound feeling of sadness. You all know how I love my English history. I’ve been revelling in it since I got here. But the damage the English has done to Ireland was something I’d been vaguely aware of, but now that my feet are firmly planted on Irish soil, it’s starting to become a bit more vivid.

In Belfast, there’s lots of mentions of “the Troubles”, a period of time between 1969 and 1998 where there was open warfare between the Catholics and the Protestants in Northern Ireland.

The seed was down for The Troubles back in 1921: when the first prime minister of Northern Ireland, clearly not elected for his political acumen, stood up and said in his maiden speech, “I am a Protestant Prime Minister, in a Protestant government, in a Protestant country.”

The 50% of his newly- formed country who happened to be Catholic weren’t impressed, and were even less so when for the next 50 years they were badly discriminated against for their choice of faith.

Everything erupted in 1969, with people being killed, bombs being planted, Molotov cocktails thrown at houses, politicians being assassinated… and not just in Ireland. It was when bombs started going off in London that the world started paying attention. I remember seeing news stories about it on the tv when I was a kid.

As I said, this went on for 30 years, until a peace accord was finally signed, guaranteeing equal rights for all, regardless of religion.

But why was Northern Ireland, a mere 1/6th of the whole island, even formed in the first place? After WWI, England said it would give the whole of Ireland back to the people. But they didn’t want to give up the enormous revenues that the shipyards, the linen factories and a few other industries were bringing in…

Our city guide said that she watched the Liam Neeson film “Michael Collins” a few weeks ago. He was the poor politician who was sent to England to bring back the whole of Ireland in a signed deal, but he came back with this deal instead. He had no choice.
Apparently, there’s a line in the movie where he says, “They’ve made me sign my own death warrant.” He was dead within the year, killed by his own people.

Ben, our main guide, mentioned these bollards in the top photo, saying, “Thankfully, we’re not going to be stopped by British soldiers or the police asking us our business and searching the bus. There’s no need for them anymore, but back then, there was a sore need for them to be here.”

This is the Peace Wall. This was put in place, dividing the city of Belfast, to literally stop people from lobbing Molotov cocktails into the different neighbourhoods, shooting people and planting bombs under the cars of people with a different religion.

It was a necessary step, but sadly, all these years later, it’s still in place. There are people in these neighbourhoods who still refuse to cross the Peace Wall into the other part of the city.

On the Catholic side, you’re encouraged to write on the wall. I thought I’d write something to you all. 🙂

Here’s another view, with some of the rest of the tour members to show just how tall this wall is.

“You could still throw a Molotov if you really tried,” said our guide, “but at least now you couldn’t target the houses.”

After this, we drove to the other side of the wall, where suddenly we were seeing the Union Jack in all directions.
The Battle of the Boyne, a fight between the Catholic King James and the Protestant William of Orange took place in 1690, but the people on this side still celebrate it with marches and parties for a month, because the Protestant army won.
There were Union Jack buntings strung throughout the streets, with the English people on the bus saying that they’ve never seen so many flags in their lives.

A picture of William of Orange on a white horse, winning the battle. Yes, it happened over 300 years ago…

This is a place absolutely formed by religion. There are 2,000 schools in Northern Ireland, but only 50 of them are not segregated by religion.

Belfast only has 848,000 people in it, even though it’s a capital city. The entire population of Ireland still hasn’t recovered from the potato famine in the 1800’s.

A fun fact: Ireland invented the ejector seat. Our city guide said, “Ben has one in the bus so you’d all better behave!”

Ben said, “ I’m not sure which one it is so it might happen by accident!”

This is the memorial of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband. The politicians of the day decided to use reclaimed land to put the clock tower on. They didn’t realise that the ground hadn’t properly stabilised yet, so it leaned over 1 metre to the side in its first year. Everyone was terrified that it was going to collapse, but it didn’t move an inch after that.

There’s lots of street art here, most of it political. This is just a collage of famous folk from around here. Van Morrison and George Best were among them. Jamie Dorian, C. S. Lewis and Liam Neeson were also from here.

Omg. This Parliament House is incredibly impressive. It’s a shame that since February 2022, no- one’s using it.

The Northern Ireland government voted to support Brexit. Then they decided that they didn’t like the way the British government was implementing it, so they walked out in protest. The politicians are still getting paid, but nobody’s turned up for work for over 18 months.
This means that all governance has ground to a halt.

Can you believe it?

The lamps that light the mile long driveway were donated by the Canadian government. They all have moose heads on them.

During WWII the Luftwaffe targeted the building, so they disguised it by covering it with a mix of bituminous and cow manure so it would be harder to see in the dark. After the war, it took a team of 33 men 7 years to pick it all off.

This is the view looking down from the parliament building. The green of the lawns is not photoshopped.

On our way again, we passed a funeral. Everyone on the street stopped until the cortège had passed by. You can see how the traffic on our side of the street has stopped.

Our local guide was interesting. She was in her 70’s and said that she and her husband were from opposite sides of the religious divide. When the Troubles happened, they knew they’d be in danger if they stayed, so they went and lived in Europe, only coming back once things had settled down.

“We had a lovely life… I don’t regret it for a second,” she said. “Warm weather, skiing holidays in Switzerland… it was lovely.” I get the feeling that family brought them back.

She told us to go and see the reception room at the city hall, so when we were dropped off at the hotel and we had a couple of hours to kill, I walked over.

She was right. It was pretty.

I walked around the city centre for a while and grabbed a sausage roll from a bakery. I sat outside and chatted with a few locals.

Oops. I took this photo because the book looks interesting and I didn’t want to forget it.

Pretty street. Just around the corner from here I bought my Belfast souvenir. A pair of earrings I’ll wear everyday.

Flurry of activity at the hotel when I arrived back. It was a Travellers/Gypsy wedding.

At breakfast we’d seen these women with huge hairpieces and trunkfuls of makeup on, some wearing pyjamas, and we’d wondered what was happening.

I don’t know how she expected to get that crinoline dress with the 2 m train into that car.

Pjs why? It was nearly 2 PM.


we left them to it and took off for Hillsborough Castle, which is the place the royals stay when they visit Northern Ireland.

It was a fascinating choice for the afternoon, considering all that we’d learned that very morning.

It’s called a castle but it’s really just a very swish mansion with 100 acres of gardens.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures so I restrained myself.

But look at these miniatures. They were made in the 1830s and were of all the kings and consorts. They lined the room. The guide to the house said the Victoria liked to take them back and forth to wherever she was living, so they used to get mixed up.

This was the last room on the tour. The others were all stuffy rooms so you haven’t missed out on anything. This room is where the family chills, and it’s really nice. In the background you can see one o the last portraits of the Queen.
There are family photos scattered around, interestingly Harry and Meghan are there as well.

I snapped a sneaky pic of this. It’s by Prince Charles… a watercolour.

This is right outside the back door. There used to be a road running right alongside the house, where this patio is now.
The people living here were given new homes and the garden was extended.


No filter. There’s a reason why it’s called the Emerald Isle.


I saw these chimneys as I came out from the gardens and thought they looked pretty.

One important thing about the tour of Hillsborough Castle was just how proud the guide was to show us around. She was practically bursting with joy at being able to share these rooms, art and gardens with the public.

“When I was a wee girl all of this was shut up for security reasons,” she said. “It’s so lovely to be able to share all of this with you all.”

I’ve been getting a lot of compliments about my wee little sheep that James gave me. Here’s the shot I sent to him.

When the tour first started, I was outraged to be charged the equivalent of $15 for a single glass of wine. I now have a bottle of wine that I keep in my room. It was a nasty shock to find out that a complimentary drink each night wasn’t included.

We had two nights in Belfast, so I put my 2/3rds bottle of wine in the safe for the day. I didn’t want the cleaning staff to chuck it down the sink!

And here are my everyday earrings that I bought in Belfast. You’ll be noticing them in photos once I’m back home. In this photo they look gold but they’re silver.

One of my goals was to buy some everyday earrings on this trip, after I lost my other ones from Bali on a Little Adventure in South Australia.

As soon as we went inside, it was a mistake. It was deserted and loud DOOF DOOF music was playing. Our group split, with Anne, Jeff and I deciding to find the pub that the guide had talked about on the tour this morning.

This bar is EXACTLY the same as in Victorian times, even to the gas lighting. None of the decor has been altered.
Luckily, Anne had paid attention to the guide’s directions. She was turning left and right, while her husband Geoff and I followed behind.
It’s just around the corner from the Europa hotel, which was bombed 48 times during the Troubles.

It was fabulous. Look at the floor! Look at the roof! Look at the carving on the beams!

We didn’t think we’d get a seat but Fortunate Frogdancer was in the house so a snug was empty just as we walked by.
I wanted to take a video of the flickering of the gas lights to show you, but my phone couldn’t capture it.

I suppose we’d call them booths nowadays. We sat in one and then, feeling a little guilty about all the other people looking for a seat, we invited two older women to join us. To be honest, they looked a bit dodgy to me but they turned out to be great.
They were from Northampton in England, here on a tour like us, and they’ve been friends for 72 years. The rest of them started talking and omg – the things they remembered!

Gas lighting, not only in the streets but also in their houses. Anne told about going on holidays in a caravan with gas lighting. Geoff’s grandfather used to have a job lighting the gas lights in the streets.

One of the Northampton women remembered the “knocker-upper”… a man with a long stick who’d bang on your front windows to wake you up, before they had alarm clocks.

I’d heard about these things but I never expected to meet people who had actually experienced them.

We walked home, the two groups parting company at the main road. We got back at 10 PM… a far more suitable ending to the day than the 8 PM “good nights” that many of the Americans couples were happy with.

Tomorrow we head further north. Let’s see what awaits!

Day 15 – a great little castle and a huge sinking feeling…

I started off this morning with a quick chat to Evan27, who was enjoying a birthday. We didn’t talk long, just a quick “Happy birthday baby!” and a catch up of all that’s going on.

The warm and fuzzy feeling was soon replaced by an “oh shit” moment when I realised that my warm Antarctica coat wasn’t in my room. I must have left it in the lobby of the hotel after James left. I threw everything into my bag and raced out to reception.

Fortunate Frogdancer struck a nice young man who pulled out my coat from under the counter. Phew! That’s the second time someone on this trip has saved me from leaving something behind. The first was my Antarctic water bottle in London, now this.

They say things like this come in threes. I’d better be careful…

I forgot to put this photo up of me arriving in James’ town in the previous post about Drogheda. For some reason, I found the name of it a bit hilarious.

Our first stop for the day was a place called Trim Castle.

Along the way, we were regaled by such facts as there are more sheep than people in Ireland. They are bred mainly for their lambs, with France being the main customer.
Our guide comes from farming stock, so we heard many facts about fertiliser and such.

Here’s the gateway to the castle. No one is allowed to go in alone, you have to have a tour guide. Fortunately Brenda was very good.

One of the first things she told us was there was an oubliette beside the gateway. Basically, an oubliette is a very deep dungeon that you drop prisoners into, sometimes breaking their legs in the fall, then you forget about them and leave them to die.
It really brings the ‘evil’ into medieval, doesn’t it?

Look at this brooding piece of medieval history!
This is the castle Keep, which was constructed mainly for defence and general intimidation of the locals. It was started in 1176 by Hugh de Lacey under Henry II of England and was finished 30 years later by his son Walter.

Hugh didn’t live to see the completion of the project, having had an unfortunate “accident” after he tried to get the locals to tear down a working monastery to reuse the building stones. He was decapitated by a local stonemason who declared that Sir Hugh had simply tripped over his axe…

The walls were over 3 metres thick and were rendered and covered in whitewash both inside and out, so it looked very different to how it is today.

When it was first finished it looked like this, built as a cross shape with square towers. Unfortunately, Hugh soon realised that if you have square towers, you have blind spots.
The enemy sneaks up to the base of the tower in the spots where they know you can’t see them, they make a hole in the bottom, stuff a dead pig or something like that into it and set it alight. The pig burns, this loosens the mortar in between the stones and the tower is undermined.

These slopey things called plinths were added to erase any blind spots and stop this from happening. I’d noticed them on castle walls before but never knew why they were there.

For all the work building the castle must have taken, it was abandoned by the de Lacey family as a residence in 1250. Hugh’s granddaughter Mathilda, who married a French nobleman with a name sounding suspiciously like mine, built a big house with lots of windows that was far more convenient to live in than a fortress.
The keep had never been attacked… the poor old Irish were in no position to attack an army with suits of armour and superior weapons. Also, the English came in under the guise of protecting the Church, so the Irish were scared to go against them for fear of eternal damnation.

The use of language was interesting. In the Keep the inhabitants were the noble family and the priest. They would’ve spoken French. In the grounds outside were the guardsmen and soldiers. They would’ve spoken a mix of Welsh and English. Outside the castle gates… Irish.

This beautiful tower that looks like it’s been gnawed is from an Augustan abbey that used to be there. The guide said, “When the abbeys were dissolved, the locals broke them up and used the stones to build their houses. Some call it looting, but the Irish call it recycling.”

The Duke of Wellington was born here – he who defeated Napoleon and inspired the excellent ABBA song ‘Waterloo.’

An interesting thing was that our guide was educated at the little Catholic convent school just over the river, where although the castle was right there, it was never mentioned.

“It was called King John’s castle, you know, he of the Magna Carta. But he was Prince John. He was never king in Ireland, no matter what he says.”

I like how the guides here are outspoken.

While I was standing outside the bus, chatting to the driver before we set off for Belfast, I took this photo of the pretty little street. I jumped in the bus, the driver started to pull away and I was searching frantically for my phone in all my pockets.

Suddenly a man was banging on the door of the bus, waving a bright red phone. Oh. My. God. I’d dropped it in the street.

The luckiest thing about it was that my debit card was in it. If I’d lost that, my holiday would have been absolutely ruined.

Just between you and me, I’m hoping that the ‘ Leave things behind’ streak is now finished.

Our guide is an interesting character. At first , with all the farming facts, I was a bit dubious. But then he dipped his toe into religion, saying religion has lost its grip in Ireland. 

“We were under its thumb, the government was under thumb, police, every one. It was very stuffy. We came out from under it and we’re all the better for it.”

A while later we passed by Sloane Castle, which holds huge music concerts like The Rolling Stones, Madonna and the like. James had told me about it the day before, so I was keen to see it as we drove by.

It was Stunning.

“It looks great but it shouldn’t be there. If the English had left us alone we would have developed a different way. Ah well, we are what we are and we’re all speaking English.”

We drove past Francis Ledgewith’s house. Our guide knew I was taking notes so he asked me to take this down:

Francis ledgewith war poets WE1. 

Sufla in Turkey to Flanders field he was killed moving a cannon

He was badly affected by the cold and he lost his bag of poems


I’ve never heard of him, but I’m leaving this here just as I wrote it, so I can look him up when I get home. Our guide raved about his poems.

When we pulled up in front of the Titanic museum, we were told that the height of the jutting out things on the building were the same height as the Titanic’s hull.

“That’s great,” I thought. “ This is attention to detail. This is going to be good.

I was mistaken.

OMG I’ve rarely been so BORED.

(This was the captain of the Titanic.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all about seeing Titanic stuff, icebergs and stuff. But the museum takes around 2 hours to get around, and only the last 20 minutes has direct Titanic-on-the-ocean relevance.

I don’t care about Flax coming into Belfast in the 1800’s. I don’t care how the ship was made. I don’t care that the Queen’s Island shipyard workers were known as ‘Islandmen’, for crying out loud.

Bloody hell, we’re here for two hours. Shoot me now…

However, I’m not unreasonable. Once they actually got around to looking at the actual voyage, it was good.

They had a recording of actual survivors talking about their memories. One woman remembers walking along the deck with the actual ice shavings from the iceberg at her feet, and playing snowballs, after being assured by a crew member that there was absolutely nothing to fear.

I enjoyed that part very much.

Just before you hit the enormous gift shop, you could pose for a photo.

But look at what I saw back at the hotel. A girl got into the lift looking like she was straight out of the 80’s.

It’s amazing the sights you see when you travel.

Day 13- 14. Drogheda, Ireland. Head in a box.

Yes, I can see that my reflection is messing with this head in a box. I’m sorry. But this is the first thing we went to see on our day touring around Drogheda and the surrounding towns.

This head belongs to St Oliver Plunkett, He was born in 1625 in England, made his way over to Ireland at some stage before doing some things that really annoyed the English, like teaching stuff to Irish kids and making them literate. You know, that kind of thing.

Anyway, he was hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn Hill in London in 1681. Friends rescued his head from the fire and brought it back to Ireland, where they stuck it in a box in a church.

Here’s his profile.

He was made a saint in the 70’s, which was exciting for the Irish because he was the first Irish saint in 700 years.

I thought that this was a little insensitive, though. They’ve placed the actual door to his jail cell right where he can see it. You would’ve thought that he’d have seen enough of it when he was still alive.

That’s what it looks like, just to the left of the altar. There’s a piece of the one true cross somewhere up on that altar, too.

We walked up a steep hill to Millmount Fort, which looms over the town of Drogheda. Read this information sign… it’s dark humour is impressive.

After gazing at the view of the town, we walked down the stairs to street level, crossing this bridge with a colourful display of blooms.

Here is the only surviving part of the Norman-built wall that originally encircled the whole town. James said that they used to let traffic drive through it, until a truck driver got stuck. Now it’s blocked ogg by some lovely red tubs of geraniums.

Quite tall.

To the left you can see the groove where the portcullis used to be.

Then I was whisked off to a genuine Irish farmhouse for some morning tea,

There am I in my grey merino sack dress, with Toby the dog peering out from under the table beside my Antarctica pee bottle, with James’ parents having a toast with our cups of tea.

Scones with homemade raspberry jam and cream, a type of fruit cake called Brack and another cake I didn’t get to try as I was too full. They are lovely people.

Once on the road again, we stopped at this cracking site. It’s the burial ground of the 7 foot tall lady. To be fair, it’s definitely a very long grave.

Here’s the story:

The Long Woman’s Grave or “The Cairn of Cauthleen” is the grave of a Spanish noble woman who married Lorcan O’Hanlon, the youngest son of the Chieftain of Omeath.
On his death the Chieftain ordered that his lands be divided between his two sons, Conn Óg and Lorcan.

However Conn Óg tricked his brother Lorcan by bringing him up to the Lug or hollow in the mountains, telling him that he would give him the land” as far as he could see”.

Lorcan was dismayed as he looked on at the mist and the bleakness of the hollow which was now his legacy.

Lorcan owned a ship and begun trading in the East, making his fortune and becoming prosperous.

On one of his voyages to Spain he bravely saved the lives of a Spanish nobleman and his daughter.

Lorcan was enchanted by Cauthleen and the pair made a handsome couple; she was 7ft tall, only three inches smaller than Lorcan.

Cauthleen was already engaged to be married but was wooed by Lorcan’s professions of love and the promises of the good life that they would have back in Omeath. The pair eloped when the couple arrived in Carlingford Lough the locals were enchanted by this tall beauty adorned with jewels.

The couple set along the mountain path until they came to the Lug or Hollow in the rocks.

Lorcan bade his bride to stand in the centre and look around as far as she could see as he “Was queen of all she could survey”.

Cauthleen looked around, so great was her disappointment and the realization of what she had left behind in Spain, she fell to the ground and died.

Lorcan was horrified that his dishonesty had caused his bride to die and flung himself into the murky waters of the marsh at the crossroads.

His body was never recovered.

The locals found the long woman’s’ body, and dug a grave for Cauthleen in the “Lug Bhan Fada” (Long woman’s hollow) where she lay.

Each person laid a stone on the grave to raise her burial cairn and here she sleeps today in the hollow of her disappointment and unfilled promises.”


I love first off that a Spanish noblewoman had an Irish name, and also that she fell down and died from disappointment. That’s hardcore.

This is the sight that caused her demise.

We kept driving up into the hills. The clouds were rolling in, as it hadn’t stopped raining all day. The hills were impossibly green, especially to the eyes of an Australian.

We arrived at the very pretty little town of Carlingford, right beside the sea, where James pulled the very same red hat out from the car that I followed around North Korea when we were on the tour.

I was so happy to see it again!

I mean really. How can you not be enchanted by it, even in the rain?

We ducked into a little pub for lunch, where I had the best seafood chowder I’ve ever had.

Old buildings are right next to the new.

Here’s the Carlingford version of the town gates. Down on the left hand side was a dank, wet cell that they used to use as a holding cell.

That’ll sober you up!

we were looking for the ancient monastery that was close to the centre of town. We took a detour into a churchyard, but that wasn’t it. Then James found it.

This place was built in the 14th century and was torn down when Henry VIII got rid of all the monasteries and kept their lands and wealth for himself and his friends. *cough John Petre from Ingateston Hall, for example cough*

The only things we could hear was the falling of the rain and the crunch of the stones under our feet.

These walls were intended to stay up for centuries. It was sad to think of all that effort wasted because Henry wanted to divorce one woman to marry another.

Then we stopped in at a gift shop, where I would’ve bought this metal sculpture if it wasn’t so heavy. See? Only taking carryon is saving me a fortune!

James bought me this little sheep with Irish colours as a souvenir. It’ll travel around all of Ireland with me.

A quick stop at the ruined castle overlooking the town, and then we were off again.

Just in case the tour doesn’t take me to see the ancient Celtic burial sites in the West, we stopped at this little one.
Then we went to a place called Masterboice, a working churchyard that has a huge round tower and three enormous Celtic crosses.
Because if one is good, then three must be absolutely great.

Here is the round tower with the top bitten from it, probably by lightning.Many of the graves had Celtic crosses on them, in imitation of the real ones. One grave had soccer balls at the end. To each their own.

Then we drove through the Irish country’s to one last place. And this place was amazing.

Mellifont Abbey. This place was the best at giving an idea of just how big these places were and how vast a loss they must have been to the poorer communities when the monasteries were destroyed.

This site wasn’t just one building. It was set out over quite a large area, with the walls and foundations of many of the original buildings still clearly visible.

They think that this building was where the monks would wash their hands and purify themselves before mass.

This was tucked in behind it.

Some decorative pieces still remain.

As we walked back to the car, the sound of a briskly flowing stream was right on the other side of a hedge. The monks had chosen this place carefully. And now, here we are.

I’ve got to say, we covered a huge amount of ground in 2 days. I even got to see the house James is building – stunning polished concrete floors – and later that night we went out for a tapas dinner, then to drinks at a pub. There we met a New Zealander who was staying at the same hotel I was.

I went back to the hotel, while James went off for drinks with some work friends.

The next morning I stayed in and wrote blog posts. I was nearly a week behind.

James swung by, picked me up and we took the scenic route to the hotel where I’ll be joining the tour. We had lunch, said our goodbyes, and I wrote all afternoon to catch up.

The tour group has around 26 people in it, I think. A sprinkling of Aussies, a few Brits but the majority are American. Funnily enough, there’s a disproportionate amount of retired teachers and engineers.

They don’t appear to be party animals. Most people were going back to their rooms at 8 PM. Still, we’ll see. It’s early days yet.

It’s now 10PM and I’ve totally caught up. I’m going to schedule the publishing time, then I’m going to bed. It’s a big day tomorrow… we’re heading into another country.

Northern Ireland.

Day 12: Dublin, Ireland.

Deana, Kathleen and I jumped in the car bright and early to get me to Stansted airport in time for my flight. We took the back roads and enjoyed a leisurely drive. Kathleen surprised me halfway through the trip by handing back a little package.

It was a tiny Toby jug. “I knew you have to be careful of size and weight, but I thought this wouldn’t weigh too much.”

“It’s perfect!” I said. “And it’ll fit in a tin beautifully!”

Of course, in order to bring all my tins home in my small case, I have to pack them with things.

We said our goodbyes and I sped inside. I was very grateful to Scott for booking Priority tickets for me, though it did mean that I was unexpectedly at airport security and I had to drink half a litre of water before they’d let me through.

I could’ve thrown away my water bottle instead, but there was no way I could do that. It’s my pee bottle from Antarctica! It’s been all over the globe with me, though thankfully, it never had to actually be used as a receptacle for urine.

I must’ve been tired, because before the plane even took off, I was asleep. I slept the whole way, and there was James waiting to meet me. Ww jumped into the car and off we went.

Our first thing was to see the statue of Molly Malone. When I was a kid, we had to learn songs and sing along to them every Tuesday afternoon to a radio show for kids on the ABC. I still remember the song lyrics.

Here I am, helping the poor girl.

Here’s James, booking us in to see the most important things in Dublin, which the tour that I’m booked in for doesn’t include.

We went there and booked a tour for 4pm. 

Then we went and grabbed a coffee and a Bakewell tart and found a bench in the quad to catch up.

He’s just as I remember him. So funny and warm and we picked up right where we left off 5 years ago. 

The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript that monks did, way back in the 800’s. it’s very precious to the people of Ireland, and by all accounts they’re lucky to still have it, considering how often English armies were ranging across the place over the centuries.

Here are some educational panels t it, as understandably, with something so old, there were no photos allowed. As you know, I take the odd sneaky snap, but not when the request for no photos is reasonable. 

We walked into a very dimly lit room and there it was. Its pages are of vellum, and sometimes it has notes in the margins by the monks who were copying things. 

“I wish this was finished.”

“I’m so cold.”

“ This is so boring.”

Goes to show that human nature has stayed the same!

The drawings are incredibly intricate. It’s no wonder that they felt the tedium of it at times.

Directly after that we found ourselves in the Long Hall, which is the inspiration for the Harry Potter decor at Hogwarts. It was so beautiful. 

We walked around, looking at the busts and books. They’re currently doing the massive job of digitising and restoring over 200,000 books, so some of the shelves were bare. There was still enough there to give a strong idea of what the place would look like when it was full.

The library was full of busts that immortalised the greatest thinkers of the world. Utterly surprising to no one, the original ones were all of men. Lately though, four busts of exceptional women have been moved in.

Ada Lovelace. Mathematician. Awful haircut.

Look at how cool this bust is.

Rosalind Franklin was the person who actually discovered how DNA works, but her work was stolen by the guys she worked with. She died soon afterwards, so they got away with it for decades until the truth came out.

See the base of her bust? It’s a DNA helix.

Time for some refreshment! We went to an old pub, reknowned for its Guinness.

Yuck. I had a Shiraz. Then we were off again.

By now a light shower was beginning to fall. 

“ You’ve been really lucky with the weather so far,” said James. “ A couple of months ago, it was torrential rain for weeks. It would’ve ruined your holiday.”

Then James took me to see another statue, one I was so excited to see for real.

it’s Oscar Wilde.

Different types of marble were used for the different colours.

It looks fantastic. There are pillars all around with his famous sayings written on them.

Such a brilliant man.

Then it was time for dinner. We went to a way famous burger place called Bunsen. Get it? Bunsen Burger… 

It’s rather specialised… their menu is printed on a business card.

Then we popped into a local gay bar to have a drink. Then it was a walk through the drizzle across the Ha’penny bridge, so called because back in the day you used to have to pay to cross it. There were swans and kayaks on the river. Temple Bar was lit up like a Christmas tree.

It’s a tourist trap. James says the locals don’t have anything to do with it.

We also saw the hotel Bono and The Edge own. James said that every Christmas, Bono chooses a random day to come out to Dublin and busk. Imagine how much fun that would be, both for Bono and anyone who happens to strike him?

Later that night I was deposited at a lovely little boutique hotel in Drogheda, where I messaged David30 to wish him a happy birthday. 

What a lovely first day in Ireland! The forecast is for rain all day tomorrow, which is hardly surprising. Everything is so green here in the Emerald Isle.

Day 11: Ingateston Hall, Essex.

This place was one that Scott was going to put on our itinerary when we go on our tour of Essex, but when he found that it was going to be closed for that week, he suggested that I go with Deana.

It turns out that she’s very familiar with this place. When she was working at a school, this used to be a place where they’d take the kids to every year. She agreed that it’s a lovely place to see.

We had a leisurely morning. She took the dogs for a walk while I wrote a blog post. She prepared a Deana picnic for us, then we set off.

Ingateston Hall was acquired by the first Lord Petre, a man by the name of John Petre, for the huge sum of £849 back in the reign of Henry VIII. He must have been a very shrewd operator who knew where the bodies were buried, because even though he and his wife were Catholic, they survived and thrived through the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Bloody Mary and Elizabeth I.

He first came to the attention of the powers that be when he was a tutor to the Boleyn boys.

The interesting thing about this man is that HE was the diplomat sent to the court of Cleves to arrange the marriage between Anne of Cleves and Henry VIII, (the marriage that ended in divorce because he said she was too ugly), yet Cromwell lost his head over this marriage and John Petre didn’t.

Even though he was Catholic, he was involved in breaking up huge cathedrals such as Canterbury when the dissolution was happening, which enriched the family very much. His second wife was extremely good friends with Mary I, being with her when she entered London after defeating Jane Grey who tried to steal her throne; her coronation, wedding and sadly, her funeral.

Mary Tudor stayed here on her way to London and Elizabeth I stayed in July 1561 on one of her summer country holidays away from the stink of London.

There is a letter they’ve found that John Petre sent to Elizabeth I, asking for permission to retire due to illness and old age. He died safe and secure in his own bed.

I took this shot before I knew that you weren’t allowed to take photos inside. I did my best to behave, but…

Omg, here’s a priest hole! This house has two. This one is in Lady Petra’s sitting room so she could worship in secret and bundle popish things away when the inspectors came knocking.
The other one was only discovered in 1855 when a child lost a toy through the floorboards. When looking for it, they discovered a trapdoor. There was a long ladder down, with a plate, a knife, fork and some chicken bones beside it. Clearly, someone had been sheltered there.

The dining room has genuine Tudor panelling on the walls. It was more than flesh and blood could stand, to not take a picture of this!

There’s a view of the master bedroom. This house has been in the same family for 18 generations and this room has always been used for this purpose.

The 16th Baron had 16 kids and said, “Thank the lord for the colonies!” Apparently there are quite a few Petres in New Zealand.

The bed has carvings on the bed head of the family crest and John Petre’s first wife’s portrait. The second wife had to sleep underneath this for the rest of her life…

Look at this girl! She is “ The Rape of the Lock” inspiration. She was a wealthy heiress who came to London to marry a rich man. The 8th baron cut off a lock of her hair and ruined her reputation. She went back to the country and married a nobody. Alexander Pope wrote a poem about the whole thing.

After the tour of the house, we were talking with the guide, whose knowledge was encyclopaedic. She recognised my family name, which was nice.

Deana and I then chose to sit under this tree to eat our Deana picnic. My contribution was some Belgian chocolate biscuits that were in a fabulous art deco tin that I bought in the gift shop at Eltham.
I’ve been buying tins to take home to use in my sewing room, but of course I can’t take the fudge, shortbread and chocolate biscuits inside them. They’re far too heavy for a woman with just carryon! So every day since Buckingham Palace, I’ve been harassing people to eat.

After lunch we walked around the gardens. This was the Lime walk. The autumn leaves were crunching under our feet as we walked. Every now and then we might see someone else wandering around, but we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

All we could hear was the sound of the nearby stream and the cooing of doves.

I tasted a blackberry along this path.

Look at this Lime tree with the hollow at its base. It’s still happily growing away.
You can imagine kids having a magical childhood here.

We came out where the old stables and other buildings were.
As time went on, the family used this estate to basically train the eldest sons how to run a working estate.

On the way home we stopped at the site of Worley Place. A woman called Ellen Willmott made it her life’s work to create an incredible garden. It was way famous in its day, but after she died the house was pulled down and the gardens were totally neglected.
It’s a shame. The pictures posted around the various paths show that it was an amazing place.

Home for a dinner, a great chat with Deana’s son Alex and his lovely girlfriend, a last night talking our heads off before the adventure moves on to its next stage.

Tomorrow I fly to Ireland to see James from my North Korea trip!

Day 10- the day when everything was closed but we still had a good time.

I’m not called Fortunate Frogdancer for nothing.

Bright and early, we picked up Kathleen and we were on our way to Tilbury Fort.

Remember that Armada portrait of Queen Elizabeth I at Greenwich that I was so excited to see? Tilbury was where she gave her way famous speech to her troops.

On the way, I mentioned in passing that in both my trips to the UK, I’ve never seen a hedgehog.

it seems that Kathleen is one of those people who Gets Things Done. Without saying a word, she started directing Deana to go down this road and that. We both thought we were still on our way to the fort, but we were actually on our way to an animal rescue shelter.

“ They might not show you one, “ she said as we got out of the car. “ But it can’t hurt to ask.”

Deana and I were both sure we’d be turned away, Australian tourist or not, but Kathleen asked the question and suddenly there I was… face to face with a hedgehog.

Such a cute little face! It was lovely. This is the point where I was just about to touch it, when Kathleen asked, “Is this one healthy?” And the girl replied, “Oh yes. It just has a lot of parasites.”
I decided I’d pull my hand back!

What a wonderful thing. I haven’t seen any English deer, but we have some in Australia so I’m not fussed.

We jumped back in the car, revved up by this unexpected treat, and headed off to Land’s End, where Tilbury Fort is located.

When we got there we were slightly dashed to see that the fort wasn’t open on Tuesdays, but that was ok. We took a long walk along the River Thames, taking a good look at Kent on the other side.

We passed by the fort. It had a few ancient cannons still pointing out across where the river bends.
It seems that it wasn’t only foreign invaders that the soldiers had to look out for.

After a pigeon shoot competition was held in 1843, members of the army and civilian teams went off to the pub. A slight disagreement between the two groups led to the pub being besieged by over 50 soldiers armed with clubs and bayonets.People were severely wounded and it was only when a detachment of sentries from the fort arrived that the fight was stopped.

Fun times at Land’s End back in those days.

As we turned to head back to the car, a church over in Kent started ringing its bells in a song. It sounded lovely.

Next stop was Prittlewell Priory in Southend. It dates from the 600’s, which you have to agree is pretty impressive. There is a small museum and church on the grounds… which was closed on Tuesdays.
Of course it was.

The sprawling parklands had been donated to the people of Southend to use as a public park in perpetuity.

We were treated to a Deana picnic lunch, then we set off to explore the gardens around the old church.

They were terrific.

There were a series of walled gardens all around the old church, one leading into the next. Some were grassed areas, while others were more formally laid out as flower gardens.

The smell from the flowers here was amazing.

Did you see the woman quietly reading her book here?

There she is.

“What a beautiful place,” said Kathleen. “If I lived here, I’d come here every day.”

The roads were a stone’s throw away, but the sound of cars seemed very distant. Fat bumblebees were rolling from one lavender spear to the next. It was wonderfully peaceful.

We walked around the outside of the old church. It had shutters on the windows so we couldn’t see in, but it had a lot to see on the outside.

Look at where various things have been added, bricked up, replaced.

The huge old door with the ornate carving above.

And this paving at the entrance. Someone put their heart and soul into getting this pattern correct.

on the way out, we walked through a large grassy area with big old oak trees. Suddenly, Deana grabbed my attention.

“Look over there! A squirrel!”

Turns out the place was alive with them. They were coming down from the trees to bury the acorns for winter.
I love the undulating way that squirrels move.

We went to see the exhibition of a cache of Saxon gold that was discovered when they were building a new motorway, but that was also closed. Of course it was. This was the theme of the day, though to be fair, I’ve never heard of a library being closed on a Tuesday before.

We swung home via the Southend pier, just to see what a seaside promenade town looks like.

We rounded off the day by going to the local pub for a trivia night. We arrived too late for our team to officially play, but we answered all the questions and, quite frankly, were killing it.
I even messaged Tom31 for an answer, which he gave, along with a stern “Stop cheating!”

It was a fun night.
Tomorrow we’re going to a Tudor manor house. Woo hoo!

Day 9: Eltham Palace – Art Deco fabulousness.

I said a fond farewell toCorinna and Michelle and wheeled my trusty overnight case to the bus. The arrangements for today were that Deana and her friend Kathleen would take her car to Eltham Palace, while I’d make my way by train and a walk. I’d be able to stash my case in the car and then we’d gallop all over the place.

The only thing I’d heard about Eltham Palace was that it was very pretty. Seeing as this was turning into the tour of palaces and castles, I thought this one would round it out perfectly. 

(The exterior of the Great Hall.)
But something about the name niggled at me… it was familiar. I knew it wasn’t because Melbourne has a suburb of the same name. It was something else…

I walked to the gate ten minutes early, at 9:50, so I chatted with a lovely girl who was there to check tickets. She said that Eltham Palace had once been a royal residence, but had been left to fall into rack and ruin. The massive medieval Great Hall was used as a barn for hundreds of years. 

Then an extremely wealthy couple called Stephen and Virginia Courtauld bought it. They were allowed to demolish all of the ruined parts of the original house as long as they kept theGreat Hall and restored it.

Then the guide happened to mention that Henry VIII and his brother and sisters were brought up here. Now I know why the name niggled at me!

I decided to wait at the cafe near the car park, so I wheeled my trusty carryon down the garden path to the cafe, bought a coffee and started writing a blog post under the shade of an umbrella.
After an hour went by, I started to wonder where they were. I sent a message, tried to call, then went back to writing.
By the time 2 hours had gone, I decided to go through the house and turn up on her doorstep in the evening, hoping that she and her friend hadn’t died in a fiery car crash.

Just as I reached the front door of the house, Deana messaged me.
I thought about taking the case back to the car, but I’d already stashed it behind the front door with the connivance of a friendly guide, so I hung around the front garden and chatted with the guide while I waited for them to arrive.

The entrance bridge is the oldest working footbridge in England, she said. It was lovely.

The guide was holding a guidebook and I asked to take a picture of the quote from the Queen Mother.

It made me laugh! It also made me wonder what on earth I was going to see…

Over the front door was Hestia, goddess of entertaining. This was a very deliberate choice, as they built this house especially with entertaining in mind.

“I can’t believe that this couple went to all the trouble of this massive building project, only to leave it 10 years later,” I said to the guide.

“They actually intended to stay here forever,” she said, beckoning me to follow her around the entrance to a side wall. She pointed up at the window. “ When you’re coming down the stairs towards the end of your visit, look through the round window. Eltham is right on the flight path the Germane took during the second war. We were getting bombed both coming and going.. They left in 1943, never to return.”

While I was waiting, I read this information panel – always read the info panels! You never know when there’ll be an interesting fact for the blog! – then thought, “ Bugger it. I’m going in.”

I was gazing up at the beautiful ceiling at the beginning of this post when Deana and Kathleen turned up. Kathleen had already been to the house a few times, so she went back to the cafe to wait for us, while Deana and I grabbed some audio tour thingys and headed off.

These walls were in the entrance hall, underneath the spectacular ceiling. The room appears circular, with two sides of the three being curved.

The walls are veneered with Australian Black Bean, a timber so rare and exotic that I, an Australian, have never heard of it.

The walls had speakers that could play music from a gramophone that was outside in the hall. There was also a pay phone for guests, along with the internal phone system. No need for servant bells here! Just pick up a phone.

The first step on the tour was a video about the Courtaulds, with original footage of them relaxing in the garden with their Great Dane and their tame lemur called Mah Jongg. The lemur went with them everywhere. He wasn’t altogether popular with dinner guests, as he’d sneak under the table and nibble on people’s feet.

The room used to be the bedroom where Virginia’s mother used to stay. The adjoining bathroom has a bidet. As well as underfloor heating, naturally…

Here’s the ladder where Mah Jongg would get in and out.

This looked beautiful in real life, but this photo looks a bit strange. It’s a bust of Virginia Courtauld.

She and Stephen met at a dinner party and he didn’t speak. This challenged her.

She was vivacious, rebellious. He adored her- if she wasn’t happy, then he wasn’t happy.

Here is a portrait of them, along with Mah Jongg.

This is in the entrance to Virginia’s suite.

Her walk-in wardrobe.

Her bed. Notice the telephone beside it. This was connected to the internal phone system.

But look at it. Isn’t it sumptuous?

Deana looking at the other side of the room. The curved walls are made of sycamore.

Stephen’s bedroom is next door, behind a hidden door.

Bath, anyone?

The taps were covered in gold.

I just love the colours.

She embroidered the chairs herself. I like that.

Stephen’s room next door was smaller and a lot more restrained. He was the complete opposite in temperament to his wife, being very quiet and private.

Sometimes at the dinner parties he’d eat without saying a word, then leave the room immediately after. He soundproofed the room by stuffing the walls with wool behind the veneer.

The blue is his ensuite.
Every bedroom had its own bathroom, which was a huge luxury back then.

Here’s the stuff! The medieval Great Hall that they restored.

imagine using a space with this roof as a barn? I mean, it’s practical, but still.

This shot was taken from the minstrel’s gallery, looking down. The Courtaulds used to put the bands up here when they threw parties.

The skin of the building and roof we’re pretty much as they were in the 1400s, so they would’ve been very familiar to the young Prince Henry.

The stained glass windows, however, are new.

The pink curtains are in place of the tapestries that would originally have been there.

It was a huge space. It was used as a summer palace and the hall was an impressive space to entertain foreign visitors and other dignitaries who were visiting the king.

A person here for scale.

Here’s the round window on the stars. If you look through, you can see the London skyline.

The library, where Stephen would go, probably to escape some of the guests.

He’d plan his polar expeditions from here. The audio guide told the story of how he decided to give a send-off party to one group of explorers, only to have the expedition delayed by 3 months because Mah Jongg bit the radio operator on the wrist, severing an artery.

Look at the detail on the plaster by the window. Just wonderful.

Next door, here is Virginia’s private withdrawing room.

It was a very inviting space.

I loved how her books were so close to the couch.

The Italian drawing room. This is the place where, after dinner, they’d show home movies of their trips around the world.

Underfloor heating, OF COURSE, and also central vacuum cleaner flaps in the skirting.

The paintings in this room are all Italian masters.

Next door is the dining room. The chairs are upholstered in the best shade of pink to show off the ladies gowns.

The ceiling is polished aluminium. It was spectacular.

The audio guide read out excerpts from a diary written by one of the guests. They were all extremely well looked-after, though sometimes they were asked to help with the gardening.

Flowers and gardens were very important to them. The house is surrounded by several acres of landscaped gardens. We ran out of time to see them, but from the little I saw between the house and the cafe, it’d be well worth walking through.

The detail about Virginia and her notebook is funny.

Back across the footbridge we went to find Kathleen, then home we went.

Deana has two golden retrievers, so I got my doggie fix as soon as I walked through the door!
We stayed up late, chatting and catching up with everything that’s happened in our lives over the last 8 years, then it was off to bed.

Eltham Palace is an amazing place to visit. I haven’t shown you the half of it!

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