Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: Travel (Page 2 of 8)

Day 29: Grand ambitions all for naught – Paycockes House and Layer Marney.

We emerged from our B and B to find this natty little MG parked on the side of the road. There’s something about these old cars, isn’t there?

I took this picture of an amazing looking building in Coggeshall, not realising that it was the place Scott had brought us here to see.
This is Paycocke’s House.

It’s most well-known for a wealthy young couple who settled here and proceeded to make their mark on the house and the town.

Zero in on the sign. Omg.

The house itself is a series of add-ons that various owners have built over the centuries. I was talking to the guide and mentioned how lucky it was that the house hadn’t been pulled down over the centuries.

“You see, Coggeshall has fallen on hard times over the years,” she said. “ In richer areas, they probably would have torn it down to build a fancier place to live, but here? They needed cheap houses to stay in.”

Beer bottle bottoms as decoration. This is called Pargetting plasterwork. I think I had examples of this in yesterday’s post.

The house has extensive carvings on the street side. You know, where they will show of his wealth to all passers-by.
Taxes were paid on how large the frontage of a property was. Clearly, money was no object to this couple.

I spied some Tudor rosés under the window.
But who was this wool merchant who decorated his house so grandly?

Thomas Paycocke came from money. He was the third son of a merchant, so this house would have been the third-best property.

He was apprenticed to a wool merchant and married the boss’s daughter. Margaret brought a lot of money to the marriage. The young couple were definitely well-off.

Thomas may have been a third son, but he was going to make his mark.

In 1504 her father died and left them a sizeable bequest in his will.

There were far more beams on the ceiling than were needed to actually hold the roof up. The carving on the roof beams clearly shows that he had money to burn. This house was the showpiece of his prosperity – he and his wife were going to start a dynasty. Her initial is here too, not just his.

( As an aside, the Georgians hated the oak panelling and boarded it all up. See the nail holes all through it? They also painted over the roof beams.)

When people were restoring the house in the early 1900s, after it had been divided into 3 tenement houses for decades and left to decay, they found this mantelpiece.

Look at this genuine Tudor panelling. It’s reminiscent of the panelling in Ingateston, that I saw with Deana.

There were 4 different types of Tudor panelling in this room. These 3 panels, hidden behind the door, are the most glaringly obvious. Perhaps they came from the abbey, the guide suggested, but no one knows for sure.

Here’s what the information board says about Margaret Paycocke:


b. Clare, Suffolk

m. Thomas Paycocke Margaret Horrold was the daughter of a successful woollen clothier and brought useful skills, as well as wealth, to her marriage with Thomas Paycocke.

She was a true partner in the Paycocke’s business, as shown by the equal status of her initials in the carvings of the main hall.

Margaret was probably taught by her father or a priest. She may even have been one of a few girls at a ‘petty school’ being taught a limited range of subjects, compared to the boys in the same school, of basic literacy and numeracy.

It is clear trom letters of the ume that miedieval mierchants wives helped manage the company and houschold undertaking administrative and hnancial duties when their husbands were away on business.

The couple were seen as successiul and reliable and, upon her lathers will of 1504. they received notable bequests.

Unusually, upon her father’s death, her two sisters came to live with the Paycockes in Coggeshall rather than staying with their mother or brother. This shows that their sister’s house was seen as the most prosperous and stable.”

I got all excited when I saw a couple of Cavalier mantle dogs carrying what I thought were cupcakes in their mouths. Turns out, upon closer inspection, that they were carrying baskets of flowers instead. I was a little dashed by this. I could definitely see Poppy and Jeff scoffing some cupcakes.

The dining room. The guide told us that none of the furniture in this place is authentic to the actual building… it had had far too many tenants over the years for that… but the tabletop itself is authentic Tudor.

So, like Austen and Dickens’ writing desks, I had to flip back the tablecloth and snap a selfie.


Look at the burn marks on the wall beams. This is the medieval form of fire insurance.

You know the old saying, “Lightning doesn’t strike twice?”
They used to put scorch marks on the beams, sometimes even before the beams were put into the houses, to protect against fire.

So anyway, Thomas Paycocke was a big deal in Coggeshall, employing many people and running a thriving business. But he and Margaret were not blessed with any children.

When she died, he wasted no time in marrying again.

In 1518, Thomas died, just before Anne gave birth.

He stipulated in his will that his unborn child should inherit the house, but only if the child was male – the property should stay in the male family line. Anne gave birth to a girl.

After Thomas’s death all hell broke loose. Family on both sides claimed that his property had been embezzled and a legal battle ensued. In the end Thomas’s great-nephew John Paycocke took over the house, but he was the last of his name in Coggeshall’ and when he died the house was not passed down the male family line.

His daughter was left the sum of 500 crowns in her father’s will. This made her quite the heiress and she ended up marrying the son of the Lord Mayor of London.

The rooms were filled with furniture and examples of the types of fabric that Thomas would have sold. But look down! Original floorboards.
How many pairs of feet have trodden these boards over 600 – 700 years?

In a little room off to the back there was a little museum about when the fabric trade crashed and the women of Coggeshall turned to lace making to make ends meet.

This device was interesting. Four women could sit around this and work by the light of one candle. Imagine the savings!

But also imagine making lace this fine by candlelight. You’d be cross-eyed by 20 and blind by 40, surely.

Then we were off to Layer Marney, a strange name for an estate that it’s owner surely believed would cement the reputation of his family
Most of this tower was built in the reign of Henry VIII. The King believed that a building should reflect the status of its owner, so Henry Marney had grand plans for this place.

Henry Marney was Henry VIll’s Lord Privy Seal, which was a very important post. He started to build his statement house, Layer Marney Tower, sometime around 1518.

Layer Marney Tower was built to the height of fashion, in particular, using terracotta for decoration on the turrets, windows and tombs in the church. Terracotta, like brick, is made from clay. The clay for terracotta is worked into a very smooth creamy consistency that allows it to be worked into delicate moulds with sophisticated decoration.

Wait until you see the chimneys!

Layer Marney Tower is an incomplete Palace. Henry 1* Lord Marney died in 1523 and his son John, died just two years later. John Marney’s daughters became Wards of Court and later married, but never came back to Layer Marney Tower.

The Long Gallery was originally built as a stable block for 30 horses and a few carriages. The roof Timbers are original and made of oak.

Imagine making a roof like that just for horses to look at!

A.dry unimpressed deer surveys the room.

The deer might be unimpressed but I was gobsmacked when I read an information sheet about the first Lord Marney. He was right in the thick of things all his life. He was clearly a very powerful and most trusted man.
Here’s what the sheet said:















“O mortall folk| you may behold and see

Hoto I ist here somatyme a mugghty krught:
The end of joy and all prosperitig
Is aethe: st last through his course and mught, After the day there comth the darke night:
For though the daye be never so longe, At last the bell ringeth to evensong.

You might have noticed that I highlighted one item on the timeline of his life. He was the executor of Margaret Beaufort’s will. She was Henry VIII’s grandmother and she was a very wealthy and powerful woman in her own right.
She was married at 12 and was a mother at 13. She was a tiny woman and it’s obvious that the birth must have been traumatic. She was married 4 times and never had another child.
But the child she had was Henry Tudor, and she was incredibly instrumental in converting his somewhat tenuous claim to the throne into seeing him become Henry VIII.
She wouldn’t have chosen just anybody to see to her last wishes, and it’s very likely that the king would have been keeping an eye on things too.
Excellent link to what she did in her life. Extraordinary woman.

Anyway, the photo above is his grave in the church beside the tower.

Here’s his profile.
“One of the highlights of the church is the tomb of Lord Marney, complete with effigy, terracotta and canopy. The terracotta work on the tombs is very high quality, probably made by Flemish craftsmen to Italian designs. The effigy is carved from Catacleuse Stone quarried at the Marney Estates in St Endellion, Cornwall,” says the guidebook.

He had a son and 2 daughters, so everything would be fine, yes?

Except here’s the grave of his son, who died 2 years after he did.
His two daughters were made wards of the state, which basically means that the king decided where they were going to live and who they would marry.

After his son died, no-one from the family ever came to Layer Marney again.

Just as an aside, this model shows how Layer Marney was intended to be.

Suddenly, the big towers at the front make sense.

Anyway, back to the church…

The mediaeval wall painting of St Christopher was saved from destruction at the time of theReformation by being painted over and it remained undiscovered for over 300 years.

They must have worked so carefully to avoid damaging it.

At the bottom left, here’s a section where someone was a bit heavy handed…

Information sheet about St Christopher.

As we came out of the church and back towards the tower, I noticed the chimneys. How incredible do they look?

We had to climb the tower to see them up close.

And while I’m at it, the brickwork is also very beautiful.

It also means that the side we came in by was never intended to be the main entrance. It would have been part of the courtyard. THIS was supposed to be the first impression people were supposed to have.
Got to say, it would’ve impressed the living daylights out of me!

As we were walking up the stairs to the top of the tower, there were various rooms to stop off and see. Many had exhibits like the model of the intended shape of Layer Marney that I showed you earlier. But I really liked this room. It shows how they would have used tapestries in the rooms for warmth and comfort.

And then we were on the roof. How I love these chimneys! I want to go home and install a fireplace and have these bad boys on top of my house.

Here’s the view from the front of the tower.

Chimney close-up! I can’t resist…

Far over to the right is where Scott’s car is parked. This whole section of land is where the rest of the house was intended to be built.

I loved this place. I bought a tea towel and a mug to remind me.

Then we went to the Tiptree jam factory to have lunch.

Scott was so excited to be there.

I was less so.

We wended our way home after this. Scott’s cold wasn’t seeming to want to get better, so we headed back for a quiet night.

I found it interesting that without meaning to, Scott had found two families who had had the exact same thing happen to them. Both men, Thomas Paycocke the merchant and John Marney the nobleman, both rose to the top of their trees.

Yet within two generations, everything they’d built up was gone.

Day 28: Audley End, Saffron Walden and other chocolate-box villages.

We drove through the pretty little village of Thaxted on our way to see Audley End. Here are some snaps from the car:

Look at the THATCH!

I remember Ben saying, “Once, you lived in a thatched house if you were poor. Now, you live in one if you’re rich.”

We were on our way to the prettily- named town of Saffron Walden, where the grand house of Audley End is located. Scott took this photo of one of the Audley End swans.

We knew that the house was going to be large as we drove around the perimeter of the property to get to the front gate. The old brick fence that surrounds the house is HUGE.

Audley End was built in 1605, on the site where a 12th century abbey used to be.

The first lord of the place was Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII, and he was content to live in the old abbey buildings. However, a couple of generations later, the lord of the manor had more grandiose ideas.

The current house that we see today is only a third the size of the original. This guy built a MASSIVE house. It was so large that when the king, James I, came to stay, he knew something was up.

“This house is too grand for a king, but not grand enough for my lord Treasurer,” the king said, and promptly threw him in the Tower.

He had to pay a fine of £30,000 to get out. This, of course, would be worth millions today.

No, we’re not laughing at his misfortune.

But really, what a doofus. His family never recovered financially.

(Picture taken by Scott.)

I stayed down in the Great Hall for quite a while talking with one of the guides. He gave me the information I’ve just told you and we also talked about Ireland. Turns out his name is Sean O’Sullivan, so we had a great chat.

“These old houses have so many things packed away that everyone has forgotten about,” he said. “One day, I was called over and told to open up an old book very carefully. There, written just like you or I would write our name in a book, was ‘Walter Raleigh.’ I tell you, it gave me chills to think that he had touched this very same book.”

They didn’t allow photos in here, so we had to be sneaky. (This one was taken by Scott.) Look at the ceiling!

The first room up the stairs was a sitting room. The girls of the household used to practice their watercolours here, so there’s a record of how things have changed in the room over the years, from furnishings to the size of the panes of glass in the windows.

(Photo taken by Scott.) The next room was the lord’s sitting room, which has the truly idiotic features of two fake doors and one hidden one. This is in addition to the two doors that already led people from one room to the next.

Seriously? How many doors, real or otherwise, does one lord need?

It was full of paintings. The guide said that in Victorian times, some art critic came around and was convinced that every second painting was an old master. “Nowadays, “ he said, “We have a much calmer idea about who painted what.”

There was a Van Dyke self portrait in this room, which shows him pointing to a sunflower. The room guide explained that Van Dyke was Charles I’s court painter. A sunflower is a symbol of loyalty, so he was professing his loyalty to the king.

The nursery was interesting.
The first indication we had that we were getting near was this bell high up on the wall.
The mother of the children, in Victorian times there were 8 of them, would ring the bell from her sitting room when she was ready to see the children before dinner. Their governess would have to make them presentable and deliver them to see their parents for a little while each day.

The boys were sent off to Eton when they were 11, while the girls were allowed to actually dine with their parents once they were in their late teens.

During WWII the house was used for training soldiers and the nursery wing was used for officers. When restoration work started, they found the ivy wallpaper and other colour schemes from the girls’ sketches.

Think that the carpet is hideous? Take a closer look at the drawing on the wall. It’s authentic.

Here’s the governess’s room. It’s right in the centre of the nursery wing. There would have been no escape from the kids at any time for the poor woman.

(Photo taken by Scott.) The main library was a very pleasant room, where the ladies would have come to work on their embroidery and such. It had huge windows looking out onto the gardens.

There was a formal garden around the back of the house. This was a view from one of the windows.

I liked this little side table in the dining room.
“I like the look of the cakes!” said a young man walking through.

Here’s the back yard. When you think that this used to be three times bigger than it is now, the mind boggles.

Keen eyes will be able to spot an actual bumblebee.
I bought a bumblebee ornament for my Christmas tree from the gift shop here.

We were feeling a little bit peckish by now, so we drove into Saffron Walden to have a look around.

Saffron Walden used to be called Walden, but the for a long while in the Middle Ages there was a thriving saffron growing industry here.

It’s a very pretty town, with many old buildings still in use today.

It was in this shop that I realised that my sense of smell was back.

I mean seriously. Look at that.

But in some ways, time has marched on.

A short walk away from the centre of town is the ruins of Walden Castle. It was built in the 1100’s.

I was able to walk underneath the second story of this house without ducking my head. I’m 5’2”.

The roof. The plants…

Zero in on the date above the door. Amazing.

There’s a dachshund behind the man. The dog’s name is Banger.

I just had to snap this picture. You can just see how this used to be a shop window, with all the wares spread out where people would walk right by.

What a vista.

Then we went to find a church that had Lord Audley buried in it. He used to work with Thomas Cromwell during Henry VIII’s reign.

The church was impressive enough. But where was The Great Man’s tomb?

Here. In a side office where the church files and day to day operations are carried out. How the mighty have fallen, We had to look past a curtain and push it aside to get to him.

He was actually a huge deal in his day.

Thomas Audley was appointed Speaker in the House of Commons in 1529 expressly to preside over the Reformation Parliament that authorised the break with Rome. He worked with Thomas Cromwell to take control of the king’s legal and parliamentary affairs.

The Reformation Parliament was summoned by Henry VIll in 1529 to settle his ‘Great Matter’, his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Henry’s case was championed in the Commons by the Speaker, Thomas Audley.

Lord Chancellor Audley passed judgement on Sir Thomas More and John Fisher for their refusal to swear an oath recognising the king’s marriage to Anne Boleyn.

This made me cross. I love the play/movie ‘A Man For All Seasons’ about Thomas More. Audley is an arse.

At the time of Anne Boleyn’s arrest he was known as ‘Cromwell’s creature’ but when the King became unsettled by Cromwell’s ruthlessness, pursuit of reform and the unsatisfactory marriage to Anne of Cleves, trust between Cromwell and Audley broke down.

In 1540 Audley announced Cromwell’s arrest to the House of Lords and after his execution, his judicial responsibilities were given to Audley.

Lord Audley and Henry VIl’s queens:

Lord Chancellor, Thomas Audley sanctioned the King’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon.

He investigated Anne Boleyn’s alleged crimes and accompanied her to the Tower of London in 1536 prior to her trial and execution.

He was instrumental in obtaining the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves in 1540 and presided over the trial of Catherine Howard in 1541.

So, basically he enabled Henry VIII in all the dodgy shenanigans that he got up to. How funny that he’s now shoved aside in a local parish office.
I bet he’d be furious!

As if all this prettiness wasn’t enough, we stopped in the chocolate-box town of Finchingfield on the way home.

All we had to do was walk around the town square…

The town windmill.


Scott took this one with the reflection in the water.

For dinner we went to a lovely Italian restaurant in Maldon, housed in a 1500’s building with oak battens and rafters from sailing ships.

The lights were quite blinding from the candles on the tables and the many electric lights in the ceiling. How fortunate then, that they sat Scott right next to the dimmer switch.

Over time, the lighting in the restaurant mysteriously changed to be more flattering to many of the patrons. I’m sure our waitress knew what was going on. She enjoyed it.

Day 27: Goodbye to Ireland and hello to Maldon.

Four of us were on the bus at 7:15 for our drop-off to the airport. Single Carol and I chatted happily, while Fred and Wilma, an American couple who had been friends with Cornelia sat silently. Fair enough… it was early.

Then as the bus stopped at the terminal, the wife handed Ben a small stack of COINS and said, “Thank you for your work on the trip, Ben.”

Now, in Australia we don’t tip a lot, but even for us, that is an insult. Good lord, at least give the man some folding money!

Do you know the worst of it? After Ben got their luggage out of the bus, he got Carol’s and mine out, then looked around and said, “ Where are Fred and Wilma?”

They’d gone into the terminal without saying goodbye.

“I feel terrible about not saying goodbye,” Ben said. “Let me quickly see if I can find them.” He dashed into the terminal to try and say goodbye to the couple that had stiffed him on the tip.

They’ll never know it.

Single Carol and I had a couple of hours to kill at the airport, so she found a table and a couple of chairs while I was held up in security. My pottery woman caused me some difficulty. They couldn’t work out what she was. I hope that doesn’t also happen at Heathrow and Singapore. It was a bit nerve wracking, especially when I only got one of my boots back, so I was hobbling around with only one shod foot while they were elbow-deep in all of my things.

She and I swapped travel stories until it was time for her plane to board. Then it was just me, happily dropping photos onto the blog until it was time to go.

The flight between Ireland and England is just right for a little nap. Then before I knew it I was in the car with Scott and we were headed for the bed and breakfast in a little town called Maldon.

The plan for this leg of my holiday is for us to drive around and explore Essex. Deana and Kathleen have shown me a bit, and now it’s time to see the rest!

The b and b is directly across from the river, where these sailing barges are moored. My window overlooks the river and the wetlands beyond. The house is filled with bowlfuls of lollies and chocolates, with nice little touches like some binoculars by the window for birdwatching and a rubber duckie for the tub.

After we settled in, we took a walk around the place to orient ourselves.

We were looking for a particular church. In a surprise to no one who knows him, Scott had done a bit of research on the places we were going to visit and this church has a link to the first president of the United States.

There was a window in here…

… which was donated to the church from the USA because…

… George Washington’s great-grandfather was the rector here.

I’m tipping that the rector would never have dreamed that he’d be honoured by a window in the church, though really, it’s not himself it’s really honouring.

After walking around the town a bit, we went for a meal on a quayside pub that our hostess Kim recommended, and then it was home to bed.

Scott took this photo of the Orange moon.

Day 26: Dublin Day!

Today is the last full day of our tour. It’s a day in Dublin, with four major stops.

The first was a museum called EPIC, which is all about Irish migration across the world. To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to this because it sounded a bit dry. But this museum is really good.

It was all technology driven. There’s lots of films and stuff to watch and interactive screens you can use it you want further information.
The first section is heartbreaking. It’s all about Ireland’s past and why millions of people have up stakes and moved elsewhere..

I tell you, it all made me very glad I don’t have a drop of Irish blood – these people have had it ROUGH.

The second part was all a celebration of Irish achievements around the world

It was so much better than I thought it would be. If you’re ever in Dublin and have a couple of hours to spare, it’s worth a visit.

Ben enlivened the bus trip towards the next attraction by turning the wrong way up a one-way bridge. A yell from the whole bus alerted him.

“Christ,” he said as he frantically backed up as the traffic advanced towards us. “I’d better get out of here before the Garuda come!”

On our way to Christ Church Cathedral, we passed this clock.

“Clery’s clock,” said Ben. “The tradition is to meet under there for a second date.”

We began talking about the nicknames all the statues have. There was one, whose real names escapes me now, that was a woman rising from water. Ben said that it had to be removed because people kept adding dishwasher detergent to it. She got the name of “the floozy in the jacuzzi.”

Look at where the bullet hole is. It’s not an accident.

Ben gave us a potted version of the 1916 rebellion and urged us all to go home and research it further. Basically, what happened was that in 1916 there were many young men off fighting for the allies in France. Back home in Ireland there were some freedom fighters in Dublin who decided that now would be a good time to fight for their cause upon the world’s stage.

They organised a shipload of weaponry which was then cancelled. Half of them pulled out, while the other half wanted to go ahead. So they did.

They barricaded themselves in a block or two in Dublin. I’m a bit hazy on the details. The town of Dublin didn’t know about it until it happened and there was very little support for it.

The English were not impressed. They diverted a ship full of 17 year old soldiers who thought they were going to France over to Dublin. The ship sailed as far as it could up the river and then opened fire.

The regular people in Dublin were NOT impressed and after 3 days convinced them to surrender. As they left the GPO people spat at them.

Then, here’s where it gets interesting. A guy called Maxwell was the leader of the English. He started executing the freedom fighters

By the time Asquith, the English PM at the time, heard about it and told him to stop, 16 of them had been killed.

Of course, public opinion immediately swung around and the English had 16 dead martyrs on their hands.

The paperwork for the Irish republic was signed in 1922 by Michael Collins.I’m going to track down that movie when I get home.

When we got to Christ Church Cathedral, I was in a Messenger conversation with my sister Kate.
“They’ve just told us that the toilets are located down in the crypt!” I typed.

The answer came back immediately. “We’ll you have to go now!!!”

As soon as I heard about the cat and the rat I headed straight down to the crypt to see them for myself. Here’s the info board:

But wait!

There’s more…

Here’s what the brochure said about this artifact:

“Here you will find the heart traditionally associated with St Laurence O’Toole, patron saint of Dublin.Laurence was buried in France in 1180 and his heart was reputedly brought back to Christ Church soon after. It was stolen in 2012 but recovered in 2018 and restored to its home in the cathedral.”

First of all… how’s the symmetry???

At the beginning of my trip to Ireland I see a head in a box. Now, at the end, I see a heart in a box. Both in cathedrals. Amazing.

Beautiful floor.

Here’s the Magna Carta. It’s one of the oldest copies of it in Ireland.

We were taken up lots of spiral steps to ring the actual cathedral bells. I had a go and they actually lifted me right off my feet. Single Carol is a bit claustrophobic, so she went up first and down first, so all she had was the guide in front of her instead of being hemmed in by a lot of people.
For some reason, the bells and the ancient stone stairs had the reeling with excitement. This was the highlight of her tour. I heard her say to the church guide, “ This has been the best thing on the trip.”

He replied, “Oh dear!”

After ringing the bells so that all Dublin could hear us, it was off to the Guinness Storehouse.

Now, as you might remember, I hate Guinness with a passion. However, one of the American couples, Doug and Cindy, have been absolutely lovely on this trip. I gave Doug my free pint of Guinness voucher.

He was a little bit happy.

Yeast. Not just used for sourdough.

This tour was self guided, ending up in the Skybar where people could redeem their vouchers. I dutifully wandered along. I had 2 hours to kill in here.

Bright lights.
I saw an interesting video from the 1950s about how the oak barrels were made. It was eye-opening just how skilled the coopers were. Unlike the whiskey distillers, Guinness now uses stainless steel for their barrels.

Here’s the movie theatre that they showed ads for Guinness on repeat. I had a little snooze in here…

Then I popped up to the Skybar. Dublin was laid out before us. There were a lot of happy Guinness drinkers here.

Then it was off toThe Merry Ploughboys’ pub for our last dinner.

The men in the band own the pub. They have an excellent business model. Play good Irish traditional music. Pay some Irish dancers. Serve good food. Get the coach companies in.

The evening was excellent. Here’s some dancing for you:

In the second half of the night, the band started playing nationalist songs of reunification of the whole of Ireland. When the singer started his introduction of one of the songs by saying how Ireland had been ruled for 800 years by England, I couldn’t help myself. I glanced over at the other end of the table where Cornelia was sitting.

I laughed out loud at the sour expression on her face. She didn’t see me but I think her meek husband did.

Anyway, who cares what Cornelia thinks? Tomorrow I’m flying back to England to spend a week with Scott!

Day 25: the reason Ireland is so green.

We were supposed to see The Rock of Cashel this morning.

Unfortunately, Ireland was dealing with the aftermath of a little storm called Cyclone Agnes, so the winds and rain were dreadful.

While we were sitting on the bus, which was being buffeted by the wind and rain, Ben told us the story being depicted here.
St Patrick was visiting the monks at the small wooden chapel there, and the devil was on the next mountain. He was furious that St Patrick was preaching Christianity, so he bit off a piece of the mountain and threw it at St Patrick.

This is the Rock of Cashel where the church is built.

Unfortunately, one part of this legend is limestone, while the other is sandstone, so there goes that story!

When James heard that we’d been washed out, he sent some photos so I could see what the Rock of Cashel is like.

Now I wish we had’ve been able to see it. It looks amazing.
The town itself looked pretty, glazed with rain.

We had lunch in a nice little pub.

This was the picture waiting at the foot of the stairs.

There was also a newspaper clipping of a newspaper advertisement offering a reward for Daniel Breene.
£1,000 reward . He was a member of the 1916 rebellion and the Civil War.

He was interviewed when he was much older and he said,, “Of course I regret the violence, but I’d do it all again. The British went down in the gutter and we went down there with them.”

Then it was off to the Irish National Stud.

As you would expect, it has horses in it. The guide showing us around was mainly talking about how much each stallion earns every time he covers a mare.

These are the yearlings. The ducks ended up taking more than their fair share of the food.

Unlike the stallions, who have double fences around them to keep everyone safe, these retired race horses are geldings and so are friendly. It was clear how much the guide cared for this on, in particular.

I went a little nuts in the gift shop and bought a silver Ugly Christmas Sweater ornament for the tree.

And look at these! They’re in the middle of the roundabout where the horse stud is. There are 5 of them in total and they’re made of Bog Ash

When we got to the hotel, all we wanted was to get to our rooms. We were all taken to the side in one group and the hotel door guy said that we should call out our names and he’d find our room keys. ‘Strangely inefficient’, I thought, but after one couple called out and got their keys, I called out “Frogdancer Jones” at exactly the same time as Cornelia called out her name.

You remember her,? The English woman in her 70’s who started out professing sympathy for the Irish but was unprepared for the level of hatred towards the English and to cope, is now saying that the Irish should just get on with it and move on. The one trying to get people to give little or no tip to Ben.

The doorman began looking for my key as Cornelia started repeating to me, “Wait your turn.”
After the third time, I turned to her and said, “Calm down Cornelia, you can get yours next.”

Now, I know I shouldn’t have chosen the words ‘calm down.’ They always have the opposite effect. But I hadn’t done anything wrong and perhaps SHE could learn to wait her turn?

If looks could kill, I would have been in need of an ambulance. She’s an entitled little woman who’s very used to getting her own way and I didn’t back down to her when she demanded it.

Anyway, I got my key and escaped to the lift. I knew in my bones that I was going to hear more of this.She was going to try to teach me a lesson, I was sure of it.

Not altogether to my surprise, just before dinner I arrived in the hotel foyer to find her waiting for me.

She hissed something at me and I said, “Let’s not do this, Cornelia,” and she looked at me, narrowed her eyes and said, “, Oh we ARE going to do this.”

I smiled at her, and said, “Ok then.”

And that’s when she fucked around and found out.

I hate confrontation and I’ll do my level best to avoid it. But when you bring it to my door? You’ll get the Frogdancer Jones who will not roll over and let you turn me into a doormat.

You all know that I wasn’t unprepared about the type of person she is. Plus I’m a secondary teacher… I know how to deal with bullies.

So when she came up close, leaned in and said in a voice so furious it almost trembled, “Don’t you EVER try to push in front of me again!”, all I did was smile and shake my head.

“I was just doing what the man said to do,” I said. “You know that.”

She blew up like a puffer fish and said, “You’re a VERY IGNORANT WOMAN!” and she turned on her heel to walk away, as if she clinched the whole conversation.

So ok, I could have let it go, but I thought I might see how she handled it if I reflected what she’d just said back to her.So I leaned forward and said earnestly, “Oh my god, I was just thinking the same thing about YOU!”

Well, that opened the floodgates. She gasped as if I’d just stabbed her and she said a few things that I can’t remember, while I just put on a patient look, raised my eyebrows slightly and nodded every now and then. (Ok, I knew how annoying that would be.)

Finally, she stopped, took a deep breath and said, “And you can FUCK OFF!”

I grinned because with that outburst, I’d won and we both knew it. As I grinned I said, “That’s the first honest thing you’ve said to me all night, Cornelia.”

She started to walk off, turned around and ferociously gave me the finger and stormed off.

I know I could have defused the situation but for once in my life I simply didn’t want to. Once she made it obvious that she was in for a fight, she was always going to lose, because I didn’t care and I had zero interest in pandering to her.
Besides, if she spent her time stewing over me instead of Ben for a change, then it would be time well spent.

Day 24: Kinsale, Fort Charles and Cork.

I write these posts by taking photos as I go, of course, but also writing notes. As I was getting ready to do a preliminary draft, I realised that the only notes I took today was when I was at the Fort. Today was a leisurely day, where we wandered around the enchanting ( and for me, expensive) towns of Kinsale and Cork. It was the closest thing to a free day that you can probably get on a tour.

Ben parked the bus at the harbour and told us to be back in two and a half hours.

I set off by myself to the left.

This place is built on and against a hill, with many tiny and windy streets.

A few GRUFF drivers. At least that’s what I think he said to me.


The colour in this place is amazing.

I wandered around by myself for most of the morning. Every now and then I’d see a couple from the tour, but we all seemed to have scattered to the four winds.

There were many little souvenir and arty shops. I am trying to avoid buying any more art… I don’t want to fill up the walls too quickly. I have many more countries to visit!

It’s worth enlarging the photo to read the legend. I tell you what, I don’t blame that girl for becoming a ghost after all of that tragic palaver.

Anyone would.

What I’m looking for is some sculpture or pottery.
But it has to not weigh too much…

It’s a big ask.

It’s the one downside of only taking carry on luggage.

And then I saw little Sean Murphy.

Look at him!

He’s a good boi who just wants his tummy scratched,.He’s brass, but weighs hardly anything. I love him.

Them, not 10 minutes later, I saw a pottery lady with a bright red coat.

I loved her on sight, then picked her up and she failed the carryon test – she has some weight to her. I walked out of the shop but after ten minutes and a chat with Roy from Traralgon who enabled me, I went back and bought her. It might take some creative packing, but I’ll make it work!

After we all made it back to the bus, we made our way up the hill to Fort Charles.
Incidentally, make the photo bigger until you can see the yacht sailing near the headland. It made my heart sing to look at it.

The fort tour was interesting. Dierdre, the guide, was not backward in coming forward as to how she felt about the English, which made Cornelia, one of 3 English people in the tour, huff and puff a bit later, coincidentally not anywhere near where Dierdre could hear her.

Obviously they had a lot of military blah blah blah, but here are a few facts that were mixed in that I deemed Blogworthy.

In 1601 two Irish chieftains sought an alliance with Spain because Spain was Catholic and would help get rid of the English from Ireland and then all would be wonderful. The Spanish sailed in and took the town of Kinsale.
The English lost their shit over this. Kinsale is 2 days’ straight sailing from England. Something had to be done… and fast.

The English fleet hurriedly sailed across before more Spanish ships could reach Kinsale and they blockaded the town. Meanwhile, the 2 Irish chieftains lived nowhere near Kinsale, so by the time they got their men together and headed down to the other end of Ireland, the English were in position and were ready. The Irish were decimated. The Spanish were drummed out of the town and the two chieftains left Ireland , never to return. It’s called the flight of the earls.

This is thereason the fort was built in 1677 -to protect against the Spanish.

After theBattle of the Boyne in 1690, a whole heap of the losing James II’s soldiers took shelter within the fort. William of Orange came here and put the fort underseige. He took the high ground, bombarded the fort and after 3 days it surrendered.

The catholic soldiers were offered their lives. Most took the offer and sailed away to Europe. This is called ‘The flight of the geese.’

Once the fort was built, it was run under very strict rules. Life was hard within the walls, but a soldier was guaranteed 2 meals a day, so in a time when many Irish people were starving, this was a definite inducement.

12 soldiers lived in each room, cooking their 2 meals a day there and eating there. They slept on straw bolsters, with the straw being changed every couple of months.

Very few soldiers got married. Only 6/100 were allowed to do so and it was a ballot system. For the first 50 years the woman had to share the bunk rooms with the rest of the soldiers. The happy couple were probably given a privacy blanket.

It was hard life for a woman. The army provided half the food rations as they did for a man, and they were expected to work as either a nurse in the hospital or in the laundry.

It all made me glad to be in the here and now.

We drove back into Cork and Ben dropped a few of us off in the city centre while a lot of people, with either themselves or a spouse still battling the lurgy, went back to the hotel.

Married Carol from Brisbane was alone on the bus today, with her husband Jeff, (great name!), feeling too tired to come out. She and I happened to hop out of the bus at the same time, so we spent a pleasant couple of hours together, just walking around Cork and nattering away.

This photo is of The English Market. It’s very much like the Queen Victoria market in Melbourne or that one I visited in Adelaide on a Little Adventure.

I took this photo to send to James. His Mum made brack for me when we went there for morning tea, so I sent it with the caption, “Your mum’s brack is obviously the best in Ireland. Nice to see she has a little side-gig going!”

His reply? “Christ, they know how to charge!”

This church had a lot of confessionals lined around the outsides. When I say a lot, I mean MANY.
What on earth are they doing here that requires so much forgiveness?

I had a companion shot here of Married Carol holding the ice-creams we bought, but I wasn’t sure if she’d want to be in the blog, so I chose the photo with no people. She took a photo of me outside a shop with my name on it.

These lanes look so interesting when you’re at the mouth of them, but when you’re walking along them they’re pretty dull. Ah well, at least we’d been to Kinsale.

This is the first tin I’ve bought as a souvenir this trip that I’m not going to give away the contents. I’m dying to know what Shamrock tastes like.

I asked the guy stacking shelves in the shop and he said, “How do I explain it? It tastes… fresh, like.”

And then, as we were walking along, I discovered what the sickness was that had been going through the coach. I had my suspicions… some days we were down as many as 9 people who were too sick to leave their beds.

Married Carol and I walked past a Lush shop. Anyone who has ever been anywhere near one of these shops knows how much they smell. Married Carol wanted to look around, so we went in.

I couldn’t smell a thing.

Ah well. Two and a half years into a pandemic before finally getting COVID isn’t bad going.
But it’s really proved the worth of the vaccine. I had three straight nights of 11 hours sleep and a runny nose and sore throat for three days, but every morning I was up and ready to go. Quite a few people in the bus have missed anywhere from 1 – 3 days of sightseeing.

It hasn’t spoiled my holiday.

(Though when I realised I’ve lost my sense of smell, I washed every single one of my clothes!!! Better be safe than sorry!)

Day 23: a kiss of the Blarney Stone.

When we’re riding from place to place in the coach, Ben sometimes sings songs or tells stories to pass the time. Today he told a sad story about what happened to his grandmother’s brother just over 100 years ago.

Michael O’Sullivan was 22 years old. He was in the hills with a friend during the civil war, (which was in 1920 – 1921), when they saw some Unionist troops. The friend shot at them, and ran. Michael was shot in the shoulder and managed to find shelter in a friend’s house. But the troops knew where he was. They called out to him that he could go free. All they wanted was his gun.

He bent the barrel of the shotgun in the bannisters so it would be useless to them, so he was dragged out of the house and shot in the chest. One of the family rode to tell the O’Sullivans and they loaded up a wagon with straw, because they knew they’d be bringing him back. He rode home in the wagon lying in his mother’s arms and died 12 hours later.

A few years after, the man who had shot him was recognised in America and a letter arrived, asking if the O’Sullivans wanted him dead. They wrote back that no, leave him be. By now it was over and done with.

“That was 2 generations ago. Every Irish family has stories like this one,” said Ben.

I put this photo in because I was so pleased to get a shot with the ravens in the photo. You know how it is… you see heaps of ravens flying around being all atmospheric so you raise your phone and wait… and wait…

Anyway, Blarney Castle was built in the 1500’s by the McCarthy family. I couldn’t make head or tail of how or why the Blarney Stone was brought to the castle and mortared into the very top of the damned thing, but I guess it doesn’t matter.)

The point is: if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you have the gift of the gab for life.

Now, my previous students might say that I’ve already swallowed it whole, but in all honesty, I have to say that on this tour I’ve been fairly introverted. People who’ve read my previous travel blogs would know that I’ve travelled with some interesting characters *coughSamFrankcough* but this group of people just haven’t brought out the glorious delight that is Frogdancer Jones.

Ok, maybe that’s a good thing, I hear some of you say…

Don’t get me wrong. They’re perfectly fine people.

(Except for the overtly Christian farming couple who, when I mentioned in a general conversation that I was atheist, never looked me in the eye or spoke to me unless I spoke to them first, and then with the wife, she answered only in monosyllables. Very Christian of them… Christ would probably slap them.

(Or the elderly English woman, let’s call her Cornelia, who after telling us all how ‘leftie’ she is and how awful she feels about what the English have done in Ireland- to the point where she was apologising to the guide in Belfast – evidently realised that the feeling against the English ran far deeper than she realised. She got uncomfortable.
Less than a week later, she’s railing against our driver and the men at a bar she’d been to, saying that “the Irish should just let it go”, and “it’s about time they did.”

That’s all fine… it must happen a lot here I guess, but then I heard how she was starting to badmouth Ben, our driver, and trying to manipulate people into lowering the tip they were going to pay him at the end. Well, there’s some modern-day English landlords taking the money from their Irish workers behaviour right there. What a hypocritical way to act. I’m trying to avoid sitting anywhere near her.)

But apart from that, everyone is nice and very agreeable.

We set off hotfoot from Kilarney this morning, hoping to get to Castle Blarney before coaches full of cruise ship tourists descended upon it. Ben heard that a huge ship had docked at a port nearby.

Sadly, no such luck. When we got there, the place was seething with tourists, like as like someone stuck a stick in an anthill. But all of that was forgotten as I walked towards the castle.

I walked over a bridge with a stream flowing merrily underneath. I could hear the sound of a piper coming down from the castle. With the river, the blue sky, the green of the garden and the medieval building in front of me, it was perfect.

As I walked, the piper finished his song, there was a scattering of applause, then he began another song. I knew the tune… it was very familiar… hang on, it’s’Scotland the Brave.’

When I reached the castle, the piper was just finishing up his song. I told him how wonderful it sounded, and asked if I was correct in thinking that it was’Scotland the Brave’ he was playing.

“ I wondered if I was still in Ireland!” I said.

“Aye, we’re like two brothers, but with one common enemy,” he said with a wink.

The queue to kiss the Blarney Stone was extremely long. Like, over an hour long, winding down from the Blarney Stone, all down through the castle with its winding spiral stairs, then down the slopes.
It took over an hour to get to the stone.

There was a very irritating woman behind me from Minnesota. She had a few friends with her and honestly… she didn’t shut up. All the way up to the Stone, she kept braying her vacuous stuff.

And then, of course, at the Blarney Stone, she was the one who asked me if I wanted her to take a photo of me kissing the stone.

So now I owe her… I feel bad for all the impatient things I was muttering underneath my mask.

As my sister said when I posted this picture on Facebook, “Oh! You get a kiss AND a cuddle!”

There’s quite a gap, as you can see from the left of me, and some people get a bit scared. But as one of the lads said, “Don’t worry. We haven’t lost anyone so far this morning!”

On an aside, we had dinner with some Canadians who arrived at Blarney Castle at 4:30. No queue, they just walked straight up and were done in about 10 minutes…

No words.

As I left my intimate encounter with the Blarney Stone, I stopped at the top of the spiral stairs to show you what they’re like.
The medieval builders made them steep and narrow, so that if the castle was under attack only one soldier could come up the stairs at any one time. They also made the spiral turn to the right, as most people are right handed. A soldier can’t wave his sword wildly if the wall is in his way, but it gives a person standing facing him on the stairs the best chance of getting him first.
They were violent times back then.

I saw this good boy in the cafe garden. Isn’t he great?
I bumped into Single Carol from the tour in the upper cafe and we had lunch together. She’s booked to do a tour of some American National Parks and the Americans on the tour were really excited for her when they saw the tour. She and I are the only singles on this tour and we often have dinners together, because the couples absolutely want to sit together at all times.

The gardens around the castle are stunning. After such a long queue for the Blarney Stone, I didn’t have time to see it all, but I had a good walk around as ai gradually headed back to the bus.

I was keen to see’The Seven Sisters’ because I liked the story, but first I went through the Poison Garden, which is exactly as you’d expect, then through the fairy grotto.

Here are some shots of the grotto. There’s a witch who lives in there, but she only comes out at night but they close the park at dusk, so she can’t do any harm

Here is the legend of the Seven Sisters stones.

Many, many years ago, there was a proud king who lived in these parts. He had two fine sons and seven daughters. Everything was going fine until the day the king rode out to battle and both his sons were killed.

On the way home, the grief-stricken king passed by a circle of 9 standing stones that had been in place for far longer than anyone could remember. As he rode by, the king commanded his men to push over two of the stones in memory of his sons. To this day, two stones lie flat… well, flattish… while the Sisters stand tall.

The gardens also had an exhibition of sculptures.

I bought a hat!

As we were in the bus driving towards our next destination, one of the American guys told us all about another snippet about the Choctaw Indians that I was talking about a day or two ago. They were used in WWI as ‘code talkers’ because they’d communicate in their own language and the Germans couldn’t understand it. They thought it was a code and try as they might, they couldn’t break it.

I found that interesting.

We arrived at our second distillery, Midleton’s, where they make, among other things, Jamison’s Irish whiskeys. I wasn’t expecting to find this as interesting as the first because we’ve already heard how Irish whiskey is made. But our guide was great. We were also allowed to take photos here.

I tell you what, they were certainly pumping the tourists through here! There may be money to be made in liquor, but there’s certainly a quid or two to be made in whiskey tastings as well.

I thought I was coming good from the cold I’d been wearing a mask for for the last few days, but as we were standing outside the mill wheel waiting for the slow people to catch up, I suddenly thought, ‘ Frogdancer, you’re tired.’
Scampering up and down a castle and then walking around the gardens was enough for me for today. I sighed and resolved to have another early night.

Midletons have what they call the ‘Very Rare’ release every year. The first one was in 1882, but it was the result of massive forward planning by the management in the 1960s. Sales of Irish whiskey were plummeting in the US, so they decided to lay down a drop that would be matured for around 28 years and would be a drop to be treasured.
But of course, they had to wait twenty- plus years before they could release it…

Nowadays, it’s regarded as the most bought Irish whiskey in the world, and the least consumed. By coincidence , today is the release date of the Midleton’s Very Rare 2023.

I think the main difference between the two distilleries is that Bushmills stay close to the traditional ways of brewing, while Midleton’s is happier to try new things sometimes.

An example was their micro distillery, where they make a whiskey called ‘Method and Madness’ that our guide highly recommends.

For a whiskey to be legally labeled as Irish, it needs to be triple distilled and it needs to be matured in a wooden cask for a minimum of 3 years.

‘The Angels’ Share’’ is a real consideration. Every year 2 percent of the barrel’s contents is lost to evaporation. This doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider that some of these barrels are untouched for 20 years, that becomes a significant amount. They could cover the barrels, but then the whiskey wouldn’t mature. It needs the mix of oxygen the evaporation brings. The barrel needs to breathe.
I love that they call it the ‘angels’ share.’

Afterwards, we were given a taste test of 3 types of whiskey, then we were let loose in the gift shop. I bought a tiny bottle of Red Breast, because James said it was a good drop. I’m planning to drink both little bottles, one from Bushmills, one from Midleton’s, on my second-last night of the tour.
I wonder which one I’ll prefer?

Day 22: The Ring of Kerry. A bit of a fizzer…

If I’d known that this was going to be the best view we’d see today, It’d have enjoyed it a bit more. I suppose the luck of Fortunate Frogdancer couldn’t be expected to go on forever, and today at the Ring of Kerry was where it ran out.

Ah well. When I consider all the amazing pieces of good luck I’ve had in my travels, I guess I can smile and take one for the team.

This lake is right where the ruins of a 4th century abbey lie, called the Abbey of the Yew trees. Say what you like – those monks picked some picturesque places to build their abbeys.

This is Laugh Layn, above Kilarney.

Ben said, “ See the third island? It had a book as richly decorated as the Book of Kells. Cambridge University has it, but they really should give it back.”

This is the photo I sent to James from Dublin/North Korea when he sent me a message asking how the Ring of Kerry was going:

I said, “This is a view of the rocks of Skellig.”

Poor Ben. He knew going in that this was going to be a total washout of a day, but he kept on going, regardless.

The town here that we drove through has a goat festival each year.

Apparently, way back in the mists of time, there was a tiny village on an island who had built a wooden bridge/ladder over the river that they could move around. Early one morning, the people were awoken by the mad bleating of a goat racing through the town. They woke up and realised that they were about to be attacked, so they were able to draw up the footbridge and survive.

Now, they go up into the hills each year, find a goat, wash it and make it look Schmick, then they parade through the streets, feed the goat a whole heap of hay and generally have a fine old time.

Animal activists tried to stop it, but all it did was swell the numbers because the headline in the papers read: ‘Goat Festival in Blahblahblah’ (sorry, I don’t know the actual name of the town) and everyone just read the headline and thought, “That sounds like fun. Let’s go!”

This is the only Catholic Church in the world that is not named after a saint. Instead, it’s names after a man called Daniel O’Connell.
Reared by his uncle after his parents died, he was involved in the smuggling trade, bringing Illegally imported brandy and wine in from France.

Clearly, at some stage he stopped this because in the early 1800’s he was a member of parliament in the UK, where he successfully brought about the repudiation of Cromwell’s laws banning the practicing of the Catholic faith in Ireland.
This, of course, makes him a hero here.

“How did he manage to do it?” I asked Ben.

“Ahh, he was a very clever man, a very clever man indeed. He run rings around all those hereditary lords who were there just because they were born to it. “

He paused, then said almost as an afterthought, “Plus he had the backing of the Americans.”

We had a quick “splash and dash” in Waterville, which certainly lived up to its name.
We stopped for lunch at a great little pub called TheBlind Piper.

According to the story, a blind piper went to America and someone sent him a letter saying to come home and claim his inheritance. He stupidly did. 

He didn’t have the money to go back and he died in the workhouse.

Some of these Irish stories are absolutely brutal.

The pub was great and the food was lovely.

The town is very health-conscious…

… or something.

Remember when I bought a picture of a Fairy Tree? This is one we saw from the bus. See how the Hawthorn tree is all alone in the field?

Ladies View.

Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting saw it when they were over here preparing for her visit and told her she had to see it too. It clearly wasn’t the same weather as we have. We nearly got blown off the cliff!
It’s one of the main attractions of the Ring of Kerry.
It was raining so hard that I enthusiastically leapt off the bus, landed by the door, took this photo and then disappeared back into the bus. The rain was coming at us sideways.

We drove past. Ghost village… a place that had been abandoned during the Great Famine. “This place will never be touched,” said Ben.

As we were driving to a place, not on the itinerary, that Ben wanted to take us to, he told the story of a church haunted by a woman in a wedding dress. It has to be a rainy night and you’re all alone in a car. You feel a presence and she’ll be in the back seat. She was jilted by her lover at the altar so she jumped in the river and drowned.

Water is flowing either side of the road. It’s WET. Bus driver creeping very cautiously past each car. The road is very narrow and slippery.

Then we reached Torcasio Falls.
And it was the best thing of the day.

Suddenly, all the rain was worth it.

Here are some photos of the walk up to it.

This tree made me understand why so many fairy tales from Europe have haunted forests.

I just love this. Like, come on. How could this be natural?

And again, just to prove I’m really here and to show James that I’m still showing his sheep brooch around the Emerald Isle.

On the way home we saw a modern Celtic Cross on a hill overlooking the park. The lord of the manor wanted to be buried overlooking his land, so he was buried there standing up.

You’ll notice I’m wearing a mask. Scott says that he doesn’t think I had Covid because my symptoms don’t match up. He says I probably have a cold, which I’m happy about.
Well, I’d prefer to be fighting fit, but you know what I mean.

Tomorrow we visit another distillery. That should get rid of any lingering germs!

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!

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