'Take me home, country roads...'

July 29, 2018

I realise very quickly that the Garmin GPS is a challenge that I don't necessarily need whilst driving in Ireland. It predicts nothing, doesn't recognise the lane numbers or the recently introduced Eir-codes, and I discover this within minutes of hiring a car. 

I am already challenged, as most cars in Ireland have manual gearboxes. To hire an automatic can cost as much as twice the cost of a manual car, so we decide to bite the bullet and take the cheaper option. After all, driving a manual car is like riding a bike, isn't it? Even after thirty years, you never forget, do you?

As Tom grapples with the stick-shift, car hopping down the road, stalling at the first of seemingly hundreds of roundabouts, I enter a town's name into Garmin's text box and click the arrow. Skipping over the unknown house number step, the process comes to a screaming halt as I don't know the name of a street in the already-selected town. 

I start again, stepping back to the main menu and search for the option to drive to the town centre.

No option.

   'Try Main Street,' says Tom.  

I enter the town name.

Skip the house number.

Enter 'Main Street.'

 

The hourglass twists one way, then the other, and after an interminable length of time, a message appears.

 

   'Street name not found.'

 

   'Do you think we should follow the signs?' I say.

   'What have we got a GPS for?' growls Tom, as the car does a skip before violently coming to a complete halt.

 

I quickly turn on my phone's data; fingers crossed that this will not cost me too much and Google the question in mind.

   'O'Connell Street,' it responds.

Of course it is! 

Data is switched off, and the Garmin is set, just as the engine roars back to life, gears crunching and car jolting.

 

   'Turn left.' Garmin commands.

Tom carefully reduces the car's speed, changes down to second gear, and makes the turn into a narrow country lane. The road is wide enough...

 

...for one car only.

 

On each side of the road stands an ancient dry stone wall, designed to keep cattle inside the tiny paddocks and cars outside on the road. Down the centre is a line of long grass stretched into the distance and it appears that no wheels have touched the centre of this road for many years. Remaining at turning-speed and staying in second gear, Tom drives carefully down the road, eyes surreptitiously checking the screen of the GPS. We seem to be travelling in the right direction, although I wonder whether the GPS is having a little joke, after all the naughty names I had called it earlier. Eyes back on the road and...

 

... oh Geez....

 

Looming in the distance is a large blue vehicle. It easily fills the full width of the road and it's coming towards us, albeit slowly.

   'Um, Tom... What is...?'

   'I can see it,' he snaps.

 

My eyes swivel from side to side, checking for the tiniest space to turn into. 

 

The tractor swerves slightly, pulling in front of a house in the distance. 

Cautiously, Tom creeps in a forward direction eventually passing the large tractor, which is idling in its makeshift parking spot. The driver waves gaily at us as our car slowly passes.

 

I relax slightly enough to begin taking notice of my local environment. I mentally checking the spaces around me.  A farm gateway here, a driveway there. Is this normal country-road driving in Ireland? 

 

I suspect that Murphy's Law really did originate in Ireland. I know for a fact that if I am going to encounter a tractor, or a bus, or a speeding car, it will always be on a bend. If that isn't bad enough, vehicles are attracted to me like magnets. If I want to stop to take a photo, I can almost certainly guarantee that there is a car, or a tractor, or a truck stuck almost up my 'clacker'.

 

It doesn't take long to get used to the country roads. Although there are many freeways and major arterial roads, it is often quicker to take the shorter, narrow country lanes, and although I sometimes worry about whether we are heading in the right direction, we do eventually reach our destination. I've even grown to respect Garmin - sometimes.

 

Despite my poor attempts at working a manual car on narrow, windy, and often unmade roads, Irish motorists are considerate, patient, and almost always greet you with a smile and a wave.

 

Now I need to work on the gears!

 

 

 

 

Title Quote: Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert, John Denver

Accommodation: Castle View B&B, Ennistymon Rd, Lahinch, Co. Clare, Ireland

July 19, 2018

 

Leaving the pretty seaside village of Doolin behind us, we drive along the narrow country road toward Ballyvaughan. There is rich farmland between the azure sea and the road, and the fine summer weather has given farmers the opportunity to cut their hay. The huge round-shaped bales sit in a row, sharply contrasting with the sea behind and the pasture in front. 

 

By Australian standards, the paddocks are tiny; each surrounded by dry-stone walls. In west Clare, dry-stone walls are everywhere, and we will soon understand why stone is the material of choice used by farmers and builders alike. I am astounded by the number of tiny stone cottages, large churches, and castles dotted around the countryside. Many are in ruins whilst some have been renovated and are private homes or hotels. 

 

We round a sharp bend. It is like we have driven through a door, with green but rocky fields on one side and hard white limestone on the other. For as far as I can see, there are hundreds of thousands of stones dotted in the fields and I wonder how farmers can eke a living out of these barren fields. There are few cows here now, but apparently the walled fields are used in the wintertime for grazing.

I see a small turnout and park the car. Between the road and the sea is an expanse of rock, held back by a dry-stone wall. Behind me, and across the road is rock, solid and unrelenting. I walk through a gap in the stone wall and find myself standing on the hard uneven surface of this part of The Burren.

I am standing in an ancient geological region of County Clare. The landscape has been shaped by hundreds of millions of years of natural forces. And yet, it hasn't been shaped uniformly. Why is the rock I'm standing on as level and smooth as a tabletop and the one next to me pockmarked and rough? How did a rock in the distance remain standing, whilst the landscape surrounding it is flat? Over the millennia, water has seeped into tiny cracks, wearing away the rock into different shapes. I see the imprint of a foot on one and a scalloped pattern on another. 

Between the cracks, tiny plants thrive. There is a collection of weeds, the seeds of which had been dropped by birds. There is a small-leaf ivy, and plants I've seen in the arctic, like tiny avens and saxifrage. Every now and then I catch sight of bright yellow flowers pushing their way out of the crags, like a ray of sunshine contrasting with the grey surface. Today, I wish I knew more about geology and botany. It would be nice to be able to recognise the plants at a glance, or be able to identify the many rocks beneath my feet. I don't, however, have to be a geologist or a botanist to appreciate my surroundings today. 

 

Ahead of me is a stone balancing on the surface. It's not a particularly large stone, but I wonder why it hasn't eroded at the same rate as the surrounding ones. It's not as if it has broken off and rolled down from a mountain, because there are none nearby. There are some questions I simply cannot answer, but that doesn't deter me from walking toward it to investigate it further.

 

The Burren is desolate-looking in the sunshine, so I cannot imagine how bone-chillingly bleak it is when the gales are blowing from the cold Atlantic Ocean.  Standing in the centre of solid rock I can imagine why Cromwell and his generals thought this was so bleak that no man could possibly survive there. Yet within its austerity, there is unbelievable beauty.

 

 

Title Quote : Edmund Ludlow (1651)

Accommodation: Town Square Townhouses,  St Brendan's Rd, Rathbaun, Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare, Ireland

 

© 2018 Janette E Frawley  - All Rights Reserved

'There isn't a tree to hang a man, water to drown a man, nor soil to bury a man.'

July 19, 2018

 

Leaving the pretty seaside village of Doolin behind us, we drive along the narrow country road toward Ballyvaughan. There is rich farmland between the azure sea and the road, and the fine summer weather has given farmers the opportunity to cut their hay. The huge round-shaped bales sit in a row, sharply contrasting with the sea behind and the pasture in front. 

 

By Australian standards, the paddocks are tiny; each surrounded by dry-stone walls. In west Clare, dry-stone walls are everywhere, and we will soon understand why stone is the material of choice used by farmers and builders alike. I am astounded by the number of tiny stone cottages, large churches, and castles dotted around the countryside. Many are in ruins whilst some have been renovated and are private homes or hotels. 

 

We round a sharp bend. It is like we have driven through a door, with green but rocky fields on one side and hard white limestone on the other. For as far as I can see, there are hundreds of thousands of stones dotted in the fields and I wonder how farmers can eke a living out of these barren fields. There are few cows here now, but apparently the walled fields are used in the wintertime for grazing.

I see a small turnout and park the car. Between the road and the sea is an expanse of rock, held back by a dry-stone wall. Behind me, and across the road is rock, solid and unrelenting. I walk through a gap in the stone wall and find myself standing on the hard uneven surface of this part of The Burren.

I am standing in an ancient geological region of County Clare. The landscape has been shaped by hundreds of millions of years of natural forces. And yet, it hasn't been shaped uniformly. Why is the rock I'm standing on as level and smooth as a tabletop and the one next to me pockmarked and rough? How did a rock in the distance remain standing, whilst the landscape surrounding it is flat? Over the millennia, water has seeped into tiny cracks, wearing away the rock into different shapes. I see the imprint of a foot on one and a scalloped pattern on another. 

Between the cracks, tiny plants thrive. There is a collection of weeds, the seeds of which had been dropped by birds. There is a small-leaf ivy, and plants I've seen in the arctic, like tiny avens and saxifrage. Every now and then I catch sight of bright yellow flowers pushing their way out of the crags, like a ray of sunshine contrasting with the grey surface. Today, I wish I knew more about geology and botany. It would be nice to be able to recognise the plants at a glance, or be able to identify the many rocks beneath my feet. I don't, however, have to be a geologist or a botanist to appreciate my surroundings today. 

 

Ahead of me is a stone balancing on the surface. It's not a particularly large stone, but I wonder why it hasn't eroded at the same rate as the surrounding ones. It's not as if it has broken off and rolled down from a mountain, because there are none nearby. There are some questions I simply cannot answer, but that doesn't deter me from walking toward it to investigate it further.

 

The Burren is desolate-looking in the sunshine, so I cannot imagine how bone-chillingly bleak it is when the gales are blowing from the cold Atlantic Ocean.  Standing in the centre of solid rock I can imagine why Cromwell and his generals thought this was so bleak that no man could possibly survive there. Yet within its austerity, there is unbelievable beauty.

 

 

Title Quote : Edmund Ludlow (1651)

Accommodation: Town Square Townhouses,  St Brendan's Rd, Rathbaun, Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare, Ireland

 

© 2018 Janette E Frawley  - All Rights Reserved

'There isn't a tree to hang a man, water to drown a man, nor soil to bury a man.'

Copyright © 2018-2020 Janette E. Frawley - All Rights Reserved