Tuesday, January 19, 2016

9/26 – Ballyshannon, Enniskillen, and Slieve League

9/26 – Ballyshannon, Enniskillen, and Slieve League
More pics here.
Road trip leg 3 here.

The next morning we had a good couple of hours of driving ahead, but wanted to get outside once more and squeeze the last bit of loveliness out of this little place. I wish we’d stayed longer – but I could say that about all of our stops.  After yet another superb and filling breakfast, we decided to take a walk on the path behind our lodge’s property, through the local woods. It was a nice change of pace to be in trees instead of on sea cliffs. There are really not very many trees in Ireland - and certainly very few forests. We saw more around Cong and Clonbur than perhaps the rest of the trip combined. 

The path was easy and beautiful and quiet. We found blackberries, but they had no flavor or sweetness – nothing like ours.  We turned a corner and found a completely unkept castle ruin, which the trees had grown up around and engulfed. We hopped the fence and wandered around – and Ty even let me go inside, and then joined me! Travel changes you, beware. The ruins were a treat – no people, no signs, no development. Just the remains of someone’s safekeeping fortress in themiddle of the woods. I imagine the trees filled in after the people left, and were working their way inside and up through the former roof. It was spooky to be inside even though it was bright- there was one side room that was completely dark and we couldn’t bring ourselves to even look in, let alone walk near it! It was small but a treasure to have to ourselves. There is something about nature taking back what man has built that is always profound and beautiful.

We left Clonbur and headed northward for what would be the least planned part of our trip. I remember this landscape as dull and repetitive – but I think we had just adjusted to the amazing beauty of County Clare and the Connemara. There were still rolling hills, quaint towns, and beautiful mountains! The goal was to hike Slieve League on our way north. Its pretty remote and weather is tricky, so I planned an overnight to allow us both an afternoon and a morning to attempt the hike. As things worked out the afternoon slot was eaten up but we were lucky to have amazing weather in the morning once we got there. But first, the afternoon that was probably the lowest point in the trip.

This drive was where I came to realize a few things: I could manage the car sickness pretty well for short drives, but it would accumulate over the longer ones in a way that wouldn’t really become apparent until I got out of the car. After more than an hour of straight driving, I would be pretty much shot for 3-4 hours – all of my energy and focus would be on trying to unscramble my senses and I wasn’t good for much else. This combined with not being able to find food when we needed it created a lot of stress – keeping my stomach just full enough of the right kinds of bland foods is pretty critical for managing the motion sickness. Poor Ty – he was a patient companion even though he couldn’t really understand my anxieties.

We drove through Ballyshannon, which was the nearest town to our B&B for the night. Doesn’t it sound adorable? It’s not. It was probably at one time a quaint medium-sized town. Now it was tired, run down, shuttered and grim. We could only find one pub open at 2pm, and he kindly directed us to the one restaurant serving lunch this late. We saw maybe 2-3 people on the street – and this was Saturday afternoon in the heart of town!  The service at this restaurant was cool, the other patrons stared at us with unchanging “you aren’t from here” expressions, and the food was of the classic Irish “you don’t come here to eat” variety. Or at least, this is how I experienced it all in the midst of the room spinning from the car ride.  Ty wasn’t really bothered at all. But he usually isn’t.

We had a few hours to kill before we could check in. Since I didn’t want to be further depressed by Ballyshannon, we drove across the border to explore Enniskillen, in Northern Ireland. I hadn’t planned any trips into this side as I thought the border would be a hassle. Turns out it barely warrants a street sign – you mostly notice that the gas prices have changed from euros to pounds. We had a nice beautiful drive along a lake and through the woods, but this only made me more sick. I was also at this point feeling horribly guilty as this was Ty’s birthday and I was miserable to be with! We had nothing fun or remotely interesting planned – I had hoped to be on Slieve League this day but the driving was so much slower than we anticipated that we got to the area too late. By the time we got to Enniskillen, we were both tired of driving and managing my nausea. The town turned out to be bigger than we thought, which means harder to navigate. We decided to just turn around! Oy!
BUT, we did pass a golf course on the way through, and decided to stop on the way back. So at least Ty got to hit a bucket of balls on his birthday. I tried to cheer him on but mostly tried to sit up straight. I do think this bucket of balls warmed up Ty’s interest in golfing later in the trip, which he’d been ambivalent about given all we were trying to see and the changing weather. That golf day turned out to be great for both of us so I am glad we made this stop and planted the seed.

And despite the difficult day – really the only one of the trip as I recall – we checked into our favorite B&B, Erne Manor. The proprietress was exponentially more kind and warm and fun to talk with than the ones prior, which I couldn’t have imagined. She moved us upstairs to the more private room which came with a giant modern soaking tub under a window overlooking a field, and brought us her own bubble bath. Her house was more modern than any we’d stayed in, which was a welcome change from all the lovely but super-decorated historical buildings we’d been seeing. She had couches! A pool table! A TV for watching rugby! She lived on a road safe enough for Ty to take a run while I took a bath!

It was like being in a friend’s house – albeit a fancy house, and an Irish friend who made us breakfast and let us soak in her tub. It was the perfect balance point for our trip. She helped us find a nice pub for dinner and watching the game, which we’d have never found ourselves. We had a good long chat while Ty was running, and she helped me set up a candle I’d stashed for his birthday. We enjoyed dinner and drinks in the pub, stood on two ends of a bridge where the river divided the Republic from Northern Ireland, and back at the B&B I surprised Ty with a firecracker candle in a scone on the porch under the stars. Which we looked at for about 30 seconds before scurrying in from the cold – but it was something at least.  We slept great and I took another bath in the morning! :)

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