Thursday 8 July – homeward

Nice relaxed breakfast with Dot, totally oblivious of what lay ahead! Set satnav for ‘home’ and said our goodbyes at 10am with plans for some mini trips together soon. The weather cloudy but dry, ideal for motoring. First stop at 11.15 for a coffee. Luckily I picked up a sandwich for lunch because after making good progress, the traffic ground to a halt near J20 of the M6. I googled… serious accident. After 2 hour’s motionless on the M6 I became desperate for the loo… just had to be creative! At least I could listen to the tennis! Just felt for whoever was involved in what has been revealed as a double accident. Numerous emergency vehicles have been screaming up the hard shoulder as well as air ambulance and police circling the skies requesting us to stay in our cars.

Eventually we were requested by police to turn round from the back of the 7 mile queue and drive back to the previous exit to get off. Now I am totally lost and sitting in a very nice pub in Mere, Cheshire having a bite to eat while the diverted traffic from the M6 still crawls outside.

I eventually arrived home exhausted but alive while someone in the accident would not be going home to their family tonight. The M6 could not be reopened because of a spillage of oil and wine! What a dramatic end to an otherwise fabulous road trip, which I thought had given me back my confidence in driving. I had covered nearly 1400 miles!

Martha had just fallen asleep and there were kitten toys and other items awaiting kitty’s arrival! We decided to call him Bailey after the Irish Cream!

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Wednesday 7 July – Kirkcudbright to GosForth

Checked on kitten before breakfast then final guided tour of Carolyn’s beautiful garden before setting off back to the Lakes.

the garden had changed so much in a week… flowers blooming and vegetables bursting!

We walked through her ‘meadow’ by now just full of wild orchids, and she showed me where a Roe Deer had been sleeping during the night and eating the tops of wild plants.

I finally loaded up kitty and we said our farewells. The A75 was such a good clear road. I had followed it from the ferry in Cairnryan and was to stay with it all the way to Carlisle. I decided to take a more coastal route back to Dot’s as it was such a beautiful day. After refuelling all three of us at a service station near Carlisle (mini, me and kitty), I set the satnav for Silloth, a small Victorian seaside town near Maryport.

I stretched my legs along the promenade and ate my chicken sandwich (bought at the service station). It came over quite dark and threatening at one point with rumbles of thunder, so I decided to move on. Then somehow I missed a turning to the main road and instead followed the coast to Allonby. I passed a long queue of people waiting to buy ice cream then stopped near some sand dunes for a walk on the beach, picking up a few coloured stones for my rockery.

I I finally arrived at Dot’s about 4pm and we sat in her garden in the sunshine with a cool orange juice until it was time for dinner.

Dinner was delicious fish and chips at ‘the Viv’ the we went down to the beach at Drigg for a stroll and to watch the sunset.

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Tuesday 6 July – last day in Ireland

What a beautiful Irish morning to wake up to! The view from Margaret’s window is stunning and the warm sunshine is streaming through the open window.

Margaret took me out to breakfast at Two Twenty, a very nice little eating place near the coast. We both had a full Irish Breakfast. Although the menu was full of sourdough, we were able to have ours replaced with soda bread thankfully. A final catch-up this morning….

…..then finally I had arranged to meet with cousin Irene at White Rocks nearby before returning to Larne for the ferry back to Cairnryan.

I had never been to White Rocks. It was a pleasant discovery, a Sandy beach accessed from small hidden car parks on different levels in the sand dunes. It was a stunning morning with blue skies and turquoise sea. Ireland’s families had turned out to enjoy the day here. I paddled a bit and then sat down near the car park entrance waiting for Irene. She eventually arrived and we sat on the white rocks and chatted until it was time for me to head back to Larne.

I decided to take the main road back to Larne as, although it was a beautiful day, I thought the coast road might make me too late for the ferry.

Just one more thing to do! Collect a kitten from Christine! I had had my eye on two of her five kittens all week and decided to stow away the little grey and white one for Martha.

Christine had everything ready for me to transport it comfortably and safely back to Charlbury. What a star!

She then escorted me to the ferry to make sure there were no hitches. All was well and we sailed across a calm Irish Sea back to Cairnryan.

The road back to Borgue was quiet and easy. It took just an hour before I arrived back with Carolyn. We enjoyed a welcome glass of red wine before settling into a light supper and catchup of my Irish travels.
Kitty was none the worse for his four hour journey in the back of the mini. Fed and bedding refreshed, he was installed in Carolyn’s utility room for the night.

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Monday 5 July – up the coast road

It has rained quite a bit in the night and is somewhat overcast this morning so I’ll maybe not be painting in some of the small harbour villages along the way.

I found myself on a very long narrow winding road that took me up to Torr Head where I stopped for a while. Somehow I missed Cushendun.. ah well, it’s very grey and raining in the distance.

Next stop Ballycastle for a coffee.

I took a walk along the beach and thought of Jim, my oldest Irish cousin who had sadly passed away the same summer as my father had, just 4 years ago. We used to come to Ballycastle for the best fish and chips! I sat in the car a bit and watched a heavy rain shower on Rathlin Island. I had been on this island many years ago and seen puffins and other seabirds.

I tried a quick watercolour of Ballycastle town from the far side of the bay but it was so dark, then it came on to rain… the first of my whole time away…

A short nap then the sun came out about 4 and it was very hot. I was by now feeling a bit peckish and drove back down to the harbour where Jim used to buy us fish and chips. Mortens was still there and had a very good system going. Phone your order and it would be ready in ten. I would say it’s the best and freshest in the land and on a par with Rick Stein’s in Cornwall. It was clearly very popular taking orders 1-8pm daily.

The seagulls were on standby waiting for their opportunity!

I arrived at Margaret’s just after 6. It was lovely to see her and we caught up while watching young Brit Emma playing some great tennis in the fourth round of Wimbledon before having to retire through some form of anxiety.

We drank some Rhubarb and Ginger gin and Margaret made a chicken stir fry although I really didn’t need it, strawberries and cream a bit later as we chatted until late.

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Sunday 4 July – Triathlon

Today was John’s birthday! He went off on a cycle ride while Christine cooked a big Ulster Fry for us all on his return.

Then down to the beach for a swim.

It was soooo cold but ok once in! There were one or two others swimming but wearing wetsuits. Hot chocolate afterwards was welcome then on the way back we called to see Ryan (cousin Raymond’s son) and his family, Ruth his wife and 3 children Jody, Libby and Pippa. They had moved into the old farmstead which held many memories for me going back 60 years! Ryan had just erected a giant trampoline in the garden and I joined the children on it briefly.

We finally returned to prepare for our trip up to Slemish with John.

I call Slemish a mountain but was put right. It is actually a volcanic plug. Historically called Slieve Mish, it was the home of St Patrick where he used to graze his sheep. It lies a few miles east of Ballymena, in the townland of Carnstroan and is 437 meters high. It came over very black and there was a clap of thunder before we set off but soon we were half way up the very steep and rocky path.

The panoramic views were amazing! Christine and I got about three quarters of the way up before turning back as I found it was getting too steep and treacherous with sheer drops that made me feel a bit wobbly. I think Christine could have made it to the top quite easily with John. We followed the steep path downwards slowly enjoying the plentiful wild flowers along the way.

By the top we got back to the bottom, John had been to the top and caught up with us, running down the mountain like a gazelle!

By the time we got home in the evening, there was a delicious smell of beef dinner which had been in the slow cooker all day. A glass of wine while preparing the melon starter. Jill and Greg arrived for John’s birthday meal. The weather was so warm and sunny, we decided to have it in the garden. So lovely with the back cloth of the rolling Antrim hills.

After dinner we watched Jeremy Clarkson and his Diddly Squat Farm in Chadlington on Amazon Prime. He is not my favourite person but this programme was all the rage in Ireland so I thought I’d better see what all the fuss was about as he has set up his farm shop in Chadlington, just a couple of miles from my home. It was quite amusing.

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Saturday 3 July – around Groomsport

A very healthy breakfast with Sandra – hot water and lemon, porridge with chopped apple, blueberries, raspberries, sunflower seeds and a dusting of cinnamon, followed by toasted wheaten bread and coffee.

We decided to look around the Bangor Walled Garden which is always absolutely stunning and this year was no exception!

Then as the day warmed up we drove down to the beach near Sandra’s house and bought a coffee. Then walked the length of the beach towards Bangor. The light and colours were beautiful.

We returned for a light salad lunch in the garden before I said my goodbyes and set off for the Coastal Route back towards Carrick. I stopped at Whiteabbey for the loo and took a little stroll along the sea front then drive on down the coast to Carrick Castle where I stretched my legs again.

Eventually I ended up back in Ballygally where I bought a few provisions and watched a few swimmers in the bay.

Finally the mini satnav took me on a rather circuitous route back to Christine’s via the Docks!

We all went out for a pop up pizza on my return and called in to see John’s brother for a cup of tea on the way back.

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Friday 2 July – to Groomsport

Just dressing and heard Freddie racing down the hall. He peeped round the door and said hello. ‘Charlie has gone to play golf but I’m too tired’ he said.

Gemma arrived home and we all had breakfast together. Jim was working from home today.

I walked up to Lorna’s house just a few hundred yards away with Gemma and Freddie. Lorna was working in the conservatory with the panoramic view. Freddie gave me a guided tour round the house, with a detailed one of his bedroom!

Then to Jennifer to see horses. Shannon kept these retired racehorses to quieten them and retrain as riding horses as they were only 4 or 5 years old and we’re no longer suitable for racing.

Freddie took me to the barn to show me his quad bike and pointed out ‘Not to be ridden under 6 years old’. He was 6 and had it for Christmas.
I had a quick coffee at Jim’s before leaving for Bangor to see cousin Sandra.

Sandra and I enjoyed a bowl of soup and wheaten bread while catching up, with the Dan Evans match on in the background.

Then walked round to visit uncle Alec and Auntie Jean. They are now 99 and 97 respectively. Uncle Alec was on good form and seemed very pleased to see me.

We chatted for an hour or so before returning home to Sandra’s for a lovely chicken dinner and more tennis… the start of the Andy Murray 3rd round match.

Shirley and Ian came round later in the evening and together we watched a rather deflated Andy Murray go out of Wimbledon, beaten by the young Canadian Denis Shapovalov in straight sets. It was good to catch up with cousin Shirley (Sandra’s sister) and Ian.

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Thursday 1 July – to Jim’s, Cairn Road

Woke to a rather grey morning but still very warm. Christine and I took a leisurely breakfast of melon, croissant and coffee discussing what we would do for my last day with her. We booked lunch at The Dairy.

Christine then drove me over to Whitehead where she had hoped to show me some particular paintings in a gallery but, annoyingly, as was generally the case, they were closed. So we continued with our next plan of walking the cliff path to the lighthouse. This was a new concrete path starting quite wide along the rocky edge of the beach with profuse wild flowers growing everywhere. There was still a heavy mist so we could see nothing out to sea and it was very still, so I hadn’t bothered to take my camera so sadly no photos. As we went round the cliff, the path narrowed with railings crossing deep caves and high rocky inclines. There were plaques detailing historical sites along the way, including one describing a teacher back at the beginning of the 20th century who lived in one of these caves for a while.
The path came to an end at the lighthouse on the top of the cliff. We didn’t climb up and just returned the way we had come. I came over dizzy and had to walk back slowly. By the time we got to the car the mist had lifted and I took a photo of the pretty coloured houses on the shore of Whitehead.

We then headed back to the Dairy for lunch. By this time the sun was shining and it was very warm so we sat outside. The food was excellent! I had a salad of caramelised walnuts, pieces of Brie, young French beans and rocket. It was delicious and light.

After lunch we drove into nearby Gleno Village so that I could take some photos to paint from.

We returned to Christine’s so that I could get packed up and then I drove over to Jim’s to arrive at 4. Christine came with me part way so that she could have a good walk back.

I was welcomed at the front door by Rosemary and we sat in her snugger for the next hour or so just catching up. Various members of the family came and went and finally around 7 Jim cooked up a delicious barbecue. By this time most of the family were there… Cousin Jim and Rosemary, their daughter Lorna and her two boys Charlie and Freddie, and cousin Jennifer (Jim’s sister) and Stephen. We sat and chatted into the night with Alexa playing 60s classics. These brought back various memories for all of us which added to the chat, rounded off with good old Irish coffees!

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Wednesday 30 June – The Antrim Glens

We rearranged Christine’s sitting room to make space for my weekly zoom pilates and keep fit with Jackie at 9am. Christine joined in a little bit then we had a light breakfast before setting off to Glenarm. First we called in to see Christine’s daughter Jill, who is expecting her first baby with Greg at the end of July. They live only a few minutes away and have a beautiful red setter called Daisy.

We arranged to meet for lunch then drove to the Forest of Glenarm for a circular walk of the Glens to build up our appetite. It was a tranquil path through pine trees. There was hardly a soul about… so peaceful with the occasional stream or waterfall. There were apparently red squirrels here although we saw none. I asked Christine if there might be Shamrock. ‘Nah’ she said, ‘I’ve not seen any’. Then suddenly she exclaimed ‘There’s some!’

We hugged a tree ‘to fend off negative vibes’ she said. It felt good. I just went on hugging that tree!

There were many wild flowers and a curious pendulous grass growing everywhere.

Eventually we arrived back at the car and drove the short distance to the Tea Rooms at Glenarm Castle where we had arranged to meet Jill. We enjoyed a delicious light lunch together outside and the sun began to filter through the morning mist, warming up the day. I had chowder, one of my favourites on the coast.

Glenarm Castle has become an excellent visitors’ centre with extensive beautiful gardens, tea rooms and a small shopping area with stonemason and wood crafts. We walked around after lunch while Jill had to get back. She couldn’t leave the dog too long.

As we left Glenarm, Christine showed me where a bonfire had been build for the night before the 12th of July. There were still staunch Catholic and Protestant areas. This bonfire was built meticulously and totally out of pallets.

Finally we returned along the coast road, Christine pointing out various new developments along the way. I couldn’t believe how many new builds there were since I was here just before lockdown.

We returned to watch some more great tennis, patio doors wide open and holding 6-week old kittens, which needed calming for rehoming.

Eventually John arrived home and we all went out for dinner at Billy Andy’s.

The evening was rounded off with a walk on the beach at Ballygally as the sun went down creating a pastel pink sky reflected on the calm ocean. Almost 11 o’clock and still light!

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Tuesday 29 June – Out and about with Christine

Woke up after a good night’s sleep to another beautiful summer’s day. After grapefruit and coffee in the garden, we set off for Port Muck, a secluded Rocky bay with a cliff walk where we thought we might swim but the wind was a bit chilly. Instead we walked up along the National Trust cliff path and took in the wonderful views.

We then headed to The Gobbins to check on availability for the cliff face walk (not for the faint-hearted!).
Unsurprisingly it was fully booked until the following week so we just sat out in the cafe and had a coffee and shortbread in the sunshine.

We drove into Whitehead to see if we could get booked into a restaurant there for dinner the next day but they were only open at weekends. Whitehead is a pretty seaside town known for its colourful houses.

Then we drove over to Carrick Harbour to see if there were any boat trips round the Gobbins. I would have liked to see the puffins but it was really a bit late – May is the best time. We sat by the harbour eating our sandwiches while watching some filming of Dungeons and Dragons at the Castle.

On the way back we called in to see Raymond and Kay who had just moved into their son Ryan’s house, while Ryan and his family had moved into the family farm. Kay showed us round then we sat and had drinks in the garden. Ryan and Jody, his 8-year old son joined us for a bit. It was good to catch up!

We returned home to watch a bit of Wimbledon (well I did, while Christine finished the lawn) then a delicious light salmon salad supper in the garden watching the sun go down. Maud’s ice cream to round off the day!

John arrived home later and we chatted a bit before retiring to bed.

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