By Michael Carignan
In the Folds Books, LLC
My wife, Dawn, and I took a trip in late April 2010 to Ireland and the British Isle. This is part one of a rundown of our adventures.
It started with family members took us to Madison where we caught the Van Galder Bus to Chicago O’Hare. For $110 we were able to be taken directly to the airport and back to Madison without paying anything additional for motel or parking. Our Aer Lingus flight left the ground about 6:30 p.m. headed for Dublin, Ireland.
We arrived in Dublin the following morning at about 8 a.m. their time (there’s a six ahout time difference so it was actually 2 a.m. in Wisconsin). We had made reservations on a ferry from Dublin to Birkenhead, England that evening and so we had about 12 hours to kill before reporting to the boat for our seven-hour trip across the Irish Sea. We had planned to rent a car and drive throughout our trip (not the smartest of ideas) and so we thought the first thing we should do is get used to driving on the wrong side of the road. So we rented a car for the day.
The gentleman at the car rental made it sound like all of the major highways, the M-1 and the M-50 etc., were all toll roads and although we had gotten our currency changed but had no small change we decided to avoid the main highways to start with and take the small rural highways.
That was an education in itself!
I had read that roads in Ireland and the British Isles were narrow but I’m not sure I was ready for just how narrow they really are. Roads equivalent to our U.S. Highway 12 were more like our State highways and roads equivalent to our State highways were more like our town roads. That is, all except for the speed limits.
There are basically no shoulders to their roads. In many cases the hedges or stone walls were inches from the edge of the road. Traffic lanes were just slightly wider than the vehicles, leaving little room for error. After hitting the curb a couple of times trying to avoid other vehicles I finally started to get the hang of things. But still it was pretty much continual white-knuckle driving.
We made our way out of Dublin headed northwest and eventually to the town of Trim where we spotted our first castle that was available to go inside and explore. We wandered around the grounds for a while. We found a place to eat lunch and then began our trip back to Dublin. Trim was only about 40 mile from Dublin and so we found ourselves back in the city by mid afternoon. Not wanting to try driving in the heavy traffic of the city we decided to return the car early and head to the ferry terminal. It was only about 4 p.m.
We arrived at the ferry terminal to find it packed with people. Now there were, I think, three different ferry lines operating out of that one terminal and so we didn’t think much about the crowd. We just thought the ferries must have been a popular means of travel.
It was a couple of hours before we found out that use of ferries is not as big a deal as what we were seeing. Not having seen a television or listened to the radio all day we weren’t up on the world headlines. It turns out that while we were in the air that morning on our way to Dublin the Iceland volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, (say that one three times quick) had erupted and forced pretty much all of the airports in Europe to close down.
To add to the turmoil many of the schools in Europe had been on spring holiday and many folks were frantic to get home. Thank God we had made reservations… kind of!
I have sleep apnea and I don’t sleep well without my CPAP machine and so I didn’t get much sleep on the plane. We thought we had made reservations for a sleeping berth on the ferry but when we checked in they had us down as regular passengers, meaning if we wanted to sleep during the trip we were expected curl up in one of the recliners found on the main deck. There were probably a hundred of the recliners and about 150 people wanting one.
When I found out that our reservation was screwed up I was a little irritated from not having slept the night before and finding out I probably wouldn’t get much sleep that night as well. The attendant got my point, which I admit I was probably more emphatic about than I should have been. Anyway we found a couple of recliners and curled up ready to spend the night when an announcement came over the PA asking my wife to report to the attendant. As it turns out they had an extra cabin available and the lady graciously gave it to us for free.
We still didn’t get a lot of sleep that evening though because they served supper on the ship at about 10 p.m. and by the time we actually got to our berths it was about 11:30 p.m. We were set to arrive in England at 5 a.m. but the fare included breakfast as well, so at 4 a.m. we were awakened by a loud knock on the door and an announcement that breakfast was now being served. Needless to say I was pretty much a zombie since they made us check our bags that contained my CPAP.
In England the car rental place didn’t open until 9 a.m. so we were forced to hang out until then.
Our plan in England was to travel to Wales to visit Caernarfon Castle and then head to Swindon, England where we were to meet up the following day with my wife’s cousins. There really wasn’t much to see in Swindon but that’s why the cost of a room for the evening was about a third of the price of some nearby, more popular cities.
We thought “to heck with the castle” and we jumped on one of the major highways headed in the direction we wanted to go. We decided not to go to Wales but make our way to Swindon. There were no tolls so once we were on the road both Dawn and I were kind of tired and the drive to Swindon was about a five-hour ride. We got our first look at western England. The most notable point was that every little town we passed had a castle or abbey ruin in them. Folks just lived among these ancient ruins like it was simply another fixture in their life, just something to take for granted even though most were a thousand years old or more.
We arrived in Swindon and found our hotel. Relaxed for a bit and then went exploring on foot. Our hotel was located on the edge of a six-block by four-block business district that was for foot traffic only. Shops of every type plus restaurants and pubs offering a wide variety of food and drink choices made up the district. It was good to get out and walk among it all and see what English life was about.
The following morning we met up with Dawn’s cousins. Dawn’s second cousin DeAnna and family including husband, Jeremy, sons, Tyler and Ian, and daughter on the way at that time, live about 70 miles northeast of London. Jeremy is in the service and has been stationed in Brandon, England since the fall of 2006 and is being sent back to the states in August. That, along with DeAnna being due to deliver in June is why we decided to go visit in April. Deanna also talked her parents, Kenny and Ann Fuller, of Baraboo, Wisconsin, into visiting at the same time. So we all met up with the intent of visiting Bath and one of the area henges.
So off for Bath we went.