The Donegal Diary

Managed to jot down some thoughts while I was away in Donegal… have posted them in separate entries for each day. Couldn’t post them from Ireland as didn’t have access to the internet. Which made for a refreshing change, actually.

Will make most sense if you read them in order, if you can be bothered…!

Some really good photos, which can be viewed by clicking on the link to the right, or there should be a link in each day’s post.

Edinburgh, Sat 27 October

Vindication. Didn’t have a collapsed lung, but Gilly heard the mouse just after going to bed. Exited her room pronto and slept on the landing instead. I feel my reputation has been restored.

Left the cottage about 9.30am. Gilly left us in Letterkenny to head home for a break with her folks. Shazza led us all a merry dance across Co Derry and Antrim to the boat at Larne.

Managed to bully Wiseman, Shazza and Broon into a game of Scrabble on the boat. They got hockeyed.

Never ones to make the same mistake twice where good food is involved, we stopped at the Kilmarnock Little Chef this time en route back to Edinburgh. Spotted several New Hollands, a vintage Massey Ferguson and some other tractors on the road in Ayrshire. Even one Shazza and Broon weren’t familiar with. No John Deeres though.

And so it ends. A week’s holiday which met or exceeded all our expectations. Back to the daily grind… but only 2 months ’til Val d’Isère 2008…

Donegal, Fri 26 October

Last day. No-one heard the mouse last night, including me, as I had earplugs in.

Gilly and Shazza once again did the honours in the morning, rustling up another cooked breakfast with enough baked beans to keep us flatulent for a few days.

Having had a roadtrip every day thus far, and with the weather not being so kind today, we decided to hang around the cottage. The weather cleared up in the afternoon, so we headed down to the beach for some more cricket.

Followed that up with some wave-jumping (hours of endless fun) with the waves at their biggest all week. Got fairly effectively soaked, but the three girls plotted, along with Wiseman, the traitor, to dump me in the sea anyway. Made sure they ended up more soaked than me.

Weather brightened up nicely by the end. Came back to the cottage for a shower and a roast dinner. Decided that, what with it being cold and clear, and us having a roast dinner, we might as well celebrate Christmas. So we did. Put on some Christmas tunes, and the girls came up trumps with some streamers and party hooters. They even provided some presents for Wiseman and I, Wiseman got a wee bottle of red, and I got a bottle of Calpol. Apparently I had been whining quite a lot about my injuries all week (who’d have thought?)

Watched a couple of slideshows of the week’s photos, and then retired to bed. Developed a pain in my ribs which personally I thought might have been a collapsed lung, but appeared to be nothing a couple of paracetamol couldn’t fix. Eventually got to sleep propped up on about 100 pillows.

Donegal, Thurs 25 October

Up at 7.30 this morning. After getting up at 2.50am to shut Mark’s bathroom window, which was causing his door to rattle. The tinnitus has subsided somewhat today, it having been raging since one of Shazza’s shrieks during Articulate two days ago. Wiseman has been a little deaf on one side as well, but I haven’t seen him yet this morning to discover if it’s coming back. Rumour has it he’s gone for a run, but there’s no sign of him on the beach.

Shazza apart, it’s so quiet here. And dark. When the lights go out, it’s really really dark. Probably helps that we’re the only inhabited cottage for some way.

Broon has been up since very early, baking a cake and some biscuits. Not a bad person to have on a self-catering holiday, Broon. Cake and biscuits today, and she’s slated to mastermind the roast tomorrow night.

Gillian looks entirely unperturbed this morning. I fear she may not have heard the mouse. Enquiries draw a blank. Wiseman has not heard the mouse either. Everyone thinks I’m imagining it.

I have a scar on my ribs this morning which I’m not imagining. Wiseman attacked me with a teatowel yesterday, and I’m putting it down to that. I did, however, retaliate with a sweet flick to his forearm, which drew blood in quite a satisfying way.

Wiseman has been getting into the spirit of doing things differently, and has switched from taking his tea black with no sugar, to milk and two. Not sure this is entirely the kind of switch one should be making.

Had a quality grilled breakfast today, and then set off on an epic road trip to Malin Head – the most northerly point in Ireland.

“I’ve lost about three inches off my spine” complained Wiseman as we were driving along another bumpy road. “And at my age, I didn’t have too much to play with to begin with.”

I hit another bump at speed.

“Make that three and a half. It’s no wonder there’s so many leprechauns here.”

Weather was brilliant again today – cold, but clear blue skies and sunny. Last two days now have been perfect autumnal weather.

As a place to go to get away from it all, Donegal in the autumn is hard to beat, so it is.

Donegal, Weds 24 October

Up early again. This time I reckon I could’ve slept in a bit more, but a combination of hunger and a need to pee forced me up.

Pulled back the curtains to discover a pinkish glow framing the mountains across the water. Sun was an orange ball just above the horizon.

Going to be the best day weather-wise, so far.

Spent the morning on the beach again, playing frisbee and jumping over waves. Gillian arrived and we headed back for some lunch (chilli. It’ll be chilli for the next few days), before embarking on an afternoon road trip, as is our wont. I was getting low on fuel, so I headed south to Kerrykeel to get some diesel. The petrol station in Kerrykeel is actually a Seat dealership with a couple of pumps. The pumps are fairly effectively blockaded by new cars for sale, so I had to manoeuvre carefully to get the nozzle within spitting distance of the car. Wandered in to pay for it, and they asked me how much I’d put in. Nice to be able to run a business on trust like that.

Mark cut his navigational teeth with me in Toronto. Navigating there was a cinch, looking back. The Canadian compass only has 4 points. Here in Donegal the compass doesn’t have any predefined points, and over to my left the map was being twisted this way and that, as we left the thick yellow roads and joined the thin yellow ones. The thin yellow roads in reality resembled someone’s driveway, and looked like they’d last been surfaced long before the Partition in 1921.

This evening we made our way back up to the head of the peninsula to Fanad Lodge, for a hearty Irish dinner. Mark ordered a T-bone steak.

“How would you like the steak done?”

“Blue, please.”

The waitress almost passed out. “Bl-bl-blue?”

Then she scurried off to find out if the steak could be cooked ‘blue’.

“Aye, sure that’ll be no problem” came the reply.

She came back grinning nervously. The steak, when it arrived, was almost bigger than the plate. I haven’t seen Wiseman smile as much since he consumed a large bottle of Tiger beer on Saturday night.

Actually, he’s been smiling a lot this week, everyone has. It’s been a belter of a holiday.

Donegal, Tues 23 October

Got a good night’s sleep last night, slept soundly. Still woke at 6.30 though. Sounded windy and wild outside, but when I surfaced at 8.45 all was calm. Might even see the sun today.We heard a weather forecast on the radio yesterday, in Irish Gaelic. Broon was confident the girl was saying it would be a nice day today. Perhaps her grasp of Gaelic is better than I thought…
Since we’re on holiday, we’re all trying to do things differently from how we might at home.

I, for example, am drinking tea with no sugar, which admittedly only happened initially because Broon was detailed to bring the sugar and she didn’t arrive until Sunday night. But have persisted, more or less.

It’s bizarre how we’re all waking early. Broon wakened at 5.15 this morning and felt ready to get up. No-one has so far been able to sleep much beyond 9. This is in stark contrast to my normal experience in Ireland. When I returned home to my parents during my university days, after a day or two I could happily sleep until midday no trouble. I put it down to the country air. However, the air doesn’t get more country than it is here, and it’s not working…

This morning the sun duly shone and we all trooped down to the beach for a game of cricket. Wiseman found a good bit of swing from the Golf Course End, and induced an edge from Broon, but she refused to walk. Outrageous. The game ended once Wiseman started taking a liking to my bowling and despatched me into the soft sand at deep extra cover, twice. Off came the shoes and socks, and we braved the arctic water temperature for a paddle. Once numbness had set in we dumped Broon in the sea, accidentally, although this appeared to be cold comfort for her, and came back for some lunch.

Driving in Donegal can be a challenging experience. To begin with, there are the aforementioned road surfaces. On leaving a village, a sign will optimistically inform you that you can now drive at 80km/h. Not if you value your shock absorbers, you won’t.

Then there are the road junctions, which appear out of nowhere frequently without any form of road markings to indicate whether or not you have the right of way. You have to work out if your road is wider than their road and behave accordingly. If you are on the narrow road, then plough on, and those on the really narrow road will just have to wait.

The signs at junctions are just hilarious. Frequently they will be pointing in a direction which neatly bisects the two roads they may be referring to. As a result, often you have to drive past the junction before you can read the sign you’re interested in. Also, certain regions of Donegal are An Gaeltacht – that is, Gaelic is officially recognised as being the first language there.

When this is the case the signs switch from being in English with an Irish translation, to just simply Irish. None of us are particularly fluent in Irish, Broon’s weather forecasting notwithstanding.

This afternoon we went on a road trip. At least Shazza, Broon and I did. Wiseman stayed back at the cottage to “write”. He’s “a writer” you see.

Shazza and Broon, being farmers’ daughters, have been largely unimpressed with the tractors we have come across on the holiday thus far. There’s been a lot of quantity, but not much quality, apparently. Plenty of Massey Fergusons (“wouldn’t pull the hat off your head”). We saw a couple of John Deeres today, which got them a whole lot more excited.

We took in the Atlantic Drive, which took us through Downings, where I spent a great weekend in the company of a schoolfriend and his family, near enough 20 years ago. Then headed along the coast stopping off at various points en route to the Bloody Foreland. Stopped in Dunfanaghy to buy Broon a shillelagh, since she didn’t know what a shillelagh was. Oh, the shame. Now she still doesn’t know what it is, but at least she knows what it looks like.

We came home to find that Wiseman had been busy in the kitchen, and had rustled up a pot of chilli big enough for a platoon of Mexican soldiers.

After dinner we played 3 games of Articulate, boys v girls. They got hockeyed.

Donegal, Mon 22 October

Woke even earlier today, and eventually decided to get up at 6.45. I came into this holiday believing that I owed a large sleep debt to my body. I had imagined that I could pay it back in daily instalments over the course of the week. However it appears to be too proud to accept my charity.

Thought I might be able to sit up and watch the sun rise over the Inishowen Peninsula to the East. However, it’s late October in the West of Ireland, and I’m listening to the wind wildly flinging rain against the cottage instead.

Enquiries about noises in the night drew a blank from the girls, so the mouse must be restricting its movements to directly above my room. Shazza and Broon have elected to share the twin room on the other side of the cottage. Very disappointing.

Wiseman went for a run.

After lunch the weather settled and we went on a drive along the coast up to Fanad Head, stopping off at Ballyhiernan beach for a walk before returning to Portsalon, a twilight beach walk (only as far as the first ‘river’, as fording it in the darkness proved impossible) and Shazza’s fajitas, which went down a treat.

Broon was finished by the time tea had settled, and disappeared upstairs to bed.

Shazza went soon after, and Wiseman and I prayed for a bit before following their lead.

Donegal, Sun 21 October

Awoke at 6.45am. There was a sense of finality about my body’s decision on the matter. All was quiet, and still dark. I buried it into submission somewhere under the duvet and eventually eked out another couple of hours’ sleep.

Went for a long windswept walk along the length of Portsalon beach after breakfast.

Came back for a spot of lunch, before heading south down the coast to Rathmullan, Milford, Ramelton and Letterkenny. Had Second Lunch in ‘Sienna’ in Letterkenny.

Returned to the cottage and relaxed, until the stillness was shattered by the arrival of Broon and Shazza.

Arguments commenced over Van Morrison, Damien Rice, the lighting, and other assorted trivia.

However they did provide redemption in the form of sugar, limes for the Coronas, and a cricket bat.

Had pizzas for tea.

Was cloudy all day today, but dry. Sun tried to break through a couple of times but didn’t quite manage it.

Bed by 10.30pm. Mouse made its nightly presence felt. The room upstairs is carpeted, which means the mouse must have been under the floorboards, judging by the racket it was making. This is disappointing, as it makes the girl-squealing-on-a-chair routine an unlikely event.

Donegal, Sat 20 October

Arrived at the ferry terminal in Cairnryan, 50 minutes ahead of schedule. Should have stopped for breakfast at the Kilmarnock Little Chef we were eyeing up. But we drove past, keen not to overdo the breakfast and end up hurtling down the last stretch of camera-infested road.

Now we would pay, as we settled in what passed for a cafeteria in the terminal. I watched the teabag turn the tepid water slowly yellow, and chewed on a bran scone, while Wiseman downed a cup of black liquid which advertised itself as coffee. I returned to the queue for a newspaper, and found myself behind an innocent bystander who was foolishly pressing the button marked ‘cappuccino’. I thought about warning him off, but held myself back. There weren’t many alternatives after all.

On the ferry itself, I noticed that the bar served Lipton Tea. I can’t help but think that Lipton Tea should not be served on a crossing between what must be the two biggest tea-drinking countries in the world.

Wiseman spent a fair bit of time on deck during the crossing. I suspect he was banking some solo time before having to spend an entire week in my company.

Once off the ferry, everything went smoothly until shortly after leaving Derry – the behaviour of the car made me think we were driving on an extended cattle grid. Turns out we had just crossed the border. The road surfaces in the Republic of Ireland are a wonder. Uneven to the point of corrugation, they can appear entirely normal to the naked eye, while giving you a driving experience comparable in comfort to riding a jittery horse bareback.

Arrived at the cottage in daylight, which allowed us some time to sit and watch dusk settle over the hills across the bay. Eased our travel aches with a couple of beers, before watching South Africa grind down England in the RWC Final. Learnt a new word from the Irish bookmaker who was interviewed for his thoughts before the big game. “Hockeyed”. As in “The last time England played South Africa, they got hockeyed.” (The score was 36-0 that time)

Lying in bed before going to sleep, I heard a familiar sound – the patter of tiny feet. A mouse. It appears to be running around in the room upstairs, or possibly between the floorboards and my ceiling. Looking forward to the girls arriving, as one of them will be sleeping in that room…

This time next week

“Just think,” remarked Wiseman, as we walked to my car this afternoon. “This time next week we won’t be walking along this road.”

Next Saturday he and I embark on a holiday together, which begins with what he euphemistically refers to as a cruise, from Cairnryan to Larne, and then an ocean drive to somewhere in Donegal.

We wistfully considered how, by this time next week, we could be grumpily sitting at opposite ends of our cottage, he sending me a text to let me know that he’d finished using the kitchen, and had cleared away “my” mess. Or one of us pushing a boat out from a deserted beach in Donegal and rowing for home, having had enough. It would be a sad indictment on our friendship if any of this had come to pass by this time next week, since we would only have been in each other’s company for 24 hours or so.

Hopefully it won’t come to anything like that. But just to be on the safe side, we’ve roped in some others (girls, no less) to share the cottage and buffer us from each other. Perhaps they might even elevate the chat to a higher level. However, one can’t be sure, and consequently, the blog may soon be receiving some much-needed attention after weeks of neglect, although wireless hotspots likely being even less numerous in Donegal than well-surfaced roads, the actual posting may prove to be a stumbling block. We’ll see, as my mother always said when my sister or I had asked for something she had no intention of giving us.

Speaking of my sister, she made a welcome visit to Edinburgh last week with young Maggie in tow. Maggie seemed very impressed with my new car, and in stark contrast with everyone I have mentioned this to, was especially excited that I’d managed to secure an SM57 registration. Of the readers of this blog, I expect only The Weir will fully join with myself and Maggie in the appreciation of a classic microphone appearing on my number plate. Maggie confided in me that she would never use anything else on snare drum or guitar amps. She’s very advanced for her age.

Having now replaced all of my stolen items through the kindly insurance company, inevitably I am beginning to realise that there are other things I haven’t seen around for a while. Like my Red Sox hat, and my Leatherman knife. Very disappointing. The police have now removed the thieving bandits from general circulation, which is something. I imagine they’re regretting leaving fingerprints all over my kitchen window. Or perhaps they’re not bovvered.

By this time next week, I won’t be either…