Narin, 31 October


We got up early this morning to wave Karen and Maisie off – sadly she had to return to Belfast for a work meeting this afternoon. Karen, that is, not Maisie. Everyone a bit stiff and sore after yesterday’s surfing exploits, apart from Wiseman, who claims to have only staved his thumb.

Last night Broon rustled up the most splendid roast dinner, and afterwards we settled around the fire. Played just the one game of Articulate, no need to bore you with the details.

Still no sign of George’s ghost.

Plans today are to head down to Slieve League to see the cliffs there, and then maybe on to Rossnowlagh for lunch, or back towards Narin and Portnoo. Hoping to get some more beach cricket in if the weather stays ok.


Broon is pouring tea in front of the fire. We’ve just had dinner, and are settling down with a cuppa on our last evening here. My sister texted earlier to say that she’s expecting a little brother for Maggie in March. Tomorrow’s plans are discussed. Gilly is stopping off to see her family on the way to the boat. Wiseman and I will plan to make a pilgrimage to the Giant’s Causeway instead. He’s been going on about for so long, it might finally stop him nagging. About that, anyway.

Today worked out pretty much as we’d planned. A visit to Europe’s highest sea-cliffs at Slieve League, which involved the hairiest mountain road I’ve yet driven on, followed by lunch in Donegal Town. We then decided to head back north to the cottage. Wiseman had spotted another beach at Narin that we hadn’t yet explored, so we drove down someone’s lane and hiked across their fields to get to it. Once there, we did a spot of paddling – at least Broon and I did – and then played a few innings of beach cricket. Broon topped the scoring charts, despite Wiseman hooking a couple into the sea for four. The showers of the morning gave way to a glorious afternoon, and we climbed back up the dunes in the late afternoon sunshine, pausing at the top to bid farewell to a coastline of sandy beach, rocks and little islands, with the sun glinting off the Atlantic.

Farewell, Donegal, until we meet again…

Narin, 30 October


Today dawned bright and fair. No, really, it did. The forecast was right. Having got the call from Kevin, our Irish American surfing dude, that 12.30 would be a good time, we headed off early to Dooey Strand, and got some beach cricket in before he arrived.

Halfway through Broon’s innings, Wiseman, who had been claiming that he was “not quite 100%” for days, threw up at midwicket, but we carried on regardless. I had half a mind to reprise Allan Border’s quote to Dean Jones, who, having batted for Australia through hours and hours of 40C heat and high humidity in Madras, had got to 170 and wanted to come off because he stopping the game every over to be sick. Border told him “You weak Victorian. I want a tough Australian out there. I want a Queenslander”.

Charming chap, Border.

Kev duly arrived with all the gear, and we got into our wetsuits, with some difficulty. I felt a little like Catwoman.

Surfing was brilliant fun. Actually standing up on the board proved a step too far. About two steps too far, in all honesty. In fact, even lying down on the board, and riding it into the shallows without wiping out, took a fair amount of concentration. And after a few runs, just getting on to the board at all proved exhausting. But very exhilarating.

We returned to the cottage and put the kettle on while Broon and Gilly made first use of the showers. Two minutes into our own showers, Wiseman and I found the hot water had all gone, and made sharp exits. I came back downstairs, and found I’d been doubly betrayed. Not only had the girls taken all the hot water, but they’d put on a chick flick in the living room. I escaped with Gilly and Broon to Ardara for some more provisions, and came back to find the film much the same as we’d left it – dapper young gentlemen making opaque statements about marriage, and the inferior breeding and education of young ladies. Most agreeable, I am sure.

Narin, 29 October


Last night was spent digesting Karen’s cooking, which was “just” a wild mushroom and pancetta risotto. Then we fired up Casino Royale on the DVD player, so as to be bang up to date with the Bond story before the new one comes out on Friday. Went to bed with a full view of the stars through my skylight.

Woke up with a full view of the clouds through my skylight, and the rain pattering off the glass. Forecast is for rain all day. Drove into Ardara this morning with Wiseman, and picked up an Ian Rankin novel. It’s a day for sitting in the cottage and reading, I think. It’s the final Inspector Rebus novel – the last of 17 in the series. It seems like a good one to start with. At least it did until Wiseman told me how it ended before I’d even opened it. Broon is baking in the kitchen, which is always a happy occurrence. Forecast for tomorrow is better – sunshine in the morning. Perhaps our surfing adventure will finally get off the ground tomorrow, after having been thwarted thus far by the strong winds.


Didn’t go out much today at all, as anticipated. Gillian, Karen and I made a foray into the village in the afternoon, to sound out possible places to eat tonight. There were none. So we headed back to the cottage, getting soaked en route, and after a quick change climbed into the car and headed into Ardara again, where we found a bistro that looked likely. Headed back there for dinner, sans Wiseman unfortunately, who had sardines for lunch and has since been seen only episodically, looking slightly green.

Dinner was good, there was even a minstrel playing folk/country tunes on his guitar and singing along lustily.

Narin, 28 October


Went for a woodland walk this morning, before returning to the cottage for lunch. Wiseman was feeling unwell, so elected to stay put with Maisie (Karen’s dog) for the afternoon, while the rest of us decided to explore another headland.

The first adventure was at Maghera Caves, where, after a 10 minute walk or so, we found no caves whatsoever, but the most gorgeous deserted beach, penned in by high cliffs on one side. We agreed that it would have made a perfect beach cricket beach, but unfortunately the cricket stuff wasn’t in the car.

We swallowed our disappointment and moved on round the coast, stopping briefly to rescue a sheep caught in a wire fence, to Malin Beg and another beautiful beach, this one populated by what appeared to be a large Irish family. There was about twenty of them. Some of their kids were paddling in the waves, in wellies, if you please. Karen and Broon thought that we should show them how it should be done, and so off came the socks (inner and outer) and shoes, and the trousers were rolled up. The water was eye-poppingly cold, and Karen had to do a little jig to try to keep the circulation going, but we did it. A lone sheep, and a sheepdog, kept a custodial eye on us throughout the whole performance.

If the insanity of the idea had not been apparent when the Atlantic first hit our toes, it was once the hail started coming down and we realised we had to climb 167 concrete sheep-dung-covered steps to the car park before we could get shelter, and dry our numb feet.

The weather closed in at this point, and so we headed over the hills to Killybegs, through various peat fire-burning villages and the road home.

Three pairs of feet now thawing out in front of the fire.

Narin, 27 October


Despite gamely tackling the mountain of baps at every available opportunity, it doesn’t seem to be getting any smaller.

Broon made an excellent bacon, french toast and maple syrup breakfast, after which we piled in the car and headed round our nearest headland, through Rossbeg, where we got out and explored the beach and rocks, and eventually on to Ardara. Wiseman was disappointed, once again, at the lack of ice cream vans around. Sadly it was a local bank holiday today, and so we couldn’t visit many local establishments in Ardara. We had lunch in Charlie’s West End café, the West End of the town not being so far removed from the East End to warrant a separate designation in my book, but there you are.

Picked up some peat briquettes and firewood for the fire in the cottage, which is lit and warming my toes as I write this. Also managed to post to the blog from the Spar there. On our return from Ardara, and after a cup of tea, Wiseman and I went for a walk to a sheltered beach just a little further along the coast from where we were yesterday. We only got soaked by a shower of rain the once. Came back and had a bit more of a nap than I had planned for, which bodes ill for getting to sleep tonight.

Gilly is currently in the kitchen rustling up fajitas. Looking forward to that.


The fajitas were great, enhanced further by the addition of some left-over chilli from last night, and some Coronas. Played a couple of games of Baileys-fuelled Articulate after dinner, and then the chat turned to horses, the Highland Show, and Wiseman’s near-death experiences, as the fire gradually faded. The addition of the fire to an already super-efficient central heating system meant the room felt like a nursing home. Or sauna. Or a sauna in a nursing home.

Not a pleasant thought.

Narin, 26 October


I seem to have landed myself another bedroom with an un-blinded Velux window. Top work. We arrived at half past midnight this morning, which was good enough time, especially since the sat nav completely lost the plot and thought we were driving through fields. At times, granted, it did feel like that, but that’s Irish roads for you.

The cottage is wonderful, although the freezer mentioned on the cottage’s website has turned out to be a freezer-compartment inside the fridge. This leaves us with a week’s supply of rolls, which we had banked on being able to freeze, needing to be eaten before Tuesday. Rolls were a compulsory component of breakfast this morning, and shall likely be taken with every meal for the next two days. The washing machine and drier are incarcerated in the shed, which seems reasonable enough. Along with the microwave, which doesn’t.

The previous owner of the cottage was called George, and his hat hangs on a nail beside the fireplace. I feel sure he must haunt the place, but there was no evidence of him last night. I will keep you posted on any developments on this front. No mice either, although there was a spider in Gilly’s bath.

It’s still windy out, although the sun is breaking through periodically. Wiseman is keen to get to the beach, and mentioned this a number of times, enthusiastically, at breakfast. He was on the verge of becoming obstreperous when we pacified him with more coffee and Gilly’s Dad’s jam.


Suddenly aware that the sun was out and there was a patch of blue sky, we downed books and went to the beach just before lunch. I say just before lunch, but we’re back from the beach now, and there’s no sign of any lunch. Looks like I might have to get it myself. Oh well.

It was unfeasibly windy on the beach. Took some photos, but wasn’t a good day for taking photos.


Broon finally cracked, and made lunch. Spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing. Not as easy as it sounds. My mind, unpractised in the art of deliberate relaxation, was looking around for something to DO while I was trying to focus it on the pages of the book in front of me.

As it turned out, I fell asleep only a few pages in as tiredness from yesterday’s journey hit.

Wiseman wandered through from the kitchen, clutching a pint of ale.

“Going well?”

“Haven’t started yet.” He chuckled.

Wiseman was on dinner tonight, and was planning to start his epic preparations at 4pm. However, come 5.30, there was still no sign of him in the kitchen. He had fallen asleep too. Dinner might be a little later tonight. No bad thing, we weren’t finishing lunch until just after 3.


From my vantage point in the sun room (yes, the sun room), I witnessed Wiseman going through the whole gamut of human emotion as he prepared a pot of chilli. Contentment, worry, distress, pain, confusion, they were all there. There was much whimpering, and I think I caught some muttering about health and safety, most notably when fingers were burnt on the casserole dish, which had to be pressed into action when it became apparent that the pans available in the kitchen were not built to accommodate Wiseman-like quantities of chilli. All very amusing. And it was all very tasty, as it turned out.

En route to Donegal, 2008

25 October

Stranraer, 7.30am

We arrived here last night, after a largely uneventful trip from Edinburgh, save for the odd mildly panicked phone call from Broon as her and Gillian found themselves heading for Airdrie. The idea has been to break our journey to Donegal with an overnight stop near the ferry, to avoid a distressingly early start on the Saturday morning. All good so far, but today’s wind and rain, and most especially wind, has put paid to our hopes of sailing this morning. Broon texted me from the room next door at 6.30am to confirm that our 10am sailing had been cancelled. It was kind of her.

The crew on this year’s Donegal trip is the same as last year’s, with the sad exception that we are missing Shazza and her not inconsiderable vocal contributions. However, an old school friend – Karen – has stepped in to the breach, and we will hook up with her later today, or whenever the weather dies down and we can get on a boat across the sea. Which may turn out to be the middle of next week, which would be unfortunate, but at least would allow us ample time to explore Stranraer. Both of its streets.

I wandered along to the petrol station last night, while we waited for the girls to arrive from Airdrie, in search of some chocolate supplies. The petrol station was further back along the road than I had remembered, and as a result I had the opportunity to witness even more Ned-driven souped up Vauxhall Corsas cruising round the one-way system than I might have otherwise. What is it about small towns that they always end up with one-way systems and permanently-cruising Vauxhall Corsas?

When the girls finally arrived, we sat down with a cup of tea and some chocolate, and discussed our eating requirements for the week in more detail, so that Wiseman and I, rashly having been trusted with the shopping trip in Derry en route, would not fall out over how many sausages to buy.

This morning, as I gaze upon our depleted chocolate provisions, I fear that we may not have enough for another day in Stranraer, and may have to restock.

Loch Ryan, 7.15pm

Standing on deck, just as the boat rounded the headland and left the comparative peace and tranquility of Loch Ryan for the wild open sea, I felt my phone vibrate. It was mum.

“You’re not sailing, are you?”

“We are.”

“Oh. I called Ferrycheck at 4.30 and they said all sailings were cancelled.”

“We’re definitely sailing.”

“Are you sure you’re sailing?”

“Yes mother, I’m on the boat, looking back at the coastline recede into the distance. We’re definitely sailing.”

“Oh, son.” She sounded concerned. “I think it’s going to be a rocky crossing.”

I was keenly aware of the fact that it was going to be a rocky one. I was standing out on deck and the wind had almost taken my phone out of my hands. We exchanged pleasantries, and I went back to listening to Energy Orchard. As ‘Good day to die’ gave way to ‘Belfast’ for the second time round, I lurched back inside and hoped that Belfast wouldn’t be too long in coming around for real.

Broon was stretched out, plugged in to her iPod, looking a little ropey. Gilly had propped herself up against the seat, earphones in, with her eyes closed in a very determined way. Wiseman, naturally, was downing his first pint of Murphy’s.

Our boat had finally sailed at 4.30pm. We spent a nice enough day puttering about in Stranraer. Wiseman and I patronised the gym for an hour or so, while the girls found a chemist to stock up on travel sickness tablets, and a pretty decent and resoundingly unpretentious café. We joined them there and discussed the journey ahead. Anticipating a choppy crossing, the girls restricted themselves to a cup of tea and a scone. Mark and I decided that there might as well be something there to throw up, and went for roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, and fish and chips, respectively. We had two different brands of travel tablets, so we split into two control groups. Broon and I opted for the homeopathic tablets, while Wiseman and Gilly went for the more chemical alternative.

Now, several hours later, the chemicals seem to be in the ascendancy. Broon is proving to be a disappointing advert for natural herbal remedies. I am doing ok. Gilly is feeling like going for a sandwich, while Wiseman is feeling so good he is loudly contemplating a steak. Am unsure how much of his buoyancy is down to the effects of the drugs, and how much can be attributed to the Murphy’s, having just finished his third pint.

We totter down to the cafeteria. There are a lot of ill-looking people down there, including Téannich, a ceilidh band from Edinburgh. The boat’s pitching and rolling seems much more obvious than it did up in our lounge on the next level.

It’s going to be a late arrival in Donegal. The lady who looks after the cottage is going to leave the lights on and the key under the mat.

Cambridge, Day 3

Cambridge being not a million miles away from London, Saturday provided me with a rare opportunity to have lunch in the Big Smoke with Maggie. Regrettably, it meant I missed a day of lectures at the conference we’ve been attending down here. But them’s the breaks.

I emerged from Liverpool Street Station into bright London sunshine. The weather has been glorious the last few days, which has been a tonic for us Northerners, suffering as we have been under a grim grey cloud recently. I installed myself on a stone seat outside the station and absorbed the warmth. Before long my phone buzzed, and I wandered across the road to greet Maggie and her parents.

We meandered along Brick Lane and around the area famous for being Jack the Ripper’s domain, stopping for coffee somewhere that my sister promised me was authentically independent. “Although they have four shops now.” How many outlets can a local independent outfit grow to before it loses its character and identity and becomes a faceless chain? And further, can a company long deemed the underdog in its field, making esoteric products for the discerning minority, become a corporate global success without losing its appeal to its hardcore fans? Like Apple for instance – their success with the iPod has meant they are the iconic brand for mp3 players. However, Microsoft retain their stranglehold on the PC OS market, and Apple Macs are still the underdogs as a result. Some part of the British psyche (or maybe it’s just mine) likes the underdog and wants them to succeed against their bigger brothers. However, if they do succeed and continue to grow market share, they inevitably become the big bullying brother themselves and, to some extent at least, lose their appeal. Perhaps this explains the Tall Poppy Syndrome so prevalent in our media.

Anyway, the coffee was good, and I tried not to look overtly out of place in the ultra-chic interior. We moved on to a 24hr Jewish bakery where Alison replenished the family’s bagel supply, and then headed on somewhere for lunch. I almost passed a record shop, then thought better and popped inside for a browse. I had already succumbed to a Van Morrison LP purchase in Notting Hill earlier in the morning. This time, a triple-pack Groove Armada record caught my eye – one of the Back to Mine series on the DMC label. I have no real idea what any of that means, apart from guessing that there should have been three discs in the sleeve. There were only two. The shop assistant, spotting me looking puzzled, apologised for the missing disc and offered to chop a third of the price. I was just glad that triple pack wasn’t some street term for two LPs, and decided to take him up on his offer. I know only one Groove Armada track – “At the River” – which is probably highly unrepresentative of their general output, but is absolute genius.

“I actually work for the record company – DMC – that the Back to Mine series was released on,” the assistant told me proudly.

I tried to look impressed.

“We’ve got Coldcut doing the next one – it’s due out next year. “Very excited about that!”

I nodded and smiled.


I really wasn’t. I tried to look like I was equally excited, despite only having vaguely heard of Coldcut.

Better to stay silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt – so says the adage. I think perhaps that could be adapted, in my case, to:

“Better to stay out of cool record shops in East London and be thought square and unhip, than to go inside and remove all doubt.”

Cambridge, Day 1

Just before 6.30pm, we spilled out into the Quad. The sky, pale blue beforehand, had turned a deeper dusky shade while we’d been inside, and the moon was rising. The brightly lit windows in the ancient buildings around us promised warmth. The building we’d just left, despite being ostensibly a place of worship, had offered only cold austerity.

We had attended Evensong at King’s College, Cambridge. There is, undeniably, a beauty in the choral music at services like this. The choir of King’s College are world-renowned, and the interior of the Chapel is instantly recognisable from the annual BBC broadcast of their Christmas Eve Carol Service. But my experience of this evening’s service saddened me, because it removed God to such a lofty distance as to make him inaccessible. Raised in an Anglican tradition, much of the liturgy was familiar to me, and as with the music, there is an exquisite beauty in the words of the prayers and canticles.

But as the choir sang an introit, presumably in Latin, the candle-wielding clergy moved solemnly towards the altar, clad in vaguely sinister white hooded robes. Not all the robes were long enough to conceal the blue jeans underneath. Jeans, it may be deduced, are unsuitable attire for worshipping God and must be covered up. If the fundamental message of Christianity is that God reached out to us in grace, bridging the yawning chasm of separation because we were unable to attain anything like the level of holiness required, then why do we dress up to worship him? Will that impress him?

The service developed into a two-way exchange between the priests, at the top of the nave, and the choir – situated further down. We, the plebs, were in between. The clergy would intone a phrase, and the choir would respond. It was impenetrable for those of us without orders of service. It was, as I understand it, this kind of superfluous man-made ceremony and ritual that led to the Plymouth Brethren ditching the established church’s traditions and reducing church practice back its simple essence. And yet, I have met staunch Brethren who find it unacceptable that I should wear casual clothes to church on a Sunday.

Why do we keep missing the point?

We trod the gravel path around the edges of the manicured grassy centre of the quad. The lawn was immaculate, and quite beautiful, due no doubt, at least in part, to the KEEP OFF THE GRASS signs.

And there it was, right there. As the grass, so the church service. Aesthetically magnificent, but please remain at a distance.

This is not the God I know.