Travelled on: 19.10.19- 28.10.19 – October Half Term Holiday
We left on the Friday starting the October half term holiday. Ernestas had work in the day and I was worried about missing the check in time of 21:30 for the ferry crossing from Liverpool to Belfast. Ernie (as ever) loves to push time and was quite excited throughout the journey from London to Liverpool about whether we would make the crossing, almost like there would be some adventure in not making the ferry! Luckily for me we arrived in the docks at 21:45 and we were among the last people to board before departure at 22:30.
We had an 8 hr overnight ferry crossing to Belfast with Stena Line. Crossing with the van was quite pricey but necessary for us as the Bongo (sleeper van) was kind of essential to us road tripping Ireland.
We managed to find some comfortable seats to sleep in for the overnight journey and arrived in Belfast at 6:30. I liked waking up to the rising sun over Belfast.
Ernestas attended some training on this day so I got to explore Belfast independently. I visited the Ulster Museum which was free and well worth a visit. The museum is inside Botanic Park which hosts the Botanic Gardens. I strolled through these gardens and explored inside the Palm House, a large glass greenhouse, which homes tropical plants and birds. It was a peaceful day and was nice to be able to reflect after a long-term at school.
After Ernie had finished his training we decided to walk up Cave Hill which is just above Belfast castle. There are lovely views of Belfast on the walk up, unfortunately when we got to the top it was already getting quite dark so we quickly made the descent as to not get lost in the forest on the way down. We also found out why it is called Cave hill, very apt as I had been reading the Bear Hunt at school the previous week. I love a photo opportunity to show the kids I found a real cave!
Cave Hill has free parking so this was handy for us with the van. By the time we had driven back into Belfast many of the car parks were free [after 18:30 and all day Sunday]. We were able to park right in the city center and stay there overnight.
A bonus for us travelling with the Bongo is not having to pay for accommodation. The van is pretty comfy it feels bigger then a standard bed. There is something adventurous but also cosy about sleeping inside, especially when we manage to park in places with a view.
On Saturday night we went to the Movie House cinema to see First Man with Ryan Gosling. I highly recommend going here if there is a film you want to see when visiting, at £6.50 a ticket it was so much cheaper than our local prices in London.
Sunday was our crazy sight seeing day! We woke up to a rainy run around Belfast where I gave Ernie a running tour of what I had seen the previous day. We also saw the City Hall and then finished by walking to the Falls Leisure Center for a morning swim.
The swimming pool is right in the center of the Peace Walls and Murals, with the International Wall (Murals) to its left and the Peace Wall Belfast on the right. There are lots of black cab tours around Belfast and I was recommended to take the Paddy Campbells Black Cab Tour by a local I met in a bar in the city center. These tours will take you on a journey and the guides pass on their knowledge of each Mural, especially around the West of Belfast. However, the walls are all easily walkable from the city center so we decided to take our own walk around them. It was interesting to see an area where a row of houses still have cages over there back gardens to stop anyone from the divide throwing objects over. The Ulster Museum above has a section about the Troubles between Nationalist and Loyalist communities throughout Northern Ireland.
After seeing the walls and walking back to the Bongo we drove towards Giants Causeway. On the way we stopped off at the Dark Hedges which is famous for being used in some memorable scenes from HBO’s Game of Thrones. The drive from Belfast to the hedges is about an hour. Despite being windy, the sun really came out for us whilst driving up into the North of Northern Ireland and we managed to see the Dark Hedges in its splendor.
You can park for free about half a kilometer heading towards the trees, we spotted a row of cars that had parked in a wider part of the lane and we managed to squeeze the van there too. Walking down and exploring the hedges is also free.
Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is about a 20 minute drive from the Dark Hedges, so we decided to head there next. This area has lovely coastal views and as the weather was clear we were able to spot the outlines of the Scottish Isles in the distance. Unfortunately the rope bridge was closed for the day due to the wind, so we were unable to walk along it. On a good weather day walking the bridge will cost the National Trust price of £8 for an adult and £4 for a child. When there is bad weather, like the wind we had, parking in the National Trust car park is free. We were still able to walk along the coast and get close to the rope bridge.
Finally we drove on to Giants Causeway which is about a 30 minute coastal drive from Carrick-a-Rede. The Giants Causeway was one of my top places which I visited in Northern Ireland. It is a National Trust price of £11.50 per adult, this includes parking and an audio guide. I’m not sure the photos below show how beautiful it really was. The shapes of the basalt columns, caused by a volcanic fissure eruption, make for a truly magnificent scene.
We finished exploring and listening to the audio guide tales about the giants of Ireland and Scotland going into battle along the Causeway. After this our plan was to stay here over night and head towards Galway in the morning but Ernie thought it would be a good idea to push on with travelling and try to get half way to Galway on this evening.
We started to drive towards Londonderry but as the journey was running quite smoothly we continued onto Donegal and arrived here at about 20:30. We found a parking spot right near Donegal quay which was very pretty. The car park was also free after 18:30 so another win win with the parking/accommodation journey! We found a pub which had a saloon bar style, we realised later that lots of the bars in Ireland are like this.
We loved walking around the harbour, the area is very quaint and reminded me a lot of the fishing villages of North Devon where my parents live. We ate at a medieval Irish bar called The Kings Head which had specials of vegetable soup with rye bread and pumpkin pie for pudding, it was divine! I would recommend going here, there was a real cosy atmosphere with lots of little nooks to choose to dine inside.
After having a wander around the buzzing streets of Galway, with a variety of musicians playing street music, we decided to head towards Limerick with a stop off at the Cliffs of Moher on the way. Fun fact about the Cliffs of Moher, it was featured in Happy Potter and the Half Blood Prince, the Princess Bride (1987) but even more importantly it is the end shoot for Westlife’s video of ‘My Love'(2000)
” Over seas from coast to coast
To find the place I love the most
Where the fields are green
to see you once again, my love”
Real childhood memories right there ❤
The flat edge of the cliffs past O’Brien’s Tower was beautiful especially when the sun shone onto it.
There is a car park opposite the Cliffs where you pay to park and then it appeared to give you entry to the visitors center. Instead we parked about half a kilometer away in a road side space and were then able to walk to the cliffs for free.
After seeing the cliffs we journeyed on still traveling through the Wild Atlantic way route, which gave some stunning scenes of the ocean along the way. We reached Limerick in the evening, about 19:30, so we again managed to park for free. Like car parks in the UK, most are free after 18:30 in Ireland.
On this evening we walked Limerick and found the restaurant La Cucina which was an Italian restaurant that also sold freakshakes. We shared a pizza of grilled vegetables and dirty fries with a spicy avocado sauce. As it was nearly Hallowe’en the Frankenstein shake had to be ordered. There was A LOT of food but we planned on climbing the tallest peak in Ireland, Carrauntoohil, the following day.
I woke up after probably my worst nights sleep in Ireland, the car park had racing cars join us in the night and there was quite a bit of noise. This is a downside to sleeping in the van and not always staying at campsites. I swam on this morning at Aura Grove leisure Center. I found the swimming pools in the Republic of Ireland were quite expensive but I enjoyed swimming over this holiday and it was handy to be able to use the showers and hair dryers too.
We shared a delicious breakfast of posh beans on toast and berry smoothie from Hook and Ladder before heading off to explore some of Limericks Museums and art galleries.
We visited the Limerick City Gallery of Art. My favourite exhibition was one by Anita Groener- The Past is a Foreign Country, which was made up of many large-scale models and films about what it is to be human today. We also went to the Limerick Museum which houses one of the largest collections in Irish museums. We learnt all about the Irish sport of Hurling, an Irish game which has prehistoric origins.
After another hour of walking around Limerick whilst I tried to get in the moment pictures of the seagulls, we drove down towards County Kerry so we could climb the mountain Carrauntoohil. Carrauntoohil is the highest mountain in Ireland, standing at 1038.6 meters tall. It is the central peak of the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, which is a beautiful area itself and as we approached it we could see the mountains from an hours drive away! We parked in the car park Cronins Yard which cost only 1 Euro and we were able to buy some cookies for the climb from a cafe within the car park. I climbed Snowden in North Wales and Scafell Pike in England during the summer and Ernie had also climbed Ben Nevis in Scotland [which means he has actually climbed all 4 peaks this year]. Carrauntoohil had the sharpest incline I have seen before, the incline is actually called the Devils Ladder! You really have to climb this mountain using both your feet and hands, It is not for those who fear heights or those who suffer from vertigo!
It took us about 3 hours to climb to the top and another 2 hours to come back down. Coming down was tricky as it was so steep I had to keep turning around and climbing backwards. The views at the top really were spectacular and we were so lucky with the weather on this day.
After the climb we were tired and very hungry! So we drove to the city of Cork for the evening. Arriving at 8pm we managed to park up on the quay front, we fancied a buffet style chinese but the one we went to only took cash, we had no cash and the atm was far away so we ended up eating in the local Wetherspoons. I found out that Ireland barely has any Wetherspoons, there was one in Cork and two on the outskirts of Dublin. Northern Ireland had one in Belfast. When I’ve travelled anywhere around the UK it’s always handy to know where the local Spoons is, especially when on a budget, as the food is cheap and cheerful.
After we ate we walked a little of Cork to get a feel for it. It was buzzing and was the busiest City we stayed visited in Ireland, after Dublin. There was a lot of night life even on a Tuesday, there seemed to be a lot of students around. We were exhausted from the climb so we wondered for a little and then headed back to the van, deciding to visit some castles the following day.
Blarney Castle is a 20 minute drive outside of Cork and is a medieval castle built on 60 acres of land. The land hold a variety of gardens including woodlands, rivers and lakes, waterfalls, poison gardens, jungle themed gardens and many more. It’s a green fingers dream.
The castle itself hosts the famous Blarney Stone, which is said to give the gift of eloquence (or the ‘gift of the gab’) when kissed. Many people over the last 200 years have climbed the castles steps to reach the stone and pucker up. We were unaware that the stone is actually part of the castle wall and to kiss it we had to lie backwards holding two bars. It was pretty terrifying because as I leaned back I could see the ground about 21 meters beneath me!
The castle is now partly in ruins but you can still walk around it and make out what it would have been like. Underneath the castle there are caves that can be explored. Within the grounds there is Blarney House, this is not for the general public however you can still walk around the outside. They had turned the old stables into a cafe restaurant which was also interesting to see, we ate a tasty slice of lemon cake.
The castle was busy on the day we went but there is so much to do and explore, it doesn’t feel overcrowded. For 16 euros you could easily spend a whole day exploring here, especially families as there is a play park for children and areas for eating.
Next we journeyed back through Cork and onto Blackrock Castle and Observatory. The castle was 7 Euros and included half and hour historical tour of the castle and half an hour observatory tour. The history of the castle itself is interesting and the observatory talk takes your on a 24 hr journey of the stars and planets over Cork. The castle has a telescope on the top and the views overlooking the estuary on the way into Cork are beautiful. It was well worth 7 Euros and again you could potentially spend a whole day here. There are also space and cosmos exhibitions within the castle.
We had thought about going to Spike Island the following day however there appeared to only be one ferry company taking people to the island and this was only on weekends and during school holidays. As the school holidays in Ireland were a week behind England’s holiday, there were no ferries running on this day we wanted to go. However I’ve heard lots of good things about Spike island and the old prison that resides there. Maybe it is somewhere I might visit in the future if I come to Ireland again.
After Blackrock Castle we headed back into Cork and saw the film Bohemian Rhapsody, about Freddie Mercury’s life, at The Gate Cinema. This cinema was quite pricey but it was a film we wanted to see and was on at a good time for us.
Sleeping on the quay in Cork was quite peaceful and after a morning swim at Leisure World we moved onto Ireland’s oldest city – Waterford. The great money-saving aspect of Wednesday and Thursday was not having to pay for parking. During the castle day we parked in the attraction car parks for free and then arrived back into Cork for 18:00 meaning we could sleep here also for free. Then we moved into Waterford and were lucky to have a day parking ticket very kindly given to us, by a lady who was leaving the car park as we drove in.
Waterford was founded by the Vikings in the 9th century so much of its historical features include Viking material. We learnt all about the Viking Triangle and visited the King of the Vikings which is a 30 minute virtual reality experience inside an authentic Viking house. I think it was about £12 each but I hadn’t experienced virtual reality before so I felt like it was worth the cost.
We spent the evening in the Reg, which is an Irish bar, I later found out that a colleague of mine in London is from Waterford and actually used to work in the Reg. I liked it here for the live music that was playing in the background but also because there are many different rooms you can choose from. We chose a quiet spot in a room that looked like a living room from the 1940’s, I had a couple of Irish coffees and Ernie was able to charge up the laptop and do some work. This night we went for a walk along the quay before sleeping. Waterford is a peaceful place and is very pretty, especially when lit up at night time.
On this morning we woke up early and realised that we had planned to stop of at the Magic Road the day before, on our way to Waterford, but had forgotten to stop here. So we drove back, about 40 minutes, out of Waterford towards the Magic Road. This is a piece of country road that people suggest to be magic as when you park at the bottem of the hill and turn off the engine, the car rolls up the hill by itself. Some people call these kinds of hills gravity hills, they are a sort of optical illusion. We had seen videos of this on Youtube before going and were still surprised when it happened the same for us in the van! You can find the Magic Road by typing it into Google, you know you are there when you see the fairy tree and the sign posted rock.
After experiencing the Magic road we continued on towards Dublin, stopping off at Powerscourt Waterfall about 40 minutes outside of Dublin. It is Irelands highest waterfall at 121m and is within the beautiful Wicklow mountains. It is 6 euros each to enter and if you wanted to you could have half a day here walking and exploring some more. There is also a play park and a cafe with toilets for families. You can pay by card on the way in but the cafe only takes cash so make sure you have cash if you want to buy food or drink here.
After leaving the waterfall, we arrived in our final destination of Ireland- the city of Dublin. We got in at about 15:00 and the weather had changed significantly on this day, it became very cold. It was so cold in fact that all I wanted to do was to find a new coat. So first things first, we went on a mini spending spree :D! Out of all the places we visited in Ireland, Dublin is The place to shop. It has all of the shopping places you would need, from high street shops to big brands. After shopping we had a wonder around the parks and saw some of Dublins statues, like the statue of Molly Malone who is the character sung about in the famous Irish song ‘Cockles and Mussels’. We also saw a statue of the writer and poet Oscar Wilde who was born in Dublin, only a few streets down from where his statue now resides.
On this Friday night we took a walk down Temple Bar and decided to eat at a pub called VAT House Bar. The food was good, we chose vegetable soup and a cheese board to share, we got a lot of food for the price. There was a live band playing traditional live music too, so we stayed for a few songs before heading back to the van. We had found a car parking spot just behind the main shopping center, we couldn’t really get anymore central if we tried.
On Saturday we woke up for Dublins ParkRun at Bushy Park. We had found out on the Friday that it would be the Dublin Marathon on the Sunday, which we hadn’t known prior to coming. This meant there were many more people joining this mornings 5k ParkRun, we actually met a few people who had come from London too. After the run we went for a swim at Swan Leisure center, it was very packed as it was a saturday but we did enjoy using their steam rooms and sauna. After a swim we decided to drive out towards Blackrock to see the sea and grab some food.
Funny story about the multistory car park for Blackrock shopping center. We forgot to put money on the parking card before leaving the car park, so we couldn’t get through the barrier to leave. Unfortunately there were a que of cars behind us and the security guard made me go back into the shopping center to top up the card. This resulted in an embarassing walk past the cars into the shopping center and Ernie having to sit in the van with a que of beeping cars behind him. Moral of the story, always remember to pay for parking before leaving.
In the evening we enjoyed a stroll down to the Ha’penny bridge and through Temple Bar. There is live music coming from most of the bars, we chose one that was heavily decorated with Christmas paraphernalia. There was a live band who were playing 80/90’s indie/rock covers, it became really crowded but was a great atmosphere. After this we grabbed some chips from Leo Burdocks, a fish and chip bar that apparently has seen many celebrities eat its traditional potatoes and battered fish.
On Sunday we woke up and were lucky enough to be able to see the start of the Dublin Marathon. We were a little worried because the van was parked within the marathon route and we would have to move it to get to the ferry by 4. Luckily we were able to move it by this time, phew.
We had to cross the marathon runners to get to our site seeing tour of the day, the Kilmainham Goal. The tour was brilliant, we heard about the history of the prison and there were in-depth stories of many members of the Irish Republican movement who were held in the prison in 1916. Kilmainham is holding an exhibition at the moment called Nelson Mandela: From Prisoner to President, which runs until January 2018.
We managed to access the tour and then wonder a little around the Nelson Mandela Exhibition in 2 hours. After this we took our last walk back through Dublin before our returning journey to Holyhead docks. Our walk through Dublin allowed us to walk past Dublin castle and the Guiness storehouse. We were not massively fussed about seeing the Guiness storehouse with not being fans of Guiness but most people I have spoken to have visited here and found it very interesting.
We luckily managed to drive the van out of Dublin despite being stuck inside the marathon route! I really enjoyed the ferry home from Dublin docks to Holyhead, we managed to get some comfortable seats with a table and as the journey was 4 hours I hd a short nap too. I so much appreciated that Ernie did all of the driving and got us back safely to London by midnight 🙂
Overall this is the map of the route we took on our Irish adventure: