Glaslough, County Monaghan

This little village is a few miles south of the border which lies between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The main attraction in the village is the Castle Leslie Estate, a stately home and also a five star hotel. I’d hoped to go for a walk through the grounds, but on the day I visited this wasn’t possible due to the Covid restrictions, as only people who’d pre-booked overnight stays or were dining at the hotel could enter. So I parked in the village itself and went exploring there.

Glaslough has been the winner of the Irish Tidy Towns award twice; most recently in 2019. It’s easy to see why: the village and its buildings are very well kept, and it’s a very peaceful location.

There was a rail connection between Glaslough and other towns from the middle of the 19th century, although this stopped in 1959, and the rail connection in County Monaghan disappeared entirely soon after this. The railway signal cabin still survives, and is on display on the outskirts of the village.

As it was a warm day, I stopped for some homemade ice-cream at the little village shop/cafe. I had the salted caramel cheesecake flavour and also some honeycomb. I was very impressed with the portion size and the quality and would recommend to anyone visiting. There’s also a chocolate shop which I didn’t try myself but would be another option for anyone with a sweet tooth.

Even though Glaslough is a small village with not many attractions, it’s still worth visiting because it’s so picturesque and peaceful. I enjoyed my time there and hope to go back sometime to visit Castle Leslie and have some more ice cream!

Shepherd’s hut staycation

I’ve often thought about the possibility of living in a tiny house, and recently read an article about the growing popularity of shepherd’s huts in the UK. I decided I’d like to try one out, just for the weekend. So I searched Airbnb and found one which wasn’t too far away. I booked it for 2 nights, and a few weeks ago I set off on my mini-adventure.

I had been at work all week and was so exhausted that I had only planned my itinerary on the morning of my departure. My first stop was in the town of Antrim, to have brunch at Third Day Coffee, a cafe I’d been planning to visit for some time. I had French toast and a mocha; the flavours of the French toast were excellent and the mocha was really creamy and very good.

My next stop was Antrim Castle Gardens, which are around 400 years old and very pretty. I had a little walk around before moving on to my next destination.

My next stop was the Beaghmore stone circles near Cookstown, in County Tyrone. This monument dates from the Bronze Age, and was covered by a peat bog for thousands of years before being discovered in the 1940s.

It was starting to rain quite heavily by this time so I made my way to the shepherd’s hut. The hut was in a beautiful location overlooking a lough with views across the Sperrin Mountains, which I would be able to see better the following day when the rain had stopped. My host had thoughtfully provided some tea bags, so I made myself a cuppa to warm up. He’d also provided a portable DVD player so I made myself some dinner, watched Groundhog Day, and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the countryside.

County Down Staycation: Day Three

The morning of the last day of my staycation was surprisingly bright after the wind and rain of the previous evening. I had breakfast before packing and checking out of the Airbnb. I’d decided to drive along the coast to Warrenpoint before going to Newry and making my way back to Belfast from there. I went to Kilbroney Park for a short walk before continuing my journey.

The Fairy Glen

The drive from Warrenpoint to Newry is quite picturesque, as it follows the banks of the River Clanrye. Narrow Water Keep is on the left – this is a tower house built in the 16th century and although it’s currently closed it will hopefully reopen soon.

Newry Town Hall

I’d planned to stop for coffee in Newry; having done some research beforehand, and decided on Finegan & Son, an independent, family-run coffee shop close to the Town Hall. I had a cappuccino and a cherry scone, both of which were delicious. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to find car parking in the city centre. Usually when I go somewhere new I find it somewhat difficult to navigate my way around but everything was well signposted, which made it a lot easier for me.

I’d intended to explore the city but the rain had started while I was walking to the coffee shop, so it was time for some retail therapy. I needed some new shoes and a few other items so I stopped off at The Boulevard, an outlet retail park which is close to the town of Banbridge. They have a number of stores including Marks and Spencer, Joules and Clarks. After spending a few hours here I was on the road again, making my way back to Belfast.

County Down Staycation: Day Two

I had a delicious continental breakfast at my AirBnB in Annalong before getting ready for the day’s activities. Storm Francis was on the way, so I got a call to say that my planned activity of Alpaca Trekking would be cancelled, which was disappointing. I rearranged my plans and worked out that I could drive to Kilbroney Park in Rostrevor and have a quick hike before the storm hit.

Kilbroney Park is on the outskirts of Rostrevor, a picturesque little town on the banks of Carlingford Lough. The park has a few walking trails and you can hike up to the Cloughmore Stone (I didn’t do this because of the impending bad weather but still enjoyed my hike in the forest).

It started raining towards the end of my hike so I bought a takeaway coffee and vegan sausage roll from the cafe in the park and ate it in the car while looking smugly out at the rain, glad that I’d made the most of the day while the weather had been good.

I drove back to my accomodation and had a bit of a rest before heading out for dinner. I’d booked a table in the Harbour Inn, which overlooks the harbour in Annalong. It was very wet and windy outside, but the restaurant was cosy and welcoming. I ordered three courses : chicken caesar salad, smoked haddock with potato and wholegrain mustard croquettes, and sticky toffee pudding. The food was delicious (the sticky toffee pudding in particular was extremely good) and I had a pot of tea to finish off the meal. A walk along the coastal path was out of the question, so I headed back to my AirBnB.

County Down Staycation: Day One

I left Belfast just before 11am for the drive south to the village of Annalong where I’d be spending the next few nights. I drove to the picturesque seaside town of Newcastle, where I’d planned to stop for lunch. Unfortunately, it was raining so I drove a little further on to the town of Kilkeel. The rain hadn’t stopped but I was hungry and in need of a comfort break. I found a nice little cafe where I had a mini-fry and a coffee.

By the time I’d finished eating the weather had improved slightly so I set off to explore Kilkeel Harbour. This harbour is home to one of the largest fishing fleets in Ireland (I saw one trawler landing its catch which was quite exciting) and on a clear day there are views of Carlingford Lough. Although the weather wasn’t great on the day I visited, I still enjoyed exploring the harbour area.

My next stop was the village of Annalong, where I’d booked an AirBnB for a few nights. Annalong also has a pretty little harbour and is ideally situated for exploring the area around the Mourne Mountains and Carlingford Lough. After checking into my accomodation and unpacking, I had some time to relax before going into Newcastle for dinner.

Annalong Harbour

I’d booked a table at The Percy French Inn, which is part of the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa. It’s in a beautiful location; right beside the beach and with the Mourne Mountains as a backdrop. Thankfully the weather had improved so I was able to enjoy some sunshine along with the beautiful views.

I enjoyed my meal and afterwards had a stroll in the grounds of the Slieve Donard. I was happy that the weather had improved so that I was able to enjoy spending time outside in this beautiful place.

Climbing Cuilcagh Mountain

For the past few years I’d wanted to hike up Cuilcagh Mountain (which is also known as the Stairway to Heaven walk). It was actually on my bucket list but I didn’t expect to have the opportunity to do it this year. When I found out a tour company in Belfast had started taking groups to the mountain I eagerly signed up for one of the excursions.

Yesterday I got up at 7am, packed a picnic, put my walking shoes on, and got the bus to Belfast city centre. At the tour booking office I completed a physical fitness and health questionnaire, and had my temperature taken before boarding the coach.

The journey to Cuilcagh Mountain took just over two hours, which included a couple of comfort stops on the way as there are no toilet facilities on the mountain itself, and no one wants to be caught short mid-hike.

The famous boardwalk which features in most photos I’ve seen of Cuilcagh actually only makes up about one third of the trail; the rest is gravel track. It took me about an hour and a half in total to get to the top. I found the gravel track ok to walk on but the boardwalk was pretty tough going, especially the steps which I found very steep at times.

There was a queue to get to the viewing platform which gave me the opportunity to catch my breath and get my phone ready to take some photos. It was still quite misty (the mist had lingered until early/mid afternoon) but it was still worth the climb. I didn’t see any of the famous views, but for me getting there was the goal, whether I could see spectacular views or not.

The sun was shining by the time I started walking back to the foot of the mountain, but I was happy that it had been cooler while I was on the boardwalk, as the heat would have made climbing those steps even more challenging. I was treated to some lovely views of the surrounding countryside as I made my descent.

You can read more about the Cuilcagh Mountain hike here.

What I did in July

I reached my Goodreads goal for the whole year (including the brilliant Thinking on my Feet by Kate Humble, which is a great book for someone who’s fond of walks). I set the not-very-ambitious goal of 25 books (I’m now on book 27).

I explored two places I hadn’t been to before: Groomsport (which I wrote about in my previous post) and the Giant’s Ring, which is a Neolithic site on the outskirts of Belfast.

I took part in a 5 day poetry course run by Jacqueline Suskin, as well as a workshop on performance poetry. I wrote quite a few poems during July, some of which are quite awful but I wrote one about my experience of attending the Entierro de la Sardina ceremony in Spain, which I quite like:

A sombre drumbeat

accompanies the funeral procession

as it makes its way through the narrow streets

to the final resting place on the beach

where we will burn the sardine to ash

and with it our old way of living

In the light of the flames we are transformed

an awakening occurs

and we are free to leave the past behind

rising to a new way of life

I’ve made some plans for August, which feels a little bit decadent in the current circumstances, but I definitely feel more motivated now that I’ve a few things to look forward to.

Self-care day road trip

Today (24th July) is International Self-care Day. While I think it’s important to look after yourself every day, today I thought it would be fun to do something a little bit different. So I planned a mini road trip which would have all the things I like to do or see on days out – eat nice food, see some boats and walk by the coast.

I didn’t want to travel very far so I decided that my itinerary would include the Ards/North Down area. I left Belfast just before 10 am and drove along the main coastal road to Bangor, where I took the road leading to the village of Groomsport. The main attraction in the village is the harbour; it was once an important port in the area, in fact in 1636 the ship Eagle Wing set out from Groomsport in an attempt to sail to North America. Sadly the attempt was unsuccessful due to bad weather. There’s a replica of the Eagle Wing near to Groomsport Harbour which serves as a reminder of this historic incident.

Replica of the Eagle Wing ship
Groomsport Harbour (with the Cockle Row fisherman’s cottages on the right)

After a bit of confusion I found the coastal path that runs from Groomsport to Ballyholme, and walked along this to the east side of Ballyholme Beach. It’s a pleasant walk of around 1.5 miles each way, with some beautiful views out to sea.

View of Ballyholme from the North Down Coastal Path

Once I’d walked back to my car I decided to venture a bit further. The next stop on my itinerary was Donaghadee, a beautiful little town which was once an important port. It has a harbour and a lighthouse, as well as an RNLI station, and is very picturesque.

I decided to have my first dining-in experience since restrictions were lifted at Pier 36. In an ideal world I’d have brought a picnic, but I wasn’t organised enough for that. I was a little bit wary but it was actually very pleasant. I gave my contact details (for contact tracing) and ordered a small plate of mussels and a Banoffee Malteaser cheesecake. The food was delicious and the staff were very good – making sure everyone was comfortable and had everything they wanted.

Banoffee Malteaser cheesecake

They’ve done something really lovely at Donaghadee Pier – the people of the town (or even others further afield) have painted stones and put them all together and it’s a lovely, heartwarming sight. It’s such a simple thing but it’s so joyful. I wasn’t expecting to find something like this and it really made my day

If you were planning your own special self-care day what would it look like? What elements would you include?

Telling other people’s stories: some thoughts on memoir

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better. Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird : Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Several times over the past few months I’ve sat down with the intention of writing something concrete about my experiences over the past few years, but each time I’ve found myself struggling to put pen to paper. I know that my stories are mine to tell, but ost of them also involve other people. And this is where I struggle.

I don’t have a problem with memoir as a genre, after all some of my favourite books fall into this category. I have a problem, not with telling my own story but with the idea that my story intersects with another person’s story, and they may not be ready to share the part of their story that combines with mine, or they may not be comfortable with having this part of their story shared at all. It’s not about protecting people who behaved badly; it’s more about respecting the privacy of those who behaved well.

I’m doing a poetry course this week with Commune and I’m hoping that this will give me some insight into how to use the freedom I have to tell my story in a way that makes me feel comfortable.

5 places to travel to in Ireland this summer

Due to the pandemic, I’m not planning to take any holidays abroad for the foreseeable future. Instead, I’m going to take a few trips in Ireland and hopefully visit some places where I haven’t already been. This list includes both places I’ve already been to and places I plan to visit this year.

1. The Causeway Coast

The Causeway Coastal Route goes from Belfast to Derry/Londonderry and regularly features on lists of the best road trips in the world. It’s become more popular since Game of Thrones; the Dark Hedges and Ballintoy Harbour were among the locations used for the filming of the series.

2. Kinsale, County Cork

I visited this town a couple of years ago with my ex-boyfriend, and I really liked it. It’s got a lovely little harbour and great restaurants. On the drive back to Belfast we stopped off at Old Head (a really famous golf course) for coffee and croissants.

3. Newgrange

This is the only place on this list I haven’t been to yet, so I’m hoping to start planning a trip soon once restrictions ease. It’s a Neolithic Passage Tomb that was built over 5000 years ago, so it’s older than both the Egyptian Pyramids and Stonehenge.

4. Fermanagh Lakelands

I last visited here in 2016, and spent a few days exploring the area with my mum. There are 3 National Trust properties in the area; Florencecourt, Castle Coole, and the Crom Estate, all of which have beautiful grounds for walking (especially Crom). The Lakelands area is also popular for sailing and other watersports. There is a wide range of accomodation available; one of my dream trips would be to go there and stay in a bubble dome, which I think would be an amazing experience.

5. Donegal

It’s beautiful here; stunning coastline, mountains, and pretty little towns. The county’s coastline forms part of the Wild Atlantic Way, which also regularly features on lists of epic road trips.