Housesitting is different from travelling in that we have a responsibility to look after property and pets and are therefore slightly more tied to staying ‘home’ than when we are purely travelling. However that doesn’t mean we don’t venture out as often as possible to explore and have our very own microadventures.
Our last week in beautiful Banbridge in County Down, Northern Ireland has been a combination of relaxing on the farm with Buff our little cocker spaniel and getting out there to experience as much of Irish life as we can. This final week was full of mini adventures though. Let me tell you about a few of them.
1 Day Trip to Armagh
A day of culture and coffee perhaps? The city of Armagh sounded interesting so we took Bubble the Fiat and motored over to explore the smallest city in Northern Ireland. With Jo’s usual methodical research we knew that there were a host of free museums and a couple of cathedrals to check out in the centre of the city. Fascinating visits to the Armagh County Museum and the Irish Fusiliers Museum were followed by a walk up to St Patricks Cathedral.
Impressive as it is the odd thing about the cathedral is that it’s not the only one in the city. Two cathedrals. And that’s not it either. They are both called St Patricks Cathedral. One Roman Catholic and the other Church of Ireland. Strange huh? No comments either about religion over here as it’s far too complicated and I’d be here all day.
From there via the open market we discovered the Armagh County Library which was a fascinating priceless collection of books and manuscripts including Jonathan Swifts own annotated copy of his novel Gullivers Travels. Further wandering before a well deserved coffee and panini at Rumours cafe and it was time to return to poor lonely Buff back in Banbridge. Well worth a visit.
2 Home of the Penalty Kick
Just outside Armagh is a tiny little village, well more of an estate, called Milford. There isn’t a lot there to be honest except for small green in the midst of a new housing development with a memorial and a plaque. Amazingly, this was where the Penalty Kick was invented! Back in 1889 William McCrum, goalkeeper for Milford FC, appealed to the Irish FC to include a new law for penalty kicks and the rest is history. He has a lot to answer for. England may have done so much better at World Cups without the dreaded penalty shootouts. Thanks McCrum!
3 Tollymore Forest Park
There are so many country parks and National Trust properties in Northern Ireland that it can be difficult to choose which ones to visit. Our hosts, Barbara and Oliver, however had recommended Tollymore Forest Park so we loaded Buff into the back of Bubble and set off to the oldest forest park in N.Ireland. Excellent weather, a well behaved little spaniel, a picnic lunch, countless follies and bridges, and a lovely 5.5km walk made it a perfect outing. Oh and guess what? It featured in Game of Thrones (who would have thought).
4 The Mourne Mountains
Did you know that there were mountains in Northern Ireland? We certainly didn’t. But just half an hours drive away we found the impressive Mourne Mountains in the south west of County Down. The tallest mountain in N.Ireland, Slieve Donard, is here along with Slieve Lamagan and Slieve Muck. We took the Mourne scenic loop from just outside Castlewellan all the way out to the Irish Sea and then back along the coast to Newcastle.
Apparently on a fine day you can see the Isle of Man and the Lake District from here. One of the most impressive things we saw as we twisted and turned over the passes was a long stone wall seemingly rising right up to the peak of the nearest mountain. This was the Mourne Wall. A 22 mile long dry-stone wall that crosses fifteen summits.
5 Life on the Farm
We’re not from a farming background and have never lived on farms so it’s been interesting to be looking after all the outbuildings and land that this 100 acre place contains. Each walk through the farmyard past the old milking sheds and through the hay stores has been fascinating. I keep seeing different things every day from old bits of farm machinery to a family of robins to a couple of kittens laying right at the top of the hay bales. It really has been amazing living somewhere like this for a few weeks.
6 Looking after Buff
Getting to know our housesitting pets is always the biggest adventure of all. They obviously miss their owners for a day or so and we try and do everything we can to relax them and make them feel comfortable with us. Buff has been an absolute delight. So easy to look after, as long as he gets his dinner, and just wants to sit with you and have a fuss made of him. We can do that.
After two weeks we’ve got to know each other fairly well and we know that Buff loves drives in the car, having his tummy tickled, laying over the arm of the sofa, standing on his back legs for a dance, and so much more. It’s been a real delight looking after him and we will miss him terribly when we leave. Wonder if he’ll give us a second thought?
7 The Foul Mouthed Poet
Sitting watching TV the other evening at around 7pm when there was a knock at the back door. Buff barked and I went to see who was there. There stood a smiley, older gentleman called Thomas Black who turned out to be an old friend of Oliver our host. So we invited him in for a cup of tea and all sat at the small round kitchen table. He seemed friendly and we all chatted nicely for 10 minutes before he told us a poem. Then another. Then he sang an old Irish song to us! Bit embarrassing but we smiled and said ‘how nice’. Then a few more poems that seemed to be getting raunchier by the minute. A quick version of ‘How much is that doggy in the window’ was followed by a ruder rhyme. Then finally a long poem about Christmas and children and jam-packed with the worst swearing and sexual references. All said with a smile and finished with a huge almighty throaty laugh. It was time for Tom Black the foul-mouthed poet to leave.
Similarly it’s time for us to leave Ireland after 5 wonderful weeks. We have absolutely loved our time exploring this fabulous country and meeting some it’s amazingly interesting people. So much better than we ever imagined. We will be back.
02/10 – 08/10/2017