Tag Archives: Dingle

East Anglia, Southwold and the English Pier

Southwold Suffolk

On our first day at Kessingland caravan park we squandered the time away at the swimming pool, the beach and took a short walk into the village.  By day two we were ready to explore and so we set off for nearby Southwold.

Southwold is ridiculously picturesque and quintessentially English, a town of Tudor houses and thatched roofs, so English that it is high on the list of filming locations for English film and television.

The fictional Southwold Estate, seat of Earls of Southwold, is the country estate of the family of Lady Marjorie Bellamy in the drama Upstairs, Downstairs and the town and its vicinity has been used as the setting for numerous films and television programmes including Iris about the life of Iris Murdoch starring Dame Judy Dench,  Drowning by Numbers by Peter Greenaway, Kavanagh QC starring John Thaw, East of Ipswich by Michael Palin, Little Britain with Matt Lucas and David Walliam, a 1969 version of David Copperfield and the BBC children’s series Grandpa in My Pocket.

Southwold Beach Huts 1

We parked the car and walked along the short seafront, a pebbled beach that is difficult to walk upon, a promenade and a row of gaily painted beach huts.  Next we came to the pier.  The pleasure pier is characteristically English, a genuine icon and one that I have never really understood.

No one in England lives more than seventy miles* or so from the sea but when they get to the coast they have a curious compulsion to get even closer to the water and as far away from the shore as possible without taking to a boat. The Victorians especially liked piers and by time of the First-World-War there were nearly two hundred sticking out all around the coastline.  If there had been satellite photography a hundred years ago then England would have looked like a giant pin-cushion.

It is a very nice pier with shops and amusements all the way down to the end.  In 2002 it was voted ‘Pier of the Year’ by the UK National Piers Society, it is quite short at only just over two hundred yards, when it was built in 1900 it was seventy yards longer but it has suffered various damage over the years.

Southwold Pier

English piers you see are rather fragile structures and over the years have had an alarming tendency to catch fire – Weston-Super-Mare, Brighton, Blackpool, Eastbourne, and Great Yarmouth have all suffered this fate but Southend-on-Sea is probably the most unfortunate of all because it has burned down four times which seems rather careless.

The problem with a pier of course is that they are generally constructed of wood and are highly combustible and a quarter of a mile or so out to sea they are also rather inaccessible to the fire service so once they go up in flames little can be done but to watch the blazing inferno from the safety of the promenade until the fire goes out by itself and all that is left is a tangle of twisted metal girders and beams.

Fire isn’t the only danger of course because the coast can be a rough old place to be in bad weather and severe storms and gales have accounted over the years for Aberystwyth, Cromer, Saltburn and Brighton.  Reaching far out to sea also makes them rather vulnerable to passing ships and the aforementioned unfortunate Southend-on-Sea was sliced in half in 1986 by a tanker that had lost its navigational bearings.  One unfortunate man was in the pier toilets at the time and apparently only just made it out in time before they tipped over the edge!

There isn’t much else to say about Southwold except that George Orwell once lived there and so after only a short stop and a drive around the busy streets we continued our drive planning to stop next at the Suffolk port town of Lowestoft.

I didn’t find Lowestoft that thrilling I have to confess, it looked much like Grimsby to me where I live, a run-down sort of a place urgently in need of some investment and a make-over but there was one especially interesting place to visit while we here – Ness Point, the most easterly place in the British Isles.

Ness Point Lowestoft Suffolk

For such a significant place I would have expected it to be something special, a bit like Four Corners in the USA but not a bit of it.

There is no visitor centre and no souvenir shop, just a windswept carpark and it is difficult to find located as it is on the edge of an industrial estate and close to a sewage treatment works and a massive wind turbine called Goliath (it was once the biggest in England).  There is only a circular direction marker known as Euroscope, marking locations in other countries and how far away they are.  I felt like an explorer about to set sail.

The ‘Visit Lowestoft’ web site proclaims that, “No trip to Lowestoft is complete without a visit to Ness Point, the most easterly spot in the United Kingdom”  As far as I could see this is about the only reason to visit Lowestoft so with nothing to detain us longer we headed directly back now to the seafront car park and enjoyed an especially good meal of fish and chips.

I was reminded that a couple of years ago I was at the most Westerly point in the British Isles** on the Dingle Peninsular in Southern Ireland where we were staring out at two thousand miles of water and next stop Canada and the USA.

The Blasket Islands (10°39’) at the end of the Dingle Peninsula are the most westerly point in the British Isles but these have been uninhabited since 1953, Iceland is the most westerly country in Europe and Reykjavik is the most westerly capital city (21°93’); Lisbon (9°14’) is the most westerly city on mainland Europe and furthest west than anywhere else are the Azores at 31°30.

When someone tells you that something is the biggest or the longest or the highest or the heaviest it is always worth checking up I find.  The most westerly point in Asia is Cape Baba in Turkey and in the United States it is Alaska which is also the most easterly as well because it stretches so far that it crosses right into the eastern hemisphere (a good pub quiz question that).

The day ended with an especially fine sunset…

Kessingland Seagulls and Sunset

* Based on a direct line drawn on an Ordnance Survey map from location to the first coast with tidal water.  The village that is further from the sea than any other human settlement in the UK is Coton in the Elms in Derbyshire at exactly seventy miles in all directions…

Coton-in-the-Arms Derbyshire

** The British Isles are an archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean that consists of the islands of Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man and over six thousand smaller isles.  The term ‘British Isles’ is controversial in Ireland where there are nationalist objections to its usage and the Government of Ireland does not officially recognise the term and discourages its use.

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

Only in Ireland

No Grave digging signRoundstone County Galway IrelandAngry Man Skelligs Viewpoint Kerry IrelandGalway Street EntertainmentIreland GuinessWestport Ireland Dancing and MusicVaughans Pub Kilfanora Father Ted

Ireland, North or South?

Ireland 03

There was a short flight delay at Belfast International so that gave me another forty minutes or so to make my comparison between north and south Ireland.

We started our journey in Belfast so I made my first judgement between here and Dublin.  I liked Dublin, it was fun, it was more Bohemian, it was shabby chic compared to the Victorian starched collared style of Belfast which reminded me of the great cities of Northern England.

Dublin has Temple Bar, Belfast has the Cathedral Quarter, Dublin wins hands down on that score but Belfast has the River Lagan, the Titanic Experience (which is way more interesting than the Book of Kells) and the history of the troubles.  I only spent a day in Dublin so I might be being unfair here but my vote goes to Belfast.

Titanic Museum Belfast

North 1 – South 0

Next my thoughts turned to coastal road drives.  Fresh in my memory was the glorious journey along the Antrim Coast, never before have I driven along a road so close to the seashore and with so many wonderful places to stop and admire the natural environment but then I was instantly reminded of the Ring of Dingle with its high level looping journey around the headland where Charles Lindbergh first reached Europe on his solo trans Atlantic flight and where Fungi the Dolphin entertains people on a daily basis.

Ireland Dingle

North 1 – South 1

Ireland is so photogenic that it is no surprise that it has been used extensively in film locations over the years.  In the North they have the Game of Thrones but I admit to having never watched that but in the South they have Father Ted and I have watched every episode time and time again.

Ireland Father Ted Tour Craggy Island Parochial House

North 1 – South 2

I turn again now to the natural environment and the glories of nature.  In the South there is the Cliffs of Moher and in the north there is the Giant’s Causeway.  I like them both but you cannot get anywhere near the cliffs of Moher because of barricades and fencing but on the Causeway you can climb all over the rock formations and really appreciate what it is all about.

I was disappointed by the Cliffs of Moher but I liked the Causeway so much that I went twice.  Also, the Causeway was free but there was an entrance fee to the Cliffs.

Northern Ireland Giant's Causeway

North 2 – South 2

I was thinking about what to compare next as a decider when Kim asked me what I was doing.  I explained that I was drawing up a comparison between north and south. She raised an inquisitive eyebrow and asked me why and she was right.  What was the point of a comparison.  I am not making any political, religious or sectarian judgements here but Ireland should be seen as just that without any geographical divisions and on that basis I declare the contest a draw!

I need to go back…

Dingle Ireland Murphys Pub

Weekly Photo Challenge: Orange

Restaurant Ennistymon Ireland

In Ireland they like their pubs in bright colours so they do…

After Guinness and sandwiches we left the busy pub and made our way into the centre of the city passing first through a street of brightly coloured buildings, yellow, green, red, vibrant, vivid and loud, the sort of thing that would have town planners in England descending into a frenzy of planning application refusals.

Read the full story…

And thanks to Hugh at “Hugh’ Views and News”  (a very good blog) for giving me a memory nudge about this picture!

Ireland, Ring of Kerry

Ireland Inch Beach

Having gone as far west as possible we were driving east again now on the last leg of our journey back towards Killarney and we followed the coast road as far as the village of Sneem, another tourist logjam with a car park full of growling coaches.

There were two distinct parts of Sneem so we parked in the quieter one next to a plaque dedicated to Charles deGaulle who apparently visited the village many times and selected a shocking pink pub with a garden terrace for a Guinness in the sunshine.

After lunch we crossed a bridge over the river, obviously turbulent in winter judging by the tree debris caught and tangled in the saw toothed rocks but rather indolent today as the water trickled rather than surged over the boulders.  On the other side was the main tourist business with craft and souvenir shops and swarms of day trippers pondering whether or not to buy a traditional Aran cardigan and all along the pavement the street entertainers all hoping for some loose change to be transferred from pockets to collection tins.

Our planned schedule was beginning to fall behind the clock now so we walked back to the car past a lady belting out opera at full volume and the parks full of public art and then left Sneem and followed the coast road until it turned sharply inland at Kenmare and headed towards mountains and the Killarney National Park.  With so many panoramic viewing areas it was stop-start motoring now for a few miles as we stopped as often as possible to admire the scenery most memorably at Moll’s Gap, a mountain pass at the highest point of the climb before the descent towards the Killarney Lakes and the look-out spot at Ladies View where more accordion players and fiddlers were attempting to entertain the bus tour visitors.

As we approached Killarney we left the Ring of Kerry and to be honest I wasn’t disappointed to do so.  On reflection the decision to drive it in just one day was a mistake.  It was too far and it really needed a day or two with a couple of overnight stops to be able to enjoy it fully.  I’ll bear that in mind if I get to go back to the south-west of Ireland.

As we arrived in Killarney the traffic began to get heavier mostly on account of the fact that it had to compete with a fleet of horse-drawn jaunting cars that seemed to enjoy priority over the motor cars and exemptions from the normal rules of the road.

It was too late now to do any real sightseeing, we were way behind time and our plan was to find somewhere for a last meal in Ireland before driving back to the airport at Shannon.  This wasn’t as easy as we had imagined because we were in that late afternoon period when pubs and restaurants close down for a couple of hours but we eventually found somewhere suitable and enjoyed a very good meal and a final glass of Guinness.

After the meal we left Killarney for a final two hour drive to the airport which confirmed the days bad planning as we had already spent four hours or so motoring around the Ring of Kerry and everyone was beginning to get a bit fidgety as we drove the unremarkable and rather dull main road towards Limerick.

The dashboard warning symbols were still continuing to blink on and off like garden fairy lights but I became increasingly confident of getting it back without major incident the closer we got to the airport.  We refuelled the car and returned it to the car hire office and I crossed my fingers as the man at the desk examined the paper work and made an inspection.  I explained about the warning lights but this didn’t seem to concern him greatly as though this was a regular occurrence and he signed off the contract and agreed to the refund for the value of the full tank of fuel but for the next few days I kept my eye on my credit card account in case of any damage charges being charged through.  Nothing happened!

I’m so sorry if I disappointed anyone expecting an engine explosion story!

Back at the airport now we prepared for our flight, fortunately one of a handful not delayed due to a French air traffic control strike, with some time to spare to reflect on out holiday.  Ireland, I have to say, had been a revelation to me and had far exceeded my pre-travel expectations, Galway, Dublin, Ennistymon and especially Dingle were all so wonderful that Ireland is now firmly placed in my ‘must return to’ list.

Galway Ireland postcard  Dunguaire Castle Kinvara Ireland

Dublin Postcard  Dingle Ireland

Ireland, Ring of Kerry and I Temporarily Overcome My Fear of Dogs.

Ring of Kerry

Inch Beach, Dingle…

It was the final day in Ireland and we had a late flight home so we debated how best to make the most of our final moments.  We decided to drive the Ring of Kerry.  On account of the engine management warning lights blinking away this might have been rather rash but we decided to go ahead regardless.

It was a shame to leave the Dingle Skellig Hotel but as we loaded the bags into the car I made a mental note to add it to my ‘places I must return to one day’ list and then we left the car park and drove east.

After a while we came to a place called Inch beach, a spit of perfect sand that intrudes five kilometres into Dingle Bay and really looks for all the world as though it shouldn’t really be there at all – an expanse of perfect caramel land stretching south and defying the Atlantic Ocean to devour it.  We parked the car at a glorious look out point and although we didn’t stop long enough to go down to the sea I was happy to elevate it straight away into my list of top ten beaches and to the ‘places I must return to one day’ list.

After Inch Beach we left the Dingle Peninsula and started west again and at the town of Killorglin began the one hundred and ten mile circular route around the Ring of Kerry.

Inch Beach Dingle Ireland

Driving The Ring of Kerry…

Almost immediately I began to wonder if we had made the right decision because one hundred and ten miles is a long way and after only a short while it became rather tedious and awfully slow going as we drove for long distances staring at the back end of a coach full of pensioners taking the day trip from Killarney. All along the northern route there were no sea views as I had imagined there would be and the road remained stubbornly inland wedged in between the scenery of the coast and the majesty of the mountains but enjoying neither.

After an hour or so it was obvious that the Ring of Kerry is something that you really need to take your time over and the one day version is not the best one.  Eventually we arrived at the most westerly point and we could see over Valentia Island which is famous for having the first transatlantic cable station built in 1866 and then the road turned south to Waterville where for some reason Charlie Chaplin used to like to spend some holiday time and there is a statue on the sea front to prove it!

We thought that we might stop for a while in Waterville but it wasn’t especially thrilling and it was clogged up with tour buses making their lunch time break so we passed through and carried on.

Immediately the scenery improved as we climbed several hundred metres from sea level through mountain passes and winding roads until we reached Skelligs viewing point with expansive views in all directions and a coach park.

Ireland Cliffs of Moher

Skelligs View Car Park, Kerry…

It has to be said that this was a really odd place.  It seems that wherever coaches stop in Ireland an unusual ensemble of strange people and entertainers beam down from out of space and put out a collection tin.  In this windy remote place the oddest of all was a sort of farmer chap who looked as though he hadn’t washed his hands or combed his hair for several years who sat on two battered sofa cushions and invited people to have their photograph taken with a litter of kittens barely old enough to be away from their mother and then some lambs who looked to me to be highly sedated.  I think the chap was highly sedated as well, probably on Guinness!

Father Ted Funland

But he actually seemed positively normal next to the man a badly out of tune accordion and kicking a piece of metal plate in some sort of unholy row that I can only imagine was designed to scare witches away.

Walking back to the car in a state of dazed amusement I decided to take his picture but he saw me raise the camera and he was not very happy about it.  Perhaps he thought the camera would steal his soul but on reflection I think it was because I hadn’t put any money in the tin.  “Don’t point that feckin’ thing at me”  he yelled, “Don’t point that feckin’ thing at me”.  I took the picture and gave a jolly wave but he wasn’t going to be that easily placated, “Don’t point that feckin’ thing at me”, I’ll set the dog on yer, I’ll set the dog on yer”.

Now I suffer from a real fear of dogs and a paranoia of being mauled to a canine death and normally a threat like that would turn by backbone to jelly.  The British Geological Survey Team in Edinburgh measures earthquake activity in the UK and has been known to sometimes get confused by the seismic  activity created by my violent shaking when faced by a dog and has issued a false earthquake event alert.

On this occasion however I didn’t think I had a lot to fear from an obviously shagged out old collie that was wearing a flat cap tied to its head and whose best people attacking days were a long way behind it.  The poor thing could hardly stand up let alone chase anyone that it was set upon so I gave another cheery wave and dawdled defiantly back to the car.  I was supremely confident that I could make the five metres to the door faster than it could cover the fifty metres or so to get to me.

Back in the car I suddenly worried that this might be the time that the engine would blow up and I might be in a spot of bother after all but thankfully it fired into life and I deliberately drove slowly past him and gave him a another cheeky wave as he continued to make his pointless threat – “I’ll set the dog on yer, I’ll set the dog on yer”.  What was it going to do – bite the tyres?  Anyway, there was no warning light on the dashboard about geriatric dog attacks so we just laughed and carried on to the exit.

Angry Man Skelligs Viewpoint Kerry Ireland

Ireland, The Ring of Dingle, Famine, Immigration and Music

Ireland Dingle

“At the very edge of Europe, as far west as you can go in Ireland…. once described by National Geographic as the most beautiful place on earth… a place where the mountains roll into the ocean.

The plan now was to get back to the car and drive to the most westerly point of the Dingle peninsula which is called the Ring of Dingle or the Dingle Way depending on whether you are driving or walking.

We weren’t going very far so the flashing dashboard and the prospect of blowing up the engine didn’t worry me to any great degree and we left the hotel car park, negotiated our way out of Dingle and picked up the scenic road to what seemed like the ragged edge of the World with a coastline of jagged cliffs and inhospitable rocky inlets.

The road climbed high above the sea, sometimes close to the ocean and sometimes heading off inland and soon we came to a succession of small tourist stop off points advertising historic attractions and we pulled into a car park promising an Irish famine cottage and we purchased tickets from an old lady in a ticket shed in a bizarre transaction that took place through a half inch gap in a window as though she was highly suspicious of visitors or thought we were bandits who would steal the days takings which by mid-afternoon must have been worth all of about €15.

There was a strenuous walk to the cottage and a farm and behind us there were some wonderful views over the south of the peninsular, Dingle Bay and the Kerry Mountains on the opposite side which made it easy to understand why Hollywood film makers have chosen this place as a location for films such as Far and Away and Ryan’s Daughter.

Famine Cottage Dingle Ireland

Inside the cottage there was a recreation of a typical mid-nineteenth century family home and information boards about the famine and the consequences.  It seems that at that time Irish people lived almost entirely on potatoes and that a working man would eat as much as fourteen pounds a day – that is a lot of potatoes, roughly equivalent to two hundred and fifty bags of potato crisps!

Now, I know potatoes are versatile – boiled, baked, mashed, fried, hash browns, dauphinoise, gnocchi but I imagine this sort of diet can become awfully monotonous!  Unfortunately not only did the Irish rely completely on the potato they specialised in just one variety.  The Arran Banner was a heavy cropper but also particularly susceptible to the potato blight virus and a succession of harvest failures in the late 1840s led to starvation, death, farm failure, cruel and vexatious evictions by English absentee landlords and eventually mass emigration to the United States.

Interestingly it is most likely that the virus came from the United States in the first place (just like the phylloxera virus that infected French vine crops at about the same time) but regardless of this they blamed the English and five million Irish (80% of the total population at the time) chose to go there anyway.  Today nearly sixty million people in the USA, almost 20% of the population, claim Irish roots and twenty-two out of forty-four of US Presidents (including Barack Abama!) have claimed Irish ancestry.

For only €4 (senior rate) it was a good reconstruction and there was a curious ancient burial mound with an information board but a path blocked by a barbed wire fence and no real sign of where the ancient monument actually was so confused by that we returned to the car and carried on.

A little further along the road there were signs to fifth century beehive stone houses but I don’t think they were original and we had had enough excitement for one day at the famine cottage and the ancient burial site and any more and my head might have exploded before the car engine so we drove straight by.

Europe

Very soon we were at the most westerly point of the peninsula and could go no further and we were staring out at two thousand miles of water and next stop Canada and the USA.  At 10°27’ longitude Dingle claims to the most westerly town (as opposed to city – this is important) in Europe but whilst this may be true there are lots of other ‘most westerly’ claims to take into consideration.

The Blasket Islands (10°39’) at the end of the Dingle Peninsula are the most westerly point in the British Isles but these have been uninhabited since 1953, Iceland is the most westerly country in Europe and Reykjavik is the most westerly capital city (21°93’); Lisbon (9°14’) is the most westerly city on mainland Europe and furthest west than anywhere else are the Azores at 31°30.

When someone tells you that something is the biggest or the longest or the highest or the heaviest it is always worth checking up I find.  The most westerly point in Asia is Cape Baba in Turkey and in the United States it is Alaska which is also the most easterly as well because it stretches so far that it crosses right into the eastern hemisphere (a good pub quiz question that).

Another interesting fact about this place is that is was more or less the place where Charles Lindbergh crossed the Irish coast in 1927 in the Spirit of St. Louis in the first successful flight from New York to Paris.  I like this extract from his journals:

“I have carried on short conversations with people on the ground by flying low with throttled engine, and shouting a question, and receiving the answer by some signal. When I saw this fisherman I decided to try to get him to point towards land. I had no sooner made the decision than the futility of the effort became apparent. In all likelihood he could not speak English, and even if he could he would undoubtedly be far too astounded to answer. However, I circled again and closing the throttle as the plane passed within a few feet of the boat I shouted, “Which way is Ireland?” Of course the attempt was useless, and I continued on my course.”

From this most westerly point that we could go today we drove back inland along the north side of the peninsular which was not so scenic or dramatic and eventually the road returned us to Dingle and the hotel.

The weather was a real surprise.  I was expecting continuous rain and slate grey skies but it was warm and sunny and in the late afternoon we sat in the garden of the hotel with a glass of wine and watched the boats slipping in and out of the harbour in pursuit of Funghi the dolphin and enjoyed the peace and serenity of the verdant emerald countryside and the unexpectedly indolent ocean.

Later we walked along the coastal path back into Dingle to eat at a sea food restaurant next to the harbour and after an exceptional sea food platter we followed that with a visit to a gaily coloured pub where there was lively Irish music entertainment which went on way past normal closing time.

With no sign of the pub closing or the music stopping we called our own personal time and walked in the moonlight back along the coastal path to the hotel.  It was our last night in Ireland and while we walked along the moonlit path I wished that it had been our first!

Dingle Ireland Murphys Pub