Tag Archives: Tour de France

Ireland, County Clare and The Burren

The Burren County Clare Ireland

“The Burren is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him.”

Later in the morning we were leaving Galway to drive south through the Burren and towards our next scheduled overnight stop at the town of Ennistymon in the heart of Father Ted* country but as this wasn’t an especially long journey we were in no particular rush to leave and so after breakfast we wandered off into the city again to visit the Saturday morning street market.

I have explained before (several times) that I am not a fan of shopping but I don’t mind the local market especially one that sells regional produce and handmade crafts so it was quite enjoyable strolling around in the sunshine, tasting local food and debating whether or not to buy a pointless souvenir or a piece of traditional Irish woollen clothing that we would possibly never ever wear again once back home.  So we didn’t.

As midday approached we turned our backs on Galway, threw a few more coins into the collection boxes of the street entertainers and returned to the hotel to check out and load the car.

The car! OMG the car!

Over the last forty-eight hours I had forgotten about the warning lights on the dashboard and they flashed up again like casino gaming machine as soon as I turned on the ignition and although they are normally supposed to go out after a couple of seconds or so they took it in turn to blink and flash and most worrying of all there was that pesky engine management warning light again.  The engine sounded sweet enough however and there were no plumes of black smoke or sounds of exploding metal so we carried on and resolved to ring the car hire company later on.

Dunguaire Castle Kinvara Ireland

We drove inland along the north shore of Galway Bay, then south before turning west along the south shore and into a region called the Burren, an area that makes it into every top ten list of natural wonders in Ireland.  A vast barren area of bare limestone rock  and at first sight very little else and the first coastal village that we arrived at was Kinvara where we stopped at the outskirts at the site of the restored Dunguaire Castle.

According to legend if you stand at the front gate and ask a question you will have an answer to by the end of the day.  While Richard and Pauline went to the top of the battlements and Kim made a circuit of the castle looking for photo opportunities I made my way to the front gate and asked my question, ‘is the car going to blow up?’

Out of all of us Richard was the most excited about the Burren and plotted a route to take us into the interior to see rock formations formed by criss-crossing cracks known as ‘grikes’ and isolated boulders called ‘clints’ which between them have formed deep crevices with layers of fossils and the home to a multitude of alpine plants and he wandered off and poked his camera lens into these interesting places.  Kim and Pauline were obviously much less impressed by this rocky wilderness and returned to the car after only a very quick and discourteous glance but I took a look around and tried to get a better understanding of the bleakness of the place and if I had been a geologist or a botanist then I am certain that I would have got very excited, but I’m not and I didn’t.

With Richard outvoted three to one we now returned to the coast and to the village of Ballyvaughan which seemed unexpectedly busy.

The reason was that there was a cycle event taking place today called the tour de Burren and nearly two thousand cyclists were taking part and were all due at the finishing line in Ballyvaughan later this afternoon.  We stopped for a short while for a Guinness and a sandwich and then we made our way out of the village and headed west before it was completely taken over by women in inappropriately tight lycra, men with shaved alien legs, those weird helmets that cyclists wear and competitors and spectators alike in garish bright colours that for driving safety reasons required the use of double sunglasses.

Driving became increasingly difficult now because all of the cyclists were coming towards us in the opposite direction and it needed total concentration not to knock any of them off their bike and spoil everyone’s afternoon.  There was only one near miss when a cyclist choose to make a risky overtaking manoeuvre at the top of a ridge just as we were approaching from the other side.  I demonstrated the reactions of a formula one racing driver and braked hard to avoid a collision and caught the look of sheer panic on his face as he swerved back to his own side of the road just in time but I am quite certain that it was the sort of incident that would require him to disinfect his saddle later on!

The scenery was spectacular now as the road swept around the coast in a roller-coaster sort of way and we stopped several times to admire the views and walk across the grikes and even Kim and Pauline were finding it interesting now.  And so were some of the cyclists because many of them were also pulling up and taking photographs in a leisurely sort of way that convinced me that this wasn’t a cycle race in the same way that the Tour de France’ is a cycle race because I am sure that Chris Frome doesn’t stop to take pictures whilst cycling through the Pyrenees.

At Black Head Point the road turned an abrupt 90° and we headed south with the Atlantic Ocean to our right.  The road all along this coast is called the Wild Atlantic Way but there was absolutely nothing wild about it today and with blue skies, sunshine and no wind the sea could hardly find the energy to make a slight ripple let alone a crashing wave and the water caressed the shoreline in a gentle peaceful sort of way.

With the dashboard still lit up like the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise we carried on now towards the Cliffs of Moher.

The Burren map Ireland

* As my UK readership only makes up about 20% of all my page views an explanation is required:

I am going to mention Father Ted again in the next couple of posts so I need to tell you that this was a cult UK situation comedy about three priests living in Ireland which generally pokes fun at Ireland and its stereotypes.  It probably doesn’t travel too well.  There was once talk of a US version but the project was abandoned before it started.

Ireland Father Ted Tour Craggy Island Parochial House

Yorkshire, England – Ripon and the Cathedral and Tykes on Bikes

Ripon Market Place

“I came around a corner in the road, not thinking of anything other than reaching my destination, miles to the north, in the Yorkshire Dales,  rising up ahead of me… was a gorgeous church, practically towering over me.” 

I have been challenged several times for neglecting to visit more places in the United Kingdom and so after many years avoiding UK travel opportunities for some unexplained reason I decided completely out of character that we should set off for a couple of days into neighbouring Yorkshire.

The journey was a pleasant, mostly free flowing motorway and as this was a bank holiday I considered ourselves fortunate to reach the Cathedral city of Ripon in a little under two hours and parked the car close to the large Market Square and wandered into the centre.

Yorkshire Dales Postcard Map

If I had temporarily forgotten why I don’t travel in England I was reminded straight away.  Apart from the obvious differences in physical layout (and to be fair Ripon has a large and attractive market place) they are all the same.  Every town has the same shops, there is practically no individuality in the town centres.  Every shop that I can expect to find in my home town could also be found here.  These are not shops that interest me a great deal in Grimsby so it was completely unlikely that they would do so in Ripon.

Even worse than this however is the fact that town centre shops are in decline and just as in every other English town there was an over-supply of banks, building societies and pay day loan money lenders.  The trouble with financial service providers of course is that they simply cannot make their window displays interesting and except for a different logo all they can display is a list of lending and savings rates all of which are mostly similar anyway.

And then there are coffee shops. Coffee shops everywhere, they are spreading like a disease and I fail to understand the attraction of paying an inflated amount for a teaspoon full of granules and some hot milk and water.  If you want a drink – go to the pub!

Not being a fan of cycling I had forgotten that the 2014 Tour de France was starting with three stages in Yorkshire and this at last explained why there were so many yellow bicycles on display. Bicycles everywhere, yellow jerseys, yellow shop displays, yellow flags.  Every shop window, every advertising hoarding, every lamp post – the biggest and most successful French invasion since the Norman Conquest.

Tour de France Yorkshire

Personally I find it rather odd that they should start the Tour de France in Northern England, it’s like playing the first week of Wimbledon at Roland Garros or racing the first ten laps of the Canadian Grand Prix at Indianapolis and almost as daft as holding the FIFA Football World Cup in Qatar.

It didn’t take very long to walk around the centre of the fourth smallest city in England (fourth after Ely, Wells and the City of London) and after visiting a display of local art (not very good) in the Tourist Information Office we made our way along a street of charity shops and tea rooms to the jewel of the City – the Romanesque Cathedral.

The website Britain Express awards Ripon Cathedral a Heritage rating of four out of five and we entered through the main doors and waited for a few minutes while prayers were being said and then made a rapid tour of one of the smallest cathedrals in England.

Ripon is the Cathedral of the Bishop of Leeds for the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales.  This is a new Diocese created by a Church reorganisation in 2014 and as well as Ripon the Diocese has two more cathedrals at Wakefield and Bradford.  In fact Yorkshire has five cathedrals in all because there are two more at York and at Sheffield.  I used to think that each English County had only one Cathedral city but it turns out that as well as Yorkshire having five, Lancashire has four and Cambridgeshire, Kent and Hampshire all have two each.  Of all the forty-two Diocese however, West Yorkshire and the Dales is definitely however the only one with three cathedrals!

It is also possibly the largest Diocese in England although both Lincoln and York are working hard to dispute this claim and take bragging rights for themselves. It’s a very close thing, all of them cover an area of about two thousand seven hundred(ish) square miles but this is nothing however compared with the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe which is geographically the largest diocese of the Church of England covering nearly a fifth of the entire World including North Africa, Europe (but not the UK obviously because this is split between Canterbury and York), a bit of Asia (Turkey) and the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Despite this immensity it has only one cathedral, the Diocesan Cathedral is the Holy Trinity, Gibraltar which is interesting for its Moorish style of architecture and it is headed by the Bishop in Europe, Rob Innes.  Except for having to live in Gibraltar* that sounds like a rather good job!

Plain and austere (except for Gibraltar), Anglican Cathedrals are no way near as interesting as the great Catholic cathedrals of Europe so it really didn’t take a great deal of time to look around.  At one stage there are some nice carvings of a handful of English medieval Kings and an impressive stained glass window but the Cathedral is most proud of its Saxon crypt which dates from 672AD and is claimed to be the oldest church building in England which has been in uninterrupted continuous use.  The crypt, less than ten feet high and seven feet wide, is part of one of England’s first stone churches and was founded by St Wilfrid to be the guardian of the Christian faith in the Saxon kingdom of Northumbria.

On account of this I was expecting great things but a steep set of steps led to the overwhelmingly disappointing bare room and another set of steps led out again almost immediately from the other side.

And so we left the Cathedral and found a small café where we stopped briefly for a light lunch and a pot of Yorkshire tea and then made our way back to the car park and drove out of Ripon towards our next destination at nearby Fountains Abbey.

Ripon Cathedral Yorkshire

Some interesting information about cathedrals

* Actually he doesn’t live there at all but rather in Crawley in Sussex.  I’ve been to Crawley and on balance I think I’d rather live in Gibraltar!