“We thought you were dead.” It’s not the greeting I’d expected, but as I emerged from a snooze in my car, parked idyllically at the Ards Friary, that’s what the gardener said. Probably because whenever I’d woken my head was lolling, and they’d only seen me mid-loll. Apparently they were going to check on me when they broke for lunch. I told them I was feeling much better and they were fooled.
I’d had the friary recommended as a beautiful place, and also as a free place to park that was still within reach of the Ards Forest Park. The lady at the hostel looked an unlikely walker, so I thought her 45 mins might be a short walk but no, on the run it was a good 2-3 miles, past a small private beach, opening out onto cliffs and finally onto the trails of the park. My legs generally didn’t fancy it, but it was glorious, and I did at least recover enough energy to return a “nice to meet you” from a youngster at the children’s playground with a bow. She’d given a bow, after all, and given a decent version of an English accent, to boot. I hope she felt blessed to get the same accent back.
Post run I reassured the gardeners I was still not dead, changed and went into the Capuchin friary. It comes highly recommended, with the range of home made cakes in the cafe a must-do. It’s a branch of the Franciscan monkage, and if ‘Capuchin’ sounds a bit close to cappuccino, that’s because they invented the latter. Or so the plaque said. The building used to be a seminary though now is used for occasional retreats (we’ve all had some of those), and has a church as part of the structure. It’s quite a nice understated church for a Catholic one, with a sign of the times, the ‘policy on child care’ announcing unequivocally that all abuse is a sin. Though given that Catholics only need repent to win their place in heaven, that doesn’t seem sanction enough for the loophole seeker.
I headed round the North West coast of Donegal, surrounded by stunning sights. Dunfanaghy had been recommended, with a pretty bay and several bars. Like the other small towns I’ve been to in Ireland, the signs of economic troubles were cheek by jowl with small businesses, with the town able to support bars and an art gallery, but the Carrig Rua Hotel has closed, recently enough that there wasn’t much post in the hallway and the Christmas decorations had made it to the lounge but no further. I’d love to say I’d broken in to find all this but I just looked through the window. Alright, several windows. In a burst of optimism of the ‘I don’t believe profligate house building contributed to this recession’ kind, it had at least partly been turned into apartments. Which are still for sale, as are many completed houses, sitting mournfully in unkempt grounds, or with unfinished driveways.
I spotted a sign, “Please leave toilets in a way you would like to find them.” This is difficult for me, as I would like to find them by pogoing over a car before producing a combat roll as reconnaissance and then cartwheeling through the entrance once spotted, but the body is weak. I found alternative facilities.
No more long stops after that, but several “bloody hell” moments as I turned a corner to find spectacular scenery with the road dropping away as I went round the edge of Gleneavon country park and on towards the Black mountains. Exiting one village an old gent waved, and I waved back. 100m down the road I realised he wanted a lift, so went back for some authentic local chat. Good deed done, but the conversation struggled, he with a thick Irish accent and me trying not to sound like the King next to him. We did the weather, and it’s lovely here to have locals talk about how it’s a nice day even when it’s changeable-today definitely a gilet, jeans but sunglasses kind of day. It’s probably the curse of Facebook status updates giving idle thoughts undue prominence, but it does seem like a lot of English people struggle with the concept that in England it rains in summer, and that an average June temp of 18 means some days over 20, some around 15, with the latter really not ‘cold’. And definitely not ‘like winter’. My Irish friend was happy to, I think, talk about rain sweeping in, and Donegal seeing a lot of that, but it did seem like every other word was ‘rain’ so I was obviously struggling. We ended on football, safe there.
After a short stop at the poisoned glen, so called only because the Irish for ‘Heavenly Glen’ was mis-transcribed by some English twit, I hit the coast at Glencolmcille, heading for the Dooey hostel, patronising the independent hostels which are often quiet. But not here, where they were warming up for a big group the next day. On a few k to Malinbeg, and here Frank had space, if seeming a little surprised to have a caller on spec, and again I’ve a small dorm to myself. The beautiful Silver Strand beach is just a few minutes walk away (and then down lots of steep steps) and well worth the trip. At the car park atop the steps is an info board which suggests in the local pubs you can celebrate “the numerous achievements of Fr. McDyer”, first amongst which would be that of finding a vocation to chime with his
Surname. More difficult for Mr Anker to publicly proclaim the same.
Course, Fr probably stands for Father rather than Friar, but one of them fits the theme of my day much better. With luck I should get this post updated today, though the hostel doesn’t have wifi. Outside, though, the signal is strong and the password the anglicised name of the village, which is kind of them.
I ended up, I thought, at Dooey hostel, but they couldn’t fit me in, warming up for a large group the next night, so instead I rolled along a little to Malinbeg and another independent hostel. Plenty of room here, and the sun was fully out by now, in celebration, so I had a wander to the beach. Absolutely stunning, and probably not trashed over the days of heat wave as it has some steep steps before you get down to it. It was deserted when I got there so I took advantage to write names and messages in the sand. It was warm enough to bathe in for a while, a glorious end to the day and a good contrast to the rain the day before.
The run: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/3272 88622
Tonight’s guest nationalities: American, Italian
Summary: stunning Donegal, 8 miles run, a slightly sweaty t shirt then coat and sunglasses in the rain day