After a reluctant night in our dare-tee fecking hostel on the Aran Island of Inishmore, my Co-Worker and I marshaled the kids out the door to the 8:15am ferry back to the mainland. The weather was ominously overcast as we waited at the ferry dock.
This view out the ferry window didn’t bode well:
Though I am often a night-owl at home, I tend to go to bed on time when I’m traveling, which means I’m well-rested and ready to roll in the morning. Not so much with the teens…
I like the kid who is zipped into his jacket like it’s a tube. We had to rescue him upon our arrival.
All the signs may be in Irish, but I’m pretty sure they all say “rain.”
We met up with the Support Van Parent, who hadn’t visited the islands with us, and loaded up on snacks for our day. At first, I thought the weather might clear up a bit for us:
The watery views, topped by the misty mountains, were quite lovely. They were also a bit empty and lonesome at points, wide open without habitation or farm animals.
Our ride was so isolated, I had not even been able to confirm before we got to Rossaveel that a pub would exist where we could eat lunch! We inquired at the small shop where we bought our snacks, and they were able to tell us where to find a pub about half-way along the thirty-five miles of our journey.
Rain fell almost immediately, then almost as quickly, the sun returned, necessitating much putting-on and taking-off of various articles of clothing. My Co-Worker kept the kids moving by claiming that we were about to be attacked by the giant dark cloud behind us. “It’s coming!” he’d shout. “Pedal faster!”
Except for the young lady in front of me, who stoically rode in the same outfit, rain or shine, the kids girded up with long socks and rain coats in preparation.
That’s me at the back, courtesy of the Support Van Parent. You can see that everyone else has already stopped and got their rain coats on.
I was annoyed by the constant taking on and off of my jacket, since I had to tuck it away in my pannier each time. Cursing my Co-Worker’s mythical, yet ever-present Dark Cloud, I began to get crabby. Frankly, there’s just something about riding in clammy, wet pants that’s unappealing. The temperature was actually in the 60’s, which meant that a bit of clear sky and a brisk wind dried us fairly quickly. My mood very much vacillated with the dampness of my trousers.
Each time I stopped, be it to take another picture or to don or doff my jacket, I fell further behind. At some point I decided that, as Official Team Photographer, I should just stop and take pictures as much as I wanted. The kids and my Co-Worker cycled on at a steady pace, but every now and then I was passed by the Support Van Parent, who then waited up the road for us. “Do you want a ride?” he asked the first few times he passed me.
It’s hard to explain to other people the draw of those landscapes, and my desire to try to capture them as I rode. I just kept shaking my head. Eventually, he gave up.
I rounded another corner, shortly before lunch, and found the kids and Co-Worker waiting for me. The spot they had picked was called Loch Con Aortha. I only know this because I took a photo of the sign to be able to remember! It was an astonishingly lovely place, at the base of the mountains, in a marshy expanse that seemed almost more river than lake.
The mountains sank in velvety purple-and-green folds down to the road, with small farms tucked into the creases.
As soon as we began riding again, the weather cleared to reveal glorious sunshine-soaked lakes and houses.
I was ebullient. This was what I had been waiting for! We arrived at our lunch spot, and I teased my Co-Worker about his Dark Cloud: “See, it’s going to pass us right by.”
“No, it’s still there,” he said. “And it’s gaining on us. Eat faster.”
That’s it in the left-hand bottom corner of this photo: the Dark Cloud.
I was dismissive. “It’s fine. It’s not going to rain anymore. It’s going to be beautiful!” I stopped at the Support Van Parent’s van to get sunscreen.
They told me later I jinxed them.
For a few moments, it seemed we might actually need the sunscreen. Then the clouds began to get that ominous look again…
The light had shifted. We paused for one last gear-up, ignoring the small patch of sun over our heads:
Then the rain came, again.
Mist settled around the foot of the mountains, and the rain drove in against our faces. That’s actually a rain drop in the middle of the picture above, not a cloud. It took only seconds to be completely, totally soaked. I pulled my jacket on over my wet sleeves and zipped up, steaming quietly. We were, of course, headed uphill. I began to grunt miserably to myself.
Then the heavy rain stopped, and the weather cleared yet again over my head. On one side of the road, patches of yellow flowers gleamed in the glittering clear light.
On the other side, the mountains were shrouded in mist as the waters shimmered with wind.
Here, I found my Co-Worker waiting for me, having let the kids ride ahead of him, one by one. He was just checking on me, and as soon as he’d established that I was okay and was, in fact, busily snapping photos of the beautiful landscape, he rode on. I watched him pass one kid after another, working has way back up to the front, in awe of his strength and stamina. I was delighted by the final turn in the weather, but I was also cold and tired and ready to reach our hotel.
The Support Van Parent didn’t offer to drive me any further. I coasted down a last long hill, rounded a corner, and rode up to a driveway where my Co-Worker was waiting, motioning us to our next stop: Zetland Country House.
I knew when I booked us there that Zetland Country House was a four-star hotel. There’s little in the area around Cashel bay, so we just budgeted for an expensive night. Most of my travel has been done in hostels or budget motels, but I could see from the expression on his face as I rode up to him that I had booked us somewhere special.
“Is it nice?” I asked, peering up the twisting drive.
“I don’t know…” he teased me. “Between the gardens and the tennis courts…”
The lovely old house, once a hunting lodge, had an ivy-covered facade that was even prettier after a day of miserable dampness.
If you stay in a “country house,” you’re supposed to arrive in a Land Rover, as you can see in the above photo. Anyway, though we were damp and dirty and bedraggled, we were greeted with kindness by the helpful staff. With the bikes hidden in back behind the attached pub (!), we were led up to our rooms.
“You have the nicest one,” the helpful staff member whispered to me as she handed me the key. I opened the door and gasped. After the dare-tee fecking hostel, this was heaven!
The photo can’t really convey how welcome that beautiful room was, with its views of the gardens and the bay (note that I later ended up drying my laundry on the wide windowsills, thus ruining my own view).
Nearly everyone was jealous, but hey, when you’re the trip leader and organizer, you stop feeling guilty really quickly. The other rooms were very pretty too, especially the one to my left, which also had the beautiful view, but mine was definitely the best. I slipped into the capacious bathroom to take an obligatory bathroom photo. Note how damp, sweaty and rumpled I am.
And how very, very happy.
I tried to take a shower, after washing out a few days’ clothing, but I had no more hot water! I called down to the front desk, who were very apologetic. Seems the old hotel had its boiler on a timer, rarely needing to produce hot water for ten sweaty folks in the middle of the afternoon. I would have to wait until after dinner, when it had warmed enough water again. It’s funny that even in a four-star hotel, the idiosyncrasies of rural Irish life reared up for me again: when I lived in Northern Ireland, boilers were rarely kept hot all day. Sinks used individual water heaters, but the hot water heaters for the baths were often off unless one was using the main house heater. Taking a bath whenever I liked was a luxury I had to give up in every house I stayed in, and this quirky old hotel was no different. It was hard to be mad about it, though, when the view was so beautiful and the room so expansive. I wandered down to check on the others and book our dinner in the main dining room.
The wavy glass in this old window, combined with the morning glories blooming behind it, put me in mind of an art nouveau Tiffany stained glass window.
The rest of the hotel was equally lovely, from the parlor, with its wide bay windows…
To the main living room, where we sat around the fire after dinner and… watched more YouTube videos.
Upon finishing my tour, I discovered that the proprietor had already taken the boys in hand and shown them all around the hotel himself. They were awestruck: “He was so nice to us!”
Though it was still a bit overcast at this point, I took pictures of the sloping gardens, leading down to Cashel Bay.
In short, we were all charmed. Dinner was in the very fancy dining room, with four courses and a heck of a view. The sky had cleared so perfectly that we actually ended up shutting the curtains slightly so that we could eat and see at the same time!
The final view from our gorgeous hotel: a romantic table by the window for two… of course, there were nine of us, and we were much more rowdy than romantic.
After dinner, the proprietor allowed the kids into the pub, briefly, to hear the Irish music being played there. The place was packed with people of all ages, listening and laughing. Though our final hour spent watching videos by the fire was fun for the kids, I retired early. “Where are you going?” my Co-Worker asked.
“I’m going to go upstairs… and sit in my room!” I replied. No one needed to ask me why I wanted to do that.