What do you do to escape a house of plumbers? When you have a bathroom renovation the thing is to leave the country and leave them to it!
So I decided to do something I always said I would never do..go on a coach trip. Being the independent traveller who prefers to research and book her own flights, train and prides herself on finding the nicest of accommodation…this idea was totally out of character.
Never having been to Ireland, I booked a 5 day coach trip with Shearings to a quiet spot in the Wicklow Hills, and all starting ten minutes from my home in North Yorkshire.
Started from what is an architectural ‘wrinkly tin’ shed near Normanton bursting to the seams with a mass of over 55s, many not able to sit down due to lack of space and who had waited over an hour for their bus to be loaded with cases. Some had been ferried in by feeder coaches from the North East and East of England from as far as Redcar, Stamford and Melton Mowbray.
Once on the coach to Blessington Lakes and Wicklow Mountains, comfortably seated in a previously chosen and reserved seat, it was like meeting 29 new class mates on the first day at a new school, but these kids were all of an average age of 60 – couples, sisters, brothers, friends and a range of singles. And I have to say over five days I made some new friends and also realised ‘there’s nowt so queer as folk’!
The journey to the Tulfarris country hotel on Blessington Lakes in County Wicklow did take all day but the quick ferry to Dublin from Holyhead with Irish Ferries was so smooth and the golf hotel on arrival was of 4 star quality.
Included a visit to Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains, an area of stunning scenery and fascinating monastic history.
The Monastic City is the title given to the remains of the famous early Christian monastic settlement first established by St. Kevin in the 6th century in the Glendalough Valley.
The monks abandoned the settlement centuries ago due to religious and political upheavals but many of their hand-built stone buildings still stand testament to their way of life.
The Round Tower
Perhaps the most noticeable monument, the Round Tower is about 30 metres high. The entrance is about 3.5 metres from the base. Originally there were six wooden floors with ladders. The roof had fallen in many years ago, but was rebuilt in 1876 using the original stone. Round towers were multi-functional. They served as landmarks for visitors, bell-towers, store-houses, and as places of refuge in times of attack.
This is the largest of the churches, and was constructed in several phases. Of note, are an aumbry or wall cupboard under the southern window, and a piscina – a basin used for washing sacred vessels. Outside the Cathedral is St. Kevin’s Cross – a large early granite cross with an unpierced ring.
The day trip included a visit to Avoca, where the TV series Ballykissangel was filmed, and also the home of Avoca Textile Mill, home to an Irish family-run business that spans one of the world’s oldest surviving manufacturing companies, and an inviting shop full of throws, blankets and scarves in gorgeous colours and textures.
Was a free day, so I hitched a ride by taxi to nearby Russborough House, reputed to be the longest house in Ireland, an example of Palladian architecture, the interior of the house containing some ornate plasterwork on the ceilings.
The house has an interesting history. Sir Alfred Beit bought the house in 1952 where he housed his own family’s collection, comprising works by many great artists, the collection was since robbed four times, in 1974 by an IRA gang including British heiress Rose Dugdale in 1986 by Martin Cahill (nicknamed “The General”), in 2001, and in 2002 by Martin Cahill’s old associate Martin Foley.
Just had to have a cuppa and a piece of traditional Irish Brack.
Also loved the Irish Soda bread.
Included a morning visit to Bray, a rather bedraggled sad looking Victorian seaside resort, followed by an afternoon in Dublin. The best way to get a snapshot of Dublin was on the green hop on-hop off bus tour – superb couple of sunny hours on the top deck of an open top bus. A great way to get unusual photos!
The final night was in the Regency Hotel, a tired tourist hotel crammed with coach parties, but all part of the ‘school trip’ experience.
Was an early start for the coach to board the slow boat across the calm Irish Sea and a drive back to the mayhem of the ‘wrinkly tin’ shed in Normanton.
And then a short drive back home to my amazing new shower room that was a bathroom a few days earlier!
My impression of a Shearing’s holiday is mixed, apart from the ‘herding’ feeling, it provided something for everyone, ideal for single travellers to enjoy the company and safety of a group and a sensible and affordable solution for groups to travel together, relatively hassle free, with no driving, no hire car, and no reading maps.