Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Part 6, Hook Head

Today we have a 7 pm gig at the Festival, but people are really done seeing the festival itself. One turn around and you’ve pretty much seen the whole thing, unless you’re hoping to get on another ship. One van goes to Waterford early with a group that wants to see the town (covered in festival tents and visitors) and some bits around there.

My idea is to make our way down the far side of the bay, all the way to Hook Head, where there’s a lighthouse and long views over the sea. Along the way are two castles to admire and most of the drive is marked as a scenic route. We can catch a ferry across the water to get to the festival in time, just for extra fun.

This idea turns out to be so popular that most everybody else wants to go, so it’s another caravan trip. And it’s great. We don’t get going very quickly, which eats seriously into our visiting time once down there, but what can you do. It’s not possible with this group for vans going the same place not to go together. Even later, when time gets pretty short and we don’t know how much traffic has accumulated at the ferry, they still won’t put all the musicians and instruments together and get them safely across while the rest of us kick around the gorgeous countryside and risk missing the gig.

Down the road a bit it is quickly agreed that this is definitely the day to visit Hooks Head. We could have done this tomorrow, when the ships throw off their hawsers and head out to sea. All along our route are signs for the Tall Ships. Tall Ships viewing, This Way. New Ross is clogged with cars going into Waterford. Along the bay coast people are camped already, and more are pouring in every minute. The traffic isn’t too bad now on the narrow roads, but tomorrow it will be an absolute zoo. Want to see anything (except a Tall Ship under glorious sail, admittedly), come today.

Our first castle is at the village of Ballyhack, where the ferry stops. The line for the car ferry stretches up the road half a mile, but happily they’ve made the place a one-way loop for the weekend, and we can drive on the right (for once ! yea !) to go around. Here’s the castle, a discrete, pocket-castle in the middle of the one-street town. It’s so cute ! And exactly like the other tower-castles we’ve passed and will pass. They’ve got one pocket-castle plan, and one abbey plan.

Oh, I know ; castles are not meant to be cute. But it is. This one has been turned into a museum, and you can go up almost to the roof. Like in the other ones we’ve only seen from the outside, there’s a spiral staircase up one corner and a great room on each floor with its fireplace, and very small rooms along one or two of the sides. The first floor has been whitewashed and sparsely furnished to give the feel of the place. The bedrooms along the sides aren’t large enough for a double bed. Up on the roof there’s probably a terrific view of this part of the bay, and this hill with its village.

I’m hoping to see Slade castle, on the other side of this peninsula, but time will eventually not permit this (split the vans, guys !). Thanks to Ballyhack castle and its museum and the great photos on the walls, at least I know what it looks like. Same castle, different setting.

The next sight on the road south is Duncannon. This turns out to be a fort that was used as one right up into the early 20th century, so most of the construction is quite modern. The group decides not to stop, but on the way out of town some people notice that there’s probably not much opportunity for lunch down there at Hook Head, and no significant towns on the way. They’re right, so we find a wide spot to double back to the several open eateries spied in Duncannon.

The vans let us off in the center of the one-street town and go find parking while the rest of us disperse to find sustenance. D and I look into a fish&chips takeout, and decide nahhhh. Around the corner is the main pub of the village, where we find Mac has already obtained a table and ordered. I’ll have just some tomato soup with bread, and a glass of Smithwicks, please, and Darrell gets a sandwich. The service is slow, in spite of the tavern being surprisingly empty. The three tables outside are taken, and two more in here, and that might be a lot for this small a town. But I mean surprisingly empty taking into account the numerous tour busses we saw searching for parking just before us. Any minute the deluge will start.

Once it arrives, the tomato soup is excellent. Well, Darrell says it’s only good. Mac’s fish and chips are nice and light, so we’ve scored a good lunch. Others are not so lucky - I hear « barely edible » repeated many times later. At any rate I eat quickly to have time for walking around, and up the beach a ways before it’s time to pile back into the vans.

It’s now midafternoon, and the smart thing to do for people who want to hear the shantymen on at 5 would be to gather those people and the band in one van that will head for the ferry now, while the other takes its time seeing Hooks Head and various sights before arriving in Waterford just in time.

No, no, we’re all going on south.

South, straight past a fabulously ruined old abbey at the side of the road. On, on we go, down the narrow, winding road between the hedgerows. The hedges aren’t so thick here, and often there’s none at all and we get a great view of the windswept peninsula. None of those tree-tunnels down here.

Soon there are signs for beaches and lots of cars turn off our road there. Nearing the Head we finally can see the sea to our left as well as the bay to our right.. Campers start to be common, and in the final stretches whole tent cities are going up, staking out the best views of tomorrow’s grand sail out to sea.

Indeed, this poor little road will be quite impracticable tomorrow.

Here we are. Lighthouse. Giftshop & restaurant. Museum. Hiking trails ( !! let’s go !!), a car park, and on the green bounded by the shops and lighthouse and a wall a tiny RenFaire, with booths of vendors of local crafts and a place for kids to play at swordfighting.

30 minutes !

Thirty minutes and we really must be back of the vans, and that’s already giving up on hearing the Shantymen. Ah, but the rocky layers down to the water’s edge must be explored ! And the hiking trail along the rough sea coast beckons ! only 3km to Slade castle.

Never mind the castle. Some rockhopping will do, and a view of the sea.

Darrell gets down right to the edge and lets a wave soak his shod feet. Cold ! he says. I’ll bet. The seawater takes the shine right off his shoes, too, leaving a salt crust even after he washes them.

The surface of the earth is so neat here. I can see what’s under the grass - these flat rocks here, jutting out into the sea, covered with limpets and snails. But up on the grassy part, the grass must be a foot deep. It’s like walking on a mattress. Those campers will sleep comfortably in their tents tonight.

Time to turn around.

(must run. photos for this post, and the rest of the day, tomorrow.)

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