Last fall, when we started planning our grand trip to Ireland and Scotland, the discussion of transportation was a big one. Wasn’t too worried about Scotland—they seem to have mass transportation and a killer train system figured out for the whole country. Ireland, however, was another bird. We didn’t want a coach or tour bus; too restrictive, plus I don’t like that many strangers in an enclosed vehicle hurtling around a country I’m not familiar with. Oh, who are we kidding? I don’t like that many people even outside of an enclosed vehicle. We didn’t want a private driver (too spendy and nothing was going to mess with my castle and food budget). So, Superhubby Jim came up with the idea that we could drive. And by we, he meant him, as I was having none of it. I like to think of myself as a good driver, but on skinny roads and on the other side to boot, I didn’t feel good about the odds even with collision insurance.
On Day 2, barely recovered from the horror that is Heathrow Airport, we showed up at the car rental company blissfully unaware of how our 33-year marriage was about to be tested. Most who know me know I’m not a great passenger under the best of circumstances, let alone on a road narrow enough that, had the window been down, hedges would have whipped my face and stone walls were, well, right there. And don’t get me started on those hedges that were just a cover for the stone wall underneath. Yes, we were warned. No, that did not help. My vocabulary consisted largely of “Hedge!” “Wall!” “Hedge!” “Watch the mirror!” and was accompanied by me ducking a lot and throwing my hands over my face. We made it to the home of Jim’s friend who we were visiting and, while the atmosphere may have been a bit chilled, we were still speaking. The drive back to our hotel was equally hair-raising and my vocabulary of expletives had both expanded and increased in volume.
On Day 3, we left the town of Bray and headed down the coast on our way to Ballymaloe. My notes from the day suggested I was developing Stockholm Syndrome: “Either Jim’s driving skills are improving, or I’ve just become numb to fear and terror. Could go either way.” I also referenced his patience, which was a bit of a stretch, but he was doing his best.
After a couple of days at Ballymaloe with minimal driving required, we felt ready to brave our first adventure into a metropolitan area and off we headed to Cork. Jim does get serious extra points here as the only reason we were going there was to visit a yarn shop on my list of Cool Things to See While We’re in Ireland. Yes, “cool” is a matter of perspective, but Jim indulged me and we found the shop without too much trouble or incident. And a little (ok, maybe a lot) of yarn therapy went a long way to soothe my frazzled soul.
By now we had discovered that M roads were Motorways (divided highways, high speeds, but little to no chance of accidentally popping over into oncoming traffic); N roads were National roads (mostly 2 lane roads but still committed to having lines painted on them, high speeds right up until the sign tells you to calm down and you come into one of the 420 roundabouts you’ll encounter in the next 5 miles); R roads are Rural roads (narrower 2 lane roads, lines optional, curvy little suckers); and L roads are Local roads (considered a 2 lane road—reality is, only a 1 1⁄2 lane road, no lines whatsoever, no shoulder whatsoever—see earlier paragraph regarding shrubbery and rock walls—and the oncoming locals sense fear and love a good game of Chicken). We only drove on 2 L roads the whole time and that was plenty.
Day 6 notes: “Jim says the Traffic Calming signs should read Wife Needs Calming.” And here I thought I was improving.
Our last day driving (serious Hallelujah!) and we felt cocky enough to not only brave some more Rural and potential Local roads, but also to try and find Biddy Early’s cottage (b: 1798, d: 1874, a Wise Woman, look her up, it’s worth the read). Between our GPS, my phone and our physical maps, we had become fairly adept at navigation. However, to locate an over 200-year-old relic of a stone cottage with no physical address, we had the following directions:
“From Feakle, take the road about 5-10 minutes, pass a farmhouse, look for a gate with missing bars on your left and the path is across on the right. Steep and muddy.”
So, just a few items of information missing here: A) Which direction from Feakle? Actually, which freakin’ road from Feakle?
B) Pass a farmhouse. As if there’s only one. C) Gate with missing bars on your left and the path is across on the right. Horizontal bars? Vertical bars? Is the gate even still there?
We found Feakle on the map and figured out which road was likely our best bet. We also figured out we’d be coming from the opposite direction, so reverse everything and take a wild guess on the timing. Believe it or not, we actually saw the gate on the first pass and saw a string across the path entrance on the other side. Score! Not so fast, as you’ll notice the words “first pass.” It took us three more passes to find a place to park on a narrow farm road with nothing but curves and our healthy respect for private property combined with not wanting to block a drive or gate. That didn’t leave many options. We finally did what the locals do and just picked a place where we could get halfway off the road, not in a ditch, and hopefully far enough along a blind curve that the rental car wouldn’t get smacked while we were gone. The path wasn’t too steep, but definitely muddy and soggy. Not very far up was the cottage, so well overgrown with ivy that I was stunned Jim spotted it. We spent some time there, a magical spot, and left behind a couple of crystals we’d brought with us to leave as an offering. Walked back to find the car intact and high-fived on the success of our adventure.
We returned the car outside of Galway—navigation failed us horribly there as it was an office park and access driveways were a bit dicey. Only a couple of (shall we call them Recon?) trips around the loop and we made it in. Extra points for mirrors and hubcaps all accounted for and still attached and no mention of the slight but new shrubbery-induced pinstriping.
Seriously, the trip itself was beyond incredible—even taking into account the driving adventures—but I was never so happy to get in a cab and then spend four days “recuperating” at a luxury castle. Well planned. Well planned, indeed. And we’ll go back in a heartbeat and do it all again.