A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Shewy

Scotlands West Highland Way

An amazing journey that I won't soon forget!

sunny 12 °C

On September 1, 2015, just after finishing up our work away in Carlingcott, England, we hit a wall. Thankfully this was not a literal wall, rather it was a figurative wall, one that represented us not knowing what we wanted to do next in our travels. To be honest, we hit this “wall” a few weeks earlier as we began discussing what our next steps would be and we both had no answers as to what we wanted to do or where we wanted to go. It was a weird feeling to say the least. We were in the middle of a world adventure and yet we had no motivation for the next destination. I tend to believe that this is not uncommon amongst travellers, especially after being on the road for almost 9 months. Ideas were tossed around about what we could do next but after all of our discussions we decided to settle on contacting our cousins who live in Shrewsbury, England to see if we could come and chill with them for a bit while we sorted out what would come next. With nothing coming to us as a “must do” or “want to do” we decided that rather then spending money and travelling to a place just for the sake of travelling there, we would take time to recharge our batteries and have some conversations about what we really wanted to do next. We are extremely fortunate to have family so close by that we get along great with and who had room to take us in for bit.
When we said goodbye to the farm, it was off to the train station for a trip to Shrewsbury to meet up with Allie and Alex. Shrewsbury was a familiar place to us as we had visited there before and as soon as we jumped off the train and saw the smiling faces of Allie and Alex we both immediately felt comfortable and relaxed in our decision. After a couple of days of catching up with our cousins and touring around the town on our own, I knew what I wanted to do next. For some time now I had been thinking about hiking, camping and being in the outdoors. I had done some research in my downtime while on the farm and came across the West Highland Way hike which runs north to south in Scotland, from Milngavie to Fort Willam. The hike totals 96 miles from start to finish, takes about 7 days to complete and is an excellent opportunity to see the highlands in all their beauty. Now that I knew what I really wanted to do, the next decision to make was whether this would be a solo adventure or if we would be sharing this experience together. After some healthy conversations it was decided that I would take this journey on my own. For me I felt that this was something that I needed to do for myself and we both felt that the time apart would be beneficial for both of us as we had been hip to hip for almost 9 months now. Being hunkered down in Shrewsbury with our cousins presented the perfect opportunity to undertake this adventure as I would be able to take time to gear up for the hike and when I was gone Sherry would have a comfortable place to stay on her own while taking on her own adventures around England. With Sherry’ cousins heading off to Canada for a long awaited 16 day vacation, Sherry would be able to keep an eye on the place for them as well which was a nice side benefit of our plans as well. Immediately after making this decision and starting into more in depth planning I felt invigorated again. I had a smile on my face and almost all my energy was being put towards my adventure. The incredible part was that Sherry was right there alongside me patiently waiting in stores as I sorted through various tents, sleeping bags, clothing, and other things I would need to complete the hike. One of the biggest priorities for me in travelling this year was to rediscover what my passions are in life and this hike was a big step in the right direction. When I was young I loved being outdoors. Whether it was hiking in the bushes, fishing, biking all over the countryside, camping with my family and friends or just climbing a tree for the heck of it, I loved being outdoors. Somewhere along the line in life this passion for the outdoors began to gradually be neglected. It was not by choice and certainly was not done on a conscious level, but nonetheless, it became a micro aspect of my life. It was now time to bring that passion back to the forefront and rediscover what it really means to me. Would I go on the hike and feel nothing towards the outdoors when I was done or would I have my passion reignited - would I even finish the hike at all? These were just a few of the many questions that raced through my mind as I went through gearing up for not just a hike, but a reintroduction to what I believed to be an area of passion in my life.

On Sunday September 13, Sherry and I set out for the Shrewsbury train station, where I would board a train headed for Glasgow, which would be my overnight stop before catching a bus in the morning to Milngavie, the southern tip of the West Highland Way. It would be 10 days before I would see Sherry again as I had budgeted some extra days into my travels in the event I needed to take more than the typical 7 days that most people complete the trail in. Sunglasses hid a teary goodbye at the train station and I was off….on my own. It was a bit of a scary thought to be on my own, but at the same time it was invigorating as I felt a sense of anticipation charging through me. For the record, I had never done anything like this before. Sure I had camped when I was younger with my parents and yes I had been on short day hikes, but never had I taken on a long distance hike that would involve rough camping and cooking for myself. I was outside of my comfort zone and it was perfect! I have decided to share the bulk of the detail about my hike through the pictures that will be uploaded in sync with the post and I will try to keep things short and sweet here. I will start by saying that the hike was everything I was looking for and more. As I sit here on a train bound for Bordeaux, France, I still get excited when I think back on it. I managed to complete the entire trail in 7 days, which I am really proud of as in order to do this there is one day where you must complete 20 miles of hiking in order to stay on track with your timeline. 20 miles may not seem all that much to some, but when you are carrying a pack with close to 50 lbs of clothing, food and camping gear in it, that 20 miles takes on a whole new perspective. When I started out struggling to get my pack settled during the first 5 km’s, I started to think that I would just be happy if I finished at all. This was just a minor mental blip on the radar though as with every mile passed i began to grow more and more confident in my abilities. What really helped the miles to pass by was the interchanging company that would join up with me throughout the days. At times I would find myself charging along solo, while other times I would be accompanied by 1, 2, 3 or even up 6 other people. These interactions were what shaped the most unexpected aspects of the hike for me. The camaraderie that was instantly developed between total strangers was simply incredible. One minute I would be sitting by myself on top of a mountain, then I would be over having tea with friends from Germany. I would go from hiking solo for miles and then out of nowhere be met with smiles and cheers as I stumbled on the group of Canadians I had been hiking with a couple days before. I met so many cool people along the trail. There was Mattias from Austria who had just completed medical school and who I set up camp with the first night. Matt and I would frequently cross paths in the evenings when we were setting up camp. Then there were the Canadians - two separate groups of them - one from Alberta and the other from Salt Spring, B.C.. These guys and girls were all fantastic companions on the trail and I am so glad we had the chance to meet up. I also ran into Thomas from Poland who was completing the trail in just 4 days which was absolutely crazy if you ask me and then there was Christian and Jana. These two are long time friends of each other from Germany and I frequently found myself hiking with them since we both had the same time line of finishing in 7 days and just because we really enjoyed each others company. We had lots of laughs between the three of us and I know for sure that we will never forget the gruelling finish to day 2’s hike which had us all muttering curse words in our native tongues. I met many more people from all over along the trail and to me, the beautiful views aside, this was the most amazing part of the adventure. I found myself so relaxed and engaged with each new friendship. There was no hesitation engaging in a conversation with a stranger, which was somewhat of a new thing for me. It was nice to just feel comfortable in my own skin and to just throw myself out there without a care of what the other person may say or think about me.
Getting back to the details of the hike itself, as I said I managed to complete the 96 mile trek in 7 days. Most days I would hit the trail around 9:00 am and would be at my campsite between 4:00 and 6:00 pm. I rough camped the first two nights, stayed in campgrounds other nights and one night, after hiking 20 miles, I decided to treat myself to a stay in a “hobbit hut” at the base of a remote ski hill (check out the pictures to see what this was about). I could have camped here but the midges were thick and I wasn’t in the mood to deal with them. As for the weather, well i must have had a horseshoe still shoved up my backside from Ireland as it was incredible. I had a few drizzles of rain on day 1 and day 7, but other than that, any rain that came down happened at night after I had my tent set up and I was snuggled up inside. The temperatures were all comfortable and even a bit hot at points. I ended up unloading some of the food from my pack and a few other things as I had overpacked a wee bit for this experience. This happened after day three and the lightened load (down to just over 40 lbs) made the rest of my travels much more enjoyable. I was one of the few people on the trail who was carrying their own packs as many had opted to have their big bags shipped from destination to destination along the trail. I certainly can appreciate people taking advantage of that service (paid for but not too expensive) but I had taken the “all in” approach and had to do it as “au natural” as possible. The terrain is varied, with day 2 and 3 offering up some for the roughest paths passing along Loch Lomond. Hiking poles are recommended as I was glad to have mine to use when the days got long and each step got harder on my joints. By far, the further north you get, the more frequent and incredible the views get. For this reason, I would definitely suggest starting in the south and having your hard work rewarded by amazing views the closer you get to the finish line. Expansive views of mountain ranges and wide open bog lands reveal so much of the beauty in Northern Scotland. These views also serve as a welcome distractor to any aches/pains that you have incurred to that point and will keep you rolling on towards Fort William. I came across many people applying blister packs and hobbling along with weary legs throughout the days. I even came across one lady who decided that finishing was more important than here nice hiking boots so she made the choice to cut out the back of her boot so her blisters wouldn’t torment her anymore. I reached the finish line around 2:30 in the afternoon on day 7 and I did so completely on my own. I managed to hike the entire day on my own (15 miles) which was my plan for that day. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts and only be distracted by the incredible views around me. In order to manage this I set off early that morning. Having camp broke down and my first steps on the trail being just after 7:30 am I was out on my own. I had been carrying some Glenfidich single malt whiskey with me since the beginning of the trip and I finally found the perfect spot to enjoy it on the last day as I rounded the corner of a long trek between two mountain ranges and saw a nicely sheltered spot to sit and enjoy a wee dram. Sure it was 10:00 am, but I didn't care. With a tiny cigar lit, a wee dram poured into a metal cup resting on the rock beside me, I took in the amazing views around me and clinked my bottle against the cup before taking a sip of that delicious whiskey. Who was the cup for if I was drinking out of the bottle you might be asking. Well, I have been very fortunate to have some incredible people apart of my life who have helped me get to where I am today and unfortunately some of those people have passed on. I would like to think I was sharing a drink with them all, but in particular, this drink was especially being shared with my late Grandpa MacTavish who passed in May of 2007. As i trekked through the highlands I knew he was there all the way helping me along and I know he still is today, so I just wanted to stop and share that moment with him. It was perfect.

The West Highland Way will always have a special place in my heart. The beautiful views, incredibly kind strangers who I now share a unique bond with, the tough miles that tested my resolve and the quaint campsites where I rested up for another big day of hiking have all left a great impression on me. I could not get over the kindness of people, who, just hours before were complete strangers to me but who were “high fiving" and hugging me and on two occasions not taking no for an answer as they paid for my dinner. My promise to these people is to most certainly “pay it forward” on their behalf. The decision to hike on my own is one that I would not change if given the opportunity. Although i was beyond ecstatic to finally talk to Sherry when I got back into Glasgow, the solo experience was one that forced me to challenge myself in ways that I had not in the past and it also allowed me to learn even more about what I am capable of. When I left Fort William on my bus back to Glasgow I was pleasantly surprised at how much of the trail we passed along as we headed south. Memories from just days before came flooding back as I said goodbye to the trail and reminisced to myself about all feelings experienced while trudging along the West Highland Way. I would be remiss if I left this blog post without giving a shout out to Glasgow, which is where I spent 2 nights after returning from Fort William. I felt that two days was plenty of time to explore the sights and I highly recommend paying it a visit. This served as a nice time to really decompress from the hike and to take in what I had accomplished. The people of Scotland are very kind and Glasgow is no exception.

So, that is that. 96 miles of hiking in the bag and some of the most incredible memories of my first multi day hike are now apart of my perspective on life. This challenge was exactly what I was looking for and it delivered on so many different levels for me. I cannot recommend enough for people to take an opportunity like this for themselves. Think long and hard about what it is in life that really gets your mojo going and then create an adventure for yourself involving those elements. The rewards will most certainly out weigh any of the challenges that you experience getting to, and through, whatever you choose to go after!


Shayne and Sherry

Posted by Shewy 15:15 Archived in Scotland Comments (5)

We be "WorkAwayers"

Some volunteer time making memories in Wicklow, Ireland and Carlingcott, England and a little bit of time touring around the local sites

sunny 14 °C

Two of the greatest expenses that are incurred during travels can be food and shelter. Hotels are expensive and cannot be sustained by most budgets over long periods of time, while rentals such as AirBnB also tend to hit the wallet pretty hard. Then there is the unavoidable necessity of eating - this is a non-negotiable term, although there is wiggle room on the overall impact to your budget based on just how good you want to treat yourself. As much as you try to keep costs from becoming the front running thought during your travels, it is inevitable that that it will, but I am happy to say that there are many different ways to manage this so that you can still focus your attention on the excitement of your journey. For Sherry and I, stumbling upon the website http://www.workaway.info turned out to be a find that opened up new exciting opportunities for us, helped us to manage costs and introduced us to so many new and incredible people from all over the world.

On May 13th Sherry and I disembarked from our train in the small east coast Irish town of Wicklow. Our destination in Wicklow was Captain Halpins hostel which is where we would be living and working for the next 1.5 months. Ian and Trish (our hosts) were friendly, kind, generous and so very welcoming of us. They had been in the workaway volunteer game for some time now and after getting to know them both it was clear why so many people sought out an opportunity with them. Our accommodations for our time in Wicklow would be bunkbeds in a tiny private room at the hostel. Our meals were paid for under most circumstances, unless we decided to go out to a restaurant and treat ourselves. On a few occasions we got treated to some incredible home cooked meals from Trish and Ian which were always a welcome surprise as they are both fantastic cooks. As for the work portion of our stay in Wicklow things were pretty dead simple and easy. Our workday consisted of rolling out of bed around 9:00 or so (depending on the previous nights events) and sliding down for some breakfast, then eventually kicking our work hours off at 10:00 am! Sherry spent the bulk of her hours (approx. 4hrs/day 5 days a week) working up at the bed and breakfast that Trish was running, while I held things down at the hostel. The work at the hostel consisted of turning over beds for new guests, scrubbing up some washrooms, tidying up after breakfast and when that was all done heading up to the BnB to help with the endless laundry. Sherry had a bit more work on her plate at the BnB (7 rooms plus 1 apartment) with almost the same cleaning regiment but with that extra attention to detail required for BnB guests. I know, I know, sounds like some pretty strenuous work! Well, I guess I should mention that we were not going at it alone either....we had help from other workaway volunteers, more specifically one co-worker each. This was another positive dimension of the workaway experience as we got to make new friends from all over the world during our work day. There was Jack the 19 year old from Boston who was on his gap year travelling the world before beginning his studies as a Biomedical Engineer - Naoya, 29 year old from Japan who was travelling in attempts to improve his english while taking a break from his career as an aeronautical engineer - 20 year old Gautier from France who was taking time to travel in between school years as a student of economics - Ettore, 22 years old from Italy who had just finished up an economics degree and was travelling before starting his masters program - Isabelle, 19 year old from Germany who was travelling before beginning her program in Early Childhood Education. Many great days and nights were had with all these characters from around the world as we often made it out to the local pub called Ernie's on Wednesday nights to enjoy some live music with Ted and the gang, or during our numerous hikes, walks, beach days or just good old movie nights back at the hostel. Each one of these people had their own interesting story and it was cool getting to know them all. It was fun sharing different life experiences with them and it was also enjoyable being reminded of those care free days of our late teens and early 20's.

With two days off each week there was plenty of time to explore and not forget that we were still on an exciting world adventure. Wicklow has lots to offer in, and around it, with the focal point being Glendalough National Park. Glendalough is the primary draw for most of the hostel guests as it is a free entry attraction and it is simply beautiful. Along with fairly well intact remains from a 2000 year old monastic settlement, there are hiking trails throughout which are designed to suit the abilities of just about any hiker. I was fortunate to make the trip to Glendalough twice during our time in Wicklow. My second trip was with Sherry and we had an incredible day with the sun shinning down on us all day long while traversing the 4 hour track that took you to some spectacular views of the beautiful valley down below. For my first trip I managed to rustle up some extra energy from somewhere as I rented a bike and tackled the 2 hour, 30 mile ride to the National Park. It felt great getting there, but my bike seat had gotten the best of backside so the last few miles were done cautiously while standing on the peddles. Ignorance wasn't bliss in this situation, I would have killed for a pair of those funny looking, but padded bike shorts after about mile 20! The hike was great though and it only spurred on my desire to come back with Sherry. Another place that I can recommend enough to check out if you are in Ireland in the summer is Kinsale. We stayed with an incredible AirBnB host for 3 days and 2 nights while we toured with her the amazing south sea side town. There are a couple of great forts (Charles and James) which are worth a visit, plus there is amazing seafood, friendly locals and some relaxing views to help you just chill. Our highlight here had to be getting to participate in Sea Sunday which was a ceremony to honour those lost at sea while doing their jobs, as well as those people who continue to serve at sea. We accompanied our host to the church ceremony after which we followed everyone through the town to the wreath laying ceremony and finally over to the yacht club for tea and sandwiches. It was an honour to be apart of this experience which made us feel more like locals, then tourists for an afternoon.

Wicklow was our first workway experience and it was one for the memory books. We met so many interesting people from all over the world, including our viking friends, Paul, Geno and Seamus who frequented the hostel while filming as extras on the show "Vikings". These fellas were a fun bunch with their own quirky ways, but they took us in like family and we had lots of laughs while they were around (see photos). Any apprehensions we may have had about the workaway experience were now a distant memory and we were looking forward to the next opportunity.

Our second Workaway started just a few short weeks after finishing up in Wicklow and saw us make the trek over to Carlingcott, England to work on a small holding eco farm . We had no immediate plans to go to England but we had listed it in our workaway profile as a potential opportunity. Because of this, Ross and Emily from Laurel farms were able to search us out and sent us a note to see if we would be interested in coming over. Sherry was on the top bunk of our cozy hostel room in Wicklow, while I was on the bottom, unknowingly, we both started reading the same email from Ross and Emily and then proceeded to review their profile. At the same time we both made the same intrigued sound of "huh" from our bunks and after realizing we were both reading the same thing it wasn't long before we decided to say "What the hell, lets go to England!". On July 26th we boarded an Irish Ferry, crossed the Irish Sea, landed in Wales, took 3 trains and 1 bus before landing in Carlingcott, England (20 minutes outside of Bath). This was one heck of a long day but I still would recommend the rail and sail ticket option when travelling from back and forth between England and Ireland. Of course this is under the conditions of wanting to save money and having the time to spare in your itinerary for the travel. This work away was quite different than our previous one for many reasons. First of all we would be looking after pigs, ducks, sheep, chickens and taking part in other odd jobs around the farm. The second biggest being that we would be the only ones looking after the place while the family took off to Wales for their summer vacation for 3 weeks. Growing up in rural Ontario, Canada gave us some comfort in taking on this new opportunity and we both really looked forward to finding out what new boxes would get checked off for us in our resume of life. We had one week with the family before they left which gave us time to get to know them, their kids and to get comfortable with the running of the place. This time was very valuable as both Ross and Emily proved to be great teachers and were just so chilled out about life. We got to know their kids really well during this time and I even got to spend some time fishing down in the river with their oldest son Colm (9 yrs old). This bright young man not only loved to fly fish, but he also made all his own flies and knew just about everything there is to know about fishing.

While the family was away we were left with daily, weekly and jobs to keep us busy on the farm. Some of these jobs included painting lawn mower decks, stripping and staining outdoor furniture, scything the grass and nettles, and pickling up the cucumbers from the poly tunnel which they grew their own veg and fruit in. Our time was very relaxed and laid back as we picked away at the job list and looked after the daily tasks of feeding the pigs, ducks, chickens and doves. We often found ourselves just hanging out on the farm, enjoying the peace and serenity but we also made the trip into Bath to visit what we now know as a very beautiful city. It was incredible being able to take a 10 minute walk to the bus stop, then taking a 20 minute bus to the city. This is just something that we are not used to coming from Canada where pubic transport outside of cities is not a thing that happens as far as I know. Sherry and I both highly recommend Bath as a travel destination because it seems to having something for everyone with the historic foundations of the Roman baths combined with arts and plenty of shopping to satisfy just about anything you might be after. The city has been beautifully maintained and it is a real joy to just simply walk around the many nooks and crannies scattered about its footprint in Somerset. In our off time we also made trips to Chedder (where Chedder cheese was invented) and Wells (smallest city in England). These are also places which we would recommend popping into if your are travelling in that area.

Our workaway experience in Carlingcott was completely different then what we had experienced in Wicklow, but I believe that is what made it just as, or even possibly, more enjoyable. Ross and Emily are people who came from a "9:00-5:00" life but who left it behind to pursue personal passions on their own small holding eco farm. Everything they did and do to bring in money involves doing something they love and then using that money to help build towards other goals/dreams. They had managed to turn a property that used to be a monastic settlement occupied by monks into a unique kindergarten school, along with building two income rental properties on their land, all while raising their 3 children and building their self sufficient lifestyle. We were so fortunate to get to learn all that we did during our time on the farm. As with Wicklow, we had plenty of time to travel around and take in new experiences around the country while learning lots of new things and meeting lots of new people. Going into a WorkAway opportunity its often the financial savings that are front of mind, but for us, in both cases, it is the intangible, non monetary returns that left the biggest impression on us. Our recommendations to potential WorkAwayers is to be honest in your profile and go into each opportunity with an open mind, ready to embrace the unexpected. It may not be the obvious or anticipated learnings that you end up taking away with you...in fact...I would almost guarantee that to be the case. The reason I say this is because there are people directly involved in your experience. People whom you have never met and never interacted with in your life. They are an unknown variable who will make up the largest portion of what shapes your volunteer time no matter what functional role you find yourself in. Be curious beyond the obvious day to day tasks and get to know the stories behind the people who are hosting you and you won't be disappointed.


Shayne and Sherry

(check out the photos posted after this blog to see more of what we got up to during our work aways)

Posted by Shewy 13:50 Archived in England Comments (0)

Quick stop in Wexford (Ireland) before Workaway time!

semi-overcast 12 °C

Well, its been awhile since I have gotten around to putting together a post about our travels. It's not that we haven't had much to write about, but rather I just haven't had time to prioritize this in with everything else that has been going on. Let me take some to time to catch everyone up on a little bit of what we have been up to.

After getting back from the Shamrocker all Ireland tour, we settled back in with our friends Colette and Alan in Dublin. Priority number one was to square away a Workaway opportunity that would hopefully start around May 1. We had some success with this after hearing back from Ian and Trish who own/operate a hostel as well as a Bed and Breakfast in Wicklow, Ireland. The dates didn't quite line up with a starting May 1st but the reviews were incredible from everyone that had been there, so we gladly accepted and would start May 13. This meant we had some spare time on our hands that we hadn't anticipated on our initial planning so the next thing to do was to figure out what the heck we wanted to do with ourselves during that time. We new we wanted to hang in Ireland and get to see some more of it, particularly places we hadn't stopped at during our other tour. We looked up a couple of cool towns near Wicklow that we thought might be fun to explore, with one being Waterford and the other being Wexford (not all towns in Ireland start with "W" I promise). As we had been having such good luck with AirBnB, we searched out places through it again and we were able to find one place in each town that intrigued us, so all we had to do was choose one. This decision was left up to chance, luck, fate or whatever you want to call it, but at the end of the day we flipped a coin and with that we were off to Wexford. Before leaving our friends in Dublin we had one last night out with them and their friends at a local pub on a Sunday evening. It was a bank holiday weekend so everyone had Monday off work and just as we do in Canada, they make sure to make the most of an extra day to be hungover! The evening seemed harmless enough, with me wavering back and forth on even bothering to go, but eventually kicking myself in the butt to get on out for some fun. It was just Colette, Alan, some friends from their cycling club and Sherry and I, which I thought was a pretty calm gathering. Calm....this night was anything but calm! Several pints of guinness, dancing, singing and heaps of laughs later, we got back to our apartment quite well off and ready for bed! This story may seem quite normal and really not noteworthy in this type of blog, which I would agree with. The reason I bring it forward though is to let you know about Cathal Miller, who is one of Colette and Alan's friends from the cycle club we met that night. Cathal was born without his right arm from the elbow down, but that did not stop him from competing in 2 paralympic games and even being selected as the flag bearer for Ireland in the closing ceremonies of the London 2012 games. Cathal is one of those people who has an infectious spirit about him and who does everything possible to ensure the people around him feel welcome and are having a good time. On this particular evening he went above and beyond to spend time getting to know Sherry and I which was incredible, but it was a separate event that hit the sweet spot for me that evening. A family was sitting at the table next to us and with them was their young son who happens to have down syndrome. The family recognized Cathal from his paralympic days and noticing this he made his way over to the table and spent almost 30 minutes just chatting with their boy and the family. The boy was grinning from ear to ear and the family was as well. The encounter was beyond heartwarming. As many would consider their good dead to be done, Cathal, who had come back to the table and had been carrying on with all of us for some time, took notice that the young boy was leaving, and again he stopped what he was doing, made his way over to the family and shared another few heartfelt moments with them. As simple and perhaps natural his gestures may have seemed, Cathal certainly made a difference in that young boys life that night. Cathal is one of those people that make you want to be a better person just by simply being around them and seeing how selfless they go about their lives. What a great send off from Dublin that night was. It was just another reminder that things that may seem simple and routine in life and can get pushed aside as the perceived return seems minimal or negligent, just might turn out to be that motivating moment you have been searching for everywhere else and not finding it. Catchal is yet another reminder also that when it comes to travelling it is not necessarily the places you see or things you do that will make your trip. Often times it is the people you meet that have the most profound affect on the outcome.

With bags packed, we jumped on a train and made our way to Wexford to meet Kathy and Declan who would be our hosts for the next 7 days. The train was relatively cheap as we booked far enough in advance (30 euros each - 3 hour journey), but traveller beware, the closer you get to your departure date the more you can expect to pay. In general the train is quite expensive in Ireland, so if you have time in your travels, the bus is much more economical (Bus Eireann). Wexford is located along the Irish Sea and is south of Dublin. When we rolled into Wexford the weather was a bit rainy, which meant a rainy walk ahead of us to our apartment, but then we heard a voice calling our names and their was Kathy (our host) with a big smile on her face and most importantly, a vehicle to drive us to her place. This is was extremely kind and unexpected. It certainly pays to take the time to communicate your travel plans to your hosts if you are using AirBnB! As with all of our other experiences with AirBnB to date, this would turn out to be another great one. With no real plans for our time in Wexford (as is the case with most of our destinations) we just set out to explore the town and see what popped up. During our stay we were fortunate to spend time hiking with Kathy and Declan as they would always let us know if they were heading out and ask us if we would like to join. This allowed us to get to places such as Tintern Abby. Tintern is a monastic settlement which is very much still in tact today, with its last resident leaving in the mid 1900's. Tintern has beautifully maintained grounds, with lush green hiking trails (depending on season) filled with the aroma of wild garlic, that take you back to the days when Tintern would have been a vibrant society. On the same afternoon we visited Tintern with Kathy and Declan we also stopped at the Dunbrody House which is an upscale country hotel owned by Kevin Dundon and his wife Catherine. Kevin is a world famous chef who also has a cooking school that operates on this property, as well as a recently opened pub (converted horse barn) which we ate lunch at and sampled a couple of pints.

Another worth while venture we stumbled on while in Wexford was the Jeep tour we took with Hook Head Safaris (http://www.hookheadsafaris.com/testimonials.htm). The tour itself was 4 hours long and was guided the whole way, with lots of great detail about the area. The highlight for the tour, as its name suggests, is Hook Head Lighthouse, which is the oldest operating lighthouse in the world (mid 12th century). On a nice day (remember this is Ireland after all) the views are spectacular as the waves crash against the shore and the winds power you away from the shoreline. It is well worth the visit and Hook Head Safaris is a great way to get the job done if you don't have your own transportation.

Aside from touring around the town which is very beautiful on its own, taking in the shops on the Quays, or just chilling out in the harbour front, one other attraction I took in while there was some fishing out on the Irish Sea! Never having fished in the sea before I had been seeking out an opportunity to do so since starting our travels. After chatting to a nice lady in the local bait/tackle shop I had a list of contact numbers to try and get my trip organized. Turns out there are no boats that leave directly from Wexford so I would need to make the short bus trip down the coast (30 mins) to Kilmore Quays - no bother. I exchanged a few phone calls with Seamus and without an interpreter on hand to verify for me, I was pretty sure I had a trip booked for Saturday. Seamus was back and forth on the weather but eventually he settled on going and I made my way to the docks early Saturday morning with Sherry coming along to tour the sites of Kilmore Quays. As it turns out there is really isn't much to Kilmore Quays. It is really nice and there are a couple great restaurants for seafood, but two hours is plenty of time to tour around. Before taking off on the boat I sat in the harbour and chatted with Seamus as we waited for the rest of the guys to show up. I did a bit better understanding him in person than over the phone but I think there were still a few things that slipped by me in our conversation. Once I got settled onto the boat, it was off to sea with 6 other Irish lads who were out to fill up their freezers with Cod, Pollock and whatever else might be tempted by their bait. As for me, I just wanted to catch some fish, so when we started landing fish I just tossed mine into the closest pail beside me, which seemed to go over well with the other fella's. The day turned out to be sunny and warm, with calm waters and a veteran captain giving us every opportunity to land plenty of fish. There were points in time when I would be reeling in two or three fish at once! To say this was an incredible experience, would be an understatement. I love fishing and this was fishing at its best. We ended up spending almost 5 hours out on the water and when I asked the captain how much I owed he figured 50 euros would be lots considering I didn't keep any fish! This totally made up for the overpriced and underwhelming experience I had with the fishing charter in Queenstown, New Zealand. As I said goodbye to my boat mates, I realized I had a couple hours to burn before the bus rolled through, so it was off to Saltee's chipper for possibly the best fish and chips of my life and a delicious locally brewed pint of Amber Ale.

A flip of a coin did not disappoint as we had an incredible time in Wexford. It is one of those towns/areas that has something for everyone. It has the relaxed quaintness and welcoming vibe of a small town, while offering plenty of things for visitors to see and do. We spent 7 days there, which might be a bit excessive as a 4 day stay might be closer to the right number to really enjoy all it has to offer. When you are looking into Wexford make sure you research its surrounding area as places like Tintern Abby and Hook Head Lighthouse are just a short drive away. Next stop Wicklow, Ireland to begin our Workaway adventures!


Shayne and Sherry

Posted by Shewy 04:09 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

7 crazy days touring all the way around Ireland

Shamrocker Adventures - "All Ireland Rocker"- Stops in Belfast, Derry, Galway, Ennis, Killarney. Giants Causeway, Inis Mor, Easter Rising, Cliffs of Moher, small town music sessions and of course the Blarney Stone!

sunny 14 °C

After spending around two weeks introducing ourselves to Ireland through the lens of Dublin City it was finally time to get out and see what else this beautiful country has in store for its visitors. I went back and fourth about renting a car and trying to do it on our own, but when it came down to it I wasn't ready to be that adventurous. The added stress of driving in a new country in combination with the fact that I wouldn't be able to look around to take in all the new scenery in between stops, became the deciding factors for seeking out a tour that took us around Ireland. We found nothing but amazing reviews for Shamrocker Adventures on trip advisor and the seven day tour seemed to have all we were looking for so it was an easy decision to sign up with them. Here is the link if you want to check it all out for yourself after I give you a bit of a run down on all the shenanigans we got involved in (http://www.shamrockeradventures.com).

The tour kicked off on April 18th with a meet up in the Temple Bar district of Dublin. About 20 or so people were gathered outside of the office when we arrived and it was shortly after that we all made our way over to the bus to load up and get on our way. Our tour guide was a young Irish gal named Kim and she fired things up early in the morning by getting everyone to come up to the front of our bus to do introductions. The good old ice breaker to ease the pain of getting to know everyone one by one. Another little game Kim tossed in along the way which allowed everyone to get to know some of the people better was the “late for the bus” punishment of having sing a song for everyone at the front of the bus. It may come as a surprise to some, but it was not for me at all, that Sherry got to share her signing talents on more than one occasion during our trip! As we made our way out of the city and towards Northern Ireland there were lots of laughs as people told embarrassing stories or just straight up embarrassed themselves during their introductions. We had a fairly globally represented bus with Portugal, Mexico, England, Canada, Australia and America. The Aussies were dominating the bus though with around 1/3 of the group being from there - not a bad situation to have on your hands at all - guaranteed good time with Aussies onboard! Surprisingly enough the age demographic was quite varied as well with average age being late twenties. This was a bit of a surprise for us as we were expecting to have to keep up with 19 and 20 year olds all week!

Our first stop was in Belfast and our last of the week would be in Killarney before making our way back to Dublin. I have struggled to come up with a way to explain how amazing our week was while keeping this post short. The trip was everything we thought it might be and so much more. I will knock off a few of the highlight moments but please know that every bit of this experience was great! Our first night we stayed in the far north of Northern Ireland after taking in an eye opening Black Cab tour in Belfast that explained the past, and still existing troubles of the North. We settled into a little town called Ballintoy which had no more than 100 permanent residents. Even though the population was small there were still a couple of hostels and most importantly a couple of pubs within its boundaries. After only knowing our fellow tour companions for just mere hours, we all grabbed some beers, unloaded our luggage at the hostel and began walking the coastal cliffs while sipping away on our beverages, getting to know each other even better. By the time we all made our way over to the local pub there were few strangers amongst us and the good craic was on. The pub, like the town, was tiny and cozy with a small fire burning in the corner and local musicians treating us to traditional Irish music. Locals welcomed us with open arms and it was not long before the 40 or so people in the bar were getting along just the same as if they had known each other for years. The owner of the hostel was even there. He treated us to some brilliant karaoke singing of his own, which was quite impressive considering his distance away from sobriety. The night was capped off with the bar owners wife coming out from the kitchen and passing around little triangle sandwiches (free of charge) to all of the patrons. We were told this might happen and when it did we all felt that at home, small town feeling inside us, no matter how big of a town we may have each come from. Ballitoy had won me over on night one of the trip with its stunning scenic cliff views and its wonderful Irish hospitality - it was hard to imagine that it could get much better then this.

The following morning we made our way west with memorable stops at the Giants Causeway and in Derry which was the scene of the easter rising which claimed many innocent lives. After Belfast we had all started to really appreciate the troubled times in Northern Ireland and it brought a sombre feeling to all of us. When we got to Derry and received our walking tour from Garvin of Martin McCrossan tours (http://www.derrycitytours.com), there was not a single person in our group that didn't have with them a true understanding of just how much pain and suffering took place there. Our tour guide had our entire group hanging onto every last word he spoke. He made us laugh, he made us reflect and he even brought tears to a few eyes during our walk. Kim had told this was what we were in store for and she wasn’t a liar. If you find yourself near Derry do not hesitate to book a tour with Garvin as you will not regret a moment of it. If you don’t believe me then just ask Will Ferrell (yes that Will Ferrell). No he was not on our tour, but Garvin did give him and some of his friends a private tour just a year ago or so, with rave reviews following it.

Some final highlights to mention are our day spent biking around the Aran Islands (Inishmore), sipping on some pints while looking 300 meters down into the Atlantic from Airkins Castle (Inishmore), walking along the Cliffs of Moher, an unforgettable traditional music session in Ennis led by one our tour guides, great beach walks in Dingle, a wacky one man show in the top of an old pub in Killarney and kissing the Blarney Stone to wrap things up. To top all the great moments off we had exceptional sunny weather for all but one day of our trip. The luck of the Irish was on our side that week for sure. As if all the amazing sights were not enough, we had an incredible group of people of on our bus, some of whom we are still in contact with and are making plans to go visit as we speak. Even with bad weather, if you have great group dynamics you will always find a way to have fun. Lucky for us, we had both. Somehow we managed to party into the early hours of the following day almost every night and still drag ourselves out of bed in the morning to start all over. Of course there was always lots of laughter when we settled into our hostel rooms at night. Although sleep should have been the top priority, everyone was still giddy from the nights events. One person would say something and then it would just snowball from there with gut aching laughter taking everyone over. There was even the odd night were I was able to catch up on my NHL playoffs back home, as my new friend Dan from Australia just happened to have the Centre Ice Package which allowed us to watch a couple of games live when we got home from the bars. I didn't care who the teams were, it was just really great to see the best sport in the world being played in front of me again. Who would have thunk it, an Aussie who loves hockey came to the rescue!

When it was all said and done, and everyone was set to go their separate ways, some of us decided we just were not ready for that and so it was time for a couple more Guinness and a BBQ supper in Dublin. We even made plans and hung out one more time with Clare and Elijah from Australia before he headed to France to continue his rugby career and she made the long journey back to Australia without him as her European visa had expired.

So, as I said earlier, I could go on for days about our tour but unfortunately i just can’t do that here. The trip itself is one we will remember for a life time. We met so many incredible people with very interesting stories of their own, which we were fortunate enough to lend an ear to during our time with them. We had so many laughs and what seemed like once in a life time experiences. It was hard to believe it even all happened. Now it was time to finally square away our work away situation and spend a few more days hanging out with Colette and Alan back at our "home away from home" in North Dublin.


Shayne and Sherry

Posted by Shewy 09:55 Archived in Ireland Comments (1)

Back to Dublin for a "Feckin" good time!

Great new friends, applying to work away opportunities and taking in more of the great sites around Dublin City

all seasons in one day 12 °C

On April 9th we found our way back into Dublin city. We made a quick stop at Isaac’s hostel to pick up our stored luggage, then it was off to the bus stop to catch a ride out to the north-east of Dublin. Even though we were armed with fantastically detailed directions from our host, who even went to the effort of leaving all our keys and instructions to get settled in, at the hostel for us, we still managed to make a few wrong turns before eventually recalibrating and getting to the bus stop. With heavy backpacks on our shoulders and our other free extremities piled up with smaller packs, this detour was less than enjoyable, but “dem’s the breaks” as they say, and there was no time for feeling sorry for ourselves. For some reason I think I was bit anxious about taking the bus, which I realize likely sounds quite ridiculous. At this point in our travels it was somewhat of a foreign public transport for me, with the train or taxi being my preferred choice. Now, had I taken the time to read the signs and apply a bit of logic, I am sure this would not have been such an issue, but I had my mind made up and these buses were not going to be my friend. Sure enough, when we got on the bus, the exact change that was needed to pay our fare didn't go through the machine properly, thus not showing the exact amount the driver needed and so began the battle. He claimed the machine was right, I said we counted out the change before and I knew we had the right amount, then he just got frustrated and said to go sit down as we were holding up the bus - needless to say this fella wasn’t going to be reminding us first time bus travellers of when our stop was going to be coming up and, as predicted, we blew right by it. Luckily the next stop was just a few 100 meters away and the back tracking wasn’t too bad. Chalk that one up as a win for the bus driver man! We settled into our new apartment after following the detailed directions the rest of the way. As it was still early in the morning Sherry went down for a nap, while I got the television up and running for some quality vegging out. No sports channels here either! Damn. So began the "Friends" marathon!

That evening we met our new host Colette when she got home from work. I was in the midst of a cat nap, when I heard two girls chatting in the living room like they had known each other for years. The pace was furious and the pauses were few if there was any at all. I went out and introduced myself to Colette who was sitting feet up on the couch and blazing a conversation with Sherry about gluten free recipes and just about every other thing that Sherry loves. It is funny how and who comes in and out of your life, but I think these two were destined to meet. To say that they were old friends within the first few hours of meeting would not be a stretch. Later in the week we would get to meet Colette's boyfriend Alan who is a great guy and who was in the midst of training for his first Ironman!

Knowing that we had 9 days before we set out on our 7 day Shamrocker tour of Ireland, we set out to make the most of our time in Dublin, while also figuring out what our next move would be after that was over. We came across the website www.workaway.com while doing some research on working opportunities while at James and Jaro's the other week. Work Away is a website where you can create a profile for yourself or as a couple and then in turn apply to posted work away opportunities that are advertised using the site. A work away is an opportunity to complete work in exchange for the basic human needs of food and shelter. Work aways are offered all over the world and consist of lots of different types of work. You could be working at a hostel, doing gardening at someones home, helping a on farm, supporting an eco project and just about anything else you can think of. The plus side for travellers is that you get to save some cash not having to pay for accommodations or food, while the hosts keep their costs low and get to meet people from all over the world. A pretty darn good trade if you ask me. The plan for us was to try to find something that would start in early June and would maybe carry us through the summer. Be damned if we were going to leave Ireland while it was going to actually be warm and sunny! We began sending out applications to places that caught our eye and that shared common interests for both of us. This seemed like a pretty simple exercise on the surface, but for me there was a sense of nervousness as this would be another step into the unknown. The consequences were low in terms of risk to us and yet I still found myself self anxious about where we might be setting up camp for a bit. I guess that is a good sign though, as it means that you are not just sticking to the "same old, same old" and you are taking yourself out of your comfort zone. This usually means that you will be learning knew things and taking in experiences that you had never been apart of before , which is what this journey is all about. Another site that we sent a few applications out through was www.mindmyhouse.com. As the title indicates, people who are looking to be away from their home for varying periods of time, but who do not want to add significant cost to their travel plans, will post opportunities for other people to come and mind their home, animals, plants etc. Again, this is an exchange, wherein, the house sitter stays in the home free of rent, while also tending to the specific needs of the home while the owner is gone. Another great way to experience a country, while saving yourself some accommodation costs. It did seem as though many recommended having your own vehicle so you might want to keep that in mind when looking at places in Ireland.

In between setting up profiles and sending out work away requests, we still managed to have heaps of fun while back in Dublin. One day we made a trip over to the coastal area known as Howth. If you are in Dublin this is certainly worth the trek. The DART train will get you straight there and is likely the most economical way to arrive unless you have someone who is kind enough to drive you there. If the weather is right you will want to take in the cliff walks around Howth which offer a few different tracks depending on how ambitious you are. We took the long route, which is the purple track. Give yourself at least 3.5-4 hrs to crack this one off and don't forget your camera as there are beautiful views all around. The Irish Sea is splashing all around you for most of this walk, but don't worry about getting your shoes wet as it you will be well above the waves. On clear days you can even see back across to Dublin city. The Howth hiking tour was the first time since I had been in Ireland that I really felt as though I was experiencing the parts of the country I had dreamt up in my mind. There was no hustle and bustle, we set our own pace, and the ocean air was very refreshing. When we finally made it back to the harbour front area of Howth we made a stop at local pub to warm up with a drink and some food, then it was back off to our AirBnB. If fresh sea food is on your menu Howth is certainly a place to get it served up - mussels, fresh fish and seafood chowder will no doubt cure any cravings you might have. One second noteworthy stop in the city is Dublin Castle. Unfortunately, there is little that remains of the original castle. That being said, we do recommend taking the 8 euro guided tour which takes about 1 hour to do. You will get a chance to see ruins that are close to 1000 years old and get an in-depth historical review of the importance of the Castle. We just happened to have some time to kill while we were waiting out the immigration office lineup and this was the perfect stop. The immigration office is a whole other story I won't drag you through, but lets just say we got our ticket in the queue at 9:00 am, left and toured the city for 4 hours, came back and then waited another 6 hours to have our working holiday paperwork processed! We chatted with an American couple who claimed this to be worse than the DMV! People were literally cheering when their number got called and even the odd "high five" was tossed out as they made their way to the counter. Too funny looking back on that experience. Another stop we made that is worth mentioning is Phoenix Park. Listed as one of the largest recreational spaces in any European city, Phoenix Park (http://www.phoenixpark.ie/about/) is a great place to go for a walk, bike ride (you can rent them at the park), stop for picnic or even go to the zoo! We really lucked out with the weather on the day we went as the sun was shinning all day and it really felt like spring had finally arrived. There are beautiful flower gardens throughout the park and well manicured walkways to help guide you along. We decided to take in the Zoo and we were not disappointed. It kind of seemed bizarre going to a Zoo in Ireland, as nothing about it seemed authentically Irish, but we had a blast. The Zoo is very well laid out and has something for everyone. The variety of animal species is incredible (Lions, Tigers, Elephants, Baboons, Gorillas, Giraffes and so many more). You can easily put in 2-4 hours making the trek around this place and it is certainly time well spent. I remember going to the African Lion Safari near Toronto when I was quite young and this stop made me feel like a kid again. Watching the monkeys mess around, the Lions stalking around their den and the massive Silverback Gorilla holding fort in his area of the park, it was just good old fun. At first when we were talking about going to the Zoo I tried playing it off as though I was too old for the Zoo and that it was for parents and their kids - I was big time wrong and thankfully Sherry persisted (http://www.phoenixpark.ie/visitorinformation/dublinzoo/). One final note on Phoenix Park, which Sherry won't let me get away without mentioning, are the great little tea rooms that are in it. We stopped for some lunch and of course tea, at one of them. We were able to sit out side to enjoy the fresh air while we snacked on our lunch and talked over plans for the park which was really nice.

On our last night before heading out on the Shamrocker tour we organized a night out on the town with our hosts Colette and Alan. The whole week we had been hanging out at the apartment, drinking wine, sharing stories and just having a good craic (pronounced "crack) so it was time to take our talents out into the streets of Dublin. We met up at a pub after they had both finished work on the Friday for a quick pint of Guinness, then it was over to a tapas bar for lots of interesting and tasty treats. The big event for the night was a comedy show and the International Bar was the place where it would all go down. The show started at 9:00 and we might have been just a few minutes late but thankfully we escaped being roughed up by the MC who just pleasantly welcomed us and let us sneak to the back of the room. The room was quite small and it was full with about 50 or so people. A small bar is tucked into the corner of the room and no microphones are required for the comics. Just like a great acoustic guitar performance, this room was intimate and comfortable, the only difference being that you did not want to be in the front row for this show - unless you like being publicly humiliated, then the front row is all yours! We were treated to 3 comedians who came from various areas of Ireland and who were at different stages in their comedic careers. We had an absolutely deadly MC who kept the show lively throughout the night and who even tried to play a bit of a prank on Sherry who had to sneak past him to get to the washroom while he was up on the stage. Luckily for Sherry the guy beside the door was absolutely terrible at keeping the ruse a secret and she was tipped off before she made it back into the room. The entire show was excellent, the Guinness was perfect and the final sprint to catch the last bus of the night back to our apartment was even funnier.

After a great night out with our new friends, it was an early rise to make our way back down to the Temple Bar District where we would catch our bus. The extremely nice part about leaving Colette and Alan was knowing that we had a place to come back to as they offered up the room to us at a "friends rate" when we returned after our trip. This allowed us to pack only what we needed and kept us from having to worry about accommodations when got back. This was especially great since we didn't know our work away situation yet. We had one lined up, but were still waiting for final confirmation on start dates. It wouldn't be until at least the start of June, which meant at a minimum we would need a room for 5 days when we got back. We could have stayed with our new friends for much longer as we had a great time chilling out with them, but it was time to take in Ireland and hopefully meet lots more fun and interesting people from all over the world!


Shayne and Sherry

Posted by Shewy 14:52 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

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