Saturday, June 24, 2006

Inishowen - Glendowan - Portnoo & Rossbeg

My last full day in the Republic of Ireland. Weather looked to have improved a tad at breakfast time, so I decided to tackle the Inishowen peninsula. That's the little wedge of Donegal directly above Londonderry/Derry.

It's 40 minutes to Letterkenny, where I stumble across a Tesco that will allow me to economically replenish my car's tupperware store of nut-and-seed trail mix. Then, within minutes we're heading up the R238 via Buncrana. I stopped briefly there, but completely forgot about the National Knitting Centre, which I would have liked to have seen since I used to knit a sweater each year for about a decade. It wasn't signposted so I didn't get a reminder - perhaps it had unravelled like the flown Earls' Heritage Centre.

I turned off the road to go to Dunree Head, where there is a military museum in a fort. The museum itself wasn't terribly interesting, but I heard there was a cafe with a view, and it would make a nice midmorning stop. When I got to the isolated hilltop fort, I found that there was a ridiculous gate requiring that you pay for parking (I'm not sure the revenue would even pay the gatekeeper's wage). I did't want to effectively pay double for a couple of coffee, so I turned around and headed down a side road with a general northerly bearing.

That turned out to be a good decision, as the road was pleasant and took me up through the Gap of Mamore, where you get panoramic views over the northwest of the peninsula. There were three of the ubiquitous Catholic grottos at the viewpoint. Each of the figures were strewn with cheap costume jewellery, and the grottos were littered with dirty old toys, asthma inhalers, cigarette lighters and other offerings from the €2 shop's bargain bin.

After that I followed the road down and around the cute little villages of Clonmany and Malin to Malin Head, which is the most northerly point in Ireland. I think I've now done the most northerly, southerly (Crookhaven or Mizen) and westerly (Dingle/Dunquin) points, more by chance than design. It was still pretty cold so we didn't linger, and drove back down along the eastern side of Inishowen via Moville and Muff. I don't know if it's accident or embarrassment but the latter village appears to have no sign on its border, and nor do any of the businesses acknowledge that they're in Muff. And no, there isn't a dive shop.

I skirted through edges of Derry (so technically I'd re-entered the UK for about 20 minutes) until the road put me back in the direction of Letterkenny where I managed to skive some free wifi time to check email: an unusual amount of spam, Chris's scan of a postcard from my innkeeping hosts in Lisdoonvarna, and no follow-up from Google.

After an hour of standing/sitting in the street to take advantage of the hotspot, I thought I'd take a chance of access in the cafe around the corner. This was out of range, so I chatted for a long time with a guy babysitting his young sons. The dad was interested in my tablet and took a moment to explain to his son about wireless networking. He looked back to me and said that he expected his children to be very computer literate as a matter of course. The conversation churned quickly through various subjects like the Irish/Welsh historical relationship with Chile, Croatians in Australia and the Lisbon earthquake of 1755.

As I left the cafe, two boys accosted me in the street:
Boy 1 : Is that a huskie?
Me: No he's a Malamute, from Alaska.
Boy 1 to Boy 2: SEE! I TOLD YOU HE WAS A MALIBU!!!
- almost as entertaining as the time I was walking Bondi and his brother Dougal through a park in Newtown, Sydney. A feral-looking goth guy pointed out "the huskies" to his smaller but even more feral-looking girlfriend. She smacked him hard over the back of the head "they're malamutes you dick!".

Back in the present, the weather was improving, and I thought I'd take a different road back to Glenties. That also proved a wise choice - it was a mostly long flat road through a wide valley, much like some I'd chanced on in mid Wales prior to traversing the Elan Valley.

There was very little traffic, so the only sounds were wind and running water, and thus when I found a spot where I could pull off the road a little, Bondi and I took a stroll through the peat and tufty grass down to a stream, and then back across the road and up towards a mountain ridge. It wasn't a terribly steep climb, but the combination of grassy balls nearly floating above damp-to-squelchy peat, made it slow going. As we reached the ridge "top" it appeared that it was only an outcrop before a higher ridge, and beyond that it seemed to go into an indefinite plateau of undulating squelchifloral greenery. A couple of sheep appeared out of nowhere to challenge our presence. I wasn't ready for a Deliverance moment, even if it was with just a pair of defiant animals, so we trotted back down the mountain to the car

Out of the valley, I crossed over to a little peninsula west of Glenties, with the hamlets of Portnoo & Rossbeg. They had advertised a three day seafood festival, beginning today. Like the last festival I'd visited on its first day (at Baltimore, four weeks ago) there was absolutely no evidence of any such event. The only festivity appeared to be a young guy enjoying the very late afternoon (7.30pm) sunshine on his jetski off Portnoo's pier.

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