So, time to blog after settling down from two weeks of travel…
On the kind invitation of CH and DP, I made my way from Swansea to Richmond, Yorkshire on 3 August. At first, the journey did not go well. Until that day, my experience of railway travel in Britain had been fair. But on the morning of 3 Aug, everything seemed to want to delay me from reaching Yorkshire on time.
I had reached Swansea train station very early and decided to enjoy a coffee and sandwich at Costa. At 7.45 am, I thought I would amble to my train that was scheduled to leave at 7.59 when over the PA, there was an announcement (muffled as these things usually are) saying the 7.59 to London Paddington was cancelled for some reason. Alamak! How to make my connection to Darlington at Bristol Parkway circa 9.39 on time? I went to speak to a station official who said to jump on the train to Cardiff Central that was leaving in 1 min and then figure out at Cardiff how to get to Bristol Parkway.
So I did as I was told. And trust my luck, the alternative train to Cardiff Central kept stopping along the tracks for yet some other inexplicable reason. Thus by the time I got into Cardiff Central, there was no way I would be able to get to Bristol Parkway before 9.39. So I got onto the next Swansea-London Paddington train that would have left half an hour after the original 7.59 train (if I had the sense to wait for that train and save myself all the anxiety).
When I finally got to Bristol Parkway, I had to wait for the next Darlington train due 10.39. Then, wait… Face-palm time… The 10.39 got delayed for almost half an hour because some idiot pulled the emergency stop cord on the train between Bristol Temple Meads and Bristol Parkway and the on-board officials had to investigate the problem before the journey could proceed.
Consequently, a 6 plus hour train journey took almost 8 hours instead. By the time I reached Darlington, I was around 1.5 hours late. Thank goodness for modern mobile phones so that I could message CH and update her about my evolving ETA and she did not have to wait for me in vain at Darlington train station. And despite the drama of train travel, my stay in Yorkshire was fantastic.
From Darlington, CH drove me to her home, a barn converted very nicely into a lovely country home at the edge of the small town of Richmond where I was warmly welcomed by her partner, DP, and Bertie the dog, Helix and Laser the cats. When last I visited them in December, it was cold and wet. This time being summer, CH and DP brought me on a fascinating walk around the property which encompasses several fields that they wish to keep as fields (to help the local wildlife — I saw badger trails) and that they ‘rent’ out to local farmers to harvest hay and let their sheep graze. From CH’s field, DP pointed out to me in adjoining harvested fields: leverets (hares in their first year) waiting for their mums to come feed them.
One of CH’s fields comprises a small orchard of several types of apple trees, a pear tree and a damson plum tree full of ripening fruits (I picked three apples and ate two, but they were not ready yet and tasted sour). Adjacent to the house is a large vegetable garden where I picked and gorged on raspberries (the sweetest I’ve ever tasted), red currants and black currants, and blueberries.
On 4 August, CH was very kind to drive me to visit the historic coastal town of Whitby. I did not expect the car journey to be over 1.5 hours long (if I did, I would have had second thoughts about going) as there is no major highway that goes straight to Whitby from Richmond, as I found out. Although part of the route to Whitby comprises the M-whatever (pardon my ignorance of British motorways), one must reach the town via various grades of country roads, including a last scenic big-sky stretch over the Yorkshire Moors.
Seeing Whitby fulfilled a life-long dream because the place is the hometown of a beloved junior college teacher of mine. I knew Whitby was a tourist town, but I did not expect its city centre to be that touristy (imagine San Francisco Wharf on a smaller scale). However, the town is picturesque and the views from the harbour pier and the headlands surrounding the sheltered bay are amazing. The ruined abbey is also worth a look, giving you a sense of medieval life in the area. The day ended very satisfactory with a huge plate of fish and chips.
On 6 August, DP and CH drove me through the dales of Yorkshire. Aiyoh! Drop-dead gorgeous seeing how the landscape rises from green pasture filled with sheep and cows to purple heathered slopes and then craggy grey hilltops… Two other highlights of this journey:
– A visit to the Wensleydale Cheese Centre where you can go crazy trying about twenty different types of cheese (have you tried ginger and mango cheese?), before making your own selection of what to buy.
– Who remembers the BBC television series, All Creatures Great and Small, that brought to life the books of James Herriot the author-vet? DP and CH were very keen to make me experience the dip in the country road and splash through a stream crossing the road that the James Herriot character drives through in the opening credits of each episode. Yes, we dipped and splashed in DP’s car!
On 7 August, I made my way back to Swansea by train, thankfully this time without any incident and hardly any delay. And then I spent 9 August, Singapore’s National Day, making my way to visit MHP and her family in Ireland: first, a bus to Cardiff to catch another bus to Bristol Airport, then a flight to Dublin, and then the Dublin-Galway airport bus, stopping off at Athlone B&Q. Born and bred in tiny Singapore, it always befuddles my mind that it takes hours to get anywhere here in the British isles even though they are islands too…
Although MHP lives mainly in Wales, she and her husband, JP, return at least three times a year to her family home in the district of Lisquel, outside the market town of Ballygar in the county of Galway in Ireland. Over the years, MHP and JP have extended and improved the tiny cottage where her mother was born into a comfortable, many-roomed dwelling.
If I had a fantastical time in Yorkshire, then I led a fairy-tale existence in Galway.
On 10 August, apart from driving me around the immediate area to have a look, MHP introduced me to her friend, SF, an artist, who runs Artfarm, an amazing place that artists can apply to stay for short-term residencies. SF and another lady, LH, have set up the Ballygar Arts and Theatre Space (out of the old Ballygar Town Hall) to stimulate artistic life in and around Ballygar, an endeavour that MHP supports. So from Artfarm, MHP, SF and I made our way to the town hall. When MHP invited me to visit her in Ireland, I said that I would tell stories to help Ballygar Arts. My performance, Natural Phenomena: Folktales from Asia, was scheduled for 12 August. So the afternoon of 10 August was spent setting up the town hall for the storytelling. Amidst the art projects at the town hall, I found and fell in love with a special chair that had to be used as my storytelling seat. And then SF produced fairy lights to string around white branch props… Magic, yes?
On 11 August, MHP drove me further afield to visit the following:
– The ruins of the medieval monastery at Kilmacduagh where I saw a tower with no doors where the monks would scurry into via rope ladders to hide from attackers, a building that is surely something out of the fairytale, Rapunzel.
– Her sister-in-law’s family holiday home on the shores of Inchiquin Lake outside Corofin where once the author Kate O’Brien (an aunt) frequented.
– The Celtic crosses at Kilfenora.
– The Poulnabrone portal tomb on the karst landscape called the Burren.
On the early morning of 13 August, I accompanied JP on a long drive to visit a market. Then during the afternoon, I joined MHP and her sister, M, on a countryside trek along the circuit known as the Castlecoote Loop, where we climbed up and down styles to cross fields (one of which was filled with young bulls that came a bit too close for comfort), meadows, forest and country roads. The highlight of this walk was the Avenue of Peacock Butterflies where we were surrounded by these beautiful creatures flapping away in the dull afternoon light when there was no breeze to blow them away.
On 14 August, M drove MHP and I to the outskirts of Dublin where we caught a train into the city centre. The main purpose was to visit the National Gallery of Ireland that is currently hosting an exhibition of Vermeer and his contemporaries. But the trip was also to give me a taste of Dublin. After lunch and before visiting the gallery, we walked through the park, St Stephen’s Green, where we encountered various memorials, including those dedicated to literary greats such as Joyce, Yeats and Tagore.
On 15 August, MHP brought me to the city of Galway to have a look-see (as picturesque as Whitby), and the highlight of the trip was a visit to Charlie Byrne’s, Ireland’s best indie bookstore, which is huge and rambling.
And in between all the to-ing and fro-ing amidst the county of Galway, I helped MHP and JP with gardening. I trimmed hedges and weeded the gravel garden. So much did I battle with the wild undergrowth that I felt like Prince Charming facing the thorny forest surrounding Sleeping Beauty’s forgotten palace.
Then on 16 August, it was a reverse all-day journey back to Swansea. Okay, one last observation before ending this long blog.
While driving around the country roads of Yorkshire, I noticed quite a bit of roadkill. It seemed that there would be at least two or three rabbit carcasses for every mile or so of tarmac.
Except for two occasions on 13 August, there were no signs of roadkill at all along the many miles of Irish country roads travelled.
– Yorkshire rabbits are very stupid. Irish rabbits are very smart.
– Irish rabbits have been culled to a ridiculous level such that there are none left for vehicles to run over.
I prefer the first. Sorry, Yorkshire rabbits.