Monday, 15 August 2011

Adventures in Ireland 1: Localism and the satnav; bathing in slime

I've now had my phone (destroyed by Irish rain) repaired, have devirused the main computer, welcomed another laptop into our home and taught it the house rules, had the car fixed following the breakdown it politely waited for us to get back from Holyhead to have, and fixed the shelf that fell off the wall in the middle of the night we arrived back. Yes, to a Ragnorok of household appliances. So now I can spend time writing my blog.

Stuck in Dublin traffic we have time to discover our satnav's map is not just Britain, but the British Isles, so we use it to get out of Dublin and on our way to County Mayo. By nightfall, we are in Ballina, and, flushed with our earlier success, attempt to get the machine to direct us to Bonniconlan, the nearest village to the hamlet our friend Donal lives in. Judy tries various spellings (we're already alerted to the range of spellings employed as Gaelic turns into English), but the device is having none of it. So we try 'Knockroe', the name of the actual hamlet. The satnav offers us a few choices this time, one of which is in Co Mayo, in the vicinity of Ballina. Hoorah,we think, and drive on, to a suburb of Ballina with long front gardens and bungalows. I text Donal: We're in Knockroe. The text returns immediately: You are not.

So Donal directs us to Bunnyconnellan (another spelling), where he comes and fetches us to Knockroe. The third Knockroe we'd had anything to do with today (I drew a discreet veil over the first).

This Knockroe turns out to be about 5 houses on a winding lane, one step up from a farm track. I ask him how people find Knockroe. His reply is the purest example of localism I've ever heard: ‘If you don’t know how to find Knockroe, you’ve probably no business being here.’

Our valuation of local knowledge over electronic deepens a couple of days later. Having been recommended the slimy experience of bathing in seaweed, we set out early for seaside town Inniscrone. The satnav takes us on rougher and rougher tracks, two stages at least worse than the road through Knockroe, until I'm starting to worry about the car making it in one piece. The terrain changes from small roads through woodland to open sections of bog, scarred by deep turf-digging trenches. I imagine we will emerge from this, onto a proper road, but suddenly the satnav put up its orange flag, and announces 'We have reached our destination'. We are at a crossroads between two potholed mud tracks with peat bog as far as the eye can see. The Ox Mountains looks twice as near as they should, and the only human activity visible is a few figures on the distant horizon doing something with a JCB. We get out and look round, imagining what it would be like to call the breakdown service here, then get back in and retrace our course.

We get to Inniscrone eventually, after a second false pass. We'd promised to change money for Donal, only to discover Inishcrone hasn't got a bank. So, back to Ballina, by which time we're ready for lunch. We shop, get Euros and finally make it to the Enniscrone Seaweed Baths.
What an experience. Each private room has a cedarwood steam box, and a bath which delivers hot seawater and is already full of seaweed and seaweed extract, cooked from vegetation gathered that day. It's Edwardian, very steam punk, and no pun. You steam, you soak, you please yourselves for as long as you like, floating in the slime. Highly recommended. Oh yes, it's good for you too.

Back at Donal's, the satnav tale goes down well. He takes us out on one of his walks, deep in Kilbride Bog, where we'd been misled to that afternoon, to a wilderness as wild as it gets in these islands.

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