Ireland Diary: Belfast to Lough Erne: We wake early on board the Stena ferry, called at 5.30am, quick cup of coffee whilst I watch the mist rising from the hills behind Belfast Lough and a pearly sky. Disembark at 6.30am negotiating a traffic system that is not that difficult – once you have done it once and know which lane to be in. Heading for the M1 towards in clear light, and no rain! Distances are misleading – we are so used to seeing Ireland on a map as quite small when seen next to Britain, but it is vast; spacious and beautiful; and so little traffic compare to our mainland roads.
|Almost empty roads|
Sunlight as we pass exits to familiar names, though I have never been to any of them: Lisburn (wish I could stop to visit the Irish Linen Centre and Museum), Lurgan, Craigavon, Portadown, Armagh … You instantly notice the paucity of traffic, as we head west. Flat lands as we pass the southern end of rectangular Lough Neagh (so large is could be a huge inland sea). Distant hills to the northwest and plashy fields of meadowsweet and fruit orchards; and rosy-coloured berried rowans with my beloved ox-eye daisies ribboning the verges. Too early to stop and investigate the Peatlands Park, which I would have liked to have done, as this whole flat and boggy landscape is peat-based. After Dungannon, the M1 ends and becomes the A4, dual carriageway with parking laybyes every mile or so. Rolling hills – and through the windscreen photos for we have no time to stop.
|Such a view|
Leaving Clogher and still driving west, sawmills and a very pastoral Co.Fermanagh; cattle and sheep but little arable, a pastoral scene. Two-and-a-half hours after leaving Belfast Docks we reach Enniskillen (the island town); miss the signs for free parking and find ourselves in the ASDA carpark by the Erne Shopping Centre (24hr fuel available) and 2hrs free parking for customers. I buy a bottle of water to prove we ARE a customer and leave R. to sleep off the early start and the long drive whilst I walk over the road to Tescos and some late breakfast croissant – it is still only 9.00am! – and a pair of trousers which I hope will fit, because I have left two pairs airing in the laundry room at home. The carpark is filling rapidly by 11.00am and we fear we may be boxed in; determined to discover more than a modern shopping complex on the outskirts, we ease our way towards the town centre and into the Shore Road Car Park which obviously caters for coaches. It’s right alongside the Erne waterway linking Upper and Lower Lough Erne.
|A watery scene on the Shore Road in Enniskillen|
|Raymond's hooded crow|
I try to capture the watery scene whilst Raymond photographs a hooded crow. Not sure exactly where the town centre is, but R. disappears whilst I bargain hunt in a charity shop and emerge with a pretty floral blouse that I will take apart for page edgings in whatever type of journal eventually houses all the words and images of this trip.
|First I take this photo, then I stand sketching them, outside a fruit and veg shop|
The High Street is not so long that we could lose ourselves; it’s full of independent shops. Reunited with R. who is studying a large poster sized map of the town centre, we amble for a while, window-shopping then aim for the Butter Market, traditional venue for food supplies.
|Caught in the act!|
To my surprise, it houses craft shops, studios and workshops and in one, houses in what I treat myself to a special offer Winsor&Newton Cotman paintbox of student-quality watercolours in tubes. It has three good sized fold out palettes; but the reason for the purchase is that I can swap the tubes for my artist–quality equivalents once back at home. I also buy a bottle of blue masking fluid with integral nib and a half-inch flat. If I do this at every town we visit, I will be bankrupt!
|Such a surprise|
Lunch at Rebecca’s Coffee Shop right at the heart of the Butter Market - clearly the place the meet, and THE place to eat for it is buzzing with happy conversation. Delicious food and a pot of tea with PROPER milk – whole milk, none of your skimmed or semi-skimmed rubbish. We decide that Enniskillen is a purposeful town with people busy about their own affairs, but incredibly friendly.
|Nearly at our first campsite|
A few miles north we reah our campsite for the night: Blaney Caravan & Camping Park, sedate and quiet with immaculately maintained pitches and an owner with whom we have a long and interesting conversation on the state of tourism, history, a suggested drive through the forest (maybe tomorrow?), a castle … well we could have chatted for hours. We had had a long day, prepared supper an crashed out long before our normal time for retiring.
This was written yesterday (Friday 2oth July, 2012) but I had no WiFi connection and so it is a day late. Today (Saturday 21st July, 2012) has been one of wonderful relaxation; I haven't even yet had time to look properly at the 82 images I took, nor to type up my notes. But we are now at a campsite right by the sea just outside Sligo; and I have so much to tell that I may have to split eat day into two diary posts. At least I now have WiFi - recently installed on this site set within the sandunes. Nearly all colour has faded from the sea and sky. I even found time for sketching and painting; indeed a little everyday since we left home.