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A Quick Trip Across The UK and Ireland

You can make a lot of miles in a few days time.

by Michael H. Thomson
June 7, 2006

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A Quick Trip Across The UK and Ireland
Our trip began in the idyllic village of Paeonian Springs, Virginia, which is less than twenty-five minutes from Dulles International Airport. Our luggage consisted of a backpack, a small luggage case on rollers, and a Kelty hiking pack. We wore jeans, sweaters, lightweight Marmot rain jackets, and Garmont hiking shoes. Speed and comfort were our goal.
The early morning United flight was less than eight hours, but because of the five hour time difference, it was an hour before midnight when we arrived in London. Customs at Heathrow was simpler than the security screen at Dulles. Connecting with an express train, which took us to Paddington Station in London, a short ride in a London cab got us to the hotel that would be our home for the next three days.
London was a pleasant visit. It is one of the friendliest large cities I have visited on the planet. Most of our travel around the city was by the "Tube." The underground system is very user friendly and except for one brief rush hour experience, was relatively un-crowded. We saw all the sights that a tourist would normally see – most of the main ones – Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and all the sights along both sides of the Thames. Everything was in walking distance. The day prior to our departure we visited the British Museum. This is definitely a must see! On our trip to France, I complained about availability of water and rest rooms – no problems in London. Restaurants were many and varied, just like in the U.S. So, if you – like me – are not fond of English food, you are not limited to it in London. 
Our next rapid fire destination was Ireland. We left London on a train that took us to the port of Holyhead in North Wales. From Holyhead we caught a ferry for a three-hour trip to the port of Dublin, Ireland. The train trip and ferry ride were pleasant. The Irish Sea was rough but only contributed to our sense of adventure.
From the port, we took a double-decker bus into Dublin. We had made no hotel reservations but within 15 minutes of debarking from the bus, we were checked into a pleasant bed and breakfast. That evening we wandered around downtown Dublin and found a nice pub and enjoyed a meal that I thought was more American than Irish.
The next morning, after consuming our breakfast, we walked to Dublin Castle, and then visited an exhibit nearby that highlighted the history of Dublin as being one of the oldest Viking settlements. Leaving the exhibit we became lost and wandered down a flight of stairs into Christ Church Cathedral and ran into an HBO filming crew who were part of a production about the Tudors, which will be aired in October. At this point, Liz, my wife, wants me to let the readers know that on our entire trip we were never very far away from Starbucks. They were everywhere. We had a small snack at a Starbucks in Dublin before catching the bus to Dublin Airport to pick up our rental car.
In Ireland, and all across the UK, driving is in the left lane. By prior agreement, Liz drove and I navigated. The first 30 minutes were the worst. Sitting on the left side of the car with no brakes, no steering wheel or gas pedal is not to say I didn't try to use them. Eventually everything sorted out and we were glad we had decided to do this part of our trip by car.
At this time of year in Ireland and the UK, there is plenty of daylight. The sun goes down after 10 o'clock and comes up around 4:30 a.m. This daylight exposure helped us see a lot of the countryside which we wouldn't have if limited by a shorter day.
After leaving Dublin we drove north up the coast for a while. What was obvious in the Irish countryside was that the standard of living was high. There was a great deal of new home construction and remodeling activity evident. Bearing inland and crossing the border into Northern Ireland (UK) we drove until nightfall and rested in an inn (again without reservations) in the very pleasant city of Ballymena.
From Ballymena we headed towards the northern coast. This was one of the most beautiful parts of our trip. The coast of Northern Ireland is breathtaking. Among our stops were the ruins of Dunluce Castle, The Giants Causeway, and a spectacular hike complete with a swinging rope bridge. Continuing this beautiful drive along the coast, we made our way to the port of Larne.
Loading ourselves and car on the ferry at Larne, we made the crossing to Troon, Scotland. Now would be a great time for a few comments on the people we met on our fast-paced journey. To a person we never met a grouchy soul. Particularly in Ireland, everyone went out their way to be helpful. We were both overwhelmed by the hospitality. The only problem we had in Scotland was trying to understand the language. Yes they spoke English but the brogue was so thick it took a great deal of concentration to receive the message.
Spending the evening close to Troon, we departed the next day for Edinburgh. I was truly impressed by this city. It was everything you would expect of a city that had a huge castle as a centerpiece – classy. We visited a kilt shop close to the castle where I bought a swath of Thomson plaid. Edinburgh is a photographer's dream. The light, the buildings, and of course, the castle make very fine subjects. I remarked to Liz that we should make another trip where we spend a week in Edinburgh. That evening we drove to Ayr on the coast. Ayr is the historical home of the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns. We dined at the Tam o'Shanter Inn which takes its name from Burn's poem, Tam o'Shanter. According to Thomson family history we are distant cousins of Robert Burns. I couldn't find any connection in the writing, however.
The next morning we were on the ferry again crossing into Northern Ireland. Rolling past Belfast and Dublin, we found ourselves back in the Republic of Ireland on our way to Waterford.
Waterford is a beautiful city with a beautiful harbor. After a light supper, we walked along the waterfront and I tried to imagine what the place would have looked like in medieval times. The next morning we toured the crystal factory. I will never look at Waterford crystal again without a sense of reverence. A finished piece has a minimum of two hundred hours of workmanship.
On the way back to Dublin Airport we took a different route and crossed countryside that was so green that sunglasses were necessary. Small castles were everywhere. We made a quick visit of one and continued on our way. A one-hour flight from Dublin brought us to London and the flight home.
Here are the things a traveler needs to know traveling to the UK and Ireland. Money - in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland the currency is the pound. In the Republic of Ireland, everything is euros. Lodging – bed and breakfast facilities are plentiful. Standard hotels are more expensive. If you are a person who gets cold easily, most hotels do not have heat this time of year. My suggestion – if you are driving – is to purchase a small heater and carry it with you to provide extra heat if your lodging is chilly. There are plenty of places to picnic and usually large supermarkets in each town or city.
A final comment about the trip – it was great!

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