Day 20

August 27, Thursday
Day: 20
Mileage: 34
Night's Lodging: Bellharbor Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast (Chris & Margaret Droney)
Weather: Windy and sunny in Galway; drizzle at Tara China factory; full blown hard rain, wind, thunder and lightening outside of Kilvarna en route to Ballyvaughan.

A "full Irish breakfast"- again. What a delightful B&B hostess Bernie had been. When signing her guest book last night, she and I decided that I'd put "the window washer" next to Tracy's name so she would remember. As we left, she gave us the ultimate compliment -"You're just like family." After a couple nights staying there, Jack sick, and Tracy doing windows, we just about were family!

Through Galway and out to the Tara China factory/show room. Our clearing sky was no longer, instead gathering those ever present clouds. But, directly overhead the sun shone warmly.

I was fascinated to watch how specialty China pieces were made-from the slip molds, greenware, initial firing (1280ºC!), where the piece shrinks 13% during the firing process. All the patterns were decals (I was disappointed to learn this) which were fired on during the second firing (800ºC). The gold trim was hand-painted with each painter having an identifiable mark underneath, near the Tara logo.

Off to the Galway Crystal factory and store. There was no factory tour, and no particular bargains.

On to Clarinbridge-were there oysters? This was an oyster town-flew through too quickly to see. And the town was too small. We skipped by the only pub in town, reputed to be the oyster place.

And with sun and showers, on to Ballyvaughan. Lunch was salty canned chicken and vegetable soup and a pot of tea in a dark small pub where children played Nintendo games in one room while an older sibling tended the bar/lunch counter. A cigarette-puffing patron drove us to a table upwind and far away.

Abbeycraft-supposedly a good place to shop. They followed us around as if we were going to steal something. We didn't. Nor did we purchase.

I could see a wall of black clouds in the west, where we were headed. This after an hour of pure blue sky overhead-a first, I believed, for us in Ireland.

Off on our right-lightning flashed. We each, nearly simultaneously, commented about steel bikes and lightning. And then we hit that black wall of rain. Wind slashed us and rain stung my face as I pedaled onward.

Tracy and Jack were ahead and I knew that Tracy would "break" and run for cover sooner than I would, so I could just bring up the rear and be patient without sounding like a nag. Sure enough, after passing a couple of possible B&Bs, at the top of the next hill Tracy and Jack waited for me under a cover of bushes and a sign reading "Farmhouse B&B."

Tracy said, with something between a grin and a grimace, "You mentioned that you wanted a farmhouse B&B - here's your chance."

We weren't quite to Ballyvaughan, our goal for the day, but we weren't far. The driveway looked good to me. My rain pants dripped straight down into my shoes, so my feet were soaked! Tracy didn't want to pay more than £10. Jack and I went to negotiate while Tracy found shelter next to the milk-collecting tankard in a garage.

Chris Droney, the owner, opened the door-about 55 years old and rather gruff. He was very worried about my dripping wet feet tracking in (as was I) and my "oilers" (rain pants) which he wanted me to remove straightway before entering. I looked at their family room rate = £12 per person. Without breakfast Tracy's rate was £8. But our host seemed less than friendly. What had I gotten us into? In no time, however, as he helped us move into our room, carrying our panniers, he warmed up considerably. Tracy began talking with him and charmed him.

Our operant question: How was the shower? (Our lodging rating system.) It was wonderful!

Soon we found that hot water was cooking for tea, his wife Margaret was home, and therefore scones and jam were ready.

We were educated a bit about cows:

Son Joseph, milked the cow herd, milk cooled to 4ºC; picked up every 2nd day.
One cow wasn't milked, she fed the calves.
All the cows were pregnant.
Listening to cows graze-sounds like locusts going through. Even calves keep chewing cud.
They "dry the cows off" (quit milking them) in November; the cows calve in January, and milking begins soon thereafter.

Four German campers were also guests. They were caught at 5 a.m. by an unusually high tide while they camped on a grassy pier. All of their equipment was complete soaked by 12 inches of water in their tents.

We all talked for a long while in the living room chatting about: the Burren area- Chris had lived there all his life; the Abbey nearby; the greyhound; stone carvings; the LA riots; earthquakes; and more.

Re: Milking. As Chris said, "Many visitors enjoy seeing the cows, but are surprised at how dirty the milking area is. You can't put nappies on cows, you know." Deep laughter.

Re: Having a B&B. As Margaret said, "You can't make a living in just farming anymore. You do what you have to." She had been B&Bing for a couple of years and wasn't ITB (Irish Tourist Board) approved because she liked being her own boss. "They dictate opening/closing dates, prices, and it costs money to belong, plus a percentage of income," she said.

Margaret liked to open and close when she wanted to, especially when family came visiting. Both son Joseph, out "visiting," during the evening, and Carolyn, a daughter, lived at home (Margaret had 7 children). For their 25th anniversary a few years ago, the kids gave them tickets to the U.S. where both Margaret and Chris had relatives.

Along one wall were shelves full of trophies. Chris had been an All Ireland Champion concertina player. (Many times.) He did a tour of the U.S. in 1977 and a tour of the UK the following year playing "trad" (traditional) Irish music: "The Courts with Chris Droney." Additionally, one of his daughter's had won an All Ireland Concertina award.

(As I write, the rain continues.
The unasked/asked questions every a.m.:

1) Is it raining?
2) What does the sky look like?
3) How much WILL it rain today? (NOT "will it rain?"))

I looked forward to returning home, not because I wanted to end my vacation, but because I was anxious to do a real load of laundry, shampoo my hair with something other than camp suds, soak in a nice hot bath, and see a full day of blue sky. I didn't understand how people in Ireland kept from going stir crazy with their weather. Maybe, because of our moving around, we had the (mis)fortune of having the rain follow us.

Next day: Doolin via the caves and coast route.

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