zaterdag, januari 20, 2018

Adventure in Ireland (1979), part 1

Introduction: a horse drawn caravan tour in the Connemara
In 1979 we decided to go for a different kind of holiday. We chose to do a horse drawn caravan tour in the Connemara (Ireland), instead of camping or staying in a hotel.
When my mother was still alive she told me many times, that she would like to go for such a holiday in Ireland. It appeared very attractive to me too.
The brochure of the travel agency Prim Eire promised us a very relaxed vacation.

Horse caravan, a journey back in time:
primitive, romantic, adventurous

Friday 6th July Amsterdam - Westport: a sleeping coach driver
On Friday 6th July we took the plane from Amsterdam to Shannon Airport. We arrived in the evening and a coach should bring us safe to the horse caravan base in Westport. It was a ride of 155 kilometres and the coach was not as modern as we were used to in the Netherlands.
After a while we noticed that the coach was not driving on the road any more, but in the grass near the ditch. The driver looked very tired and his eyes were beginning to draw straws. One of the passengers (Joop Niks) decided to stand next to him and each time the drivers’ eyelids were becoming heavy, he woke the driver up. 

 The luxury coach

After approximately 3 hours we arrived in Westport. The staff of the caravan company assigned the caravans. We should leave the next day for a 2 week tour through the beautiful Connemara.
The intended route

The caravan looked fine, like a normal small caravan. We even had a gas grill (butane).
We unpacked the suitcases and made our beds. We did not sleep very well, because we were not used to sleep under nylon sheets and it was very hot and sweaty.

Saturday 7th July Westport – Lecanvey: heart attack of the blacksmith and two ladies in the ditch

Before we were allowed to leave, there were a lot of things to do. First we had to consult the blacksmith. He had to control the horseshoes. However it was a bad day. The blacksmith got a heart attack and we had to wait till approximately 17 o’clock before we got the green light.
The people of the Connemara Horse Caravans (C.H.C.) distributed all kind of papers. Everyone got a list and map with the recommended overnight stops, where we could stay. On those places there would be grassland for the horses, surrounded by a fence, a place for the caravans and toilets and water. On other places than on the list, there was no guarantee that the horse would be safe and to stay there was your own responsibility.

We had to check the inventory list of the belongings in the caravan and we had to buy an expensive big sack of horse food.

However, the inventory was not complete, the butane canister was almost empty and we missed one of the valves of a tire of the caravan. The personnel fixed everything and we waited for the next step
The staff had planned an instruction for us to handle the horse, to harness the horse and to drive a horse caravan. There was no instructor available till the end of the afternoon.
It would have been wise, if we had been shopping and had stored food and provisions in the mean time. No one did, we all were waiting to leave, except for one family. They bought flour, amongst other things.
We met the members of the Niks family: father Joop, mother Ellen and the children Erik and Stella. We made a lot of jokes and they were good company.

 Westport Base. Waiting to leave.

The instructor and the replacement of the blacksmith finally arrived.
The instructor asked Jan if he had experience with horses. Jan replied: ‘I have eaten a horse steak once. That’s all.’
We expected an extensive instruction. He told us in a few words how to harness the horse and after 10 minutes, we were allowed to go on the road and to leave. We asked him to tell us the name of our horse and he made one up. The name was Judy, he said.
The instructor walked with us for 100 metres and then he wished us a nice journey and left back to the base.
I have to tell you that we were very surprised to see how the Irish people of the base treated the horses. If one did not react fast enough they kicked the horse. We and the other drivers did not copy that behaviour.
We drove on the road in a queue of 7 caravans.
After about 5 kilometres we saw a horse caravan in the ditch. The drivers, two nice Belgian ladies, were waiting for help to get out of the ditch. The help from the horse caravan company arrived on Friday 13th July! They had to stay in the ditch for a whole week.
The drivers of the other 6 caravans could not help them and we all arrived safe on our first stop Lecanvey, without kicking our horses!


Sunday 8th July Lecanvey  - Doughmakeon Strand: stampeding horses

After the belated chaotic start of the first day we hoped for a more relaxed continuation of our journey.
The first thing we had to do every morning was to look for our horse and to feed her with the horse food. Judy loved the mix, but it had an unpleasant side effect. It affected her digestive system and she broke a lot of winds. It was not a pleasure to sit on the box behind her. 
After our breakfast and Judy’s, we left with the Niks family direction Louisburgh. We were in front and the Niks family, who had a very nervous horse, followed us.
It was a nice morning, we were sitting on the box and I hold the reins and enjoyed being a horse driver.

After about 12 kilometres we spotted a horse caravan on its way back to Westport. It needed a lot of space on the small road. Jan stepped of the caravan and the Niks family and we decided to halt for a few minutes, to give the opposite caravan the opportunity to pass. The caravan was driven by two French women and although they were already experienced, they were very lousy drivers. When they passed the last caravan they bumped their caravan against the caravan of the Niks family. The Niks’ horse frightened so much that he bolted. He bumped the back of our caravan and tried to push our caravan forward. Judy frightened too and bolted.
Jan was standing near the ditch and I tried to tighten the reins.
 I called: ‘Judy, Judy, easy girl’ to calm her down, but she kept running. Jan was hanging on her neck, trying to stop her and out of the corner of my eye I saw the Niks’ horse passing us and running on to a small road on a hill. The Niks’ caravan looked like a caravan in the Wild West escaping from the Indians. I saw no one on the box.
Jan succeeded to stop Judy and we halted just before a big ditch. The Niks’ caravan rode further on the hill and Joop was hanging on the reins, out of our sight at the other side of the caravan.  The young son Erik had been sitting on the box, but could jump of the caravan just in time.  Ellen and Stella were sitting and drinking tea in the caravan and had had the most anxious minutes of their lives. Finally Joop succeeded to stop the horse.

It was time to inspect the damages.
We had been very lucky. We lost a strip of wood of the caravan and the butane canister was hanging on its tube behind the caravan and was damaged. The breeching of the horse was broken.
The Niks’ caravan was badly damaged and if Erik had not jumped from the box, his leg would have been amputated. There was a big hole where he sat and a sharp strip of wood went through the front inside the caravan, just at the place where the women were sipping their tea.  They jumped up, when the French hit their caravan.
By the way, the French ladies had continued their way and did not take any attempt to wait or to inform if anyone was hurt.

In those times no one had a cell phone, even worse, Ireland and the Connemara specially was so poor that there were hardly telephones or telephone boxes.
We decided to do some temporary repairs and then to leave to the next stop at Doughmakeon Strand to get help there. This was about 5 kilometres.  The Niks family had a very bumpy ride, because the axle and the wheels were badly broken.

 The damaged Niks' caravan

Our caravan with the butane cannister 

We arrived at the stop, unharnessed the horses and brought them to the meadow.
On the site was no telephone box.  A friendly Irishman told us there was one in Louisburgh 7.5 kilometres back. He offered us a free lift in his car and Joop Niks and we took the offer.
In Louisburgh we tried to call the lady of the travel agency Prim Eire, but she did not pick up the phone. We thought we were in time, because we called her during office hours.  Then we phoned to the base in Westport and they told us they would come as soon as possible to repair the caravans and the harness of the horse. The Irishman brought us back to the site and then he asked money for the trip.


Doughmakeon Strand
Monday 9th July Doughmakeon Strand: heavenly dolphins and a campfire story

We had to stay on the site near the beach until everything was repaired. We could not leave, for a walk together, because we did not know at what time the help would arrive. The place was very beautiful; we had a view of the Atlantic Ocean.

Doughmakeon Strand, our caravan

Doughmakeon Strand

Doughmakeon Strand

One of our travel companions was a Dutch reverend. He and his wife were accompanied by their daughter and her friend. During the rides the two girls stayed on the box and drove the caravan. The reverend and his wife sat in the caravan, drinking tea and reading books. They did this during the whole two weeks.
The reverend must have had divine help because they did not have any accident or bad luck. Probably he had also help by spotting dolphins. He had seen a lot of them, whilst no one of us had seen any dolphin.
We passed the day by walking in the neighbourhood of the caravan, taking some pictures and talking and making jokes with the members of the Niks’ family.
Ellen, Joop, Stella, Eric

Ellen, Mieke, Jan

We discovered that it had not been clever not to store food. In the previous places were small shops, but on this site was nothing.
There was one toilet and one little cabin to wash and that was it. There were no shops in the neighbourhood; the nearest one was in Louisburgh. We heard from an Irishman, not the ‘taxi driver’, that it was possible to buy food at a farmer’s house. It was about ten minutes from the site.
We left with several travel companions to visit this mini mini-supermarket. When we arrived at the farm, the farmer’s wife invited us in a small front room. There was no furniture. She had installed her products on the floor: some onions, some packets of soup, withered vegetables and cookies. We choose to buy some onions, the soup and the cookies. The onions would provide us the badly-needed vitamin C and the soup and the cookies would satisfy our hunger.
We did not need to use our just bought food supply that night. The woman who bought the flour on the first day made pancakes for us all.
Several men had made a campfire. That night we stayed till late at the fire laughing, talking and telling stories. A German family treated us on apple cider und we all drunk the cider from egg-cups.
The Niks’ family told a story about their marriage day. The Dutch name ‘Niks’ means ‘nix’ or ‘nothing’. Joop was an experienced glider pilot. His colleague pilots made an aerial advertisement text on a banner on his wedding day. It said “Congratulations with the marriage of Niks”. It was seen everywhere in the air in the city of Arnhem. It happened that week (1966) that our princess Beatrix married with the German Claus von Amsberg. In the journals was much attention for the advertisement, because everyone thought that it was a protest against the marriage of our princess with a German.
We loved this campfire story and after a good and pleasant night we all went to our caravans to sleep. The cider gave us a very nice sleep and sweet dreams.

The travel companions talking, smoking and drinking


Tuesday 10th July Doughmakeon Strand: leaking gas
In the morning we started out of our sleep by moves of the caravan. It looked as if we were in a hurricane in the middle of the ocean. Jan took his cloths and opened the caravan door. Then he came back with a big smile on his face. He said: “You will never believe who is causing the ‘waves’ ”. 
A donkey tried to loose the itch on his back and was scratching against the caravan. The itch must have been unbearable.
Nobody of the C.H.C. had visited the site to see or to hear what happened. The reverends’ family left to go to the next place. They passed Louisburgh and tried to call the travel agency but they did not succeed to reach someone. The reverend called C.H.C again and they promised to visit us that day.
In the afternoon someone came to inspect the damage and he had a new breeching for our horse. We told him that there was a strange smell at the back of the caravan. Our canister had a leak in the tube and it had to be renewed. At first he told us it was the smell of the sea air, but after a second inspection he discovered the leak.
We had been lucky that the night before the sparks of the camp fire had not reached the leak!
The employee of C.H.C. would come back to replace the tube. He told us that no one had told the employees about our telephone call on Sunday.

Jan sitting at the fire

Wednesday 11th July Doughmakeon Strand – Delphi
On Wednesday morning a C.H.C. man arrived with a new tube and repaired our gas. We could leave to go to Delphi, the next stop on the route. We had lost two whole days.
The Niks family had decided not to continue their trip. The caravan was too damaged to go on and they had become afraid for driving with a horse and a caravan. They were taken back by car and stayed till the 19th in the damaged caravan on the base. During the 3rd week they could stay in a holiday cottage in Westport.
We said goodbye and left for Delphi. 

After the accident we decided that there should always be one of us on the box and one of us besides Judy, in case of unexpected events. Judy had one defect eye blinker. Jan had it repaired by a clothes pin, but it waved in the wind. And without the blinkers she was easily frightened. 

From Louisburgh  to Delphi

The route to Delphi was beautiful. After Louisburgh we came in the wonderful Doo Lough Valley.  
Doo Lough Valley

Doo Lough Valley
Doo Lough Valley
Sometimes it was a little bit anxious. We met coaches from the opposite site and the drivers drove very slowly to give the passengers the opportunity to make pictures of the valley and of course of us, the gypsies in the horse caravans. Judy did not like it very much, neither did Jan and I.
Doo Lough Valley
Doo Lough Valley
We arrived safely in Delphi and gave Judy her well deserved food. 
After that we searched the toilet.The cabin had fallen down, and this evening and night we had to do what we had to do between the rhododendrons.



- to be continued -

1 opmerking:

Unknown zei

Hallo Jan en Mieke,
Wat waren jullie/wij toen nog jong!
Leuk te zien en te lezen over jullie nomade-achtige vakantie!