On Tuesday, 31 May at precisely 18.00hrs, I resigned and left my job. I’d had enough and needed to escape the Rat Race with immediate effect. My next stop was hastily decided upon by a weather report and a half-hearted promise made during my previous job.
By 19.00hrs my car, the Freelander 2 auto as blogged about here previously, was washed, packed, fuelled and bound for Scotland. We’d booked ourselves on the Stena crossing from Cairnryan to Belfast at 23:30hrs. The Emerald Isle was to be our playground for the next week.
The drive to the West of Scotland was fast and scenic – a prelude, in fact, to the whole trip. Wonderful weather, stunning views and sunlight late into the evening inspired me. The only issue here concerned a truck leaving the road, hitting a gravel verge before righting itself. The debris thrown-up could have easily ended the trip there and then for us.
A quick detour up the high street of Newton Stewart for old times’ sake and then onto the waiting ferry which was more Mary Celeste than commuter craft as it was desolate. We settled down to contemplate our plans which were nothing more than this: visit an Opel dealer in Galway whose warranty claims I used to administer (via a call centre here) and a pint with a mate in Dublin on Friday night. Nothing more…
We disembarked and drove into Belfast with some trepidation. It was now 2am and, the last time I’d stayed here, The Troubles were still raging. All around the hotel there were hundreds of people out and about. However, they weren’t marching, they were just minging – drunk that is. The atmosphere wasn’t charged, just merry which was a relief and reminded me of a much younger me.
The next morning was warm and bright and we breakfasted on the pavement at a corner café. Walking around Belfast, it was friendly, business-like but still derelict looking. There was a sense of optimism in the air that made this feel like a city hopeful rather than hateful. I’m so pleased for Belfast that it’s finding peace, surely prosperity will follow?
We left at midday and set a lose South West course for Galway City Centre via any where that looked good on a map. We slowly mouched, stopped, admired and chatted (they love to talk in Ireland) until I realised I’d left it too late to get to my Opel dealer before close. We quickly realised that the Irish live life at a different pace.
I got to J.J. Fleming’s (above) too late for Aftersales, but Sales were still open. I explained to the old-boy salesman that I was their old Dealer Assist Agent from the UK. He recognised my accent and made call to Trevor, their Aftersales Manager: ‘You’ll never guess who’s here?’ That call saw him turn around mid-commute and return to the garage.
We chewed the fat for the next hour about the current Opel range, customers (what else!) and the current marque I’d been working for. It was a strange feeling meeting people who’ve you’d dealt with day-in, day out for years but whom you’ve never met.
Shaking hands and saying farewell proper, we’d made good on an emotional pact we’d made before GM made an entire office redundant during Christmas week. I felt honoured to have served such decent people despite loyalty not existing in the Global Capitalism lexicon.
Galway itself was an eye and mouth-opener. It was jumping, it was cultured, it was laid back, it was bohemian, it is beautiful. But tonight, it was warm, it was sunny and the local Connacht Rugby team had just won the Guinness Pro12 Final in Edinburgh. We literally partied for over two miles. Suffice to say, by midnight, our next-day destination, Cork, was looking doubtful.
The next morning dawned, you guessed, bright, beautiful and hung-over. The Manager of the hotel, ‘just’ a Travelodge, seemed to be part raconteur, part Galway marketing board genius who happened to manage the area’s hotel chains. ‘Cork’, he explained, ‘is just like Birmingham’. My missus is from the West Midlands and I’ve been to Cork. We ‘ummed and ‘ahh’d at this statement. ‘Besides’, we explained, ‘we like driving, too’.
Undeterred, our man carried on. He plotted a route on a map he just had to hand for us to tour ‘brilliant driving roads, stunning attractions, breath-taking scenery.’ He finally promised that, when we returned to his hotel that night, ‘Galway will be REALLY jumping’. Our extended stay was assured and the charm of the Irish won again. I also got my photo taken with John Wayne.
Everything my man promised rang true – it was all that and more. When was the last time a Hotel Manager in the UK took time out to engage with their guests like that? But he wasn’t the exception; he was the norm. Galway was immensely relaxing and inspiring and simply brilliant. The locals are your best friend you’ve yet to meet.
Friday dawned bright, warm and full of adventure. Blogger and BL buyer John O’Sullivan of this parish was breaking-up from his teaching job at 3pm. ‘I’ll see you there’ was my promise. We elected to use an Irish toll motorway to get there both to save time and see if they’re like the French toll roads. They’re not as expansive, but they are fast, sweeping through the lush countryside, well surfaced and sighted. A fast cruise was effortless and enjoyable and the two tolls amounted to less than €5.
Entering Dublin’s rush hour traffic (earlier than usual as it was a Bank Holiday weekend) and guess who we get stuck next to in Traffic? Yes, it’s John and the luck o’the Irish prevails again. We got parked at our hotel, saw some sights in Dublin and then hit the bars – not the Stag ‘n’ Hen do Temple Bar area (although we did sample it for old times’ sake), but where the trendy locals hang out. And it’s good to see our old friend the Maxus van is everywhere (above)…
Yet again, Ireland is friendly, cultured and simply relaxing. It was the prefect antidote to a previously arduous six months in a stressful aftersales job taken in desperation for an over-rated manufacturer. We took a slow walk back to our hotel after an agreeable evening meal where the table was yours for the night, a contrast to the UK’s idea of getting you in and out ASAP.
We decided that we needed to go home on Saturday as we’d left in a hurry on the Tuesday and we may have left the iron on! Rather than a sprint up to Belfast, we sail from Dublin to Holyhead, Wales. The Stena ferry this time is at full capacity. We’d see what happened in Wales, we may have stayed over.
Wales was basking in early evening sun. Rather than spend a night there, I decided to see if I could get home to the North East that night using the long, late sunlight. We plotted a course up the M6 to Tebay and, knowing what I know about motorway patrols, I figured I could do a prolonged spot of low flying for the duration.
Sure enough, at 23:00hrs, I arrived home in a horrifically fly-splattered, travel-stained Freelander. We’ve covered a thousand miles and the four nations of the UK as well as the glorious Republic. Four nights of as little sleep as possible as every sleep felt like Christmas Eve.
Average fuel consumption over the whole trip was 33mpg – identical to what I’d have got 21 years earlier in my Metro on a similar pre-solstice drive. But the conveyance was a world away and, besides, Metros aren’t as quite dog friendly as a Freelander. The trip was everything I’d hoped for.
Now, does anyone require a tame Motor Trade employee for hire and reward and the odd blog?
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.