When most people think about a trip overseas, Paris, London and Rome come to mind first. I see social media posts filled with obligatory photos in front of the Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace and London Bridge. If Ireland is on the itinerary, tourists will flock to Dublin or rush to “kiss the Blarney Stone,” but there is so much more to see if you see the world through the eyes of the locals.
I was born in the tiny village of Lymm in Cheshire, England, then moved to Wales, and eventually the States after my mother remarried. I spent my childhood summers visiting my father at our home in Lymm, nestled on a cobblestone road within walking distance to the village. We vacationed in Abererch and Abersoch, Wales. Not known for its tropical beaches or consistent beachy weather (actually quite the opposite), we would literally chase the sun and patches of blue sky by jumping in the car and hopping from beach to beach.
I have vivid memories of staying in a caravan by the sea each summer; visiting The Ship, a local pub for crab sandwiches; and my dad cooking spicy sausages for breakfast before long, windy walks on the beach. My father, a storyteller at heart, would describe intricate details of every landmark wherever our drives took us. These summers continued into my early twenties, until sadly my father passed away suddenly at a young age. I never went back.
When I married, I decided that, after 13 years away, it was time to go home. Perhaps chasing family roots, I took my new husband back to Lymm, the place that, to this day, still feels like home. And when we had children, I took them there, too.
Arriving into Manchester, England on our first trip as a family, we spent time with family in different parts of North England and planned a trip to South Ireland to visit my cousin. We flew from Manchester to County Cork and rented a farmhouse in the seaside town of Clonakilty, West Cork. My jaw quite literally dropped when I first arrived in Ireland. The fields of green that rolled down to the rugged sea and rocky cliffs below afforded some of the most majestic views I have ever seen. Days were spent enjoying trips to the nearby, breathtaking, coastal towns of the Emerald Isle.
The first day we had lunch in Glandore Bay overlooking the sea peppered with sailboats. The kids enjoyed exploring the historical megalithic site of Drombeg Stone Circle, also known locally as The Druid's Altar. The site, a small, axial stone circle, is located on the edge of a rocky terrace overlooking the sea about 1.5 miles east of Glandore in County Cork. Consisting of 17 standing stones which, on excavation, showed there had been an urn burial in the centre, the site is protected under the National Monuments Act.
Another day was spent touring beautiful Sherkin Island, a 10-minute ferry ride from the small fishing port of Baltimore. The 3-mile-long island boasts colorful landscapes and rugged Atlantic views from the hilltops. We enjoyed lunch overlooking the sea at The Jolly Roger, a wonderful, traditional Irish Pub.
My favorite spot on the southern coast, Inchydoney Blue Flag Beach near Clonakilty, is a Wild Atlantic Way Discovery Point. Inchydoney Beach is often named Ireland’s favorite beach by international tourists on TripAdvisor and is described as “glorious and unspoiled.” The white sands that lead to the sea made for the largest playground for my little ones who ran and skipped along the beach until they couldn’t run another step!
A few years later, we flew from Houston to London to stay with friends. This was the first time I had actually been a tourist in my own country! The sights and sounds of regal London were majestic. Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle did not disappoint, and, of course, we took the obligatory pictures! After a couple of days, though, we were off to the Highlands of Scotland, flying from Heathrow to Inverness. It was time to chase Nessie and my daughter was leading the mission to Loch Ness!
When I planned this trip, people asked if I was serious about going to Loch Ness, as if it was a fictional place only read about in children’s books. Looking at a map of the area, I found a pin dropped away from all the other accommodations, six miles west of Inverness, on the shores of the Beauly Firth. The Bunchrew House, a historic Scottish mansion and now hotel, is located near the NC500, Ireland’s “Route 66” and a spectacular drive that winds itself around the Northern Highlands coast roads. The hotel still looked like a castle and took my breath away. The first night, my kids, playing in the tidepools, dug up a 150-year-old torpedo bottle with a rounded bottom, and the groundskeeper washed it off for them. It is now our most treasured souvenir.
On to Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle, which illustrated wild, natural beauty and 1,000 years of history. The castle ruins give you a peek into the Highlands and a glimpse of medieval life on the banks of Loch Ness. My 9-year-old daughter chimed into the tour guides commentary, offering her own facts, in case he missed a detail! Her brother was quick to let us know he could not see, nor did he believe, in the Loch Ness monster as he looked through the magnifying viewfinder. That, of course, did not sit well with his sister, and an argument ensued!
My most cherished memory of that trip was returning to my beloved Abererch Sands with my children, back to my own childhood summer spot. We visited the old caravan site where I spent many summers with my father. My daughter ran up the sand dunes and down the beach and danced along the edge of the sea as I watched from above. It was quite the healing, full circle moment. At the same time, I was sad but knew our guardian angel, my father, watched from above, wishing he could join us for a crab sandwich at The Ship.
Whether a short trip away from home or an adventure to connect with your heritage, travel opens your eyes and heart. Memories that are made and shared last a lifetime and sometimes beyond.