Saturday, November 30, 2013

Historic Pubs and Happy Trails

Ship Inn, Porlock Weir
      I knew we'd love the Ship Inn (built in 1290) as soon as I saw the sign inside the door: "Beer - the reason I get up every afternoon."  The bar was  in Porlock on the Devon coast, where Ron and I were renting a cottage for a week.
Compasses Inn, Tisbury
Tea in Porlock
      We had made our way across England, staying in old pubs in tiny villages.  Now we were in the land of walking paths and ponies, tearooms and signs on the road like "Duck Racing and BBQ."

Exmoor Pony

El Camino sign
     After two weeks in England, Ron flew to Spain to hike El Camino, 180 miles in two weeks.  From the moment he set foot in Spain during a fiesta, he was on top of the world, no matter how grueling the walks.  (His route, El Primitivo, is one of the most rugged, and he sometimes hiked over 7 hours a day.)

Starting Point: Tineo
      Along the way Ron met walkers from many different countries.  The peregrinos, or pilgrims, go from one albergue (dorm) to another on trails that vary in length and difficulty.  Ron was surprised when he finished his first leg in 3 hours.  He felt so great he decided to take a spur that was supposed to be another couple of hours.  But he lost track of Camino signs and ended up, several hours
"How green is my valley"
later, about 10 miles from his albergue.  He got his bearings and started walking in the right direction, then by some miracle saw a bus shelter with a taxi company's card taped inside.  He called and tried to describe the road he was walking on.  Sometime later a cab showed up and took him back, whereupon the hostess at his albergue let him have it, as he had kept all the other pilgrims waiting for dinner.  But at least he had found his way home.

Ron at a high point on the trail

     I had opted out of the hiking/dormitory experience in favor of spending time in Wales and Ireland.  So the same day Ron flew to Spain, I set out by bus, train and ferry for Tenby, Wales and Wexford, Ireland.
      Tenby is a seaside town in southwest Wales, where faded Victorian hotels line a promenade overlooking a white-sand beach.  I enjoyed walking among gardens on the cliff, listening to waves crashing, or relaxing on a balcony looking down on  the harbor. 
     An Arts Festival was going on that week, with movies, concerts, talks and more.  The highlight for me was a series of 10-minute "plays in pubs."  Three times a night, in the middle of a small pub, two or three people would perform a short play – original, realistic, usually funny;  when that one was over, patrons would move to another pub for a different play.  Conviviality merged with creativity for several evenings of lively entertainment.
Tenby Harbor
     After Tenby I had my longest travel day, with three bus connections to Fishguard Harbor, a 3-1/2-hour ferry to Rosslare, Ireland, and another bus to Wexford.  I was glad to set foot in Ireland, and though rain had hit the Camino, Ron sounded happy as a clam.

House in Wexford
     On my first night in Wexford I settled into Con Mackens pub with a pint of Smithwick's and my journal.  Later I ran into a man who'd been at the pub.  "I was admiring your handwriting before; I can see you're a writer," he said.  Now is that a bunch of blarney or the love of the Irish for literature?  I think the latter, because what followed was a lengthy discussion of the beauty of books, Irish authors, etc.
     Later in the week I met a man in his 70s named Willy who had traveled all over the former Soviet bloc.  He spoke passionately about Sarajevo, its people and what they'd gone through in the 90s war, something Ron and I feel strongly about as well. We continued to share travel stories, with others young and old joining in.  At some point he mentioned he was on his 7th pint, about usual for a Tuesday.  Then his phone rang; it was his 90-year-old mother telling him to come home for supper.
     The thing about Irish pubs is, a person of any age, any gender, can walk into one, just wander in and sit down and no one will give you a sideways glance.  Pubs are a natural place for people to gather or be on their own or hear music.  I saw almost no rude behavior, and many of the bars were quiet, unless they had horse racing or football on TV.
     A reviewer of the new movie, "The Irish Pub," summed up the friendliness of Irish pubs when he quoted "the grumpy Paul Gartlan of the pub that bears his name in Kingscourt, County Davant:  'You go into a pub abroad and they nearly ignore you,' he said.  'Go to a pub in Ireland and they'll be up your arse to find out who you are.' "
     Not to mention the Irish traditional music that seems to come from the very souls of those who can't keep themselves from playing.  A guy will pick up a guitar, then a fiddle or a tin whistle or a set of Irish bagpipes, or he'll sing a lovely ballad – old men who've never paused in decades or a young beefy guy playing delicately on a mandolin.  Players hear there's a session on at the Sky and Ground, for example, and go if they can.  People find out they're gathering and go to listen.
     So I didn't mind that it rained most of the week I was in Wexford.  The rain was soft and lovely.  One night I walked home in the mist through the dark and quiet streets and felt incredibly peaceful.


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