We were armed with a long list of possible places to stay, courtesy of Lonely Planet and the web, but our confident arrival at our place of choice met with a resounding "no vacancies" - not just here, but everywhere - it was the weekend of the Cambridge Folk Festival! Faced with the possibility of having to go very far afield just to find a bed for the night (possibly back to London), we were extraordinarily lucky to have chosen as our first port of call a place where the young manager was very, very kind. Although he couldn't offer us a bed he took our list, added it to his own list of places to stay, and made phone-call after phone-call (about 40), not just to places in Cambridge, but to surrounding towns, until he found us a B&B that had a room available. We needed three nights and it only offered two, but by the third night the festival would be over and we were could come back and stay at this helpful hostel. The B&B was in Cambridge, within easy walking distance, in a perfect location, and we were grateful to have met such a fantastic person just when we needed help.
Wandering around Cambridge in the afternoon we were astonished when a voice called out a greeting to us - it was the friend we arranged to meet the following day. We did meet us as planned, and had a great day out in the surrounding countryside, including a visit to Ely and a long walk along the river. We had met (and last seen) our friend in South America, when her daughter was about three years old; it was good to meet her daughter as a young, confident teenager. We had another day to explore Cambridge, bought some obscure CDs at the markets, then took trains right across England to Bristol, where we were met by Geoff's cousin Pat (second cousin once removed); we were to spend a few days here, out at Blagdon.
Pat, Alan, and Pat's children had all stayed with us at various times in Australia, and it was wonderful to catch up with everyone. Our interest in walking out in the countryside was met with enthusiasm by Pat, who took us out for several very pleasant walks on nearby trails, and we also had a day in Bristol seeing the local sights, as well as a very wet day out in Bath, which we had visited before, but were very happy to revisit, despite the drenching. We also had a lovely day visiting Stourhead Garden and the house - we're not so interested in the grand mansion, although it was certainly impressive, but the grounds were very nice and offered good walking trails.
Pat and Alan drove us up to Dymock, where we had arranged to stay a couple of nights with another old friend. Again, this was a re-visit to the area. It was wonderful to catch up with Mary again, and to meet her new partner and her now-grown son, who was just a baby the last time we had been there. Mary and Richard had to work, so armed with an Ordinance Survey map we took the bus to Ross on Wye and spent a day walking along the river paths.
The next day we were on a ferry to Ireland. We had arranged to stay with friends who live near Dublin; Brian met us at the ferry and we were soon up the coast in Malahide, which retains some of its individual village identity, despite being subsumed into greater Dublin. We had only thought to impose on Brian and Gillian for a few days - in the event we spent a full week with them, having a wonderful time.
Brian lectured at Trinity, so we went in with him to look around the University, including a viewing of the Book of Kells, a visit to the library, and visiting some of the places only available to the staff. One of the quadrangles was given over to huge, temporary sand scuptures, with exquisite detail.
Brian and Gill were keen for us to stay in their cottage on Lough Ree, so we all drove out west and had three nights there, walking around parts of the lough, enjoying the countryside. There were places with signs of an older religion than Catholic Ireland usually own up to - wells and trees festooned with offerings, some Christian, but many owing something to an older celtic belief. The countryside around the lough is peat bog - amazing stuff. We visited the area where an ancient causeway had been discovered, preserved by the bog, wide and sturdy and straight as a die.
Kaye's grandmother came from Ireland, so we went on a search for Minogues (yes, the same family as Kylie) in Scarriff. It took us all day, but we found great-uncle Paddy's grave and may even have located the old family land. We didn't look for any living relatives, but have a great collection of Minogue gravestone pictures!
Back in Dublin, we set of north for a day of ancient history, visiting the Boyne Valley, the Hill of Tara, Drogheda and Slane. Again, there were strange offerings tied to the trees in some places. Brian is a font of knowledge when it comes to Irish history, so we were greatly entertained by stories as we went. But all things have a time and place. Brian had to go back to work and we had to move on to new places - off to the Med.