Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands was our next stop and we arrived on a blustery and rather wet morning, but to the wonderful sound of bagpipes. I hadn’t planned much for our visit here, but I ended up at the local Kirkjuvagr (pronounced kirk-u-vaar) gin distillery for an impromptu tour and gin tasting session. I’m not a huge fan of gin, but my goodness, they had some incredible flavours! I sampled one that almost blew my head off, to say the alcohol content was potent is an understatement. I don’t know how, but I managed the walk back to the shuttle bus, and in a straight line.
As we sailed for Belfast, we enjoyed some scenic cruising in the Inner Hebrides and that came with some spectacular shows from several pods of dolphins. In all my 61 cruises, I’d never been afforded as many photo opportunities as I was that day. All they wanted to do was play and all I wanted to do was capture them on camera. The open decks were filled with people enjoying the scenery and lunch al fresco was a real treat. It was a practically perfect day at sea.
Soggy, windy and a little on the chilly side, that was our morning in Belfast, but it was OK. I hopped on the shuttle and took myself off for an easy walk around the city. I like Belfast, very much, and always find something to do during my time there. Had the weather been better, I would have stayed in town much longer than I did, but the wind was pushing the rain sideways and no matter how I tried, I was getting soaked. I decided to return to the ship and see what was on offer for lunch. Much to my delight, there was curry, so I filled my plate. I also spent more time (as you do at 35 years of age) playing with the self serve drink machines in The Grill. I’m slightly obsessed with those and have decided I quite like a decaf cappuccino.
Our next port was Liverpool and I was booked on the ‘Plas Newydd and Llangollen Steam Railway’ which took us to Wales for the day. Honestly, I’d only booked the tour for the railway, but as things would turn out, it was Plas Newydd that I ultimately found more interesting. Llangollen has been synonymous with two women, known as “The Ladies of Llangollen”, since the 18th century. The stories of Lady Eleanor Charlotte Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby were well known in the area and they ultimately settled in Pen-Y-Mas cottage, known now as Plas Newydd. As younger women, they’d ran away together several times, their families hot on their heels to bring them back and keep them away from one another, but eventually, they settled together and spent the rest of their lives at Plas Newydd. I didn’t know any of what I’ve just told you before getting there. I’d had no time to do any real research on the area and i’d only very lightly scanned the tour information, so to see this lovely house and grounds and then hear the story behind it was a real treat on arrival.
The place is incredible. I loved the carvings that covered the exterior and interior of the property, and there were some gorgeous stained-glass windows in the rooms. It felt smaller inside than it looked on the outside, but it must have been a wonderful place to live. I believe the two ladies nurtured the gardens over many years. There wasn’t much more than a dusty field when they arrived and what you now see today is largely down to their efforts over the decades that they lived there. It’s definitely a place you should visit.
The Llangollen Steam Railway was fun, but the steam train was in hospital, so we had a diesel engine instead. I enjoyed the ride through the countryside, watching the lambs playing in the fields and admiring the little creeks we towered above. We went from Llangollen (which is a very pretty little town) to Corwen, where we boarded our coach for the journey back to Liverpool. As we sailed, we had some incredible fireworks to enjoy.
I stayed onboard in Dublin to enjoy the delights of Spirit of Discovery and believe it or not, I had a spa appointment. I’m not big on spa or salon visits, but a friend of mine had been telling me for months to get a keratin hair treatment, so I did. Irena looked after me and explained everything from beginning to end. She started by trimming 2 cm off the ends of my hair and then washing it with a special sulphate free shampoo that is designed to deep clean the hair before applying the keratin treatment. Next, she worked the treatment through my hair in small sections – like you would if you were having your hair coloured – before drying it and then using special (and very expensive) keratin straighteners to finish it all off. I hadn’t known what to expect and didn’t realise it was applied and then left on the hair. Only thing I will note is that although the treatment she used is completely free of chemicals (it’s all natural) it still irritated my eyes a little when I straightened the forward sections of my hair the following morning. I’d recommend you keep the eye closed on the side your straightening. Would I have it done again? Definitely! I immediately noticed a difference. There was far less frizz, my hair was smoother and it’s been much easier to dry and straighten since.
An early start was on the cards in Cobh and as we sailed into port, a thick and very low fog was making visibility pretty poor. I wouldn’t have been too concerned, but I was booked on the ‘Titanic Trail Walking Tour’ and didn’t really want to get rained on all day. We walked through the city, stopping at various points that were associated with Titanic, including the Titanic Monument, but we also visited St Colman’s Cathedral and stopped for a traditional Irish coffee at Rob Roy’s. it was a very good tour and our guide was excellent. I really can’t rate it highly enough and, as luck would have it, the rain held off!
The tour concluded with a visit to The Titanic Experience, which is located in the heart of town in the original White Star Line Ticket Office. When you arrive, you’re checked-in and are given the boarding pass of someone from Cobh (formerly Queenstown) who boarded the ship during her visit. As you traverse through the cinematic guided experience, you go from check-in until that fateful night in 1912. You’ll see the areas where passengers waited to board the ship, examples of accommodations onboard and at the very end, you can research your passenger and see whether he or she survived the sinking.
My passenger was 29-year-old Nora Healy from Athenry, Co. Galway. She was a third-class passenger and survived the sinking of the Titanic by boarding lifeboat number 16. Little is known about her life after the disaster, but she is recorded as having disembarked Carpathia in New York on April 18th, 1912. Sadly, she died just 7 years later.
So, I left you with food images at the end of part 1, but today I’m going to leave you some photos of a standard balcony cabin. I thought you might appreciate seeing one of the accommodation options that is available onboard. My final blog will be with you very soon…