Apparently the aboriginal people of Australia used to have the ability to find their way about the outback, even places where they had never been before. This seems less far-fetched when I consider my own abilities in the 70’s to travel around without the aid of phones or sat nav.
When our ferry docked in Wexford the first task of my travelling companion Dunc and myself was to meet up with the missing member of our party Phil. This didn’t really take long, we went to the nearest camp site and there he was. I don’t know how we did it but this was entirely natural. Being a solo traveller Phil had spared himself an overnight stop in England and had made his way across the water in no time at all. He had missed out on a fatal accident and camping by the side of the road and the hippie van but what he had experienced was the Irish weather. The previous year he had purchased the cheapest tent available to share with Dunc. The previous night’s deluge had turned the tent into a paddling pool and Phil had spent the day buying polythene from a local hardware store and reinforcing his current accommodation. I felt quite smug having shelled out a bit more cash on a fly sheet but also concerned the polythene contraption might not hold up and all three of us might have to cram into mine.
We would deal with this if the rain continued but the evening was young and the weather was merely damp. I assume we had something to eat but for the entire trip all I could remember eating was a tin of cold ravioli. More important was to sample the Guinness which I had been informed was entirely different to the stuff on the mainland.it was, we found a pub nearby with anticipated folk music and a fine night was had by all.
Little did I realise this was to be the highlight of the trip. We later tried some of the other pubs in town but they all seemed soulless neon lit places occupied by three suspicious locals and no one else at all. Every night we had to go to the original pub which was actually a bit of a tourist trap. For the next couple of days we slept off hangovers and mooched about Wexford, it was apparent that it wasn’t going to hold our attention for long so we planned our next move.
We identified a campsite at a place called Red Cross and set off using our usual hitching arrangements which was me with Dunk and Phil on his own. Our first lift was a very nice man with a relaxed demeanour who just chatted away like our personal Terry Wogan. Red Cross was a bit off the main road so the nice Irishman dropped us off and we decided to walk for a while and occasionally stick our thumbs out if a car passed us. Hitching in Ireland was freaky. There were cars occupied by huge families sometimes with five kids all lined up on the backseat, they clearly were not going to offer us a lift. There was also an awful lot of nuns, dedicating their life to a higher power and serving their fellow man didn’t extent to giving us a lift, eventually we gave up trying when someone dressed as a penguin drove by. Finally, there were the older drivers who looked like they were going to stop, mainly because they were going so slow, but never did. Apparently, Ireland had introduced driving tests fairly recently and allegedly never bothered to test anyone who was already the proud owner of a vehicle.
So, we walked, and walked. It was humid and some seriously determined flies began to show us more attention than we really wanted. Equally determined were the dogs who strained at chains as we passed, it wasn’t exactly welcoming. Red Cross itself didn’t really lift the spirits. There was a camp sight and not much else, a group of local youths hung about outside the only shop, bizarrely they had adopted the gang uniform of straw hats.
Phil arrived a bit later, considerably more cheerful than us as he had managed to hitch all the way. We set up camp and sat around on the grass looking at the local hills and fields, there wasn’t much else to do. As evening fell, an unremarkable house suddenly switched on a neon sign and became the local pub. Naturally, we couldn’t resist a visit. It was a week day but the bar was quite full, mainly with tiny men with a collection of physical deformities. There was a Guinness pump and a whisky optic and literally that was it. Darts was probably a bit dangerous in such confines and so there was a game where you threw rubber rings at hooks. It was very popular. In a back room there was a session in force. At this point I was totally ignorant of Irish music but it looked quite fun. Unfortunately, such was the draw of live music that the room was so packed the only way you would get in was if someone chose to leave.
To be honest we weren’t really ready for the real Ireland and we went back to our tents where we listened to dogs barking and howling from a dozen different farms and hoped they were all chained up for the night.
We had had our bellyful of rural life and decided to relocate further north and stage a visit to Dublin. This involved a train journey as we didn’t fancy trying to hitch into the centre of an actual city. It was nice to have a break from hitching. Our cultural plan for Dublin was simple-find an amusement arcade and try some of the new-fangled video games that were just starting to appear. I was freaked out by the appearance of beggars and that started to spoil the day for me. It may seem strange in this day and age but I really wasn’t experienced with this, say what you want about the 70’s but people didn’t have to sleep on the streets. Old ladies would appear from nowhere offering to say some prayers for me in return for money. The whole thing wierded me out, it wasn’t just begging which really, believe me, was not commonplace in England. It was also the religious thing, the beggars who thought that was God’s will, the huge families, the Nuns who seemed to be everywhere, it was very apparent that this was very much a Catholic country and quite simply too religious for my tastes. Having decided to waste our money in slot machines rather than give it to people less fortunate than ourselves we agreed that we’d now had a bellyful of city life and went back to the campsite.
We lasted a couple more days before poverty and inclement weather made us decide our time was up. Night sailings were cheaper so we were able to spend the last of our money in the pub before catching the night boat. It appeared that everybody we came across, hopefully with the exception of the captain, were completely pissed. When I went to buy a ticket the bleary eyed official noticed by student railcard was little more than a scrap of paper having survived a full cycle in my mum’s washing machine. If he had charged me full price, I don’t know what I would have done, I had spent most of the last of my money in the pub. Luckily, he was more drunk than I was and waved me through. The journey was the stuff of nightmares, the ferry pitched and the passengers and crew staggered around in various states of intoxication. It was decided Phil and Dunc would hitch together and eventually I was standing beside the road out of Holyhead, tired and hungover in a grey dawn.
Strangely enough Phil Dunc and me would criss cross and pass each other in the journey from west to east. At one stage they persuaded their lorry driver to stop for me and we travelled together for a while. Apparently on an earlier lift in a truck Phil had jammed his rucksack against the cigarette lighter and shorted out the electrics, apparently the driver was quite understanding as they left him stranded in his vehicle.
I waited for what would be my final lift by a roundabout near Mildenhall. Not long previously a truck had discharged its contents on the road. On closer inspection this proved to be a whole load of raw chickens. I stood there with my thumb out , every time a lorry went past it crushed the chickens into an ever wider and thinner bloody mulch.
It seemed a fitting end to my holiday.