It is dark at night in rural Ireland. Very, very dark, especially in the rain – and especially in winter. As we turned the corner into the village suddenly there were lights from houses by the road. The shop and pub opposite the entrance to our little enclave had bright windows and outside lamps shone on sacks of fuel. We staggered from the car and waited in the rain as the dogs sniffed and had a pee on the walls. The front door was flung open and our friends were waiting with open arms – literally – to greet us. Inside it was bright, warm and surprisingly crowded considering we were in the main room and there were four adults, three small dogs and one little girl. A fire roared up the chimney in the ingle nook and we were ushered into chairs as we took off the dogs’ leads and blinked in the light. It was a wonderful welcome.
After greetings, wine, sandwiches, more wine and a guided tour of the cottage from the little girl we fell into the beds that were already made up, too tired to unpack the car. The next morning we found supplies for breakfast in the cupboards, provided by our lovely friends. We were able to finally stop and take stock. We opened the last of the cards and presents from Saltburn and decorated the main room with them. The fire had gone out and it was cold – very, very cold. There had been virtually no visitors over the last year and the cottage was in hibernation. Storage heaters in the bedrooms took off some of the chill but we were going to need the fire on constantly to keep warm and wake up our home.
Our cottage and home for the next few months was one of eleven set around two little greens. Built in the 1960s for tourists they were “traditional” in style. Deep walls, stone floors, basic furnishings, small windows and very small rooms. Perfect for a holiday but not perhaps ideal in winter for long-term residence. We unpacked the car and waited for a delivery from the nearest supermarket that Jacqui had ordered before we left. Apart from unpacking our meagre goods and walking the dogs in the park behind the cottages we were pretty much comatose for a few days.
We did manage a celebratory dinner on the second night. Saltburn has a marvellous butcher, Gosnay’s, and we had one final steak from his meat counter along with some excellent wine carried in the boot and wrapped in towels. We had ordered a large block of special sheep’s cheese from Real Meals before we left. It and the steak travelled without harm and we raised a glass to all our friends left behind and our friends in Ireland who had made the journey possible.
Musing on life and strange coincidences I remembered when we moved from Somerset 31 years before. We had visited Street, the home of shoe making in the west, and I found a pair of painted boots with a picture of a cliff on them. As we drove into Saltburn we saw Huntcliff – a distinctive shape that matched my boots exactly. It looked like a sign.
The week before leaving for Ireland I had packed an unfamiliar tea towel, probably from Jacqui’s great aunt, with a picture of a donkey outside a cottage. Looking out of the window I saw a rainbow over the green and realised these cottages matched that picture. Another sign perhaps?
I looked at the news and saw Scotland and Ireland were both closing their borders to all travellers. Despite the cold, despite the exhaustion I felt a great rush of relief. With barely 36 hours to spare we had made it.