Ireland and UK have some of the laziest sheep in the world. In fact the Quadrant tour group were starting to wonder if they were born legless. Irrespective of breed, days seem to consist of: open eyes reluctantly, stretch neck out just far enough, bite off a few mouthfuls then fall back to sleep. The fat-as-mud cattle weren’t much more energetic. Everything has grubby knees from constant sitting. This part of the European Union has no excuse for meat that isn’t tender.
Luckily for us, we did manage to squeeze in a few walks around farms and towns (admittedly the latter was sometimes just to roadtest a local watering hole), because breakfast spreads offered not just the usual sausages and bacon, but a raft of other options from black pudding to fresh pastries. Some members of the tour took it upon themselves to be dairy product assessors, too. (For the record – Irish butter was given 10/10). Add this feasting to the three course dinners, and its fortunate exercise counter-balanced input, otherwise we’d have looked like we’d been housed in a feedlot like the potato scoffing cattle we saw.
Irish and UK greenery is of course watered from above – we sighted no irrigation anywhere. In fact it was an unrelenting marvel to see so many profusely flowering pot plants and hanging baskets which clearly rarely required watering by human beings. We came suitably equipped to keep rain off ourselves but didn’t see much, and were very lucky to strike sunshine when visiting one of the most spectacular sights, the magnificent Cliffs of Moher. Hard to choose landscape highlights as there were so many; but Ireland’s spectacular Ring of Kerry and England’s neatly maintained stone-walled Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and Cotswold’s were popular favourites. Some landscapes are far more impressive in moody skies. The ancient cliff top ruins of Ireland’s Dunluce Castle, repeatedly vanishing then reappearing behind mist was a sight to remember forever. Likewise the lichen-covered monoliths of Stonehenge, looming above the landscape against a backdrop of stormy clouds.
Our tour visited more than a dozen farms, which were very diverse. The best part of meeting farmers was being able to hear personal stories firsthand, ask questions and learn about the differences but also the many similarities with Australian agriculture. We met farmers who had inherited land or life-long tenancies, large and small, as well as “self-made” men. Flamboyant characters and more conservative businessmen. Varying views on controversial topics such as the EU’s “Single Farm Payment” and TB-related badger cull gave us plenty of conversation fodder on farm while travelling around, and later over dinner. And, of course, there was much scrutinising of livestock breeds and condition, pastures, crops, machinery, sheds and innovations/ modifications from gate latches to dog kennels.
We had many interesting discussions about rural and social history and issues, such as the recent and historic Irish immigration to Australia due to economic misfortune and the potato famine; and the Scottish movement for independence (in 2014 Scotland votes on whether to separate from the UK).
These personal insights from locals fitted in neatly with the farms and famous landmarks visited. In fact everyone got along so well that all chose to do some things together during spare time. These bonus “extras” included assessing whether Jamie Oliver’s restaurants serve food as tasty as it looks on television (consensus – yes!); a sunset ride in “jaunty cars” (Irish horses and carts) around the splendid Muckross House gardens, while laughing with Irish BlarneyStone kissers waxing lyrical; punting in Cambridge with an interesting undergraduate; checking out shops of all sizes, including Harrods; and a boat trip along the Thames past many famous landmarks. Plus on our second last night, tasty dinner in a tapas restaurant followed by the famous Billy Elliott musical in a West End theatre. Then back to the restaurant for dessert of Spanish “churros”. We were by this stage used to eating several courses for dinner, and walking it off! I’m really looking forward to seeing all the fellow travellers again, and going on another tour..
Wonderful tour – the farm visits were terrific, loved them … and the tourist highlights in Ireland and Great Britain were fantastic.
Neil Barwick, Willow Tree, NSW.