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Return to Bunbeg Harbour

'Come back soon,' Andy had said, when I left Bunbeg House the first time.

Well, it had taken me three years, but I was finally going to return. And my god was Andy going to be surprised. Andy and Jean Carr are the proprietors of the best B&B in the whole of Ireland. I had originally arrived there with Anne, my travelling companion at the time, after our trip to meet the King of Tory. Andy's father in law owned the hostel across the road and so we'd had to pop into Bunbeg House in order to get a room there. What's special about Andy is that he is a famous character in the Tony Hawks book Round Ireland with a Fridge, which I was carrying with me at the time. Andy also runs a nice little bar and restaurant alongside his B&B, so after arranging for us to stay in the hostel across the road, he had invited us back for a drink.

What Andy didn't yet know was that he is now a famous character in my new book, Hot Footing Around the Emerald Isle. I was looking forward to being the first to show him.

Nika, my current travelling companion, and I set off from Carlingford and drove to County Donegal through Northern Ireland. This was the first time I had been in this region. The only recognisable difference was that the car number plates were different, and the road signs were just like they were in England. We crossed the border without actually realising it. There wasn't even a sign to welcome us to Northern Ireland.

It rained all the way through Northern Ireland, but once we had crossed into County Donegal and were in Letterkenny, the rain had subsided. Upon first arrival in Letterkenny you could be forgiven for thinking that it isn't a particularly exciting place in which to spend the night. But when I had first arrived here three years ago I had been overwhelmed with the immense friendliness and hospitality of the people here. It soon became apparent that this hadn't changed when I entered the bookshop and newspapers to begin promoting my book. Most bookshops before had simply taken my book on sale or return and wished me luck. In the ABC bookshop however, they were not only welcoming of the book, but talked with me for ages about how I could best publicise it here in Donegal. The newspapers were equally keen to help.

I left Letterkenny an hour or so later feeling extremely happy. My intention was to take the road north and then branch off across the Derryveagh mountains to Bunbeg. But that wasn't to be so, because I quite obviously missed the turn off and continued north to the coast. I followed the road through the lovely villages of Dunfanaghy and Falcarragh until finally reaching Magheroarty, where Anne and I had originally caught the ferry to Tory. Here we pulled over on the cliff top and admired the stunning views of the Tory Sound and Tory Island itself. The sun was out now and the wind was blowing strong against us. This entire coastline is rugged and treeless due to its constant battering by the strong winds that prevail here. Magheroarty is just a small village with a pier and school.

From here we drove on along this bumpy coastal road which led us through the area known as The Bloody Foreland (so-named because of the colour of the rocks). Here each turn you take is fraught with danger, due to every section of the coast providing a view that you just cannot keep your eyes off. We pulled over countless times to admire and take pictures of the rugged, windswept inlets and the vast number golden, unspoilt beaches that adorn this remote wilderness. The whole of this coastline is scattered with small villages, or lone houses sitting atop the cliffs or hills. This truly is a wild paradise.

Finally we made it safe and sound into Bunbeg Harbour. This harbour is a small and sheltered place and very peaceful, even in the summer. Bunbeg House sits right at the harbour's edge and is a welcoming sight indeed. I parked up alongside the water. It was quite late by this time and so I knew exactly where to find Andy: in his bar.

'Well, good to see you working hard as usual,' I said, as I walked inside to find him chatting to one of his guests.

Andy looked at me, a little confused.

'You probably don't remember me,' I said. 'But I was here three years ago.'

'Hold on,' he said, his thick Cockney accent still apparent, 'gimme a minute, and I'll remember you.'

'Well perhaps this'll remind you,' I said, and handed him the book.

He was even more confused now.

I showed him the chapters and told him a few things to jog his memory. A smile came to his face as he remembered and leafed briefly through the chapter he was in.

'Ere Jean,' he shouted into the kitchen, 'another bloke's written a book about me now.'

He was very excited to be famous again. 'Can I get you a drink?' he asked.

'That'd be great!' I replied.

We never got our drink, he was too busy looking at the book and talking about it to the others. I signed it and he put it up next to the Tony Hawks book behind the bar.

Unfortunately his father in law's hostel was now closed for good, although he still hadn't sold it. For a brief moment I considered buying it and turning it back into a hostel, until Andy informed me he wanted half a million for it. So we slept in the van by the harbour.

Andy graciously allowed us to take a shower in one of the rooms before its occupants arrived, then we joined him for a drink, which we got this time.

We spent the evening drinking Guinness and swapping stories. Andy reprimanded me for describing his boat as a little Zodiac. 'It's a big Ospray,' he said. I stand corrected, well I was sitting actually.

The room where we had showered was booked for a TV crew from TG4, the Irish speaking channel here. They were going to film Andy jumping the waves in his Big Ospray. So this was certainly going to be Andy's week for fame in Ireland. The instant they arrived Andy supplied them with a drink and then proceeded to draw out his plan for their filming tomorrow. He wasn't happy with their ordinary approach and wanted to make it more exciting. Soon he had devised a masterpiece of his own which involved him falling off the boat and being pulled in again. With the plans set, we all went off to bed.

Andy had invited us to go out with the film crew the next morning. However, a low tide meant that he had difficulty getting everyone out on time. Nika and I couldn't get on at the harbour because the weight would have proved too much. Instead we were directed to the pier a few miles away. But when we arrived they had already left. The camera crew were behind schedule, so it was understandable that they wouldn't wait for us. Also, having discovered soon after that we were on the wrong pier didn't help much. As I walked along the coast I soon spotted the other around the corner.

When Andy returned later on he took us out, along with a couple from his B&B and his two boys. Andrew, the oldest boy, was the spitting image of his dad. 'I cloned him,' said Andy.

The sun was out and the sea was extremely choppy. Andy chugged out into the harbour and soon whizzed us on an amazing ride around the islands, surfing and jumping the waves. Each of us got completely soaked in the process, but it was so much fun we didn't care. The area around Bunbeg is dotted with tiny islands laden with abandoned villages. Many of the houses are perfectly preserved, and it looks almost as though there had been a nuclear holocaust on just these islands. The government had pretty much moved the people off the islands and on to the mainland years ago. But Andy explained that there were plans to put electricity on the islands, so the people might move back.

This is without doubt one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. The islands and coastline have some of the country's best beaches and rocky coves. The fact that it's so far north and prone to bad winters means that the tourist season is very short. However, as Andy explained, even in the winter the weather in the area of Bunbeg can be extremely nice. Andy allowed us to take turns steering the boat as we whipped our way across the waves and eventually back to the safety of the harbour. I for one, was extremely glad to be back in this part of the world and in the company of Andy and his little bar, and definitely not in any hurry to leave.

Bunbeg House 075 31258.

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