The dog days are over, the nights are drawing in and the daily grind is getting you down. You’re itching for a break, but can’t afford to wander too far or be away too long. The remnants of your holidays have been carefully squirreled away for one last hurrah at the end of the year. Frustrated and bored, those precious days off remain elusively out of sight, tantalizingly obscured by the misty horizons of Halloween and the unrelenting grimness of November.
What better then, than to lift the gloom with a quick overnight trip. Hop in the car, head Northwards and in just over an hour you can be safely ensconced in the medieval town of Carlingford. With its breathtaking views and relaxing vibe, twenty-four hours there might just be enough to infuse your senses and sate your weary soul.
As you step through the arch of the ancient Tholsel and absorb first impressions, it’s like you’ve entered the portal to another world.
Bounded by mountains, with views across the lough, you could be in any medieval coastal town in Europe. On a clear day the vistas are stunning, while duller ones afford ever-welcome opportunities to duck into one of the many hostelries adorning the ancient streets. Pausing to consider your options, you settle for a quick drink before sampling an amazing selection of some of the best seafood the East coast has to offer. All with the added bonus of not having to leave the country!
We guarantee that when the sands of time expire on your brief Carlingford sojurn, you may find yourself in the midst of a dilemma: Resist the lure of staying another day and head resolutely back down the road or yield to temptation, extend the trip and savour the prospect of another delightful evening ahead…
So go on – treat yourself. Sure why not? We’ve even put together this sample itinerary for you:
Arrive in the afternoon, then…
Check in at Ghan House
You’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to great places to stay in Carlingford, but over the years this beautiful Georgian house has become a firm favourite. Set in its own grounds the house offers a uniquely atmospheric setting and is also home to a firmly established cookery school.
If you were well-organized you could plan your trip to include six friends, a spot of wine tasting, fish smoking or bread baking, following which you get to enjoy the spoils of the afternoon in the comfort of your own private dining room.
Take a quick stroll to Crystal Antiques
As the sign says, ‘this is a shop not a museum’, something it’s amazingly easy to forget as you burrow your way through its treasures. Home to the kind of paraphernalia that graced your Grannie’s front room back in the day, Crystal Antiques sells everything from staples favoured on the wedding lists of the last century (china tea sets, cake stands, Royal Albert tableware, crystal decanters and canteens of cutlery) to a wide range of military memorabilia, books and walking sticks. With a bit of luck, you may even get to examine some recent arrivals handpicked by the owner. Time whizzes by here… Suddenly it is 5.30pm, the shop closes and it’s time to…
Have a pint at O’Hare’s
Step past the old petrol pump, through the shop entrance into the convivial surroundings of O’Hare’s and marvel at the selection of drinks on offer while inspecting the menu.
Aside from a healthy choice of native raw and cooked oysters, the bar also preserves the clothes, bones and belongings of ‘Sean Og’ a leprechaun reputedly found on Slieve Foy by the late PJ O’Hare. You can study his effects over some excellent pints while mulling over your next decision – dine in or head out?
Dinner at The Oyster Catcher or Tasting Menu at Ghan House?
There’s no shortage of options when it comes to eating out in Carlingford, but dinner at the Oyster Catcher is always divine. Modest Marian and Harry Jordan make no claims as to ‘the exoticism or uniqueness’ of their food, but the provenance is clearly stated and includes oysters from Morgans of Omeath, Sweaty Betty, a fish caught off the coast of North Galway and Bellingham Blue, the award winning farmhouse cheese produced by the Thomas family in Castlebellingham.
Should you elect to stay put, the dining room at Ghan House offers a salubrious backdrop to a delicious six-course tasting menu. Subtle cappuccino of parsnip, venison with dark chocolate sauce, a board of savoury Irish cheese and that’s just the half of it! We suggest a post-prandial in the library or, alternatively, a diversion to the village for a swift half before bedtime.
The morning after…
Following the culinary exertions of the night before you’ll surprise yourself as you merrily munch your way through a bowl of Joyce’s homemade muesli, a hearty full Irish breakfast, molasses soda bread and selection of homemade jams.
A short walk up Ghan Road is definitely de rigeur, where, joining a company of lucky souls taking their ease you’ll discover the cavern of last leprechauns, nestling in the majestic shadows of the ancient mountainy terrain.
Drop into Molly May’s
Time now to think about picking up some mementos and Molly May’s is the perfect place, offering a multitude of quirky gift ideas. The charming gift shop stocks the Annie Sloan Chalk Paint range and offers workshops on lamp-making, seat upholstery and painting. We particularly liked the lampshades hand-fashioned in Laura Ashley fabric.
Lunch at the Kingfisher Bistro
Weekend lunch at the Kingfisher – a stunning seafood risotto, with crispy leeks and basil pesto – is an ideal way to round off your stay. Enjoy a refreshingly cold glass of sparkling water and a quick espresso before resolving your ‘stay-or-go’ conundrum.
It’s a while yet before Christmas. We know what we’d do…
Words: Martina Murray
Pics: VisitCarlingford.com, Megalithic Ireland, Ghan House, PJ O’Hares, TheLastLeprechaunsofIreland.com