Sometimes I have such a wonderful day out that I just need to write about it right away. Saturday was one such occasion. My BFF Andrea and I had been trying to think of something to do on Saturday afternoon, and with St Patrick’s day just having passed earlier in the week it occurred to me that it might be an appropriate time to pay a visit to the St Patrick Visitor Centre in Downpatrick, Co Down. So that was the plan. As luck (or bad luck as far as my purse is concerned) would have it, I realised on Friday evening that there was a 3-day sale on at Next, so I contacted Andrea to arrange to meet in their store at Sprucefield before driving to Downpatrick.
By the time Andrea called to let me know she had arrived, I was already in the changing rooms in Next trying on two new pairs of trousers – one a pair of blue jeans with floral motif, and the other a pair of deep burgundy slightly flared velour trousers. They both fitted perfectly and so were duly purchased – £22 between them! Andrea had also picked up a couple of tops and a dress, so she paid for her own purchases and we hit the road. We had picked a beautiful day for our trip. It was the first day of Spring, and unusually for Northern Ireland, it actually felt like it. So coats were cast aside for the first time this year.
After about 40 minutes we arrived at Downpatrick and parked right outside Down County Museum, somewhere we didn’t actually manage to enter all day! We first walked up to the cathedral cemetery, where St Patrick is buried. Allegedly. Like many of the traditional beliefs surrounding our patron saint, it is hard to separate fact from fiction, but this seems as good a location as any. We then took five minutes to explore the interior of the cathedral itself, which surprisingly warm and modern feeling. Unfortunately the rather rustic stone floor combined with the heels on my new ankle boots combined with the general echoiness of an empty cathedral were making my footsteps a tad on the loud side. Let’s just say there wasn’t much chance of me sneaking up on someone unawares!
On leaving the cathedral we took a gentle stroll down a path and steps through a small wood to arrive at the St Patrick’s Visitor Centre. As we approached the entrance, I joked to Andrea that we might have the place to ourselves. I was nearly right. I had been there around 10 years ago with family, but I had forgotten most of what I saw. Essentially it is a series of video installations in various themed areas which tell you the story of St Patrick’s life. As I said earlier, there are so many myths surrounding the saint that it’s hard to know where truth ends and fiction begins. But what does seem fairly certain is that he was born in Roman Britain, captured by slavers and taken to Ireland where he was forced to work as a shepherd or swineherd for six years. He then escaped to an unspecified location, eventually returning home to his family. He became a bishop in the church but felt the calling and came back to Ireland to attempt to convert his former captors. Which he did. One particular section freaked Andrea out a little bit, a series of small video screens with talking mouths, as church elders quizzed Patrick about why he wanted to return to Ireland. Poor Andrea had to go through this installation with her back to the screens.
The whole thing finished with a wraparound screen cinema showing a summary of his story, and a rather disorienting helicopter ride around some of the sites associated with the saint – with a screen taking up your entire field of vision we were rocking and rolling left and right every time the helicopter banked.
By the time we finished up at the visitor centre we were rather hungry, as it was nearing 3pm. The cafe in the centre didn’t appear to be up to anything more than a slice of cake, so we headed into the town in search of a proper lunch. And we found just that. In fact, it was a very memorable and special lunch. I saw across the road from us a cafe called Oakley Fayre. Upon crossing over, Andrea noticed a sign in the window advertising Afternoon Tea for two for £10. That sounded right up our street so in we went. We were silently handed our menus, which didn’t have any mention of the afternoon tea offer, instead including burgers, panini and the like. So when our friendly waitress approached us and asked “Girls, are you ready to order?” (Girls, not ladies! We must look so young!) we mentioned that we had seen the poster in the window. She immediately smiled enthusiastically and told us that yes, the afternoon tea was really great.
Around ten minutes later the afternoon tea arrived. Eight sandwiches (4x chicken & stuffing on white bread, 4x BLT on wholemeal bread), two fresh cream scones, four tray bakes and a pot of tea between us. I looked at the three tiers of food and thought that we wouldn’t be able to get through it. How wrong I was! It was delicious and different, and the way it was served just gave it a real sense of occasion. Something also tells me that Ruth would love it – if she ever comes to visit I know where we’re stopping for lunch.
The till in the cafe is located at a doorway, creating something of a bottleneck in the flow of people through into the dining room. So as we were standing paying, some of the local “colour” approached. An older man who may have been drunk, or may just have been rather eccentric, but he looked at me and slurred “Like a butterflysshhh…”. OK, I thought, that’s nice, but I really have to go. I was wearing my dragonfly necklace, which is frequently mistaken for a butterfly, so presumed he was making some sort of approach to me. Oh, I can pull the men ok! So once we got out on the street, Andrea pointed out that whatever the source, it was a compliment so just take it. Just as I was pointing out that it wasn’t even a butterfly, Andrea realised what she was wearing. A top covered in butterflies! So it could have been her that the guy was slurring at, not me. It could even have been both of us! We just drive the boys wild, we do!
Our next stop was around 10 minutes’ drive away, somewhere Andrea had discovered on Trip Advisor. Ballynoe Stone Circle. After a few abortive attempts to find it, we saw the pathway leading through some fields, so I swapped my ankle boots for some flat shoes, and we took a short walk to a rather beautiful sight, and indeed site. A bit of paganism after St Patrick’s zealous Christianity.
Finally, it was off to Inch Abbey, which we had learned may have been the location of the writing of the hagiography of St Patrick which became the source of the legend of him having driven the snakes out of Ireland. (Old joke: What did St Patrick say while he was driving the snakes out of Ireland? “Are you all right in the back there?”) A ruined 11th century abbey at the side of a lake, it was a beautiful and peaceful sight in the late afternoon sunshine, just the location for a joint smiley selfie to round off the day.
We made our way back to Lisburn, where I deposited Andrea at her car, gave her a little goodbye hug, and then made my own way back home after a little bit of grocery shopping. A really hugely enjoyable day. No great insights into the trans condition here, no revelations about my self image of plans for the future, just a wonderful fun day out with a dear friend, so good I had to note it down. What could be better?
You remember the little things that make me happy? This day was full of them.