The Stags Head

The Pub. One of the best aspect of living in Britain or Ireland. Something I really miss every time I spend even just a few days in Poland. I have to admit that there are periods when I might visit them a bit too often (from my liver’s perspective at least) but it is such a fantastic institution, how could one resist?

So during my recent trip to Ireland I couldn’t miss the opportunity of visiting a good Dublin pub. Our choice (based on a recommendation of one former Dubliner) was The Stags Head. Located at 1 Dame Court, it is not far from the touristy Temple Bar area but far enough to escape the worst aspects of its mass tourism. At first glance it looked like many other historic pubs; dark wood panelling, stained glass, and a real stag’s head above the bar. It could even be seen as kitschy if it wasn’t also so real at the same time. It is hard to explain what I mean but it was different than all those bland corporate pubs which try to look like the “real deal”. Surprisingly it is actually run by a pub chain.

But the best aspect of this fantastic watering hole was the bar staff. I have to say they offered the best service I have ever experienced in any pub, in any country. Ever. On the night we popped in there were only two guys serving but they managed without the slightest issue, despite quite a sizeable crowd of tourists and locals. They were even collecting and washing glasses themselves. One would expect a frenzied chaos or unfriendliness in such situation. And one couldn’t be more wrong.

First, they were fast, really fast. I have never experienced such a speedy service in well over 8 years of living in London, in fact I wish we had bar staff at least half as fast as those guys. But, at the same time, they were not running about like headless chickens. No, you could see that their moves were perfected over years of experience so it almost resembled some sort of ballet performance. They were definitely not the typical students behind a bar, like in many pubs, nor were they underpaid temporary staff who hate the job. No, they were true professionals who definitely knew what they were doing and they genuinely looked like they were enjoying it.

Second, they really knew their drinks. Of course the Guinness was poured perfectly (according to my cousin who is a bit of a Guinness enthusiast) but they also recommended us some good Irish whiskeys. I’m recently developing a bit of a whisky passion so I really appreciated some knowledgeable advice about the large selection they had. And they weren’t simply trying to sell me the most expensive one, no it was a genuine advice based on questions about my personal preferences. I started my whiskey session with a Red Breast, followed by a Green Spot before trying the incredibly peaty (and delicious) Connemara. At the end I was recommended a glass of Powers 12 years old. It was damn good.Irish Whiskey

Most importantly they were a really fun guys. They were cracking jokes almost every second sentence but it wasn’t an artificial performance. They really were the masters of the good banter. It didn’t matter if patrons were the stereotypical American tourists or locals, they were chatting and joking with everyone.

For example one American woman wanted to order an Irish whiskey with ice and a slice of lemon. This weird request started a chain of great jokes and exchanges between the barman and some locals. I really couldn’t stop laughing. The whole situation could in some other place be interpreted as rudeness but somehow here it made a perfect sense. Most importantly the woman herself didn’t seem to be offended.

Also, when I asked for a jug of water, so I could add few drops to my whiskey, the barman noted that you only add water to Scotch whisky as it is so horribly you can’t drink it without it. The Irish whiskey is good on its own. When I was trying to insist saying that if I don’t add water then I drink too fast the barman philosophically said: “Life’s not a race.” It became the catchphrase of our whole trip around Ireland.

We have spend a good few hours in the Stags Head and it was definitely the highlight of our brief visit do Dublin. Any time I’m in 100 miles radius of Dublin I will make sure I’ have time to visit this true gem and you should do likewise.

Remember, life’s not a race. 

An Irish Roadtrip

Grass in the middle of the roadIreland, the emerald isle, one of the most popular tourist destination in the world. After trying to organize a tour of it on a couple of separate occasions I finally succeeded just a few months ago.

And I have to say I absolutely loved it, so I decided to share some of my impressions. However, I’m not going to write about ancient ruins and monuments, or about the green and pleasant landscape, not even about tasty Guinness or lovely Irish pubs. No, I’m going to write about the most fun aspect of our journey, Irish roads.

Here, I have to admit that I am a road geek and I absolutely love driving (in case you hadn’t picked that up from my American journeys). I’m sure travelling by train is relaxing and travelling by bus lets you meet some fellow travellers but there is nothing better than your own set of wheels.

We started our trip in a car rental office in a suburb of Dublin. Nothing exciting or worth really writing about but in no time we were crossing the middle of the country on one of the new and empty Irish motorways. It was the first big surprise. Being used to busy British roads I just couldn’t believe how empty a major highway can be. There were quite long moments on our way to Cork when we couldn’t see a single car in front or behind us. Pure joy to drive.Dangerous Bends on R666

Still, a motorway is a motorway, nothing really worth shouting about (maybe apart from some spectacular Alpine stretches in Switzerland). It was the smaller roads which provided some real fun. Our first encounter with a proper Irish road was R668 across the Knockmealdown Mountains linking counties Tipperary and Waterford. Due to inclement weather (to say the least) we couldn’t really admire the apparently great views but the drive itself was still fun with all the tight corners and moss covered branches hanging over the road.

For the next two days we toured the spectacular counties of Cork and Kerry. Apart from being absolutely scenic they happen to contain some of the most twisted and fun to drive roads on the whole island.N71

Here I have to mention one of the best aspects of Irish local roads, their high speed limits, totally irrespective of the road quality. Generally the national roads have a 100kph limit while local roads (however twisty or narrow, or both) 80kph. Seriously, 80kph on a narrow goat path. That’s what I’m talking about. There is never a need to slow down just for the limit’s sake, you can concentrate on taking those nice corners at a proper speed. Some of the best stretches I could recommend are, for example, the road leading to Healy Pass (R574), the road leading to Mizen Head (R591), Ring of Beara (R571 and R572), the N71 via Turners Rock Tunnels and then Moll’s Gap, or the roads of the Dingle Peninsula (especially R569 via Conor Pass).Tunnels on N71

All these roads (plus many other, even smaller ones) are fantastic real driver’s roads. Twisted but well paved and mostly empty (at least off-season). The few locals we encountered drove really fast and quickly disappeared in front of us. The even fewer slow drivers let us overtake and smiled politely rather than create rolling blockades like in some other countries. Of course things get much less fun in the height of summer when hordes of tourists unaccustomed to the narrow mountain roads create havoc and totally spoil the fun.

R487 to Loop HeadThe next day we crossed the Shannon estuary (using the interesting local ferry from Killimer to Tarbert) and entered county Clare. Here the roads might be a bit less spectacular than further southwest but still the driving was a pure joy. On our way we stopped at the Cliffs of Moher which was the first place where we experienced a bit of the tourist traffic. Oh boy, some of the folks can be really annoying, driving 30 bloody kph and backing up even the farm vehicles. It really made us glad that we didn’t tour Ireland in the high season. Luckily the scenic roads across the fascinating Burren region (still in County Clare) were almost totally empty and fun to drive, we only encountered one single tour bus.

After an overnight stop in Galway we entered another area of scenic roads, the absolutely magical Connemara. Our day in Connemara started grey and misty but it only added to the charm. By the afternoon the weather had improved and by 2pm we were experiencing proper sunshine. The roads of Connemera are as fun to drive as the roads of Kerry or Cork. Some of the best stretches are twisty roads along the coast (R340, R341, R342) or the relatively straight R344 running inland along the broad Inagh Valley which reminded me of Glen Coe quite a bit. In fact the whole of Connemara reminded me of Scotland.Connemara Road

The last part of our roadtrip was the smooth and fast drive across the whole island from Galway back to Dublin. It was another example of an excellent motorway almost completely devoid of traffic. Ireland really developed its road network in the last few years and you can now criss-cross the country on many brand new high quality roads. In fact Ireland has now one of the longest network of motorways per capita, most of them built in the last decade or so. Impressive achievement.

But let’s be honest, as much as I am a road geek fascinated by modern developments the real treat were the local Irish roads. That’s where the fun and excitement is.

Achtung - Attention

In total we drove about 1800km ( over 1100 miles) in five days and it was a great driving holiday. In fact, probably on par with my favourite driving territory, the US. The roads of Ireland might be narrower but they offer great fun. Irish drivers drive fast and dynamic but also confident and, in my opinion, quite safely (definitely safer than in my native Poland). The only thing you have to watch for are fellow tourists, often identifiable by the sticker saying “diesel” or “petrol” on their cars’ fuel inlets. Give them a wide berth and have fun. 



It is my day off. The sun is shining, there is a slight breeze, in other words it is a perfect day. And what am I doing? I’m photographing a motorway. Yes, I must be mad. Well, I know, it is not just any motorway, it is the M25, the London orbital, but still, for most people I must be mad.


So let me try to explain. First I have to admit that I love roads and driving. It doesn’t matter if it is a narrow country lane in Scottish Highlands or a multi-lane freeway in Los Angeles. I like them all. But my fascination goes further than simply driving along them. Being slightly geeky I have become really interested in road building, road design and all the associated technologies. I also like photography and I take a lot of pictures of roads and road signs. From that perspective walking along the motorway in search of some good views should seem a little bit less strange. At least I hope so.

I started my adventure by carefully studying the OS maps covering the southern bits of the M25, which I chose because it is relatively close to where I live. There I was looking for some interesting features because, let’s be honest, a plain stretch of motorway is boring even for someone like me.

I identified the M25/M23 junction as quite an interesting structure and planned my trip around it.

I started my walk at Merstham train station which is conveniently located less than 500m from the bridge carrying the A23 (called here London Rd) over the M25. From this bridge there is a nice view to the east where two railway bridges carry the London-Brighton line over the motorway. Another good vantage point is the pedestrian bridge carrying the North Downs Way above the M25, located a few hundred meters to the west. That’s where I crossed to the north side of the motorway.

I then followed the trail as long as it went along the Rockshaw Rd. This local road crosses the railway line which runs here in a deep cut and then, after a bit over 1km, it also crosses the M23 motorway, just north of its junction with the M25. You can see some of the slip roads but the multilevel core of the junction is not really visible from here. For that you have to continue along the Rockshaw Rd until the Warwick Wold Rd and then turn right (south). This road crosses the M25 on an overpass just east of the junction. From that overpass there is a good panorama of the 3-level junction, a great photo opportunity.M25-M23 Junction

I then crossed under the M23 south of the M23/M25 junction and followed Bletchingley Rd until the first public footpath heading to the right (north). It looked promising at first but quickly become overgrown and poorly marked. Or I should rather say not marked at all. At some point I got actually lost but then spotted some barely visible trail in the waist-tall wild grass. That little path brought me back to the trail running just south of the M25. I couldn’t believe how such a rural and bucolic landscape can be so close to such an important artery. Only the constant noise reminded me that the London orbital was running no more than 20-30m from the trail.

Just before returning to Merstham station there is one more pedestrian bridge over the M25 and it offers a great uninterrupted view of the railway bridges, located probably just over 100m to the west. It is a perfect place for taking pictures combining motorway and trains. A truly sweet spot for any infrastructure geek like me.Thameslink crossing M25

So that was my motorway walk. It might be bizarre, it might be strange but I really had a good day and I’m already planning more ventures in the vicinity of the M25.