This was a planned trip in early January, for a night’s relaxation in a high-end spa hotel, and a little sightseeing in the local area. Alas not everything went to plan.
Our drive from Dublin cut through the lowlands of Longford and Roscommon before riding the backbone of Mayo. A succession of towns with either closed cafes or the empty car parks of pubs on a Sunday (never inspiring) ensured we arrived in Ballina with a gaping hunger.
The Ice House Hotel, Ballina
First impressions of the town of Ballina suggested it was peaceful, but relatively big, with a good number of hotels, shops and pubs for the traveller. We made our way to the Ice House Hotel. The Moy River provides a beautiful setting for the hotel on its banks.
We made a beeline for the Riverview restaurant. It’s down a flight of stairs and set within what assumes was the original “ice house”. High curved ceilings lead out to a tasteful glassed extension. The large windows overlook the river and makes wonderful use of the location. The 19th century house looms above through the conservatory windows.
We were encouraged to find a seat. The Sunday Lunch menu had the usual staples, roast beef, bacon, chicken. If was priced at 23€ for 2 courses. I went with the deep-fried Brie which was spot on and had a delicious side salad. My wife’s leek and potato soup was lacking flavour and needed a good supplement of salt. For mains I had the chicken Kiev and she had the cod both of which were decent. Good fare on a cold bitter day. While the food was memorable the service was slow and although professional it lacked personality.
The bedroom on the other hand was fantastic centred on a king size bed with a very comfortable King Koil mattress. It was equipped with a shower, but no bath. A selection of Voya products are available in the bathroom. The hotel has a number of suites in both modern and traditional styles, the Riverview suites looked excellent from what I saw. Our view overlooked the river which reflected the trees from the woods behind. The colours of Autumnal brown glowed from the water, despite this being early January.
The hotel had a good range of treatments for him, her and for couples. The spa is highly regarded and is based around Voya products and treatments. Treatments start from specials at around the €50 mark. However Beata had a dose of the sniffles and so we abstained. The highlight of the spa was a couple of outdoor cedar wood hot tubs and a barrel sauna which were idyllically located on a boardwalk next to the river. We made it our intention to use the next morning.
An evening relaxing ended with a dinner in the bar. We were still a little full after lunch so didn’t fancy a 3-course meal. I opted for the beef burger and she had the grilled chicken ciabatta with guacamole. Again the food was consistently good. The barman was a bit rushed but the restaurant was busy.
The hotel opened since the noughties, was originally an ice house as the name suggests. The river was the salmon capital of Ireland, and large quantities were caught here and taken to Dublin and the UK. This is where the ice house came in, providing refrigeration for the fish on its journey from Atlantic to Irish Sea. Built in 1859, the ice stores were flled by ice from local lakes and ponds. Obviously winters were a lot colder back then. In mild winters ice was shipped from Sandanavia. The house was built over the ice stores in 1890. However climate change in the early 20th century resulted in a decline in the ice houses. With the advent of refrigeration, their use was discontinued.
There is a well blended fusion of styles within the hotel. A sitting room is moulded around an open fire. A flight of stairs to the older building is trapped in time. The modern rooms monikers are those of gems and stones. The ice house dark vaults juxtapose the streaming light from the glassed restaurant.
We awoke early and came down for what was a fantastic breakfast. I, as ever in hotels, opted for the full Irish. The staff were more than helpful to arrange a plate of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for Beata. The restaurant again provided a calm location for breakfast. It’s the perfect location for a few days retreat from the bustle of city life.
The night however brought with it a cold snap and with that a disaster. We awoke to a bitter morning the next day which scuppered our hopes to use the hotels outdoor jacuzzis and sauna. They fell victim to the cold and were out of order.We lamented the opportunity not to avail of them. Maybe our health was grateful for it.
Onwards to the Wild Atlantic Way
Despite the sub-zero temperatures we ploughed ahead with the plan to catch some of the Wild Atlantic Way. Traversing the River Moy via Ballina, we made our way to my first chosen stop, Belleek Castle, a Manor House built in 1831, and opened as a hotel in 1970. Private tours allow one to visit the private collection of armor and to visit various parts of the castle…. however, not today, tours didn’t start till 2pm in January and that’s a long wait from 11.
Deciding to be selective cause of the bitter cold (the chill factor brought the air down to -6 degerees celsius) I opted to keep going past Moyne Abbey and Rosserk Friary. Beata suffering from a head cold was a contributing factor here too. I briefly visited Killala Round Tower, a very intact structure amongst a number of historical buildings.
The roads from here were what one expects, bendy, bumpy, bizarre; but with a fine collage of views. More than once I feared for our safety as we crushed through road ice, but we made it to the Ceide Fields without a hitch.
The hitch came when I discovered they were closed. I referred back to my bible, the book of Google, which for once had let me down. A local website confirmed their opening from Easter to October end. Disheartened with myself I took solace in a wonderful sea view to be found directly opposite the attraction entrance. The wind was biting but it only enhanced the raw power of the vista.
Back tracking as planned we stopped in Ballycastle for a coffee. We headed for a local pub. Opening the door Country and Western yodeling rushed to our ears and a few locals heads turned. I had a brief thought I had entered a scene from Deliverance but then the barmaid broke my delusion with her friendliness.
From Ballycastle, we turned up towards Downpatrick Head. An awesome piece of coastline, battered by huge waves, there is a car park at the end. From here a marked path takes you out to the Dun Briste Sea Stack. A sign warns about coastal erosion, high waves, and blow holes. I wouldn’t need any more encouragement. But my conscience told me otherwise, Beata was in need of a bed, an electric blanket and some TLC. Not a long wait in a car in the rugged wilds of the West. So I begrudgingly give up on my hike.
This area of the Wild Atlantic Way is well worth a visit. I can’t say why as I didn’t get to see anything I wanted. But I know I’ll be back to step out on the fields of our early ancestors, to (hopefully) avoid the blasts of gushing water from blow holes, and to soak in a jacuzzi on the banks of the River Moy.