A Travellerspoint blog

May/June 2008 Ireland

Hiking, Oghams, and Ruins, oh my!

sunny 24 °F

May 27, 2008
We are returning to Ireland after 10 years. We knew we'd be back and that this isn't our last trip to this whimsical and wild place that we love so much. This time however, we're older, more seasoned travelers, so logistics are a bit easier and we know how to travel better (if that makes sense). We're pretty excited about our latest adventure to misty, mysterious Ireland. We will try to blog it all ASAP!

Stella wants to come with us, apparently!


MAY 29/30, 2008

We got to Dublin at around 9AM and needed to stay awake so we wouldn't waste the day. We got into the rental car and headed into County Meath to Knowth. The theory is that these were either sacred burial places or ritual sites of the Neolithic Irish people. The man at Knowth was clearly very passionate about the place and it was such a mysterious place.................

Next, we were on the bus to Newgrange, another burial mound/passage tomb. According to knowth.com, “Megalithic mounds such as Newgrange entered Irish mythology as sídhe or fairy mounds. Newgrange was said to be the home of Oenghus, the god of love…Images from inside the chamber at Newgrange including the tri-spiral design on orthostat C10 which is probably the most famous Irish Megalithic symbol. It is often referred to as a Celtic design, but it was carved at least 2500 years before the Celts reached Ireland.”


“Newgrange appears to have been used as a tomb. The recesses in the cruciform chamber hold large stone basins into which were placed cremated human remains. During excavation, the remains of five individuals were found. It is speculated that the sun formed an important part of the religious beliefs of the neolithic ("New" Stone Age) people who built it.”
(From Wikipedia)

We were able to go in with a group of about 30 people. The guide showed us how the light of the sun shines on the floor, by simulating it with a flashlight. It was a very interesting and spiritual experience. I later found a tremendous, yet inviting tree across the way from the tomb and decided to rest under her shady branches as I waited for the bus.

I was so fatigued that I nodded off during the 10 minute bus ride back to the visitor’s center. We stumbled off the bus and we inquired at the front desk about “Fourknocks”, a place we read about on the internet. The 1st girl had no idea what we were talking about, but the second person did and he proceeded to dig around for a map (the site was about a 20 minute drive from there).

We made our way down a quiet narrow road lined with Queen Anne’s Lace, and over to what we thought was the walkway, were we were confronted by a sign that said the keys to the door of the portal tomb are at Mr Fintan White’s house down the road, so we knew we were in the right place.


We encountered some British ex-pats who lived in Australia (Perth) on their way out of there and we ended up chatting them up a bit and following them to Mr White’s house to transfer the key. So back we went and it was just the two of us on a mild and sunny day. We explored this passage tomb & its ornate stones with the respect a place like that deserved.


We were surprised that unsupervised visitors have free rein over the site, but no one seemed to have vandalized it in the past, so I guess all was well. We were looking for a stone, that the placard outside said looked like a face. Steve saw the face looking back at us, and I did as well (after being coaxed by my own imagination). We climbed on top of the tomb and took in Irish the vista around us.


When we were talking with the clerk at the Newgrange visitor center, he asked us where we were headed next and was delighted that we were going to Lough Gur on this trip, his favorite part of the whole country! He suggested we take back roads down to Wicklow, as it was a Bank Holiday (like our Memorial Day weekend, minus the veterans) and the traffic would be nightmarish around Dublin. So off we went, on country roads to Glendalough in County Wicklow. We finally rolled into Co. Wicklow and admired all the yellow and white flowering bushes as the clouds passed over the sun, graying the sky for a moment.

From wicklow.com, “Glendalough gets its name from the Irish language. Gleann dá locha literally means the ‘Glen of the two lakes’.” "The valley of the two lake is famous for its wild beauty, its rich spiritual history, and its many archaeological sites." It is a peaceful and magical place for many people. So we checked into the hostel we were staying at and fought the urge to drop into bed and instead stumbled over to what appeared to be the only place open, a hotel/tavern about 1/8 mile from the hostel. We’d have a lot of sticker shock over the cost of food there. We had a quiet dinner of sandwiches (which were cheaper then entrees!) and crawled back to the hostel where we fell quickly asleep. Check out the bunk beds - hey we're always looking for a bargain!

MAY 31, 2008

This morning, we woke up early and stopped at a very cool restaurant that I had noticed coming into “town” the night before. They use all organic and local ingredients. We filled up on breakfasts waking up starving (darn time difference - I'm not usually a breakfast person). We returned to the hostel and packed our backpacks with raincoats, snacks and water for a hike. We get to the visitor’s center to get a trail map and were quickly on our way to the Spinc Trail, one of the hardest in the park I would later find out as I am huffing it!

At the beginning of the trail, it starts in the woods and there is a pretty waterfall cascading and then disappearing in the foliage.


We encounter a warning sign about this trail: “dangerous cliffs, have navigational skills, dangerous….etc” I am a bit apprehensive at this point and it’s here when I look at Steve askance and he sheepishly tells me of the difficulty of the trail. I am not much of a quitter, so off we went, and I didn’t think it was as bad as the sign said, but it wasn’t easy for me.

We make our way ascent up about 1,000 feet straight up in the woods on stairs. The trail was actually really nice. They were trying to dissuade erosion, so they encourage people to stick to the trail. Out of respect for the ecology, we did that. It was interesting to be in a postindustrial country like this, that has the infrastructure and resources to maintain these places. Some of the places we’ve been to are run down or poorly maintained in comparison. When we climbed out of the break in the trees toward our reward (a beautiful lookout of the two lakes), we rested and took it in, with a few gulps of water.


We encountered an Irish couple on this trail who were very cool and insisted on “posing” us this way for this photo.



Well we weren’t at the top yet, and we’d continue on a nice trail around the edge of the small mountain.

I kept interrupting the hike, by turning back to see the view that was slowly getting smaller. I had my mini tripod and set up a few pictures on the camera’s timer when we stopped to have a piece of fruit and some water. Steve was completely in his element out there on that mountain. I am grateful I can enjoy these things with him.

The hike started in the woods, and although the view was amazing, I do prefer woods over mountains. I think it is the dark, and the sounds and the sweet smells of the woods that I prefer. Anyway, we saw some goats and some deer running around as we made our way back down the mountain. Ireland gets rain, so there were mountain streams slinking down and at one point, there was a lone tree out there in the midst of the landscape. I hopped a few rocks and stood in the stream, listening to it amble over the stones and roll down the hill. Steve was further down the stream enjoying himself as well. The quiet break from the hike was nice for awhile and I took some photos.


Next, we walked past an old mining operation and the lakes and ultimately made our way back into the woods on the other side of the valley. Once we got off the trail and into the main park area, there were tons of people enjoying the beautiful weather. We wondered where all these people came from?? There weren’t many on the trail. We found a shady tree and crashed for a few. We snuck in a few candy bars in our bags and enjoyed them in the shade. I especially like the “Picnic” – I remembered these from previous trips and they are like a Baby Ruth here.

Back in “town” (it’s not really a town, more like a couple of places to stay and a convenience store and some tourist stands in the middle of nowhere), we went to Kevin’s Monastery. It’s a place people flock all over the place to see there in Glendalough. Apparently, “He lived in solitude at Disert-Coemgen for seven years, sleeping on a dolmen (now known as "Saint Kevin's Bed") perched on a perilous precipice, that an angel had led him to, and later established a church for his own community at Glendalough. This monastery was to become the parent of several others. Eventually, Glendalough, with its seven churches, became one of the chief pilgrimage destinations in Ireland.” (Wikipedia)

So we’re outside a souvenir shop and there’s this lazy black cat sunning herself right there and so I ask the clerk who is on her cigarette break) about the cat. She calls her “Baby” and says that the hotel/tavern across the street feeds her as does someone else. I asked how long she’s been hanging around and it’s been 10 years!! The cat can’t be bothered to lift her lazy head as I am petting her in the sun.

We read about this lookout in our Lonely Planet guide, so we decided to go check it out.


We didn't particulary like the looks of Wicklow town as we rolled into it, so we decided to drive through it and see what was beyond as we looked for a place to settle in and eat. On the way, we stopped at this little beach.


We found like the only restaurant around and decided since we were hungry that it was go. Everyone was sitting outside drinking Bulmer's (like and Irish Cider Jack) with their families and their dogs lolling around in the early evening sun. I asked some people if we could sit at their table. It was like a picnic table and in Europe it's customary for people to share tables at restaurants unlike here in the States. So we settled in and ordered food. They ended up leaving and another couple sat down later on. I was sitting with them while Steve paid for the bill, so I started conversation. Incidentally, this is an area for Irish tourists. Many of them have a summer home or trailer here. I noticed that we were the ONLY people around without Irish accents, so that made sense. They said this restaurant was the only game in town, which explains why it was so crowded.

We drove the 30-40 minutes back to Glendalough and hit the convenience store to get HB (their version of Good Humor bars). I got a mint Feast and Steve got a chocolate Magnum…..yum! We returned to the hostel to do laundry and plan the next day out. The weather has been stupendous! High 70s and sunny. And it doesn't get dark until well after 10PM!

June 1, 2008

The next day we got up and headed out to look for some Ogham stones in counties Wicklow, Waterford and Tipperary as we headed south.

The first one was in the middle of a quiet little town. We had written directions and photographs with us of each site, so we were looking for the buildings in the photo and easily found it in the middle of town.

From megalithicireland.com "Situated in the centre of Donard.... is this rectangular block of stone bearing an ogham inscription. The stone is about 1.5 metres high and the inscription reads, " IAQINI KOI MAQI MUC.." The megalith originally stood on a farm close to the village and was later moved to the garden of the civic guards barracks, which is now a private house."

The next one took some doing to find. We were in the countryside and were pretty turned around as the directions didn't indicate names of anything.....just like "a left at the intersection". The stone is in the woods and is not signposted. So we asked some old men for directions. To our surprise was asked the father of a local archaeologist! He pointed us in the right direction. There it was.......we walked in the tall wet grass to the stone and the sun was shining on it.

From megalithicireland.com - where we found all these stones online. "Knickeen Long Stone, is classified as a standing stone with ogham writing. This megalith stands approximately 8 feet high, with an ogham inscription reading "Maqi Nili". Ogham is the earliest form of writing in Ireland dating back to the early Christian era. This megalith was really hard to find as it was hidden in a forestry plantation, I would not have found it without a map."

I noticed this little snail on the stone, so I took a photo.

On our way out of the area, we saw a sign on the road pointing to the Castleruddery stone circle. Most of these ancient sites are actually on private property - usually owned by farmers. We saw the farmer in his tractor rolling around the field, so we waved and he smiled and sort of acknowledged it was OK to check the stone circle on his property.

From megalithicireland.com "This rather untidy circle which was once known as the Druidical Circle is about 100 metres in diameter, consisting of around forty stones, the circle has two enormous white quartz portal stones at the entrance.... The image bottom left shows one of the quartz entrance stones in the foreground."

This is one of a series of stones at the ST. DECLAN church ruins in the seaside town of Ardmore which is on the southern coast of Ireland in County Waterford. These were really easy to find.


From megalithicireland.com "Located in the chancel of the cathedral are two of the three ogham stones that were originally found at this site. The ogham stone standing in a small niche of the chancel shown left, was found built into the east wall of the oratory, and has two inscriptions that read: LUGUDECCAS MAQI (...MU)COI NETA SEGAMONAS and DOLATI BIGA ISGOB. Pictured below is an ogham stone found lying beside a grave, the inscription reads: AMADU. A third ogham stone which was found built into a wall of the cathedral has been removed to the National Museum Ireland. The inscription read ...NACI MAQI... "



We next went to find this other stone. As you can see it is on farm property and the stone is old and the inscription is not very good. This one was very hard to find, because every road and gate looks just like this in rural farm country. From megalithicireland.com "The inscription reads ' CATABAR MOCO VIRICORB'."


We began to look for the last stone on the list and just could not find it. We drove around in circles and decided that since it was getting dark and we were in the middle of nowhere, we'd try again in the morning on our way to Lough Gur, which is about 1 hour south of Limerick. So we checked into a B and B called Fatima House in Carrick-on-Suir run by a nice gentleman named Raymond. Carrick-on-Suir didn't appeal to us. It seemed kind of run down. Anyway, it was a fine place to rest our heads.

June 2, 2008

In the morning, we got up on a mission to find that last stone site. Back and forth we went down this country road trying to find the final site. We encountered an old farmer in a tractor. When Steve opened the tractor door to ask the old man, the darn thing came right off! He awkwardly tried to place it back on the frame, but the farmer seemed unmoved by the whole thing. He happily tried to explain which house it was where the farmer lived who owned the property. So off we were, a bit confused by the farmer's unclear and heavily accented (though well-intentioned) directions and we come upon a man and his son, so we ask. It's their property! Hooray! We finally found the place. We respectfully ask permission and the 12 year old boy walks us out to the site (not viewable from the road). It is magnificent! Almost every stone is inscribed!

He said his family has owned this property for 5 generations! As we dodged cowpatties on the way back, I asked him if he liked it on the farm and he said that he did. Incidentally, his older sister is in California working at the beach, like so many European young people do. If she's never left the farm, this must be quite an experience!

From megalithicireland.com "In 1867 a farmer discovered a souterrain, an artificial cave, in one of his fields, he discovered that ogham stones were built into the walls and roof of the souterrain and in 1936 part of the cave was dismantled and some of the ogham stones re-erected above ground. One inscription reads, 'CUNALEGEA MAQI C...SALAR CELI AVI QUECI'. Another stone bears the insciption 'MANU MAGUNO GATI MOCOI MACORBO'. Another stone reads reads 'CALUNOVIC MAQI MUCOI LIT......'."

On our way to Lough Gur, we noticed in our Lonely Planet guide rave reviews for Cahir Castle, so off we went!

Here I am at Cahir Castle

As we drove down the road, we notice this behemoth in the distance! Imagine our surprise upon seeing this magnificent castle on the side of the road! We stopped to take some photos from a bridge with a couple of Scotsmen.

Lough Gur is an interesting place. From University of Notre Dame's website, "Lough Gur is a small horseshoe-shaped lake nestled among limestone hills in south-eastern Limerick. Over 30 ancient sites and monuments can be found around its shores today, ranging in date from Neolithic to Medieval times, and many more may originally have been present (view map). Lough Gur’s monuments include stone circles, dwelling-places, field systems, standing stones, ringforts, crannogs, castles, and a megalithic tomb."

So we go to the visitor center, with the intention of doing some hiking and we unpleasantly surprised to find that the woman there was quite unhelpful. We left with the impression that no hiking would be done that afternoon. So we decided to meander a bit and came upon a gate in the woods, not far from the visitor center. There was a sign that read that this was private property and no dogs were allowed. So we were a bit bewildered: What about people? Were they allowed? All of the sudden an old man with a walking stick appeared behind us. So we asked him and he said he wasn't sure, but he was going to carry on. So we decided to as well, stepping over the gate. The old man wandered ahead of us, as stopped to take photos here and there.


We get to a clearing with a beautiful view of the lake and there's a rather large hill, that we eventually worked up a sweat climbing. But before we approached the hill, the old man slowly disappeared into the distance. Now, I know that so many people revere this place as being mystical, but I began to wonder if that old man actually existed......

After spying some spittle bugs, we slowly climbed the hill among bright blue dragonflies effortlessly whizzing around us as we worked a sweat, and we were afforded some nice views of the lake.

We studied the lake and wondered.....could we walk around the whole thing??? As we made our way down the hill we encountered two men about 30 years old. They were an interesting pair, especially the one who reminisced about of his edge-of-the-law stories of living in the US and repeatedly asked us if we had marijuana. I talked politics with him, figuring that he had an opinion about the upcoming Irish vote on the EU Constitution that I had seen signs about everywhere. Indeed, he had an opinion staunchly against Irish approval. He seemed to like us and gave us the tip the the lake isn't really walkable on the one side and recommended the other side of the lake. So we were off......

We would now encounter a taller gate that said "Caution: Angry Bulls" or something like that. In an attempt not to appear to be rude Americans (were we?), we mentioned the sign to some Irish people swimming right there and they said they couldn't read the "No Swimming" sign either, so we confidently hopped the gate and started our walk. We are on our way to look for some stone circles on the hill up there and we encounter a bunch of cows. I mentioned to Steve that I thought the sign was an attempt at bizarre Irish humor, to which we replied with a resounding "no". I cringed. Were these bulls really "angry"??? We quickly made our way over the hill, and I stupidly thought this would provide shelter from the "angry bulls" not calculating the fact, that eventually, I'd need to make it back down the hill.

It seemed as though the sky was beginning to open up. We were prepared and grabbed our raincoats out of our backpack. They were effective in keeping our torsos and heads dry when the sky opened, but the remainder of our bodies was soaked, including our squishy hiking boots. Before the sky opened, we did reach two stone circles. Upon the advice of my mother, I left a bit of chocolate in each circle, as legend has it that fairies there expect that you leave them a little something or they get grumpy. Here is one of the circles.


Now that it is teeming, we decide it's time to make our way back to the car, which seems like a continent away at this point. I follow closely behind Steve and as we make our way over the hill again, and all of the cows seemed to move right into the area we needed to go! Steve thought it was comical, but I feared making eye contact with any of the massive animals, lest they think I was "challenging" them! In retrospect the whole thing is pretty hysterical. Still, I wonder.....where there "angry bulls" in that herd?

We stop at another wedge tomb and incidentally it is the largest stone circle in all of Ireland at Lough Gur as we drive away in the rain, toward Ennis.

We rolled into Ennis soaking wet from our encounter in Lough Gur. We dried off at the Stonehaven B and B and headed out to check out Ennis. What was weird is that the whole town closed down pretty early. Some pubs were open and we ate dinner at one of them.


After dinner we asked our server how long it takes to get to the Cliffs of Moher. He asked if we were looking to go right then and there and we said we were thinking about it. For a 30-40 minute drive, we determined we could do it. It was about 7:30PM and it got dark at about 10PM. So off we went, out to the Cliffs. It was overcast, so we brought our now-mostly dry raincoats.

We got to the Cliffs and it was desolate since they were "closed". Another couple was leaving as we got there. It was so much like our first visit. I had heard that they have become a tourist trap, so I was concerned. Since we were there after hours it was very quiet. We didn't need to pay the 12 bucks to park or an entry fee. All of this was new since we were there in '98. There was a visitor center and restaurant and gift shop built tastefully into the ground, but I could image hordes of tour buses there which would totally ruin the experience for me. As I said, it was quiet and misty and dark - just the way we remembered the cliffs - before all this was built up.



I took a photo as the sun was setting.

On the way out of the cliffs, we passed this church ruin that just looked cool, so we checked it out, respectfully, of course.

In the distance we saw lights for a carnival, we followed the shore to the lights and saw a small carnival set up. There was a ride that was American themed, which I found amusing, so I took a photo as the teenage girls on the ride waved at the camera.

June 3, 2008

In the morning we got up with the intention of checking out the Burren, which is probably our favorite part of the country. We're still in County Clare. We drove down windy roads through the expanse of the Burren. Our first encounter was the Dysert O'Dea castle. Look at how sunny and beautiful it was on this day!

It was actually pretty cool to be back in the Burren, knowing that a decade ago, we ambled along the very roads, but this time it was very different - and it wasn't just the dramatically sunny and mild day.

We bought some fresh cheese from a shop at a stone fort, that was made at the nearby Ailwee Caves, and then snacked on that before moving on.

Of course, we went to the Poulnabrone Dolmen. This was an interesting experience. A lot had changed since we were last here. It seems to have been "touristed". The peacefulness of the site seems to have been compromised by the parking lot, ropes around it, and tour buses pulling in - all new developments since our last visit. Steve sat on a rock some distance away as I walked around and snapped photos.

He was dismayed that this sacred place was relegated to a tourist trap with people oddly posing in front of the portal tomb. Had we done that at Stonhenge, I wondered? Is it cynicism or a great respect for the ancient culture we had been hunting down the last 4 days. There was a fine line. So here we are, after I set the camera on the tripod, near the dolmen, but not in front of it.......

Anyway, here is a photo I shot of the Dolmen.

We heard that the view from Ailwee Caves was beautiful so we went there next. When we got to the entrance gate, we felt awkward about telling them we didn't want cave tickets, we just wanted to go up there for the view, but they couldn't have been nicer. In fact, the girl gave us a map and told us where the views were. Perhaps they get a lot of these requests?

My mom recommended the Burren perfumery, and since we had the time to kill, we decided to check it out. It seemed pretty out of the way on narrow little overgrown roads through the Burren national park that were signposted with repeated warnings that no tourist buses were allowed on these little roads. I kept getting the feeling that we somehow had the "inside scoop" by not being on the bus. I am not sure if I was right or wrong. So we roll into this quaint, cute, little out-of-the-way stone cottage. This is where we had lunch!


It was (admittedly) very feminine, and cozy. We settled in with fresh butter and brown bread, salad, chutney, and an egg salad sandwich. We also ordered their herb tea of the day (herbs is kind of their thing!). And we got this little teapot with loose herbs and a tea strainer. Everything there was phenomenal. I wondered if this place was real. It was out of Alice in Wonderland.

Now as if we weren't enjoying this little place enough, these cats started weaving around our feet. The orange one was especially friendly.......reminding us of Stella at home.


We mistakenly bought some shower gel as a thank-you for Steve's sister, not realizing it would get confiscated at the airport for being more than 3 oz. They were very nice about it at Shannon, but it would be discovered on the US side and they didn't want a bad rap. We understood. We wandered around their herb garden after checking out the little store.

After the perfumery, we decided to make the drive to east Clare out to Killaloe to check out a stone in a cathedral there. What is cool about this stone is that it has both Runic (Scandinavian) and Ogham (Irish) writing on it. We drove around town a few times after going to the wrong cathedral. When we finally got to the cathedral it was probably about 2:30-3:00 pm and the door was locked! Drat! We went across the street to a little shop and asked what the shopkeeper knew about the cathedral. Well, he was incensed that the doors were locked! He said it should be open for children of God to visit! He told us where the Deacon lived and said we should knock on his door to open it. We hemmed and hawed, but he assured us that he tells people to do this all the time. So we went to the guy's house and he said it was often that he came down to open the cathedral. His name was Steve and he was most friendly. He let us in and talked about the cathedral and showed us the stone we were looking so hard for.

This trip has been cool. We were on a mission to find some ancient stones in Ogham writing and we found all the stones on our list, although some were a bit difficult to find. This trip was dramatically different from the trip we took in 1998. We were able to do and see so much more since we know how to travel much better. It's weird.....travel....it's actually something we have had to learn how to do. Anyway, Ireland has maintained her mystery as we remembered it 10 years ago.

Posted by stevedana 17:00 Archived in Ireland Comments (1)

March 2006 England

View Steve & Dana's Map on stevedana's travel map.

Friday, March 10, 2006. We arrived in London Heathrow in the evening. We hopped on the tube (subway) to find The Columbia Hotel. Here is a reflection of Steve in the train window.

Web DSC03667.jpg

We unknowingly walked by it and wandered around this quiet neighborhood looking for it. We called the front desk to discover we had just walked by it. So we go to check in. It’s a pleasant hotel, although the lobby was being repainted so there were supplies everywhere and a drunken person at the front desk who was obviously confused. We climbed the old marble staircase to our floor and checked into our oblong room. It was simple, but it had everything we needed and was in a good location.

We were pretty hungry and asked the clerk where we could go to eat and he suggested a quick-e-mart a few blocks over as there was nothing open (of course a few blocks past that in Bayswater there were more places to eat, but we wouldn’t know about that yet). So we stocked up on some
prepared snacks and sandwiches and that was dinner.

We headed back out to explore some of London’s sights at night, so we hopped on the “tube” and checked out Big Ben, the Eye, Houses of Parliament, and other cool sites. We ran into some Japanese kids and asked them to take our photo, but it didn’t come out very well! It was cool just wandering around and checking out stuff we’ve seen on TV or in magazines and it was all lit up beautifully at night.

Web DSC03727ca.jpg

We were pretty tired after traveling all day, so we turned in after cleaning up and unpacking.

Web DSC03928.jpg

Saturday, March 11, 2006: I had seen somewhere that there was a Buddhist temple in the city, and being fascinated with Asian culture, we decided to make the trip out to the Wimbledon section of town. It was a lengthy ride on the tube and then a lengthy walk. It was a quite pleasant walk. This part of town was extremely well-to-do, and we passed by a number of mansions, that looked like cottages in some cases, but huge, beautiful cottages. Each house had its own personality – not like some of the McMansions here. So the streets were tree lined and the walls, were ivy covered. The trip was as pleasant as the destination.

We arrived at the tiny Buddhapadipa Temple and admired its architecture and grounds. Incidentally, the monks also live there. It was set back – and could easily be walked right past.

Web DSC03803.jpg

We removed our shoes and entered the empty temple. There was an amazing shrine in front of us, and I took its picture before discovering the rather obvious signs asking that no photographs be taken in that room. I sheepishly went into another room – one that could be photographed and the walls were beautifully painted with religious scenes, and there was a statue of the Dalai Lama present in the room. After admiring the art and the shrine, we left a donation and put on our shoes and made the trek back into central London. That was a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Our next stop was the Tower of London. It was founded by William the Conqueror in 1066. It is one of the world’s most famous fortresses today. This was really cool. Steve especially enjoyed it. We went to the torture chamber (talk about bad energy!), the Bloody Tower, and the Royal Amory exhibit there of beautiful swords and armor. We saw the crown jewels and Traitor’s Gate, and Steve even posed for a photo with a Beefeater!

Web DSC03810.jpg

Afterward, we got fish and chips from a street vendor and ate outside with some birds! It was a chilly day. We took some photos in front of Tower Bridge (often confused with being “London Bridge”), and then headed over to Buckingham Palace. Now that was a real sight. The place was huge, heavily patrolled, and beautiful. I wondered how the Brits felt about paying taxes for this place?

Our next stop was The Monument, designed by Christopher Wren and erected in the late 1600s. It commemorates the Great Fire of London in 1666. There are 311 windy steps to the top. You even get a certificate of completion upon making it to the top. There, are fabulous views of London, like this one. The sun was battling it out with the clouds and there was a pretty light play in the city. You could see the damage of WW2 – some buildings were escaped destruction and were obviously very old, and others did not and were very modern. I felt very much like London was the marriage of old and new.

Web DSC03914.jpg

After the Monument, we trucked over to St Paul’s Cathedral (also designed by Wren), where Steve almost got ran down by a double decker bus that was dangerously close to the sidewalk. It was quiet and beautiful inside. It looked like a neo-gothic cathedral. It was so ornate.

In the evening, we decided to check out Piccadilly Circle, which is London’s version of Times Square. There were so many people and so much energy there! It was so much fun being in the throngs of excited tourists in London, if only for a short while. We decided to eat at an Indian restaurant, curious to see if it was like The Clay Oven, here at home. It was called Indian Brasserie, and we had a great meal, although nothing beats the local place!

Web DSC03947.jpg
Web DSC03937.jpg
There is a subway stop called “Elephant and Castle”. I was so intrigued by this, that we took the subway to this stop, just so I could get a photo of the sign. I don’t know what kind of neighborhood it was! Since we were on the subway (tube), we decided to check out the Tower of London and Tower Bridge all lit up at night. I truly believe that Paris is the city of lights, but London was also quite beautiful at night! There were gothic gargoyles adorning Tower Bridge. It was filled with tourists like us, admiring the feat of human ingenuity.

Web DSC03988.jpg

Web DSC04607.jpg

This had been a long and every eventful day! It was time to crash.

Sunday, March 12, 2006: On this day, we planned to head out to the country, so we hopped on the tube to the airport to get our rental car and off we went into the countryside.

Our first stop was Avebury, which is bigger and quieter than Stonehenge. There “are 100 stones, ditches, mounds and curious patterns of the past, as well as the village of Avebury, which grew up in the middle of this fascinating 1,400-foot-wide Neolithic circle.” Also, in Avebury is Silbury Hill, a 130-foot high, yet-to-be explained mound of chalk that is nearly 5,000 years old! It’s the largest man-made object in prehistoric Europe!

Web DSC04037.jpg

What was cool about Avebury is that you can move freely about the standing stones and there was almost no one there. It was also very cold. We had not packed appropriately. There were actually snow flurries, and I hadn’t a winter coat with me! I can see why there weren’t many tourists milling around. I was willing to trade the warmth in for the quiet. It was a magical place and we wandered around for quite awhile. Since the village itself lies inside the circle, there is a mystical flavor to the whole town. We decided to eat at the Red Lion, which is one of the most haunted pubs in the world! We actually sat at the famed 15th century well that has been turned into a table in the pub. That was a really cool place. It had great food and everyone was cozying up from the cold.

Web DSC04045.jpg

Web DSC04050.jpg

Stonehenge is about a half hour’s drive from Avebury, so we headed there next. All of the sudden, there we saw the famed standing stones on the landscape. It was so exciting to be there! Stonehenge is as old as the great temples and pyramids of Egypt and is a World Heritage Site. Scholars believe the stones were part of a huge astronomical calendar. It was created thousands of years ago. We wandered slowly around the structure. I always dreamed of seeing Stonehenge in person. There is a diagram there of what archaeologists suspected it looked like before ruin. Every year during the summer solstice pagans visit the site. It would be cool to see that!

Web DSC04089.jpg
Web DSC041.. play 4.jpg

After Stonehenge, we headed off the countryside cottage I found on the internet and booked for the night. So we tool into the rural English village of Potterne and I realize that I don’t have the address or a telephone # for the cottage. So we pulled into a pub parking lot and scratched our heads. Steve went to the door to ask someone, but since it was already Sunday evening, everything was closed up. After a couple phone calls to the States, we got the telephone number and called the proprietors for directions. Stable Cottage was the cutest little thatched roof cottage behind their house! It was once a stable, hence its name. It was so adorable inside. On their website it says, “ The cottage itself is historic, being a 17th century converted stable with exposed oak beams.” We loved this little place and could have stayed longer.

Web DSC04107.jpg

After settling in, we headed out to grab a bite to eat. On the way, we wanted to see the sun set over Stonehenge. There was a row of vehicles all sitting and waiting. It was magnificent! We drove into Salisbury (the cathedral in town houses one of the copies of the Magna Carta, by the way). You can see the medieval flavor of the place. We decide to eat at the Market Inn Pub in town and had another cozy, homey and delicious pub meal. Britain is great for that (as is Ireland!).

When we went to the ATM, we discovered that our debit card had been disabled! We decided to call the bank in the morning. After dinner, we decided to call it a night and cozy up in the cottage.

Monday, March 13, 2006: This morning, after making a few calls to the US, we decided to drive out to Glastonbury, a famous village known for its “bohemian attitude and ancient relics. It claims to be both the birthplace of English Christianity and the burial place of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere”. So we checked into the bed and breakfast. It had two little rickety beds. It was an adorable room, but it was something out of an “I Love Lucy” episode!

Anyway, we headed out into town on foot and stopped in this beautiful candle and herb store. The whole town was sort of mystical and new-agey. I enjoyed it. We had brunch in a Vegetarian Blues Pub.

Our next stop was Glastonbury Tor. “The Tor (hill) is considered a sacred site by many and is thought to be home of Gwyn ap Nudd (the King of the Underworld). The Tor is an exhilarating place with fantastic views over the surrounding countryside. This 525 foot high summit is a place of pilgrimage for many years. All that remains of the medieval church of St Michael is the tower”

Web DSC04195.jpg

We’re pictured here in the tower, which is visible for miles around.
Web DSC04225ps.jpg

Some people have had visions while resting on the way up to the top of the Tor on benches like this one.
Web DSC04219.jpg

It was windy and wild up there. There was another couple who was kind enough to take our photo. After enjoying the views and the energy there, we made the trip back down and headed over to the Chalice Well and Gardens. The Chalice Well was so cool! In fact the woman behind the ticket counter was from Summit, NJ! Weird huh?
From http://www.chalicewell.org.uk “There are many associations with Chalice Well covering countless centuries; it is a timeless and sacred place, full of legend, symbolism and atmosphere, a place whose history has no beginning. Since ancient times, the waters that flow from deep below our planet have been revered as the essence of life, the gift of mother earth to sustain all her living forms. A spring such as the Chalice Well which has never been known to fail is especially revered as a symbol of the continuous and unbounded nature of the life force. Archaeology has shown that the Spring was used by prehistoric tribes who inhabited this land, and for the last 2000 years we can be fairly sure that the site has been in constant use. To be at the well head, and drink the water and absorb the atmosphere of the place is truly an inspirational experience.”

Web DSC04261ca.jpg

After getting unusually close to a little sparrow (robin?), we walked through the peaceful gardens over to the flow forms spring, King Arthur’s Courtyard, and the Chalice well’s water is so full of iron that is colors the rocks red, seen here.
We filled up a plastic bottle at “Blood” or “Red Spring”. The daily flow is about 25,000 gallons & is constant even in times of great drought. It's temperature is a constant 52o (F). The water is thought to have healing powers. We brought some home for everyone to try and have plenty of extra for ourselves.

Web DSC04254.jpg

Chalice Well is actually a spring. The symbol on top of the spring cover is the “The vesica piscis, a sacred geometrical symbol in which the circumference of one circle goes through the center of another identical circle. The bit in the middle is the vesica. It is the sacred geometrical figure of the last two thousand years.” The inner chamber of the well’s shape and purpose is a mystery but its geometric proportions suggest a link with ancient Egyptian units of measurement, so it may have been used for some kind of initiation relating to ceremonies at that time.” http://www.chalicewell.org.uk.

After our visit at the Chalice Well, we decided to explore Glastonbury Abbey. The Abbey’s brochure reads “The 2,000 years of Christianity we are celebrating & remembering are forever rooted in the mystical land of Avalon where the story of Glastonbury Abbey began. It is traditionally the 1st Christian Sanctuary in Great Britain, visited so legend has it, by Joseph of Arimathea and Saints David and Patrick. Many believe that Arimathea’s staff were convinced that King Arthur and Queen Guinevere are buried in the Abbey.”

After overhearing us talking about where to have dinner, a local told us that the Mitre Inn was the place to go for dinner, but they didn’t open until 5:30 and we had some time to kill, so we wandered into this beautifully decorated perfumery, where you make your own fragrances, called S. Amuser and that was a lot of fun for me. Steve even made a men’s perfume! So it was on to the Mitre Inn. It was very cozy. They had a fire going and there were regulars with their dogs laying on the floor and lively conversation around the bar. Steve ordered a Hobgoblin Ale and we had amazing dinners there! After dinner, we walked around the old streets to our B&B.
Web DSC04320.jpg

Tuesday, March 14, 2006: Glastonbury was a deeply mystical and spiritual place.
In the morning, we had our free breakfast at the B&B. The husband prepared a hot breakfast to order while chatting up a seeming regular guest. He was lamenting what a pain in the neck his wife was! After checking out we headed toward Warwick, and on the way, we could see Wales in the distance. We also drove through the beautiful Cotswolds and ambled through Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-Upon-Avon. It was a nice drive through the English countryside.

We came into Warwick in search of the uber-touristy castle there! When we got there they were filming a commercial for the place so there were people in all kinds of costumes!

Web DSC04450ps.jpg

From wikipedia, “Legend has it that the first fortification of significance on the grounds of Warwick Castle was erected by Ethelfleda, the daughter of Alfred the Great, in the year 914. In the year 1264, the castle was seized by the forces of Simon de Montfort.” It has been the site of fortifications wince the 10th century.

The castle was enormous and we were able to climb around it, which was both tiring and very cool! Of course we saw their knights and armor exhibit, the torture chamber and some beautifully decorated rooms. It was like a museum of medieval history, with Latin-phrased stained glass windows and beautiful tapestries adorning the walls. We made up to the top of a couple towers and got phenomenal views of the countryside and of the town of Warwick.

Web DSC04451ps.jpg
There was a peacock garden on the grounds with peacocks wandering all over the place, as well as a small arboretum. We ambled into town after our visit and there were the most adorable streets, I mean it looked like a postcard.

Web DSC04543.jpg
We even pet a one-eyed cat who was cozying up to passersby. We were on the lookout for something…..I don’t remember what – batteries or an adapter or something. The town of Warwick was a sheer delight!
Web DSC04544.jpg

It was about a 4-hour drive back to London. We dropped the car off at the airport and caught the tube into town. We were back at the Columbia Hotel.

On our last night, we decided to check out some parts of town we hadn’t explored before, especially OXO Tower, which is in a wealthy arts and theater neighborhood. We walked across the Thames on London Bridge to get to OXO. There is an observation deck at the top as well as an upscale restaurant. We actually had to walk through the restaurant to get to the observation area. That was awkward; we certainly weren’t dressed to slide past the most well to do members of London society sitting at their dinner tables. We were able to catch beautiful views of the Tate Modern Museum, St Paul’s Cathedral and the lights of the city and the Thames below. I spotted an area of trees adorned in blue and white glistening lights and determined we were going to check it out. So we did. It was a beautiful place! Obviously someone put a lot of money into beautifying and gentrifying the area. It was very quiet, almost vacant, and we walked along the Thames under these glistening blue trees.
Web DSC04614.jpg

After spending time there, we headed back over to Houses of Parliament.

Web DSC04622.jpg

I wanted to get some photos of Westminster Abbey and more gothic architecture before we left, but not before asking two Bobbies to pose for a photo!

Web DSC04625ps.jpg

We headed over to Bayswater and the streets were full of people. It reminds me of Philly’s South Street area. We did a little shopping from some street vendors and got Cadbury Mini Egg Flurries from the McDonald’s there.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006: It was time to say goodbye to England. We had time before the flight at 3 OM, so we decided to wander around Kensington Gardens. Although it was overcast, the temperature was a bit warmer. It was a beautiful respite from the city. On the way back, we stopped at the Bayswater neighborhood again, with its busy streets and the florists setting up shop for the morning. It was time to head back to Heathrow and say goodbye to this medieval, enchanting place……

Web DSC04678bw.jpg

Posted by stevedana 16:00 Archived in England Comments (0)

Feb 1998 Ireland

overcast 45 °F
View Steve & Dana's Map on stevedana's travel map.

In February of 1998 we went to misty, magical Ireland. I had been there when I was 16, but it was special sharing it with Steve. This was our first major trip together!

We stayed away from cities not even having visited Dublin & we headed out to the Southwest part of the country after landing in Shannon Airport. We explored Counties Clare, Limerick, Kerry, & Cork. We checked out ruins, old churches, standing stones, holy wells, castles, ancient crosses, druid shrines, & beehive huts. It is hard to remember some of the details since it is so many years later, but here is the best we could put together between the two of us.

We secured airfare from Aer Lingus for $200 round trip, making the whole trip cost $600 per person from chowder to souvenirs! We were both pretty broke & had a whimsical week together in this magical place.

SAT FEB 21: We landed in Shannon airport early in the morning. Right away, we picked up the rental car & hit the road and got gas & some funky candy bars. I noticed Enya was playing on the radio at the gas station. We'd hear lots of Enya (& the Spice Girls!)

We were fortunate enough to have Michelin map, which was an amazing map for this trip. On our way to Firies where we rented a house, we stopped at this pub for a bite to eat. You can see the jet lag in the photo below. The best meal you can get is in a pub, which are very much family-oriented establishments in Ireland. We ordered lots of chowders with fresh brown bread & butter. It was cheap, filling, & delicious. Steve's Guinness took 20 minutes to get it, since it is so fresh and needed to settle. Guinness just isn't the same in the US.
Web scan0034.jpg

We rented a small house & a car for the week we were there. This made it much more affordable & suited our independent travel nature not being confined to a tour. It was cool too because we could see the school bus picking up the neighbor's children. It was like we lived in a little neighborhood. We also had to be careful to close the gate after we parked the car, so no one's cows & sheep would wander in.

ir 5.5ps.jpg

We picked up groceries at the local food store. As long as we didn't talk, we looked like locals. I remember thinking that was cool. Anyway, we stocked our kitchen to save money, so the only meals we ate out were lunches. We had yogurt, fruit & cereal for breakfast, & mostly pasta for dinners. Also, heat was very expensive there. We got 4 hours of free heat each day, plus peat to burn in the fireplace, but remember it was February! We didn't want to pay extra for heat, so we set the timer for the morning & the evening.

So Firies would be our home base & we'd take long day trips from there each day. We did so much exploring everyday that we only really went out on one night. Besides, Killarney was the nearest "city" of any size. We noticed a sign for an "American style" bar. So one night, we hopped in the car & got there at about 10:30 pm & the place was closing! On the way, we had to cross train tracks & a person had to physically raise the arm over the tracks. We got a kick out of that.

Anyway, here is Steve in our living room during a typical evening. We'd make dinner, watch Irish TV, try to stoke the fire & read together. It was very quaint. We loved it.

ir 7ps.jpg

SUN. FEB 22: This morning we went to Killarney to meet with Deros Tours for tickets to do a day tour of the Ring of Kerry.

We thought it would be nice to have someone explain what we were looking at. We didn't even have a tour book & "winged" the whole trip (not something I would suggest doing). On this day, however, some organization was in order. So we all hopped on the bus, on the tour, & checked out MacGillyguddy Reeks mountain range, Dingle Bay, Kenmare Bay, Sneem, Ladies View, & the Lakes of Killarney

ir 9.1.jpg

This is called "Ladies View"
Web scan0002.jpg

Killarney Narional Park. You can see the peaks of McGillycuddy's Reeks in the distance.
Web scan0001.jpg

Web scan0031.jpg

Web scan0004.jpgWeb scan0015.jpg

MON. FEB 23 Like the other mornings, we set out early & as a side note, I have to mention that we listened to morning radio in Ireland & it was funny. You know, like the Z Morning Zoo here, but Irish-style. That was daily entertainment for us.

Anyway, we wandered around Limerick & visited St John's Cathedral there to do some family research on the Hart side of Steve's family. We entered the large church & people were praying & worshipping, so we didn't want to be rude & speak loudly about getting baptismal/birth/marriage/death records. So we waited for our opportunity. They were really nice & helpful. (We noticed everyone was really nice in Ireland). They would put it all together & we were to return to pick up the stuff before we left.

Web irela 3.jpg

TUE. FEB 24 Today, we explored the Dingle Peninsula. The ride out there was beautiful & when we got to Dingle it was a cute, sleepy town. It seemed to revolve around seaside tourism & we were there in the off-season, so a lot was closed down. We did however, find a local potter (we always seem to find them!) Anyway, we each bought a small piece of her pottery., (Steve's was shades of green & mine was violet)

Web irelan 7.jpg

"The landscape of the Dingle Penn is formed by rugged mountains and cliffs. The penn can be covered in a long day trip of about 100 miles. From Tralee or Killarney, head for Castlemaine, and take the coast road to the town of Dingle, via Inch."


We stopped in Tralee where we had lunch at Malone's & hit a bookstore. These are some photos of our journey of the Dingle Penn.

The Blasket Islands
Web scan0027.jpg

WED. FEB 25 Today, we went to the Cliffs of Moher. It was my second visit & Steve's first, but it was really special to be in this serene & wild place alone together. There was another couple there when we got there & then they left. So traveling in February does have its perks! Anyway, it was a beautiful, majestic, & romantic place. "It is here that one can most easily get a feel for the wildness of the terrain over which the Celts wandered."

Here we are at O'Brien's Tower, located on Moher's highest cliff, where you can view the Clare coastline, the Aran Islands, & mountains as far away as Kerry & Connemara.
Web scan0007.jpgWeb scan0011.jpg
irel 7 editps.jpg

Cliffs of Moher - Obrien's in the distance
irel 8 sharpps.jpg

This quote is so true about Ireland....."The thing about the Burren is that it is not obvious. It's not like the Taj Mahal or the Grand Canyon. It is in the Northwest corner of Clare and is composed of limestone pavements. It contains dozens of megalithic tombs & celtic crosses & a ruined abbey. You can find villages abandoned since fmaine times & green roads on which you can walk for miles without ever seeing a car."

Web scan0029.jpg
There were no signs of humans for much of our journey into the Burren. We were seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but with that Michelin map I was able to navigate well. There were no signs indicating where things were. It was all very low key. You just had to look for stuff. It was like we kept finding an unknown treasure each time we came upon a megalith or a ruin.

"The Irish for Burren is Bhoireann, "a stony place" or "great rock"....The Burren limestones were laid down at the end of the Lower Carboniferous period. For millions of years afterwards sand & mud were washed on top of them & these sediments formed shale & flagstones, which can be best seen at the cliffs of Moher, where they plunge 700 feet to the sea & extend for five miles.Not technically part of the Burren, but close enough to be included."[/i] burrenpage.com

"Many wedge-tombs, like most of the stone circles and rows that were built around the same time or later - and unlike the tombs which preceded them - tend to face the winter or summer sunset: the souls of the departed, perhaps, could fly out through the door and follow it, persuade it to return (or, on the other hand, continue) in its former warm and life-enhancing splendour."[/i] www.irishmegaliths.org.uk

Oddly, we ran into a random couple from Vermont at the beehive huts. The Huts were monastic retreats. "Many of the Beehive Huts found in Ireland were built by the monks in the 5th-7th Century. Constructed of stone, they followed the simple design provided by nature." https://www.cs.tcd.ie/

Web scan0019.jpg

The Poulanbrone Dolmen is another cool site in the Burren. "Poulnabrone is megalithic wedge tomb. Radiocarbon dating suggests that the burials took place between 3800 and 3200 BC." http://ahd.exis.net It is a Stone Table, & would have been called a Druid's Altar, years ago. Dolmens are graves built 4000 years ago. (this is according to the sign outside of it)

Web scan0014.jpg

THURS. FEB 26: Today we drove to Blarney Castle in Cork again, enjoying Irish radio on the way. "The castle originally dates from before AD 1200. It was destroyed in 1446, but subsequently rebuilt by Dermot McCarthy, the king of Munster."

It was misty & wet outside and at times, drizzling. There was no one there, no waiting on lines; it seemed as though we had the place to ourselves.
irela 5_filteredps.jpg

Web scan0025.jpgWeb scan0026.jpg

It was fun exploring the castle, although the tiny and windy stairs took some getting used to. Surrounding the castle are beautiful and quite extensive gardens. There are several natural rock formations which have been given fanciful names, such as a Druid's Circle, a Witch's Cave and Wishing Steps." [/i](wikipedia) It is said, to make a wish at the "Wishing Steps" one has to walk to the bottom, and return walking backwards with eyes closed, a wish would then be granted by the Fairies or Druids

The Wishing Steps
irela 6.4ps.jpg

We also visited the caves under the castle. Two of them were dead ends & the one went all the way through to the other side of the castle. We had a flashlight with us in our backpack, so it was fun exploring the underground caves there.

FRI FEB 27: We returned the rental car at Shannon Airport & flew home to JFK airport. We'll always remember this misty place and our first trip together! Maybe we'll return..............

Posted by stevedana 17:00 Archived in Ireland Comments (1)

(Entries 1 - 3 of 3) Page [1]