Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Wild Atlantic Way - Part 4

The Skellig Ring area is wild and beautiful, with the ragged outline of Skellig Michael never far from view. This dramatic island housed a remote monastery between the 6th and 12th centuries and is now an important site for puffins, gannets and guillemots.To preserve the fragile remains of the monastery, there are only a limited number of people who can visit each day. Those tours are expensive and sellout months in advance, and whether you get sun or lashing rain, doesn't matter. If you are lucky enough to get a ticket, you go. One reason it is such a popular place is not only because of the monastery, but because the island served as a location in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. In fact, that probably drives more tourism than anything, but either way, the island and the views from the mainland are absolutely stunning. 

But wait, our first stop was at the Skellig’s Chocolate factory!

Steven put his phone up to the high power binoculars for this closeup of Skellig Michael.

There are exquisite views everywhere you look. We were fortunate to have beautiful weather.

Keeping a foot close to the brakes. The uphill part behind us was the biggest challenge.

Yes, this sign is accurate. The hill was steep!


Beautiful views from some of Kerry’s dramatic cliffs on the Skellig Ring.

This is a replica of the dry stone structures found on Skellig Michael. The birds are fake, but you get the idea.

Since we had been to the most northwesterly point of Ireland, Steven felt it only proper that we also visit the most southwesterly point, and a discovery point along the WAW. It's not easy to get to, there are mountains to cross and skinny roads to navigate, but by now, we had gotten used to that. After a quiet overnight in Sneem, we began our trek south. Outside of the towns there was little traffic to speak of, but once we reached the parking lot of Mizen Head Signal Station, there were a fair number of folks visiting. We could have spent the night there in the parking lot, but there is something kind of creepy about remote places overlooking the ocean when we're all alone. I might have done it if we had been traveling with others, but not just us. I could never have been a lighthouse keeper, I'd be the one who goes crazy and kills everyone else. I mean, I'm just guessing, but it feels possible. I'd want to get all them before they got me. Has anyone seen the movie yet? Steven can't wait to see it but I'm gonna give it a skip.

Mizen Head signal station.

More cliff views on the trek out to the signal station.

Linda enjoys the views while yer man inside digs into his full Irish.

We left Mizen Head and made our way to Skibbereen, one of the areas hardest hit by the Great Famine from 1845 to 1852. It is believed there are nearly 10,000 people buried in the nearby famine burial pits, which just seems unimaginable. Those who could leave did, but many died on the ships. We spent a good bit of time at the Skibbereen Heritage Centre, a sobering visit indeed. Later in the day, with permission from the manager, we parked up in the Lidl parking lot directly facing into the store. We watched folks shop until it closed at 10 p.m., and then we were locked in until morning. Not my favorite overnight, but a safe enough stop and grocery shopping was easy as pie! 

Our parking space at the Skibbereen Heritage Centre. Can’t imagine ever having this option in Scoopy!

Home for the night in the Lidl parking lot.

At this point in our journey we had been on the Wild Atlantic Way for five weeks. We had seen countless discovery points and visited numerous sites along the way. It had been a wonderful and inspiring trip, but we were tired and ready to be done. We made our way to the Blarney Caravan and Camping Park and settled in. We had one more stop on the WAW to visit, and for this we got a rental car. Even though I had driven nearly the whole of the Ireland coast by now, I had not yet driven a vehicle with the steering wheel on the right hand side. It was different, but I eventually got the hang of it. And with that, we were on our way to Kinsale, the final stop on the Wild Atlantic Way. Here, we celebrated with a lovely lunch and a walk through the picturesque village. It was a wonderful ending to a memorable trip.


Lovely waterfront views in Kinsale.

We took the advice of the above sign and had a yummy bowl of mussels.

We were booked into the campground for six nights, and would then make our way back to where we started our trip in July, as we disembarked from the ferry at the Rosslare terminal. The day before we left, however, we eagerly awaited the arrival of our friends Jim and Diana Belisle. They had rented a motorhome in the U.K. for a month and were doing a whirlwind tour of Ireland. We rejiggered our plans a bit so we could meet up with them in Cork. We had less than a day together, but we made the most of it, visiting the White Start Line exhibit in Cobh and taking a tour of the Jameson distillery in Middleton. Afterward we enjoyed a lovely dinner and finished off our evening with a shot of Slane Irish Whiskey. What could be better?

Hello Jim and Diana!

We had a lot of fun at the White Star Line Museum and the tour guide made it really interesting.


With Jim and Diana at the Jameson Distillery.

We waved goodbye to Jim and Diana the following morning. It was awfully nice to see their familiar faces and we wished we had more time. But, they had to go and we had a ferry to catch, so we returned our rental car and made our way to Rosslare harbor. We boarded the ferry and made our way to our cabin, yes, we got a cabin! We had learned our lesson on the trip over and we now know we have to book early to get accommodations! We were assigned a four-berth room, but we were the only ones in it. We were half expecting two other folks to join us, but maybe we paid for all four bunks. Who knows, but either way, we were happy to have a bed! The overnight trip was really rough, banging seas and lots of creaking noises. Despite being a Pisces, I am not really fond of being on or in water, so when we finally landed in Cherbourg, France, I was a very happy camper! 

One last Guinness before we leave the Oul’ Sod.

On the ferry once again but this time looking forward to a cabin.

Parked up for one night in Cherbourg!

We spent our first night back in France at an aire just one street over from our ferry terminal. God bless the French, they sure love motorhomers!

UP NEXT:  Mont Saint Michel

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Wild Atlantic Way - Part 3

When I left you last, I was teetering at the rocky outcrop summit of a hike called Diamond Hill. It was a wonderful hike with views to die for, but I decided I didn't want to die trying to get up there. For most of the hike it was perfectly groomed trail, and though the elevation wasn't much, it all came at the end. That is a problem for me because I can't look up too far ahead because I would topple right over. I guess balance is one of the first things to go when you get old, mine sure has. And dragging my hiking poles up the rocks was not a good idea, either. In any case, I made it up and down and lived to share the photos with you, so it all worked out in the end. 

It starts off easy enough and with every step of elevation the views got more spectacular.

Oh how I wish every boggy hike came with a wide and well maintained boardwalk!

It’s difficult to photograph height and steepness. And dragging those poles up was not helping me.

Made it up and off the summit to the other side! It got windy up there, notice I have on all my head gear!

Following our hike we took off. We drove to a little marina town south of Galway where we parked up facing the water with a beautiful view, albeit a windy one. As much as we love parking at marinas, the sounds can be a bit nerve-wracking, especially in the wind. All that clanging and stuff whipping around. The winds got worse and in the middle of the night we finally couldn't stand it anymore. We got up and actually repositioned Bijou on the other side of the marina so we could actually get some sleep. I think that's the first time we have ever had to do that!

This is how we started off. We watched an elderly man launch a rubber dinghy and head out. I thought he was a goner, but he made it.

For a couple of weeks prior we had been stalking weather.com hoping for a good weather day so we could visit the Aran Islands. We kept our eye on one day in particular that was looking good and when it arrived it was absolutely perfect. We took the ferry to Inishmore, the largest of the three islands and the furthest away. Once there, we rented bikes and rode across the island to Dún Aonghas, a prehistoric hill fort. Once the bikes are parked it's quite the hike up there, but the views are spectacular. It is on a sea cliff and looks right out over the Atlantic Ocean. There are no fences, no guardrails, nothing at all to keep one from toppling right over the edge and into the water far below. We managed to find a place to sit fairly close to the edge where we had our picnic lunch. It was in a bit of a depression, so we weren't in danger of going over, but I had to reposition myself several times just so I wouldn't have to look at others dangling their feet off the cliffs. It made me physically ill to see people right on the edge. 

All aboard and ready to head out to the Aran Islands.

Views of Inishmaan, another of the Aran Islands on the way to Inishmore.

These are not E-bikes so the uphill portions of out trip required a bit of effort on our part.

Look at those people near the edge!!! This is as close as I could get and not topple backwards.

These three monks were getting a lot of attention. Here, they are meditating up at Dún Aonghas.

Despite being pretty commercialized these days, it is still possible to find the authentic parts of the island.

On our way back to the port we cycled to an adorable little thatched-roof cottage that for many years was a BnB. We stayed there 20 years ago and loved it. The cottage had been built as part of a movie set for the documentary "Man of Aran", which was filmed in 1934. It showed just how difficult it was to eke out a living off a rocky island with very few resources at hand. As it turned out, the cottage only made a brief appearance in the film, but was well-built enough to be sold and become a wonderful home to folks over the years. Last year it sold again and is now a private home. Still, we knocked on the door and in true Irish fashion, we were invited in for a cup of tea and a look around. I love Irish hospitality!

Man of Aran cottage, formerly a lovely BnB with an owner/chef who made us a wonderful dinner when we stayed there previously.

It is beautiful on a sunny day, but what few trees exist on the island are completely bent over. They get some massive storms here.

On our way to the Cliffs of Moher we passed through Lisdoonvarna, which for the entire month of September has a matchmaking festival. Folks come from all over to join in the fun.

Back on the mainland we were enjoying our campsite, in sight of the beautiful Cliffs of Moher, so we kept renewing our stay. We walked into the little village of Doolin to enjoy the craic at Gus O'Connor's pub, where the sessions started at a very reasonable hour of 4:30 in the afternoon. I also had some of the best mussels ever, giving my favorite dish at Christopher's on Whidbey Island in Washington a run for their money. We took on the trail walk from Doolin across the cliffs to the visitor's center and enjoyed some very dramatic views. 

We had the craic at Gus O’Connor’s and good food, too! Twice!

These guys were really talented. I think the young guy looks like Rick Steves. And look at my yummy dinner!

The adorable village of Doolin. We stayed here five days and loved it. We could see the Cliffs of Moher from Bijou.

On the cliff walk. We had gorgeous weather for it, but it was windy!

Beautiful Cliffs of Moher. Honestly they were more amazing than I was expecting.

A man and his pint.

Finally leaving Doolin we blew through Limerick and made our way to the Carrigafoyle Castle for one of the most unique overnight stays we've had. Standing on the edge of the Shannon estuary on what was originally an island, the castle rises five storeys, nearly equal in size to its more famous sister, Blarney Castle. An unusually wide spiral stairs ascends in one corner of the tower which has small rooms as well as the main living spaces opening off it. From the outside it looks quite small, as far as castles go, but inside, it went on forever. We slept in the small parking lot just at the entrance, with the estuary all around us. Very cool place.

What a unique stopover!

The view of Bijou from the top of the castle.

There are lots of modern renovations in the castle but they mimic what the original doors and rooms looked like.

The winding stone staircase.

Leaving the castle we had a beautiful drive to Dingle, a popular tourist destination. We came here specifically to hike another of Ireland's pilgrim paths, this one was the 18-kilometer Cosán na Naomh (The Saint’s Route). As per usual the path followed quaint country lanes before sending us off across the farmer's fields, one after the other as we made our way across the boggy goodness to land at the foot of Mount Brandon, Ireland's eighth highest peak at just over 3,000 feet. While we didn't climb the mountain, we did have fabulous views from the foothills we crossed to reach the end of our walk. We had to arrange for a pick-up at the end, and welcomed the site of the taxi. It was a tiring walk, for which we earned a stamp in our Irish Pilgrim Passports. I think I was probably that kid in kindergarten who eagerly awaited a gold star from my teacher because these stamps make me very happy. 

Always smiling at the start of a long hike!

It was a sunny day but it had rained for a few days previously. Even so, some places never dry out.

On the lane, starting to go up.

In the fields, one after the other!

Gallarus Oratory. An early Christian stone church. It is a good example of dry stacked stones.

I don’t normally like walking on pavement but it gets the mud off our shoes!

Oh, hey little sheepies. Don’t mind us, we are just passing through.

The vista is getting bigger! This area is where the film “Ryan’s Daughter” was filmed. Have you seen it? Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles? Mitchum plays the saddest character ever.

We left Bijou in Dingle in this very secure parking lot (!!). It was right on the water and we stayed two nights.

No marked spaces, just park wherever you can squeeze in.

This is where we recovered from our hike and I admired my new stamp. 

Best fish and chips I’ve ever had! This guy gets stellar reviews and they are well deserved.

A beautiful sunset at our spot in Dingle.

In all of our planning, or lack thereof, for our trip along the Wild Atlantic Way, there was only one campground I wanted to stay at: Mannix Point Camping and Caravan in Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry. I had read about it in a blog and thought it sounded fabulous, and it was. We stayed five days and did a whole lot of nothing! We did explore the town and on one particularly beautiful day, knocked out another pilgrim path (and earned our third stamp, yay!) the Cnoc na dTobar (Mountain of the Wells). This one was about 12 kms, from sea level to around 1500 feet. Since this hike was an up and down round trip, we were able to drive Bijou to the little parking lot at the beginning, which is a first. And this time there were no country lanes, we went from parking lot right into the fields of sheep shite and that is where we stayed for the entire hike. By the time we finished I announced to Steven that I was done with hikes in Ireland. No more. At least for this trip, I had had enough. 

On our way to Cahersiveen, home of Mannix Point camping. Our spot is shown in the aerial shot at the top of this post.

Downtown Cahersiveen.

Not a bad view from our living room, eh?

The start of our last hike in Ireland.

This one was mostly up and the views were jaw dropping! The return was down, of course.

Ireland doesn’t typically use the yellow arrow of the Camino, but it was all over this route.

Epic views does not even begin to describe it!

Snack time.

A lovely evening back in Mannix Point and a chance to rest on our strenuous day of hiking.

Up next: WAW, last one. :)