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Emerald Island Escapades; Week 3 of 5

Dingle to Westport, May 24 – May 30th.

dingle to doolin map

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After having such a delightful time in Dingle, and getting to visit with my friends Eileen and Victoria, we begrudgingly packed up our gear into the car and continued our journey northward toward Doolin on the 24th of May.

Along the way we stopped at numerous places; Ardfert Cathedral ruins for example.

We also visited Ballybunion; a nice little holiday resort seaside village where we stopped for a nice picnic lunch overlooking the beach.

Then we continued until we crossed the River Shannon via a ferry  near Tarbert making our way to Killrush on the other side.IMG_6818IMG_6819IMG_6822

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From there we meandered along country roads continuing to hug the coastline as much as possible until we reached the Cliffs of Moher later in the afternoon.

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Just a wee bit further north and we arrived in the cozy little hamlet of Doolin where we would spend a couple of days in a darling and cozy hostel called the Aille River Hostel.

The next day we took a ferry from Doolin over to the Aran Islands and spent one night at Aonghasa’s Walker’s Lodge on the big island of Inishmohr.  What a wonderful experience that was!

We landed at the cute little harbor, grabbed some lunch, did a little shopping…

…and then boarded a shuttle bus which took us around to the various sites on the island.

The big highlight was Dun Aonghus fort; a VERY, VERY ancient dwelling, fortress and sacred spot perched on the edge of a cliff.  Impressive to say the least!

The highlight of our day however (as if it could get any better) was when we were able to take a pony and cart ride back out to our lodging near Dun Aonghus after the rest of the tourists had taken the ferry back to the mainland.  We were just riding along with our fantastic driver, Tom and his spirited horse, watching the sun slowly set as we lazily clopped along the beautiful scenery.

The next morning we left that beautiful harbor and took the first ferry back to Doolin. We explored Doolin a bit more visiting its many cute and quaint shops and finished the day off by taking in some great traditional music at a local pub, James Griffins and lived it up.

After that wonderful stay in Doolin and Inishmohr, the next day we continued our journey northward, winding our way up through the Burren, visiting many sights, including Kilnefora Cathedral & Poulnaborne Dorman, an ancient and sacred burial tomb.

A little further up the road near Ballyvaughn we found a cool little castle, Newtown, and the Burren Art Centre.

Continuing northward to our final destination for the day, Galway,  we came upon Danguaire Castle with some really cute thatched roof cottages which were being restored.  We decided to take the tour of the castle, and were so glad we did.

Saw and experienced quite a fair bit that day, and luckily we only had a short distance to finish our days’ travel to Galway where we would stay put for a couple of days.

We stayed in a small and nice holiday resort town, Salthill, just minutes from Galway in a 2 bedroom apartment. We went to a local market, bought some food and enjoyed the view from our balcony while we ate.  Phew!  What an exciting day!

The next day, May 28th, we walked into Galway from Salthill and began exploring and enjoying it’s many sights and culture for a couple of days.

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From Galway we starting driving north again through the Connemara stopping halfway at a lovely remote hostel called Ben Lettery for one night. Before we arrived at the hostel however, we visited several interesting places, starting with the village of Cong with its Abbey and very posh castle!

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Cong is small, but really packed with a pow.  Ashford Castle is a 5 star hotel now and the guard wouldn’t let us go across the bridge without paying 10 Euro each.  Oh well…

We ambled through the woods back to the car parked at the Abbey and continued our journey through some pretty incredible landscapes.

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The next place we found was another castle!

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We had traveled quite a bit and decided to stop at the store in the very small town of Recess to get some groceries before heading the last couple of miles to our remote hostel. What you see behind the sign that says “The Connemara Giant” is the totality of the town of Recess!

The Ben Lettery hostel sits at the base of a rocky Ben without anything else around.  Pure peace and quiet.  Our host, Sam, has a famous Connemara goat and a rescue dog, Chantel.

The goat had its back leg mangled and it had to be cut off at the knee.  A french doctor has made a prosthesis for it so it can walk.  This goat, and Sam, have become quite well-known.  People come to the hostel just to see the wild Connemara goat turned tame!

The next morning, we had to leave, although we really enjoyed getting to know Sam and her animals.  Quite the young lady, managing that hostel all by herself and taking care of rescue animals as well.

We started our drive through the rest of the Connemara starting with a tour of Ballynahinch Castle which was just down the road from the hostel.  We went there specifically to get a sneak peek preview of the place for our friend Maureen back in Oregon. She will be lucky enough to get to stay there later this summer with her sisters! Lucky ladies!

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After the castle we drove a bit down the road to the coast and found the picturesque seaport village of Roundstone, some gorgeous beaches at Gurteen Bay and Dog’s Bay.

We also visited the Marconi sight where the first trans-Atlantic telegraph lines came to shore and also where the first trans-Atlantic flight landed by Captain Alcock.

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Up the road a bit further and we came upon, and visited briefly, Kylemore Abbey.

 

 

 

 

 

Then we meandered along the Asleagh river and to its falls…

…through the Doolough Valley at the base of the Bens where the Famine Cross stands.

Lastly, near the end our day we came upon the pilgrimage trail that leads up to the top of Croagh Patrick, and across street was the Coffin ship; a monument to the people who suffered from the great famine. Unfortunately, many died on the ships on their way to America from starvation and disease.

Soon afterward we arrived at The Old Mill hostel in Westport.  Menora, our host for the evening, was such a great gal, she took good care of us, set us up with a great room, made some bread and we had a real nice meal and then slept like babies. A perfect ending of our third week in Ireland!

Next post will be all about our adventures from Westport to Donegal, Londonderry, Glenveagh National Park, and the beginning of Northern Ireland!  Until then… hope you have enjoyed this installment.

 

 

Castle Fraser

IMG_3335Yesterday, 17 August 2017, was another bonnie day in Scotland so Lindsay and I decided to take advantage of the good weather to head out for yet one more adventure together to visit one more castle together in Aberdeenshire.

I’ve been here with Lindsay in Aberdeen for the last 40 days or so having a grand old time with him cavorting all over the countryside. We’ve had lots of laughs and seen oh-so-many wonderful sights together.  As they say, however, all good things must come to an end and tonight after I finish this post I’m going to have to pack up my suitcase once again and start heading south on my own say fare-thee-well to my good buddy Lindsay.  I’ll still have at least another 5 days or so in Scotland visiting friends in Scone and further south near Edinburgh.  I’ve been in Scotland since the 13th of July (67 absolutely glorious days so far in the land I love best!) and it’ll be difficult at best to leave.

I digress… as I was saying, Lindsay and I took advantage of the lovely sunshine yesterday and headed out about 15 miles west of Aberdeen to visit Castle Fraser!

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I parked the car after dropping off Lindsay at the front gate and walked back down to meet up with him again, soaking up the view before me.  Isn’t it just wonderful?

We walked around the west side of the castle taking it all in toward the entrance on the south side.

There’s the front door where we’ll enter to take the self-guided tour.  Before we do, however, let’s take a look at the various heraldic symbols, the cylindrical imposing tower, and elaborate turrets…

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IMG_3369This castle is a National Trust for Scotland property, and we’re in luck today because unlike a lot of places, we are allowed to take pictures indoors as long as the flash is turned off!  We were greeted by these two wonderfully delightful and helpful ladies at the reception desk.

Once the tour begins our first stop is the kitchen!

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As well as cooking implements they also had on display this artfully crafted model of the castle…

Next, we began the climb up the first set of stairs (complete with spy holes in the stairwell) to the next level leading into the Grand Hall.

This massive Hall opened up before us.  The door we entered was not the original 1400 medieval door to the castle.  The rock-lined alcove with the ‘kist’ (locking trunk) featured in the photo below was where the first door to the castle actually existed.

I took pictures of the interpretative sheets explaining each room as we entered them so you can read for yourself about each room and its features.  (Hint: If you find that the image is too small to read as it appears, right-click on the picture and ‘open it in a new tab,’ it will open up in another window; then to make it larger, and therefore, easier to read, use your zoom button on your browser page and increase the size of the image for easier reading.)

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So many interesting things around the Great Hall to admire… paintings, violins, and family genealogy!

IMG_3422Immediately after leaving the Great Hall through the doorway beside the fireplace, we entered the dining room.

Usually, the table is set with its finery, but preparations for a wedding that would soon take place were underway for the occasion, but there was plenty of other things to look at and admire.

IMG_3431IMG_3433Just off of the dining room was a small room containing a very interesting and unique exhibition – a very old map that been wadded up to stop a draft in a chimney and found years later under the floorboards!IMG_3438

 

 

It was quite amazing to look at the ancient map mounted on the wall behind glass.

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IMG_3439There were extensive display boards explaining the process that was undertaken for the preservation of the old map.  I took individual pictures of each of the display items so you can see each one up close.

I created a photo collage below of all the individual images. If you click on the collage, the photos will open up in another window allowing you to scroll through each of the photos.

We walked back through the dining room to the other side, stepped through the door and entered the round tower portion of the castle into the Peacock Parlour. It was chock full of more interesting items to explore…

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We then began the steady climb up the towers’ winding staircase stopping at each subsequent level to visit various bedrooms and sitting rooms until we reached the top floor which was the Estate Office.

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One final climb up the spiral staircase and through the low door took us to the very top of the tower with dazzling magnificent panoramic views of over 300 acres of landscaped grounds surrounding the castle!

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The top of the tower also provided dizzying views below!

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We enjoyed those outstanding and amazing views and afterward began our descent back down the stairwell until we arrived at the next stop in the tour at the Library near the ground floor.

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IMG_3587The staff and guides throughout the castle were so nice, helpful and extremely informative. We enjoyed their input, stories, exceptional service immensely. Although it was a self-guided tour, someone was always nearby to answer questions, bring our attention to special items we may have missed such as this lovely lady we really enjoyed interacting with while we purveyed the library.

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At the end of the tour, we came to the final displays in the Trophy Room and China room.

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IMG_3613Just before we left the China Room we noticed what we thought might be tea mugs when we discovered they were in fact, beer mugs, and appeared to have funny little creatures in the bottom of them.  About the same time, we also noticed the paper explaining the “Frog Mugs.”

Curious and quite unique!

Another interesting tidbit below caught our eye as well…

The last surprise was hiding in the corner in the wall about knee height in the wall. When we looked through the hole, we discovered it was the “Laird’s Lug!” Many times, when visiting castles, you’ll see something like this hole in the wall somewhere.  ‘Lug’ means ‘ear’ in Scottish, therefore, these holes allowed the Laird (or Lord of the Castle) or his loyal “spies” or “guards” to eavesdrop or keep an eye on a visitor while they stood and talked down in the Great Hall. In the picture below, Lindsay indicates where the small hole appears on the wall above the door down in the Great Hall.

Many times, when visiting castles, you’ll see something like this hole in the wall somewhere.  ‘Lug’ means ‘ear’ in Scottish, therefore, these holes allowed the Laird (or Lord of the Castle) or his loyal “spies” or “guards” to eavesdrop or keep an eye on a visitor while they stood and talked in the Great Hall below. In the following picture collage, Lindsay indicates where the small hole appears on the wall above the door downstairs in the Great Hall.

That was a fun and interesting tour.  Back outside, we strolled around the other side of the castle. Lindsay thought he might give Weight Tossing a try like he witnessed at the heavy-weight competition events at the Highland Games this past weekend!

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Quite a stunning castle, majestic and grand. We worked our way back to the car up the tree-lined path, stopping at the walled gardens on the way.

The ancient burls on this tree were amazing.  I bet the wood grain inside is a sight to behold.

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There’s the garden’s gate; let’s enter and explore its wonders and delights.

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Quite the multi-faced sun dial and the garden’s center!

IMG_3683Such a delightful garden!  Small and compact, but gracious and calming; a nice fragrant retreat.

When we arrived back at the car, there was one more surprise waiting for us. Parked right next to us was this sensational and pristine Austin 7 British saloon car, the “New Ruby,” that was popular in the 1930’s about the time the Model T was popular in the U.S.

We had worked up an appetite after all that exploring, so we headed to our favorite pub, The Ploughman, in Peterculter, and treated ourselves to their signature dish, ‘Steak Braveheart.’

While we waited for that divine dish to arrive, we admired their delightfully extensive collection of tea pots that line the window sills throughout the pub.

It was deliciously divine! A wonderful ending to a perfectly phenomenal finale of adventures in Scotland with Lindsay. I’ll miss being here with him when I leave in the morning to head south.  We’ve made a lot of wonderful fun memories together cavorting all around the countryside!  Thank you, Lindsay!

 

 

 

 

The “Friendly” Abernethy Highland Games & the Majestic Strathspey Railway Caledonia Engine

Lindsay and I debarked from the Strathspey Railway at Broomhill station and boarded a shuttle bus bound for The Abernethy Highland Games – known as the “Friendly Games.” They are held in the center of Nethy Bridge in the Highlands of Scotland on the second Saturday of August. We were excited to attend this event and enjoy its activities the whole day. We duly noted the times to return via the shuttle to the train for the return trip back to Aviemore and eagerly waited in line to enter the games.

The first thing we saw was this delightful display of young lads and lassie’s competing in Highland dancing…

…followed by the beginning of the children’s games, starting with a wheelbarrow race!

Next were the boys’ three-legged races…

…next up – the girls!

We walked along the booths lining the field when we came upon none other than Richard Eccles and his lovely wife at the Castle Roy Trust booth. It was great to see him again. We met him last year while visiting nearby Castle Roy when I bought a square yard of the Castle in support of their efforts to restore the ancient site.

Richard offered us a ‘wee dram’ for a perfect preamble for watching men’s Heavy weight competitions which began with the Stone putt.

While the men prepared for the next heavy-weight event, we strolled a bit further around the track getting the flavour of the games as we walked.

The next event was throwing a steel weight for distance… weights are made of metal with a handle attached either directly or with a chain.

IMG_3003The men warmed up for the event in the open, but when the actual competition began they had to enter a caged area for safety reasons in case the weight slipped out of their hand as they turned and turned before releasing it out into the field.

IMG_3019We walked around a bit more checking out more of the booths and watching some highland dancing competitions while waiting for the next heavy-weight event, Scottish Hammer throw, to begin. IMG_3025

IMG_3030Loved watching these two little girls next to us practice their dancing…

The next heavy-weight event was the Scottish Hammer throw…

While we were waiting along came that cute little boy who we saw competing earlier…

IMG_3059Next came the Caber Toss!

Now for the Weight Thrown Over the Bar event!  I don’t think I could even lift that heavy thing off the ground let alone toss it up in the air and over the bar! They started by throwing it up a distance of about 11 feet, each taking their turn. When each had thrown it successfully over the bar, the bar would be raised further up another 6 inches until it reached the final height of 13 1/2 feet! Geez!

Just after Harry Hancock won the Weight Toss, the Pipe bands and Clan members came into the arena! Yeah! This is my favourite part!

Before opening ceremonies took place, Harry Hancock (who had won the weight toss event) had the bar moved one last time and made a final attempt to clear 14 feet! Wow!

IMG_3103The official opening ceremonies took place by the dignitaries of the Clans and then the parade of the Pipers, drummers, Clans and standard bearers departed from the field for the events to continue.

After all that work of watching the men toss heavy things about and the parade of the Pipe Bands, I had worked up an appetite! It was lunchtime so one and all qued up for various meals. Lindsay and I lined up with the Piper and Drummers for some fish & chips and fried haggis!

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IMG_3119While we ate our lunch at a picnic table we were delighted by the sights of all the wonderful views around us… like the majestic Pipe Major and people just having a grand time visiting with one another, enjoying themselves.

We also got to watch the competition of the Pipers and the Pipe Major practising his baton twirling and tossing.

After that scrumptious and entertaining lunch and before the 10-mile running race began, there were some impromptu races taking place before us by the youngsters with their festively painted faces. So darned cute!

The gunshot sounded and off they went running around the track three times before exiting out the field to return after their 10-mile run…one guy was even running barefoot; he’s in the bottom right picture in the group of pictures below. He’s really brave and hopefully has leather-like soles on his feet!

Soon after the runners left the field, however, a great downpour of rain occurred scurrying most of the spectators from the games field. Lindsay and I shared his umbrella and I offered mine to a group of teenagers sitting nearby.

Unfortunately, these two photos were the last of the day because my camera was full and dead as a doornail! When the rain ceased we realized it was time for us to make our way back to the shuttle bus to catch the train back to Aviemore at Broomhill and call it a day. What a day it was!

Bright and early on Sunday morning we eagerly headed back to the train station at Aviemore because the stunningly beautiful Caledonia Steam Engine in its majestic royal blue colour was proudly preparing for its journey down the tracks with its load of excited passengers.

Lindsay climbed into the Engine this time to purvey her beauty and power…

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IMG_3173Soon her whistle would blow and she would head off down the rail without us.

IMG_3183We weren’t riding that day, but rather going by car, chasing the train through the rolling and scenic countryside alongside to her turn-around destination, Broomhill.

We arrived just in time to catch her on her return trip.

Waiting at the top of the tunnel she would have to pass through, we poised ourselves for some great pictures.

Here she comes!

Oh, that was fun, wasn’t it?

After the thrill of chasing the train, we crossed the old bridge over the River Spey to make our way back to Nethybridge once again.

Our next destination? The old Abernethy Church & Castle Roy.

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After visiting the castle and church we ate lunch at a lovely sunny sidewalk table at Chaplin’s in nearby downtown Granton-on-Spey.

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For dessert, we visited another relic, the old Spey Bridge on the edge of town.

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We returned to Abernethy Church later in the afternoon to attend a very special service; the 250th Anniversary Thanksgiving Service of the church!

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Lindsay has ancestors buried in this church yard. We had visited it last year and had read in the newsletter earlier this spring of the celebration so we definitely didn’t want to miss this opportunity to celebrate with them!IMG_3271

They have an old hand bell on display in the church that was used years ago (before they had a bell and bell tower) to call the parishioners to church on Sundays. After the arrival of the bell and subsequent bell tower, the hand bell had disappeared for about 75 years. One of Lindsay’s ancestors located the hand bell, which had been in the possession of one of the residents’ in the valley, and determined to return the hand bell to the old Kirk for safe keeping.

Lindsay was honoured before the celebration service began by being asked if he would be willing to ring the hand bell outside the church entry doors to once again call the people to the Thanksgiving Service like it had done so many years ago.

It was a wonderful service in the old Kirk, complete with a wonderful harpist, Marie Louise Napier, playing a clarsach (knee harp) and singing a beautiful Gaelic tune. (I was oh-so-tempted to record her playing but knew it wasn’t appropriate to do so during a church service!) After the service, we visited with other attendees while we all also enjoyed some tea and cake.

IMG_3298Our next destination for the day was Dingwall to visit our good friends Pat & Ian MacLeod.

En route we passed through the small village Carrbridge and were pleasantly surprised to arrive just in time to see a Rubber Duckie Race in process as we rounded the corner!IMG_3301

What an opportunistic surprise we stumbled upon!

Back in the car once again we travelled the rest of the way to Dingwall uneventfully.  We met up with Pat & Ian and enjoyed a delicious meal together at the National Hotel.

I especially savoured my salmon fillet with dill cream sauce, Ian his haggis stuffed chicken, Lindsay ordered Scampi and Pat delighted in her Mac ‘n Cheese!

It was a wonderful meal with close friends and family in our ancestral home and the perfect ending to yet another perfect day. Cheers!

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