Sunday, 27 September 2015

Beautiful Bonnie Scotland

In my last post I described Ireland as barren and hard.  Scotland on the other hand, in my opinion, is exactly the opposite (but then I've always been smitten with the place since first seeing it in 1972).

As we were driving from Inverness to Oban and the Isle of Luing - while consistently shouting WOW at every bend in the road - I was trying to think of the best words to describe this stunning land.  Beautiful! Certainly.  Lush! Absolutely.  Awe-inspiring!  Yes, at each turn in the road.  Scotland is without question a very special place. 

Oh, and one other word I'd use to describe Scotland, WET!   It rains a lot.  I guess that explains why it's so green and lush everywhere.  Everyday there's some rain .. drizzle blows across everything even if the sun is shining!  But no amount of rain can dampen my love of this magnificent and ancient land.

Our first week here has been filled with enjoying family and excursions in our rental car.  First, let me say something about our car.  When we were all in Ireland at Angela's birthday Sheena, George's sister who lives in Inverness, said she'd arrange for our car and pick us up at the airport when we got to Inverness.  She asked us what type of car we wanted.  I said, "just make it an automatic please!".  We had a manual in Ireland and I didn't like driving it much around the narrow stop and start roads.  George said, without hesitation, "I want a Jag".  It was a joke soon forgotten.  But, when Sheena picked us up at the airport on Sunday there it was, a bright red Jaguar car!  So we have the joy of touring around Scotland in our own Jag!  Smart.

The Jag.  All George needs now are the tweeds, plus-four, and jodhpurs and he will be the spitting image of the country gentleman.

 Our travels in pictures.........

On the road to Cromarty we saw a sign to a 'Clootie Well' with a path leading deep into the woods.  We pulled over and walked for a bit into the woods and didn't find the well ... plus we had no idea what we were looking for.  We never did find the well which is a shame because it would have been cool to see one.  'Clootie' is a Scottish word for a rag or strip of cloth and a clootie well is a place of magic and healing from the old days.  The belief was that if you dipped a piece of cloth ripped from the area of your body that was unwell and hung it in the trees above the well then you would be healed.

At Rosemarkie wild dolphins, seals and very occasionally otters come in close to shore for people to see and sometimes interact with.  We diverted our drive to see them.  When we arrived there were lots of people with telescope lenses on cameras.  We waited for over half an hour but they decided not come that day.

In Cromarty Bay we saw lots of oil platforms that were either waiting to be taken out into the North Sea or were there to be repaired or dismantled.  Lovely little bay but the oil platforms were huge and really took away from the beauty of the place.

We walked around Inverness and toured the locks of the Caledonian Canal .. from Inverness you can travel all the way to Loch Ness and through other Lochs to the ocean.

Just one spectacular view on the way to Oban and then the Isle of Luing to visit Robert's parents.  Every turn in the road offers something like this ... WOW just WOW!

The Bridge Over the Atlantic Ocean!  This is the Clachan Bridge built in 1791 and links the Scottish mainland to the Isle of  Seil.  Because the Clachan Sound links both to the Atlantic Ocean it became known as the Bridge Over the Atlantic.  We crossed it on the way to the ferry to Luing.  It is single lane and very very steep at the top!  The scenery around it is breathtaking.

This old inn just over the bridge on the island side was used by the islanders after the Jacobite Rebellion to change into pants when travelling to the mainland when the kilt was outlawed.  When they returned to the island they put back on their kilts.

After visiting on Luing we returned to Oban and had some trouble at first finding a bed & breakfast for the night.  But we happened on this one right on the harbour and they had just had a cancellation for their #1 room right on the harbour!  So, along with the Jag, we enjoyed living like royalty for another night! 

And then we left for the Isle of Skye and more scenic splendour!!  Plus more family and friends.  More tomorrow ... I hope (we're so busy it's hard to find the time to blog!!!  We're having the best time ... wish you all could be here! (Now I'm going to post this without proofreading so please excuse the mistakes)

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Ireland week 2 AND a terrific birthday celebration for ME

Standing outside one of the ancient churches on Inis Mo'r (Inishmore) the largest island of the Aran Islands.  The island is a one hour ferry ride from Rossaveel - just down the road from Angela's house.  The church is on a site called the Seven Churches (but there are only 2 there actually) and the site dates back to the 8th century.
To my eye and experience so far Ireland is at once intriguing, charming, ironic, barren and hard.

Just driving around Angela's home, on almost impossibly narrow roads, the car travels through mile after mile of sterile peat bogs dotted with huge boulders and the occasional sheep or donkey or lonely looking cattle.  Then, after rounding a tight corner, the vista opens up to a lough (lake) fed by rapid running rivulets on the side with swans and their cygnets floating effortlessly on the surface.   Then another corner and another peat bog ... this time with purple patches of heather and yellow gorse bushes lying close to the ground. 

Amid all this there are little hamlets with the obligatory monuments to the Virgin Mary on the roadside not far from the Catholic Church and just down the road is, of course, the pub.  And in each place - Pub that is, we don't/haven't visited the people in the churches yet - ... in each place the people we've met are so friendly and funny and smiling.  What a Place!!!

This past week has been full of activities with George's sisters and brothers.  It's been so good to be here with all of them and to see George so happy.

Last Saturday was Angela's birthday and the day started with present opening.  Then the boys all went out fishing in Robert's boat and caught a mess of mackerel which were cleaned and readied for the smoker later on.  Then we all went for a drive to one of the nearest towns - Oughterard - for a pint or two in the pub and some grocery shopping.  That night we had a HUGE  meal of crab from one of the local fishermen, and fresh smoked mackerel.  Robert had built a fire pit/smoker on the back veranda which did the smoking perfectly. 

Robert and John getting the coals ready in the fire pit.
The next day was overcast with a drizzling rain coming every half hour or so.  We decided to go in to Galway to have a look around and grab some lunch so Angela and George's brother Allan came with us.  The rain pretty much kept up all day so we didn't walk around too much and started back home well before we had seen much of the town.  Dinner that night was another noisy and enjoyable family affair!

On Monday me, George and Allan took the ferry over to Inishmore - the largest island of the Aran Islands.  The islanders are ready for the visitors as soon as the ferry lands!  There are vans there to take your around or you can ride in a horse drawn carriage or you can rent a bicycle and cycle the island yourself.  We took a van with a driver giving us some tourist information.  Talk about barren! These islands are nothing but rock.  We couldn't help but wonder what made people stay here over the century's.  There isn't much peat .. if any at all .. no trees, nothing to use to heat your home and even less top soil to try and grow food.  But people have managed to eke out a living for many many centuries.

On Inishmore there is a circular hill fort on the western side ... clinging to the top of impossibly high cliffs. We walked up to the fort from the road - about a 10 minute walk - and we surprised to see some cattle trying to graze right up to the edge of the cliff.  The fort was probably built in the Bronze Age (1100 BC) and is similar to round forts around Ireland and Scotland.  It is described as one of the finest pre-historic forts in Western Europe.

The view from the other side of the fort .. you can see how formidable the cliffs are!

George and Allan in front of the souvenir shop near the fort.  Aran knits are the bit attraction here! 

The next day the boys went sailing on Robert's boat.  They left reasonably early and sailed for about 4 hours around to another little hamlet towards the west.  Angela and I drove around in the car and me them at a pub for lunch and then they had a great sail back around.  Good thing too.  George was getting itchy to get out on the sea .. it was just what he needed.

The boys off for the 4 hour sail back around to Robert's mooring after lunch.  Notice the rocks!  The tide drop is 5 metres here and many of the sea walls have boats - and yachts - just sitting on the bottom at low tide.  You have to make sure you can balance against the wall if leaving the boat! 

On Thursday we drove to Cong.  Nice little historic city but their main claim to fame - and you see it all over - is the making of the John Wayne classic film "The Quiet Man".  They even have a very prominent statue of Wayne and Maureen O'Harra in town and all the souvenir shops sell "The Quiet Man" stuff.  Maybe they should move on .. the film was made in the 1950's! 


I turned 65 on Friday.  My goodness I never thought I'd get to be this old ... and still feel this good!!!

We had a wonderful day.  Presents in the morning - lovely ear rings from George and Angela, cards and phone calls and lots of Facebook well wishes.  Then we went out to lunch in the little town of Bearna at O'Gradys on the Pier.

O'Gradys on the Pier.  Fantastic seafood lunch.  I had crab claws and fish with salad.  Perfect.
The diners - Robert and Angela and Me and George.
My favourite photo from the trip so far!  Angela, George and me ... after a big lunch and lovely wine.  Excellent birthday! 

Today is Saturday our last day in Ireland and with Angela and Robert.  We decided to drive further into the Connemara area for one last look.  It was more of the same but a pretty and enjoyable drive.  We had lunch in Roundstone - a good sized tourist town.

The mountains of Connemara in the distance.

Looking out the window of the pub for lunch in Roundstone.

Roundstone harbour - George just had to take the photo!

And then, on the way back to Angela's we saw this monument.  It had an historical marker calling it the Connemara Giant.  We pulled in to see it.  It turned out it was a monument to the Irish sense of humour!

There were two plaques. Both gave the date erected and said they were, "Erected for no particular reason".
I love Ireland.

We're off to Scotland tomorrow.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Ireland week one (well it was when I started .. but this took a while to post)

There is a light breeze blowing outside and the sun is shining beautifully ... Not the Ireland weather we expected.  We're at my sister and brother in-law's house way outside of the town/city of Galway.  We had seen pictures of their fabulous garden and now, seeing it for ourselves, we can say without reservation it is truly resplendent with  lovely waving trees, flowering bushes and a pond full of water lilies.  With the sun shining it's so lovely.  Unfortunately when we first arrived we experienced more traditional Irish weather with wind and driving/pouring rain.

The first week in Ireland has been full of discovery and lots of fun.  Plus, I love the Irish people!  The people here are so friendly and happy.  Just going into a shop is like meeting a long lost friend .. they have a sense of humour embedded into just about everything they do as well as a self deprecating irony when you hold a conversation.  I guess all that is a result of the struggle of just living in a cold hard place.

The week in pictures (way too much to talk about now!) ....

On the morning of our first day in Dublin we walked to Trinity College to do a walking tour around the historic grounds and  see the Book of Kells.  On the way we could hear the sound of pipe bands echoing around the streets.  We found a big pipe band playing in the college ground complete with Irish Wolfhounds.

The streets all through Dublin have hanging flower displays and there are lots of people walking around everywhere .. and, of course, there's a pub or cathedral on every corner. 

We went through the Guinness Brewery ... Which is almost like a Disney Experience! .. It's complete with floor after floor of "experiences" .. leading up to the tasting experience.  Look at this website to get an idea of how they've turned the drinking of Guinness into an art form   Guinness Storehouse

Of course we had to follow up beer with whiskey and a tasting at the Jameson's Distillery.  George was appalled that they kept insulting Scottish Whiskey so we didn't enjoy their product as much as the Guinness.

After 3 days walking around Dublin we rented a car and headed for Waterford to visit with George's brother John.  We took the coast road through little hamlets and along winding narrow roads stopping every now and then for coffee in a little village or an ice cream.  Great drive and interesting scenery.  Before we arrived in Waterford - which is only a 2/3 hour drive max from Dublin if you take the direct motorway route - late in the afternoon, we travelled through an area who's claim to fame is it the ancestral place of the USA Kennedys.  Many Irish immigrants departed from these surrounding shores to America to escape the famine and John Kennedy's family was one of them.

To commemorate the departure of Kennedy's family as well as all the faceless emigrants who left  Ireland for hope and a better life long ago (very timely in the world today) they brought a flame from the JFK memorial in the US to this little spot in Ireland and erected a monument around it called The Emigrant Flame.

We spent a couple of days with John in Waterford catching up, laughing and telling stories.  One day George and I drove up to the town of Kilkenny where we did another walking tour of that fascinating historic town.  

The largest cathedral in Kilkenny was spectacular - as usual.  There are sooooo many Catholic churches here .. big ones, small ones, very very old ones ... they are everywhere!  So much age old opulence amid the Irish people's history of hardship and struggle.
We had to keep moving to reach Galway by Friday, Sept 11.  Leaving Waterford we kept to the coast headed for the wild west coast.  At the seaside town of Cobh (pronounced Cove) we saw the local museum created in memory of those who lost their lives on the ships that departed Cobh for America or Australia .. emigrant ships and convict ships.  The last land departure point for the Titanic was Cobh and the bodies and few survivors of the Lusitania were brought here. 

We stopped along the way to visit the Drombeg stone circle and hut site circa 1000-800 BC.  Fascinating .. I HAD to hug a stone!  Feel the vibes! 

Our next night we spent in Bantry on the west coast - nice little town and a welcoming B & B.  Then on up through the mountain passes on the Iveragh Peninsula to a very small town north of Tralee called Ballybunion for our final night before reaching Angela's house.  Our first days in Ireland were blessed with clear skies and no rain - very lucky.  But the Friday morning we woke up in Ballybunion the rain started and it came down in sheets!  And it rained and rained and rained on us all the way to Galway.