The Burren Way, Day 4: Fanore to Ballyvaughan 

So began our last hike of the trip. And it rained. And rained. (We have a history of vacations and rain). And the wind blew. But we still hiked the last 12k or so into Ballyvaughan. The weather forecast called for a 100% chance of rain until late in the afternoon, but with no other way get to our next destination we donned our rain gear and headed out. Our hosts in Fanore were kind enough to drive us up past part of our hike from the day before, which cut about 5k off the total. While we loved hiking the greenway, doing it again and in the rain wasn’t something we were keen on.

After we climbed out of the Caher Valley, we began a slow descent down towards Ballyvaughan. We were hiking along roads again, but there were a lot more trees that we had seen so far. We passed a ruined church that looked picturesque in the rain but other then that, it was heads down hiking.

We stopped for lunch at Newtown Castle which is home to the Burren Art College. While we were enjoying a cuppa, the rain really picked up. Still, we enjoyed the tea and climbing to the top of a restored circular castle. The last 2k of the hike were through fields, an open stone clearing, and a hazel wood. The hazel wood looked like the perfect setting for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We came across an intrepid group of hikers going on a guided walk, but left them to finish our hike by pass by some sheep, which made Ash incredibly happy. Also, the blackberries in this section seemed riper, so Ashley got distracted a bit more frequently.

We walked down to the bay after dinner and were treated to a gorgeous sunset. That’s right, the rain passed and our last day was nice and clear. We finished up with a bus and train ride back to Dublin, then hopped on a plane back home. The rest of the pictures that the rain permitted are here.

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The Burren Way, Day 3: Caher Valley

Today was a non-travel day.  We had a choice of two loop hikes and picked the one that would get us back into Fanore for lunch at Vasco’s. The hike took us up the Caher Valley and then across an old greenway that would have connected Fanore  with the surrounding area.

The hike up the valley was in two stages. The first was a long a tiny road next to the only stream in the Burren that is above ground all year (the others sink into the porous limestone if there isn’t enough rain). The weather cooperated for a few hours and we got some lovely views of the river and the surrounding farms. It even allowed us to sit down and have a nice snack half way up.

The second stage had us turn away from the river and hike up Slieve Elva, a 324m (1,062 ft) peak. We climbed up to a greenway just below the summit.  By this time the weather and turned cloudy and the wind had really picked up, but thankfully it didn’t rain. Still, the broad open expanse of the greenway was lovely. On either side of the stone wall were empty cattle grazing areas that looked ready for occupants.

After a few more kilometers, we found the remains of an old ring fort and castle. The castle is currently for sale and could be yours for a mere €25000. At that point we turned back towards Fanore and had some great flat bread for lunch.

There’s almost no cellphone coverage in Fanore so when we needed to get back to the B&B, we had the locals ring the owners who came to get us. After dinner, the local pub owner offered us a lift instead of bothering the B&B owners. On the short drive back, we learned that he was the 4th generation of his family to own the bar.  We also learned that he has a big farm in the Caher and was getting ready for the “winter walk”. The cattle pens we had seen on top of the mountain were the winter feeding grounds for all the cows we saw in town. The walk is moving them all from the summer areas to the winter ones.

As always, more pictures are here.

The Burren Way, Day 2: Doolin to Fanore

Sorry for the delay in posting. Spotty internet has kept us from uploading pictures or posts.

We ate a great breakfast in Doolin before setting out – we both like kippers, who knew? Since a good bit of the hike was on a main road, our B&B hosts offered to drive us to the start of the real trail. Hiking on the narrow roads in Ireland isn’t fun, particularly when there’s a lot of traffic on them. We gladly accepted, only to belatedly figure out we’d just cut off half the hike! Still, we were thankful for the lift as the afternoon forecast called for rain.

The start of the hike was on a rough road that turned into a gravel farm track and then back into a road for the final descent into Fanore. We enjoyed the views and found a great spot to stop and have lunch before the weather turned sour.

The weather was overcast for most of the hike and we did get caught in some rain towards the end, but this was still a significant improvement over Tuesday. The trail was pleasant to walk on and we had stunning views leading down to the coast. It turns out the the trail was part of a running festival a few weeks ago – we saw signs for the half marathon as we started down the hill.

Fanore is a small town that’s spread out over several kilometers. We found a fantastic cafe and enjoyed a delicious buttermilk berry sponge after our long hike. We really wanted to go back for dinner, but since the tourist season is ending, they are only open for lunch.

Just down the road there was a ruined church with a grave yard, although we were somewhat surprised to see that many of the tombstones were from the 20th century. We ended the night at the local pub and headed to sleep hoping the weather would improve the next day. We’re in Fanore for another day so we’ll go for a loop hike before heading to Ballyvaughn. Pictures are here.

The Burren Way, Day 1: Liscannor to Doolin

We’ve left Dublin and headed to the west coast of Ireland for a four day hiking excursion. We spent a day traveling to Liscannor which is a tiny town on the west coast, south of Galway and at the southern end of the Cliffs of Moher. We took the train from Dublin which was a lovely experience.

The bus from Galway to Liscannor was better than expected, even with a minor cattle jam. Both the rail and bus systems were easy to navigate and fairly inexpensive. If we come back to Ireland, I’d definitely consider using them again rather than renting a car.

In Liscannor, we had a lovely seafood dinner at a local pub (Vaughans) and then began getting set up to to hike the next day along the cliffs and into Doolin. The Cliffs of Moher are a popular tourist destination on the west coast. They rise 724 feet from the North Atlantic and you’re probably more familiar with them as The Cliffs of Insanity. They supposedly offer great views of the Irish coast and Aran Isles. Why supposedly? Because we couldn’t see a thing. The forecast called for rain early with it clearing out by the afternoon. It was a heavy drizzle as we left the B&B and it never really let up during the 3 hours we were hiking. Visibility was almost nil. We could see the edge of the cliff and not much else. In some ways, it probably made the hike quicker, as we didn’t stop to take many pictures.

Aside from the weather, the hike was interesting. It was definitely the scenic route, with a long detour along the coast, before heading uphill and onto the trail proper. The official trail is very narrow and bordered by slate slabs on one side and pasture fences on the other. There is an unofficial trail a few feet closer to the cliff edge that is sometimes easier to pass, but definitely more dangerous. The design of the main trail makes it easy for water to pool in places and it can be incredibly muddy. The stiles were made out of the same slate as the trail border which made them tricky to climb over.

At the Visitors Centre, we decided that another 2-3 hours of hiking in the rain and mud wasn’t really how we wanted to spend our vacation. Thankfully, there was a shuttle from the Cliffs to Doolin which we could grab. We took the bus in and spent the afternoon walking around Doolin, writings postcards, and getting dry. The town is a bit spread out but home to a number of B&Bs and a couple of pubs and is best known for it’s traditional Irish music. Dinner (O’Connor’s) as always was very good and the music being played was an interesting mix. Some lively songs mixed in with some slower, sadder fare.

We’re hiking from Doolin to Fanore tomorrow. The forecast calls for more rain but we’ll persevere! More pictures from today’s hike here.

Dublin Day 4

We didn’t skip day three, we just spent it cheering the Yellow Jackets to victory over Boston College. More on that in the last post. Today was spent largely at the Guinness Storehouse and then around Dublin. We decided to do a hop-on hop-off bus which turned out to be a mixed bag. The first leg got us to Guinness in plenty of time to start our tour. This isn’t a typical brewery tour which made both of us happy. Beer is made largely the same way anywhere in the world (barely, hops, wort, yeast, yadda yadda yadda). This tour was a celebration of Guinness as an institution. The tour started out with a brief introduction about brewing but quickly shifted to the history of Guinness and some interesting vignettes abut the family.

At the end of the brewing section, there was a tasting room that looked like something from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  All white with scented vapor points in each corner. The whole room smelled of roasted grains (and all of the caramel and chocolate notes they bring). From there, we learned the proper way to taste Guinness (as if there was a wrong way!) and a bit more history of the family.

The rest of the tour was spent on advertising. Guinness’ more modern ads had an incredibly polished, almost avant garde feel to them that reminded Drew of these James Boag ads. Arresting, interesting, and on message, but they felt a bit soulless compared to the toucans and “Guinness for Strength” campaigns of the early 20th Century.

All tour tickets include a pint in the Gravity bar, which has stunning views of the city. The day had gone from rainy to sunny, so we had a great vantage point. It’s strange that there aren’t any tall buildings in the city. The bar might have been the highest point outside of a church steeple. After we finished, we hoped back on the bus and promptly got lost. Well, we didn’t get lost, but the driver seemed to have been confused about the route he was supposed to take or maybe he was trying to get to the hurling finals early.  Either way, we randomly drove through the north side of the city and then had to find lunch (Farm, delicious), which didn’t leave much time for anything else, although we did watch the final few minutes of the hurling. We’re out of the city tomorrow and into the western part of the island. The last of our Dublin pictures are here.

(American) Football in Ireland

 

One of the main drivers for this particular vacation was the opportunity to watch a football game in Dublin. To clarify, it was actually two football games, and it was American football (henceforth just football), not soccer. To promote football overseas and to increase tourism, Georgia Tech and Boston College held their season opener in Dublin. As an added bonus, the group putting the game together also invited over several high schools to compete as well. Our high school, Marist, was one of the lucky ones selected to play.

The high school games were played on Friday, with Marist (blue jerseys) kicking off last, at 5pm. We spent a lovely day in the city (see our previous post) and then made our way down to Donnybrook Stadium to cheer on the Blue and Gold.

The games were actually played on a rugby pitch, and it was interesting to see how they converted the field. There was a rugby game later that night, so the white marks on the field were the standard rugby ones. In a much fainter yellow, they had marked out the yard lines and boundaries. There were definitely times that the crowd had trouble telling if a player had gone out of bounds, so I’m sure it was hard on the players.

Speaking of the crowd, they were great. There were only bleachers on one side of the field (typical for local rugby), so everyone was mixed together. There were definitely pockets of supporters sitting together, but it wasn’t strictly divided. Ashley ended up sitting between two Marist moms who were VERY enthusiastic about their boys – both seniors, both in the game. The game was close for the first quarter, but Marist soon took the lead and kept it until the end (27-0). It was really a fun game to watch. Being high school, it moved a lot quicker than college (or pros), and there was lots of action – Marist caught two interceptions! It was great to see so many people come out to support the “kids”, and we had a great evening. Oh, and being Ireland, we were able to enjoy a pint while cheering on our team

One unexpected pleasure of the trip was catching up with old friends. Ashley’s parents were at the game too, so we got to spend time sightseeing with them. We also ran into an old high school buddy and his wife. She works for GT, so she was on duty frequently, but it was delightful to catch up with them whenever they had a spare minute. Last but not least, we got to hang out with an old co-worker of Ashley’s. She’s living in Dublin these days, and she had us over for brunch before the main event. She lives a literal stone’s throw away from the stadium, and it was so nice and relaxing to get out there before the crowds to enjoy good food and good company before the game.

Speaking of the game, wow. GT took the lead in the first half, but BC came back fighting. It really came down to the wire, but Tech scored with 35 seconds left on the clock. Let me tell you, the crowd went wild. Then, there was a crazy pass/run/fumble play where almost every player on the field touched the ball. The only clip I could find online really doesn’t do justice to how bizarre it looked from the stands. Aviva stadium was really cool. It’s an open design, but there is a roof that juts out over most of the seats. We were nice and dry while a steady rain fell on the field for most of the game. I can’t imagine watching a local sport there – the sound really echoed, and I’m sure a bunch of rugby or soccer fans would really raise the volume.

Dublin Days 1 & 2

We’ve traveled to Dublin for our first major vacation together since returning from Alice. It’s been great to get away from work for a while and even better that the flight is less than 8 hours. Hoping to beat the jet lag, we spent a good bit of our first day hanging out in and around Trinity College.

We’re staying in the dorms which are a great deal for anyone looking to see the city on the cheap. The rooms are a bit small, but tidy and comfortable with free wifi (a big deal for us when we travel). For our first evening, we visited the Chester Beatty Library. The collection of ancient religious texts are absolutely amazing with lots of other artifacts to highlight the different creation, storage, and spread of the books. Sadly, we couldn’t take any pictures of the exhibits but we did get some of Dublin Castle which is nearby.

From there we went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for evensong. The weather turned against us and got a little grey, but we still enjoyed the walk over. The cathedral was stunning and the service was lovely. However, the quiet atmosphere and peaceful music had us struggling to stay awake. We finished the night by having a pint a great local pub and then ate fish’n’chips while watching the crowds in Temple Bar. It’s somewhat amusing to hear a crowd belt out “Take Me Home” from half way down the block while not actually having to be in a bar with them.

After a quick brekkie the next morning, we made our way to St. Stephen’s Green. The green would be a great place to jog or wander through on a morning commute. We walked almost the entire way around and enjoyed sitting by one of the ponds and watching the swans. The National Museum of Archeology was next on our agenda. The museum crammed full of exhibits with a collection of artifacts from the Bronze Age through Medieval times. Ashley was particularly enamored by this cloak pin – if anyone can find a replica (or knows a good jeweler), you know what you can get her for Christmas this year. We didn’t go and look at the bog bodies, but the displays surrounding them were interesting and do a great job of giving people an option to view them or not.

And the gold. So much gold.

After lunch we visited the Book of Kells. The exhibit wasn’t laid out perfectly, as it funnels everyone towards the book but has three different tracks to get there.  Each of the different sections has great information about other illuminated manuscripts but you walk back and forth through a crowd that is trying to go in one direction. The book itself is amazing even if the crowds make it hard to see. We probably spent more time in the Long Room looking at the impressive stacks of books. This room is a frequent contender for most beautiful library and it was one inspiration for the library in Harry Potter.

We didn’t have much time to dawdle though, as we needed to go watch our high school team play football (real American style football). Pics are here and we’ll talk about the gridiron action in another post.