Monday, 29th September – Cork to Dublin

Last night we stayed in Cork, about 15 minutes drive away from the famous Blarney Castle. The castle was the first stop on our itinerary today on our way to Dublin.

The castle itself houses the Blarney Stone, famous for bestowing the gift of the gab on all who kiss it. Due to OH&S issues and the “ewww” factor, we didn’t want to kiss the stone, but there is so much more to see.

Entry to the castle (13 euro each) gives access to the beautiful gardens surrounding the castle itself. Once you go through the main entrance, the path takes you through some of the amazing gardens and forest that cover the 60 acre property.

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The short walk from the main entry brings you to the castle, but the outside view as you approach is breathtaking. There is even a special garden at the side of the castle that is called the Poison Garden. It holds plants that have been considered poisonous over the ages that today may be considered beneficial or have alternate uses.

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Once you reach the castle, there is a windy staircase that has 100 steps leading you to the top where the Blarney Stone rests. Whilst we refrained from kissing the Stone, the view of the surrounding gardens was worth every step.

IMG_5365IMG_5350IMG_5381IMG_5352IMG_5395We ended up spending a couple of hours wandering around the grounds and then left for our next destination – Cashel.

The village of Cashel, an hour and a half away from Blarney Castle, has a massive ruined Abbey on a hill – the Rock of Cashel. When we got to the town, we also discovered other ruins, like the ruins of St Dominic’s Abbey (below).

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This landmark is a spectacular group of Medieval buildings set on an outcrop of limestone known as the Rock of Cashel. The oldest building on the site is the round tower, built in 1100. Other buildings were added over the next couple of centuries, but only ruins remain today.

Entry was only 7 euro each including admission to a small gallery/museum inside that’s worth the price alone. There was restoration work going on when we were there, but it didn’t impact our experience.

The scale of the Rock is astounding. With walls all around the site and the peaks reaching almost 30 metres high, you feel dwarfed by the ancient ruin. The on site graveyard, with its mossy texture, gives the whole place a slightly spooky feeling.

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From the grounds you can see another cathedral’s ruins in the distance. We didn’t travel down for a closer look, but enjoyed the view from the Rock.

IMG_5529After spending most of our day wandering through ruins, it was now time for us to head to Dublin. The two and a half hour journey took us to the hotel we stayed at, just outside the main city of Dublin.

Once at the hotel, we got ready to catch up with one of Bec’s friends. We hadn’t seen Lisa for 8 years and we had a wonderful time catching up over drinks and dinner at her local.

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2014 European Adventure Ireland

Sunday, 28th September – Limerick to Cork

As with most days on the UK part of our adventure, today’s itinerary was exciting but long. The drive was approximately 6 hours from Limerick to Cork via Tralee, Kenmare, Killarney, Bantry and Skibbereen on the Ring of Kerry.

After checking out of the hotel we went for a quick walk along the River Shannon. From the bridge we could see King John’s Castle. The castle was built in the 13th century on the site of a Viking settlement dating back to 922.IMG_5043

On the road from Limerick to Tralee on the banks of the River Deel lay the ruins of the Franciscan Friary built in 1389.

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From Tralee we headed to Kenmare via Killarney National Park. Driving through Killarny we found a cathedral – St Mary’s – at the foot of the National Park. We stopped in to have a look at this Gothic Revivalist style church and took some photos.

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Killarney National Park, for its size, has many varying landscapes. Some parts are almost like the Scottish moors and others so rich and green they are almost like a rainforest.

At the foot of the park there is a large body of water, Lough Leane (which means lake of learning). Depending on your viewpoint, the landscape around the lake is completely different.

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Further on the road to Kenmare we came across an old church perfectly situated near a gorgeous waterfall. Not far from the church were the ruins of a small anonymous castle. The Ring of Kerry was proving itself to be a highlight.

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Continuing on the Ring of Kerry, we found a look out called Ladies View. The name apparently stems from the admiration of the view given by Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting during their 1861 visit.

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The rest of our journey on the Ring of Kerry toward Kenmare continued to amaze us with its unique landscapes.

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Molly Gallivan’s was an unexpected gem about 15 minutes from Kenmare towards Bantry. A quirky little hobby farm where you can experience Irish lifestyle as it was prior to electricity, see some ancient ruins, do some shopping in an extensive gift shop and enjoy some homemade scones in front of a fire.IMG_5194

We enjoyed the rest of the journey to Cork on the N71, stopping only to take some random photos.

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On our way into Cork, we noted Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral. This Gothic style church was built in the 18th century on a historically religious site since the 7th century.IMG_5316

We checked into a rather posh hotel (in comparison to our usual Ibis digs), taking advantage of their lovely restaurant indulging in a few glasses of wine overlooking Cork and the River Lee.

2014 European Adventure Ireland

Saturday, 27th September – Sligo to Limerick

Today’s trip takes us from Sligo to Limerick – a five hour trip via Galway, the Cliffs of Moher and Ennis. After a good nights sleep we were up super early and made our way to Sligo Abbey, built in the 13th century.

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On our way out of Sligo, we stopped to have a look at a beautiful church – the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. A relatively new church, opened in 1874, it is the only Norman style church in Ireland. We had a brief look inside, as the morning mass was about to start.

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Over the next two hours, we really enjoyed the drive through country Ireland as the scenery was incredible. We came across Dunguaire Castle which was not on our itinerary, but simply too picturesque to drive past. We didn’t pay the entry to go inside, but did look around the gift shop. This place seemed to be a major tourist attraction – we knew this from the incredible number of coaches arriving as we left.

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On the coast road just outside of Ballyvaughan we spotted a large keep of a castle and decided to explore. Upon further investigation, it turned out that only one of the walls was intact! The others had fallen away over the years. We later found out that it was Muckinish West Tower House built around 1350.

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We were only an hour away to our next destination, the Cliffs of Moher. This part of our journey was amazing and it was an incredible day – one of the warmest we’d had since returning to the UK. The rolling hills along the coastal road along with the blue sky and green fields partitioned by traditional Irish stone walls were perfect.

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Along the road we also encountered spectacular views. One of them (below) was of a place called The Burren. It is within a national park, and has an almost alien landscape on top of the mountains there – a huge contrast to the green everywhere else. We didn’t have time to explore further, but seeing The Burren in the distance was great!

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One of the most iconic places to visit in Ireland is the Cliffs of Moher. The site itself is visited by a million people per year and is well built to cater for the numbers. They have a great car park, visitors centre and walks around the cliffs – all for six euro per person (including parking). One of the best value locations we visited on our trip.

At about 215 metres high and going for 8 kms, the Cliffs are so impressive – 320 million years in the making! Many films have been made here including a couple of our favourites: The Princess Bride and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

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Throughout the UK we had problems finding Air BnB’s so we staying at a lot of hotels. This means we’ve been accumulating loads of washing! We managed to find a laundromat in a place called Ennis – en route to our hotel. We have to plug Fergus Dry Cleaning, they were really lovely people and after we explained we were travelling, had 8 days worth of washing and an hour to get it sorted, they agreed to prioritise us! We were really surprised with the price as well. While they washed our clothes, we went and had a traditional Irish lunch (including real Guinness) at the local pub, Brogans Bar and Restaurant.

Back on the road, we continued toward Limerick, on the way we saw some horses with a new foal that Bec just had to feed an apple to.

Unfortunately time had gotten away from us, we drove around Bunratty Castle, however couldn’t look around too much as it was closed.

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Once at the hotel, we hung all our wet washing up in the room and slept under our drying clothes that night.

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2014 European Adventure Ireland

Friday, 26th September – Belfast to Sligo

We had a huge day of driving and sightseeing ahead of us in our trip from Belfast to Sligo via the North Coast so we had an early start.

Everywhere you look in Northern Ireland the scenery is breathtaking. The bright blue sky and the emerald green of the fields are only broken up by rough cliffs and sea glimpses. The weather had now turned and the cloudless days, whilst beautiful, were cold.

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Our first destination was the Dark Hedges, only an hour outside of Belfast. We should point out that the initial reason we went there was to see the filming location for the Game of Thrones TV series. Regardless of the pop culture reference, it was amazing.

The Dark Hedges is a beautiful avenue of beech trees, planted by the Stuart family in the eighteenth century. Two hundred years later, the Dark Hedges have become one of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland.

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Ballintoy is situated in one of the most picturesque parts of the North Antrim Coast between the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. This stunning harbour location has been used for exterior Pyke shots and as the Iron Islands in Game of Thrones.

We spent a lot of time at the harbour exploring the rocky coastline. The noise of the wind, ocean and birds was deafening, particularly as the waves crashed onto the rocky shore. Despite this it was incredibly relaxing and strangely calming.

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As we continued along the North Antrim Coast we made our way to Larrybane headland. Larrybane was featured in Game of Thrones being the location of Renly Baratheon’s camp site in Season 2.

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The coastline constantly surprised us with spots like the White Bay viewpoint and Castle Dunseverick. We had to stop a number of times to enjoy the scenery and take photos before reaching the Giant’s Causeway.

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The Giants Causeway is a Unesco listed heritage site that is a result of intense volcanic and geological activity. It is believed that the causeway is a 60 million year old legacy to the cooling and shrinking of successive lava flows. Or it could be that the mighty giant, Finn McCool, wanted to build a way to get to Scotland to have a ‘discussion’ with the giant Benandonner in Scotland who was taunting him.

Regardless of science or legend, the Causeway is mind-blowing and a very unique landscape. The shapes seem alien, nestled in a spectacular coastal setting.

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Our experience with the National Trust of UK has been fantastic. Everything was well set out, easy to navigate and well maintained.

For a  9 pound adult entry fee, we could experience the visitors centre (with exhibits and movies), self-guided tour and shuttle bus to the causeway itself. The shuttle bus saves time, but it is a great walk. We enjoyed the walk down and the bus back up the hill.

After leaving, we headed west towards Dunluce Castle to see more amazing landscapes. The castle traces back to the 13th century but is now mostly in ruins. It features in Game of Thrones as castle for the House of Greyjoy, though almost unrecognisable due to CGI enhancement.

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Stretching along the coast from Dunluce Castle are the unique limestone cliffs of the White Rocks. These soft sedimentary rocks have been carved through centuries into a labyrinth of caves and arches.

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We found a small car park at a lookout on the coast and decided to have our lunch there. We were pleasantly surprised to find that we were able to get glimpses back towards Dunluce Castle.

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Our next stop on the itinerary was Downhill Demesne, Hezlett House and the Mussenden Temple. They’re all located on an immense grassy field with the house the crowning point and the temple perched on the edge of a 120 foot high cliff. The house was a marvel of design and architecture until destroyed by fire around 1850.

It currently sits a gutted facade, grass as its carpet and sheep living in the servants quarters. The bright green, sky blue and fluffy white clouds made for fantastic photos. Entry was free, the area was well maintained and you could easily roam through the gardens all day.

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Thirty minutes outside Sligo, our final destination for the night, we spotted Benbulbin. Benbulbin was shaped during the ice age, when Ireland was under glaciers. Originally it was a large plateau. Glaciers moving from the northeast to southwest shaped it into its present distinct formation.

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Just before we reached Sligo, we saw St Columba’s Church of Ireland in Drumcliff the location of W.B. Yeats grave.

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There is still contention regarding the authenticity of Yeats’ remains, initially scattered in an ossuary in France in 1946 before being repatriated by his wife back to Ireland.

Finally we reached Sligo, checked into our hotel and had dinner at the restaurant on site. We retired early, exhausted after a long day with the promise of another huge day of beautiful scenery ahead of us.

2014 European Adventure Ireland Northern Ireland