Thursday, August 7, 2014

Ireland, Part III: The Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula, Galway, and the Aran Islands

I'm going to try and finish up the last of our trip to Ireland in this post.  In case you missed it, you can read about Belfast and Dublin here and Waterford and Cork here.

After the farm outside of Cork, we headed to Killarney to drive the famous Ring of Kerry.  The views were spectacular, but I didn't think it was particularly better than driving through the Glens of Antrim, or up the coast to Belfast.

We stopped at a couple of historic ring forts that were pretty impressive (Cahergal and Leacanabuaile).  It's amazing that these were made in 2000 to 500 B.C.  I could have spent a much longer time crawling around the rocks and admiring the views.


Our guidebook told us to stop at a couple of different places for the views.  This stop showed crazy steep, green cliffs dropping into the blue of the ocean- beautiful.  The color contrast always got me.

This is looking back away from the ocean.

Love clouds

Right towards the end of the ring, there was one last pull-out for magnificent views (total tourist trap).  But we jumped into the trap, both feet ahead, and held baby sheep!


After we had finished most of the ring, we programmed our GPS to get us to the next peninsula over- Dingle.  The GPS decided to take us directly across the peninsula, instead of around it on the main roads, so we had quite the adventure.  The roads were narrow and wound through the mountains, called the Macguillacutty Reeks.  Many times we had to stop for sheep on the side of the road, and more rarely, for another passing car.  The topography was magnificent.  Huge mountains towered on either side of us, layered with boulders and interspersed with grass and sheep. 

Did I mention they spray-paint their sheep/goats?!

Eventually we made it to Dingle, which was where I had been most excited to stay.  This was almost completely due to name Dingle itself, as I knew only the minimum about this fishing town.  Sadly, we were taken advantage of by our host that evening, so I have a bit of a sour taste in my mouth from the experience.  (I plan to do a review of Airbnb, which we used for our entire trip, but in case you don't read that, just know that Airbnb took care of us in the end.)

Annnnnyway, we did do my favorite hike of the trip, while we were in Dingle.  It was the morning after being together for a bit too long, and it was nice to hike along in silence and spend some time alone.  We saw the area's famous resident, Fungie the dolphin, from up above, and watched as the boats filled with tourists chased him around.  I made a bouquet of mini flowers for my mom, which will hopefully become inspiration for one of her quilts. 

We ended up cutting our stay short in Dingle and heading to the Limerick/Shannon area a day early.  We stayed at a bed and breakfast, which use to be a nunnery, with our favorite host, Dolores

After two nights, we headed off to Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, and Kylemore Abbey.  I was fairly convinced I was going to fall off the cliffs.  I mean, there is seriously nothing but a roll down a grassy knoll between you and your death.  It was a bit scary.

Kylemore Abbey was magnificent.

Nerd Alert:  We also stopped at a bog! We pulled over to the side of the road (actually we kind of just stopped in the middle of the road, until my mom yelled that this was unacceptable and we re-parked) and my dad and I got out to play in the bog.  Mandy and mom chased sheep (this was Mandy's favorite pastime). 

Some hungry hydrologist background: a bog is a type of wetland that is common in Ireland, England, and Scotland. Because of all the rain these countries get, the water increases acidity on the bog, reduces oxygen levels, creates waterlogged conditions, and leaches nutrients and minerals out of the soil.  As a result, there is way less microbial activity, so plant matter doesn't get broken down very quickly.  This makes for a different type of soil: peat.  Peat holds a lot of moisture and the ground becomes springy as a result.  So when my dad and I went out into the bog, we jumped around like lunatics because you could feel the other person jumping from about 10 ft away as the waterlogged ground vibrates.  It. Was. So. Cool.

The Irish (and others) use the peat as fuel.  They come out with an elongated shovel and scoop bricks of the peat out of the ground.  They lay it out to dry and then stack it into little teepees to further dry the material.  Then when it's ready, they take it home and burn the carbon-dense material.  This is happening less and less in an effort to protect the bog habitat, but it is still allowed in some places.    

In the top of this picture, you can see the ledge where the bog is being cut into.  Peat bricks are out drying on top.

Bog cotton, blowing in the wind

We got an early start from Galway, and took off for the Aran Islands.  We took a ferry over and had to leave our beloved Peguot behind.  When we arrived, we headed to where we thought we were staying and made some phone calls to coordinate our arrival.  While we waited to be let in, we enjoyed some coffee at a little shop along the water.  I've been dreaming of that latte ever since.

We took a minibus tour around the island and requested that we go to the "worm hole", which had been recommended by our host the night before.  Our guide dropped us off, vaguely pointed off to the horizon, and said "Head that way. I'll pick you up in 3 hours at the fort."  It was quite a hike.  We climbed over rocks and grass, the terrain as rugged as the rest of the island.  But when we made it to the worm hole, we were rewarded with the sight of an impressive rock formation that resembled a standard swimming pool. (And the set up for a major diving competition coming up in the next few weeks- check out the video below.)  We continued our hike to the fort on the top of the hill and saw PUFFINS on the way there.  I had really wanted to see puffins the whole trip, so this was REALLY exciting.  Sadly, all my pictures show two little black dots in a green field, so they're not really worth sharing.

See those houses (white dots) in the distance?  We hiked from there...

The worm hole!

Set up for the future diving competition.
Mexico's Jonathan Paredes dives to third place at Red Bull Cliff Diving Ireland 2014 at the Serpent's Lair, Inis Mor.

The fort was very cool too- up on top of a cliff, about half of the circular fort has eroded into the ocean.  It was terrifyingly high, and I was amazed by the lack of fencing along the edge.  One could literally walk off a cliff with nothing to stop you.  Still makes me a little ill just writing about it...

The fam, chatting with a tour guide.  To the left of Mandy, the cliff drops about 50 m to the water...
The next day, we returned to the main land, grabbed the Peugot and headed off to our last stop: the Tullamore Dew Distillery!  We drank some whiskey then headed back to Dublin to stay the night before our flight.

Phew!  If you made it this far, you deserve an award!  Thanks for joining me!

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