Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Ireland at Last!

Oh my goodness!  I can't believe I'm finally here!  I've lived & breathed this trip for so long that now that I've finally stepped onto Irish soil, it's all a bit surreal.

After meeting Donna at Dublin airport, we checked into the Rental car counter where we were directed to a Shuttle bus which took us over to the Europcar depot.   There we picked up our Opel Corsa, complete with Sat Nav.  Now, Irish Mary back at Tourism Ireland NZ in Auckland assured me I'd not need a Sat Nav in Ireland "& anyway, they don't come with an Irish accent" she said.  Who was she kidding!?  With my sense of direction Mary, a Sat Nav is an absolute must. 

Our trusty Opel Corsa rental car
Now just a word about our Sat Nav... we've named her Aoife [I think that's how she spells her name & she pronounces it "Ee-fa"].... and before we had even got out of Dublin, we were having a conversation with her!  Some of it, not very savoury...  especially, when she kept telling us 'to make a U-turn as soon as possible'!.... I quickly decided it was because U was the only vowel missing from her name!! 

We were heading to Kilkenny for a couple of days but detoured  via Glendalough, set in the majestic valley of the Wicklow Mountains National Park.  The weather was perfect - blue skies & white puffy clouds!

Heading over the Wicklow Mountains to Glendalough

On the way to Glendalough, Wicklow Mountains
Following the R115 through the Wicklow Mountains we happened upon Mary from Co. Meath, who waved us down from her car which appeared to be firmly wedged up to it's axle on the side of the road.  Moving bags to one corner to make room, Mary happily jumped into our car & off we went in search of handsome farmer with big tractor to get her out of her predicament. 
Actually, Mary didn't especially need a 'handsome' farmer as she had a man friend of her own which we had left guarding the car stuck in the ditch.  She happily told us that she'd met him on a internet dating site and this was her first outing with him!   We soon track down handsome farmer a few kilometers on, who appeared very willing indeed, to give Mary a hand. 
Of course, as seems to be the done thing in Ireland... we left with Mary's phone number and strict instructions to look her up when we got to County Meath.

Glendalough Monastic Site, Glendalough, Co. Wicklow

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow
Situated in the Wicklow Mountains National Park, the Glendalough Monastic site  really is amazing, and one of the most important sites of monastic ruins in Ireland.  Founded around the 6th century, most of the buildings that survive today, date from the 10th through to the 12th century.

6th or 7th century Granite Cross, Glendalough

Glendalough Cemetery, Co. Wicklow

Glendalough Round Tower, Co. Wicklow

Cathedral Ruins, Glendalough, Co. Wicklow

St Kevin's Church, Glendalough, Co. Wicklow

The Round Tower, Glendalough, Co. Wicklow

After spending an hour at Glendalough, we had to decide which would be the quickest route to Kilkenny.  We eventually decided on the R756 to Knockroe then onto the N81.  Just north of  Rathvilly, Aiofe our Sat Nav directed us onto the R726 - who were we to argue!  And it was on the R726 just east of Carlow that we happened upon the Brownshill Dolmen - good ole' Aiofe! Had she recognised the M9 when we went through Johnstown, a much quicker route to Kilkenny, we'd have taken that and missed passing the Brownshill Dolmen altogether.
This was a magnificent structure and one we would not have sought out because neither of us had ever heard of it before. 
The Maginificent Brownshill Portal Tomb between Ballynakillbeg & Kernanstown

Brownhill Dolmen, Co. Carlow

Keep you're eyes open  for it on the left as you come into the small settlement of Ballynakillbeg, if you blink you'll miss it!  The capstone of this dolmen alone, weights an estimated 100 tonnes & is reputed to be the heaviest in Europe.  It is thought to have been built between 4000 & 3000 BC by some of the earliest farmers to inhabit the island.  It really is worth following your Sat Nav to Carlow to find this.  From the car park it's a 5 - 10 minute stroll on a a well maintained footpath which leads right to the dolmen.

From Carlow we eventually did find our way back out onto the M9 which took us on to the N10 into Kilkenny.  We checked into Mena House B&B on Castlemoner Road around 5.30pm & were welcomed by the lovely Katherine Molloy.  As it is early in the holiday season, we found ourselves the only guests at Mena.  Katherine looked after us like long lost friends.    Handily situated to Kilkenny town centre & spacious off street parking, we found Mena House to suit our needs perfectly.
Mena House B&B, Kilkenny

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Panic! I've lost a day somewhere!

By chance I overheard a phone conversation my English Mum was having when I heard her say that the 1st March was on Thursday.  My ears pricked up at this because I was sure the 1st was on Friday.  When I realized how wrong I was, I went in to panic mode.  Not only could I not go out with friends to a comedy show we’d booked in Canterbury this evening, I had to get myself to Chislehurst to catch up with friends, then get myself to my hotel at Gatwick Airport TONIGHT!   I was flying to Dublin tomorrow morning, NOT Friday morning as I had assumed. 

Had I not been eavesdropping on my English Mum’s conversation, I’d have woken up tomorrow morning, blissfully unaware that I was supposed to be on Ryanair FR113 to Dublin.
Arrangement were hastily made & thankfully, my friends were able to collect me and drive me to Chiselhurst where I spent a lovely 8 hours with my friends, before being dropped off at Gatwick Airport to spend a night a ‘Yotel’
My Yotel Room
A Yotel? I hear you say.  Tucked away in the South terminal of Gatwick Airport, I settled into a 98  square feet ‘pod’, equipped with bed, shower & toilet. 
Gatwick Yotel
Who says bigger is better? It was the perfect solution for staying somewhere handy to the airport so as to catch my early morning flight to Ireland.   The concept  of this space-saving capsule hotel originated in Japan. 
In the morning I literally walked out of the elevator & across the forecourt to the Departure Check-in.

Ireland here I come!

Monday, 27 February 2012

A London Eye’s view

Monday morning saw me getting back on the fast train to Waterloo Station, London to meet up with an old friend from my William Harvey Hospital days, & a distant cousin from Ireland who I was meeting for the first time. Straight out of Waterloo Station & the London Eye is right there. For 18 quid you get a half hour ride with views across London which are pretty spectacular of the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace & the Thames to name a few.
Houses of Parliament, London
Westminster Abbey & the Clock Tower of Big Ben, London

I ended the day with a walk past Big Ben, up Whitehall & into Tralfalgar Square seeing all those sights you see in all the London Tourist Brochures.
The London Eye

Buckingham Palace from the London Eye

The Victoria & Albert Museum, South Kensington, London

Westminster Abbey & Statue of Winston Churchill, London

Trafalgar Square, London
[it doesn't seem quite the same without the pigeons...]

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Glasgow & Edinburgh

Today we took a quick overnight trip to Edinburgh via Glasgow on the train. These photos were taken on our quick walk between Glasgow Central & Glasgow Queen St train stations.

George Square, Glasgow
Duke of Wellington, Glasgow
A quick note about the traffic cone atop the Duke of Wellington's bronzed head.  Apparently, capping the statue with a traffic cone has become a traditional practice in the city, claimed to represent the humour of the local population & believed to date back to the early 1980's.

First stop once in Edinburgh, Edinburgh Castle.  This is a stunning castle which towers majestically over the city streets below & beckons you to pay a visit.  Evidence suggests that a hill fort settlement was on the rock as long ago as 850BC.  Take your time to look around... but watch your footing, as I should have done to prevent me falling flat on my face in front of everyone!  My only injury was a bruise which spread quickly from the second knuckle on my little finger right up to the tip.  This will obviously sound trivial to many of you reading this, but believe me, despite the smallness of the limb involved, the pain was excruciating, hence succeeding in blocking out the humiliating spectacle I had made of myself. 

Edinburgh Castle

Walked down from the castle along the Royal Mile, in and out of a few of the touristy shops looking for a bargain, then across to see the Grey Friars Bobby statue, erected in memory of a wee dog who lost his owner & supposedly, spent the next 14 years, sleeping on top of his master’s grave in the nearby churchyard until he himself died in 1872.

The GreyFriars Bobby
GreyFriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh

Chimney Stacks, Edinburgh

Monday, 20 February 2012

Going back to my Scottish Roots

Our first day in Scotland was spent in Ayrshire visiting Scottish ancestral haunts.  First stop Kilwinning, for it was here in the 15th century that the first Patrick's of Ayrshire were known to have owned land around the Monastery of Kilwinning.   So in the drizzling rain we walked around the ruins of the historic Kilwinning Abbey, thought to date back to the 13th century.

Kilwinning Abbey, Ayrshire
A short drive north of Kilwinning is Beith, a pretty wee town where at least 7 generations of my ancestors lived.  We found the street where my great great grandfather lived on for the first 15 years of his life, in a small house which they shared with a massive Hand Loom, as Weaving was the trade of his father.  These Hand Looms were often the property of the local Mill & I suspect, were rented out to many on the street so that they could earn a pittance of a wage. 

New Street, Beith c. mid - late 1800's
New Street. Beith as it is now
The street named New Street, not the most imaginative name for a street, was also the  birthplace of Henry Faulds, the genius who discovered that the fingerprint could be used to identify criminals.  Henry & my great great grandfather would have lived on New Street during the same time period.

Just a few miles outside of the village of Beith, in the farming district of Barrmill, we went in search of a house which I believed was once owned by my 8 x great grandfather.  To our absolute delight we found the actual house & found that he'd actually built it himself leaving a large stone plaque inlaid into the outside wall above the front door engraved with the following inscription: “Built by [my 8 x great grandfather] in 1736”.  Left there for his 8 x great grand-daughter to find over 275 years later!

The home built by my 8 x great grandfather, Barmill, nr. Beith, Ayrshire
Buoyed by this find, we moved on to Kilmarnock to pass through more streets where ancestors were known to have lived.  Neither Boyd Street or Robertson Place were particularly thrilling areas of Kilmarnock but it was interesting none the less, to envisage our ancestors walking around here as we were now doing, 200 years later.
Robbie Burns Cottage, Alloway
While  getting late, we decided to chance our luck travelling on to Alloway near Ayr, to visit the thatched cottage where poet Robbie Burns was born & the nearby Heritage Park where we took a walk over the remarkable Brig o' Doon, a late medieval bridge used as the setting for the final verse of the Burn's poem 'Tam o' Shanter'.  Heading home after a night of drink  and debauchery, Tam is pursued by Nannie the witch. Tam and his trusty mare, Maggie, must reach the bridge’s peak, the point that marks the official crossing from one side of the river to the other. For it is widely known that witches and other evil spirits cannot follow their would-be victims past the middle of a running stream.

At the Brig o' Doon

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Long Haul

Christchurch, NZ – Sydney, Australia – Abu Dhabi, UAE – Dublin, Ireland  - Prestwick, Scotland

Long haul flights are a killer.  There really isn’t anything nice to say about them.  Cramped seats, packaged food, swollen ankles & insomnia.   At least the three stopovers in Sydney, Abu Dhabi & Dublin provided a little diversion therapy, as did the three Irish women I met on the flight over.  In true Irish friendliness, I parted company with them at Dublin with their names & phone numbers in hand.   

Abu Dhabi Airport
You may be wondering why we were ‘stopping over in Dublin’, when all along I’ve been preparing you all for my trip to Ireland.  That’s because I’m heading to Scotland & England first for a quick catch up with friends before flying back to Ireland to tour there for the month of March.

The 5hr stopover at Dublin Airport was a real test of our endurance levels as by this stage our eyelids were seriously determined to shut & shut permanently.  Even the Airports free WiFi to check mail & catch up on my blog couldn't delay the inevitable slumber.
It was a short Ryanair flight to Prestwick, Scotland where, there to meet us was my distant cousin waving a rugby union scarf with the words "Scotland – New Zealand" blazoned across it.  What a trooper!

After quick introductions [because I’d never met my cousin before now] & a brief catch up back at her house, sleep could no longer be delayed & came easily once my head hit the pillow.  After waking up at 0700 Saturday morning [NZT], it was now Monday lunchtime [NZT].  I was looking forward to at least 8 hours sleep, but by 3.00am, I was wide awake & wanting a cup of tea.

With only one day to recover when I return to work after the same long haul flight home in 6 weeks time, I wonder now if spending every last minute of my available annual leave travelling around Ireland, instead of stopping over somewhere for a night en route home, may be pushing my endurance levels just a little too far.