Tag Archives: UK

Travel: August 17 & 18, 2018: Swansea Beach and Browsing Bristol

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August 17

Friday was another rest day. It was my last in Wales, so we ran a few errands, ending up in yet a few more bookstores, since I had nearly finished the book that I had brought with me and knew that I had three plane flights between me and home.

I went out to the beach that night on my own, just to enjoy being near the water while I could be.

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View towards the Mumbles

August 18

The next day we took a bus out of the country to Bristol, England. I had a cheap jumper flight from Bristol to Dublin, where I was going to spend the night in the airport before flying to Charlotte, NC.

The night before our trip, I had discovered that Bristol is home to a cat café, You&Meow, so that was where we headed first, using the phone for directions. We managed to get ourselves let in without an appointment and enjoyed delicious drinks while the cats played and stalked and lounged around the room. One of the younger kittens really seemed intrigued by our shoes. The rule of the cat café is that you can’t pick up any of the cats; the cats have to come to you or be resting comfortably when you approach them. The atmosphere of the café resembles that of a spa.

 

After that, we let ourselves loose in the city. While in the city, I had my eyes peeled. Bristol is Banksy’s hometown, but I didn’t spot any of his work in the wild, not that I recognized. We found the aquarium and the amusements of Anchor Square, but we decided that we didn’t want to pay the aquarium entrance fee.

The city hosts a series of locks and canals and, you probably know by now, I enjoy being near the water. I got to ogle tall ships at dock here too. I had heard rumor that visitors could climb into the rigging on the SS Great Britain, but we were already a ways from the bus station, on the wrong side of the lock to reach her, and didn’t want to wander too far. We turned back inland when our path seemed to dead-end.

 

After wandering a ways and picking up takeaway for lunch, we ended up at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery because museum entry is free in the UK.

We whiled away the rest of our time in its exhibits: Egyptian artifacts, dinosaurs fossils, rocks and gemstones, pottery from around the world but especially from Bristol, paintings including La Belle Dame sans Merci, taxidermy including a tiger shot by King George V and a Tasmanian tiger too, and a Romani caravan built in 1900 and in use until maybe 1953. And yes, there is a Banksy piece in the hall.

I don’t have a lot of photos from inside the museum, although photography is allowed.  I was too busy ogling the collection and reading the plaques.

 

Bristol is another city I should have researched more before visiting. On the bus to the airport I started spotting old, crumbling castles, and looking at maps, I spy things sites that I think would have been interesting to see.

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This is the trail more or less that my sister and I took across Great Britain.  I couldn’t get GoogleMaps to let me include our Irish travels in the same map.  That map is here.

And speaking of doing better research, I should have read the fine print for RyanAir. My jumper flight ticket was fairly inexpensive, but then I ended up having to paying a fee because I missed the email reminder that I had to check in online to avoid a £55 airport check-in fee, and I was struggling to get my phone or the airport computers to connect to wi-fi to be able to check in online while in the airport, so I missed the window to check in online at all. Learn from my mistakes.

I had also assumed that once I got to Dublin I would be able to check in and pass through security and get to my gate and wait out the night there. I foolishly didn’t realize that airports close overnight, even though flights get into the airport late. I had had a reservation for a bed in a hostel in Dublin that I decided to cancel because I didn’t want to have to deal while sleep deprived with the stress of getting to the hostel (you might remember that my sister and I struggled a little to find the right way to get to Dublin from the airport) then getting to the airport on time the next morning.

I think I was foolish.  I think I ought to have kept the reservation.  But there’s no turning back the clock after a thing is done, and my worst fears might have come true had I kept it.

As it was I couldn’t check in at the airport until the next morning, so I stayed in the lobby. Only one convenience store was open to get anything to eat or drink. I slept a little bit on the bench of a fancier restaurant in the airport lobby. It was not dark. It was not quiet.  I didn’t sleep well. I hardly slept.

After checking in, there was another hour or so wait until security was open, so I could not immediately go through that line either.

I made it back to the US though, safe and sound, and on the plane that I had intended to be on. I landed just before a torrential, summer rainstorm that sparked this odd rainbow that barely bridged the highway.  What is was promising, I’m not sure, but it seemed significant, and I took its photo for the friend who was driving me back home.

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And that’s it, all. I’m home now, back in the US, and not sure what my next adventure might be.

What have been some of your greatest adventures?  Where should I go next?

All photographs are mine.  Click to see them larger.  Map created using GoogleMaps.

Travel: August 15 & 16, 2018: Gardens on Foot, and Mountains on Horseback

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August 15

That Wednesday was mostly a rest day. My sister slept in, and I went that morning to walk through Singleton Park and the Swansea Botanical Gardens on my own. The park is huge, and it would have been easy to get lost. I stayed on the paths. I don’t have many photos, just a few of the gardens in riotous color.

All this was free to enter, free to wander. I spoke briefly with a gardener who found me on the paths in the Botanical Garden, but frankly, I was having a difficult time understanding him through the accent. I’d brought a book. I sat on a bench overlooking the campus below a sweep of lawn and just behind the campus’ buildings a glimmer of the sea. No photo captured it well enough to take. The paths wandered over hills, between woods and across fields, and around a shaded pond.  I stumbled upon the seemingly misplaced Swiss Cottage, built in 1826, but the old building was looking a little worn.

August 16

Thursday, though, it was time to check something else off of my bucket list. We were going pony trekking in the Brecon Beacons! I’d queried several area stables by email, but only heard back from the Ellesmere Riding Centre in Llangorse. We set up an appointment by email, and my contact there was always kind and accommodating, even though we were still finalizing as late as August 13. I was really excited.

We took the bus from Swansea through the Brecon Beacons National Park up to the small town of Brecon.  Our route took us between the Black Mountain and Fforest Fawr regions of the park.

In Brecon, we found the taxi rank from the directions that I was given by my contact in Ellesmere. Finding a taxi took a little longer than I thought it would do. We ought to have scheduled ahead of time or have found a taxi company’s number beforehand.

But a kind driver hurried us to the stable and knew just how to get there.

There’d been a transcription error between the emails and Ellesmere’s handwritten appointment book, and they had thought that we were scheduled for the day before! There was a further error in my phone number, so though they had tried to contact us, they hadn’t reached us.  I panicked a little, I don’t mind saying, but the guides there helped us into helmets, and my sister and I (we both have years of experience horseback, though it had been more than a decade since for her) helped to quickly tack up two more horses for the group that was about to head out, though neither of us actually ended up riding the horses that we tacked.

My sister rode a big bay cob-cross named Captain who looked like he deserved the name, a proper police horse. I rode a little bit daintier, bay mare named Thistle. Thistle was still so much more horse and more horse-power than I have gotten used to riding with my little 13 hh pony that I’ll admit I was a little intimated when I realized quickly that Thistle was more immune to my cues than was my mare, both my requests to slow down and my requests not to graze on the verge, and that I was out of practice being forceful.

But I was never in any danger as much as Thistle had more “go” than my mare and was constantly going faster and wanting to ride nearer the front of the herd.

I personally struggled far more than I expected to do giving over control to such a large horse.

I think I needed to have trusted these horses more than I did.  I’m used to riding meaning that I have to make decisions and sometimes fight to be minded.  I wasn’t making decisions in this group, and the horses knew the route and each other far better than I did.  If Thistle felt comfortable right up behind another horse, I should have trusted her to know which horses wouldn’t want her there.

That’s a good lesson for me to bring to any future trekking trips.  And for you to bring to any of yours too.

Most of the riders in our group were younger children there with their two moms. We all talked a little as we rode through the streets of Llangorse and then onto country roads that wended between fields and farmland, often shaded by trees, and from there onto a narrow bracken-lined path along the slope of Mynydd Troed.  From Mynydd Troed, we had a view across the valley towards Pen y Fan, southern Wales’ highest mountain.  Then we turned back downhill, joining again with more country lanes, most of these framed by hedgerows, and ultimately back onto the roads of Llangorse.

The horses never spooked. Not when we encountered an obstacle in the form of large machines clearing the trees from the road. Not at passing cars. Not at dogs barking from behind their fences.

At one point the saddle of one of the younger riders slipped sideways, and the horse—all the horses—just stopped while we fixed it and got her back up and on with a tighter girth. At one point Captain went into a few strides of canter to catch up with the herd; no one raced to join him. My sister said that his canter was actually much more comfortable than his trot, and it wasn’t that much faster. Our ride was walk and trot.

I didn’t ask at the farm and should have done whether or not we were allowed to bring cameras. I left my bags at the stable and my phone and camera with them so I was unprepared when we stopped near the peak of our ride to take photos. (Ordinarily, I always carry a phone with me while riding, never knowing when I might be stranded in a field and need help, and I would remind others what a blessing that tech can be, but having several adults with us who had more knowledge of the area and who would not in panic dial 911 instead of 999 made me feel safe enough to go without.)

I did find our route I think on Google Map’s street views, so I can give you some taste of the green vistas that we enjoyed from horseback.

I was fairly sure that I had found the right route when I had taken these screen captures in September 2018, but now writing this in July 2019, I’m just less sure, so I’m afraid I don’t have a map for a you, or a way to look for other screens to capture.

By the time we returned to Brecon (the taxi driver from before had given us a card with the number to call, so we were easily able to get a ride back), most of Brecon was closed and the bus was not too long in coming. We had time to duck into a nearby Morrison’s for a few end of the day supplies.

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Back in Swansea we got fast food takeaway and ate in Castle Square before wandering up to the castle ruins.  What’s left of Swansea Castle is greatly dwarfed by the surrounding modern buildings, and there isn’t a lot left.  Compared to nearby Oystermouth, it isn’t very impressive, but it is very neat to see a castle so much surrounded by modern structures.

Then it was back to the university campus for the night.

Most photos mine, except those that are screen captures from Google Maps, which are clearly labeled.  Most can be viewed more largely by clicking on them.

Travel: August 14, 2018: The Cost of Touring Tenby

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We were underprepared for the tourism economy of Tenby.

We took a bus from Swansea to Carmarthen and the train from Carmarthen to Tenby.  We followed other tourists up Warren Street into White Lion Street and to its conclusion at the sea.

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We had come with the intention to leave Tenby for Caldey Island. After getting coffees because the morning was chilly and gray and we had woken fairly early, we found the Caldey Island Shop down a narrow alley off of Tudor Square. We asked about tickets there, but the tickets onto the ferry for Caldey Island were more expensive than we had anticipated.

The Cistercian monks of Caldey Island are said to produce the best chocolate in all of Wales. We found some of their chocolate in the Caldey Island Shop in Tenby.  My sister and I both brought home bars and thought it very good chocolate.  We passed on tickets to the ferry though.

Our main plans thwarted, we ended up spending a good deal of time wandering the streets inside the old city walls (east of the Five Arches, so we really only explored a small portion of Tenby), ducking into bookstores, art galleries, quirky shops, and tourist shops.

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Image made with GoogleMaps

The same alley as Caldey Island Shop boasted an old fashioned sign that just read books. The bookstore that that sign marked, Cofion, was too disorganized, its books stacked higgledy-piggledy and floor to ceiling, for me to dare to venture inside. I have had too many stacks of books collapse on top of me for me to find such an environment relaxing. But we ventured into other of the city’s bookshops including Tenby Bookshop, and admired many of the children’s books and bookish gift displays.  We stopped in the art gallery of John Cahill and his friends.

We also hunted for a sweatshirt to keep my sister warm.

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St. Catherine’s Island and Castle Beach

We wandered up to the remnants of the castle, a gate and a tower on a hilltop. We climbed Bridge St, passed through the gate, but found that way to the tower blocked by the Tenby Museum and Art Gallery, which had an entrance fee too, so we turned around again to continue wandering.

Eventually our wandering brought us down to the beach, as all good wanders should do.

We’d arrived at low tide so were able to cross to the tidal island of St. Catherine’s. To climb the steps onto the island and enter the fort cost another fee. So I played around in the caves and the natural bridge beneath the island for a little, though the largest cave at the time we were nearby was flocked with children on a tour, so I stayed in the smaller of the caves.

We found a set of stairs from the beach that did lead up to the top of Castle Hill, so we were able to reach the solitary tower that remains of the castle and walk on the heights above the beaches where there was an asphalt walking path that looped a small park.  The path follows the original curtain walls.

We found the lifeboat station, and entrance to that was free, so we went inside there for a moment to admire their lifeboat and read the placards.

The pastel houses and narrow alleys and medieval walls and certainly the sea were beautiful, but it was a city in which we should have planned to spend more money. Too little was free. A good deal of that onus is on us for not doing the research ahead of time.

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Crackwell St. and the steeple of St. Mary’s Church

Then it was nearing time already to catch the train back east, though I found time to briefly follow a path a little ways past the Tenby Golf Club that claimed to lead to “South Beach;” I didn’t have time to find the beach.

We’d bought return tickets in Swansea that morning. When we arrived in Carmarthen however, we’d missed the last bus back to Swansea, and Carmarthen was all shut up for the night when we arrived. We talked to a bus driver in Carmarthen when one arrived, explained our situation, and that driver very kindly helped us out. We needed new tickets, but we eventually did get home. We were taken to Tycroes. We were at that point trusting the drivers to get us home. We were let off on at a stop not far above the company offices and directly across from a public footpath. Our first bus driver talked to our next, who was just setting out. We were retrieved and brought back to Swansea.

The confusion left us tired and exhausted, but I am so glad there were kind adults who took pity upon two weary travelers on a foreign adventure. Otherwise I really don’t know what we would have done.

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Made with GoogleMaps.  We took no suggested route, back to Swansea especially, so I pretended that we drove to convince GoogleMaps to let me map a more roundabout route and have made it as near as possible to the routes I think the buses and trains drove.

All photographs are mine. Several can be enlarged if you click on them.

Travel: August 13, 2018: Battling the Dragon of Rhossili

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The next day we were off to one of the most highly rated beaches in Wales: Rhossili.

Our bus (about an hour either way) took us along narrow roads lined with hedges and through some adorable small towns where sheep grazed freely on the roadsides. There were even some free-grazing sheep on the green town square in Reynoldston.

Right around the time that we reached Rhossili, the weather cleared.  Now that we were going home to Swansea every day, we could plan our outings a bit more by the predicted weather than just by the itinerary.  We got a great beach day!

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But we never actually went down to the beach, though the sweep of golden sand was stunning from up top of the cliffs. We were too distracted by the challenge of Worm’s Head.

We finally had good weather on a day that we intended to climb a mountain! If anything, it was maybe even a little hot.

Worm’s Head is a series of tidal islands accessible for 2.5 hours on either side of low tide. The islands look vaguely like a dragon rising out of the sea.

The islands are reached by a walk along the clifftops, which descends steeply along first stone steps, then a well-worn dirt track before the grassy slope ends abruptly in a short ledge maybe 2-4 feet high, dropping to the jagged rocks and tidal pools that form the temporary land bridge known as the Causeway.

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Early in our trek across the Causeway, we heard one father warn his children not to get distracted. My sister took up the motto, and I tried to keep up with her.  There’s no path across the Causeway.  It seemed best to watch others’ paths and imitate them if they seemed successful.  Some of the rocks were narrow and sharp.  Some of the tide pools were deep.  This is a walk that requires good footwear.  I did alright in my trekking shoes and my sister managed in her flat-soled sneakers.  I have fewer photos of the Causeway because we were hurrying but also because I was nervous about balancing and dropping the camera.  I was glad to have a cord that kept it around my neck, but if I fell, that would not protect the camera.  We passed a foundered anchor, maybe from the nearby wreck of the Helvetia that lies on the beach.

It took us nearer to a half hour to cross the land bridge. We scrambled up a short cliff and onto the Inner Head, where we sat down and enjoyed our lunch overlooking the land bridge, Rhossili Bay on one side with its sweep of golden sand and the crashing waves of (I think) the Bristol Channel (it’s hard to say where one water feature becomes another).

I decided to set out to explore towards the farther end of the peninsula while my sister again waited for me.

I found a narrow dirt path through the bracken to the left of the head, which curved around the seaward side of the landmass, and eventually let out into short-cropped grass.

I didn’t make it out to the Outer Head, but instead climbed the backside of the Inner Head, gaining the altitude up a steep incline, which was despite being steep, a fairly easy climb.

I opted to take the shorter way down, which was little more than a goat’s trail. While we had been lunching, we’d watched several hikers take this way to the top of the Inner Head. I think in retrospect, that path might have been easier going up than down.

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My sister while she waited spotted our only semi-aquatic or aquatic mammal of the trip: a sea lion who bobbed fairly far below us in the bay.

I took her by my easier trail around the backside of the Inner Head to see the end of the peninsula and the Devil’s Bridge (an odd name that I am only discovering now for a land bridge that looks from a distance like its bridge forms a heart).

We didn’t climb the head again, but I wanted her to see the far end of the peninsula.

We climbed then back across the Causeway, with a little more urgency this time, and hiked back along the clifftops towards the town and the bus stop. We did get to marvel at a hovering bird of prey. I eyed the Vile, a medieval system of agriculture involving long, narrow divisions of the fields, about which I had read, and about which I was curious for the setup of one of the towns in my WIP.

The area around Rhossili is a treasure trove of history for someone who knows how to look and what to look for.

There is also on the walk from Rhossili to Worm’s Head the remnants an Iron Age fort called Old Castle Camp. The fort looks more like unnatural rises and falls in the fairly flat ground, and I think we actually passed it without a thought, remaining on the more prominent, kept, gravel path.

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You can see the Vile fairly well in this view from Google Maps.  I used the coordinates from Ancient Monuments to locate Old Castle Camp, the red marker.

St. Mary’s Church still has elements of the original Norman construction from the late 12th century. We passed it on the way into town, and it isn’t far from the bus stop, so with a little time to spare, maybe I should have stepped away to explore.  Instead we chatted with another pair of young women waiting for the bus, a native Welshwoman who reveled in the sunshine and her friend from Australia.  We connected over our Harry Potter merchandise.

Then there’s the wreck of the Helvetia on the beach at Rhossili that I already mentioned. She wrecked in 1887.

Back in Swansea, we went to the Pub by the Pond, one of the favorite haunts of the Swansea University students, if only because there is an entrance to the pub directly from campus. We drank ciders and ate our meals out on the back deck beneath a willow overlooking the pond, known more formally as Singleton Boating Lake. I smiled to sea dragon boats beside the swan boats. We could have done without the falling willow flowers, but the view was fantastic, and the walk back to the dormitory for the night after having a drink was difficult to beat.

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All photos are mine.  Those without a frame can be viewed more largely by clicking upon them.

Travel: August 12, 2018: Retraced Steps Around Swansea Bay

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It’s been almost a year, and I haven’t finished typing up my British adventures for you!  Though a lot has gotten in the way, I haven’t forgotten.  These may not have as many details in them as they might have done a year ago, but I can still share photos and recommendations with you all, and I hope you’ll still enjoy them.  I hope you aren’t too upset by the delay, and I hope you can enjoy these despite the passed time.

As we come up on the anniversary of my travels, my hope is to keep up an alternating pattern for a little bit, one week a travel blog and the next a book review.  I have 4 more travel blog posts after this, so I think even alternating, we should be back to all books all the time (or most of the time) by September’s end.

If you’re just joining us, you can find the earlier posts about this UK adventure here.

And while I’m doing some housekeeping, check out my newest page!  I’m selling my used books, and I still have another 2 and a half boxes of books to post, so keep an eye on that shop.  There’s more fantasy in this next box.

After traversing Ireland and northern Wales, Swansea University, where my sister was earning her master’s degree, became our home base for the rest of our travels. The first day in southern Wales, we decided to spend the around Swansea Bay, especially as the day’s forecast was a bit gloomy.

The day began with a tour of the campus itself and all the hidden gardens and gems that my sister had discovered in her months there. The main office buildings of the campus were once part of Singleton Abbey, the 19th century estate of the Vivian family, but the majority of the campus is housed in modern buildings, of which I didn’t take any pictures.

We went through a corner of the next-door Singleton Park to reach the road, and just across from the road, just across from the University, is the beach.

We walked along the boardwalk back into town to catch the bus to Mumbles.

More or less, we followed my sister and mother’s earlier path through the small town of Oystermouth so that I could experience all of the places about which they had been raving for months.  My mother was particularly enamored of the Mumbles area, where they stayed when my sister first came to Wales.  We first ate lunch at a pub called The White Rose in sight of Oystermouth Castle. The White Rose has been on that site since 1856, though the mock-Tudor style building is from the early 1900s.

After a relaxing lunch, we went up the short hill to Oystermouth Castle, a fairly well-preserved castle—there are even stone fireplaces and chimneys still intact.  I’ve been in a few ruined castles and monasteries and forts and estates that are called castles, but this was by far the most impressive, I think, in any country.  With a castle on the site since 1106, the oldest of the remaining stone structures is from the 12th century, but the majority of the stone structures that remain were constructed by the de Braose family in the 13th century. The castle was briefly the primary residence of the lords of the Gower in the late 13th century.  The de Braose connection was especially interesting to me as Count Falkes de Braose is a prominent figure in Stephen Lawhead’s Hood, which I was rereading prior to my trip to Wales in anticipation of perhaps stumbling upon some of the book’s locations.  (Falkes himself is fictional as far as I can tell, but the family is obviously not, and they were eminent in southern Wales.)

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Armed with a free-to-borrow map from the gift shop and informational office, we gave ourselves a tour.

We wandered the outer walls and then through the remaining residential structures, including several basement rooms and the second story 14th century chapel with its remaining tracery windows. The chapel’s design is attributed to the Alina, daughter of the last de Braose to be lord of the Gower.  She became Lady John de Mowbray, fled by boat to Devon following her husband’s unsuccessful rebellion against Edward II, survived imprisonment in the Tower of London, and then succeeded in securing the Gower for herself and her heirs.  She’s a pretty awesome, 14th century lady!

Oystermouth Castle definitely offers some of the best views of the seaside town.

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There were a few exhibits too about the castle’s history.

Leaving the castle, we carried on down Mumbles Road towards the tip of the peninsula, pausing to explore art galleries along the way. Most were closed (it was a Sunday), but I know we climbed all the floors and explored the crannies of Gower Gallery and Picture Framing, and I ogled the paintings visible through the windows of others.  Gower Gallery is neat for its eclectic, busy collection of British art in all sorts of mediums, some of it quite inexpensive too.

We left the street at the parking lot for the pier.  The road blocks at the pier were all decorated for the Festival of Stitch, adding an extra bit of fun to the seaside scenery.

At the end of the pedestrian road, which housed a few shops and restaurants, we found the stairs to the beach that was exposed by the low tide. I had been too long from any beach to keep away.  I like a great deal about the city and area that I have come to call home, but one of its features that I most dislike is that it is at least 4 hours’ drive to the ocean.  The Mumbles (the tidal islands themselves) separate Swansea Bay and Bracelet Bay, both bays visible from the beach.  I went out along the sand and then the stones to explore the rocky outcroppings of the nearest tidal island at the beach’s end and its crannies that are sometimes underwater. I didn’t make it all the way out to the lighthouse, choosing to keep in sight of my sister, who waited, like a saint, on the stairs above the sand.

I’ll admit that though the draw is supposed to be the long, Victorian pier, I was far more interested in being near the water than above it.  We walked back along the boardwalk, me soaking up as much of the seaside as I could do.  Before we left for Swansea, we made sure to stop for some of Joe’s vanilla ice cream. Joe’s didn’t live up to the hype for me, but it was good ice cream.

Our adventures over, we visited Swansea’s Tesco Superstore and had a quiet night in the dorm, getting in an earlier night in preparation for the next day’s adventure.

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Image created using Google Maps. We didn’t take a car, but I was better able to manipulate the route pretending that we did. This should be a fairly accurate route map, though not exact.

All photos are mine.  Most will be more impressive if you click on them.

Travel: August 11, 2018: A Trail Less Traveled

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After breakfast of toast and beans with a view of Maenllwyd Guest House’s garden, we set off early to make the bus back north a little ways to the trailhead for the Minffordd Path up Cader Idris.

We left before any of the attractions of Machynlleth were open.

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Rain was predicted for later in the afternoon, but I was determined to make it up one of the mountains that I’d come to this country intending to climb. Since Snowdon had defeated me, I wasn’t going to let rain keep me from Cader Idris’ slopes. I am glad my sister loves me.

We had a welcome—a very welcome—surprise climbing onto the bus. We happened to hit a day when all travel with the TrawsCymru buses was free. I don’t know why it was free. A holiday weekend, I think. But we were blessed; this happened to be the day that we needed to travel the farthest by bus. But this first leg was just a short hop, 18 minutes north.

There’s little at this bus stop. There is the Gwesty Minffordd Hotel. There’s a car park at bit off the road, where there are toilets. There is a welcome center with a café a little ways past the car park. There’s no town.

The driver—I wish I’d gotten his name; I think I recognized from our travel on TrawsCymru the day before—kept the doors opened when we disembarked to make sure that we knew where we were going, kindly ensuring that we had proper directions to the trail.

Waving goodbye, we set off.

I was maybe a bit distracted by anticipation. I don’t remember seeing the trail map. I remember seeing the stairs.

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The first twenty minutes or so of the trail was a steep climb, mostly up stairs, to get above the treeline. A stream, Nant Cadair, cascades down the mountain beside the trail, sometimes quite close.

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I stepped just off of the path to get this shot onto a rock shelf.

Once above the treeline, the path evens out, the going gets easier, and the views get better. Above the trees, you get tantalizing views of the valley below.

 

 

At one point, the path dissects, one route going left and the other right. The sign was in Welsh, and we weren’t sure which route led most swiftly to the top. We lingered a moment for the group behind us to catch up and asked if they knew. They didn’t either. We decided to part ways with that group, so one of us would be right.

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We went right. We were wrong.

Ours was the longer route to the peak of Cader Idris, climbing first to the peak of Mynydd Moel.

The way up Mynydd Moel continued to be fairly easy, and though it became clear not too far along our route that we had chosen the way that would not lead us to the mountain lake, where I thought we might stop and enjoy lunch, we continued. We had Mynydd Moel all morning almost to ourselves. We maybe met another five hikers, all coming down from the peak; they must truly have gotten an early start.

 

 

We stopped and ate our lunch on a stone wall that the trail dissected. My sister decided to sit and enjoy the peace while I saw a style not far up the trail that looked a very attainable goal, and I thought from our vantage point then could have been the peak. It was not.

 

 

Over the style, a short way along a sheep track through the heather and bracken, a second valley opened up on the other side of this crest of Mynydd Moel’s.

 

 

 

 

The main trail continued along the mountain’s spine, and had the rain not been forthcoming, and my sister not waiting patiently, I might have continued along it, because without a week’s worth of clothes and necessities on my back, the climb was much easier. And I wanted to reach a peak.

But I turned around.

I was satisfied.

I’d explored.

And I’d explored alone.

Retrospectively, being on the less-walked trail let us set the pace. It was a serene experience to stand on that mountaintop and hear nothing but the wind and the insects and the peace.

If I go again, I’d like to see the lake. I’d like to see the peak of one or both mountains.

But I would not trade the experience that I had.

The climb down from Mynydd Moel was far easier than the climb up.

All in all, we were up and down the mountain in about two hours—though we didn’t reach the peak—either peak.

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That dark blue line tracking to the right shows our route. I climbed just over that hatched black line, which is the fence, then along that dotted black path a ways before turning around. I think we came in from that white spine off of the yellow road.   Looking at this map, I climbed 420 meters or 1377 ft above sea level, which is still only half of either mountains’ heights.  Topographical map found via Walking Englishman via GPSVisualizer. His own journey upwards was much more complete, and the pictures are excellent. Click the map for the link.

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Looking at his route, I can see we really only did a short section of the full loop of the two mountain peaks.

We stopped to catch our breath and drink water and chat with a couple with their dog at the café.

We trekked back to the road.

Then we realized that there didn’t appear to be any bus stop on the south-going side of the road.

And we panicked a little.

The people at the café were tremendously kind, using their cells to help us determine the bus schedule.

There is a road sign across from the Gwesty Minffordd Hotel. That is the bus stop. It is unmarked, but the bus drivers must know to look for weary hikers.

We sat in the grass while the rain began and waited for the bus for what seemed a very long time and was probably forty minutes or so (buses only come by every 90 minutes, for any future adventurers).

Once on the bus, our route took us south. We switched from the TrawsCymru T2 to the T1 in Aberystwyth, taking the layover time to wander the streets, mostly Terrace Road, near the bus stands and find some dinner.

Mostly, this was a dinner quest, since we’d had trail snacks for lunch, and we didn’t end up being particularly adventurous, opting for KFC to eat as daintily as possible on the bus, an easy and quick takeaway meal and filling after a morning’s hike.  I’m only discovering now that we were only two or three blocks from stumbling upon the ocean!  I’ve said it before in these blogs, and I’ll say it again; research every stop and look at maps beforehand.

The second bus took us to Carmarthen, and from there switched onto a train, which took us to Swansea.

We arrived at Swansea in the dark and the rain, but we had been sitting all day, and from here, my sister knew her way. We walked either 15 minutes to the main city bus station or the 45 minutes to her dorm room.  Honestly, I was tired; I don’t remember much of this leg of the trip.

For all that, this was probably one of my favorite experiences on this trip.

And in just about three days, we crossed all of Wales North-to-South (it can be done in less time than we did of course), starting from Holyhead, down through Snowdonia National Park, and then down along the west coast to Swansea Bay.  Google Maps doesn’t allow me to input more than one route on public transport at a time, so I can’t give you the several days’ complete picture (or not without—and perhaps I may—tracing it myself onto a map that I print).

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Made with Google Maps.  We followed the blue and green lines, roughly a 4 hour journey (once we got on the bus) from Dôl Idris Car Park to Swansea, probably more with our layover in Aberystwyth.

All photos are mine.  Most can be viewed almost full screen if you click on them.  The maps are otherwise attributed in their captions.

Travel: August 10, 2018: Rain Clearing to Shooting Stars

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It was raining on and off the following morning when we woke. We went downstairs to breakfast, served by the wife of the man that we’d met the night before. We chatted a while enjoying a full British breakfast. After breakfast she offered to let us keep our bags in the living room downstairs after we’d checked out so that we could explore the town unburdened. Between climbing just a piece of the mountain the night before and the rain, we’d well decided not to climb Snowdon on foot, but I hadn’t quite given up hope of reaching the top, so we set out first to the station for the Snowdon Mountain Railway. We were greeted by a sign saying that they were sold out for the day, so that dream will have to wait for another visit. And next time, I will hope to have it planned a few months out so that I can get a ticket to ride the train to the top—or at least to the midway station.

Since we couldn’t go up Snowdon especially, I wanted to find the castle. That we managed to do. We walked along A4086 past the Royal Victoria Hotel until, just outside of town, we found a blue sign that I believe designated a public path. It wound through a small valley and through a bit of woods and up the hill to the foot of the castle.

The castle is little more now than a round tower keep and a scattering of low walls. Built in the 13th century by Llywelyn the Great, Llywelyn the Great’s grandson Llywelyn the Last imprisoned his brother Owain Goch ap Gruffudd in that tower (probably; there is some debate as to which castle housed Owain) in 1255 after the Battle of Bryn Derwin, at which Owain and Dafydd fought against Llywelyn for control of Gwynedd and acceptance of Norman oversight. Owain was released after 22 years. In 1282, following Llywelyn’s death, the third brother Dafydd took the throne. He tried to free Wales from the rule of Edward I, but was routed. Very briefly, he stayed at Dolbadarn in his flight. His stay was probably less than a month, after which the Normans occupied Dolbadarn. The Normans took a lot of its stone and timber to build Caernarfon Castle. Parts of the castle continued to be used into the 14th century, but by the 18th century, the castle fell out of use and into ruin.

The castle sits on the hilltop beside Llyn Peris, which is divided from Llyn Padarn by only a narrow landbridge. We didn’t much see Llyn Peris, only a glimpse of shining water below, but the views of the mountains between the clouds were beautiful and somewhat haunting.

 

 

 

We wandered back into town, ducking into shops, including one that sold honey, mead, and love spoons (Snowdon Honey Farm and Winery), searching out trinkets and gifts. We stopped for coffee and cake at Pantri. We wandered through the crowded shop and out into the seats that were in the adjacent backpackers’ shop. While we were there, the power went out briefly, which we overheard had not been an uncommon occurrence lately in the town. It did not diminish the town in my eyes, and I feel already like I left a small part of my heart by that lakeside town in desperate need (I hope) of a used bookstore—if only I had the courage to bring them one.

Wet and not wanting to much remain outdoors, we thought we would leave earlier than we’d thought for our next stop, Machynlleth.

To get to Machynlleth, we had to take the bus north to Caernarfon. It turned sunny on the ride. When we arrived in Caernarfon there seemed to be some kind of festival. There was bunting strung over some of the streets and fair rides and games in the square beside the castle.

 

 

 


We stopped for directions and then for ice cream at a brightly colored shop called Palas Caffi and awaited our bus.  Some day I would like to return to Caernarfon.  I would like to have a full day to explore the Norman castle.  I would like to explore the city more and find a better view of the harbor, which pressed close to the castle.

In one small hilltop town, we passed a woman on horseback, who while the bus passed, pulled her horse over to talk to a friend who leaned out his car window.

We passed views of the ocean, through the narrow streets and stone buildings of Dolgellau and by Cader Idris and Tal-y-Llyn Lake, both of those last two familiar to me from Susan Cooper‘s The Grey King.

 

 

 

The bus for Machynlleth let us out just past the clock tower.

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Map created using Google Maps. Our route is the blue and green not the white.

From there we had to walk to our next bed & breakfast, but since we were early, we stopped first for dinner. We found a pizzeria manned by a Florentine chef just off the main road in the back of the courtyard for the Wynnstay Arms. It was delicious, made to order, and the conversation was good. We talked about Italy while we waited.

Fed, we continued down Heol Maengwyn. The Maenllwyd Guest House was pink house just outside of the bustle of the town in a residential area.

We settled in for a reasonably quiet night in a room at the top of the house. In our room, there was a binder of information about the area and about the bed & breakfast itself. There was a map that marked the standing stone for which the Maenllwyd Guest House was named (Maenllwyd means gray stone), so I set out for an adventure, winding my way around gardens and along the pavements of residential neighborhoods. The standing stone itself was located in the middle of a cul-de-sac with a bench beside it, not quite the mystic sight I had hoped for.

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I kept wandering after finding it. Behind the street I was on rose a rugged looking hillside, and I thought there was likely a way to get to that hillside. I found one. There was a gate behind the houses with the sign that made me suspect that the hillside was public land, so I let myself in and climbed through paths in the bracken.

Somewhere on that hill, I found a ring of standing stones—a much more mystical sight. I did step into it. It seemed quiet, but I think I was projecting my thoughts of what a ring of stones is supposed to be. I was transported nowhere. I seemed to miss no more time than I spent standing and spinning in a circle to look out over the surrounding hills.

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Oddly though I can’t find the photo I took from within the ring.

I kept climbing. I eventually turned around when I found a sheep, and began to question anew whether I was actually on public or private land.

 

 

 

(In researching, trying to figure out where I had been, I have come to think that I was on land belonging to the golf course. Maybe the ring of stones was just meant to be another obstacle to play around. Maybe it’s just atmospheric. But later in the trip I came to believe that there was a ring of stones in nearly if not every Welsh town—more likely newer installations than old. I might be very off my mark there. I would love someone to confirm or correct me.)

Back at the Maenllwyd Guest House, I showered in our private bathroom, and sat in bed watching with my sister a British puzzle-solving game show called the Crystal Maze hosted by Richard Ayoade.

I wanted to stay up late enough for it to be full-dark, past 10 PM.

We were in Wales near 2018’s Perseid meteor shower. Both the Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales and Snowdonia National Park in North Wales are designated International Dark Sky Reserves. We intended to spend all of our nights in South Wales in Swansea, a much larger city than any of the towns were we slept in North Wales. Here in Machynlleth we were on the southern edge of Snowdonia National Park.  Just after 10 PM, which was the earliest websites said I would be able to view the shower, I went out into the back garden of Maenllwyd Guest House. It was not so dark as I would have imagined or as dark as I would have hoped, but even with the back light on, bathing the garden, I was able to see the Milky Way, a feat that I have managed only a few times in my life.  And in the space of about 20 minutes, I saw 5 shooting stars.

All photos are mine.  Most can be viewed almost full screen if you click on them.  The maps are otherwise attributed in their captions.

Travel: August 9, 2018: We Reach Wales

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Hey! You probably thought that I forgot that I was supposed to be writing these travelogues for you. Well, I didn’t, and I am sorry that they have been so scarce. Today, we’re going to Wales, so hop on nearly every form of public transportation (as I proudly told a surveyor on my journey back to the US), and journey with me.

We were up very early the next morning to walk back into town to catch a pre-booked bus to get to the port. Our shuttle boarded on O’Connell Street around 7:15, and our ticket warned us to be early to the bus stop (though I don’t actually think that was as necessary as they made it seem). We were taken along the river to the check-in, then boarded on another shuttle, which took us directly onto the ferry, we were unloaded, and conducted upstairs to a plush lounge with seats facing the front of the boat, lots of tables both at the windows and further into the center of the boat, a bar, televisions, a movie room, arcade games. It didn’t feel all that much like a boat. But I found us seats near the front where I could at least pretend to be standing at the bow and watching the sunrise and looking out for land. I’ll admit that I fell asleep for a good deal of the crossing. I read through some of it. I went wandering at one point trying to find a way to get to the sea-air, but without success.

 

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Route map courtesy of the Stena Line webpage

We docked in Holyhead in North Wales, went quickly through security, and crossed the bridge into the city to find lunch.

My sister took the crossing less well than I did.

I didn’t feel hardly any motion from the boat, even watching the horizon ahead. I could tell that we were moving forward at times, and I could see the boat turn once or twice, but I felt any movement far less jarringly than on any bus or train or plane.

Lunch acquired, sandwiches and coffees, we mostly played the waiting game. We were expected in Llanberis that night, and to get to the town, we had to take a train to Bangor and then a bus from there to Llanberis. The port and the train station are within the same building so finding the station was easy as was finding help with the schedule and the best route and the best lunch if only we’d asked sooner.

The train to Bangor got us there with lots of time to spare between arrival and departure. I wandered the city a little. Retrospectively, I wish I had looked at a map. I went up Holyhead Road and got so far as College Road before turning around then went down Farrar Road to High Street. I missed most of the sights. Y’all, learn from me. Consult maps. Use map apps. Know some of the sights before arriving. I hadn’t planned for a long layover in this city and knew practically nothing about it other than that it was the spot we needed to change modes of transportation.

We waited for a while at the bus stand, reading mostly, though I met a nice Welshman there and we talked for a little bit about Wales and Welsh before his bus arrived. I perhaps made the mistake of mentioning that I’d tried to learn a little of the language before arriving from Duolingo, and of course, confronted with the problem of speaking, my practiced phrases fled me, but he took me through the sounds of the nearby Llanfairpwllgwyngyll so that I’d have that as party trick.

The bus ride took us up on (I think; please correct me if I am wrong) Elidir Fawr at one point, negotiating narrow and windy mountain roads, and at one point having to wait for an oncoming car to back up to be able to continue forward—which certainly made me forgive the driver for running late to Bangor. The bus route isn’t the most direct route between the towns, but the views of Llanberis and Llyn Padarn from atop the mountain were worth it.

 

The bus dropped us not too far from our bed & breakfast, Idan House, on the north-end of High Street. We actually saw it from the bus and got off a few stops earlier than the Llanberis stop to save some walking.

We checked in with a nice, older man, who showed us to our bedroom at the top of the house. The view was amazing. We could see Llyn Padarn and Elidir Fawr rising behind it, the lakeshore not but a block or so away.

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With our bags put down and a little more settled in, we went out exploring the town. Mostly we were looking for dinner. We settled on Indian takeaway and took it to the park by the lakeside where we had a view of the Elidir Fawr and Dolbadarn Castle too.

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Our meal done, we wandered the city some more. We passed our first free-range sheep on public land. We found a path that pointed toward the local waterfall, Ceunant Mawr, and followed, trying to find the overlook. I think we missed our turn off the paved road, but continued up beside the railway line and beside houses and woodland and meadow until we reached a sign saying that we’d reached private land and weren’t to go any farther. Un-penned sheep greeted us at the top and another wonderful view of Elidir Fawr in the setting sunlight. We were near the waterfall; we could hear it and see a bit of it through the trees on the opposite side of the railway line, but never got a photo-worthy view. The climb was steep and exhausting. It dashed our hopes of being able to conquer Snowdon on foot the following morning.

 

We worked our way back down, back into the park beside Llyn Padarn, and then back to the b&b to settle in for the night.

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Llafn y Cewri seems the sort of monument with which one poses. It was erected in memory of the Welsh princes and resembles one of their swords.

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Our first day’s travel in Wales, following the blue not the white line.  Created using Google Maps.

All photos are mine, except the one of me, which my sister took.  Most can be viewed almost full screen if you click on them.  The maps are otherwise attributed in their captions.

Travel: August 8, 2018: A Gray Line Through Wicklow

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All photos are mine.  Click to view them in more detail and to read captions where applicable.

Today’s tour is courtesy of Gray Line Tours. We booked through a site, wicklowmountainstour.ie, which offered even more of a discount than did booking through the Gray Line site, but it was confusing because none of the email addresses were what I would have expected.  Gray Line was helpful and quick to respond when I wrote fearing that our purchase had been illegitimate.

Another of the bucket list items that we sought to check off was a walk through the Sally Gap in the Wicklow Mountains. My sister was long in love with the film P.S. I Love You and wanted to recreate the scene where the American woman is wandering lost along the road.

No tour that we could find and no public transit will get you near the Sally Gap, a crossroads in the middle of the Wicklow Mountains National Park, nor could I even find a way to hire a cab to drop us there, though I did my research only online and didn’t actually call any companies to ask if it was a possibility, international rates for phone calls being what they are.

There were many different sites and tours offering to go through the Sally Gap and the Wicklow Mountains National Park, and several offering photo opportunities at a bridge in the Park where the two main characters of the film kiss, but when I started tracking the tours back, they all seemed to boil down to three or four different companies. The one walking tour ran only once or twice a month and not during the time that we needed it to be.

I contacted one company and was told that a walk such as what my sister wanted would be impossible. Because I was running short on time, I did not email ahead to ask Gray Line if they thought that such a walk was possible. Sometimes it is better to have fewer expectations.

When we arrived at Gray Line’s office, the Dublin Visitor Center on Grafton Street, there was already a long line out of the door, and none of the people in the line were there for the tour that we were. But my sister wound her way to the front to pick up our tickets while I watched for the bus, not really sure what I was looking for but hoping that I’d know our tour bus when I saw it. Ultimately, from the office a guide emerged and called forth groups for different tours and led them to the correct bus around the corner in front of the Bank of Ireland, another tour before ours but then ours.

My sister managed to pick up our tickets from the desk inside and have them in time to be called forward, but the tour did leave a few minutes later than was advertised.

Once on the bus, things went more smoothly.

The tour is supposed to visit Glencree German Cemetery, but the day of our tour the company had learnt that the roads to get there were impassable so we got more time at Glendalough (the “lough” is pronounced like “lock”) instead.

Since we weren’t there to go to Glencree and I’d forgotten that we were with this tour supposed to stop there (I did look at a lot of tour itineraries), I didn’t much mind, but I hope no one on the tour was particularly upset.

Our bus pulled out, heading south this time, where we saw St. Stephen’s Green and more sites important to the Easter Rising.

We were driven along some narrow mountain roads past a hut-like construction that from our guide’s story I suspect may have been a set piece for Vikings, past Lough Tay to the bridge called the P.S. I Love You Bridge, though it’s real name, I think, had something to do with sheep (our guide mentioned it, but now I can’t find it online anywhere). While our driver went on to turn the bus around, we were given 15 or so minutes to climb around the stream and photograph the hills and the heather—our guide said it wasn’t heather, but everything else I’ve read, and my own instincts, think that it is—perhaps a specific kind of heather or heather locally known by another name, but I think heather nonetheless.

 

Turned around, we headed just a bit farther back the way we had come to an overlook point that looked down on Lough Tay or Guinness Lake and the valley that it occupies, and were given another ten or fifteen minutes to go explore the area, to take photographs, and enjoy the scenery. On this tour, I learned a lot about the Guinness Family and their legacy not only of world-renown beer but also of philanthropy.

 

It started raining just as it was coming time to get us back on the bus.

The views out the window were obscured by trails of water across the glass.

Thankfully the rain had all but stopped by the time we arrived at Glendalough, and the sky cleared as we wandered the ground of the monastic settlement.

We were pretty much set loose on the grounds. We wandered first through the cemetery, a blend of old plots with illegible headstones and newer markers.  We did a lot of careful tiptoeing and stepping and apologized often to the dead as we unavoidably trod on gravesites.  Between the headstones are the ruins of the settlement: a nearly in tact chapel, a ruined cathedral, a priest’s house, and a tower also nearly in tact.  An archeological group was doing some excavation just outside of the graveyard, cordoned off and too far away to be disturbed the tourists.

 

Most of the buildings on the site are from the 10th-12th century, the settlement having been destroyed by Norman invaders in 1214.  Visit Wicklow has a lot of good information about the individual structures around Glendalough.

We walked out from there towards the Lower Lake.  The way through the woods is fairly broad and flat.  I think it was even paved.  There were occasional benches to sit and trash bins.

 

We didn’t go much past the edge of that first lake, but went back towards the modern village, such as it is, ducked into a few shops, two of which were permanent structures but more of which were pop up tents, and saw a sign for a sheep dog demonstration. We tried several routes to find the entrance to the event without success, though over the wall that bordered the road we could catch glimpses of the sheep and the young Border collies, one of which was definitely a pup. Unfortunately, we eventually found out, we’d missed the beginning, and the next demonstration wouldn’t begin until after we were supposed to be on the bus back.

We sat for a little while, having nowhere else to go in the time that we had, on the hill beneath the trees just a short ways inside the monastic settlement’s stone gate, overlooking the road.  Sitting beneath the trees on the hill was peaceful with the cemetery behind and a sheep pasture beside and more pasture across the road below.

The last stop on the tour was Avoca, a small village known for its hand-weaving center but also as the filming location for the BBC show Ballykissangel (1996-2001).  We ate in the pub, Fitzgerald’s, which frequently appeared in the show. I got the sense that visiting this pub was like visiting the Cheers bar in Boston. But the food was good, the service quick, and fairly inexpensive.  There were only a few people there besides our tour.  One of the televisions inside the airy pub was playing episodes of the show, but I was more interested in the airing commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Amiens on the other television behind the bar.

We didn’t have much time to explore Avoca itself.  We crossed over Main Street to a small park overlooking the river that gives the town its name , and we went up the road a little ways past the lot in which our bus was parked to see what was over the hill’s crest.  Looking down the road we could see the Avoca Handweavers, but we didn’t go down the hill towards the museum and factory because we didn’t want to be late for the bus back.

This tour wasn’t necessarily what we were hoping for, but the places that we did visit were beautiful.  I just wish we’d had more time to wander in the mountains.

To the best of my ability to track our travels through GoogleMaps, my photos, and my recollection, this might’ve been our route, but I’m much less certain on on our route out of or into Dublin.

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Which would mean in all that this is what we managed to see of Ireland, only really a third of the country and a fourth of the island.

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We got off the bus around 6 PM on O’Connell Street. We spent the evening ducking into bookstores—on my sister’s suggestion not mine, though you know that I happily acquiesced. We visited larger more corporate bookstores like Eason and little used shops too. We wandered and found St. Stephen’s Green, and ended up—by my own faulty sense of direction, I’ll admit—down by the Grand Canal.  The canal was pretty, but I didn’t take any pictures; I was too busy consulting maps.

Again, thank God for GPS! When our map failed us—we’d wandered too far south and were off the edge of one of the maps that we had, and I don’t think that I consulted the other, though I should have done—we pulled out my phone, and turned north. We passed the Bleeding Horse Tavern, a tavern that’s been at that site since 1649 (I didn’t realize at the time that it was any point of historical interest, but I remember commenting on the name; I found it on that second map after I had got home and was researching these blog posts), and continued north around the side of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

We ate our wrapped, convenience store sandwiches (purchased the night before in case the pub on the tour offered nothing that my sister could eat) in the park beside the cathedral before heading back to the dorm to pack and sleep for an early morning.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral was the most prominent tourist site near our dorm; it seemed like a place that we should spend some time.  We were never there when the doors to the cathedral were open, but we were able to say hello to the building this way.

 

All photos are mine.  Most can be viewed almost full screen if you click on them.  The maps are otherwise attributed in their captions.