And the clouds rolled in!

This post has been a little while in coming; the last week and a half has not been easy. It has been a roller coaster of emotions for us. Shock, sadness and anger have been warring with each other – it’s exhausting. So, to try and overcome some of those emotions we thought we would take a road trip – our last one here in the US; it’s time for us to go home, but the decision was one that was imposed upon us with Andrew being made redundant. It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you are invited to work in another country and then have the rug pulled out from under you and you are sent packing!

Anyway, back to that road trip. It’s fall here in the US and there are many areas where the leaves changing color are quite a spectacle. One of those places is an area known as the Talimena Scenic Drive (a 50 mile stretch of road from east Oklahoma to west Arkansas). So, we set off to have a look before all the color disappeared.

It didn’t turn out quite as expected however. We encountered quite a bit of cloud, fog and rain. We were advised to drive along the valley road first – so glad we did, at least we saw a little color. Driving became very challenging once we got further up the mountains! These are some photos taken from the car:

Talimena_CarDrive

Talimena_CarView

Talimena_QW_stateParkWe stayed a night at the Queen Wilhemina Lodge (the castle in the clouds), a recently renovated lodge; very popular & I managed to snag the last available room (people had cancelled due to the weather!) – this was the view from our room when we arrived:Talimena_QWL_view

There was a nice fire to sit by, but no reviving drinks to be had – there was no alcohol at the lodge – its situated in a dry county and they are required to wait 12 months before applying for a liquor license – damn!  The weather continued to move in; it got worse and we experienced a severe storm, with lots of rain and a power outage. The next morning it was still very cloudy, but still beautiful, mystical, even!

Talimna_beautyInFog

It eventually cleared enough for us to start our drive back along the mountain ridge. We saw some pretty sights;

Talimena_AutumnColour Talimena_AutumnLeaves_0955

Talimena_AutumnLeaves_0952 Talimena_AutumnColour_0976

it wasn’t quite what I had hoped for, but all in all, it was still another great experience!

Spectacular Kerry

2 days in Kerry – absolutely wonderful – even in wet weather!

Thursday we ventured to the Dingle peninsular and drove the Slea Head road. It was another very full day. We looked in at Inch Beach (part of Ryan’s Daughter was filmed here)

Inch Beachand then went on to Dingle town (where we had lunch at Denners Hotel).

We also saw an ancient stone ring fort and some Beehive Huts:

Beehive Hut

Unfortunately the rain did fall for a considerable part of the day and we did get wet. However, it was still very nice. We saw lots of rainbows – the best I have ever seen – they were complete and very vibrant.

Rainbows in Dingle

Friday we did the “Ring of Kerry” – and, yes, there is plenty of spectacular scenery.

Kerry Coastline

There are also lots of tourist buses and lots of narrow roads! But, we went to some places the tourist coaches don’t go. We had great fun crawling through the ruined remains of Ballycarbery Castle – this was awesome!


We also clambered over a couple of 2500 year old stone forts!


All in all – it was a great day and topped off with my first tipple of Irish whiskey!

I must add; the hotel we stayed in at Kilarney was very nice – The Lake Hotel (even if the bed/mattress wasn’t, and completely stuffed my back) – the room and views over a part of a ruined castle were lovely:

I wish we could have stayed longer – I could have spent a week here easily, there is so much to see and do!

2 days in Galway

Our run of reasonably fine weather has run out! We have had 2 full days in Galway and the weather has not cooperated at all – with it raining probably 90% of the time! Lots of cloud, rain, wind and much cooler temperatures. I guess this is more typical of Irish weather!

I had planned to go to the Aran Islands for a day while we were here in Galway, but we didn’t get there – if the weather is bad, apparently it is not worth the trip. So, our first full day we spent exploring the narrow, paved streets of Galway.

Galway_streets_01

We also walked through Eyre Square, the Latin Quarter, saw Lynch’s Castle (which now houses a bank, but is the grandest 16th century town house in Galway), walked down to the harbour, saw the Spanish Arch (built in 1584 to protect the harbour) and did a bit of shopping!

The 16th century Lynch's Castle

The 16th century Lynch’s Castle

Last night we sought some dinner in the town and then found a fabulous Irish pub Tigh Neachtain to enjoy a few drinks and to listen to some live music (it came recommended by the receptionist at the hotel we are staying in).

This pub is small, low ceilinged, with lots of timber panelling and a few cosy seating snugs; there are also lots of interesting historic wall decorations; it is full of character!

Inside Tigh Neactain (before the crowds)

Inside Tigh Neachtain (before the crowds)

We were lucky to get a seat (having tried a couple of other recommended pubs before this one – and they were all packed), but I am glad we sat where we did (I’ll explain shortly). The pub filled up once the band started playing – it was literally standing room only, and you had to push your way through the crowd.

In the corner there is a small space for the band to play and last night we saw Mike and The Scallywags play – they were a 6 piece band made up of a piano player, guitarist, banjo player, a double bassist, a fiddler and a “drummer” (actually played a Cajon – a drum that you sit on to play). Our table was right next to where the band played. Because I was sitting so close, I got to talk to a couple of the band members too – they were great. The music was fantastic and I had a wonderful time! I tried to attached a movie file of the band playing, but unfortunately I have had no success – sorry.

As I said, this is a fairly small pub, and where we were sitting was right next to the band – so close that the fiddle player could have sat on my lap!

Cate_band

Today we took the opportunity to recover from a big night last night, slept in a bit, had a late breakfast and then, because the rain was coming down still, we stayed in Galway, drove around to Salthill (a seaside resort area) and explored a little more in the car.

The tides out at Galway Bay

The tides out at Galway Bay

The River Corrib flows out into Galway Bay

The River Corrib flowing out into Galway Bay

Don’t let the above photos fool you – the rain stopped for a wee while and the sun struggled to come out (it wasn’t successful) and I was able to get a couple of decent photos without getting wet!

Unfortunately, I think we probably missed a great deal of things to do and see in Galway (partly because of the weather, and partly because I wasn’t organised enough)! So, not too exciting today, but a rest and recovery day was probably in order. Hopefully tomorrow the weather will improve as we set forth toward Bunratty and Limerick.

Westport to Galway

Leaving the pretty town of Westport behind us, we headed to Kylemore Abbey.

Kylemore Abey

Marble and stone work inside mini cathedralThis building started life as a castle built by a Mitchell Henry, who built it for his wife, Margaret. Margaret died after contracting dysentry whilst holidaying in Egypt at the age of only 45, leaving behind 9 children. Henry then built a cathedral-in-miniature in the grounds of Kylemore in memory of his wife. This is a magnificent little building all on its own featuring beautiful Irish marble and some exquisite stone carvings!

The building became an abbey when Benedictine nuns fleeing Belgium during WWI sought refuge here. It became a boarding school run by the nuns in 1923 and closed as a school in 2010. It has quite an interesting history.

Leaving Kylemore we again took the scenic route and took the coastal road through the spectacular Connemara region. With so much wonderful scenery it is hard to pick just one photo, but I liked this one – it shows the heather, the green fields and the glorious coast.

Connemara coastal scenery

Passing through the coastal towns of Cleggan and Claddaghduff we then followed the Sky Road on into Clifden, where we had lunch and did a spot of shopping!

SkyRoadScenery_cowInstead of heading straight into Galway from here, we again took the longer scenic route. We travelled the Wild Atlantic Way again skirting the Roundstone Bog passing through the towns of Ballyconneely and Roundstone, where the scenery was slightly different, before getting back onto the main road and heading into Galway where we are staying for 3 nights.

 

Derry to Donegal Town

We have seen and done so much in our first week in Ireland.

Yesterday (was, it only yesterday) before we departed Derry we walked the city’s walls.

Ireland_Derry_wall

This was really worth the effort and I’m glad we did this even though it had not been on my ‘must do’ list. Derry was a very pretty town and I really enjoyed it. Of course, I could have done with an extra night there, but that is always the way!

From Derry we drove to Letterkenny where there is a most beautiful cathedral – St. Eunan’s. This Neo-Gothic building is absolutely gorgeous with some excellent celtic stone work, lovely vibrant stained glass windows and a vaulted ceiling that is very grand. The cathedral also boasts a 65m steeple. I am so glad we stopped here!

inside St. Eunan's Cathedral

inside St. Eunan’s Cathedral

After our quick stop at Letterkenny we took the coastal route along the part of the “Wild Atlantic Way” road. Yet more spectacular scenery – we called in at Horn Head (and the pretty little town of Dunfanaghy) and drove through The Rosses (an area with more than 100 lakes).

driving through The Rosses

driving through The Rosses

This was a lot of driving through narrow, winding, country roads. I didn’t see as much as I would have liked since we didn’t leave Derry until midday; we spent quite a few hours in the car, not arriving at Lough Eske (Donegal) until just after 6pm.

Lough Eske Castle is very nice! This place was a ruin until 2006 when it was rescued and given a new life as a hotel.

 

Ireland_LoughEskeCastle

Today, we took a look around Donegal town and took a tour through the castle, which is pretty much in the middle of town. Although, not particularly old as far as Irish castles go, it was still interesting.

Ireland_DonegalCastle

After the visit to the castle, we drove some more of the Wild Atlantic Way – to Killybegs (a little town, with a big fishing port), and then on to Glencolmcille – the Glen of St Colmcille (had to visit here just because of it’s association with said saint – AKA St Columba), but this is one of the prettiest valley’s I’ve seen.

On our way back to Lough Eske Castle, we called in to visit Slieve League (one of the highest cliff faces in Europe) – it is very spectacular! However, it was quite a walk out to the cliffs (about a 6km round trip) – we didn’t realise that it was possible to drive right to the top as there was a carpark at the bottom and it was gated, so we assumed you had to walk (until we saw cars coming back down). Oh well, we got our exercise in for today!

Ireland_SlieveLeague