Friday, May 1, 2015

Ireland Trip; or 50 Shades of Green

This past week I flew to Ireland to celebrate my late cousin Kevin's life with my parents and Uncle Billy. Before he had passed away, he had a vacation planned to Ireland with two of his good friends. They went after and scattered his ashes. We were headed there to see if we could find them and celebrate his life. Well actually my parents and Billy were headed there. They mentioned it in passing to me a while back and I latched on and invited myself along. They all being to polite to say no, graciously accepted my self-invitation.

Due to vacation time restrictions, I couldn't do the exact same days as them so our trip was staggered when I got there before them by a few days and then left before. Never having been to Ireland I wanted to try to get in as much as possible, especially on the days before my family arrived because I wasn't sure what exactly they would want to do.

So on the Thursday I arrived, after spending probably thirty minutes trying to park my car in the narrow confines of Dublin on the streets by my hotel(Word of Advice: get a hotel OUT of the city and take a bus or train in), I did a walking tour of the city.
Dublin has plenty of historic sights and doing either the Guinness or Jameson distillery tour is a necessity but after a day there, I had had enough and wanted out of the city.

I headed up to Northern Ireland and headed to the Mourne Wall. Note: My GPS told me it would  take about 1:45 to get there, but it took almost 2:30- Ireland is the only place I've ever driven where the speed limits aren't there as recommended speeds so much as the limit in which you can drive without dying. Suffice it to say, I drove under the speed limit for almost the entirety of the drive. Which was phenomenal. The Mourne Coastal Drive is an amazing drive, with walls and falls along the whole way(that's falls from cliffs not waterfalls). The entire windy road along the ocean is lined with stone walls that, seemingly, are there to ensure your car accident occurs on the road not someone's yard.

Speaking of which: my credit card usually covers car rental insurance but not in Ireland. Only one of the few places in the world where you need to purchase coverage through the car rental company. Which I highly recommend even though it is pricey.
Okay, so after making this amazing, albeit slow, drive to the car park for the Mourne Wall, I started on the Mourne Wall Challenge. The Mourne Wall is a 6 feet tall, 100 year old, stone wall that spans 22 miles over exposed mountainous terrain and takes in over 15 summits in the Mourne Mountains. The challenge is to cover all 22 miles of the trail following the Mourne wall in a day. I had done some cursory research and thought that I could do it in about 4 1/2 hours. No steep climbing and places that looked very runnable. Or so I thought.

The first mile is along an old road and ascends very gradually and was totally runnable. The wall the jogs left and starts climbing the first peak at which point I slowed to a hike. The terrain provided good footing and I quickly made it to the summit. The descent was a little more challenging with a fair amount of scree and not so good footing. You hit a col and then climb back up the next peak. After this summit, the wall and trail don't coincide as you head into the reservoir.
Lots of briars led to some cuts and scraps at this point but otherwise was feeling good and had covered about a quarter of the hike in 1:15. A little slower than I was expecting but the first half of the hike was supposed to be the hardest.

Things certainly became harder quickly. I left the wall to continue following the trail which the diverged in multiple directions(apparently sheep still roam this area and create their own paths).
 I chose the most direct one back towards the wall which, unbeknownst to me, brought me right through a bog(or muck as they call it). I started out hopping from spot to spot attempting to keep my feet dry but soon it became so mucky that I was doing everything in my power not to lose a shoe in the shoe(and soul) sucking muck. At one point, after a few solid steps, I took a misguided one and fell waist deep in muck so thick that I was really concerned about getting out. Luckily I had a branch I could pull myself out with and managed to scramble to solid ground. All told, there was about a 1/3 mile of this crap and it took me almost an hour to get through.

Now exhausted and wet(and stinking of bog), I encountered a series of peaks, although none independently were too long or challenging, combined into a mean mid-section of the hike. Luckily the views (almost) made up for it. During this entire time, I had not encountered another person hiking, but at the mid-way point, I came across a group of probably 15 college-aged kids looking like they were backpacking, a quick hello and I was on my way. More climbs and descents and I hit what I thought was the last summit. However, as there was a tower on the top, I found out that I still had three more peaks to go and I was able an hour behind time. So much for seeing Belfast or the Giant's Causeway, now I was just looking to get out in the light.

It was about this time that I was reminded of a "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell" skit where they were talking about a farmer in China that had a "pretty good wall of China" and was trying to make it a tourist attraction. "I know it's not a great wall but it is pretty good" . I thought that that was an apt name for the Mourne Mountains: The pretty good wall of Ireland. Except replace good with awful. I was so sick of hiking by this point and just wanted to be done. I smelled foul, probably looked worse and just realized that I had almost 6 more miles to go.

Like the weather in Ireland, my mood quickly changed as I came around a bend and was confronted with an amazing rainbow. How could I be upset? I was in Ireland, on this epic hike and surrounded by beauty. That was enough to get me out of my funk and jog/run the rest of the way back in. I still came up over an hour slower(5:40) but it gave me time to explore in the Bloody Bridge and Newcastle and a few other small towns along the coast.
I checked into my hotel for the night, showered, and scrubbed and scrubbed and showered, threw my shoes in the trash and fell immediately to sleep.

The next morning I headed back to Dublin Airport to pick up my parents and uncle. They had taken a direct flight(as opposed to my 14 hour journey which included a layover in Munich) from Boston so hadn't slept much but appeared ready to go. I had come up with an itinerary of sights to see as we journeyed across the country to Ennistymon where we had rented a cottage.

Castles and ruins was the main dish on this trip with, of course, food and drink thrown in for good measure.

That evening after settling in to our place, we drove over to the Cliffs of Moher(only about 10 minutes from our place). That place is amazing. Over 600 feet high, right into the ocean. There actually is a hiking trail along the cliffs and if my quads weren't totally shot, I probably would have considered doing it.

The next morning we slept in then headed to an Irish church. If you haven't done so, you should go to an Irish mass. The whole thing only lasts about 35 minutes and the priest, who looked eerily like Austin Powers, spoke in such a thick accent that I could only pick out about 1 word in three. Plus no singing and minimal kneeling. My kind of mass. Getting out of the parking lot probably took a longer time than the mass itself. From there we headed to Galway with a stop in Kinvara for lunch.
 In Galway we found two very different pubs, the first: Salt House is a microbrewery only pub that doesn't even sell Guinness. A little hipsterish but good assortment of good beers. The second was more of a locals pub to which we were drawn by the sound of Irish music. Sure enough, inside was live local music. It was a nice afternoon.
We got up early the next day because we were headed to the Ring of Kerry. This was the main reason for our trip and why we picked Ennistymon as our home base. This was the trip that Kevin had planned on going and it was also where his ashes are scattered. His friends who scattered it didn't give Billy a clear idea where it was just that it was somewhere on the Ring and they gave him a picture of the location. Beyond that it was anyone's guess. Billy had said just the night before that he had no intention of actually finding it, but rather was just going to be there for Kev.

As we headed to the Ring of Kerry, I was getting more and more nervous. The roads were filling up with tourists and there didn't seem to be much to it. We passed a few cute towns along the way but nothing spectacular. Little did I know that we weren't even on the Ring yet. Typically it starts and ends in Killarney but from where we started we didn't pick it up until Kilorglin(Yeah, I know, the Irish are a violent people with all this killing going around). Almost immediately after that I could see what the fuss was about. The snow-capped mountains abutting the ocean. So many shades of green that the 50 is probably an understatement but a good name for a book. The crowds had thinned out so I could drive as fast or slow as I wanted.
We also were able to take detours off the beaten path, one of which included a road barely wider than our car climbing higher and higher alongside a cliff. The ocean views would have been amazing if I could have seen through my tears. But seriously with every turn being a blind one and nowhere to go except down(did I mention that this road was two-way?), it may for a nerve wracking, and yet amazing, detour.

After lunch in the town of Sheem, my mother wanted to walk around a little so I encouraged them to go ahead and I'd follow with the car. Although they were still ahead of me, I stopped at a junction in the road and decided to park and run and get them rather than drive down one direction. After piling them all back in the car, I decided to go the other direction(the road seemingly less taken).

This was a good choice, it brought us to some amazing views and also right to the foot of the Kinlarney National Park.
After a quick jaunt to a waterfall we got back in the car.

 We drove by some lakes and something made me stop at the side of the road. By this time we were pretty much through with pictures not even slowing down at some of the sights. It had been a long day and this was the very end of it. However, we stopped and got out, and despite signs saying not to leave your car unattended(the first sign like this we had seen), we decided to walk down towards the water. I was drawn to a boat which made for a great photo with snow-capped mountains in the background. Billy quietly came up to me and said, I know it's impossible, but I think this is where Kevin's ashes are scattered.

Sure enough, after getting home and posting the photo on Facebook, the girl who had scattered his ashes confirmed that this was, in fact, the same spot. Out of the whole trip to have stopped at this one place. Serendipitous to say the least.

Now nothing could top that part of the trip but we tried to with a few more castles and ruins. I had to head back to Dublin before them so we parted ways the next day. I spent the evening on the beach at Donabate north of Dublin and the morning going on a nice run along it.

 It was a good way to end a nice Irish trip. A three hour lay-over in Switzerland with a good view of the Alps and then I was on my way home. A fantastic trip and so glad I could have been a part of it.

If you look back at how many times I used amazing, fantastic, good, great, beautiful, you might just wonder whether it should been called 50 shades of great. I am so glad that I invited myself along.

No comments:

Post a Comment