A Travellerspoint blog

May 2009

HUNTING DOWN A CAMPERVAN

We spent days surfing the net and Gumtree London, letting several slip through our fingers. We were trying to decide whether to buy from a business, which would mean a guaranteed buy-back and some security with regard to reliability, but usually more expensive; or to buy privately through Gumtree. One business was in Derby and 2 others in Kent, which would have mean 6 hours of driving just to have a look. What finally put us off the buy-back scheme was learning that it is only applicable up to one year. We then spent a day setting up appointments to view vans around London the next day. We set off from Wincanton at 1300 for Berkhamsted, NW of London to view the first one. 2 hours later we were grimacing at each other, while the seller was demonstrating the complex intricacies of how to fold-out, flap-down and stretch out the bed for sleeping. All-in-all too compact, and we would have gotten "cabin fever" within the first week.

Next into London itself under the guidance of Molly [our garmin satnav], who steered us through the traffic to Tottenham. This time it was a shady dealer down an alley who had a Bedford for £3900, which was so mouldy and tatty we got out of there quickly! Then through Clacton, where we spotted loads of Hassidic Jews in the streets [we felt like we were on safari!], down through the Blackwall tunnel under the Thames to Lewisham where we had an appointment for 1800. Very nice guy but the van was similar to the first one we saw, just neater. By now it was evening and we were getting despondent; are all the adverts so much better looking than the real thing?

Our last option was a van in Clapham, for which we had not set up an appointment. We left a voice message for Marty the Aussie guy selling the van and set off for Clapham. We parked in Clapham, eating our supper of roast chicken and Coke, waiting for him to return our calls. Eventually we decided to set off for home, still 2 hours away. Marty phoned before we had driven 5 minutes...he had fallen asleep! We turned around and within minutes of seeing it, we knew we had found our van!
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It is a LDV 7-seater van previously used by the army cadets, which Marty had converted and fitted out himself. Being an electrician, he has installed several innovative devices, with an overall sensible design; a big triple bed in the back with the kitchen in the front, with a minimum of folding-down and flapping-out! It is in good repair, 1997 model diesel and only £3700 with MOT and taxes for 12 months!
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We decided to leave it in London while we travel up North and will collect it on 25th May. We felt very relieved as we drove back to Wincanton in the dark; 10 hours on the road had produced a good result.

Posted by davidsandi 03:19 Archived in England Comments (0)

THE SOUTH WEST including DISCWORLD

It was wonderful staying with David's cousin Ebu and Jeremy in Holton, Somerset; a soft place to land after a stressful time.
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A visit to Wells Cathedral to examine the detail of the stone carvings under the spotlight of a friend of Ebu's was enthralling.
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Each seasonal altar cloth is a work of art
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The unique arch supporting the roof of the nave
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The side nave
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Detail on one of the pillars
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A beautifully carved crucifix
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The oldest working clock in England
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and the little man who strikes the bell every hour
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The steps to the vestry are age-worn
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and the roof is spectacular.
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We enjoyed browsing the many stalls on Saturday at the street market in Bridgport, and walking through the pastures scattered with buttercups, along lush lanes lined with nettles and delicate Queen Anne's Lace flowers.
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Hawthorn bushes everywhere are bedecked with blossom like crisp, white snow. Village gardens are brimming with opulent peonies and tulips, and whiffs of lilac blossom tickle the senses. I did not know that lilac comes in white, purple and lilac colours!
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We lunched with cousin Judy and Rob down in Ebford, feasting on Damson berry [Ebu's]
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and English gooseberry desserts. We visited Dominic, Helen and Beatrice for scones [they worked the 2nd time around....well done Dominic!], strawberry jam and Rodda's clotted cream with English tea in their cute, rose-covered cottage in the forest near Cranborne. Their garden was filled with the sounds of the woods and the heavy scent of Damascena roses. Several days were spent catching up with ourselves, repacking and planning for the travels ahead.

For those who may be avid Terry Pratchett fans, we discovered that the hub of his following is based in a shop in the town of Wincanton, near us in Holton.
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The town is the only one in all England which is twinned with a fictitious city, Ankh-Morpork,
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and some new streets are being given names such as Peach Pie Street and Treacle Pie Road [BBC 9 April 2009].

Posted by davidsandi 02:07 Archived in England Comments (0)

ISLAND HOPPING

Waterford to London

On the last day in Waterford we packed the car early, having discarded as much as we could. David could not resist donning the mask against swine flu he had received in the post!
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We set off on the 2 1/2 hour trip to Dublin. Once there, David bought 2 train/ferry tickets to London, but was directed to the Bus station instead of the train station. The lady assured him that the times had now changed and we were to take the bus to the ferry an hour later than planned. He dropped Sandi at the Bus terminal with our considerable baggage, while he drove to the airport to drop the car. He caught the bus back to town, arriving back with only 10 minutes to spare, and Sandi getting nervous! We lugged all our stuff onto the bus, only to be told by the driver that our ticket was definitely for the train. He was going to the Dublin ferry terminal, not the one at Dun Loghaire, but he could take us if we paid the extra fare of €5 each [we were too laden to object]. At the Ferry terminal we checked in our baggage, having been assured that even though it was a different ferry, we would still make our connection with the train at Holyhead. The ferry ride for 2 hours was pleasant enough.
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We boarded a shuttle bus on disembarking which dropped us at the train station, where we collected our baggage. Everyone rushed for the first train which was going to Chester. After wandering around the deserted Welsh station looking for our direct train to London, we discovered that all trains go to Chester and one has to change there for London. So after 40 minutes wait in the freezing, inhospitable station we finally got on the train. For 2 hours we hugged the northern coastline of Wales which was very pretty. Then we caught a high speed train to London covering 150 miles in 2 hours, arriving at Euston Station at 22h00.

Sandi had found lodgings 4 blocks from the station, but it could have been 100 miles; dragging 106kg of baggage between us along cobbles and kerbs, and not sure of the way. Sandi nearly had a heart attack, even though we had to stop every 100m or so. By the time we found the Meridiana Hotel and climbed the 3 flights of stairs [the final insult!] and collapsed on the beds, we were drenched with sweat. We hardly noticed how small and box-like the room was, and didn't complain that there were 2 single beds instead of a double!
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Breakfast was served down in the basement by two "take-no-nonsense" Eastern European women, so guests were intimidated into silent munching. We walked down Pentonville road to collect the rented car, only to be told that David's international driver's licence was not acceptable and they wanted the original [which is somewhere back in Cape Town]. After some fuss we took the car on Sandi's name, and they upgraded us to a bigger, automatic car. We loaded up at the hotel and headed for the country, getting out of the big city as fast as the speed limits would allow us. Months later on our arrival in Cape Town, we discovered that we had been photographed in the congestion zone, right next to our hotel, and there was a hefty £90 bill to pay!

Posted by davidsandi 09:01 Comments (0)

WATERFORD

Sandi procured another good deal at the Ramada Inn on Cork road, Waterford, where we got the 3rd day free. David had 2 evening shifts and an all day shift at the Waterford Caredoc, before we finally left Ireland . We visited Waterford Crystal again, hoping to take a tour of the factory this time, but although the strike was over, the kiln has been turned off and the factory closed. Some European company has bought the brand and will probably transfer the manufacturing side to Eastern Europe. It is hoped that a local company will start up the factory again next year just to make trophies. There is such a pervasive sense of sadness in the Visitor centre. The showroom is full of the last genuine crystal to go on sale. They will probably soon become collector's items, but still too expensive to buy! The crystal chandeliers were spectacular, and Sandi says she has finally found the one she has been looking for, to put in her loo at home!
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On Sunday we had good weather, so we meandered over to Dungarvan to see the French Market; but it was dismally disappointing. The coastal road back via Bunmahon and Tramore was very scenic: cliffs, sandy beaches and gorse-covered hills.
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We had an excellent roast beef lunch for €9 in Tramore, which is very much a holiday town with Big Wheel, gaming arcades and candyfloss. The town has a lovely long sandy beach, behind which extends an expansive lagoon, which completely fills and empties with the tides. We could not resist taking photos of the surfers riding the waves which were the height of a brick!
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On the headlands on either side of the bay are 2 and 3 tall solid columns, apparently to guide the ships of olde into the next bay where the harbour was situated at the mouth of the Suir river.

Posted by davidsandi 07:27 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

CHARLEVILLE, Co CORK

rain

After working for 1 day in a GP practice in Tipperary town, we spent the last 10 days in Charleville, with David working in a busy GP practice . On Sunday we took a chance with the weather and drove down to Killarney, hoping to explore the Ring of Kerry, but the rain came down so we drove around the Lakes of Killarney and had a pub lunch instead. Definitely a fascinating area to which we would like to return to explore further.

We were accommodated at Innisfree B & B on Limerick Road, Charleville by the GP, but on enquiring from Moira, the hostess, what her rate was, we were horrified to discover that she charged €40 for the partner as well [usually the partner sharing would pay about €25]. Sandi immediately got online while I went off to Tipperary for the evening Caredoc shift. On hotels.com she found the Charleville Hotel 0.5km down the road, who were advertising a winter-break special.
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We moved out in the morning and into 4 star luxury! A king-size bed, flat-screen TV, free internet, full gym and swimming pool and sauna, and superb breakfast with smoked salmon and croissants; all for €15/day less than we were being charged at the B&B. We felt like royalty, and relished the luxury especially as Sandi was still feeling poorly from the flu!

On David's afternoon off we visited the Donkey Sanctuary at Liscarroll near Mallow, as Sandi loves these quirky creatures.
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Over 2500 have been rescued from neglected or cruel situations and taken into care over the years and lovingly nutured back to health on a lovely farm. Single donkeys are paired up and remain so for life, as bonding is very strong. If possible the pairs are placed in approved foster homes.
IMG_7304.jpgA clever back-scratcher!

A clever back-scratcher!

Via a very circuitous route [we did not get lost!] we drove to Adare, promoted as Ireland's prettiest village, with quaint thatched cottages and castles.
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Work finished in Charleville and we reluctantly checked out of the hotel. On the way to Waterford, we stopped and strolled around the beautiful Doneraile Park among magnificent trees in all shapes and hues of green and burgundy [copper beeches and maples], lots of deer, nesting swans, rolling meadows, swathes of garlic scented white flowers and a network of rivers, streams and waterfalls.
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Posted by davidsandi 06:41 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

PEACE & BEAUTY IN DONEGAL

We arrived at The Arches Country House overlooking Loch Eske, near Donegal Town. We collapsed into the 2 easy chairs in the bay window, and contemplated the view before us: the sun was setting, stretching shadows across the peaceful loch, dark hills rising up on the other side,
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cows grazing in the meadows beyond the garden which is filled with neatly manicured Thuya trees.
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The room was divinely comfortable, just right for recuperating from the flu [which Sandi had now caught from me as well!]. We decided to chill for the whole day, rather than rush about sightseeing.

The next afternoon we took a drive along the coast of Donegal Bay, past Killybegs one of Ireland's busiest fishing ports, to see the highest sea cliffs in Europe, called Slieve League. The car struggled up the steep, narrow, winding road to Bunglass Point from where we had a spectacular view of the impressive cliffs streaked with shades of amber, red and ochre, rising up far above the sea below. We thought they were far more impressive than the Cliffs of Mohr, but probably less well known as they are far less accessible.
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Even at spectacular heights one feels the call of nature....
Culprit no.1!

Culprit no.1!

Culprit no.2!

Culprit no.2!


The windswept hilltops are home to a particularly tough variety of mountain sheep, who seem to be fearless of precipices!
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Troughs left by peat harvesting are scattered around the hills in the Gaeltacht area, which is heavily populated with traditional Irish speaking people.

The next day we had a long 7 hour drive down to Tipperary for David's next job. We stopped briefly to pay homage to Bundoran, where Jamie and Lis had lived, worked and surfed for several months a few years before. The sea was as flat as a pancake so not sure where the surf was supposed to be!
Bundoran Bay

Bundoran Bay

Surf break at Bundoran!

Surf break at Bundoran!

We followed the coastline of Lower Lough Erne [N. Ireland again] past Enniskillen and down through the Midlands, where David got a haircut next to a garage while we filled the car! Sandi says she can't afford a haircut in this part of the world, so she is threatening to wear a tea-cosy or to shave her head!

Posted by davidsandi 05:25 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

NORTHERN IRELAND

sunny

By cancelling some weekend duties, we had 5 days off to explore N Ireland. We headed up to Belfast and located Helga’s Lodge near Trinity University, which we had found on the internet. What a hellhole! It was grubby and tacky, and they wanted me to pay £60 before going to the room. I insisted on seeing the room first, and I refused the first room offered because there was no en suite bathroom [which we had booked]. The next room was like a box, with a “toilet and shower” inside a shoebox within. By now I was starting to get the flu with rigors and chills setting in, so we settled for a large room, cluttered with 3 beds and broken furniture, downstairs. The TV had a broken aerial, so did not work and Sandi spotted an open, discarded tampon flung up onto the pelmet!
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I was in no mood to argue any further and collapsed into bed for a night of fevers and chills. In the morning we felt obliged to consume parts of the stale, substandard continental breakfast offered, surrounded by 25 different types of kitsch in the breakfast room. We didn’t even risk the shower and fled Helga’s “Hellhole”.

We decided to drive around the scenic Ards peninsula, heading for Portaferry at the tip. We stopped for several hours at Mount Stewart, where they were having a “Doggy-day-out”. It was a beautiful day and everyone [except us] brought their dogs to compete, show off or just yap!
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We had a tour of the Manor House which was splendidly furnished with 19th century period furnishings, and is still occupied by the Londonderry family. An exquisite painting of the racehorse Hambletonian by George Stubbs is displayed on the staircase.
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The gardens, which were laid out in the 1920’s, are magnificent. We found topiaried hedges,
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Italian and Spanish gardens, dodo statues, fountains and pools,
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Imitations in stone!

Imitations in stone!

and loads of exquisite flowers,
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including a rare Trifolium in bloom. We had just seen it on TV the day before.
Trifolium

Trifolium


We were so inspired that we joined the UK National Trust on the spot.

We then traveled up to Bushmills on the northern coast, from where we visited the Bushmills Whiskey Distillery the next day. Irish whiskey is spelled with an “e”. The distillery has been distilling since 1490 and licensed since 1608, making it the oldest in Ireland. Unfortunately the distillery was on recess for the week, but we had an interesting tour and tasting at the end.
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The Giant’s Causeway was next, and just around the corner. It was again a sunny, calm day for us to explore the amazing multisided columns of basalt, which form a pathway leading into the sea.
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Legend has it that the causeway was built by the Irish giant Finn MacCool. He wanted to do battle with a rival giant in Scotland called Benandonner so he built a path of enormous stepping stones across to Scotland. As Benandonner approached across the sea, Finn fled in terror and got his wife to disguise him as a baby in a cradle. When Benandonner saw the size of the baby, he assumed the father must be gigantic and fled back to Scotland, ripping up the causeway behind him.
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The Causeway was really formed about 60 million years ago by molten basalt lava, which cooled very slowly forming cracks which extended down into column shapes. Later further shrinkage caused them to fracture horizontally forming concave and convex joints. The columns have 5, 6 or 7 sides mostly, but apparently one has only 3 sides. These geographic formations are truly spectacular!
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After briefly looking at Dunluce Castle
IMG_7275.jpgLooking down from Dunluce castle

Looking down from Dunluce castle

and Portstewart, a holiday seafront town, we bypassed Londonderry and drove into Co Donegal.

Posted by davidsandi 07:29 Archived in Northern Ireland Comments (0)

GYPSIES

The term "gypsy" is no longer very pc, so they are referred to as "travellers", "itinerants" or "nfa"s [no fixed abode]. They seem to be all over Ireland and spoken about in derogatory terms by the locals. They look Irish but distinguish themselves by their coarse behaviour and language. Comments abound about the women having bleached or dyed hair, wearing brassy jewellery and sloppy clothes. When they get married they apparently spare no expense, with everything OTT; dress, cake, reception, drinks etc.
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They reportedly avoid taxes and always seem to have lots of cash, and overuse and abuse state benefits where and when possible. A woman came to see me for treatment of her asthma, so I put her on the nebuliser. Because she carries a GMC medical card she does not pay for treatments. Her husband thought this looked cool, so asked if he could also go on it!

Although one may see settlements of mobile homes or caravans in places, we are told many travellers occupy state-benefit houses for a year or two before moving on, which are usually wrecked by the time they leave. The men drive rudimentary "pony-traps" , which look like a bent pole attached to the harness, at high speed along country roads, with the poor horse caked in sweat.
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Limerick City has been plagued with gangs and serious crime for 6 years now. Apparently it all started with a gypsy 15 year old girl being refused entry to a pub for being underage. She was offended and called in reinforcements to redress the issue. This resulted in the bouncer of the pub being beaten up and murdered. Since then the retaliation has continued to fuel the fires of violence in the city.

Posted by davidsandi 07:53 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

IRISH ROADS & COUNTRY-SIDE

Rollercoaster ride

Considering that the Irish have just come out of a boom period referred to as "The Celtic Tiger", many of the roads are in poor shape; full of bumps ands patches. Apart from the motorways most of the roads are narrow and winding. You can meet a large tractor around any corner, and with very little shoulder to veer off into, it is nervewracking to say the least! I am amazed that there are not more head-on collisions; apparently only 65 fatalities in 4 months, which is nothing compared to one Easter weekend in SA. The speed limit is a generous 100km/hr, which may not seem very fast, but I did not feel safe around those corners at even 70-80km/hr. The trees and hedges are so close to the road that it gives the impression of flying!
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Our GPS, which we named Molly, was a real boon most of the time, although she got very confused when we drove on a new motorway of which she had no record. She then gets quite agitated saying "recalculating, recalculating" as she tries to get back on track. She was a great help when the national road was blocked due to a fatal accident, and she took us along a detour of tiny country roads, still getting us to the surgery before the 0900 starting time!
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When we drove up to N Ireland the only way one can tell that one has crossed the border is by noting that the roadmarkings along the shoulder of the roads change from yellow [Republic] to white [UK]. There are no border posts or even "welcome" signs! Many Irish people go up into N Ireland to shop, because the pound/euro exchange rate is almost on a par at the moment, and there is a big difference in VAT [15% vs 22% in the Republic].

Everywhere the landscape is impossibly green; fields and pastures neatly packaged and divided by bright yellow gorse hedgerows or ubiquitous dry stone walls.
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We cannot imagine where the endless supply of stone comes from; is it dug up from under the pastures? We never saw any stone quarries. Even though no cement is used and the stone looks loose, they remain intact for centuries. Sheep and cows are everywhere; I wonder if they know how lucky they are to have such lush green grass to feed on all year round? 80% of the trees are weighed down with ivy growing up and around the trunks, as are many telephone poles [they look like trees with wires coming out the tops].
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Another spin-off from the Celtic Tiger years is that the countryside is punctuated with large solid, double story mansions, called dormers.
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They are opulent and apparently most of them built on credit. The saying goes that the Irish used to live in 2-roomed houses and had 12 children. Now they live in 12-roomed houses and have 2 kids!

Posted by davidsandi 07:50 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

ANCIENT TOMBS OF NEWGRANGE AND KNOWTH

The weather for the 4 days we spent in Clogherhead on the coast of the Irish Sea was cold, wet and dreary. We splashed about on the deserted beach in our gumboots, stomping in pools like naughty children. Wynsdale House, hosted by Loretta Derby [041-9889767] is a grand place to stay. The rooms are palatial, with brocade drapes over the bay windows, and enormous king size bed and flat screen TV. Access to the large kitchen was a boon, always a treat when staying in B&Bs.
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On David's afternoon off the weather cleared a little and we headed for the ancient monuments scattered over the Valley of the river Boyne. Newgrange, Dowth and Knowth are the largest of many passage graves in the area, known as the Cradle of Irish civilisation. Unfortunately the tour to Newgrange [the best known] was full, so we had no option but to visit Knowth. The tomb looks like a large upturned soup bowl, surrounded by 18 smaller ones.
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Around the perimeter are 36 kerbstones which have been decorated with geometric and spiral carved patterns.
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They look reminiscent of ancient Egypt, or is it Extra-terrestial influence? Since the 1960's the site has been completely excavated, deconstructed and reconstructed. It was used as a burial site by Neolithic rulers in 3000BC, but has been used by many different civilisations since, as evidenced by the many layers of artefacts found. On the morning of the summer solstice, the rising sun is supposed to shine down the narrow passage and directly into the tomb, as it does at the nearby, and more famous, tomb of Newgrange. Unfortunately this has never been demonstrated at Knowth, because a large Victorian house obscures the path of the sun at that time. The house was built before the tomb was discovered!
This is a very special site and one feels a powerful energy here.

On the way back we drove around Drogheda looking for a KFC to indulge a silly impulse, and came across this wonderful floral display on a traffic island!
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Posted by davidsandi 10:53 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

ROCKS AND CASTLES

Cashel, Limerick and Clonmel

David's next job was in Clonmel, so on the way down from Galway we stopped at the Rock of Cashel, a rocky stronghold rising dramatically out of the Tipperary plain.
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View out over the plain below

View out over the plain below

It was absolutely freezing up there, and we had to abandon the outdoor guided tour before the end, as we thought we would die! We did learn a lot about Irish history from the video presentation in a room which was lovely and warm.
From the 4th century it was the seat of the Kings of Munster. In 1101 they handed Cashel over to the Church, and it flourished as a religious centre until Cromwell massacred its occupants in 1647. It seems to be a recurring theme all over Ireland; there remains very little architecture from the Middle Ages, as Cromwell destroyed so much of it. Buildings are either very old and crumbling, or from the last 200 years.
St Patrick's cross

St Patrick's cross

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Carved wooden plaque in refectory

Carved wooden plaque in refectory

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In Clonmel we stayed in an apartment above Dr Quirke's surgery overlooking the main street. At 5am many mornings, we were amazed to see the street below filled with hundreds of scavenging crows. It was quite an eerie scene!
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On Sunday we drove through to the other side of Limerick to visit Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. This tall vertical castle was a stronghold of the O'Brien clan of kings and earls in the 16th and 17th centuries. Each corner tower is 6 stories high, accessed by narrow spiral stairways. The banquet halls and bedrooms are fully furnished in period style.
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Surrounding the castle is a reconstruction of a whole medieval village,
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complete with smouldering peat fires in the hearths,
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chickens and other farm animals, and vegetable gardens.
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There is a school house, doctor's surgery, fisherman's cottage, blacksmith's forge, pawnbroker, pub and drapery. Further out there is even a tiny church and a working corn mill.
The original fold-out bed!

The original fold-out bed!


Typical Irish stone wall

Typical Irish stone wall

Old farm implements

Old farm implements

The peasants were obviously much shorter people!

The peasants were obviously much shorter people!

On Good Friday we headed down beyond Cork to the pretty seaside village of Kinsale. By reputation it claims to be Ireland's centre of good food; unfortunately we chose to have lunch in the Armada Bar, the one place that served bad food! Kinsale has been a thriving port and centre of commerce and fishing for many centuries. It was known as the first port of call for ships sailing across from America.
View of Kinsale

View of Kinsale

Out towards the forts and the sea

Out towards the forts and the sea

Being such a strategic port, explains the presence of several castles and forts to protect it. Charles Fort, on a hill overlooking the bay, is a fine example of a star shaped fort with a magnificent view.
View of Kinsale from Charles Fort

View of Kinsale from Charles Fort

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There are a couple of locals who offer an excellent guided walking tour of Kinsale, for which we were unfortunately too late. Next time!

The rest of the Easter weekend David had to work at the afterhours Caredoc facility. On Easter Monday we had a long drive up to NE Ireland to work in the tiny village of Clogherhead on the Irish Sea.

Posted by davidsandi 07:50 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

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