Friday, 31 August 2018

Ireland - Finians Bay, Skellig Michael

When we asked at the wharf in Portmagee about a trip to Skellig Michael we were told they were all booked up. When we asked at the Skellig Experience (a site devoted to the Skelligs Islands) we were told there was just one space available on Thursday (the only day we had deemed acceptable due to wind). I booked it, as Nicky wasn't sure she could handle the climb.
We set the alarm and drove, over the hill, to Portmagee and then across the bridge to the Skellig Experience and were there by 8:50. It was open and when asked the manager said he might be able to get a spot for Nicola, "are you interested?". She meant to say "no" but somehow "yes" came out of her mouth. Two people had cancelled and she was on. Luckily we had packed the car with either eventuality in mind so she had a backpack, splash pants and walking poles.
Of we go. All of us were issued life jackets, really good Helly Hanson ones.

Out past the walk to the headland we had done 3 days earlier. We realized why we had been sore, it was a long walk.
Out to Skellig Michael, an island we had been taking pictures of, for the last 4 days. Finally we were going to get up close.
Its 12 km out into the Atlantic (the edge of the world as far as the monks who settled there 1400 years ago knew). On the boat trip we met the other guy who had got a cancellation. He had decided to take the trip when discussing it in a pub with some Australian friends. Quote of the day; from the boat owner "many's the brave words spoken in a pub".
The hardest part of the whole trip was getting off and on the boat at the wharf. 4 or 5 foot swells are not easy to manage on to a wet cement staircase, but the staff on the boat and on the wharf were very helpful.
The first part of the walk is easy, wide, gently sloping, stone parapet. It goes up to the huts in the photo which is where the guides, who stay out there, live. We were met there and spoken to about safety and protecting the fragility of the site.
This was our first view of the reality of the stone staircase that climbs the island. We had had a video back at the Skellig Experience which, in all honesty, had made me a bit dizzy. Nicola was even less sure as she has a fear of heights.
The other Skellig Island is home to sea birds and you are not allowed to land on it (more about that later)
Its difficult to get a photograph that shows the stairs. They were carved by the monks who called this island home for about 500 years. There are 3 staircases scaling the island, only one is used by the tourists.

The stairs are hewn out of the rock and large slabs make the steps. They are actually pretty even and not huge steps up. But they are irregular and smooth. There is a chain hand rail in 2 spots due to the straight drop off beside the path.
180 people are allowed on the island each day, allocated to certain boats. That is why we had such a difficult time getting a spot.
We were very lucky to get one. The guide books recommend booking weeks in advance but then the weather is only co-operative about 50% of the time.
By the time I reached the top, the "weather" we had seen heading our way, had arrived and it was drizzling.
The monks lived in these "beehive" buildings, all year round.
It is believed that about 12 monks at a time lived, and died here (this is a communal burial site)
They left, for the Balliniskellig abbey (that I posted about a few days back) about 1000 years ago and only returned for the summer months and for pilgrimages.
Looking down at another staircase down to the water. They had a small area to grow crops and caught seabirds and seals for meat, feathers and fur.

Also up there, a gravestone, to 2 of the lighthouse keepers children (we saw the lighthouse later)
This was the reason Nicky didn't come to the top -
the coming down!
This required placing the walking poles very carefully,
placing my feet very carefully,
and only looking up when
everything was firmly planted.
Nicola got this far. Very proud of herself, and so she should be. Went back down on her bum (there were a number of "bum downers"). She got a round of applause from the "scared of heights support group" at the bottom, who had not dared to go as far as she did.
The wildflowers were still out on the island. Occasional holes in the greenery were where the puffins nested but we were about 2 weeks too late to see them.
Waiting for the boat to pick us up we were all taking pictures of each other. We were invigorated by the experience and awed by the life those m0nks must have led.
The boat showed us a bit more of the island; this cave and other parts of the island were used in a recent Star Wars film,
The old lighthouse (top left) was taken out by a 300ft rogue wave and the lighthouse (bottom right) replaced it.
By now the wet weather had also bought in more wind, so I am not even going to try and straighten horizons. Goodby Skellig Michael.

Little Skellig is home to a number of different sea birds but the Gannets dominate.
The noise (clacking) and
and the smell (stinky)
and the sky full of soaring, diving birds.

"The elephants trunk"
Goodbye to Little Skellig
Hello Irish Coffee! Oh its a good thing we only just "discovered" these!
We didn't eat much due to the bumpy boat ride so did justice to the Bridge Bar. Nicola had the "best fish of my life", fresh grilled Hake and great Hollandaise sauce.
I had Beef and Guinness Pie. I am not much for potatoes but ate 2 of those mounds with a pat of Irish butter on each!

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Ireland - Finian's Bay to Dingle

Actually set an alarm today as we knew that is was a longish drive to the next peninsular north of us, the Dingle Peninsular.
Occasional patches of blue sky, occasional sun, we didn't realize how much we had been missing it. This meant that for the first time my camera was actually recording the fabulous greens. They really are amazing. They say there are 40 shades of green here and with the recent rain (it poured yesterday evening) and today's sun they are glistening.

Looking across at the Dingle Peninsular

We had to go in 50km then out 50km to get to Dingle.
Nicola googled and found a quilt shop on the Dingle Peninsular. We actually found it! Some lovely fabrics (Nic bought a bunch of greens) and the owner designs and sells the patterns and kits. If I get permission from her to post pictures of them , I will.
We stopped at Inch Beach which spans this estuary.
It is huge
Cars can drive on it
and there a couple of surfing schools there.

It is a beautiful spot with the green hills one one side and the misty hills of the other side of the estuary on the other
and this long, gently sloped sand beach
with breakers, perfect for beginner surfers (the surfing equivalent of a "bunny hill")
After strolling the beach and playing with our cameras ...
.. first time I had seen my shadow since arriving in Ireland ...

we had a couple of lattes, Nic had a gluten free Brownie and I had a Jaffa Cake (orange pound cake, topped by a orange caramel sauce and iced with chocolate icing), at the beach side cafe and restaurant.
We drove off the main road onto a poorly marked "L" road (Nicola would prefer we stay on "N" roads), they are really only 1 (small) car wide.
We have realized that Irish "castles" are often little more than a stone tower.
But they are in beautiful locations.

Its on a "Storm Beach" where great big rocks are tossed up by the storms and smoothed and rounded by the water and knocking together.
These little orange flowers are all along the hedgerows, growing wild and as abundantly as our "ditch lilies" in southern Ontario. They are Montbretia.
Our final destination was Dingle and it was a bit of a shock to the system. Although not very big it was full of tourists, parking was a problem, people were walking everywhere and the harbour was lined with buses. Small tour boats took people on a harbour tour in the hope of seeing the resident dolphin that seemed to live at the entrance.
There were a lot of very tourists shops with shamrock teatowels, Guiness t-shirts and cartoon sheep
but we also managed to find some excellent art galleries and stores
with sea glass, celtic jewelry, photography, painting and
fabulous woven hangings in this store.
Nic and I took a break from the crowds, out on to the commercial fishing wharf and then , still full from our treats at Inch Beach, just had a prawn cocktail for lunch.
We headed back then and had to contend with more traffic than we are used to. We had only been home about an hour when the power went out. Bridie came over with some candles for us. That's why the blog didn't get done last night. We read on our tablets and then headed to bed early as we had to be up early for my Skellig Michael boat trip.