Heading up North

It's 6am and I'm awake, so I might as well do the post now that I was going to do last night before I went to bed. I slept very well the last few nights.  I also had a shot of whiskey and some chocolate before bed the last two nights, so there could be a correlation there.

 I'm sitting up in my room in Bushmills, hoping to see the Giant's Causeway this morning.  A storm is on its' way, so I am going to head back down South sooner than later, after I tour the Bushmills Distillery.  It's only just up the road.  It took me 4 hours to get up here after leaving the Hill of Tara.  I met an old guy in a book shop there and he gave me his route suggestion to get North.  It took me through every small town you could imagine.  And then the police shut down the route, so I had to re-route myself.  The important thing is I made it.  

Yesterday morning I went and toured Newgrange.  We were able to go into the chamber inside.  It was pretty incredible that this tomb that was built over 5,000 years ago is still standing and intact.  Carvings and art adorn some of the rocks and these megaliths can weigh up to 5 tons!  Incredible. I'm glad there were only six of us, it's a pretty small space inside there.  And you could feel the sacredness.  I signed up for a lottery to be there during the Winter Solstice.  Above the entryway is a roof box where the light comes through.  On Winter Solstice, at approximately 2 mins. to 9am, it lights up the chamber with golden light for 17 minutes, and then the light goes away.  It employs a precision of engineering that is a little bit mind-baffling for me, especially since it was built so long ago.  I can't even conceptualize 5,000 years in my brain. The tomb may have been used for ceremonies, and they found ashes and bones, which indicates cremated remains were placed inside.  I was wandering around taking photos so my shuttle and the rest of the group left me.  I had my own private shuttle ride back.  Great experience!!!

 

I decided to go to the Hill of Tara before I headed North.  It was a bit of back-tracking, but I knew if I didn't go, I would regret it.  It was beautiful up there.  I had read about the Hill of Tara, the seat of the High Kings of Ireland.  There is a lot of historical significance, so of course I loved it.  I found the "Old Book Shop" and had a chat with Michael and bought some books.  I think I'm coming home from Ireland with books and whiskey.  Sounds about right.  

The rain is lashing at the windows, so I'm not sure how much visibility I will have for the Causeway, but we'll see.  I'm going to give it a shot.  I also learned a lot of the Game of Thrones was filmed around here, so I might visit a few of those places too.  Who knows!  I'm hoping my drive back down South will take much less time that the drive up did.  I'm going to stick to the main Motorways rather than going up the gut of the North.  

It was interesting transitioning from Ireland to Northern Ireland.  For one thing, the signs in English and Gaelic disappear.  The world goes from technicolor to a little bit of grey, and I could feel the loss of the richness and wildness of Ireland once I crossed the border.  It was the strangest thing.  Up here, the counties are British.  They don't even use the Euro, but use the British Pound.  I'll be glad to see the Causeway, but it feels like the magic was lost.  And it's a lot more congested too.  Driving part of it I felt like I could be home, not in Ireland.  I didn't believe I would feel the change so acutely, but I did.  

We'll see what today holds.  

 

Driving on the left

I can proudly say I learned another skill today.  Because today was the day.  I would finally get my car!  I was excited and nervous all at the same time.  Really, picking up the car was no issue, and I adjusted to driving on the other side of the road on the other side of the car pretty well.  Steph took me back to the airport this morning to get the car and away she went and away I went.  She suggested I stop at Bunratty Castle, since I had been there before, to have a bite to eat at Durty Nelly's and let the nerves out before continuing on, and so I did.  

 I managed to get myself from the Shannon Airport to the Castle, only having one mishap where I drove too far and had to get off the motorway about 5km down and come back around.  No harm done.  I decided if I ended up in Limerick, it would be fine.  But I didn't.  I made my way back, got to Durty Nelly's, and had a "glass" of Guinness, or a half-pint, and some beef stew for lunch.  Quite delicious!  Durty Nelly's has been around since 1620, and it's just right across the street from Bunratty Castle.  Tomorrow night I'm going back to Bunratty for the medieval dinner.  

So now, I will have been to Bunratty Castle three times.  I think that's enough.  Before I left home, I purchased a ticket for the Castle & Folk Village, so I decided to go today since it was a nice afternoon.  It was awesome because I had the castle mostly to myself!!  I had seen a little bit of it on Saturday, but wanted to come back and explore and get photos.  

If you want a good work out, try going up and down several sets of steep, stone castle stairs, at almost a straight up vertical angle.  There were a few times where I tripped, or my foot didn't quite catch the whole stair.  Thousands of feet have trod those stone steps.  I had visions of missing a step and ending up with some broken bones so I proceeded very, very carefully. Luckily, no injuries here.

 

I took loads and load and loads of pictures today!  Not just the castle, but all over the village.  There's a small town you can tour around and cottages as well.  Mostly everything in the town was closed, but many of the buildings were open for viewing.  I ended up going all the way to the furthest end and found a church and a paddock near Bunratty House where I came face to face with a stag!  A small one, but he looked at me, and I looked at him, both in equal surprise!  He was gorgeous.  

 

I have learned something about myself.  If there is a place I am not supposed to go but the door is open, I'll go, just to see what I can see.  I went around to the front of Bunratty House, even though the sign was posted and said the house was closed.  In the church, because no one was there, I went beyond the rope and actually stood at the altar and in the preacher's "box", for lack of a better word.  Of course I opened the piano and then saw the note that said, "please don't touch".  I don't generally obey rules very well if there's something I want more.

 

 I toured around for 2-3 hours, just enjoying the sunshine.  High point of my day was when someone asked me if I was with the "students abroad" group.  Ha!  I still look like a college student.  Luckily I wasn't, because as soon as I got done touring the castle 2 busloads showed up!  I was lucky to have the castle mostly to myself, with only a few other people.  Perfect timing.  

I saw so many great rooms at the castle.  The South Solar was my favorite.  Beautiful design on the ceiling, long table facing the afternoon sun.  It felt like a library to me.  There was the North Solar, Captain's Quarters, Castle Basement, the Dungeon, Earl's Pantry, Earl's Private Chapel, the Great Hall...I loved every minute of it and felt so at home!  I've got tons of pictures I'll be posting, so be sure to check them out.  


Yesterday was fairly quiet, except for Steph took me on a walk and showed me a stone circle some of her neighbors erected on their land.  There was something sacred about it.  I guess someone came in and divined ley lines and told them how to lay it out.  I am sure in times past there had been one there as well.  It was cool because they did it the old way, by hand.  They used no machinery to erect the stones.  Only a bunch of guys with ropes.  Incredible!!  


Tomorrow I'm going back over to Feakle and Tulla, the nearest towns to me, in the morning.  And then on my way to dinner, I'm going to stop at Quin, they've got an Abbey there.  Steph is always giving me good recommendations on how to spend my time.  I think on Friday I'm going to take a trip to the Cliffs of Moher and maybe see the Burren.  It depends on how much time I want to spend where.  The days are getting ever so slightly longer, so that's good.

Over the weekend, I may go to Galway for a day, or drive over to Tullamore and take a tour of the whiskey distillery there.  On Monday I think I'm going to head East over to Newgrange in County Meath, and then up to the Giant's Causeway and the Bushmills Distillery on Tuesday.  I'm fairly tempted to spring for it and stay the night here in Bushmills (www.bushmillsinn.com).  The inn is very luxurious.  The other plus is it's only a 10-min walk to the distillery.  I'm doing my best not to do too many overnight trips because I already have such a great place to stay.  But, the trip to Northern Ireland can't be helped, especially on limited daylight.

I wish I could put you all in my pocket and have you here with me.  I love Ireland.  It is magical and mysterious and wild and tame all at the same time.  The people are hearty and vibrant, very kind.  I feel completely safe traveling around on my own, and quite honestly never feel lonely.  It's been such a great trip so far.  Now if I can just figure out how to open the gas tank door on the car....