Church, Market, and Beach

It’s been a relaxing few days.

 Friday

I took a walk up a long, steep hill to the Catholic Church which sits above the town. Like about every other church in Ireland, it is called St Mary’s, this time St Mary’s of the Visitation. It’s imposing from the outside, and being up on the hill, it was windy. I nearly lost my sunhat! Inside it is absolutely beautiful. They have recently done a renovation project, and the church is all white and light wood, with lovely stained glass windows. There was a list of all the rectors who had served there, which went back to 1350. It was peaceful and quiet while I was there, and I enjoyed the visit very much.

 StMarys

I continued up the hill to St John’s, which is the Anglican Church in town, but it was closed, and I wasn’t able to see inside.

 Saturday

Today we visited the farmers market in Killybegs. It was really more of a craft fair with bakery items. I’ve included a picture of something at least related to farming! Afterwards, we walked on to the fruit and veg man who drives in a large flatbed with, of course, fresh fruits and vegetables. It all looks delicious, especially the berries. He had strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, gooseberries, and probably some others that I can’t remember.

 FarmersMarket

It was also a day when a bunch of motorcyclists were in town for Sandra’s Run. They were here to raise money for leukemia research. It is named after a young girl who died of leukemia just before her 18th birthday. There were plush animals attached to many of the bikes, as well as to various buildings and signs. We could hear the motorcycles roar past from the house.

 Sunday

I went to church with one of Bill and Shari’s friends Tim at the Methodist Church in Dunkineely, a couple of towns up from Killybegs. It was the first service by the new pastor, so that was interesting.

ireland-fintra-beach72dpi   FintraBeach

Later in the afternoon we went to Fintra Beach, which is only about three miles from Killybegs. It is a nice beach with rocks out in the water, much like the Oregon coast. But when you turned towards the land, there were all these wonderful Irish houses in a bright green setting. It was magical. The picture with the houses was taken by Bill, by the way.

 I was actually warm today as well. Not so much on the beach, which was naturally windy, but inland.

 

Carpets and Pottery

Wednesday

Today we walked around Killybegs. I changed my last paper British money to Euros at the bank, then we did a little souvenir shopping, and finally headed for the carpet factory, where we saw a movie about what they used to do there. Then we were able to tour the factory.

donegalcarpet 

The Carpet Factory once designed, dyed and wove wool by hand-knotters, and produced world-class Donegal Carpets that can still be seen in such places as Dublin Castle, The Oval Room at the White House, the Vatican, Buckingham Palace, stately homes, and foreign embassies throughout the globe. It is the home of the largest hand-knotted loom in the world.

Making the carpets was an incredibly labor-intensive job, from the original designs, to dying the wool, to individually hand knotting each stitch of the carpet. Women had to be able to do 365 knots per hour to work there (there was a year-long training) and the carpets cost €2000 a square yard. The loom was absolutely huge. I tried my hand at doing a knot, and let’s just say they wouldn’t be asking me to come work there! Now they just do smaller items, such as wall hangings. We saw some they were working on.

 Thursday

Today we went with Bill & Shari’s neighbor Tim to Northern Ireland. We first stopped at Balleek Pottery, and went through the showroom. I’ve added a graphic of the pottery they make there. It is very delicate and quite beautiful, and as you might guess, expensive.

Belleekbasket 

Interestingly, we simply drove into Northern Ireland. There was nothing to mark the border, and we did not need our passports (which we had brought, just in case). It was strange to be back in the UK again, with their signage, and the red post boxes, instead of the green ones of the Republic of Ireland.

We headed towards Enniskillen, driving along Lough Erne, which is quite beautiful – tree-lined and peaceful. The town of Enniskillen is about twelve thousand people. There is a long street with older buildings, all holding businesses. One place we visited was the Butter Market, which consists of craft shops around a café. At the end of town is a modern shopping center. We ate lunch in the old part of town, and did a bunch of window shopping, but didn’t buy anything. We came home along the other side of the lough.

ButterMarket The Butter Market 

It was a lovely sunny day, and the rain held off until we were nearly back to Killybegs.

 

Exploring Donegal

Sunday

Today my friends’ neighbor Tim took us on a drive to Abbey Assaroe which was founded by Cistercian monks in the late twelfth century. There are only ruins of the abbey now, but the Abbey Mills Restoration Trust has restored two water wheels. You can see (and hear) the mill wheels running. There is also a small tea shop there, open only on Sunday, and serving homemade goodies.

waterwheels_abbey_assaroe 

The café has lovely views of a forested area and the oldest bridge in Ireland. Very peaceful and beautiful.

After tea, we drove back along the water to a place where we could overlook Rossnowlagh beach. People were surfing (or more accurately trying to surf) there, and we watched them for a time. It is also a scenic spot for seeing the hills surrounding the bay. The briar roses were out, and it smelled wonderful too.

Monday

Today we went west and north to Slieve League on Donegal Bay. It has the highest cliffs in Europe, and is a spectacular view, part of what is called the Wild Atlantic Way. On the way, we passed through some incredible scenery, as well as lots and lots of sheep, sometimes literally, as the fields were not fenced, and the sheep wander at will through them and beside the road.

Slieve_League 

We also went to the factory store for Donegal Woolen Mills, where I was finally able to get some wool yarn. They had beautiful things, most of which were above my price range, alas. Since I got a scarf at Edinburgh Woolen Mill in Scotland, I bought myself a pair of socks there – purple, of course!

The third place we visited was Glencolmcille Folk Village. They have various houses set up which show how people lived in Ireland in the past.

And finally, we searched out a beach called Silver Strand. It was a ways off the main road, though a picturesque area. When we got there, the beach was quite a few feet below us. You reached it via a long, long stair. We elected to stay up above and admire the scenery. Amazingly, sheep were grazing on the very edge of the cliffs. We wondered among ourselves whether they ever fell over the edge.

A very nice day along the coast of Donegal.

 Tuesday

Today we headed the opposite direction towards Donegal Town. There are lots of lovely shops there, and we explored several of them, then spent some time along the quay. I found some good souvenirs for friends and family.

Donegal-Town-Ireland

Afterwards, we went on to Ballyshannon, where Shari had some business. On the way back, we stopped in Donegal Craft Village and saw paintings, glass work, weaving, and some other crafts, as well as visiting their coffee shop.

Finally, nearly home, we drove out to an out of the way beach where there is a pier you can drive out on. More beautiful scenery.

I’ve had a delightful few days exploring, marveling over the scenery, and eating in some wonderful restaurants, cafés and coffee shops. Donegal is a county filled with natural beauty, and it will be difficult to leave 

Dublin to Killybegs

Haven’t written in a couple of days because I’m getting settled in and enjoying chatting with my friends. In fact, the blog will likely be very irregular from now on.

As I prepared to leave Dublin, my hostess kindly called a taxi for me, which was very nice I thought. The taxi driver took me to the train station, walked me inside and made sure I was all right before leaving me to get my ticket to Sligo. I walked up to the ticket window, and the guy told me I was in the wrong station. There are two train stations in Dublin, and in spite of what the Irish Rail Website said, I was at the wrong one. So I grabbed another taxi and went from Heuston Station to Connolly Station, which took about half an hour with all the traffic.

 Once on the train, it was a very pleasant journey. We passed through a lot of towns on our way from Dublin, then into more farmland. Not too many animals this time, mostly crops. I didn’t see any sheep until almost an hour outside the city, and then the flocks were small. Lots of grain, though. Some just being planted, some growing, some just harvested, some bundled into bales.

All the announcements on the train were given first in Irish, then repeated in English, so it was interesting to listen and try to match the town names in Irish with their English counterparts. It was a three hour journey, so there were lots of stops! I also managed to work in a nap.

Interior of Saint Columba?s Protestant Parish Church at Drumcliff, County Sligo, Ireland. Burial place of poet W. B. Yeats.  Interior of St Columbas church where Yeats is buried

My friends Shari and Bill met me in Sligo with their friend Tim who had graciously offered to come pick me up at the station. We stopped for soup and coffee at Drumcliffe Cemetery where W. B. Yeats is buried. They also have a gift shop and little café.

K-Harbor 

Killybegs is a picturesque town in County Donegal on the northwest coast of Ireland along the Wild Atlantic Way. It sits along a deep inlet which forms a harbor where you see fishing boats as well as other craft. Right now a cruise ship carrying 2000 people is docked there, so it is a popular spot.

coastguardstation old coast guard station in Killybegs

Yesterday we walked along the harbor, and up through the town. It is a nice place with lots of little shops. So I’m settled in for a couple of weeks, and won’t have much to blog about for a few days. Today we’re going to walk down and see the ship up close. 2000 people is a big deal, as it is actually more than the population of the town, so this should be interesting.

 

Chester to Holyhead to Dublin

I didn’t write yesterday because it was a day of getting organized for my trip to Ireland. I boxed up everything I knew I wouldn’t need and mailed it back to myself, mostly souvenirs of one sort or another. Then I walked all around Chester enjoying the medieval buildings and little shops. I finished by finding a nice comfy chair in the library and reading for an hour or so.

 This morning I left Chester heading for Holyhead and Dublin. My host in Chester drove me to the station, bless his heart, so I didn’t have to deal with the bus and my suitcase. Much nicer! The train across was pretty full, but I managed to get myself a window seat to watch the Welsh countryside. I know I’ve written about flocks of sheep before, but in northern Wales just about every field had its flock.

Sheep  One more sheep picture

We drove through rolling hills, with the sea on our right for quite a ways. There were wind farms off shore, blades whirling. Gradually the hills became rugged and higher, and at times the track ran between the rock of the hills and the water with little room to spare on either side. The hills were sometimes topped with ruins of castles. One station where we stopped was actually in the grounds of an old castle. After a while, the hills gentled again, as we neared the coast.

What surprised me was how many people lived in the area we passed. I had assumed it would be mainly uninhabited, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. We passed quite sizeable towns, though after Llanfairfechan they became more like villages again. We passed two mobile home parks – only the second time I have seen such since I’ve been in the UK. These parks were huge! Hundreds of mobiles. I couldn’t imagine living like that.

Ferries 

The place to check into the ferry is part of the train station in Holyhead, so making the switch was easy. You check in, they take your suitcase, and you board a shuttle which takes you out to the ship. My one big splurge of the trip was buying first class accommodations on the ferry, and I’m glad I did. I had a lovely large, comfortable seat in a quiet area. They provide free snacks, which made up my lunch, and I got in a nap. Very nice!

 Once in Ireland we went through customs, which consisted of a rather bored woman asking how long I would be in Ireland, and then stamping my passport. So much easier than when I landed in Heathrow all those weeks ago. A shuttle bus took us into Dublin, from where I caught a taxi to my accommodation for tonight.

dublin 

After I checked in, I went back into town and took one of the city tours, getting a little history of Dublin, and seeing the sights. Tomorrow I catch the train to Sligo to see my friends Shari & Bill. I’m very excited about that!

Chester

Te word chester is the English version of the Roman word for camp, and indeed Chester has been around since Roman times. They have the largest Roman amphitheater in Britain, and you can still see the remains of it today.

 In medieval times, it was a walled city, and a lot of those walls still remain. You can go in and out of the old city via great stone gates across the road. There are ancient houses in the city, from the 1300s on up to the present day. It gives the feeling of great age, but it is also a bustling city, full of life.

I started my day be getting lost as I looked for the Friends meetinghouse in town. I finally asked a group of folks who were chatting with each other if they could direct me to the street, and one of them said she was headed that way. She took me right to the door practically, and I’m glad she did. It’s not surprising that I got lost – what a twisting, winding way to get there! So I was late to meeting, and had to wait to be let in. But I was glad I went. It was a good meeting, with several bringing messages. Afterwards I had time to talk to quite a few people, which was nice.

Eastgate_Clock,_Chester_(1) 

After meeting, I looked up the Chester hop-on, hop-off city tour. The driver talked me into the boat tour as well, so I rode the bus through the city as we headed for the river. One of the iconic sights is this clock which towers over the buildings below. Ironically, it was not there, as it is away being cleaned, and in the meantime, they have a life-size photo of it up. As our guide said, tongue-in-cheek, it is the most photographed photograph in the world.

 I got off the bus at the River Dee and took the half hour cruise. We passed some old gorgeous homes, as well as seeing some of the city from a different angle. It was chilly on the water, but a nice trip all the same.

The nave of Chester Cathedral, Chester, Cheshire, England, UK 

Once back on dry land, I got on the next bus, and took some more of the tour until we came to the cathedral stop. The church is beautiful inside. It is one of those with huge stone pillars. There is a lot of stained glass, but unlike many churches, quite a bit of it was modern. There was a service going on, where they were ordaining priests, I think, so we were treated to lovely music and singing as we looked around. There is an attractive garden with a fountain, and a cloisters all the way around it, but the unique thing about this church is that they are creating a scale model of it in Legos. Just the floor and a few pillars are done now, but it will be quite the thing when it is completed.

ChesterParade 

The other thing that was going on in the city today was the Midsummer Watch Parade. I didn’t see all of it, but a fair amount. The Visit Chester website says this about it: “600 years in the making and with over 500 local participants, the Watch is firmly established as one of Chester’s most iconic events. Angels, devils, green men and mythical beasts rub shoulders with Romans, St Werburgh, elephants and camels in a parade full of colour and music that dates back to the late 1400s.” The parade is dominated by these huge figures in medieval costumes. Very colorful and fun.

Edinburgh to Chester

Today was a travel day. I’ll be stationed in Chester for a couple of days now. But before I leave Scotland, so to speak, I forgot to say one thing our guide on the Highlands tour told us. Scotland does seasons by color. This is the yellow season, when scotch broom – or just broom as they say there – gorse, and buttercups are everywhere. Following this is the green season for summer, and then the purple season when the heather comes out. I would love to see that sometime.

 Weed Scotch Broom 1

I had a wonderful train from Edinburgh on the first leg of the journey, which was about three hours. More by luck than design, I got on what they call a quiet car, where people are to stay off phones, and other things that make noise. Not only did this make the trip more pleasant, but not many want that kind of coach, so there were lots of empty seats. Very nice.

 Dropping down from Edinburgh, we entered an area of rolling hills, which gradually got higher and a bit more rugged as we skirted the edge of the Lakes District. This is farming country again, with herds of cattle of all different kinds, and lots and lots of sheep, but also with some crops planted. I think I saw corn, which they must raise to sell, as the cattle all seem to eat grass. By the way, they’ve done the first cutting of hay for the season. The bales are never left open to the air, but always covered with plastic, I assume because of the frequent rain.

 WindFarm

This became a land of meandering streams, most small, but some larger. Fields began to be separated by dry stone walls, and some hedgerows. There were mainly scattered houses rather than villages. As the hills got higher, the clouds seemed to get lower until they hid the tops of the hills. We passed three big wind farms. Wind energy seems to be a perfect choice of green energy here, as it is windy pretty much all the time.

As we got further south, things changed again. The hills lowered, and we saw more flat fields. Villages became larger, turning into towns. When we reached Lancaster on the River Lune, it was a city, and from there south things were much more populated.

chester-map1a 

I left the train at Crewe, and got on one going east to Chester, where I am tonight. Very nice family renting me a room through Airbnb. If I haven’t mentioned them before, I would recommend them to anyone. I’ve had nothing but good experiences in all the places I have used them for lodging.

 Tomorrow I hopefully find the Quaker meeting, and do a tour of the city.

Loch Ness and the Scottish Highlands

On the second day of the escorted tour to the Highlands, we began by driving the length of Loch Ness. It is the biggest body of water in the UK, holding more than all the other lakes in England and Wales put together. The water is very dark, as there is peat in it. That seemed to be pretty much true of all the lochs we passed. Loch Ness is several hundred feet deep, and there is also a trench at the bottom, which no one has been able to measure.

 lochnessboat

We stopped somewhere about the middle of the loch (which simply means lake), and I took a one hour boat tour. It stopped at a ruined castle where you could get off and walk around, but I elected to stay on the boat. They told us some history of the area, and talked about the local flora and fauna. The first recorded sighting of the monster was in 565 when Saint Columba saw it as he was preaching on the shores of the Loch. Since then it has been sighted numerous times. I didn’t see it today, alas, but bought myself a wee Nessie in the gift shop to remember my visit.

At the other end of the loch, we stopped in Fort Augustus briefly to view the locks. There are a series of seven of them if I remember correctly. The Caledonian Canal connects Loch Ness there with Loch Oich on the way to the North Sea. It was constructed for ship traffic, but mainly serves pleasure boats today. It is a lovely spot.

We then stopped in Fort William for lunch. This was originally an English garrison to help keep the Scots in order, but it was abandoned long ago, and the fort torn down piece by piece for building materials. Nothing remains of it today. It is also the site of the West Highlands Museum, which I had time to visit briefly before I had to be back at the coach.

highland-cow-and-calf  Hairy highland cattle

After that, we were mainly making our way back to Edinburgh. Our guide filled us in on a lot of Scottish history as we drove past historic areas. The land is very rugged. There are few settlements, but a lot of lovely scenery. Where there are people, the land is mainly for grazing – sheep, and the long-haired, long-horned highland cattle. We drove past numerous lochs, and attractive little streams. You could see where there would have been waterfalls in the spring as the snow melt came down. All in all, a land of rugged beauty.

VWAamarokKelpie02 

Almost back to Edinburgh, we passed these gigantic statues called The Kelpies. A kelpie is a shape-changing aquatic spirit of Scottish legend. You can just see the buildings beneath them, which gives some idea of the size. Very impressive!

 

Edinburgh to Inverness

I left Edinburgh this morning on a two day escorted tour to the Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness. It’s a small tour – a 16 person bus with a driver who knows all sorts of tales about Scottish history. Watching 50 people leave a big tour bus at places made me very glad to be on a smaller bus. Less hassle at the gift shop if nothing else!

As we went north, at first the land was very much the same as it had been. Lots of farmland and sheep. But when we crossed into the highlands, all that changed. The land up here is rugged and the soil poor. We are surrounded by “mountains.” I put that in quotes, as the largest is about 4000 feet, and I live at a higher altitude than that at home. But there’s no doubt it is more rugged.

The land was formed long ago when two tectonic plates collided, pushing the mountains up and up – according to our guide, they used to be much, much taller. But several ice ages took off the tops, and left only the very hard rock beneath.

The houses are mainly white, covered by what’s called render, which contains lime. They look very fresh and clean.

This is Macbeth country. We drove past what was once Birnam Wood, which as you may remember figured in a prophecy concerning the monarch: Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him. (Act IV, Scene 1, lines 98-102 of the Scottish play)

hermitagefallsofbran1  The Hermitage

We stopped at several places on our way up. One was called The Hermitage, which is a nature walk beside a stream, through a wooded area. At the end of the trail (at least the end for me) was a waterfall, with a picturesque bridge to view it from. Very beautiful, but a bit chilly. Of all things, I was able to get a cup of tea to warm me up from an ice cream vendor!

DunkeldCathedral  The roofless cathedral

We also stopped to visit Dunkeld Cathedral on the River Tay. The cathedral is in ruins now, and has been for a long time. What was the choir of the cathedral is now a church. It’s small, but beautiful.

Pitlochry_high_street 

Further north we stopped at a village called Pitlochry. In olden times, it was a place where the Picts (the Scottish Celts) kept an eye on a Roman fort below, and descended to harass the Romans from time to time. Now it is a picturesque village with lots of places to eat, and some interesting shops. While many of the tour made a visit to a whiskey distillery, I wandered through the town, happening upon a concert by sixth year music students from a local music school. They were playing traditional Celtic music, and it was very beautiful.

Our final stop was briefly at the east end of Loch Ness. We will spend much more time along it tomorrow, but just a taste today. At the place where we stopped, the loch is about a mile across. It had stopped raining by that time, but was still quite misty and mysterious – just the way you want Loch Ness to look!

Tonight I’m in a B&B in Inverness. Too tired to explore the town very much, a decision I will probably regret later.

Lindisfarne to Edinburgh

Today I visited Lindisfarne, or as everyone here calls it, Holy Island. I caught a bus from the train station in Berwick, which takes riders there and back. You have to study the schedule carefully, because Lindisfarne is an island at high tide, and the bus only goes at certain times on certain days.

 We drove south along the coast, with views of the ocean for part of the way. The land was much as I described yesterday, farm lands with many flocks of sheep. When we reached what’s called the causeway to the island, there were warning signs: check the tide table; if the water is up to here, don’t go on the causeway. Apparently every year some tourist tries to outdistance the tide and gets stuck when the water rises too quickly. As we drove across it, there was marshy land on either side of us.

Causeway12 

I was surprised by Holy Island itself. I had expected something like Iona in Scotland, where there is a church and a retreat center. But here are only ruins of the abbey, since the monks fled Viking attacks back in the 900s. The monastery of Lindisfarne was founded by Irish monk Saint Aidan, who had been sent from Iona to Northumbria at the request of King Oswald, back in the 600s. Aidan was the first bishop, followed by Cuthbert. The ruins are beautiful in their own way, and I enjoyed walking around them. I also went in to St Mary’s church, where they have this amazing full-size sculpture of the monks bearing Saint Cuthbert’s remains away. (He ended up in Durham, by the way, where I visited his shrine.)

lindisfarne_priory_nature_fields_hd-wallpaper-69186     lindisfarne-stMarys

There is also a castle set up on a hill at one end of the island, but I elected not to visit.

The village of Lindisfarne has lots of kinds of art to buy, an interpretative center which tells you the history of the place, various other little shops, and places to eat. It is a quiet, peaceful little village.

When we headed back for Berwick, there was already water on the causeway – just enough to make a splash as we passed, but you could tell the tide was coming in. We were part of a whole line of vehicles making their way off the island for that afternoon.

Once in Berwick, I picked up my luggage, then caught a train north. The land changed as we got into Scotland. The hills grew larger, and more numerous. Some in the distance might almost have been tall enough to be called mountains. We still travelled beside the ocean for quite a ways. I saw a couple of old castles as we went. It is still farm land and sheep.

Edinburgh, from what I’ve seen of it in passing is built of stone. Very large, very impressive buildings. I’m staying in a Victorian House, right at the top of three long flights of stairs. (Puff, puff!) Tomorrow I head off for a two day trip up into the Highlands.