Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Oh, Ireland

I'd ask myself, before I left on my trip, which part I was looking forward to most.  My answer would change from day to day but as often as not, the answer would be Ireland, home of my forefathers.

And, Ireland, you did not disappoint.

It didn't start out that way though.  I left England on a Sunday with some sort of allergy, I daresay to one of the crops that were being harvested around my brother's home.   By Monday morning when I joined the tour I'd chosen after many hours of deliberation, I was feeling totally miserable.  The countryside outside Dublin I found to be most uninspiring, it looked like an abandoned wasteland to me, not worth farming and I thought to myself no wonder so many Irish had left for greener pastures over the years, they would never be able to grow a potato in that ground.  I didn't particularly enjoy the first stop of the day in Kilbeggan to a whiskey distillery.  Told you I wasn't feeling well!  I didn't even bother to taste the whiskey.  

My mood didn't improve when I realized my camera battery was flat.  I'd been so tired the night before from all the sneezing and coughing, all I could think about was getting my head down and sleeping, the camera was the last thing on my mind.

I brightened when I realized our lunch time stop would be in Galway.  I could see and hear my dad when he arrived home from work in the evening scoop up the baby of the family and waltz with them around the lounge room singing one of his Irish favourites.  "If you ever go across the sea to Ireland"... And here I was!

I thought a walk would do me good and set out to find St. Nicholas', the largest medieval parish church in Ireland in continuous use as a place of worship.  I did find a Catholic church where mass was being celebrated (in the middle of the day on a Monday) but not the one I was looking for.  I had a lovely chat with an elderly couple waiting at the bus stop outside the church who offered to take me with them on the bus to see their cathedral.  When I laughed and said if I got on a bus, goodness knows where I'd end up, they conferred and announced no need to worry, they'd go with me to the cathedral and put me on the right bus back to town.  That's when I started to fall in love with the Irish.  

I dread to think what a misery I must have seemed to the others on the tour those first few days.  It took me a couple of days to shake the coughs and sneezes.  Erica, half of the lovely Australian couple on the bus offered to share her photos of the day with me.  I am so thankful. 

Spanish arch in Galway
We visited Aughnanure Castle, one of over 200 tower houses in the County Galway.  Our tour guide, Sean knew how to tell a good story and knew his history. It was probably here that we first heard about the O'Flahertys we would all come to fear.    One of the fearsome O'Flahertys had built this tower house in the 16th century, it fell into other hands (they did fight a lot those early Irish), played a part in the Cromwellian invasion and was later reclaimed by the O'Flahertys. It is now managed by Dúchas, the Irish State body responsible for national monuments and historic properties.   The young woman who was our guide had grown up on the farm that surrounds it and this was her childhood playground. 

Towards the end of the day we came to the beautiful Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, built to be a hunting lodge, then used by the Benedictine nuns as an exclusive girls school.  No longer a school, it is now home to the Benedictines, a monastic community.  It is much admired for it's beautiful walled garden and picturesque situation.  We saw it just as the evening mist was descending. 

I made a quick dash outside early the next morning to get a photo of Abbeyglen Castle where we had stayed the night. 

Staying here had been a real treat, not just for the majestic surroundings but the warm and welcoming Irish spirit of the owners, a rather eccentric father and son.  We were welcomed with warm hand shakes as we stepped out of the bus, our bags were whisked away and found waiting for us in our rooms when we reached them.  Guests gathered around the peat fire before dinner for drinks as we were told the history of the castle. The food was outstanding, served in the dining room overlooking the glen.   Our host was never far from sight, like his staff he was constantly attentive.  In addition he was highly entertaining.  A truly lovey hotel in an amazing setting.  

As well as the Australians, Erica and Trevor and Sofie a Belgian, there was a family group of eight Americans in our small tour group.  One of them, Doug, was also outside the next morning taking photos and enjoying the fresh air.  I'm pretty sure Doug took even more photos than I did.


Monday, 28 September 2015


When walking from the city centre to Salisbury Cathedral we passed under this arch.  It is known as the North Gate, one of four within the walls which surrounded the cathedral in days gone by. It was built between 1327 and 1342.  Keeping up old traditions, it is still closed every evening at 2300hours, and reopened at 0600hrs. 

Salisbury Cathedral was built between 1220 and 1258, in a style now called Early English Gothic. This style emphasized height and light, and there surely is that.  It has been referred to as 'the single most beautiful structure in England, and the Close around it the most beautiful space'.  It has quite a few claims to fame, including Britain's finest 13th century Gothic Cathedral and Britain's tallest spire at 123 metres (404 feet), it houses the oldest working clock in Europe (1326),  the best preserved of only 4 original copies of the Magna Carta from 1215 A.D. and the largest Cathedral Close in the UK at 80 acres.

 That's me and the other ant like creatures, dwarfed by the cathedral.

Another angle.  Viewed from any angle it's an impressive sight.

 One of the smaller doors

One of the side chapels, that of Saint Margaret of Scotland 

As we toured the cathedral, clergy and staff were preparing for a wedding, guests were arriving as tour groups wandered around and amongst them.  

 The ushers comparing notes, trying to ignore the tourists and their cameras.

I can see my brother in this photo following the tour group.  He will remember nearly everything of what we were told by the guide.  And probably be able to give you a few facts in a year or two from now.  He was paying attention.  It's easy to see why the nuns despaired of ever teaching me anything, I am so easily distracted.  Peter, on the other hand, is an attentive learner and has a great head for historic facts.

 A very important personage sends me a dirty look for daring to linger and take in the scene.

The splendid arcaded cloister is the largest in England and was added in the late 13th century. Despite tourists milling around it had an air of tranquility.

 After the cathedral, we visited Arundells, Edward Heath's home, one of the cathedral's closest neighbours and where, at one time, stood a Canonary for it's clergy. I thought a canonry was what one got when one became a canon but it seems it's where canons lived.  

The home reflects Sir Edward's time in public office and contains his collections of paintings, sailing and musical memorabilia, Oriental and European ceramics, Chinese and Japanese artworks and  photographs.  Everything is just as it was when he lived there.  There's a fine collection of blue and white Chinese china and some fabulous gifts he received from foreign heads of state.  

The Friends of Arundell do a great job of maintaining it all and upkeeping the 2 acre gardens which meanders down to the river at the back of the property.  My best view of the cathedral spire was from the garden.

On our way back to Gallop End we called in to visit Stonehenge.  It was a hot, hot day and the place was heaving with tourists.  Far too many to make for an enjoyable stroll around.  I'd love to visit when there was a full moon - and no-one around. 


Sunday, 27 September 2015


A few times during my travels it was possible to choose whether to do a tour around an historic place with a guide or do a self guided tour with the aid of an audio-guide. I'd choose the guide any day of the week.  The audio units would be better if they were standardised but each one is different and I found most of them to be a bit of a challenge.   Rather than concentrating on what I was seeing, most of my time was spent figuring out which button to press next, which meant putting my glasses on to see the numbers and taking them off to see where I was going.  I really must learn to wear bifocals.
Each guide I was lucky enough to spend time with seemed to me to be a bit eccentric and quite endearing in their enthusiasm for their monument.  Our guide to the Roman Baths was possibly the most enthusiastic of them all.  He really added to my enjoyment of seeing one of the best-preserved ancient Roman spas in the world.  I even remember a couple of things he told us.  Which is surprising because I was constantly distracted from listening by looking around me and being overwhelmed by the history and age of everything.  I had difficulty comprehending that I was standing where what I'm looking at was first started in 69AD.  (That sentance could be a test in comprehension.)

Ancient bits
A contrast in headwear
Can't blame the cellphones!
  Costumed characters
Bath is the oldest of England’s principal tourist destinations and has been welcoming visitors for centuries.  They do it well.  My brother and I enjoyed the sights from a well organised bus tour (with audio guide).  
Bath Abbey
That soft creamy coloured stone I mentioned yesterday is evident here, too and adds to the elegance of the Georgian period's stately streets and crescents.  
The formatting of this post is all over the place.  I've been fiddling, should have left things alone.  Hopefully, I can fix it.  Soon.  Maybe.  

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Gallop End

I think I 'cheated' on much of my trip.  Can hardly claim to be an intrepid traveler when a friend or family meet you and smooth your path.  I suspect I might still be trying to find my way out of Heathrow airport had my niece not met me.  What a wonderful way to arrive in a country - wide smiles and a first time meeting with a recently born great-niece.  I just had to sit back and allow myself to be whisked away to the beautiful Wiltshire countryside.  Travel could not be less stress free.

A warm welcome from my brother and sister-in-law, Peter and Judy, a tasty meal, a good night's sleep - it was all so easy it was hard to believe I was on the other side of the world. 

I spent a few days relaxing with my English family, enjoying the rural surroundings.  Judy took me for a walk so I could get my bearings 

and Peter whisked me off to see nearby sights.  The weather was perfect, comfortably warm days, cooler evenings, the countryside green and lush, the rolling hills and cropped farm fields abundant with crops ripe for harvesting.

I think most of these are in and around Bradford on Avon.

We weren't there on the right day/time to see inside the Tithe Barn at Barton Farm Country Park.

but it was lovely to wander beside the river in the afternoon sunshine and take in the sights.
 Boys on bikes
boys in boats.  (Just pretend you can't see that girl!)

The first of many stone bridges I was to see in the UK but I wasn't to know that at the time. 

The surrounding hillsides covered with stone houses and cottages made of golden honey coloured cotswold stone.

Nearby Bath deserves a post of its own so I will do that tomorrow.                            

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Trains and boats and planes

You know how a tune gets stuck in your head?  For a couple of months I've had Dionne Warwick warbling happily away.  I know in the real song she's a bit mournful but in my head she sings with joy.  

Trains and boats and planes are passing by
They mean a trip to Paris or Rome
For someone else, but not for me

But this time it is for me!

And I enjoyed every minute of those train, boat and plane rides.  Not to Paris and Rome but to the places I dreamed of seeing.  I've had the best trip I could possibly have imagined.  There's nothing I would have done differently.  Nothing I'd want to change.  Perhaps I'd change about 10-15 minutes in the bus depot in Bath, England but thanks to my guardian angel and my lovely English sister-in-law, Judy I did get to Bristol airport in time to catch a plane to Ireland.  

I arrived back in the country on 12th, had a night with my older daughter and then it was on to a bus for a 6 hour trip to Taranaki to give my son-in-law a hand while my younger daughter is away in the States and France.  I admit to a bit of tiredness after 27 hours traveling but a couple of good night's sleep is all it takes for me to recover.  I do travel well, can sleep anywhere.  I tested that theory while I was in Greece by sleeping in an upright sitting position on my brother's boat when I didn't close the hatch above my bunk properly and it rained during the night.

And last night, 7 weeks and 3 days after I left I arrived back home.  I lingered in Auckland long enough for a catch up with my daughter and a hair cut, and to stock up on fruit and vegies. Now my bag is unpacked, the washing done although not dry as the weather isn't exactly sunny.  I've had hugs from the family and some lovely chats.  And made a start on sorting through my photos.  No, I'm not saying how many!

I might be able to sleep anywhere but there's no bed like my own bed.