John and I (Becky) went to London and Ireland for our 15th Anniversary just three months ago. This was the first time I used Instagram to help me plan a trip and I was helped along the way by all the contributers to #rawireland #discoverireland and #wanderireland. But the hashtag that really summed up what I wanted to see was #wildireland. We got exactly what we wanted: a trip around the circumference of the island with stops along the way at wild and relatively remote hikes. Sometimes we walked for hours and saw no one but the sheep. It was rainy, windy, foggy, cold, and perfect.
Day 1 – London
We started our trip in London for several reasons. First, there was a flight from Dulles to London that left at 8:30 in the morning and arrived in London right about 8pm (3pm our time). This was amazing because by the time we got the hotel and settled, it was midnight London time, about 7 our time, and the day had been long enough it was easy to just go to bed and go to sleep – NO JET LAG!!!! I would 100% do this again for that reason alone. We walked and walked and walked and walked in London (LOVED the Sandeman tours, both free and paid) and I actually took very few photos. In fact, I didn’t even bring my camera on the second day, when we went to the Churchill War Rooms and the British Museum. No regrets about that choice. These are just a couple of London favorites – a tiny taste of what we saw.
Day 3 – Wicklow Mountains (kind of) and Glendalough
We landed in Dublin about noon on Monday and immediately drove out of the city. I was charmed by the tiny, narrow roads, moss everywhere, and bubbling brooks. Google maps led us to a road that was blocked, and we followed the detour directed by the signs on the road…. and 30 minutes later, we arrived back at the same detour sign. So we stopped and asked how to get to our destination. Turns out there had been record snowfall for March the week before we arrived and all the roads through the Wicklow Mountains were CLOSED. To be honest, I was surprised by how much difficulty I had understanding the “Irish brogue”, but John and I clearly understood when he told us there “wan’t a hope in hell” (sounded like “ope in ell”) we would get through. We laughed about that the whole rest of the week. Fortunately, he did tell us how to access the southern part of the mountains by going back up to Dublin and taking the highway past the mountain range. Eventually Google picked upon what we were doing and successfully led us to the Glenmacnass Waterfall.
We walked down to the rocks right around the top of the falls.
Looking back up to the road from the falls.
Another view on the road as we drove away.
I went a little crazy over the first sheep. There would be many, many more. Haha.
These little… ponies? They were smaller and sturdier than ponies… were nibbling on the moss along the road. We spent a long time watching them.
On another note: I spent forever trying to edit these greens right. They were SO green… so, so green that it just looked fake in the photos, so I actually toned them down a bit. I don’t ultimately know if I did them justice or not.
This cragged tree with gnarled limbs and the mossy stones… that was everything I wanted to see in Ireland. Just a few hours in and I felt like I could fly back home satisfied. The other thing I remember about this little scene was how intensely quiet it was. John and I almost felt like we had to whisper, it was that quiet.
We kept driving down to Glendalough, the site of the oldest monastery in Ireland. There are two lakes in Glendalough, an upper and a lower, that are connected by some paths and streams. We spent a couple hours exploring all the waterfalls along the paths. Ireland is a very wet country – hence all the green – but it was especially wet the week we were there because of all the melting snow (and the fact that it stormed/rained every day!). So peaceful and pretty.
That “Rapunzel tower” was constructed by monks in the 11th century.
Graveyards always feel sacred, but in the rain and mist and surrounded by the massive, misty mountains – it was particularly somber to wander and read the inscriptions – when they were legible. Some were so old and worn that the engravings had been smoothed out and no identification at all was left. Truly, to dust we all return.
We left as it was raining and walked back to our car. The rain became very heavy and even John, who loves to drive, was a little nervous on the tiny roads through the moutains with no visibility whatsoever. I have to say, the trip was stunning. The mountains were either bare or thick with pine trees – which I never expected – and completely covered in fog. It was too dark to get photos and we decided we wouldn’t drive at night much more, if we could help it. We stopped for dinner and talked with the waitress, who had lived in Jordan for years before returning to her homeland, for a long, long time. We pulled into our hotel directly across from Kilkenny Castle about 10pm.
Day 4 – Kilkenny Castle and Sheep’s Head Peninsula
The next morning was the only truly sunny hours we had in Ireland.
We started with the most beautiful and elegant breakfast buffet… I tried some new dishes and the coffee was absolutely delicious. There was an extended family with lots of little kids eating at the table across from us. John and I were not at all jealous of the parents running around after their toddlers… but we had a very long conversation over breakfast about our kids, how much we were both missing them, parenting, the past and the future. It was a very emotional breakfast!
We took a walk around the grounds of Kilkenny Castle until it opened. The guides there really, really wanted to talk about the history of the castle, so I had a lot of my questions answered, particularly about the relationship between the English and the Irish, before, during, and after the potato famine. I really enjoyed this touristy stop.
From there we drove to just about the most southern part of Ireland, Sheep’s Head Peninsula. This is a very rugged, wild peninsula that is privately owned. The sheep farmers have made their property available to walkers, and you could spend days exploring all the trails. We only walked the loop that accessed the southernmost tip.
This is the windiest place I’ve ever been in my life. You can see: John was letting himself fall backward and the wind could hold him up! I was glad the kids weren’t with us. I felt like Nicholas could be picked up and blown away… and all the signs indicating that possibility did not ease my mind.
I wanted pictures of this lake, but I really had to nestle down next to this rock, or I felt I would be blown off into the lake!!
I was mesmerized by the movement of the wind over the surface.
I thought the rocks were spectacular.
The cliffs just… DROP. I was probably about 3 feet from the edge right there in the middle of the photo and that’s just it – straight down into the sea. It was actually impossible to photograph the steepest parts of the cliffs. You would just be pointing the camera straight down and it really doesn’t capture the sheerness or the height…
The wind died down once we made it around the tip onto the west side of the peninsula. See the little tiny sheep in the bottom left?
Little bogs everywhere.
Watching the waves rippling down below made me a little queasy, but I couldn’t stop watching either.
Finally closed the loop with this path right here. You can see our rental car right up there at the top of the hill. 🙂 And that handsome man who carried my camera bag everywhere.
Day 5 – The Dingle Peninsula
It poured and stormed on the entire drive from Sheeps Head to Dingle. We ate lunch and drank a delicious cappuccino (the Irish do their caffeinated drinks properly, although I never knew exactly what I was ordering!) in a tiny, warm café with fogged windows. The owner and her friends were sitting around a table chatting and they apologized for the stormy day. I said I didn’t mind it because it felt authentic to Ireland (they conceded this was true) and John shared his optimism that it would let up (and they politely called him crazy). Truthfully, it did turn into just a delicate mist for most of our drive, so John’s optimism was justified.
Those narrow roads are no joke.
One of my favorite photos and stops of the trip. This was on our way off the Dingle Peninsula… these rocks just fascinated us, so we stopped. See the people walking up the right side of the photo? While I took this, John walked up there and eventually disappeared up and behind the waterfall. I followed him up and saw that he had found a big lake. It was so quiet and serene, but I didn’t stay long because the footing was really bad. I had taken off my hiking boots in the car and just had on a pair of comfy loafer-type shoes and kept slipping everywhere.
We ended the day with a quick stop at the Cliffs of Moher, after the sun had set. I did get some photos, but it was dark and you can see better photos on postcards – I think it’s the most photographed landmark in Ireland and I had nothing to add to that. 😉 I’m glad we saw them, but I was really counting on the next day, when we planned to hike cliffs three times as high as the Cliffs of Moher!!
Day Six – Slieve League Cliffs
This is definitely the day that I got the least photographic payoff for my effort and it marks the only regret of the entire trip. We decided to hike the Slieve League Cliffs, which are among the highest accessible cliffs in Europe. Ireland.com says, “From the highest point on the cliffs, it’s a staggering 609m (1,998 feett) drop into the swirling Atlantic Ocean below.” I had seen so many images of these cliffs on Instagram and I was excited to get my own photos of them. Was already debating where in the house I was going to hang the images. Well, two things happened…
First, we raced threatening storm clouds all the way up and over every single false summit on the hike… and we lost. And as we arrived at the top, there was sun out over the ocean, but we were quickly engulfed in fog and a very, very cold, pelting rain.
Second, I failed to understand a very critical piece of logistical information. All the photos I had seen? – they were taken from a viewing center, where you looked across TO the cliffs. We actually climbed to the top OF the cliffs… and, like I mentioned above, you really can’t quite capture a 2000 foot drop when you’re standing right on top of it. So, between those two things, I went home without any reproductions of the amazing photos that I had seen. Which does bum me out a little bit. BUT… I did get some cool photos of what John and I did that day, which makes me really happy. It was not a day or a hike that I want to forget and again, I can always buy a postcard from of the view from the viewing center.
Our path would wrap first around that mountain in the middle and ultimately, it would take us up to the peaks on the left. You can see why I started full of optimism for amazing views – look at the blue skies over by our destination!
I was in love with the bogs.
Wind starting to pick up, even with blue skies ahead. We still had a long way before arriving at the cliffs over there to the left and the clouds were starting to gather.
By the time we arrived and the rain started falling sideways, we could see that the sun was right on the storm’s heels out there in the Atlantic. We thought about sticking around, but it was just so cold and windy and pretty soon we couldn’t ee any of the yellow blazes for the trail. We just felt nervous and wanted to start heading down.
This is basically looking straight down the cliffs in the rain… they’re so steep, you lose sight of them pretty quickly. That little tiny ring of white waves on the right are the only clue as to just how far up we were. You really just can’t get perspective from this photograph.
Mist clearing away on our way down – and those blessed yellow blazes. I was happy to see them!
As we finished the hike, the light was pretty amazing and lit up the path we had come from. With all that fog up on the cliffs, I wonder if we could have seen anything, even if we did stick around for a long time.
This stream ran all along the lower part of the path.
I wish that, after the hike, we had driven around for a little while and tried to find the visitor’s center and viewing station. But…. oh well. Instead, we drove up to the town of Donegal in northwest Ireland. It was a cute, cozy place to walk around and grab dinner.
Day 8 – Donegal and a Tiny Taste of Northern Ireland
The next morning, we set out for two remote locations in Donegal. One was the Arches of Crohy, which were a little difficult to find. I was thankful John was there to put together the clues that I had read about. He’s over there in the far left of the photos below, finding the best spot to climb over the fence.
The tide was coming in. My boots were waterproof, but the water was coming up higher and higher and some of the waves were quite ferocious. I started to get nervous and we left.
I could have watched the ocean swirling around and crashing into those formations all day.
Final glance back.
I had also read about this beach where, in low tide, you can walk right across to an island where there are castle ruins. It looks so accessible in this picture, and we still had about 30 minutes before low tide here. We were very hopeful, got a cup of coffee, and settled in to just the right moment. Alas, it was at least knee deep, even at the lowest point, and the temperatures were in the 40s – just too cold for me to venture across. It was a good try.
We were staying in Dublin for our last night and on our drive back, we realized that we were actually in Northern Ireland!! We stopped at some really cool underground caves – think Luray Caverns, but with a deep, rolling stream rushing through – and popped back out of Northern Ireland and back into Ireland again. We ate dinner at a loud, crowded pub in Dublin the night before St. Patrick’s Day. The perfect ending.