Celtic Connections

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Sometimes journeys trigger unexpected feelings and reactions. And then you wonder if the unexplored feeling gave rise to the journey in the first place? Whatever the causality, we were heading to Scotland and Ireland to travel around the Celtic fringe. Not a big trip, but three or four weeks to catch up with friends and a bit of family; to somehow reconnect with the country of my birth, and the culture dear to our hearts – after eight months back in angry brexit Britain.

And of course the blog was meant to be finished; done. But this trip ended up as something I felt like sharing – photos and impressions of special places. Not the hours of smiles and laughter with dear friends – that’s for ourselves alone. But there is beauty, joy and adventure in this short journey that might be worthy of interest. If I’m honest I don’t know, we had fun, see what you think.

Scotland

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Starting off in Edinburgh, we followed the Leith walkway with sun and rain flowing past. The tenements of Dean village, the National Gallery of Modern Art and Antony Gormley’s cast iron statues were great company along the way.

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From there to Glasgow and the train journey to Loch Awe – the sky was blue as we hiked around the area. The Tower of Glenstrae was fab as always – and we were able to walk up to the Cruachan Reservoir, explore Glenfinnan and Glencoe with the sun (mostly) on our backs. Happy travels.

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The Glenfinnan monument, Loch Shiel and the Jacobite Rebellion echo through these hills

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and there’s always a few Highland Coos along the way …

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Celtic Fringe

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Ireland

After a quick flight to Dublin from Glasgow, we sorted a hire car and were soon in our B&B in Rathgar. We met up with my cousin and other family members that evening and were rapidly engrossed with family stories and history, not least identifying the house in Limerick where I was born – somewhere I haven’t been back to since those irregular visits ‘home’ as a child in the 60’s an early 70’s.

Our plan was to head south to Kerry, but we headed West the next day to call in on London friends Enda and Maria who had moved back to Ireland and were building their own straw bale roundwood home Radharc Eile in Tullamore. While it was certainly great to catch up with old friends what was truly impressive was the labour of love that’s gone into building this fascinating structure. They have developed knowledge and skills to a huge extent over these last two years – their blog is well worth a look.

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Beautiful Douglas Fir and tightly packed straw bale walls. Plus an intricate and fascinating roof

Back on the road we stopped for a few days at an AirBnB in Adare where we walked the countryside in lovely weather.

 

Although there are similarities with the flora and fauna of the English countryside, Ireland’s history and culture are everywhere. The abandoned Famine Houses of Knockfierna are a standing testament to an Gorta Mór that devastated the country over 150 years ago. The thought of starving souls breaking rocks all day on a bleak hillside in mid-winter for less than a penny of ‘outdoor relief’ from the British is a stark indictment of the vicious colonial rule that created this holocaust and saw over a million dead from starvation and disease. We came across mass rocks (Carraig an Aifrinn), deep in the forest established after the Catholic religion was outlawed in Cromwell’s Penal Laws. And ancient megalithic tombs, circular forts and ruined castles – Ireland is alive with history.

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the megalithic tomb at Labbacallee – aligned with the setting sun equinoxes

We’d called in to Limerick City on our way south, but couldn’t track down the family home. We did see the Shannon waters rushing through the arches of Thomond bridge, King John’s castle and the treaty stone on its plinth.

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The Treaty Stone from 1691. Kids in my parents era sold stones off the streets to gullible tourists as a ‘chip off the Treaty Stone’

Kerry

It was mostly chance that we’d booked a place in Cahersiveen. We decided we needed a base to explore Kerry, and this small town was a great location for that. Plus it had restaurants, bars and music – all in easy walking distance. As with so many small towns in Ireland there were remnants of ancient churches, shops selling religious icons and statues of saints in housing estates.

 

It must have been 40 years since we were last in Kerry. It really is a beautiful county, the weather was kind overall and we had a great week exploring and walking.

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The Skelligs (Na Scealaga) are often visible from the shore
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Valentia Island (Dairbhre – ‘the Oak Wood’) looking west
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The Ballaghsheen Pass

 

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Ballinskelligs Castle on a glorious day

 

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Ballycarberry Castle

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Anne walking towards the clouds – they cleared

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The Caragh Lake Trail
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The joy of getting lost. We did double the planned distance walking around Derrynane

The Skelligs (Na Scealaga)

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Sceilig means ‘splinter of stone’ in Irish, and these harsh Islands are on the western edges of Europe. Remote, swept by wind and waves, you would be hard pressed to think of a more inhospitable place to build a community. Yet, in the 5th Century, Christian monks decided to make this most remote and unforgiving landscape their home. It took hundreds of years to eek out a habitable environment in this bleak place, and the ‘beehive’ monastery they built was thought to accommodate no more than a dozen monks at a time.

The monastery (a UNESCO World Heritage site) is accessed by climbing over 600 dry stone masonry steps, built by the monks. The ‘beehive’ structure of the monastery is also built this way and has lasted over 1,500 years – a testimony to the skills, resilience and endurance of the people who built it.

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Suddenly a rainstorm moved in from the sea and the reality of this inhospitable rock descended

The Skelligs (Na Scealaga) are also a haven for wild life, with Puffins, Shearwaters and Gannets nesting there in the breeding season.

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The colourful beaks and white chest plumage are on display only in the breeding season

 

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Puffins nest in burrows and the parents fish to feed their chicks. Once they are able to fly they do not return to land for 2 to 3 years
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One puffin landed at speed straight into a burrow at Anne’s feet
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Puffins coming in to land have a comical, slightly clumsy look – see enlargement below

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Little Skellig is home to a huge colony of nesting Gannets – they prefer the bare rock and every inch is taken up with these birds. They migrate to Southern Africa at the end of the breeding season.

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We left Kerry and headed north to friends in Connemara for the final part of our journey through Ireland. On the way we  stopped once more in Limerick city and found the house where I and my sister were born and where my grandparents raised 7 children. It must have been very cramped. Although Rosbrien is now a gentrified area with large Victorian houses, some of the small terraced houses remain. The area is described in Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.

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As a child I left open this gate on market day. We soon had sheep running through the house

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Galway

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The beauty of Connemara hits you every time. The Twelve Bens (Na Beanna Beola), the inlets, the peat bogs all combine in a peaceful beauty.

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We had happy times walking the area, breathing in the fresh air and catching up with friends, and once again the weather was pretty kind.

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The home of Patrick Pearse now has an educational centre Ionad Cultúrtha an Phiarsaigh where much of the local history is explained.

 

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So, we headed back to London, with our spirits refreshed. The beauty of these landscapes bring a smile to the most jaded hearts.

In truth though, the part missing from this blog was the best – the smiles laughter and chat between old friends.

Slán go fóill Cuisle!

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One year on the Road

Just a few pictures from every month over the last year …

Not the ‘best bits’, because all too often there’s not a photo record of them. Just clusters of pictures to give a flavour of our wonderful adventure since leaving London twelve months ago.

We’re hoping the pictures say it all. If you haven’t been following the blog, this should sum it up.

And of course, dear family and friends (the old and the new!), please get in touch with all your news.

We’re having fun but we miss you all.💚

November/December

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December/January

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January/February

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February/March

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March/April

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April/May

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May/June

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June/July

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July/August

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August/September

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October/November

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The last shot was from 6.00 am this morning. The classic Angkor Wat at dawn. More from Cambodia in our next post.

‘Follow’ to keep in touch.

 

Home & Away

It was Anne who first suggested a trip back ‘home’ as part of our journey, and it turned 20170925_193914-705x1253out to be a great idea. Of course home needs to be in parenthesis as our house is still rented out and despite all the wonderful family and friends we have been  able to catch up with, the local haunts revisited and familiar food and beverages consumed, it still feels like we are ‘on the road’, although in a very familiar environment. Landing at Heathrow (yes there was light rain!), the Piccadilly line to North London where we’ve spent the last three decades brought a smile to both our faces.

We’ve spent just a few short weeks in these refreshing, cooler climes and now before we know it, we’re flying back to Kuala Lumpur later today.

20170925_212953-612x816So this blog post is not like the others. Whole sections of this part of our trip are not photographically recorded – those times were spent in the company of loved ones, family and dear friends, catching up, talking – often late into the night, and just hanging out with each other smiling, laughing and enjoying the moments. Inevitably there were people we failed to see or others where we only had a brief time to share stories of these last ten months. But that’s life and there’ll be plenty more to share when we finally return.

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We managed to catch England and Scotland in the last throes of summer, so there were blue skies and sunshine interspersed with those grey days which will soon be the norm for the autumn and winter to come. It was wonderful to walk in the still green countryside and feel a cool breeze on a long warm evening. Fond memories to take back to SE Asia.

Of course we are visiting a country that has been crushed by seven years of ‘austerity’, a political dogma that has hurt so many and visibly damaged so much of the infrastructure that ordinary folk rely on. People stressed and depressed trying to do a job in sectors like health, social care and education, where funding cuts make it is impossible to deliver to those in need. Meanwhile wealthy politicians make light of the million plus people, many who are working hard every single day, yet rely on food banks to survive. There is a palpable viciousness here and the ticking time bomb of Brexit looks set to make it worse.

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Sign of the times. Poundland Wood Green – once famous for its Banksy on the wall is now reduced to 90p land

But for us, our thoughts are now all about the next stage of our trip, we feel lucky to have the chance of adventure and the resources to backpack the world. We feel energised by all the company of these last weeks and are keen to get back to diving again in Komodo.

Our flights from KL to Denpesar on Saturday and then to Flores the next day may yet be disrupted by the rumbling Mount Agung, that looked so majestic and peaceful just a few weeks ago. But that’s a story for the next blog.

Scotland

After a few days in London, happily spent with Oona and close friends we flew up to Edinburgh to see Grant and Virginia – who were busy preparing a film shoot in the Outer Hebredies with Stella (looking forward to seeing the end result!). Edinburgh has its own character, steep streets with elegant Georgian gardens and buildings, all overlooked by the castle. And now the tram line is working, its easy to get to and to get around.

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The tenement buildings add real character to Edinburgh

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The railway station still has lots of  grand Victorian flourishes

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An old Saab – a fabulous prop for a road movie!

The Tower of Glenstrae

And then we were off out West, back to Glasgow by train and then on to the fabulous Tower of Glenstrae  and our dear friends Maggie and Takki, where we like to think we started this adventure in November last year. This time our good friend Anne joined us, her first visit to the tower, and conversations, wine and whisky flowed long into the nights as old friends reconnected in a wonderful environment.

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The tower from the ruins of Kilchurn Castle

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Rainbow over the Loch
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Storm clouds add to the atmosphere

We made the most of the good weather with a trip to Mull, thanks to Takki for all the driving, and providing the brilliant walking weather!

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Glorious walking in Mull
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The evening ferry back to the mainland was idyllic

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After Anne L headed back to Glasgow, the weather stayed (mostly) kind and we explored Stirling (great castle) and the magnificent Kelpies, where again the stormy sky added to the dramatic environment.

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The low grey clouds flying by added to the grandeur of the Kelpies

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A brief stop in Glasgow for haggis, neeps, tatties and some street art, then back to London town.

We enjoyed our time there, connecting with friends (thanks for the grand shed accommodation Julie!), organising our visa for the next two months in Indonesia and shopping for essentials. Then we spent a wonderful week of family time in Bristol – great to see Pam in good spirits, before heading to Stroud to catch up with Simon, Liz and family. Back to stay with Mary in London.  And that is about it.

But as I said at the start this blog is missing the core part of our trip ‘home’. The hugs, the smiles, the craic and the loved ones – you’re with us in our hearts every step of the way.

Our plane is about to depart, goodbye London town… Asia, here we come!

 

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