Monday, May 29, 2017

Visiting Valentia Island. Tracks of the Past.

Visiting Valentia Island
Tracks of the Past.
Looking down from Geokaun, towards slate quarry (centre left), lighthouse (centre)
and Cahersiveen (inlet on top right, with mountains on three sides).

Let’s go to Valentia Island. Lots to explore on this lovely island, including the tracks of an ancient, very ancient, tetra-pod, brilliant 360 degree views and bracing walks on the very edge of the Wild Atlantic Way.

Drive through Cahersiveen to the ferry terminal, just south of the town. Seven euros and a few minutes later and you’re landing at Knightstown, the capital of the island. The ferry service is continuous - virtually no waiting at all and the return fare per car is ten euro.

Stroll around Knightstown and its famous red-painted clock tower (late 1800s). Then it’s up the hill - don't head for Portmagee just yet - to a selection of places to visit. First is the working lighthouse at Cromwell Point, built (1841) over an old fort (Fort Fleetwood, built in 1653). You can see some of the original fort walls, incorporated into the light house. 

It is a small lighthouse, about 15 meters high and, for a small fee (5 euro for adults, 2.5 for kids), you can visit and stroll around. There is a guide there to explain the history and point out the only one of twenty two cannon remaining from its time as a heavily fortified fort built as a precaution against possible invasions from the Spanish and the French. 
Tracks from long ago
and far away.
Ireland was in the equator then!

An “invasion” of a different kind in modern times. There was a fair bit of damage around the lighthouse area in February 2016 when Storm Imogen struck. The combination of the storm and the Spring Tides produced enormous and powerful waves that hit the island for hours, moving massive rocks, flooding and destroying structures in their way.

There is no fee to view the Tetra Pod Trackway which is nearby and signposted. Park, and walk down the stony lane to the cliff. Here, roped off, you will see a series of footprints of a Tetra Pod, a large amphibian animal that walked on soft sediment here 385 million years ago! These footprints are now preserved in the rock as shallow impressions. There are a few of these trackways around the world. Tetra by the way means four while pod means foot and it is reckoned that this fellow was about a meter long.

On the ferry to Knightstown

A short trip away is the Slate Quarry, which had its heyday from 1818 to 1884 and provided very significant income for the island. After it closed, the government (in Westminster) provided two ships to enable hundreds emigrate to America. Below the mine, you can see a row of white houses built to accommodate miners from Wales whose experience was a big help to the venture. At its peak, the Valentia slate was famous and was used in the Paris Opera House and the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. A more humble use was to make tops for billiard tables!

Now you can, like we did, head for Geokaun Mountain, where you may drive or walk to the top. Entry for the drive is a fiver per car while for a pedestrian it is two euro. It is open all year round and the views at the top are 360 degrees and spectacular, taking in Valentia itself, the Skellig Islands, the Blasket Islands, Cahersiveen, and Dingle Bay. There are many information panels there. And also a side trip to see the Fogher Cliffs.

Fogher Cliffs on Valentia

And if you drive up, you’ll have plenty of energy for Bray Head which is nearer Portmagee. The car park here will cost you just two euro and the walk affords great views out towards the Skelligs and to the Kerry Cliffs on the mainland south of Portmagee. We did this walk last year and there is a brief account here.

You’ve been seeing the Skellig Islands all day and, with your appetite whetted, you may need to know more. In that case, visit the Skellig experience before you leave Valentia. We didn’t as we were keeping it for a rainy day, a rainy day that never came, though we did get the odd heavy shower! 
The Skelligs

You may now return to Knightstown and the ferry or may prefer to leave the island by the bridge to Portmagee and continue your trip on the Iveragh peninsula. After decades of talk and promises, work began on the bridge in September 1967 and it was opened on New Year’s Day 1971. It is 600 metres long, with a central swing span to allow vessels through and was constructed by P.J. Hegarty Ltd of Cork. After Valencia, there is a lot more to see and do on the Skellig Ring and we’ll cover some of it in the next post.

See also: Superb Lakeside Dinner at Carrig House
Coasts, Cliffs and Chocolate. Killorglin to Ballinskelligs
Calm and comfortable at Carrig House

Monday, April 24, 2017

Trip to Tipp. Holycross Abbey and Farney Castle

Trip to Tipp
Holycross Abbey and Farney Castle

Irish people have a great fondness for the seaside and, once the sun shines, head for the coasts. But remember there is much to see inland as well, especially in Tipperary, Ireland's largest inland county. We all know about the Rock of Cashel, the Glen of Aherlow, and Semple Stadium and there are many other places of interest there.

Took a trip to Tipp recently and visited Farney Castle and Holycross Abbey, two places not visited previously (see my list below). It turned out to be a very enjoyable day, helped by excellent food and drink at two cafés, Stef Hans in Thurles and the French Quarter in Tipperary Town.

Holycross, founded in 1180 by King Donal Mor O’Brien, has had its ups and downs but the old church is long back in use. It was added to during the 15th century and became a place of pilgrimage when a relic of the true cross was presented to the Cistercian monks there. 

It was suppressed by Henry VIII in the 16th century but it got off lightly compared to others. Eventually though it fell into ruin and was abandoned about 1650. After reconstruction the abbey was re-opened in 1975. 

Admission is free - you may wander around on your own - and guided tours can be arranged during the season; ring 086 1665869 or email Pay attention to your guide but there are some gorgeous little birds here, the colourful goldfinch, so keep an eye out for them darting about.

Henry VIII also turned his greedy eyes on Farney Castle. It, or at least the big round tower, was built in 1495 by the Butlers (Dukes of Ormond). The Butlers were well known to the King and this may have helped getting the tower returned to them a few years later.

Shortly after 1650 a Cromwellian soldier named Hulett took control of the castle but, just 10 years later, a Capt. William Armstrong (who had fought against Cromwell) was awarded the castle and he and his descendants lived there for 200 years.

Nowadays, still complete with murder hole, it is occupied by renowned knitwear designer and maker of fine porcelain Cyril Cullen and his wife Margie. His multi-coloured sweaters, undyed, are made from the wool of the Jacob Sheep.

Cyril gave us a most interesting tour of the Castle, basically two towers and the link between them. So much to see here, including memorabilia of his friend Sybil Connolly. He has made a gorgeous piece of pottery in her honour.
Farney Castle

The walls of the tower are over 12 foot wide! The stone stairs are built within the walls. And he opened a door in a room in the tower and showed us a Butler’s Pantry inside. He is still discovering doors, and secrets behind, here.

Lots of souvenirs from his international days. He helped set up a home knitwear industry in Lesotho and showed us a pair of delicately carved Ostrich eggs that he bought while helping the people there.

Unusual bits and pieces too such as a pair of Tibetan Bull door handles and a tea cup whose handle can be used to whistle for the butler in the pantry! Tours are daily and are well worth the six euro!

See also:

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My Best Visits. Ireland 2016

My Best Visits. Ireland 2016
Click on titles for short story of visit
Any tips for 2017?

1 - Newgrange, Co. Meath

2 - Hook Lighthouse, Co. Wexford

3 - King John's Castle, Limerick

4 - Millstreet Country Park, Co. Cork

5 - Crag Cave, Co. Kerry

6 - Fota Gardens & Arboretum, Co. Cork

7 - East Cork, worth a visit

8 - Hunt Museum, Limerick
See also: Out and about in Ireland 2016. Best Walks (for amateurs!)

Out and About in Ireland 2016

Some of the best walks - for amateurs!
Just click on title lines (blue) for details.
Any tips for 2017?

1 - Torc Mountain, Killarney

2 - Slieve League, Donegal
Sonia, in Cobh
Seven Heads Walk, Courtmacsherry, Co. Cork
Bray Head, Valentia Island, Co. Kerry
Ballycotton Cliff Walk, Co. Cork
Ring around Dingle (including walk on Dunmore Head), Co. Kerry

Urban/Suburban Walks

The Holy Ground Once More. A Walk in Cobh, Co. Cork
Blarney - Waterloo loop
The Old Youghal Road - Cork City Walk.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Crag Cave. Underground in Kerry

Crag Cave
Underground in Kerry

It was a wet and windy November morning as I pulled in to the car park at Crag Cave. Expecting to be more or less on my own, I was surprised to see lots of cars there and quite a few family groups heading for the entrance. 

“Ah, mid-term,” I thought. But it was more than that. It’s been many a year since I visited the cave (near Castleisland, Co. Kerry). Its not just a cave anymore. It’s the Kingdom’s Number One House of Fun, the Crazy Cave, a venue for Santa’s Winter Wonderland and for birthday parties too, school tours also of course. Wonder what Professor John Gunn from UCC and world renowned Welsh cave diver Martyn Farr, who discovered the cave in the early 1980s, would have made of it all!
Stalactite. Stalagmites grow up from the floor

We joined a queue but not the right one. Had we stayed where we were first, we might have been celebrating someone’s birthday. But we pulled out just in time and got our tickets for the cave, billed as Ireland’s Number One (they like that number down here) Showcave. We were joined by seven others and went underground with our young guide.

Discovered in 1983 and thought to be over 1 million years old Crag Cave is a magical wonderland of stalagmites and stalactites. Step into ancient history and wonder at Ireland’s most exciting show cave! 

At 3.82km long, Crag Cave is the longest cave in Kerry and the seventh longest cave in the Republic, offering one of the finest examples of limestone cave formation in Ireland. Etched over time into a natural wonder, this 350m show cave offers an amazing view of how a cave is formed. 

There are incredible examples of pillars, stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones, curtains and straws that have been forming incrementally over the last 15,000 years. And what you see is only a fraction of what will be available in the future, not necessarily the near future you understand!

It is easy enough to get around the various chambers and your guide is well versed in the detail, pointing out the main features, most of which are named: the big Stalactite (the one that develops from the top, think of the middle T as standing for top), the bog Chamber (“Minas Tirith”), the Flowstone, the Kitchen, Diarmuid and Grainne, the Crystal Gallery, and the Madonna. Bats dwell here but you are unlikely to see them as they retreat into deeper chambers once the tours start in the morning.

You are underground for about 40 minutes. Just wrap up well before you go down. The temperature is a constant 10 degrees, ideal for storing wine and growing mushrooms but I saw neither! The rain, which had been forecast for that morning, had vanished when we surfaced and the blue areas in the sky extended slowly as we headed off for an afternoon walk in Valentia Island. The Kingdom has much to offer!

When the 'tite and the 'mite meet, they form a column.

TEL: +353 (0)66 714 1244 10:00 – 18:00 MON – FRI / 10:00 – 18:00 SAT & SUN
FAX: +353 (0)66 714 2352 - WEBSITE: WWW.CRAGCAVE.COM

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Sky Walk on Valentia. Islands in the Sun

Sky Walk on Valentia
Islands in the Sun
The showers were dying out as we drove through Portmagee and across the bridge onto Valentia Island last week. I had no detailed plan in mind. But I got lucky. And got to see some of the best views of the Wild Atlantic Way.
From the car park

I had a vague notion of crossing the island and starting at Knightstown at the other end. Then I spotted a sign for Bray Head. I haven’t been there before. I said to myself. So I followed the road to the left.

Soon I was in a decent sized car park and right here the spectacular views started, across to the mainland and out over the ocean to the islands including, of course, the Skelligs (the location for a recent Star Wars film). If I hadn’t travelled another step, I’d have been happy with the trip.
Portmagee (on the mainland), across the bridge

But there is a rough track (the soil has been stripped off) right to the top of Bray Head. Your destination is marked by the shell of a two storey building. The walk is easy enough and the rise is gradual but you will need good footwear. Rain gear too wouldn't go astray.
A passing shower!

We felt a few drops and could see the showers out by the islands but luckily the blue sky prevailed and we enjoyed the most fantastic views, the light changing as the odd cloud came and went.
Valentia left, mainland right

Then we saw a hare racing down the track towards us. He spotted us and broke off to his left. A good few seconds later, a pack of hounds came coursing down, noses to the ground, circling around where the hare had exited until they settled on his path. Think he got away though. A discordant moment, unexpected.

Back then to concentrating on the walk with lots of stops for photos, of course. I think it took us over 30 minutes to reach the old concrete shell and enjoy the views to the left and right. We could have continued a loop here but decided to go back down the way we had come.

On the way down, we stopped time and time again, looking back to the Skelligs, across to the cliffs and down towards the channel between the island and the mainland and the bridge of course.

Soon, we were climbing over the steps by the locked gate at the start/end of the walk. This is very close to the car park where’ll you’ll see a detailed map of the loop walk. By the way, there is a parking charge of two euro. A tiny price to pay for the opportunity to enjoy such beauty.

From Bray Head. The Skelligs, by the way, were the location for a recent Star Wars film.
See also:

Climbing Torc Mountain. Take the path to the top!

Climbing Torc Mountain
Take the path to the top!
On the summit. What else would you be doing on a Saturday morning?
You walk through the final gap on the ridge at the top of Torc Mountain and the most gorgeous view is suddenly revealed. You have no inkling of this, there is no gradual opening up. This is sudden and magnificent, the lakes of Killarney and the town in a beautiful blue and green and white setting. A view worth walking for, worth climbing for.
And let me make it plain. This is not real mountain climbing. For sure, the mountain is real, all 535 metres of it. But there is a pathway to the top, partly of well laid flat stones and partly of mesh-covered railway sleepers laid two by two. 

And let me also say that it is not that easy. It is 535 metres of climbing uphill, path or no path. And you also have to walk more than a mile from the start to reach the path. And a mile back when you’ve come down, but that is easy to complete in the warm glow of satisfaction.

Start of the track
Flat stones and (luxury!) sleepers
It is so worth it. I was up there a few years back and knew what to expect. But still the sudden sight of the beauty below took my breath away. Well, whatever breath I had left!

So where do you start? On the Muckross Road out of Killarney, keep an eye out for the sign on your left, just beyond the main entrance to Muckross Park (and house). The sign says: Old Kenmare Road.

Take that and drive up through the wooded slopes. You might well get lucky as we were on the two occasions that we did it to see a deer or two. Last Saturday, we saw a magnificent stag as he crossed the road.
The lakes and Killarney below

After a few minutes, you arrive at the car park. This car park is above Torc Waterfall. Leave the car here but don't leave your sturdy walking shoes and rain gear behind. Water and a little food won’t go astray either. Walking sticks will also help.

Leave the car park and go through the barrier on the old Kenmare Road. There is one steep section on the rough road, a hint of things to come. Before that though, you cross a small bridge. Here, follow the yellow sign to the left. 

About twenty minutes in (some of you will be quicker), we saw the small blue sign (on our right) and the first of the flat stones of the path to the top. You don't see the path stretching out, just a small section at a time. It is not a scar on the mountain or anything like that.

A group on the way up
Sometimes, the going is easy. The path has been laid out in a zig zag fashion to take the sting out of the slope. The stones are well laid and you usually find a solid spot for your foot. But be careful. The sleepers are the bonus, the going here is easy as they almost give you a bounce. Luxury on the mountain!

As you rise, you see that road to Kenmare sneaking away through the valley, runners and walkers making their way. You get a great view of the valley behind and soon you see some lakes to your left. Later, higher up, you see Lake Guitane to your right. But still no sign of the big view at the other side.

I think the climb, from the start of the path, took us over an hour, the descent less than an hour. We were among the first of the day’s climbers and there was little or no “traffic” on the way up. 

View to the left during ascent
It was different on the way down as we met quite a few but there is a lot of courtesy here and people step aside to let others progress, often with a smile and chat. Be careful though where you step off - you don't want to get stuck in a patch of wet muddy ground.

The lakes to the left and right were more and more revealed as we rose. Are we there yet? The answer in the mountains is often no. Sometimes you see just one ridge and you think that’s it. But that is seldom the case. There is another ridge beyond that and then another. So relax, take a break, take in the scenery and soon you’ll be there.

There’ll be words of encouragement from those coming down too. And it won't be long now. There is a short stiff bit just before the breakthrough and what a breakthrough, what a stunning view!

Clean and green in the valley floor
And no matter how long you stay at the top, you’ll won’t get that initial thrill again. Don't get me wrong. Stay at the top and soak it all in for as long as you wish. It is a rare delight and a privilege to be there.

I must admit, we didn't stay too long there this time. The biting wind was strong and uncomfortable and the ground was rather muddy. Overall, the day was dry. The forecast, on which we relied, was spot-on. So reluctantly, we turned our back on Killarney and headed back down. 

By the way, be just as careful on the way down. Watch where you put those feet and be sure and encourage those on the way up. But don't give them false encouragement. If the summit is thirty minutes away, don't tell them its fifteen!

Beginning the descent