Friday, 18 September 2015

Ireland, Part One - The Dingle Peninsula

Want to hear something crazy?  Back in June we decided that as soon as the girls finished school on July 10 we were going to head to Ireland for a week - and I wasn’t very excited about it.  Isn’t that insane?  I was going to have the chance to explore and see the great emerald isle, and I kind of didn’t want to go.  Now please give me a chance to explain.  While I did want to see Ireland, I was not excited about planning and packing up our household of four for yet another trip.  Woe is me, right.  But please realize that over the nine months previous we had spent around 55 nights in hotels, I’ve packed and unpacked and done loads of post trip laundry over and over again, I’ve spent hours and hours on the internet trying to find hotels with family rooms that sleep four, and quite frankly, I was getting a little burned out on it all.  Now I fully realize that if these are the worst of my problems, I am a very, very lucky girl, but for the sake of keeping this blog honest, that is just how I felt. 

And then we went to Ireland and my how quickly my feelings changed!  I absolutely fell head over heals in love with Ireland, everything about it – the people, the landscape, the fresh air, the adorable villages, the food, the sheep.  I soaked it all up and when it was time to leave seven days later, I didn’t want to go.  Keep reading and looking at the pictures and I think you’ll soon understand why.

To be honest, my mood about this whole adventure started to improve from the very beginning.  We were taking the ferry across the Irish Sea, leaving from a town in Wales called Holyhead and landing two hours later in Dublin.  The drive across Wales that morning was beautiful, taking us within sight of the mighty hills of Snowdonia National Park and along the majestic northern coast where castles dot the hillsides.  We made it to Holyhead and after a brief wait we boarded the ferry.  I love riding ferries – really, really love them.  I cannot explain it, but this is one of my favorite ways to travel.  You drive on and park your car...

find a seat by a window in the lounge and sit back and enjoy the ride as you watch the waves passing by...

the land you just left gets farther and farther away...

 while the land you are travelling to suddenly appears on the horizon getting closer and closer.  There is coffee on board, wine or beer if you like, and food.  

With a good book in hand, a hot coffee to sip and the Irish Sea out the window, what isn’t there to like about riding the ferry.  
A little something about the Irish Sea – it is extremely choppy!  We’ve been on plenty of car ferries before but never have I felt one rocking and rolling like this one.  

Eric likes to go up on deck to take pictures.  I went up to join him and was almost blown off the deck.  I could barely keep my eyes open the wind was that strong.  Walking across the deck was treacherous.  The only safe way to move about was to clutch a railing if one was within grasp.  

There was a man in front of me carefully making his way to the other side of the deck.  He was wearing sunglasses.  Suddenly, the wind whipped the sunglasses right off his face and they went hurdling across the deck and came to rest teetering on the very back of the ship.  The area was cordoned off, no doubt so no one was blown over the side of the ship.  There was no way for him to retrieve them for fear he might end up going overboard.  He carried on wrestling the wind to get to the other side of the boat, but now without his sunglasses.

Taylor and Ellie decided to go up on deck and check it out.

Before going I made Taylor promise to hold on tightly to Ellie the entire time.  That wind could have easily knocked our tiny Ellie right over. 

We spent the first several days on the western side if Ireland on the Dingle peninsula.  Yes I’m 42 years old but I giggle a little each time I say that name.  It’s named after the little town of Dingle that sits out on the peninsula, but why that little town was called Dingle, I do not know.  On a side note, while we were out on the Dingle peninsula we discovered the true meaning of the word “dingleberry.”  Do you know what sheep poo looks like?  Round little brown balls (sorry to be so graphic but it’s necessary for the story).  If you’ve ever seen a sheep up close, you may have noticed that sometimes those little round brown balls get stuck in the long wool on their behinds and hang their like – you guest it – berries on a bush.  That my friends is the true definition of a dingleberry.  You will never be able to call someone a dingleberry again without laughing.

Sorry, I digress.  Back to the Dingle peninsula which is quite something to see.  Huge lush green hills often covered in clouds and where the land meets the mighty waters of the Atlantic Ocean...

the views are just stunning, and dramatic, and jaw dropping.  

Oh, and the beaches - let's not forget the beautiful long stretches of beach, not necessarily what I was expecting to find in Ireland, but they are there and that is where we headed first.  We spent our first full day in Ireland exploring the Peninsula and our first stop was a long beach on the north side called the Maharees. 

The thick gray clouds overhead looked like they were going to burst open at any moment and pummel us with huge raindrops.

But they didn't.  Their bark was worse than their bite that day.  

The weather may have started out a bit on the gloomy side, but this was Ireland and weather such as this is to be expected, so that didn’t stop us from playing on beach.   

A beach after all is full of all sorts of treasures, no matter the weather.  And creatures too, and the girls had fun exploring the sand for whatever they could find and filling their pockets (the half a crab did not end up in anyones pocket, thank goodness).  

And the beach is the perfect place to make a new friend...

or in this case two new friends.  We weren't sure where these puppies came from, and they ran off and disappeared as quickly as they had come.  I hope they made it home safe.  

On the walk to the beach we passed stacks of cages waiting to go back out to the sea...

and when you pass a sign like this tacked onto the side of a building, you know you are in Ireland.

From the Maharees we headed up into the cloud covered hills that run the length of the Dingle peninsula.  These were the hills we had seen off in the distance when we were down on the beach.  The landscape was rocky and rugged and the road was narrow with a harrowing dropoff to one side.  

In some places, the road wasn't even wide enough for two cars to pass.  Perhaps this sign with it's warning "TURN BACK NOW" says it best.

The clouds were constantly shifting as we drove higher and higher, sometimes cutting off your view completely only to open back up again a few seconds later letting you see the valley below dotted with small lakes. 

We reached Connar Pass at the top and parked the car, heading by foot up the soggy hillside to try and reach the very top.   

Again, the views came and went as the clouds passed right over us, sometimes giving us a glimpse of Dingle Bay to the south, the direction we were heading.  

As we tumbled down the other side of the hill, the valley washed us out and right into the streets of the colorful little town of Dingle.   

Dingle is actually the largest town on the peninsula, with a whopping total of 1,920 people as of the last count.  It's twisty, hilly streets are lined with little shops and restaurants as this is a good stopping point for tourists.  

Boats and kayaks are launched here from Dingle Harbor heading out towards the larger waters of Dingle Bay.  

And apparently there is a resident dolphin named Fungie that lives in the harbor...

 although this as close as we got to Fungie while we were in Dingle. 

From Dingle we continued our journey towards the end of the peninsula, stopping at The Skipper Restaurant along the way for a lazy, late lunch which we ate outside, not something I was expecting to do much of in Ireland.  

It's a French inspired restaurant by the way.  You wouldn't have guessed that by the name would you.  And this was the start of our love affair with food in Ireland.

Over the course of the next week we would continue to have great food, and the Skipper was the launching point.  A delicious, mostly local meal washed down with a beer that was brewed just a few miles down the road.  

We continued down the narrow road heading toward the end of the Dingle peninsula, an area called Slea Head Drive.  The road wraps right around the end of the peninsula hugging the dramatic coastline.  

Along the way we stopped to see some ruins of a fort sitting high on a cliff over the ocean.  You cannot enter the old fort as the edge is perched precariously on the cliff... 

unless you are a cat that is.  The fences that keep people away from the edge of danger don't work very well on a furry four legged friend.  

 When we walked down by the fort, we parked by the Stonehouse Restaurant, an interesting and unique building made entirely of stone.  

And by entirely, I really mean entirely.  Look at the roof.  Those aren't shingles.  It isn't slate.  They are stones, stacked up just as the walls are.   

As we continue to drive around the end of the peninsula, we searched and searched for a beach that Eric was sure was there somewhere, but with high rocky cliffs as far as the eyes could see, it was hard to image a beach could exist on the tip of this peninsula.  

But then we spotted it, a place called Coumeenole.  It's a tiny little beach and it sits at the base of a huge cliff, accessed only by a steep, narrow, road.  As tiny as it may be, this is one breathtaking place, with gigantic waves crashing into the dark rock, the turquoise waters churning from their power.  

We parked the car at the top and made our way down the steep road on foot towards the beach and as we got closer, the roar of the ocean smashing against the rocky land got louder and louder.  I was a little stunned when we finally reach the sand, what little there was, and see the crowd of people in the water, some in bathing suits, some in wet suits, and some in their undergarments (this is Europe after all).  

This beach is not for the faint of heart, or the inexperienced swimmer.  

The size of the waves coming in and the heavy pull of the current going back out - well let's just say I wasn't about to let Ellie or Leah play in the water here.  

It was getting late in the day and the girls really wanted to play some more on the beach, but as beautiful as this little beach was, it wasn't the right one for two little girls to play on.  So we headed back around the tip of the Dingle peninsula, retracing the route we had just taken and stopped at a place called Ventry Harbor.  It was a bit of a walk from the parking area to the beach, but along the way we passed hedges of brilliant pink and purple fuchsia.  

I have tried and tried to grow this plant back in Indiana but to no avail.  It never seems to grow much for me.  But here, in Ireland, you see them everywhere.  The hedges are covered with these bright flowers.   

We also passed this sign.

Duly noted - we will clearly beware of the bull and stay out of this field.  Thank you for the warning.

And then we reached the beach.  And this was the perfect beach to play and run on.

Lots of sands.  The waves were calmer inside the protected harbor.  

This was actually the harbor we had sat above having lunch earlier that day at The Skipper Restaurant.

And that is how we ended our first full day in Ireland...

on the beach again, just how we had started the day.  We'll be back tomorrow!

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