Posts Tagged With: spectacular

Skellig Michael. Forget ‘Star Wars’. It’s more like ‘Close Encounters of the Bird Kind’.

Finally I got onto Skellig Michael after three tries over two years. The island is 12 km off the Kerry coast and to get there you need quite a bit of persistence and a lot of luck. Fortunately the monks were smiling on an unseasonably warm day in early June. In fact we were in the third week of a sunny spell like no one could remember. Day after day over 20 degrees.

I really was excited as 12 of us boarded the first ferry of the day out of Portmagee, one of 15 that have permits, Twelve of the lucky 12,000 a year to visit.  Leaving the calm, blue harbour of pretty Portmagee, its painted cottages reflected as if by a mirror, we headed towards the mystical island.

IG3C8568

Leaving the harbour at Portmagee

IG3C8565

The village of Portmagee.  Reflective calm

But first we sailed past the nearby Little Skellig, Skellig Michael’s twin rock. George Bernard Shaw said of Skelllig Michael following a visit in 1910, it was the most fantastic and impossible rock in the world”.  Like its big brother, Little Skellig is if anything more jagged and more precipitous and more impossible. As we sailed around the island constantly changing our view different faces were revealed.

IG3C8828

Little Skellig I

IG3C8833

Little Skellig II

IG3C8811

Little Skellig III.

These islands defy geological truth. The Devonian sandstone protrusions shouldn’t be there. It is easy to see how the ancients would have believed they got there by the hand of God. Jagged needles of stone, rocky barbs, thrown into the sea by an angry deity.  Piled one on the other. I can see little vegetative life. Useful to no man.

But useful to birds they are.  Little Skellig is painted white with birds and their droppings. Gannets, gannets and gannets.  Some say 50,000 of them. I can’t not think though of Monty Python and the Bookshop Sketch.  ‘Do you have Olsen’s Standard Book of British Birds? The Expurgated version. The one without the gannet.’

IG3C8720

Gannets on Little Skellig

IG3C8793

Did I mention gannets?

IG3C8785

Natural arch at the northern end of Little Skellig

This is the second largest such colony in the world. There doesn’t seem to be room for anything else as every rock ledge is crowded. A majestic sea bird, second in size only to the albatross, the sky is filled with their gliding forms as some soar effortlessly around our boat.

IG3C8777

Every surface is occupied by a gannet

IG3C8728

A gannet glides past our boat

We head to the Big Skellig.  In much more comfort I should say than the monks who arrived in their curraghs in the 7th Century, or even George Bernard Shaw who in 1904 was rowed by 10 oarsmen who took 2½ hours for the trip. As the island loomed, its jagged peaks towering over us,  to me it seemed softer than the never-occupied Little. There were patches of seductive vivid green on its slopes.

IG3C8846

As we head to the south Skellig Michael is revealed

IG3C8873

Looking back northwards towards Little Skellig

IG3C8919

Skellig Michael looms.  Approaching from the north

We tied up temporarily against a set of concrete steps and you had to time your leap with the rising and sinking of the boat. They warned us about the steps to the monastery but no mention of this.  It would be impossible to land in any kind of swell. I have heard stories of visitors getting to the island but not being able to disembark.

This was not the first place the monks landed but one of three used over the centuries and the only one used today.  This choice  historically provided the opportunity to get ashore regardless of wind direction.  Above us winds a set of steps of stone heading straight up the mountain. This path is not now used.

IG3C8907

Steps rise to the monastery from the north landing place.  Currently not used.

Instead we follow a path that snakes south, clinging to the cliff edge past nesting sea birds on sheer cliffs to the start of another set of steps that is the current route up.

IG3C9392

The access road along the eastern face of the island.  The main steps to the monastery rise up the saddle between the two peaks.

But then I see my first puffin and then another and then they are everywhere. These cute and protected birds are the stuff of legend and a reason alone to ensure your visit is in late Spring or early Summer. We all of us turn into expert wildlife photographers producing copy fit for National Geographic. It is impossible not to take a great photo.

IG3C9026

My first sighting of puffins

IG3C9104

Poser.

IG3C9154

Close Encounters of the Bird Kind.

But I am going to pass on the puffins for the moment. I will have more to say about them in another place. It’s not just puffins though. They share the rocks and crevices with many others. Guillemots clustered together with a similar upright stance on the narrowest of ledges, looking for all the world like penguins. Kittiwakes with specially designed claws that enable them to cling on to their precarious piece of rock. Razorbills with their distinctive white streaks to the eyes. Gulls, terns and others such as shearwaters that I didn’t see. An aquatic avian paradise.

IG3C9032

Guillemots and kittiwakes nesting on the cliff

IG3C9038

Kittiwakes grab their spot wherever they can

IG3C8979

Razorbills

The main purpose of any visit to this place though is to see the monastery. Not tackling the 611 steps to the stone structures atop the northern peak would be like visiting the Guinness factory and not having a pint. The journey up is spectacular but so is the reward.

IG3C9054

Visitors start the climb

IG3C9065

In the footsteps of the monks

IG3C9182

The final leg heads up from Christ’s Saddle, the area between the two peaks

It is considered the best example of an early monastery in Ireland and is of world significance. Developed between the sixth and eighth centuries it is truly remarkable for its preservation.  A series of terraces contains six ‘clochán’-type beehive cells, two oratories, stone crosses, slabs and a later medieval church.   The cells and oratories are all of dry-built corbel construction. This unique method of overlapping stones giving an igloo shape to the outer wall but more regularly rectangular inside is very efficient at keeping out wind and water and have been doing so for 1,500 years.  Other terraces housed gardens. Vegetables were believed to have been grown but their main source of food was fish, birds and eggs. The monks led a simple life of foraging and prayer and sought out remote places such as this, as the hardship and sacrifice proved their devotion, until the island was abandoned in the 12th or 13th century.

IG3C9221

IG3C9289

Rich archaeological heritage including beehive huts and a high cross

IG3C9245

Inside a beehive hut

IG3C9259

View through the window of the church

While regaining our breath, one of the OPW guides Catherine, who has been doing this for 18 years gave us the benefit of her wisdom. And cheerfully took my photo as I and countless others posed for the de rigeur ‘selfie’ shot with Little Skellig in the background. Funny how small Ireland is.  I had met Catherine at a music festival, two years ago.

IG3C9286

Proof I was there

For some monks sharing this isolation with other monks was still not enough. On the higher south peak there is an hermitage, where a monk is believed to have led a solitary life. You can’t reach it now but just getting there involve huge risk and athleticism, No steps in places just toe holds cut into the rock face. And squeezing through the notorious Eye of the Needle. In the accompanying photo you can just see the terraces across the valley near the very top of the South Peak.

IG3C9201

The South Peak.  You can just see the stone walls of the Hermitage near the peak.

IG3C9200

A close up of the terraces at the Hermitage site.

I can but wonder at the devotion and sacrifice of these people. Their zeal to be closer to God seemed almost to have given them super powers.

Our time at the top though was all too short. Conscious all the time of getting back to the boat I returned down the mountain gingerly negotiating the steps to the bottom. Just a little quicker I have to say than the way up. I surprised myself actually at how doable the climb was and though I saw many struggling I saw no one give up.

IG3C9400

The southern shore of the island.  One lighthouse is visible on the right

IG3C9407

view of the south peak and the road to the second lighthouse

IG3C9452

The main landing spot for the monks with the ancient steps up the valley

You can’t get everywhere on the island though.  The road to the lighthouses (there are two of them) is closed and they can only be seen from the ocean.  In fact on the way home our helpful skipper from Casey’s took us around the southern shore where aside from the lighthouse you can see the other landing points I mentioned.

I met Christina, a fellow Aussie, who was lucky enough to get onto the boat during her short visit to Ireland.  It was impossible not to be infected by simply being on this ‘impossible rock’.  The joy on her face was real as it was on the faces of the others that were privileged enough to get there on such a warm sunny day.

This will be a lifelong treasured memory for us all.

IG3C9345

IG3C9476

 

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Connemara Colours. Winter in the Maumturks.

Sometimes you get lucky.

On a Saturday late in November I made a quick trip to Galway to attend a concert in a friend’s house in the heart of Connemara. Now as readers of this blog will know I love the many moods of Connemara and relished the opportunity to spend a little time there. The weather is not always kind however.  You can expect mist on six out of ten days. But if you spend enough time in this surprising country occasionally you are well rewarded.

I had heard reports of snow but had no real expectations. I was not prepared for what awaited me though as I drove a circuitous route in and out of Galway and Mayo between Lough Corrib and Lough Mask.

Near the village of Cong (famous for its association with the Quiet Man, but I will be quiet on that for the moment),  I saw snow on the ranges to the west.  So of course I headed in that direction along the shore of Lough Mask until I reached the village of Finny.   The white shrouded backdrop above the little yellow church were now within reach.  These are part of the Sléibhte Mhám Toirc (or the Maumturks).  Not so well known as the Twelve Bens, which lie on the other side of the Inagh Valley, they are less rugged but with their brilliant white caps reflecting the sizzling sunlight they were no less spectacular.

As the sun and clouds and rain and mist fought for dominance an amazing winter palette was in full display.  Everything contributed.  The sky, the hills, the snow, lakes and rivers, stone walls, pastures and paddocks.   The snow caps would change from grey to dazzling white and then glow golden orange with the descending sun.  The sky was at once black then blue as the storm passed, the hills were orange, brown, red and green.  The country sparkled.

I was lucky and happy.  To be in such a stunningly beautiful place where a world class vista was around each corner.  And so grateful that I could capture some of those fleeting moments with my Canon.

Words are irrelevant.

IG3C8848IG3C8859IG3C8887IG3C8927IG3C8969IG3C8992IG3C9024IG3C9061IG3C9070IG3C9078-PanoIG3C9100IG3C9122IG3C9181IG3C9213IG3C9232IG3C9248IG3C9255IG3C9269IG3C9275IG3C9310IG3C9336IG3C9347IG3C9366IG3C9381IG3C9401IG3C9408IG3C9427IG3C9433IG3C9462IG3C9514IG3C9529IG3C9555-HDRIG3C9690IG3C9717

 

 

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dingle Peninsula. The Irish Alps

I have blogged about Dingle quite a few times and posted many photos. Even the name has a delightful ringle to it.  So what else could I possibly say about it?  But. There’s the thing about Ireland. There are always surprises and you can go back time after time and each time it’s like you’re there for the first time.

It was the end of February and my annual pilgrimage to Ballyferriter was completed (I have written about this Festival in previous years and it delivered yet again). It was time to go home. I’d been up that night until 4am playing tunes with wonderful people whose friendship is renewed every year.  That’s what’s great about Festivals.  It’s not just the music.

Anyway, during my short time in bed I lay awake listening to the wind lashing and the hail thrashing. A wild night.  Next morning it was calm and there were patches of sun, so I decided to head around the Slea Road back to Dingle, one of my favourite drives. I’d had Aidan Connolly in the cd player all weekend so it was time for a change. I stopped to retrieve a new CD and something made me look back towards Mt Brandon. I was stunned by the view. Completely shrouded in snow with Ballyferriter nestled at the bottom. This is what I saw.

kerry2_154

Mt Brandon, the third highest mountain in Ireland looms over Ballyerriter.

A quick change of plans and I headed the other way making the instant decision to return via Conor Pass.

Perhaps a little foolhardy but the weather looked ok and I doubted I would get another opportunity like this. It turned out to be an inspired decision. As I got closer to the pass the patchwork of paddocks gave way to a carpet of white.  The weather came and went in waves as I headed up the hill.   I was greeted at the top by another snowfall. But also enough sun to revel in the alpine glory. I was in the heart of the Kingdom and I had been granted admission to the Palace. I was lost for words and I really can’t describe the feeling I had immersed in this wilderness.

On this occasion I will let the camera talk. And talk it will. Loudly. Driving over the top and down Conor Pass, there were surprises with every turn in the road . I headed to the villages of Cloghane and Brandon and out to Brandon Point and then returned along the coast to Aughacasla. All the time snow clad ranges framed the views.

Please enjoy these photos of an Ireland rarely seen.

kerry2_157

The green fields of Kerry on the road up the Conor Pass, from Dingle, turned progressively whiter,

kerry2_160

and whiter,

kerry2_159

and whiter,

kerry2_167

and whiter.

dingle-4

The view from the top.

kerry2_172

Heading down the mountain

kerry2_2

Corrie lakes in the glacial valley

kerry2_10

The start of the steep bit! Or the end if you’re coming down.

kerry2_13

kerry2_14

And then…..

kerry2_18

It started to snow.

kerry2_26

It’s not easy to photograph snow.

kerry2_30

At the bottom of the pass is this view towards Mt Brandon.

dingle-1

And the light kept changing.

kerry2_34

This is still Ireland.

kerry2_38

The Irish Alps

kerry2_41

Slieveanea from the base of the Pass

kerry2_51

Approaching Cloghane

kerry2_55

A view of Mt Brandon near Cloghane

kerry2_56

Cloghane with Mt Brandon.

kerry2_57

Mt Brandon looms above Cloghane Church

kerry2_61

Mt Brandon

kerry2_66

The sun shone

kerry2_69

The road from Cloghane to Brandon

kerry2_70

looking across the bay to Beenoskee

kerry2_72

And then it was raining

kerry2_75

Fenced in

kerry2_78

The mountain disappears in the mist

kerry2_85

View from the pier at Brandon

kerry2_86

The pier at Brandon

kerry2_89

kerry2_90

Another view across the bay towards Beenoskee

kerry2_92

Incongruity.  Surfers in the bay.

kerry2_100

Colours.

kerry2_105

The village of Brandon

kerry2_109

kerry2_115

Cappagh Strand near Brandon village

kerry2_116

View across Brandon Bay and Cappagh Strand

kerry2_126

Cappagh Strand

kerry2_131

View from Cappagh Strand back towards Mt Brandon

kerry2_139

The village of Cloghane

kerry2_142

Cloghane or have I been teleported to Switzerland?

kerry2_147

The hills are alive with the sound of……

kerry2_150

A last view of Mt Brandon.

Categories: My Journey, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Torr Road Drive, Co Antrim. Lime Kilns, Game of Thrones and sublime beauty.

Travelling by car along the north coast of Antrim is spectacular to say the least. As seems to be the way of the world the drive has to have a label. So this is the Causeway Coastal Route because it features the Giant’s Causeway. I will blog on this and other places in due course because they warrant attention. But after Ballycastle, if you are heading east, the Causeway Coastal Route turns inland (away from the Coast – go figure!) towards Cushendun and Cushendall.  So most travellers miss a little pocket of Antrim that is staggeringly beautiful. This is the Torr Road which hugs the coast to Cunshendun.  Ireland is noted for its green of course but in many parts that green turns brown and red in winter.  Not here.  In this part of Antrim you seem to get the Forty Shades all year.

ig3c1463

View from the Torr Road, Antrim

ig3c1475

Green and gold.  Just add sunshine.  Torr Road.  Antrim

ig3c1607a

Green slopes that run down to the sea.  Torr Road, Antrim. That current looks pretty treacherous.  Scotland is visible on the horizon.

ig3c1616

Coastal view, Torr Road.

ig3c1670

Fences need repair whatever the weather.  Torr Road, Antrim.

Of course the road leads to Torr Head.  This is the closest point to Scotland and from here you look across to the Mull of Kintyre.  It was very cold this morning, so I resisted the temptation to climb to the top. At the top of the headland is a tower which watches over the Sruth na Maoile (Straits of Moyle), a former haunt for privateers, and acted as a signal tower, passing on messages of ship movements to Lloyds of London.  There is also a now ruined, customs station which was abandoned in 1922. Its stark ruin brings an evocative supernal element to the gorgeous views both along the coast and back towards the hinterland.  Awaiting you, at the end of this drive at Cushendun, is the gateway to the Glens of Antrim, but that’s another story.

ig3c1484

Torr Head.

ig3c1518

Ruined Customs House, Torr Head.  Antrim.

ig3c1500

Ruins of Customs House, Torr Head

ig3c1493

ig3c1576

Phone Box looking towards, Torr Head.

On my first drive along this road I went past a turn off to Murlough Bay. It was an inconspicuous sign and nothing drew my attention to it. If it hadn’t been for my B&B hosts that night at Teach an Cheol, just out of Ballycastle then I would have missed this little gem entirely. They insisted I go back there before leaving Antrim. Thank you  Micheál and Catherine.

The single lane road to Murlough Bay snakes off the Torr Road across brilliant green paddocks, and then suddenly drops off the plateau winding both perilously and picturesquely down to the sea. Remarkable views open up.

ig3c2107

Limestone cliffs at Murlough Bay.

ig3c2129

ig3c2412

I passed a solid stone structure which intrigued me, so I dragged my eyes away from the view.  It was like nothing I had seen before and I later discovered it was a lime kiln where broken limestone rock was melted to produce quicklime. This was used for mortar or for agriculture. It was a thriving industry wherever limestone and coal (for fuel) was found.

ig3c2080

Lime kiln near Murlough Bay.  Front view.

ig3c2093

Lime Kiln from above.  Showing hole where lime and coal are loaded.

ig3c2388

Limestone cliffs

A little simple chemistry.  Limestone with the application of heat breaks down to lime with the release of carbon dioxide gas as in the following reaction

CaCO3 + heat → CaO + CO2

The reaction requires about 1000 °C. They were extremely common around Ireland and Britain, indeed in the mid 1800s there were believed to be 23,000 in Cork alone. There was plenty of limestone here with the surrounding cliffs. I’m guessing there was also a good supply of coal nearby too. I am always impressed by the beauty and solidity of the industrial architecture I come across here in Ireland. The stone work of the multiple arches over the air intake is stunning.

ig3c2128

So continuing down towards the coast I see a sign reminding me that this area was used to film episodes of Game of Thrones that hugely successful television series, still running. Of course you can see why. Film tourism has always been a big thing in Ireland what with The Quiet Man, Ryan’s Daughter, Father Ted, PS I Love You, and it continues with Game of Thrones and Star Wars.

Murlough bay is a place of singular beauty. You leave the car and walk along the track which follows the coast to a whitewashed cottage with the most perfect location in Ireland. There is a second small abandoned cottage; padlocked but in reasonable condition. A peek in the window and I can see some bottles of disinfectant and cloths suggesting a level of optimism by the owner. What a place for a holiday batch. Nearby there is another lime kiln.

This place is everything that makes Ireland beautiful. Cliffs, washing waves on rocky shores, boulder beaches, jagged headlands, green fields rolling into the sea, craggy islands, little coves. The surprising variety of landscape is a result of a rich geological melange which I might talk more about at another time, but I saw metamorphosed schist and gneisses, basalts, sandstone and conglomerate, limestone and of course the ever-present carpet of bog over it all. A geological history of 600 million years on display in this little bay.  Again a sign tells us a little cove here was used in another episode of GOT.

ig3c2137

Distant view of Murlough Bay

ig3c2165

Murlough Bay looking east.

ig3c2184

Murlough Bay looking west.

ig3c2192

Basalt outcrops forming islands and bays

ig3c2211

Murlough Bay.

ig3c2264

Murlough Bay.  Sandstone rock platform with narrow bands of conglomerate.

ig3c2279

Murlough Bay.  This view has sandstone, basalt, gneiss and limestone.  A geological melange.

ig3c2294

Murlough Bay.  Abandoned cottage on the shore.

ig3c2178

Another lime kiln on the beach at Murlough Bay.

Again a sign tells us a little cove here was used in another episode of GOT.

It is hard not to use clichés in describing this spot. I was the only one there and it was so quiet and so still. the only activity was a fishing boat, way out in the channel and the only noise was the ripples lapping the shore and the occasional squawk of a gull. There was an undisturbed equanimity and you could feel tension disappearing with the tide. Just me and my thoughts. I didn’t want to leave. I have been to so many beautiful places in Ireland, but not felt this way before. Surrounded by natural beauty, yet somehow otherworldly.

Extraordinary.

ig3c2323

ig3c1741

Categories: My Journey, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Blog at WordPress.com.