Pacific NW Road Trip

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Along the Point No Point Lighthouse beach

The only thing that’s better than having a great trip in foreign lands is having a great trip at home.

Saturday, June 15, Michael and I drove up to Seattle to pick up two very good friends who were arriving from their home in Hove, England.  They have hosted us many times and have shown us many incredible things (geographical, historical, cultural) in their very rich part of England.

We are delighted to finally have an opportunity to reciprocate and show them some of the wonders the Pacific Northwest has to offer.  We may not have the fields on which the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066 but we do have the fort (or a facsimile thereof) where Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805-1806.  We may not have the glorious chalk cliff walks of the Seven Sisters but we do have the beaches of Puget Sound (two bald eagles sighted within first moments of walk), the mountains of the Columbia River Gorge and the waterfalls of Silver Falls State Park.  No cozy village pubs?  Not to worry; we have a multitude of McMenamins and vineyards beyond number. In other words, we are ready to take on the old world!

Our first two nights have been spent in a nice water front (Appletree Cove) AirB&B in Kingston, Washington.  Perfect location for visiting with sister Cathy and family, which we spent yesterday doing.  Margaret and family came over from Seattle and we had a great day catching up on family news and seeing how much the boys (5 and 3) have grown and developed since our last visit one year ago.

Over two evenings, Cathy and Ed treated us to an array of delicious Alaskan fishes (all lovingly caught by either Ed or Bessie): Gorgeous smoked salmon, a wonderful, creamy salmon spread, and an incredible fresh halibut dinner. Onions, white wine, cream, mayonnaise were all involved in its preparation and it was wonderful.  Fresh blueberry pie rounded things out (mostly me).

A most excellent beginning to a fortnight of fun and exploration

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Judy, Heather, Cathy, Virginia, Michael

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Musings While Waiting for a Delayed Flight

I have been thinking about my clothing choices for this trip. My thoughts are that they worked out fairly well. Good town clothes, good hiking clothes, good après-hiking clothes (i.e. the town clothes), etc.

I have been laboring under the impression that, if not exactly stylish, a level to which I have never aspired, I have presented a respectable face (and behind) to the world as we have traveled through Ireland.  However, as the end of our time in the emerald isle approached, my options became increasingly narrow.  In fact, the clothes that I wore to our final dinner on Sunday were the clothes I had to wear Monday on the train from Killarney to Dublin and then, hopefully, today on the plane from Dublin to San Francisco.  After all, it’s not like I was going to work up a sweat or anything. And one more day of wrinkles on my linen would just add charm. right?

When disrobing for bed last night, I noticed that the back of my white pants had acquired a LARGE tea colored stain all across the backside. Retroactive mortification set in.

I have to assume that the stain was the result from some external factor: Beer spilled on a chair I sat on, tea dribbled onto a bench I chose to perch upon. If not from some external factor, I need to revisit that decision not to pack adult diapers when I travel.

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Sunday: Magnificent and Miserable

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All of us. Thanks to Megan for this photo.

Sunday, June 2nd, was our last full day with our Wilderness Travel group.  It is now Tuesday, June 4th, and, as always happens with me, the adrenaline rush of being engaged in an intense, shared experience is beginning to ebb and I am feeling a trifle melancholy.  So, I must get this almost-last post done before complete collapse occurs.

Sunday was phenomenal!!  I cannot stress enough the necessity of doing a trip like ours with guides like ours.  At every turn, we have been treated to “bonus” events arranged only through the connections our guides have with the people of this area.

Sunday morning began with us driving to the Gallarus Oratory on the far western end of the Dingle Peninsula where Con had arranged to have an incredible musician, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, sing and play for us in this tiny, ancient, stone building. The seventeen of us filled the small space and, when she sang, her voice accompanied only by the sound of the wind outside, it was breathtaking. The song was in Gaelic and I didn’t understand a word but the emotion was clear and strong.  Tunes on wooden flute and tin whistle followed; it was a perfect beginning for our last day.

Our final hike was out on Brandon Head and it was a corker (no pun intended). We dressed in full battle gear and headed up a small farm path that gradually deteriorated into a track into the wind and rain.  We passed a pasture with Gypsy (Vanner) horses and saw a foal that had been born just that morning.  Then up into the most spectacular scenery of the trip: Waterfalls everywhere, sometimes seeming to flow backwards when the force of the wind sent great plumes of spray skyward.  The wind was strong and the rain was constant with vast sheets of it dancing magically across the mountain sides.  The force of Irish weather combined with the landscape created a feeling of being . . . being in exactly the right place at precisely the right time. Soaking wet, it didn’t matter; you just had to grab the moment with both hands and hold on tight.

Every time we began to turn a corner into another gulley, climbing ever upward, I thought “oh, shoot, we are losing that waterfall.” And, then, two steps onwards, another cascade would appear. Just typing these words gives me a bit of a thrill. At the top is a saddle . . . a great, boggy expanse of a saddle. Imagine the force of the wind against your body, the sharp peppering of rain on your face, the sloppy, sucking sounds your boots make as they land on and pull out of this muddy, mucky, grassy area, nothing but beauty all around, air so fresh it shocks your lungs, and a heart full to brimming with joy. Do you have that in your head? If so, you have a beginning of what it felt like to be there.  I wish I were there still instead of sitting here in the British Air Lounge at Dublin Airport.

Suffice it to say, that final hike couldn’t have been been more perfect.

Back at the hotel, after a chance to wring out our clothes and hair, a few of us went with Con on a drive along another part of the coastline. The light on the clouds and water was beautiful. We heard more of Con’s musings on the Irish diaspora and its continuing effect on the Irish and the world.

It was a magnificent and miserable day: Magnificent for all the reasons I’ve mentioned above plus many that I have not mentioned; miserable because it was the last day.  But I choose to hold onto the magnificent.

No photos of that last hike. Camera stayed firmly nestled in pack. Only images are in my mind where they will be forever treasured.

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Gypsy horses

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Ann, Con and Killian

 

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Mount Brandon

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Both groups at break on saddle

Saturday, June1: Today offered three options for walking. All slightly modified to account for the weather, which, although less than perfect, turned out to be excellent hiking weather: moderate temperature, little wind, some sun,  some clouds and no precipitation until just after we finished up.

Michael chose to walk along the beach as did Colin and Megan (6.2 flat miles); I chose to hike up to a saddle on Mount Brandon (about 7 up up up and down down down miles); a couple of people chose the same Mount Brandon hike but with a longer up up up part . . . maybe up up up up.

As with every hike on this trip, this one offered something just a little bit different: beautiful, long views over fields to the ocean and bays of the coastline with craggy, steep mountain sides and softly uplifted green pastures.

I’m finally getting my walking legs. Nothing was too tired by the end of the morning. We walked for about three hours and then had the afternoon and evening on our own to do a little exploration in Dingle.

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Up the Road to Dingle

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Group in front of “Ryan’s Daughter” schoolhouse

Friday, May 31: Another day of moving base but managing to fit in a couple of nice walks, as well.

The day brought with it a blanket of clouds pulled firmly down over the tops of the mountains. Even some of the little islands on Loch Lein, also spelled Lough Leane, were snuggled down under fluffy duvets. Nonetheless, most of us were game for the morning’s walk to Muckross Abbey and then through the gardens of Muckross House.

Killian took us on this walk and it was fun learning the history of the places along with a commentary on what the gardens had meant to him as a boy growing up just a short bike ride away.  The grounds were part of his extended backyard and his love of the place shone through with each of his words.

Actually, I think that is the main thing that I will take away from these days in Ireland: Each of our guides has such a deep connection, respect and love for the landscapes they are leading us through. It infuses everything they tell us with a depth of emotion that is difficult to describe. And, it must be said, with a joy in the sharing of their stories that is contagious. Beauty surrounds us at every turn but the true beauty does, indeed, lie within the people.

A humble but nourishing lunch at a small, local café, local to where I’m not exactly certain because we drove for quite a while past Dingle,  was a preamble to our afternoon’s ramble.

Weather was still casting a bit of a pall over the countryside and the mountains were still completely obscured by clouds. So, the first plan for the afternoon was abandoned and two alternatives suggested.  One was a longer walk around and about and out to a headland; the other was a shorter walk back near Dingle out to a lighthouse. Michael and I took one of each: I did the longer walk; he the shorter.

Those of us in the longer walk party, guided by Ann, donned full rain gear and headed out onto wet but gorgeous cliff side fields.  Although we did get thoroughly wetted, the sky cleared after twenty or thirty minutes and we stripped down and enjoyed a beautiful rest of the walk.  Lots of lushly green fields, textured with stones and sheep. Apparently, the locals call this walk the “Ryan’s Daughter” walk because that movie was filmed there.

Incredible dinner at a Michelin restaurant was followed by pub (or pubs, plural in Michael’s case), whiskey, beer and music.  Unfortunately, for me, at least, that was followed by a somewhat unsettled night.

 

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Skellig Michael

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Con at Skellig Michael

Today, Thursday, May 30, was our day to go out to Skellig Michael, a tiny island about 10 miles into the North Atlantic.  It is the site of an ancient Christian monastic outpost, which existed from (maybe) the 7th to the 12th centuries.  It is also an bird sanctuary with billions of puffins and gannets and who knows what else.

Weather is always a concern going out because getting from the boat to the little, rocky staircase landing can be impossible if conditions aren’t right. The almost 700 rock stairs can also pose a hazard if wet.  We were lucky; the ride out was choppy with swells and two women in our 12-person boat got very sick (none from our group) but we were able to land and the stairs going up were dry.

Some places defy description by people such as I. It was an incredible experience. Every step you took was possible only because men seeking a place to live their faith on the edge of the world made it possible. Any soil on the rocky outcropping had to be brought from the mainland, one little sack at a time. Every one of the hundreds of stair steps had to be hewn and placed and supported by the labor of the monks. Any level spot had to be created. Truly extraordinary.

Of course, it couldn’t last. The Roman church eventually had to press its imprint on the community and, at one point, turned it into a place where wayward clerics were sent as a sort of penance.  Finally, Vikings assaulted the community over a period of time and the whole thing was done.

The walk up was windy and exposed and exhilarating.  Con’s desire to make us understand how the place came to be and the mindset of the men who created it over the centuries was inspiring.

Needless to say, Michael was the one person in our group who opted out of this excursion. He and Killian took a three hour walk out to one of the headlands pointing out towards the Skelligs.

 

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Gap of Dunloe

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M and V at top of Dunloe Gap

Once again, I find myself falling behind in my posts.  The days are so full and the feet, legs, back, arms, teeth, eyeballs, etc., are so tired, that by the time we are showered and decent I can hardly summon the energy to write.

Yesterday, Wednesday, May 29, dawned with clouds low on the MCGillicuddy’s Reeks and Purple Mountain. The shorter hiking option, which would have taken us on a boat ride down two lakes to a starting point and then up and over some of that clouded terrain, was changed.

Good thing as far as most of us were concerned. We started the day with a couple hour walk out onto a wooded headland that pokes out into Loch Lein; the walk began and ended at Ross Castle, which has the honor of being the last castle to fall to Cromwell’s men (at least I think I’m remembering correctly).  We went past swaths of gorgeous yellow iris and the air was softly scented from the blossoms of the laurel trees.  All along the way, Con kept up a commentary on what we were seeing (and not seeing) and more layers of Irish history.  He is truly remarkable.

We then transferred by van to a parking lot across from Kate Kearney’s Cottage and walked up the road to where the trail begins to the Gap of Dunloe. No rain but atmospheric conditions and quite blustery on top. This trail was built between 1879 and 1882 to allow for the easier transport of peat from the bogs up on top. Con’s great-grandfather was one of three men who were paid a penny a day to hack the switch-backy  trail out of the hillside.  It took them three and a half years. It was another challenging but beautiful walk filled with gorgeous sights and wonderful stories.

Colin was one of three of the group who opted for the strenuous option of going up to the summit of Carrauntoohil, the highest mountain in Ireland. They got very wet but were very happy with their choice and accomplishment.

Dinner was an incredible meal at a restaurant owed by one of Con’s brothers and sisters-in-law. It was a tasting menu featuring products from their holding and just beyond. We are getting so spoiled! It’s just wonderful!

 

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Beara Peninsula

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View from Stephen’s place

Yesterday, Tuesday, May 28, we struck our tents and moved the camp to a new location: Aghadoe Heights Hotel in Killarney.  But, on the way, we took a detour and visited Stephen Collins, a friend of Con’s, who has a farm in west Cork.  But Stephen isn’t just your run of the mill Stephen and his farm isn’t just your run of the mill farm.

Stephen is a physician who specializes in famine/starvation medicine.  He has spent many decades doing work in those places on the planet where war and strife have cause mass dislocations of people and mass family.  We see the photographs of those caught up in these crises and shudder. He goes in and tries to save people.  He has worked to develop a nutrient paste that is now used commonly to combat severe starvation.  Really quite humbling.

About 15 years ago, he decided he needed a refuge from what he sees in his work and came to Ireland (he is English) and found a piece of ground, high in the hills, that he decided was just such a refuge.  Now, 15 years later, he is turning it into an organic farm where he raises and breeds Dexter cattle, grows blueberries and fruit, and makes a good life for his family and himself.  After taking us around his farm explaining what he is trying to accomplish, he welcomed us into his home for tea and treats.  The views from his home are unbelievable.

On to Kenmare for an hour of exploration before we were dropped onto the Kerry Way for our hike. Five of us chose the long (9+miles) route and some of chose the shorter (5+ miles) route. Colin, Megan and I, along with two others, chose the longer route. I’m happy we did but was exhausted by the end of it.

Scenery completely different from our previous two days. We had lunch at Windy Gap, which wasn’t windy but was a gap. Masses of purple rhododendrons cover the hillsides.  They look spectacular but are, in fact, an environmental disaster.  The plants were brought in by exotic plant mad folks for their gardens; now, it has escaped and has turned into a form of ground cover that is so dense that nothing else can grow.  Imagine English ivy with purple flowers and you begin to have an idea. (I’m not certain what has happened to my formatting in this paragraph but I can’t seem to undo it.)

Our hotel looks quite unprepossessing from the outside . . . very 1970’s or 80’s? But is beautiful inside, the views across Loch Lein are spectacular.

Con had arranged a special musical evening for us with two local musicians (Niamh Varian-Barry* on violin and her husband, Peter, on button accordion) and it was another very special Wilderness Travel experience. Jigs, polkas, reels and waltzes had our feet tapping and sad sad songs had some of us in tears.

Dinner was late and lavish.

To bed.

*At one point, they were talking about the funny names for some Irish songs (they were just about to do one called “Before Larry Was Stretched). Niamh said her all time favorite is: “Mommy give me a hammer, there’s a fly on baby’s nose.”

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Sheep’s Head Peninsula

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In the beginning

“Go west, young man” is a phrase we in the United States associate with the western migration of people in our own country; an expression of Manifest Destiny.  As it happens, westward migration or flight has been occurring in many places over many centuries, perhaps millennia. Yesterday, Monday, May 27, we learned a bit about how the harsh, forbidding, far western reaches of this small island became refuges for men seeking to escape from religious and political persecution during various times of Irish history. We were told how they took this very marginal land and, through excruciatingly hard work, turned it into tiny farms from which they were able to eke out a subsistence. We were also told how, after successive failures of their potato crops, they were forced to either abandon these areas and head yet further west onto the ocean and parts unknown or die of starvation. It is an achingly beautiful landscape filled with heroism and sorrow.

Our hike took us along the further most north-western tip of the Sheep’s Head Peninsula; for those of us who walked the full walk, it was just over 9 miles. We passed down roads and through fields; we walked on very narrow, rocky trails high above the pounding waves of the Atlantic; at one point,there was even a rope anchored to the rocks to give us a little bit more confidence walking near the edge.  It’s a good thing Michael had opted out of this portion of the walk.

Ann had arranged picnic lunches for us from The Creamery, a local restaurant/creamery.  Oh, my gosh, our individual boxes were packed full of deliciousness: Huge, succulent prawns, piles of picked crab, melt-in-the-mouth smoked salmon as well as a leafy salad. Crisps and chocolate digestive biscuits filled in any unoccupied crannies of our tummies.

At the end of the peninsula, but not of the walk, was a lighthouse. Leg and foot weary as I was, I opted to look at the top of the lighthouse but not go down the stairs to the structure itself.*  It was still almost a mile to the end of the walk and to the van that would take us back to our lodgings.  All I can say is that I am glad that the wind, which had been blowing all day, as at my back as I trudged up those last few inclines.

Down to a pub for a liquid reward for a day’s outing well done and then back to the hotel and, ultimately, another fabulous meal at Manning’s in Bantry: A selection of small plates featuring, you guessed it, fabulous products from the area.

*Michael, who had opted out of the middle, post-lunch part of  the walk did walk to the lighthouse from the place where the van was waiting for us, which gave him a couple of miles to add to his morning’s exertions.

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We’re Walkin’, Yes, Indeed

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Foreground is Sheep’s Head Peninsula; then: Sheep, Bantry Bay and Beara Peninsula

We’re talkin’, you and me/We’re hopin’ this trip won’t do us in.*

Saturday, May 25th, was a quick (2.5 hour) train ride to Cork and then a taxi to our hotel at Littleisland.  First thing our cab driver asked us when we got in the cab was if we were in town for the Rod Stewart concert that night. Well, that certainly explained why I’d had such a hard time getting hotel reservations back in December when I was putting the finishing touches on this trip.

Sunday, at noon, we met up with the rest of the Wilderness Travel group in the lobby of a downtown hotel.  There are fourteen of us plus three guides: Con, Killian, and Ann. Transportation logistics are: One van to haul all of our baggage and a sixteen passenger “people mover” for shifting us from one starting point to the next. The set up worked brilliantly for getting us out of the town and out to Ballylickey and the Seaview Hotel, which will be our base for two days.

During our drive, Con provided a commentary on some of the forces, physical, religious and political, that have shaped this beautiful island.  He is very much a man of this place with a love and respect and understanding of it that will greatly enhance our experience this coming week.

We had lunch at a very nice local eatery and had an introduction to some of the food products (cheeses, bread, meats) that have made west Cork a slow food haven. Everything was so flavorful and good.  This is going to be a very enriching (and enlarging, I’m afraid) tour.

After checking in to the hotel, we put on our hiking gear and headed out for our introductory hike.  Because it was a beautiful, sunny day, Con took us out onto the Sheep’s Head Peninsula.  We walked with Killian, while Con drove the van to the terminus of the hike. Or, at least, that was the plan.

We did walk with Killian and the walk was magnificent with Bantry Bay to the north of the peninsula and Dunmanus Bay on the south. Lots of wind, sun, greens and blues. Some ups and downs and lots of stiles to negotiate. We had one hiccup when Killian misread the map once (or maybe twice) and we had to retrace our steps for a bit (maybe more than a bit but I won’t get into that level of detail here).  As a result of this miscalculation, instead of us meeting Con at what was supposed to be the terminus, Con drove up to collect us on the path. Still, a great warm up walk.

Back to hotel for showers and pre-dinner visiting and slide presentation. Then a sumptuous dinner featuring wonderful local fish, meats and veg at the hotel dining room and bed.

This is going to be a great trip.

*Apologies to Fats Domino

 

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