May 082011

Day 13 (May 3, 2011)

Itinerary: Another lovely breakfast at Joy’s Rockside B&B, visit the Bru Boru National Cultural Center, drive to Kilkenny, drive to Carlow for lunch, drive to the Wicklow Mountains, Glendalough Visitor’s Center, check into Trooperstown Wood Lodge, hike 9km around Upper Lake

We woke up early again for another great breakfast at Joy’s Rockside B&B at the base of the Rock of Cashel. We had our choice of breakfast here and while Mark feasted on the traditional Irish breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, and toast, I ate my fruit and yogurt. Yesterday, being May Bank Holiday, meant that the Bru Boru National Cultural Center was closed. This morning we arrived at opening time after packing up our stuff. We had to wait for them to turn on the exhibit, but soon we had the whole musical history of Ireland exhibit to ourselves. It took about an hour to visit and listen to all the audio and video displays giving us the general musical history of the area. We saw the origins of the oldest instruments and viewed how the dance master went around from town to town teaching the Irish dance.

At the end of our visit we found a small shrew scampering around the floor. He almost looked like a fake wind-up mouse the way he was moving about. Mark thinks he was partially blind. Mark alerted the staff working there so they could capture the little guy.

We were glad we stayed to see the center, but now it was time to start driving towards the Wicklow Mountains and our next stop. The Wicklow Mountains are south of Dublin and actually quite close to the city, so this will be our last long drive today. There are plenty of walking (hiking) trails for us to choose from and scenic drives. Mountain is of course a loose term, since they aren’t much higher than 900 meters (about 3000 feet). But for this area they are called mountains.

On the way, we stopped again in Kilkenny and the souvenir shop was open this time. We also visited the tourist information desk to get more maps and recommendations on the best driving route to Wicklow. In Carlow we stopped for a really tasty lunch. We randomly picked this town, and randomly picked a restaurant, but we ended up in a local hangout. A large group of men next to us were having some sort of social lunch and a group of women on the other side were discussing their work woes over lunch as well. I had an amazing roast of chicken and potatoes. Mark was happy with his lunch too, though I forgot what he had.

On the road again, we took many turns on country roads to reach County Wicklow and the Wicklow Mountains. There wasn’t a sign when we entered the park. Mark and I both noted that National Parks here have free entry and seem to have less organization than the US National Parks. But then we wondered how they funded the parks if they didn’t charge for anything. I guess it all comes out of tax money? Then we got on a conversation about the differences in conservation efforts between the US and other countries, especially Europe. There are certainly differences and it will be interesting to read about them later.

In Wicklow, we made a stop at the Glendalough (glen-da-lock) visitors center for a hiking map, then visited the family restaurant that owned our B&B for the key to our room. Trooperstown Wood Lodge B&B is different than any other we’ve stayed at. The building that holds the rooms is not a residence for the family as far as we can tell. It is much more formal more similar to a hotel. The family owns a restaurant about a mile down the road, and we are to drive down to the restaurant for breakfast there. It loses the homey feel of a B&B, but it was a nice room, good breakfast, and perfect location for us.

There are certainly many walking routes through the park, and after staring at the map for a while, we opted for a 9km hike starting and ending at the visitor’s center just a mile away from our B&B. The trail would overlap with a small portion of the Wicklow Way walk that traverses the whole park and circle both lower and upper lakes. Half the hike is on a ridge line overlooking the lake, and the other half is on the shore of the lake.

This was indeed a great hike with hardly any people at this time of day. We started around 5pm and brought along a picnic dinner. Sunset is around 8:45 here and it doesn’t get really dark until after 10pm, so we figured we had plenty of time for an evening hike. The weather that had started off cold and cloudy this morning changed to a slightly warmer and sunny evening. It was a beautiful hike with good weather.

The hike took us past an old mining village. The descendants of the goats the miners brought in for milk and food were still hanging around and at several points we stopped to watch them graze. The little ones were cute, though not as cute as the lambs we’ve seen on previous days. We climbed up out of the valley after hiking past the lakes and had many gorgeous views back down into the valley. The sun stayed out and warmed us as we climbed the many stone steps. We stopped at several spots looking for a good picnic spot, but ended up moving on instead. The ridge line hike was especially interesting. The ground up here was so soft and wet, that the park staff had built a boardwalk along the whole entire path. I can’t believe so much effort went into this path. The most hilarious part was the sign we passed telling us that we needed a good compass, map, and navigation skills to continue. For the next several kilometers, we stayed on this boardwalk. It would have been pretty hard to deviate from the set path. We laughed and joked about it all the way down. The boardwalk consisted of two railroad ties lined with a thin metal mesh and littered with raised, curved staples all to provide traction in wet weather. It looked like a lot of work went into this construction. We hiked through the golden hour (one hour before sunset) past several herds of deer. At one point we stopped to watch a herd of at least 20 deer graze. They were not bothered by us and it was very relaxing to watch them.

Just as the sun was starting to dip towards the horizon line, we found a perfect picnic spot complete with viewing platform and railing at the perfect height for a dinner table. We munched on our sandwiches and fruit while we watched the light dim over the valley below. The sun dipped behind the clouds and colored them with an assortment of reds and oranges as we took our last bites. Without the sun, the temperatures dipped to around 45 as we continued on with the hike. With several kilometers more to go, we descended into a dark forest of trees. We were very happy for the boardwalk steps showing us the way in the dim light. The metal still shown enough to guide our way since we didn’t bring any of our own light with us. However, even by the time we reached the car close to 10pm, there was still enough residual light to find our way. Overall a great hike and a perfect end to the day.

Tomorrow we’ll see about doing another hike before heading back into civilization and Dublin City.

Our little Nissan Micra

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