Wales was the next stop after Paris, to the farm where Rich grew up and where his parents still live. As some of you may know, Wales is a land of sheep and sheep farmers. Although both Rich's parents held full time jobs, they still managed to keep many sheep as a hobby. Now that Rich and his younger brother and sister are out of the house, his parents have downsized to 25 ewe’s. There was however, a time when they had around 70, which made lambing season a very hectic time. Lets just say Rich and his siblings are no strangers to the concept of “chores”. They also have chickens, kept in line by the rooster of course, and kept a horse during his sister’s riding days. They live five miles outside Brecon, a town of 8000, and are in a great location to balance city and country life. There are a few buildings on their land (some dating back to more than 200 years ago) and each is beautifully constructed out of stone. As for the countryside, Wales is full of rolling hills (most cleared as sheep pastures), beautiful streams meandering through valleys, narrow and windy roads with
thick bushes on either side, and buildings built mainly of stone, which are full of history and character.
We spent our first few days in Wales touring quaint little towns surrounding Brecon with Rich’s parents. We first visited Hay-On-Wye, which is known as the town with the highest number of used books stores in the world. They have a literary festival each year, which boasts authors such as Bill Clinton and Al Gore as key speakers…wait... “authors”??? We spent a beautiful Sunday having the traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding lunch at a local pub, and then wandering in and out of various used book stores...Rich's heaven. The next day we visited Chepstow and wandered around the skeleton structure of the old Tintern Abbey (see pics), all the while imagining the activities that must have taken place there in the past. This was followed by lunch, in the local pub of course, and a scenic hike to what they call "the devil's pulpit" which has a great aerial view of the abbey and the surrounding town. The rest of our days were spent taking his family’s two treasured corgis, Tilly and Susie, who are probably treated just as well
as the Queen’s corgis, on long walks through sheep pastures, forests and fields where we even saw wild horses. Our nights were always spent by the fire with a good book or a classic movie, and as usual, the luxury of a couch to lie on, home cooked meals and a family atmosphere made leaving difficult.
Leaving however was inevitable, as we had a flight to Ireland to catch. We landed in the Shannon airport to yet another beautiful day, picked up the rental car and drove to Killarney where Rich had booked a lovely hotel on the lake, originally built in the 1820’s. We quickly dropped our bags in the room and I trailed Rich as he sprinted for his first pint of Guinness. Apparently they taste amazing in Ireland, but if you had seen my face as I took a sip, you probably wouldn't have thought so. Since we had arrived in the dark, we were amazed as we woke up to breathtaking castle, lake and mountain views, and the realization that it was within walking distance of the Killarney National Park. Without any real idea of how far it was, we decided to walk around the
bigger of the two lakes. When I saw the main path was paved, being my parent’s child, I decided the little foot paths through the woods would be much more adventurous. It was the 3 bucks darting off in front of us, and the 10-foot fence, that made us realize we were in a deer park following deer paths instead of footpaths. The only problem was that we weren’t sure how to get out. We spent about half an hour wandering aimlessly through beautiful mossy forest and finally realized we would have to scale the 10-foot fence to get back to the human path. When we eventually found ourselves back on the normal path, Rich vowed not to the leave the tarmac again, or listen to any more of my bright ideas. By then our tummies were growling, but we still had at least 3 more hours of walking to get back to the hotel. We had been in such a rush to get out of the hotel and enjoy the day that we really hadn’t thought of packing water or snacks. Just when we were both getting grumpy, the heavenly sight of a cafÃ© in the woods appeared ahead.
We filled our stomachs and had a much more pleasant walk back.
The town of Killarney was our first introduction to Irish towns. Ireland seems very unique in that most businesses are locally owned and have names such as “Alice McGee’s Linen & Lace” or Danny O’Shea’s Watering Hole.” The Irish are very proud to be Irish and you can just feel the sense of community. People from Ireland were also enjoying most of the touristy things we did; it’s cool that they love to explore their own country as much as the tourists. The pubs are always packed with locals and if they hear a foreign accent, more often than not they’ll start up a conversation and possibly even drag you out on the dance floor. I think Rich’s presence saved me from that embarrassment. Upon leaving Ireland, we were left with the sense that the Irish are very warm and friendly people who love to enjoy their country and share it.
After Killarney we spent Easter weekend in the Connemara region located on the west coast. The landscape and fishing villages reminded me a lot of the east coast of Canada, but the endless stone fences,
falling down stone buildings and new stone houses were purely Irish. We stayed in the small town of Clifden, and each day drove through a new area, vowing never to take the same road twice. The roads were small, often big enough for just one car and extremely windy. We both cringed at the thought of navigating them during the peak tourist season. On one such road, we stopped to take what was probably our 200th scenic picture, when we heard the weirdest sound; a mixture of yelling, grumbling and whistling. We looked over our shoulders and noticed an old man with a cane and tweed cap, positioned on the top of a small hill. Since we couldn’t see anything else around us and he was making these sounds in our direction, we thought he might have been yelling at us. So much for the friendly Irish, we were just taking a picture! It was then that we saw about 20 sheep round the corner paired in two’s, walking in a perfect line and followed by a hard working border collie. It was like stepping back in time and getting a glimpse of the traditional Irish way. We really enjoyed
every moment in and around Clifden and left with some amazing impressions of the country and people.
Our next and final stop was in Dublin for a quick 24 hours. Neither of us was very impressed with the city after what we had just come from. Cities are just cities and tend not to represent the country they are in. The only two things that Dublin struck me as being good for was shopping and nightlife. Although we didn't do much shopping, we did venture out to the famous Temple Bar, which is nestled among the cultural cobbled streets of Dublin. We walked in expecting to be surrounded by tourists (this bar even has its own tourist shop). To our surprise it was a mixture of tourists wanting to see what this place was all about, and locals enjoying the rowdy Irish band. Rich enjoyed his final pint of Guinness while I sang along with the locals (turns out those family road trips with The Rankin Family tapes taught me some Irish ballads).
Next to come….Scotland.
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