Lyn was presenting at the European Conference on Reading—held this year in Dublin—so we took advantage of the opportunity to put together yet another sightseeing/hiking adventure vacation.

Map of Ireland

Canterbury (Tuesday, Jun 26)

We don’t get to England much and I wanted to visit my old housemaster, Alan and his wife Audrey, in Canterbury and perhaps have a beer with an old school contemporary on this trip because we had a day to spare.

We raced off the plane at Heathrow, down into the rat’s maze of tunnels between terminals, and dropped off our two enormous bags at Left Luggage. We were in the nick of time as it turned out: they ran out of room for large bags just after they took ours, and a haggard looking family stepped off the elevator with a large collection of bags just as we turned to go ...

We took the underground to Charing Cross, grabbed a sandwich, phoned ahead, (note: no line-ups at public phones as everyone in England now carries at least one cell phone), and took a train to Canterbury where Alan met us off the platform. We had a delightful dinner with him and Audrey but we had blundered. We had also arranged to have a drink with David and his wife Wendy, thinking, (wrongly) that the six of us would walk to a nearby pub. But Alan and Audrey were spent, so the four of us went out./p>

We had a good time. David drove to a local favourite. Lost somewhere in the backwoods of Kent; just as a series of ever-narrowing lanes became a goat track, we arrived in the parking lot of the five hundred year old

Red Lion pub (the date “1364” is carved into the beam over the front door). Lyn had a 'Spitfire' beer and I had Youngers Ale, both of which helped with the jet lag, and had a great evening.

Dublin (Wed, Jun 27)

Next morning: caught the 10:08 train out of Canterbury West; picked up our bags at Heathrow and jetted off to Dublin; arrived at Dublin City University residence by about 6pm that evening; dumped our stuff in the room; headed out for the nearest pub.

It took about half an hour and couple of wrong turns to find a pub, but luckily it had a fish and chip shop almost next door. The pub was interesting, as we were possibly the only people in it who were still able to stand without assistance. We had a hurried beer and left before the fights broke out, picked up a cod a chips at the fryer and ate it with our fingers on the way back to the residences.

Lyn and I toured Dublin the next day with the “hop-on, hop off” tourist bus. Our first bus driver provided a running patter of entertainment (I had to translate for Lyn): the statue of Anna Livia (designed as a fountain, with water flowing over her shoulders) will forever remain in our minds as “d’ floozy in d’ jacuzzi”.

Probably the best hop off was our first, Trinity College, to visit the Book of Kells exhibit. The worst hop off was the next: “Finlandia”, where a group of bemused tourists were shuttled about in a laughable fake "boat" accompanied by tinny sound effects from cheap speakers and entertained by actor-students who looked at once bored and embarrassed.

The rest of the week in Dublin might cryptically be described as 75 ways to describe James Joyce, who just seemed to keep popping up, but the people were marvelous and the beer excellent.

Darting to Dingle (Thu, Jul 5)

After a full week in Dublin, Lyn was able to begin a vacation proper. We took an early morning cab to the bus depot, where we dumped a large bag containing conference paper, suits, and other excess baggage so that we don't have to drag it around for a week, and caught the bus for Tralee.

We're on our way!

Five of the six hours to Tralee are significant for their uniformity, lulling us gradually into Irish time. We pass through rolling farmland, then more rolling farmland, and rolling farmland. The bus occasionally pulls off the motorway and chugs through a charming village, where we stop so that a couple of ancient citizens can get off and two more can get on.

Then twenty miles from Tralee we see the peaks of the Dingle and Kerry peninsulars on the horizon, brooding under a mantle of grey cloud.

In Tralee, we wait twenty minutes for the Dingle bus, haul our packs aboard and take our seats; the bus rumbles out of Tralee along the foot of the Slieve Mish mountains, with Tralee Bay on our right.

'Peak' is not quite the right word, for these are 'humped' rather than pointed mountains—similar to the same green giant hills that we hiked in the Lake District in England. Ours, on Canada's west coast, are only a little bigger but more forbidding, with dense forests and rumpled sides scarred with deep ravines and grey, granite bluffs. These, in contrast, are open, grassy, rounded, and mostly treeless, with only the occasional rocky outcrop. The lower slopes are marked off squares of fenced fields where sheep graze, yet this serene green scarcely changes as the your eye travels up the slope: the fences and the sheep peter out; here and there is an isolated stand of trees.

We continue along the edge of the bay and at a town called Camp, half an hour later, the bus turns left and we wind our way up a valley towards a pass over these very hills, with glimpses back. At the top we gain an eagle's vista of the other side: Dingle Bay and beyond to the Kerry peninsula. It's all so peaceful.

There’s only room for a bus and a bicycle side-by-side on this narrow road and I wouldn't like to be on the bicycle. We roar down the other side, heading along the southern coast, with unspoiled views forever. It isn't long before we seem to be approaching Dingle. Several people on the bus, who seem to know the driver by his first name, remind our bus driver (in case he'd forgotten) that we had asked to be let off at Ballingtaggart Hostel. We pull into a bus stop that must be marked with special runes visible only to the inhabitants because we could see no sign of it. After a brief chat with everyone, climb out. We hike back about fifty meters and turn into a driveway leading up to the large hostel. We check in...and immediately head out to town. Nice view from the front of the hostel!

We have been told of a scenic walk into town, parallel to the direct road, and we find it without too much trouble. It detours out for a very pleasant half hour amble along the headland coastal path and back into the village of Dingle itself. [We took the picture of the house at the top of this article from this path].

After a quick bite at a funky little deli that offered vegi food and a garulous young waitress, then a quick beer at a local pub, we walk the 2Km back to the hostel and crash. Thankfully we are far enough from the younger crowd of hostellers that we do manage to get some sleep!

Connor Pass (Fri, Jul 6)

Dist: 22km Elev: 410m

Our first walk in Ireland and we're looking forward to it. In Dublin, I had been assured by a man I met walking along a Howth Head coast path that "Connor Pass was far and away the most beautiful spot in the world”. Naturally, we had been hoping for clear weather for this trip but when we woke, brooding clouds hung in the Pass [photo at right]. It wasn't ideal; rain figured heavily in the forecasts for the next few days and since it wasn’t actually raining now, we reasoned that it would be better to do Connor Pass today rather risk missing out altogether.

We went into Dingle first thing, picked up some lunch stuff at the Spar supermarket, had breakfast at Greavey’s (good breakfast; great washrooms!)and headed out.

It seemed sensible to take the Connor Pass Road; a nice lady, doing some gardening as we passed, directed us to a shortcut: a side lane, replete with fuchsia hedgerows (I'm stealing from the guidebook).

A high ridge on the left beckoned—reminding us of our Lake District hikes and besides, we pined for both the exercise and the views. But the assigned path went straight up the middle of the valley between hills and we kept to the trail, not wishing to miss anything (particularly the route!). We trudged gradually upwards but it isn't a chore. Ahead and left our view is only of the higher ground, but to our right the peaceful hills roll blissfully away, and if we get bored, we can turn and take in the pleasant panorama behind us of Dingle and the Bay.

The pass seemed to be about a mile up but when we eventually came up over this brow...we saw (what we hoped was) the actual pass a mile or more further off. We've come up on the main road again, and it crosses in front of us from the right, heads part way up the hillside on our left before bending back to continue in our direction below the ridge; in the distance, cuts back towards our route to go over what appears to be the pass dead ahead.

Following the instructions in our guide book, we crossed the main road and find that our lane had turned “green”, meaning 'disused'. This is the old Connor Pass Road according to our directions: presumably the horses could go straight up but cars and bicycles needed a gentler slope. As we slogged on, the green 'road', by degrees, became a 'trail', which then petered out completely so that a barely discernable route through moss, small bogs, grass, and hillocks, could now be found only with the aid of the stones that once lined the edge of the old road. But even this was iffy. There was one small group of walkers ahead of us that we soon passed, so now without the reassurance of a throng to follow, we just steered for the "end of the road", visible going over the pass ahead.

This might well have been nasty going in though if we’d been in fog but our luck was improving: as we climbed, the views improved from good to great and when we clambered up to and crossed the road to join another couple of walkers at the pass (clearly, this was it) we gained splendid views in all directions.

We had a well-deserved sandwich, seated on this lookout higher up. To head back, we decided to try to make the peak right above us and from there make our way back down the ridge that I had been eying all the way up. We began our ascent but the cloud that had lifted for a while now came back down and shrouded the peak. Hiking in cloud in this terrain didn't seem like a good idea. Apart from the difficulty in discerning direction without a view, there's the small matter of the occasional cliff!

So we headed across the slope keeping below the cloud. To give lie to my earlier view that these were rounded, friendly hills, we found that what looked like a minor blemishes on a distant hillside is a bigger obstacle to a human up close. Nothing we couldn't solve with an hour's scrambling but we preferred to detour around what looked difficult and it wasn't a straight line hike down.

Keeping the destination (Dingle) in sight below us, we navigated the occasional fence and rockfall and descended to the brow that I had been eying earlier. Our descent became easier when we picked up a small road that led eventually, past a school of horseback riders, back into town. Dinner at a local vegetarian restaurant later than evening was excellent!

An Irish style hike (Sat, Jul 7)

Most of our hiking trips are blazing successes so perhaps it won't tarnish our reputation to report a major failure.

We'd learned from the previous day that there was no point in getting up early because nothing was open, so we sauntered into town around 9am. We'd hiked about 22Km yesterday over uneven ground and had sore knees, so something low key seemed appealing for the second day. A local guide book that we'd picked up confidently spelled out a local walk that took in a couple of thousand year old churches dating back to pre-Viking times. Sounds fine eh?

Had breakfast in Greavey’s again, and, guidebook in hand, headed out along “Main Street”. We were curious about the commotion inside a pub that we passed and were told that the Lions' (rugby) game against the Wallabies in Australia was on TV in the pub. Lyn forced me to watch the game and have a Guinness while she did some shopping. Lions lost but the Guinness was excellent.

When the book botched the description of the turn off the main street we should have heeded the omen: “300 yards” turned out to be about 50 yards but when the estimate is that far off, it takes half an hour of to-and-fro to be absolutely confident that you are in fact making the correct turn off into goodness-knows-where.

We had a pleasant walk for a while, down lanes and across streams, but by degrees, the directions became more obscure and pathways difficult to discern. (Is that 141/2 telephone poles or 14½?)

We managed to beat a path down through a ditch and up through a bramble hedge, then found the remains of the first old church in spite of the book: while I was looking for the “low mound 300 yards ahead” mentioned in the book, Lyn happened to look to our right and there were the remains of the church in the next field! [picture at left: the altar stone a little way off]. The church, one of two founded by two brothers in 800AD, was overgrown with weeds. In North America, people often abandon old cars like this, so it is refreshing to see the Irish have a similar habit with thousand year old churches.

From here, however, direction-finding went from bad to impossible. A couple of fields later, we could see our destination—the remains of the second church, founded by the other brother—faintly visible in a distant field. But we were separated from it by a formidable combination of river, bog and bushes; whatever confident passage to it had once existed was now gone.

Feeling somewhat peevish, we stomped back into town. However, after dinner that night in the same excellent vegetarian restaurant, we recovered our good spirits.

Killarney (Sun, Jul 8)

In spite of the low point, this really had been two and some enjoyable days in Dingle. Now it was time to move on and we took the bus back to Tralee. This time as we came through Camp we ran into a caravan of about half a dozen Gypsy horsedrawn carriages coming the other way. They were spread out over about five miles from Camp towards Tralee, each with half a mile of traffic behind it, as the two lane road was busy and these things weren’t travelling fast. Hope they had a good PR person!

Took the bus to Killarney; two hours later we arrived in town and headed for the local hostel. Had one dreadful night there (be warned: some hostels are great; others are definitely not!) and moved to a local B&B just up the road still only five minutes from the train station. 

Killarney hills from Muckross grounds. Note the rhodos at left.

With one eye on the maps and the other on the weather, we had set about trying to assess the possibilities. The problem in this part of the world is that the walking routes require you to be 20 years old and ready to hike 5 days at a time; there seemed to few attractive day trips from town. Eventually we decided that if we had a good weather we’d take a bus to a point about 20Km out of town, and walk back to town via the trail through the hills marked on the map. If not, we’d resign ourselves to major tourism. Well, the weather didn’t cooperate so we resigned ourselves to major tourism—both days—but it didn’t turn out too badly.

Muckross House and Torc Waterfall (Mon, Jul 9)

It's a robin!

We decided to stick to the lowlands and head out for Muckross House (photo above is from the grounds in front of Muckross House, looking over the lake, which we walked around). Taking our hostel keeper’s advice we cabbed the five miles to MH, and it was a good advice as a five mile hike along a busy suburban road isn’t fun.

We arrived at the entrance to MH, where Lyn took a quick tour of the house, before we headed off through the grounds to Torc Waterfall. It was only a half hour hike through the woods and there we spotted a leprechaun (photo at right). 

According to our map, a trail went up behind the waterfall and then out and across to the lake trail, so we set out up a steep climb to the left of the falls. In the Lake District, we had met a 60 year old marathon runner from Colorado who used to run 10K around Buttermere each morning before she went hiking for 8 hours, so it is always with great glee that we hike past any people from Colorado, which we did on this trail. This they told us higher up the trail, where they caught up with us as we stopped to examine the maps (which didn’t tell us anything). They also weren't up to a walk around the lake which really made our day!

We ended up on the lake trail almost by luck, but we enjoyed a pleasant couple of hours walking the 10K or so around the lake, with interesting rivers and great views of the hills. One of the most surprising aspects of walking in this area is the rhododenron cover. We later heard the rhodos had been introduced about eighty years earlier and are now a major problem. They thrived so well that they are over-running the oak that used to cover the area and when you look up the hills, the “emerald” green you can now see is actually huge tracts of rhodos covering the hillsides. [We also saw some scattered thickets of bamboo—and they think the rhodos are a problem!]

That evening we hitch-hiked back into town, getting a ride with a young couple who had arrived here a year or so back, after struggling out of Russia and trying to survive in Europe for a while. They were extremely happy to be living in Ireland!

Ross Lake (Tue, Jul 10)

Ross castle is a relatively short and pleasant walk out from town, except where we had to dodge the dung left by the horse-drawn tourist carriages as we neared the Castle, and we made it to there in about an hour. After a quick look round, we and seventy five octogenarians from Newcastle opted for the hour long boat tour around the lake. Lyn and I sat outside (looking up at all the hiking we would have liked to do), and listened to loudspeaker, as yet another droll Irish tour guide provided an entertaining and informative account of the area..spiced with the now usual long list of indignities that the English had inflicted on Ireland, all of it unfortunately true.

The cottage actually has a very good vegetarian café, where we spent a half hour resting our feet after the boat trip.

Knaresborough, Yorks (Wed, Jul 11)

Day 3, leaving Killarney meant getting up at the crack of dawn and catching the train to Dublin at 7:43am. We got in around 11:06 (a bit quicker than the bus!) and headed out to the airport, catching a Cheap-Air flight to Leeds/Bradford at 5pm. Brian—of Brian and Nora who we’d met in Nepal last year—met us at the airport and drove us to to their place in Knaresborough for a nice cup of tea while we waited for Diane and Max (also from Nepal) to show up from Northants.

Knaresborough (Thu, Jul 12)

We spent the next day on a ramble around Knaresborough. This is quite something. Five minutes from Nora and Brian’s house in the ‘burbs, we’re on ramble through fields and orchards. The path threaded through town, along the river, and out the other side…until we got lost and had to wing it through a couple of fields, past some some curious and/or threatening horses (it wasn’t clear which). But we made it back in time to head out for dinner at the railway restaurant. Did get redirected a couple of times by signs about Foot and Mouth.

Rambling the Ramparts:York (the City)(Fri, Jul 13)

Max and Di, Lyn and I left Brian behind, and drove to York for some sightseeing (Foot and mouth severely limiting the walking that was possible).  You can walk across the walled centre of  York in half an hour, and in fact, we walked back along the top of the wall in less. We did your usual sigh

tseeing: the Minster orcathedral, and then a guided tour. The tour wasn’t as good as we might have hoped, but we did end up in the middle of an archeological dig, which had gone down, in the space of
a fifteen foot depth, through Victorian, Medieval, Viking and Roman layers! Mind you Betty’s Tea Room was almost as interesting, especially when it came to digging in our wallets.

End of the trip (Sat, Jul 14)

Max and Di took off Friday night, and Brian and Nora drove us into York the next day to catch the train down to London. We missed the Lions game (thankfully this time), and ended up at Julia’s, of which more anon and elsewhere.