Posted by: Marcie Miller | June 22, 2010

We met Eilean Donan on the way to the Isle of Skye

Sorry for the long hiatus.  We now jump back to where we left off (May 18) having left Loch Lomond and headed northwest toward the Isle of Skye.  On the way we stopped at a well-known attraction curiously named Eilean Donan Castle.

Eilean Donan Castle

This picturesque castle used in the movie “Highlander,” just a few miles from the “Skye Bridge,” was rebuilt in1932 after being bombarded by three English ships in 1719 during the Jacobite uprising.  The restoration took 20 years, a testament to Scottish stubborn…. ehh fortitude.  As for the name, “Eilean” it just means “Island of” in Scotts Gaelic.

The trek that followed was slow on the rustic Isle of Skye.  Roskhill house, our B and B, was near the town and Dunvegan Castle, home of Chris’s clan McLeod (or MacLeod).  The following day we ventured to the castle.  We found the majestic seat of power to one of Scotland most notorious clans under scaffolding and canvas.  It is being restored, of all the luck!

Dunvegan Castle, we expected something different

The tour was fascinating.  Did you know that the Chief of the Clan McLeod must drink about ½ gallon of wine in a single draught from an ancient drinking horn at the official swearing in ceremony?  The new Chief is practicing; he is up to 1 quart.   Did you know that the Clan’s most treasured artifact, the “Fairy” Flag, when unfurled in battle ensures victory?  It’s true.

The "pepper pots" were added later in the castle's evolution

This gate appears to be the oldest part of the castle

After the castle tour we went west to explore. It was our first experience with “look ahead” roads.  These are two-way roads that are one lane wide with turnouts.  Drivers need to look ahead to see if they need to turn out.  We didn’t see a lot of people, but we found other things.

Curious fellas

The latest in international signs

Western portion of the Isle of Skye

Our English hosts (yes English) had earlier booked us dinner at a restaurant in the village of Stein.  The seafood restaurant was average, and was run and full of English.  The waitress was kind enough to explain the difference between a lobster pick and an oyster spork to us unenlightened Americans.  The village however is very quaint and has the former cottage belonging to Donovan the singer.  When earlier looking for accommodations online, we discovered this place where Donovan hosted several celebrities including George Harrison.

The village of Stein, Donovan's cottage is on the point

It was in Stein we had our first look and another Scottish Highland attraction.

Highland Cattle

From here, we faced the challenging journey to Edinburgh, the Athens of the North.  Join us there soon.  We mean it this time!

Posted by: Marcie Miller | May 22, 2010

“Athens of the North”

We’re in Edinburgh! Spent yesterday wandering around – so much to see! We got in too late to post and process photos, but we hope to get to it tonight. Lots to tell! We catch a taxi to the airport at 3:45 a.m. tomorrow for the flight home, via Amsterdam. We’ll be home soon Sammy!  Oh – Chris bought a kilt. hee. Photos later.

Posted by: Marcie Miller | May 19, 2010

From Stansted to Loch Lomond in one day…

I don’t recommend it.  Trying to make up time, after getting to Stansted airport, which is just north of London and nowhere near Scotland, we (and by we I mean Chris) drove nonstop for something like 9 hours, mostly on the “dual carriageway” doing 70 to 80 mph. Apparently it’s like the autobahn. We saw no speed limit signs, just “average speed camera” warnings. We were going the speed everyone else was, and still getting passed.

Luss has been restored under a national preservation scheme.

We wanted to get beyond Glasgow, so we aimed for Loch Lomond, and the small town of Luss, which the guide book said was lovely. That turned out to be an understatement! It was a gorgeous and super cute small village, on the “bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond,” just like the song says.

Yes, this is in Scotland.

We stumbled upon an intriguing B&B that had a large Buddha statue hung with Tibetan prayer flags in the front yard, called Global B&B. Interesting. It was delightful! The owner, Maria, was a world traveler and her house was chock full of mementos of her travels. It was very new-agey, but very nice. And the bed was soft – a welcome reprieve from the hard beds we had encountered so far on the trip.

Chris, day one in his homeland

That evening and the next morning we walked around the village, and vowed to return for a longer stay!

Of course it helped that we had, once again, beautiful weather! It was difficult to tear ourselves away, even though it was still a long drive to the Isle of Skye.

We stepped into the church and were immediately roped into watching a video of the history of the church – we were the only tourists. It was interesting though. Turns out the church was torn down and rebuilt in the 19th century when the town’s big wig was drowned in the lake. As a memorial to him, his son had it demolished and rebuilt, pretty much the same as before, but with the ceiling rafters resembling an overturned boat. Very poignant.

But then, on to Skye.

The banks, or beach, of Loch Lomond are quiet in May.

Presbyterian church with graves going back several centuries, that we could read.

Several of the oldest graves were adorned with crossed bones, but I don't think they were pirates.

Posted by: Marcie Miller | May 19, 2010

Back up to Bunratty Castle

With the travel snafus we neglected to do an entry for the morning spent at Bunratty Castle, near Shannon airport. We stayed the night before at a grandmotherly B&B near the castle. There was even a small grandchild crawling around for affect.

Bunratty and its associated folk village give a look at Irish life at different periods of time, and at different social statuses. The castle has been restored and is really pretty cool, despite the masses of tourists. This is a good time of year to go, before they get too thick. While it was interesting to look in the cottages, the smoke from the turf fires in the fireplaces made entering almost unbearable. I can’t imaging living with that every day! In case you’ve never smelled it, burning turf  (peat) smells like burning tires.

Let’s throw some pics in here.

Imposing from this angle isn't it?

Bunratty was open for business.

Chris made a new friend at the folk park farm.

Posted by: Marcie Miller | May 18, 2010

At long last, Scotland!

It’s been a crazy few days, but we are finally on the Isle of Skye! Got here tonight. Our B&B has a king sized bed! We drove by Chris’ castle, but the gate was locked. We’ll see it tomorrow for sure! We’ll write a more complete detailing of our adventures soon, but time for bed now. We’re trying not to get too exhausted.

Here’s a few pics to tide you over.


This is all along the freeway.

At one of Scotland's most filmed castles, Eilean Donan.

Posted by: Marcie Miller | May 16, 2010

When the volcano blows…

Well the volcano finally got us — we have been stuck in the Shannon airport all day. Our flight to Edinburgh was canceled between the time we checked in and the time we got to the gate! It’s OK on this end – Edinburgh and several airports in the UK were shut due to the ash cloud on the move once again.

Instead we are flying (fingers crossed) at 10p.m. to Stansted – just outside London, and then DRIVING to Scotland. Woo hoo! We also met up with a fellow stranded traveler, who was on the same flight from New York and also going to Edinburgh – what are the odds?? He couldn’t get a flight tonight because, um, we took the last two seats, but he’s flying to Stansted in the morning and we are all going to drive to Glasgow. And then on to Skye! We will not be deterred! Chris must see his castle! Eat haggis! Buy a kilt!

Wish us luck. Will post more later!

Posted by: Marcie Miller | May 15, 2010

We drove the Gap of Dunloe and didn’t even get a T-shirt

Chris at "Lady's View," overlooking the lakes of Killarney.

It’s been a few days since our last post because the day before there wasn’t much to say and yesterday we were too busy. But now we are sitting in a cafe while our laundry is being done. We spent some time this morning looking around Killarney for a U.S.-style laundromat, but none were to be found. Things are more labor intensive here, which is good because they need the jobs. We gave our laundry to a man in a launderette with the promise that it will be done in an hour and a half.

After a gloriously sunny day for the trip to Skellig Michael, we awoke the next day to steady rain and very low visibility. We drove around the Ring of Kerry anyway, since we had to get to Killarney. Besides, we already had the best view you could hope for the day before.

After a brief stop in Kenmare for lunch we got to Killarney around 4, and hit a crush of traffic squeezing through the eye of the needle into town. The traffic patterns here are ridiculous. With so many old buildings they can’t widen the roads that were built for pony carts – not huge tour buses! AND they still have the pony carts – a popular tourist attraction.

We chose Killarney because I wanted to show Chris beautiful Killarney National Park, and do a little hiking. But with my knee still wobbly, that plan was off the table. Instead we drove a narrow, winding road that funnels through a valley, or “gap,” called “The Gap of Dunloe,” visited a restored estate house and a restored castle.

We started the day with our first “full Irish breakfast” featuring black pudding (this is code for blood sausage).  Chris showed real courage here.  If  you are curious, it is not as bad as you might think.

Chris eating black pudding - aka blood sausage - gearing up for haggis.

We started the Gap road from the top, winding down into the valley, passing walkers, pony carts, cyclists and a few cars. Tour buses are not allowed, for good reason – the road is barely wide enough for one car, with very few turnouts.  Chris took a few videos of the road while I was driving, which we might post on facebook.

Gap of Dunloe - scary but worth it.

We stopped by Lord Brandon’s Cottage to take in the sights.  Again, Marcie was locked out and unable to reach the tower.  Actually, the manicured “gardens” were a stark contrast to the wild gap of Dunloe.

ANOTHER feckin' locked castle.

We stopped at a cafe known as “Kate Kearney’s Cottage” where we noticed an evening event benefiting the local girls stepdancing troupe.  We bought tickets to return in the evening, more about that later.

On the way back into town we stopped at two of the biggest tourist attractions in town, Muckross House and Ross Castle. Muckross was restored at probably an astronomical price, but was a good look into a house that was used up to the 1930s. The original owners spent six years preparing for a two day visit by Queen Victoria in 1862, which ended up bankrupting them and they had to sell the house.  The antiques were incredible, many of them made by craftsman in the local area, as well as imported from afar.

Ross Castle was the other end of the spectrum, built in the late 14oos, and restored after falling into ruin. It’s not as big as Blarney, but a good look inside a “real” castle, and much easier on the legs. The rebuilt timbered roof was an amazing feat of workmanship, with hand-hewn and pegged oak timbers.

Ross castle, one of the major tourist attractions in Killarney. And it was open!

They might be giants...or not.

For dinner we chose to go Indian again – Irish food just isn’t that exciting. After dinner we headed back to Kate Kearney’s Cottage, where the crowd was gathering for the stepdancing fundraiser. There was only one other group of tourists there, very low key.  The musician played “real” Irish music – a keyboard with full sound effects playing ultra-smarmy music. It was painful. But finally the girls came out, and they were gorgeous.

Before the dance they had been teetering around the bar on high heels, looking very grown up – or trying to. In their dance costumes they all looked about 12. Sorry, no pics. 😦


Had to go get our laundry, then headed to Bunratty, our final stop of the “tour.” Bunratty Castle is a major tourist trap, but when Mom and I stopped here last time we were surprised to find it was actually pretty cool. The castle tour takes you inside a restored medieval castle, which you certainly don’t see in America! They even let you go up in the crenalated towers to the roof. What a view!

Tomorrow we fly out – 😦  on RyanAir to Edinburgh. Having major problems trying to stick to the massive RyanAir restrictions though: no luggage over 14.35 Kilos, unless it’s Tuesday, or if they feel like it. It actually says over weight charges can vary randomly. WTF!

Here’s some pics. Hope there are more than three of you reading this – it’s a lot of work! A comment or two would be nice….(except Nancy – she’s awesome at that).

Posted by: Marcie Miller | May 12, 2010

Best day in Ireland ever!

On top of Skellig Michael with small Skellig in the background

We made it!!! The trip to Skellig Michael today was amazing! Beautiful weather, calmish seas, views forever in all directions! And my knee made it! It felt a little wobbly, going up the legendary 600 steps, but I made it!

There were five boats of  10-12 people each who arrived at the rock at about the same time, but once we spread out, it didn’t seem like hordes. Everyone was quiet and respectful at the huts.

For those of you who don’t know what Skellig Michael is, it’s a massive peak that rises straight up out of the sea, about 7 miles off the Iveragh Peninsula. Monks used it as a hermitage for 600 years, braving harsh conditions and more than a few Viking raids, before finally abandoning it due to unsually harsh weather in the 13th century. Guess they thought God was trying to tell them something. It was still used as a place of pilgrimage and worship for several centuries.

The monks built and lived in a series of stone “beehive” huts that still stand today. Looking at them today, one can only think, those were tough monks.

In the doorway of a "beehive" hut on Skellig Michael. The monks must have been very short.

An ancient cross stands sentinel over a visitor to remote Skellig Michael.

As we climbed the narrow steps with precipitous drops to the ocean (with a lot of rocks on the way, as Chris points out), we kept thinking, you could never do this in America!

Section of the path with steep drops

Lower portion of the path up Skellig Michael, before the steps begin.

After an all too short visit to this World Heritage site, we headed back down to catch the boat. On the way out we went past Small Skellig, which holds a large gannet colony, as well as assorted other sea birds, such as puffins and guillemots.

Small Skellig in foreground, Skellig Michael in the background. Skellig means rock.

Posted by: Marcie Miller | May 11, 2010

Frozen peas and locked castles

Today was a driving day, 7 hours from Doolin to Portmagee, on the southern tip of the Iveragh Peninsula.

Chris drove all day while I rested my knee. We stopped this morning and got necessary medical supplies — an ace bandage from the chemist’s and a package of frozen peas from the supermarket. Frozen peas, the miracle cure. As you can see from the picture below, I wrapped said peas around my leg and kept it elevated for much of the drive.

I'm sure the clerk wondered why the crazy Yanks were buying only frozen peas.

Chris didn’t make me as nervous with his driving today, which he said made him drive better. hmmm…

We crossed over the River Shannon on the car ferry at Kilmer, barely more than barge, but  very expensive at 18 Euro. Look it up. Took 20 minutes, leaving County Clare behind and moving on to County Kerry, or “The Kingdom of Kerry” as they like to call it.

We stopped in Listowel and had Indian food for lunch – a nice change from Irish food. Also stopped at the Listowel castle, which was “closed for the season.” Season? It’s May! Not having the best of luck with the castles. Surely Bunratty, the mother of all Irish castles, will be open!

At least they don't have boiling oil...

We’re staying in the Portmagee Hostel, a VERY nice new building with a view across the harbor to Valencia Island. There is only one other person here, but we haven’t seen him/her.

Portmagee is a quaint little fishing town — haha — no, actually it used to be, but now it relies on tourism, chiefly people heading out to Skellig Michael, as are we.

Drove around this evening and found this sign at the end of a narrow road. Take it seriously.

Love those international signs!

Tomorrow morning we head out on the long-awaited trip to Skellig Michael, a steep rocky island used by monks for 600 years, up to the 13th century, as a retreat. I’m a bit nervous about the climb with my knee — 600 steps! And even if I make it to the top, there’s the slog back down…

Posted by: Marcie Miller | May 11, 2010

Cliffs of Moher and the Burren

Day One

Just to make things interesting I started the day jumping (OK falling) off a stone bench and twisting my left knee. It didn’t seem too bad and I made it through the rest of the day, as we went from the stunning Cliffs of Moher to the desolately beautiful Burren, and a few pubs.

But first, the Cliffs. They are one of the most photographed cliff faces on the planet, but still awe-inspiring. We added our own photos to the growing collection, although we have been disappointed to learn the wide angle lens for the DSLR is not working, leaving only a 55-250 lens to work with. I never realized how much I used the lower end of the lens!  Fortunately Chris has his handy little camera with a nice wide angle — and it shoots underwater, which has been fun. The first day he stuck it in a tide pool at Doolin harbor.

It’s been seven years since I last visited the Cliffs with my mother, and a lot has changed! Talk about paving paradise. But, with so many visitors they have had to do a lot to protect the fragile environment. There is now a huge parking lot across the street and the visitors center complex is built into the hill like hobbit holes. Very nice, really. There are now wide stone steps leading along the cliff to O’Brien’s tower, and they have completely barricaded off the most thrilling part — a wide limestone ledge where people used to lean over to look down the sheer cliff face. Fun, but very dangerous. There is now a planter dedicated to “those who have lost their lives on the Cliffs of Moher.” No body count though.

End of the Cliffs trail - with memorial to the fallen.

They're no fun.

The weather was pretty clear, but windy, which made it cold!

From there we headed into the “heart of the Burren” as they say, to Kilfenora and the Burren visitor’s center, where we looked at moldy dioramas of prehistoric life and one pretty good video.

Chris took a turn at driving today. The deal was he could drive until he hit something (it goes both ways), since “until you scare me” was too subjective — I got scared right out of the Cliffs of Moher parking lot. Those hedge-covered stone walls really jump out at you! I’ve driven in Ireland before, but I’ve never been a passenger. It’s a different view! And Mom, sorry. You were very brave.

But he got the hang of it, and I learned to admire the view to the right — away from the side of the road.

In the Burren we stopped at a site which is no longer marked, as someone probably stole the sign, an ancient burial mound called “Poulawack.” To get to it we had to climb a small slope and pick our way across the uneven limestone, and over a rock wall. It doesn’t look like  much, just a large pile of rocks, but it has been used for burying folks for 1,000 years.

Then we visited the iconic Poulnabrone, a portal dolmen, also used for burials. It has also been groomed for tourism, with a large parking lot and wide gravel path. When last I visited we had to park in a small pullout and jump from rock to rock to get to it. Again, steps taken to reduce impact.

Poulnabrone portal dolman and tourists

We drove down to the coast from there, to go to Dungaire castle. Arrived at 4:35 p.m., just as they were locking the gates! I have yet to see beyond those iron bars.

Note: Castles close at 4:30 in Ireland

We drove around looking for a giant lobster Chris remembered seeing, on the first day when he was in a jet lag stupor, but didn’t find it, so ended up eating pub grub at The Irish Arms in Lisdoonvarna. Irish pub, no Irish to be found. Two tables of Americans, a large group of Germans, two English couples, and a backroom full of Asians. Who knew Ireland would become such a crossroads?

Back in Doolin we strolled to the pub near our B&B, McDermotts. The band was good, but it was very crowded. Doolin really needs more pubs. They have a booming tourism business, but really not enough pubs to hold the people who come to hear the music. There are only three pubs! Who did that math?

Today, Tuesday, we are heading down to Portmagee on the Iveragh Peninsula, better known as the Ring of Kerry, where tomorrow we are booked for a boat trip out to Skellig Michael, the high rocky island which used to house monks in stone “beehive” huts. It’s 600 steps to the top. Not sure I can make it with my bum knee. 😦  Stay tuned…

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