30 August 2005


Well, here we are… Dan and I are sitting on the edge of a gentle valley, on a warm, sunny, still August day. Six small, recently shorn wheat fields lie in front of us, and a peacefully dappled wood at our backs. We have just eaten a quickly assembled lunch of leftover pizza and salad, and are now relaxing on a picnic cloth in the green grass. Today, after Dan visited the dentist for his last tooth-polish, we travelled out to Haddenham (near Aylesbury) for a visit to St Tiggywinkle’s wildlife sanctuary… and I think you can guess what we saw there. No, not a giant, technicolour antelope! We saw HEDGEHOGS! They are really STUPID! But cute. They look like someone designed them for a play or a film, and didn’t bother to learn about anatomy – they look a bit like wacky animatronic creatures. Then we drove to Ilmer, a very tiny, peaceful hamlet (the residents of which I’m sure come out as devil-worshippers or something at the new moon!) where we visited a church that has been there since the 12th century. There were two white doves in the rafters! I then directed Dan quite haphazardly across a small section of Buckinghamshire to Little Hampden (past funnily named places like SNEED and LOOSELY ROW), where you now find us. Of course, as you may have realised, we have the laptop with us, and will post this blog when we get home!

But Ireland… as if you weren’t sick of it. After that night of boozing, we had to drive all the way down to Kells the next day. The countryside was lovely, and Jonathan Ross on the radio was hilarious, and my terribly queasy stomach was terrible. The country around Kells was probably some of the closest we saw to that cliché of Irish landscape – all rolling hills, bright green grass, stone walls and hedges. (May I just add here that today is SO LOVELY! We even have a warm wind blowing the smells of the countryside through our non-existent hair)… At Kells we stayed in a strange hostel – it feels a bit like it was once a school or scout camp. I slept most of the time, and woke up feeling a little better the next day.

That day we went to the Hill of Tara in the early-ish morning. For those who know of it, yes it was as ancient-feeling and as mystical as you think, especially early in the morning… for those who don’t, where have you been??? We walked around for a bit, and as we were standing in the centre of one of the rings, the sun broke through the blue-grey clouds, illuminating the green grass on the historical sights, and lighting the bales of hay a fey silver-gold. Looking out over the plains, you can imagine that those Old Kings of Ireland would have stood there and exclaimed, “YESSSSSSSSSSS! It’s MINE, it came to ME!!!” Or something far more noble. We went into the café and ordered scones and tea – the scones had just gone into the oven, so we waited 15 minutes and had the yummiest, freshest scones of the trip! We also bought some information pamphlets, and went and stood in the Banquet (Long) Hall, pretending to be the king’s harpers, royalty, etc. Imagining the hall as it might have been – bustling, almost chaotic, the smells of a feast in preparation, the rituals, the music, the rich clothing…

And then we drove to Dublin, checked into THE WORST HOSTEL IN IRELAND (at least, the worst one we stayed in… at least it was sort of clean. You can see my reviews of Isaac’s hostel and others we stayed in on www.bugeurope.com), dropped the car off at the airport, and began exploring the city. Despite the hostel, we both really liked Dublin. It is old, it has a great mix of seediness and coolness, it’s pretty laid back for a capital city, it has great alleyways, it has a cool University (more soon), good food at prices that are CHEAPER THAN LONDON (whatever others might tell you, it’s not as expensive as the English capital), a nice park/garden, a river (which makes it feel a little like Melbourne), it has plaques with quotes from Ulysses all over the place, a fantastic free museum, trams, and BEST OF ALL it has traffic lights with the same buttons – and the same SOUND – as Melbourne traffic lights. It is so strange to find yourself doing something as habitual as hitting the big round button, and realising that the last time you did it was on the other side of the world, five months ago. Tick, tick, tick, tick, psheeewww ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti… heheh!

Trinity College has an amusing and informative little walking tour, and also houses the Trinity College Library (2 and a half metres longer than Trinity College Library in Cambridge, and thus the longest single-room library in the world) and the Book of Kells. The library (Long Room) is AMAZING, and worth the entry to the Book of Kells. The ceiling is 2 storeys high, and a walkway runs right down the middle. Off the passage, there are deep alcoves: both walls lined from top to bottom with old books. And above these alcoves are other alcoves (on the mezzanine) also lined with shelves upon shelves of books. The ceiling is arched, and made of dark wood, and the sunlight falls through large windows in the middle of each alcove. Best of all, guess how they arrange the books??? BY SIZE!!! Hilarious! The Book of Kells comes with an excellent exhibition on the historical context, making of, religious environment, interpretation and conservation of the book. The pages themselves are displayed rather stupidly in a dark room in a glass box without any sort of queuing system, so you sort of have to push in… the visit was great, and out of the experience the idea for a novel popped into my head, the fist scene fully formed (I am actually writing it!)

The museum is also excellent. It provided a really great summary of all the things we’d seen – the megalithic tombs and info on those people, the old religions, the arrival and spread of Christianity, the Viking heritage, medieval towns… and GOLD. Oh my word. I have never understood why people went to all extremes to find gold, but seeing so much of it (a lot of it replicated, but much of it real) made my head go a bit funny. My mouth started watering, and I actually began to think about how to steal it all!!! Gold-lust. It exists. We had to go for brunch (in the chic-est, cutest, gaelic-speaking café) to calm me down.

Hilariously, just as we were leaving the hostel to go home, who should appear but the ubiquitous and lovely Simona?!?!? It was very amusing – we also saw her from the bus going to the airport… Dublin airport has RIDICULOUS security: everyone has to take off their SHOES and put them through the metal detector!!! We also saw a couple of the bike riders from Peter’s place at the airport. Watching the mainland fall away below the plane, we once more got a view of Dublin and the Wicklow Hills/Mountains, basking in the patches of late afternoon sun. We were sad to be leaving – but we will definitely be back. Next time we will be prepared for the very approximate road-signage (occasionally only in Gaelic), the tiny lanes, the road works (SLOW… SLOW… SLOWER, the signs say!), the accents (I still couldn’t tell if some people were speaking Gaelic or English)… but we will also know to expect the friendliness, the laid-back atmosphere, the music seeping through every aspect of life, the stunning, stunning scenery, the (mostly) excellent hostels, the famous fog, the emerald-green fields… Eire…

26 August 2005


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paradise in the mist...


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paradise the day before...


THURSDAY 11TH AUGUST: DONEGAL TO PORTRUSH: we decided that we really wanted to see the bunglas (cliffs) to the west of donegal and killybegs, so off we drove. it was very rural when we arrived - we even had to go through a gate, and a whole hoast of sheep bounded down the mountainside to see if we were going to feed them. the cliffs are the highest sea cliffs in europe, apparantly. they were indeed tall, and we climbed up and up to have a good look out over the sea. in the 2nd world war, they wrote 'tir eire' on the ground by laying out white stones, so that people would know it wasn't england and wouldn't bomb them! on the way back in to donegal we picked up a couple of french hitchhikers. hilariously, just outside donegal we saw simona again!... the drive up to portrush was fairly boring, although we got to listen to our chist moore cd (and the hit sof the 90s cd we got - oh, yuck!). the only interesting thing was crossing the border into northern ireland, where they measure everything in miles (like england) not kilometres (like proper ireland)... we discovered that our speedo only had kms on it, so we sort of had to guess!!! our hostel (macools) was really nice - the owners lived upstairs, and there was a huge selection of games and dvds for rainy days. we talked to a lovely woman named kathleen, who has offered to show us around edinburgh when we're there.

GIANT'S CAUSEWAY: the giant's causeway was created in one of two ways: either by some geographical outburst (volcanoes etc) or by the giant finn macool! in the second version, finn was told that a scottish giant wanted to fight him. finn was the biggest, strongest giant in ireland, so he thought he'd have a go. he started building a bridge from the irish side, and the scottish giant started building from the other side. one day, when the bridge was just about done, finn's wife came running to him and said "finn! i've had terrible news! the scottish giant is much taller and stronger than you, and you will surely die in the battle!" finn didn't like this very much, but he had a plan. he and his wife gathered together all the blankets and clothes in the house, and made a giant cot... the next morning the scottish giant knocked on their door. mrs macool answered it, and said "come in, come in! finn is out at the moment, but please have a cup of tea!" so in came the scottish giant. as he was drinking his tea, a great wail arose from the next room. "what on earth is that, och aye tha noo!" he exclaimed. "oh, it's just the baby," said mrs macool, "come and see him"... so the scottish giant went to see the baby - which was really finn macool wrapped up in huge baby clothes. he took one look and his knees started shaking, "if this is the baby, then what size must the father be?" he thought, and he flew out of that house and over the bridge. so scared was he that finn macool would follow, that he tore up the causeway behind him, so only the very beginning remains - what we now see as the giant's causeway... and that is your folk story for the day. the causeway itself is both bigger and smaller than i imagined. the hexagonal stones are much smaller, but it covers quite a large area, so there are thousands of them. they are very bizarre - quite evenly shaped hexagonal columns all around the cliffs and the bay. we went for a nice walk around the cliff-tops.

CARRICK-A-REDE ROPE BRIDGE: is not as scary as it sounds, nor as you would think by my face in the photo!!! every spring, the fishermen erect a swinging bridge between the mainland cliffs and a tiny island, so they can see where the migrating salmon are swimming. the bridge is something like 65ft long and 80ft high (20m long, 25 high go to http://www.travelsinireland.com/northern/carrickarede.htm for a view)... it waves a bit in the wind, but i imagined i was on a ship, and it was all ok. we had lunch on the island, and had a debate about whether the land form we could see on the other side of the next island was scotland (it was, i was right!).

TORR HEAD: inspired by the possibility of being so close to scotland, i looked at our crap map and figured that a place called torr hear was the closest point in ireland to scotland. it was a lovely drive, and a very special view - the mull of kintyre is only 12 miles away, and in the clear air it looks close enough to touch.

DVDs AND TOO MUCH WINE: that evening, we watched bourne identity and kill bill 2, and drank a bottle of red wine. each. i was so, so queasy. blech! never again!!!


in other news, new pics are up, and i will post one to the blog soon!

24 August 2005


it's been a while. i don't know who is reading this anyway. i guess mum and dad, and tina from italy said she'd popped in. and louis. and maybe a couple of others...? if you're here, please leave us a message! we like contact!

ok... yesterday was a 'highly successful day'. it went like this. dan went to a dentist appointment in muswell hill at 9am. while he had his teeth cleaned and his mouth x-rayed, i enjoyed The Best Breakfast (so far) in England. it was at a restaurant/bakery thing called Sable D'or, and the breakfast consisted of scrambled free-range eggs on organic rye toast, a lettucy salad thing, grilled tomato and mushrooms, and the nicest cappucino i've had in london. it was so tasty. trust me - not amazing by melbourne standards, but compared to all other breakfasts i've had... wow! we went for a little walk in the warm sunshine through the park surrounding alexander palace, came home, armed ourselves with a plastic container, then went out into hertfordshire (little berkhampsted, near essendon), to go for another walk and... PICK BLACKBERRIES!!! i have been waiting to to that for oh, at least a year and a half!!! it was lovely, lovely, lovely. except for the bit where i reached out my hand to pick some juicy looking berries and surprised a snake basking in the bush less than a foot away from aforementioned berries. needless to say (being australian and from the country) i leaped back by about a metre, dragging dan (who didn't see the snake, as it was probably more scared than us and squiggled out of there) with me. we identified it on the net last night as a female grass snake (see http://www.onewildworld.co.uk/reptiles/natrixnatrix.htm and look at how cute it is when it feigns death!) which is not venomous at all - unlike the snake closest in appearance to it in S/E victoria, the brown snake, one of the most venomous snakes in australia!!!... so after a lovely afternoon, we headed back with loads of blackberries, and i did what MUST be done with blackberries - made blackberry shortcake (thanks for sending the recipe, mum!). we went to dan toman's for dinner, where we were fed delicious food and a vast quantity of red wine (flashbacks to shannanigans in northern ireland, which you shall hear about at a later date), came home, ate shortcake... mmm. great day.

TUES09AUG: THE BURREN: got to listen to the emer mayock cd on the way to the burren visitors centre - pleased with purchase. at the centre we grabbed a map of the area with a bit of info on local sights, history etc. the burren (boireann) is an amazing place - alien landscape. when the people of ireland first discovered agriculture (several thousands of years ago), they did what a lot of cultures and societies have done: began to clear the forests for pasture. without the protection of big trees, and with grazing animals preventing any vegetation to grow, the topsoil eroded completely away, leaving what we see today: hills of rock. rock rock rock. it is weird, and beautiful, and amazing (especially to think that the area was once thick oak forest), and was cool for me to see while reading Jared Diamond's 'Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive' which deals with these issues. we first went to Poulnabrone, a famous megalithic tomb - there are a lot of tombs in the area, but this it the best preserved and most accesible of this particular type... thus loads of tourists. we decided to best get a feel for the place, we'd take one of the walks marked on our map and get away for civilisation. and boy did we manage that. ireland doesn't have rights of way in the same way as england - only the bigger trails are waymarked. you can however, enter private property so long as you don't disturb livestock or damage anything (i think). our walk took us into a farm, which involved climbing over a few gates and fences (eep! dad, we checked to see if anyone was home, but if people lock a gate and you have access rights, then you have to climb over it! we didn't damage anything...) we ended up making our way more by the hills and contours marked on the map than by any of the fences, because the map in this department was completely innaccurate! we luncheoned at the very ruinous remains of a stone ringfort (a circle int he rocks) beside a cairn, feeling we'd stepped back in time - 60 years? 600 years? 6000?... interestingly this is the only place in ireland (europe?) where both arctic and mediterranian flora grow side by side. then we approximated our way back to the road. it's really hard to walk when you can't tell if you're stepping on a moss-covered stone or a canopy over a foot-and-a-half deep crevice... on the way home, we stopped at Gregan's Castle Hotel for afternoon tea. it was excellent! they had croquet set up on the lawn, we got the full treatment with fresh checked tablecloths and napkins, scones with delicious handmade jam and cream, served on white china along with a pot of tea (with a silver strainer!)... bliss! that night we listened to some more trad music (fiddle, banjo, bodhran) at MacDermotts, before lying on the car bonnet, staring at the stars for at least half an hour (they were very speccy - it was so clear, and we could see the milky way properly. no southern cross, though). what a brilliant day!

WED10AUG: DOOLIN-DONEGAL: if you are in a hostel and need to wake up early: put your alarm under your pillow, so you don't wake others. turn it off immediately. get up. do not, under any circumstances hit the fricking snooze button!!! especially not 3 times at 6am. people are likely to lynch you... we did the huge drive to donegal, with the lovely simona from slovenia joining us to sligo. it was sad to leave the cute littel hostel by the river - it felt a little like hobbiton! - but we will be back one day to see karl and emily (if she's still there). the drive was uneventful, as we stopped only once to check out a church and get petrol, and we exchanged national anthems. donegal - like a lot of towns on the wes coast - at first looks quite dull, but grows in interest and attractiveness. our hostel was about 1km out of town, run by a slightly manic woman called linda and containing the fattest laziest dog ever. in town we bought sandwiches from the incompetent bakery, and 2 cds for the car - one of them being christy moore's Iron Behind the Velvet, featuring (among others) Barry Moore. HAHAHA! Luka Bloom with hippy hair and a beard!!! that night we went to the scotchman's pub for music, where a friendly team lead by gerry (who sang quite well... and i think of him as gerry with a g, maybe imfluenced by gerry adams?!), and accompanied by mateus from germany on the whistle (he said germans are nuts about irish music?!)... a man sitting next to us found out that i sang, and dobbed me in, which was surprising... so on short order the only song i could think of was 'Sonny', which in retrospect is actually from nova scotia, i think? it was fun - nice mic. dan said it sounded good, so i'll trust him on that one... went home satisfied with a good night of music.

and that's it for today. in other news, dan is doing some work experience with BT, which eliot kindly arranged for him. we went to uly's 30th where the food was excessive and delicious, and i had flashbacks to greek and turkish restaurants in melbourne. we have both become completely obsessed with sudoku, also - an addiction starting only 3 or 4 days ago, and rapidly taking over our lives! i've also been researching for my masters/scholarship applications. we are sooooooooo looking forward to seeing esther in a week and a half, and to seeing ross and jen soonly, too.

19 August 2005


SAT06AUG: SKELLIGS: after the perfect weather of the day before, saturday crept in and settled with the mist, drizzle and poor visibility. we thought our skelligs trip might have been cancelled, but didn't hear anything indicating such rotten luck, so we drove over to port magee. there we met joe roddy (who looked a lot like andrew - my sister esther's partner) who put us in the right boat and told us to get decked out in these hilariously huge waterproofs! eventually we were off, over the swell of the steely grey ocean - needless to say i loved every minute of it - huge lashings of spray right in my face, the roll of the boat, the feel of the sea beneath us. dan, however, was quite yellow! he sat guarding the bag, with a queasy face, looking out for PUFFINS! and he found one! it was really, really small and had a colourful beak!!! and it was all puffiny! eep!... the first major skellig came into view (in irish gaelic, sceilig (sp?) means cliff, or rocks, or something), jutting out of the dark ocean. it had what looked like snow all over the ledges, but when we got closer we realised the white was actually hundreds of gulls (and hundreds of gull-poos). we passed the island and headed towards skellig michael - our destination - even more impressive, rising into the fog. as we drew closer, i saw a path rising up what was essentially a sheer cliff (albiet covered in grass), and i swore at that moment i would NOT climb that path, because A. i value my life and B. i didn't fancy meeting shelob at the top. however, once on solid land (i felt like i was walking like captain jack!), our path was a lot more sheltered (though not much broader, and almost as steep)... just as we got off the boat (dan and i were the last) we saw two seals - mother and child? - in the water... what can i say? the whole trip was amazing! as we headed up the steep stone-slab stairs, the mist concealed the ocean and the wind whipped the fog past us. the stairs are hundreds of years old - some monks back in the 6th to 9th centuries decided it would be a great place to live (removed from earthly delights etc), and built not only the stairs, but a settlement at the top. and when the clochans came into view, it was eerie - the buildings look like huge beehives made of stone, and the mist made me feel like a space explorer on a strange, deserted planet. we had a talk from some guides, and nosed around, then headed back down. on the way we stopped for the (now clearer) view, and as we ate our lunch, we spotted MORE PUFFINS!!! one of them even flew a few metres away from us!!! on the way back we circled the other side of the first skellig, and there were thousands and thousands of gulls. i have never seen so many birds in one place. and there was a whole group of seals, too! very exciting. dan felt better on the way back, and we sang sea shanties, and 'The Ballad of Young Tom'... excellent! it was the best 70EUR we had ever spent!... ... from there we decided pub lunch was in order, so we went to the pub with the best known view in ireland, and saw that under that declaration came a qualification (FOG PERMITTING). sat for an hour or so, and saw a tiny bit of the famous view, and lots of the famous fog... it was a great day.

SUN07AUG: LOUGHS, FORTS & DREAMS: we drove our roommate (abe, from new york) to his fishing spot on the lough behind waterville, and liking the scenery decided to drive to the end of the road. this hills are very strange - all those layers of rock that look like they've been peeled back like the lid of a sardine tin. we passed lots of sheep, radioactively green grass (this is the colour from which ireland gets the name 'emerald isle', obviously), a little stream or two, colourful boats in little inlets of the lough, and a few little cottages - i decided that one day we'll come back and buy a property, where we will run a tiny cafe (advertised only by a sign on the main road saying CAFE: FRESH SCONES, 1/2 HOUR -> ), attached to a hostel for walkers and travellers... and we'll have our recording studio, and a garden with herbs and chooks! (you can take the girl out of the country, but...). we also drove to steige fort, a stone fort somewhere between 2500 and 1900 years old, and the walls to about 2-3 metres are still standing - in places they are a few metres thick, and have little rooms actually inside the base! that evening we went to the pub to listen to some GENYOOWINE irish music. it was CRAP! there was a good whistle player and a horrible man in beige pants playing a really nice fender guitar badly. he should have stuck to the bingo night entertainment. we went back to the hostel, chatted to the people there, watched as 8 irish navy ships pulled into the bay.

MONDAY08AUG: WATERVILLE-DOOLIN: sadly said our goodbyes to the guys at the hostel, warmed our hands by the turf fire, and began the drive to doolin. after the ring of kerry disappeared (what wasn't hidden by the mist!), the scenery became rather dull. as you travel north up this part of the coast, the towns become bleaker, and the scenery more messy. in the south, the houses and buildings in the towns are painted every shade of blue, purple, yellow, apricot, taupe, red, green that you can imagine, but as you drive north they become less colourful (maybe because there are fewer tourists to please?!). we crossed a ferry and saw a pod of dolphins playing in the water!!! arrived at aille river hostel in doolin after passing many little old men in little old red massey ferguson (and suchlike) tractors - they were so cute! the hostel is lovely - bigger than peter's place, but still very friendly. doolin is known as a bit of a centre for music, so we were looking forward to the pub that night. first, however, we went into the lower village and discovered that none other than LUKA BLOOM was playing there that weekend. had a bit of a crisis - should we stay? should we return? arrr!!! - and had to sit on the stone wall overlooking the river and cliffs to calm down. we saw a great sign in the middle of a paddock, which read 'NOT SAFE FOR BATHING BEYOND THIS POINT'... ye-es... ok! that night we had a decent meal in mcgann's pub, and watched the music (guitar, banjo, accordian) for a while. it was pretty low-key, so we headed to mcdermott's, where the place was ON FIRE (not literally) with an amazing group of musicians playing full-pace (great banjo player, pretty amazing concertina player, bodhran, fiddle, guitar... and a couple of them also sung). great night! we really felt like we were in ireland!!!

alright! in other news, we have booked a car and some accommodation for scotland; esther j has left australia/arrived in europe; london has been sunny and warm, and is now drizzly and crisp... i shall blog more, anon. i hope these blogs aren't too boring and long for you (you'd have thought i'd kissed the blarney stone, the way i'm carrying on!). take care, and keep in contact!

17 August 2005


we will break this up into two or more parts, and blog over a few days, so you can enjoy ireland in bits. yep, we chiselled bits off it as we went around. this first bit is a brick of turf (or peat, if you will).

WED03AUG: LONDON-KILKENNY: Margot generously offered to drive us to the bus station in Golder's Green, from which our bus left for Stansted airport at about 7am. Margot looked very endearing in her dishevelled hair and pyjamas and slippers. We got to Ireland easily... TOO EASILY. then i was deported at the gates and that's the end of the story... actually, we arrived at hertz car rental, having booked an automatic car, to be told the wait for the automatic cars might be anything between 30 minutes or... FIVE HOURS! but we could take a manual if we'd like (dan hadn't driven one for 11 years, and to insure an under 25 driver would be 200EUR)... we didn't really like, but we couldn't wait for 5 hours, so manual it was. we probably should have turned back when we spent about half an hour stalling and bunnyhopping around the hertz carpark. but we persisted in taking the stalling to the wider world - the motorway! at one point we just COULDN'T move forward, and a guy jumped out of his car and knocked on the window (later, dan told me that in london he would have been coming to punch us in the face!). with a big smile on his face, he said 'i think you're a turd'... actually he said 'i tink yoor en turd', which on closer inspection turned out to be 'i think you're in third' (we weren't, we were just shit drivers!). we eventually made it to killkenny, where we stayed in a hostel with a big sparkly banner in the loungeroom, which said something like 'JESUS CHRIST IS THE SAVIOUR OF THE WORLD'. Klassy. that evening we went to pub for my first pint of guinness in ireland (i have to say, it wasn't that great...). kilkenny is very pretty, but it is quite touristy, and feels a little bit put on (in the way that i found venice to be a McItaly, kilkenny is a bit of a McIreland.)

THUR04AUG: KILKENNY-WATERVILLE: went to kilkenny castle in the morning, for a stroll around the estate (it has the most vast expanse of lawn ever!) and down by the river. the footpath by the river was dotted at regular intervals with life bouys bearing the inscription 'A STOLEN BOUY, A STOLEN LIFE!'. we then hopped in the car and stalled our way to the rock of cashel (in cashel), which is a stone castle/cathedral/thing set on top of a limestone outcrop - it looks like it has grown from the hillside. went in and poked around with the masses of other tourists as the clouds burst, providing us with a slight deluge. to avoid the tourists and enjoy the deluge, we wandered down into the valley to the abbey we could see from the castle. this was much more fun than the rock, and we got to explore the ruins in peace and quiet, then get our shoes muddy on the walk back. excellent. our destination was waterville, a little town beside the sea on the ring of kerry, and as we got closer, the scenery began to get rather stunning (and because dan was getting better at driving, we were able to enjoy it!). huge rocky hillsides, which looked like abandoned quarries (they weren't) rose up out of sight into the low cloud, and our first glimpse of the sea came as the road almost fell into it! this scenery disappeared, however, into the thick white cloud. or was it mist? we learned, during our stay, that is is called fog, and it is very famous (!)... it was so thick that the road appeared a few metres ahead, and vanished just behind the car. we passed a pub claiming to have the most famous view in ireland (we laughed), and at one point a huge grey statue of the maria loomed up at us (we wouldn't have been surprised to learn this was the end of the earth). eventually we found our hostel - peter's place is like a share house, with a fire warming up the kitchen, and a cozy lounge, and beds in which i fell straight to sleep.

FRI05AUG: SKELLIG RING: sat by the sea in the crisp morning air, as the sun chased our shadows west into the bay. the sky was clear, the water blue... i think this was the first time i had ever looked west into the ocean, and it was bizarre to think that very little lay between us and that scariest of continents - america. peter called us in for breakfast in the garden, and fed us up with his homemade bread and scones, and oodles of tea and coffee. bliss. he also offered to organise our boat trip to the skelligs the next day, and gave us a map of the area and a suggested road trip for the day. we followed his instructions, and drove firstly around the bay to ballinskelligs for a look at the ruins of the friary there (so picturesque! right on the water, surrounded by graves, and celtic crosses). then as far as we could drive alond bolus head, the narrow road wending its way along the smooth hillside, past mazes of stone walls, ruins of old clochans (circular houses), through a resurrected village (where ruins and restored cottages line the road), and to a gate marked 'private'. at which point we turned around (dan showing all his skillz!) and drove back. as peter said to us - you haven't travelled a road unless you've gone both ways, because your perspective is completely different. the view out to the next headland was crystal clear, and the water was gleaming in the sun, and it couldn't have been more different from the day before! we then drove around the other side of the head before following the map over through port magee to valentia island. i could smell smoked chicken. the roads are lined with fuschias (the are not native, but grow like weeds! everywhere, with their pink and purple fuschiacality!). we went for a walk up to a disused signal tower at the end of the island, watched by sheep and cows, where we had the most amazing views back past puffin island (too far to see any puffins, annoyingly), out to the skellig islands, and along the amazing cliffs of valentia. i could still smell smoked chicken. what was it? we drove then to cahershiveen (spellling?) where the main road travels along a huge valley - i am SURE there used to be a glacier there, as it looks like it has been (yes, mum!) scoured out, and it's quite rounded. we also explored this valley in-depth as we tried to use our crappy big map to get around in it. we got lost(ish - we could still see where we wanted to go!) in the scrub, drove up a remote hill, chased a postal van hoping it would lead to civilisation, lost the postal van, found a random school, and eventually made it home!... that evening, waterville fired up (heehee!) with a travelling funfair. it was soooo cool and retro - like a 60s type affair. it had about 4 rides (that's including the dodgems and one in a giant tea-cup!), and fairy floss (which these chaps call candy floss). unfortunately dan wouldn't come on any of the rides with me (adults had to accompany children), so we had a little walk before retiring for the evening. we did figure out what the smell of smoked chicken was, though: the smell of turf fires!!! so now you know what peat smoke smells like!

and that's enough for today - the first three days of our irish shenanigans. i'll post some more tomorrow, or whenever i get around to it. london is sunny and warm. hilarious!

2 August 2005


a headline only made possible by a coin collecting newspaper...

in other news: we are back from dorset, and are heading to ireland tomorrow for 2 weeks. here's a brief diary of our week away.

FRIDAY 22ND: the family got up early (for a day off) and bundled into the cars to go to venture photography studio for a photo shoot (margot won it by doing a marks & spencer survey... after she got her bits). the photo shoot was... sort of fun, but odd - especially for those of us used to being on the other side of the camera apperatus. later that morning, after adam went to get his toe sawn off (i think it's an infected ingrown toenail), we hopped back in the cars and drove down to dorset, singing loudly to the 'grease' soundtrack... beautiful. the 'cottage' turned out to be something of an enormous structure - it slept 7 of us, with enough room for another 6 or 7. it was situated near arne, wareham, swanage, studland, poole, bournemouth (just in case you look it up in an atlas...) right beside a bird sanctuary and a toy museum, only half an hour walk from the sea (ha ha HAAAAA!!! the SEA! the english BEACH! a beautiful, tranquil expanse of MUD!!! hilarious... ok, it wasn't REALLY the sea, it was a[n?] harbour). we played cricket and football on the lawn.

SATURDAY 23RD: dan and i had purchased a book on walks in dorset, and intended to make good use of the £10 investment, so we set out to the village of worth matravers for the beginning of walk 22 - a 7 mile (11.3 km) ramble through the fields to dancing ledge on the coast, then around st aldhelm's head following the south west coast path, past chapman's pool, back to the village. the coast here really is odd to australian eyes, with farmland and pastures right up to the cliff edge, then the white chalk dropping straight into the steel blue sea (i can imagine my cartoon self running full tilt away from some pursuer, looking back over my shoulder, and running over the edge of the cliff but not noticing until i was a good few metres out, then looking down, pulling a 'CRIKEY!' face, and dropping out of the frame...). my favourite bit of the walk (which was wonderful - even the horrid V shaped valley we had to climb down, then straight back up again) was finding st. aldhelm's chapel at the tip of the headland. it is a norman chapel, a simple structure, with such a sacred atmosphere... it's basically just a cube, with a slightly angled roof. it's divided into quarters inside, with the only openings being the doorway in one quarter and a tiny slit in the wall diagonally opposite. the light from that window falls onto the altar, which occupies that quarter, and upon which sits a simple cross. the pews face the altar, occupying the other quarters. i found it thoroughly refreshing. every christian church, chapel or cathedral i have visited before has been different (some opulent, some gorgeously kitsch, some understated, some rich, some impressive, some huge, some colourful...) and my test of them has been to stand in them and consider the corruption of the institution, the murder of various groups of society either carried out by or allowed by the churches, the sexism and homophobia particularly of the roman catholic branch... suddenly the stained glass doesn't look so luminous, the paintings seem tainted, the gold and richness of the decor makes me feel ill. but i simply could not connect this place with those things. it stands out in my mind as the physical manifestation of all that is good about christianity: simplicity, humbleness, openness, welcome, reflection, a lack of pretense. there were no confession boxes to hide in, no curtains or divisions for the clergy to disappear into, just the altar, the pews, and a pot of flowers and information leaflet near the door... ... ... ok, enough with the chapel! the walk was fantastic - we had a sense of achievement, as it was the longest one we'd done since being in the uk. in the evening we played board games and did crosswords.

SUNDAY 24TH: was a very lazy day. we watched 'the producers' in the morning, then drove eliot to wareham in the early afternoon to do some stuff on the internet. but, with it beingthe country, most things were closed, so we ended up taking him our for lunch. it was a very filling lunch. i was full. then i decided it would be a good idea to have what the english call 'cream tea' - a huge pot of tea, scones, jam, and a cornicopia of cream!!! mmm. i was then REALLY full. in the evening we watched the first star wars (i.e. the first one ever made, i.e. episode 4). it was hilariously dull! but less dull than 2001. however, the tedium was lightened by some truly horrific acting and some props and monsters of epic tackiness. all in all i would have to give it at least 2.5 stars. maybe even 3 out of five!

MONDAY 25TH: involved dan and i (mis)leading an expedition party (both of us, margot, aaron, orly and adam) on a 4 mile walk from studland, inland across ballard down, then to ballards point, harry's rocks and back to studland. except that we were reading the wrong map and lead people on a 6 mile walk from studland, inland through a marshy heathland, across a golf course, through a farm, up a small but steep hill, along a ridge and THEN to ballards point, harry's rocks and back to studland. it was great!!! we even had entertainment for the whole family provided by what we decided were some lesbian cows (they were mounting each other with slightly more vigour than is usually seen)... back at studland i had my first experience of a REAL english beach. there was SAND. and WATER. and people making SANDCASTLES. and SITTING ON DECKCHAIRS. i must also add, though, that there were NO WAVES, and NO SWIMMERS because there were a number of THREATENING CLOUDS, and that the people on the deckchairs were wearing RAINCOATS and SCARVES and often had UMBRELLAS, and that the DENSE MIST hanging over the beach gave it a rather BLEAK FEELING. had a delicious vegetarian pasta as a 4 o'clock mystery meal (on the second try, they even managed to omit the seafood), accompanied by a pint of cider. mmm.

TUESDAY 26TH: dawned cloudy and gradually got worse. orly and adam were going to take dan and i to poole to do pottery painting (yes! really!) and crab fishing, then to bournemouth to play minigolf (see previous brackets) and sit on beach. weather did not permit, so we painted our pottery then went home, where i wrote a song about english summers at the beach.

WEDNESDAY 27TH: was still grey and drizzly, but we decided to go for a walk anyway - just a short, 4 mile walk from swanage to durlston head castle through durlston country park, then alond the coast to the tilly whim caves and the lighthouse, and back through the fields to the town. it was really quite magical walking though the trees, with a fine mist creating the effect of translucent curtains set every few metres. we didn't see any elves or puffins (or in fact very much of the sea, due to themist!), but we did have a lovely walk. our family entertainment this time was provided by an enormous penis, belonging to a wistful looking white and dappled stallion... the cream tea experience was repeated in swanage after the walk (will i ever learn?!).

THURSDAY 28TH: was quite lovely, though lazy. dan and i went fora walk in the heathland near the cottage, wandering along the narrow paths, joining a bridleway, pushing our way through what felt like cool-temperate rainforest (except with oaks instead of lillypillies!), then emerging back onto the heathland and climbing a low hill, giving us a nice 360 degree view, with corfe castle in the distance. although we never walked around the castle, we drove past it a number of times - as one travel article put it, it looks like it has been precision dynamited for aesthetic effect. that afternoon, dan and i did a small part of one of the longer walks in our book - from kingston to swyre head. and i have to say that the views from the head really were incredible. we could see the cities of bournemouth and poole on one side, around the coast to st aldhelm's head (where we found the chapel), along the green spine of purbeck ridge (corfe castle guards the only gap in the ridge), and out along the south west coast path and white cliffs to weymouth and fortuneswell in the west. imagine all this under a sunny blue sky, abutted by a sparkling ocean, accompanied by the sound of the wind whipping through the trees in a small nearby wood, and the bleating of sheep in the adjoining fields. it was a good summary of our trip - to get an overview of all theplaces we'd visited.

FRIDAY 29TH: we got up and packed the cars, then dan drove orly, adam and i to stonehenge on the way back to london. stonehenge is great! it was much smaller than i thought it would be (even though people had said it would be much smaller than i thought it would be, it really was much smaller than i thought it would be... etc). however, it still manages to catch and hold your attention. it costs £4-£5 to get in, but entry gives you a very informative audio guide and some pamphlets on the site, so even stingy me didn't mind too much. we went on quite a bleak day - though it wasn't raining or overly windy, the clouds were high and grey, and the grass and surrounding landscape seemed leached of colour. despite the tourists, it was possible to feel quite isolated from the contemporary setting but understand the stones' connection across time to another, unknown, culture. as i walked around the ring (the path is fenced with a rope barrier), the henge grew more impressive, and with each step came a further understanding of why people throughout the centuries have been so fascinated with it. also (esther autograph, you probably already know), king arthur's father, uther pendragon, is said to be buried in one of the barrows near stonehenge. cool, huh?!

since returning to london, we've organised more of our ireland trip (it's going to be GREAT!), watched pirates of the carribean (it's still GREAT!), went to dan's friend's place for dinner (we had broad bean and asparagus risotto... and cheesecake... mmmmm, GREAT!), we went to see charlie and the chocolate factory with mike and uly (and johnny depp is GREAT!), and i have had my 3rd hep b injection (which isn't really that GREAT!), and today dan and i were in the city and we played an experimental travel game (GREAT!). this is how you play the game. get a pack of cards, at least 2 people, and a digital camera. stand at a crossroad. turn over the first card. diamonds=right the number of streets/shops/roads indicated, spades=forward, clubs=left, hearts=back. so a 6 of diamonds means turn right and walk 6 blocks, or 6 buildings, or whatever. start walking and flip the next card. diamonds=find the number indicated of red, static objects, spades=find and photograph the number of capital letter 'A's indicated, hearts=find the number of pink things indicated, clubs=find and photograph people in uniform and/or wearing nametags/security passes. so a 10 of spades means you need to find and photograph 10 capital letter 'A's (and they have to all be from different places). if you turn a joker at any point, then the other people get to construct a silly challenge for you (e.g. ask a police officer if you can get a photo with them... or hug a tree for 20 seconds... or lick a shop window... silly things). it doesn't sound that fun on paper, but it's a cool way to see bits of a new city that you wouldn't otherwise venture to.

and that's it. i have to eat now. mmm. FOOD! please write to us... we'll be your bestest friends!!!