Some Final Thoughts

That very well may have been the fastest 32 days of my life.  I can’t believe my trip and time in Ireland has come to a close, for this chapter.

Yesterday was my last full day in Ireland.  Like my first day here, it was raining all day.  I meandered through Co. Kerry, making my way very slowly from the Ring of Kerry area to Shannon Airport.  Because of the rain, I did not stop much or take pictures.

It was a lovely drive.  I would like to go back and spend some time in Listowel, which looked very cute.  There’s an annual writing conference/literary festival, the Listowel Writers’ Week, which I’ve looked at a number of times and may need to seriously consider.

At one point in my wandering, I had to dodge a cow’s head – that was a new one.  She was basically hanging her head over a fence, down a steep embankment, so that her head was sticking out into the middle of the road.  She had no intention of stopping her snack, just because I was there.

Toll Booths:  I am proud to say that I believe I have perfected the toll booth from the right side of the car.  My first toll booth encounter was a complete disaster.  I didn’t get anywhere close enough to the attendant.  I had misread the sign, so gave her the wrong amount of money.  I hadn’t memorized each of the different coin values yet, so couldn’t figure out how to give her the right amount.  It was a bit ridiculous.  My 2nd toll booth encounter was better, though still a bit of a struggle.  But the last one, you might have thought I was a local.

Farm Equipment on the Highway:  Note to self… before returning I must figure out what the proper protocol is for passing farm equipment as it inches along the ‘highway’.  Call me crazy, but I’m not comfortable passing huge tractors, especially in a “no overtaking” zone.

There also appears to be a whole code system to the use of directional/blinkers that I just never did figure out.  They don’t just mean you intend to turn, apparently.

There are probably more than a few Irish out there who would be glad to know I’m leaving.  My driving seemed to get slower and slower each day.  I may have been getting used to it, but I was also getting very tired.  It takes a lot of concentration.

I ended the day with the practicalities of ending a trip.  I discovered my cell phone was missing and made a few phone calls back to the B&B to see if it had been found.  I had to get ‘petrol’ to top off the tank, then return the rental car.  Then I checked into the airport hotel and proceeded to empty all my bags, reorganize and repack.

In the morning, I checked out of the hotel and walked over to the airport.  I checked in with Enterprise regarding my phone.  Still no sign of it.  It apparently really did not want to leave.

I love Shannon Airport because all of the customs work is done here, no forms, short lines, no having to juggle all your luggage.  Sweet and easy.  The good news is…  my 2 bottles of limited edition Jameson have made it through customs and are being loaded onto the plane.  I’d have been much more upset over an issue getting that Jameson home than I am about the phone.

There is no question in my mind… I will be back to Ireland.  I’m addicted.

Kenmare to Killorglin, Co. Kerry

It was a beautiful day for my next to last day in Ireland, and of my trip.  I started the day with a peaceful morning walk all through Kenmare, before the rests of the tourists began pouring out into the streets.

When I approached Kenmare last night, the clouds had settled down over the mountain peeks, creating a mystical and magical feel.  They were still there when I went out this morning, as if they’d been protecting us all night.

After walking all over the town taking pictures, I took some time to shop.  When I realized they’d ship for the price of the insurance only, I did a bit more shopping.  Lots of goodies heading home, though they won’t get there for 2 weeks, and now I’m kind of wishing I had tried bringing them home.  But my suitcase was over weight coming, and now it has two full bottles of Jameson in it, so shipping seemed like less hassle in the long run.

I decided to pick just one of the many plans I had originally set for the day.  One thing is clear… I always want to do far more than is realistically possible.  I decided to drive through the MacGillycuddy Reeks, a mountain range in Co. Kerry, containing the highest peeks in Ireland and the only peeks over 1,000 meters.  The highest is 1,038m.  (To put that in comparison, Mt. Washington in NH is 1,917m.)  The range sits between Kenmare and Killorglin in the center of the Ring of Kerry.

I drove to Molls Gap.

Then stopped to admire Barfinnihy Lake.

Before driving deeper into the MacGillycuddy Reeks and through the Black Valley.  And, in case you were worried, there were sheep… everywhere.

From the Black Valley, I worked my way back up and into the Gap of Dunloe.

The Gap of Dunloe proved to be my biggest driving challenge yet.  Most of it was a road barely wide enough for 1 car, but with two way traffic.  It also had many walkers/hikers, bicyclists, and horse drawn carriages.  There were a couple of times I wasn’t entirely sure I would make it through.  If I hadn’t damaged the car before today, I did today.  I hit a rock at one point, but it was either the rock or the older gentleman walking in the road, who was clearly annoyed at having his leisurely hike interrupted by a bad American driver.

Having finally survived the Gap of Dunloe and the MacGillycuddy Reeks, I continued to Killorglin and then onto another part of the Ring of Kerry, stopping at the stunning Rossbeigh Strand, which also offered beautiful views of the Dingle Peninsula and Inch Strand across the bay.

To end my day, I made my way back to Killorglin, where I’m staying the night.  I walked around the village, taking pictures, then stopped for dinner before making my way to the B&B where I’m staying, which sits right on the edge of the River Laune.

The view from my B&B as the sun sets.

Back in Ireland

It was tough leaving Wales yesterday.  The wonderful thing about staying in a place for a bit of time is that you really get to know the place and some of the people, you feel connected, and become somewhat of a local.  The hard part is that it can start to feel like home, and that makes it tougher to leave.

I packed up, cleaned up the cottage a bit, took one last walk around the grounds of Trefacwn, and said my goodbyes to the people and cats.  I left earlier than needed for fear I might not leave at all, and drove to the ferry port on the edge of Fishguard.

The crossing was not quite as rough this time, but I am still not a good boat person.  The wind still felt about as strong, though.  Crossing the Irish Sea in October may not be a good idea if you don’t like the cold and aren’t great on boats.  I had my hoodie on, zipped almost all the way up, with the sleeves pulled over my hands, but I stayed up on the deck the whole time.  An older woman told me I had a strong soul.

I watched as Wales faded into a charcoal smudge along the horizon, then turned and watched Ireland rise from the Celtic Sea on the opposite horizon.  I have to say, as much as I love Wales and as hard as it was to leave, it always feels good to be back in Ireland.

I stayed the night near the port, as I’m still not comfortable with the idea of driving in the dark on the left side of the road.

This morning, I headed out, returning to Co. Kerry.  I stopped for a bit in New Ross, Co. Wexford.  I had wanted to stop there the last time I was in Ireland, but it was completely socked in with fog, so I was thrilled to see it clear, even if overcast, when I got there today.  The Kennedy family come from a small village outside of New Ross, and they celebrate that connection.  There is also a strong connection here to the many Irish emigrants during the famine.

After New Ross, I continued toward Co. Cork and Midleton.  And, yes, I did stop here again.  Just had to.  My special bottle was gone – I shared it with my fellow retreat attendees.

With the trunk loaded up again, I continued on to Cork City.  And then I got lost.  I made a wrong turn at the Port of Cork, but the guard let me turn around, then missed a sign and ended up in Cork City, which was not at all what I wanted.  Let’s just say that ended up with me getting honked at, not in a good way, about a half dozen times.  Finally, I saw a sign for the highway to Limerick and went that way.  But, about a half hour later, I realized was was totally going the wrong way.  Instead of the south west route I wanted, I was on the north west route.  I pulled over, checked the road atlas, got my bearings, and then took the next regional road south.  After meandering through some very beautiful countryside. I finally made it to the main road I needed, and then on to Kenmare, Co. Kerry.

Kenmare is a cute and very busy little town.  The town basically forms a triangle of brightly colored shops, restaurants, and inns, with strings of flags crossing the streets.  The triangle points to a park and beyond that a church.  My camera battery had died, so I wandered around, checked out some of the shops, and had dinner.  My plan is to spend more time here in the morning, taking pictures, and probably actually doing a bit of shopping, before checking out more of the area.

The camera battery is recharged, and I’m ready to take a lot more pictures tomorrow.

My Last Full Day in Wales

It is hard to believe that my 3 weeks in Wales is coming to a close.  I leave tomorrow morning and take the ferry back to Ireland.

I spent part of today walking around St. Davids, which is beginning to feel like my home town now.  I took a lot of pictures of a different section, which I expect will become at least a few paintings.  I walked through the tiny little books store again and stopped at the chocolate shop again.  I took a picture of the little street leading to the parking lot I’ve come to think of as my parking place and the view from the parking lot.  And, of course, a few flowers.

I also spent quite a bit of time wandering around Trefacwn , taking some more pictures of the property.  I spent some time watching the clouds go by and visited with one of my new friends, Gwynnie.

I was also blessed with the best sunset of my trip yet.

And a full moon.

Dinas Head and Fishguard Fort

I went for another drive along the spectacular Pembrokeshire Coast, this time north to Dinas Head.

I went to Pwllgwaelod Beach (I have no idea how to pronounce it).  The view from the car as I made the descent to the beach was almost as breathtaking as the very narrow, steep, and winding road to get there.  I got there right in time to see the ferry I will be taking in just a couple of days heading out to the Irish Sea across Fishguard Bay.

Right next to the beach was a small farm, the hillside covered with sheep.  A fishing boat was on a trailer resting right beside a tractor.  One more reminder of how the people here are tied to both the sea and land.

 

From there, I went to the other side of Dinas Head, to Cwm yr Eglwys, which means valley of the church.  (I can’t pronounce that either.)  This is a beautiful little hamlet, nestled around a gorgeous sandy beach and cove.  Overlooking the cove is the end wall of a chapel and an old cemetery, most of the headstones dated in the beginning of the 1800s.  St. Brynach’s Church was a Celtic style church built in the 12th Century, but most of the church was destroyed in a massive storm in 1859, so that the west end wall and belfry are all that remain.  There is a sign at the gate reminding all visitors that the site remains consecrated ground and should be treated with respect and reverence.

 

This adventure brought me back through my nemesis, Fishguard, with its 1st Centuary-width streets.  Each time I’ve been through Fishguard before, I’ve noticed a little turn off and parking area that intrigued me.  But, due to its location and the nerve it would take to get in there I had skipped it.  I finally decided to brave it, though I really had no idea what was there.  I was expecting another panoramic view of the coast and bay, which I got.  But I also discovered Fishguard Fort, built about 1780.  And I got a beautiful view of the coast, bay, Fishguard and Goodwick perched on opposite cliffs, and the Irish Sea just beyond the port.  It was worth the effort.

 

I’ll close with some more pictures of the wonderful wild flora of Pembrokeshire.

Quiet and Beauty

With the retreat over and everyone gone, it is quiet again at Trefacwn.  I needed a day to just stay on the property, to rest and process everything from the retreat.  And I walked around the property several times, breathing it in and taking more pictures.  Here are more pictures on and around the property, another sunset, a moon rise, the main manor house, and a number of different views.

As you can imagine, despite there being so much I want to see around Pembrokeshire, it is sometimes difficult to leave the property.

The Lion-Hearted

For the past few days, I was blessed and honored to be a part of a retreat and workshop about “LionHearted Leadership”, a principal developed by Linda Tucker, co-founder of the Global White Lion Protection Trust.

Before I get into the retreat itself and the absolutely amazing experience, I have to explain how truly serendipitous, perhaps destined, it was that it even happened.   I learned about the Global White Lion Protection Trust (GWLPT) a couple of years ago, when I was searching for pictures of white lions for the series of big cat paintings I did.

I was immediately interested in the work the GWLPT was doing and moved by the story of the white lions in South Africa, as well as the current danger faced by all lions in Africa, and have supported the organization a bit.

So, here I am in Pembrokeshire, Wales, at Trefacwn.  I was sitting out on my patio, reading in the sun last week, when one of the people who lives here came by.  He mentioned that there was going to be a “white lion” retreat on the coming weekend, with Linda Tucker and the people from the GWLPT.  Graciously, they allowed me to join the retreat, though the retreat was technically sold out.

To say that the three day retreat was mind blowing and life changing doesn’t even begin to come close to the experience.  And I know I will still be working on processing all of it for a while to come.

There were 22 of us in the retreat, including the facilitators.  We gathered in the beautiful restored barn called Ty Dewi, which happens to be the cottage I stayed in during my first visit to Trefacwn two years ago.  The rustic cottage, blustery fall weather, beautiful Welsh countryside, worked magic with the diverse and amazing group of lion-hearts who came together for the weekend.

For meals, we gathered in the grand dining room of the Georgian manor house.  We were fed hearty, flavor filled vegan meals with many local, seasonal vegetables.  The young man that did the cooking took so much pride and put much love in his healthful creations, feeding us meals that truly complemented the work we were doing in the retreat, fostering a healthy connection with the earth and nature.

The three days of the weekend were packed with amazing discussion, interesting ideas, and moving introspection.  We also learned about the plight of lions in Africa and the white lions, as well as some of the work being done to save them.  Linda Tucker shared some of her amazing story with us and her immense wisdom

Sunday morning we wrapped up the retreat with a trip down the hill to Abereiddy.  We hiked up the hill above the Blue Lagoon and gathered on the top of the cliff over looking Traeth Llyfn beach.  In this magical, powerful, and breathtaking spot, we reflected and made some personal commitments, supported by the power of the earth and each other.

After the retreat on Sunday, a handful of people left.  The remaining group enjoyed another nurturing and delicious meal, then went down to the Sloop Inn pub in Porthgain for a pint, with much fascinating discussion.  When we got back to Trefacwn, we gathered in the cozy lounge of the manor house, had an assortment of whiskey, and played a fun game that had us laughing until midnight.

It was an amazing weekend, unexpected and a true gift.  I met some amazing people and made some new friends, and I ended the weekend with a distinct feeling that this was all the beginning of something.

Northern Pembrokeshire

It was another beautiful day, and I decided to take a drive up through the northern end of Pembrokeshire.  Doing this meant driving through Fishguard, which is always a scary challenge for me.  The town was originally established in the 1st Century (yes, I said 1st), and it seems many of the streets were never widened more than what might have been needed for horses.  Add to that the fact that the village basically climbs up and down a steep cliff, and you can start to understand why I’m never thrilled driving in Fishguard.

It is amazing really, especially given how old many of these villages are, how so many of them were built on such steep and rugged land.

I drove out toward Cardigan, with the goal of getting to St. Dogmaels in time for their farmers market, which ended at 1.

On the way, I got side tracked when I saw a sign for the Pentra Ifan Burial Chamber.  The sign said it was about 2.5 km off the highway, but didn’t say it was very slow, windy, and narrow roads out into the middle of nowhere.  It was worth it though.  The dolmen, which dates back to about 3500 bc and is believed to have been a communal burial chamber, was quite impressive.

And I ran into these lovely ladies on my walk out to see it.

I had not intended to go to Cardigan, but missed the turn for St. Dogmaels and ended up driving through.  It’s a much bigger, bustling town that I expected, and a bit complicated to drive through, as it seemed like most roads were one way and all going the same way.  But I might make time to go back, as it did look interesting.

I got to St. Dogmaels a bit late and the farmers’ market was already packing up.  But it looked good and I bought some fresh veg and bread.  The market was set up at the base of St. Dogmaels Abbey.  The ruins of the 12th Century abbey are interesting, and it’s clear that it was probably quite large and impressive in it’s day.

This was another town with very narrow roads, twisting and turning sharply up a very steep hill.  I took another wrong turn and ended up on what I now call a how-is-this-even-considered-a-road roads, where it feels like the shrubs are scraping the car on both sides and a patch of thick grass grows all the way down the middle.  And where I hold my breath at every curve, just praying there is no farm vehicle coming.

Finally back on the “main” road, which was at least wide enough for 1 car in most places, the drive along the coast was beautiful.  I tried to piece together a panoramic of Cebwr Bay, from five photos.  It’s not perfect, but you can get a good sense of the landscape and view.

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I drove through a couple more very cute towns, but at that point the driving was beginning to exhaust me and I didn’t stop.  I may go back for pictures another day.

I did stop when I got back to Fishguard, though.  I have been in Fishguard a few times between this trip and 2 years ago, but had not been down to the Lower Town, bay, or quay, which I did today.

This one cracked me up.  Note that the sign above where the boat is “parked” says “Car Park Liable to Flooding.”  Not sure if that’s how the boat ended up there.

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Newgale, Solva & Trefacwn

After quite a bit of rain yesterday, today perked right up with sun and warm air.  It was a lovely day for a drive down the coast and a bit of walking.

I drove along  the coast to Newgale, which is a small village that hugs a wide span of beach and then winds its way up a steep hill.  It’s quite pretty.  The surf was up and there were a lot of people in the water trying to take advantage of both the waves and weather.

Solva is a cute little town with a lot of brightly painted buildings, a few art galleries, and solva walesa large bay that basically disappears with low tide.  I walked around Solva a few times on my last trip, two years ago, and did a painting of some of the buildings, and had to go back this time.  It has not changed much and is as charming as ever.

After a quick trip to the grocery store in St. Davids, I had lunch and read in the sun, on the patio in front of my cottage, then went for a walk around the grounds of Trefacwn and neighborhood.  Some changes were made to Trefacwn over the past two years, including a beautiful, natural swimming pool in the walled gardens.  They are also currently at work restoring a couple more of the old buildings on the property.

Here are a few more pictures around Trefacwn:

And more of the many wonderful wild flowers:

And then the fog rolled in:

A Charity Auction – Pembrokeshire-style

Having run a non-profit for about eight years, been involved with a number of non-profit organizations over the years, and attended quite a few auctions in the states, it was very interesting to attend a charity auction in Wales last Saturday night.  It was fascinating to see and experience the differences.

The auction is an annual event, put on by a local non-profit, raising money to support a different local cause each year.  This year they were raising money to support a new cancer support centered that was recently opened in one of the towns.  But, as this is a fairly quiet area, the event is kind of a big deal for the community as an opportunity to get together, celebrate, and have fun.

To start, every fundraising auction I’ve been to in the states has had a heavy focus on the food.  There are usually buffet tables that seem to go on for miles, with a mind-boggling assortment of foods, as well as a usually impressive dessert spread.  At this event, the food focus was very different.  It was more about creating a massive community meal, with everyone eating the same meal, which was nutritious, healthy, local.  We had grilled veg kabobs, slightly spicy veg paella, salad (lemon, no heavy dressings), and bread.  It was all vegan, and it was all delicious.  There was no dessert spread, though there were some brownies and cookies that you could have for a one pound donation.

Many of the auctions I’ve been to in the states have had a bit of entertainment, but the entertainment is secondary to the auctions and fundraising activity.  At this event, while there was, of course, auctions and a raffle, and fundraising activity, there was much more of a focus on entertaining the attendees and having a celebration.  There were six different live music acts that started an hour after the event started and went until well after midnight, with a lot of dancing.  This was as much a community celebration, a community party, as anything else.

The auction itself was not quite as organized or serious (stodgy) as many of the ones I’ve been to in the states.  There were times I wondered how they would actual get the items sold off and collect the money.  The benefit they have over us, in this very tight-knit, fairly small community, is that they knew just about everyone by name.

Of course, the one thing that the US auctions and the Welsh auction had in common was “the drink”.

The whole evening was an amazing experience, and I am very thankful that the timing of my trip worked out to be able to attend.