Sunday, 8 April 2018

TRAVEL | SOUTHERN IRELAND


We hadn't planned in advance but we ended up having a spare day in Dublin after seeing Cillian Murphy's play and instead of wandering around the city centre again, my friend and I decided to book on a tour to explore the Irish countryside. We chose to go south this time as we'd seen quite a bit of northern Ireland the last time we were in Belfast for the Game of Thrones tour. After a quick google search, we went with Wild Rover tours and their day tour visiting Kilkenny, Wicklow and Glendalough. The tour started at 8:10am and with a pick up point just down the road from our hotel, it was super convenient to roll out of bed in the morning and find the bus. There were 49 other passengers on board, the seats were comfortable and spacious enough which was important seeing as we were going to spend the majority of the day driving. Getting to our first stop (Kilkenny) would take almost two hours and once the driver and tour leader acquainted themselves with us, they mostly left us to our own devices whilst occasionally pointing out important landmarks and explaining the history behind them. I really rate this on tours because I'm the type who'd rather listen to music and daydream out the bus window, though I know there are others who'd like to soak up as much information as possible for the price they paid so in my opinion, Wild Rover really gave us a happy medium. Once we reached the town of Kilkenny (actually it's technically a city as it was once the capital of Ireland from 1641-1650, though with a population of 26 000, others' opinions beg to differ), our tour guide Peter gave us the option of following him on a 20 minute guided walking tour. We chose to explore on our own because it was a small area and speaking as a blogger, it's nice to be able to stop for photos without worrying about taking up any one else's time. We were given an hour and 45 minutes (including lunchtime) in Kilkenny, which I thought was a perfectly generous amount of time and another aspect I really commend Wild Rover on. We never felt rushed or were running to catch up at any point during the tour and I still had the time to take hundreds of photos. Aside from a very quaint city centre, buzzing with upbeat citizens and colourful buildings, it's also home to Kilkenny Castle, built in 1195. I'm pretty sure it's been used as a filming location for a fair few period dramas. 


We made it back to the bus just before the heavens opened up, though luckily even though it had been forecasted to rain the entire day, we only got the odd sprinkle now and again, which meant that our tour plans ran smoothly. From Kilkenny we drove through the Wicklow mountains on the Wicklow Gap Road and stayed on the bus for most of the journey, taking in the incredibly dramatic landscapes surrounding us. This part of Ireland reminds me of New Zealand in a way and it's no wonder that the Wicklow area is also a very popular filming location for many films and television shows. My friend told me that PS. I Love You was filmed around there and our tour guide said that Braveheart was too, we even drove past a narrow winding road named after it. Apparently the Wicklow Gap Road is also a popular bicycle ascent and the Tour de France actually passed through in 1998. We stopped at a little wooden elevated viewing platform that allowed us a 360˚ view of the mountains surrounding us which was simply breathtaking. 

From there we continued on a shorter journey to Glendalough which is Irish for "Valley of two lakes" and is a glacial valley. There are plenty of old medieval structures still standing here as it was home to a monastery in the 6th century. I do love seeing these types of buildings up close (especially abandoned ones that have been overgrown), it seems like something I'd stumble upon in a fantasy story. There's the remnants of a gateway house at the entrance that's basically just two arches now and looking through to the other side almost feels like peeping into a portal into a different world, it really was magical. Perhaps the most recognisable of these structures is the Round Tower as it stands about 30 metres high and boasts a cylindrical shape with a conical roof. Back then it served as a beacon to travellers, a bell tower, and also a place for refuge if the settlement ever came under attack. Unfortunately we didn't get as far as the first of the lakes before it started chucking it down and we decided to hide away in the tea rooms before it was time for us to move on to our final destination of Laragh.

Laragh is a small village in Wicklow and our last agenda was visiting a sheep farm. Owned and run by a local family, the father gave us a demonstration of his sheep dog herding the sheep from around the vast farmland to their barn. There's a video of this on my instagram but all I can say is that I wish my dog was that smart. Afterwards we also got the opportunity to meet some of the new-born lambs and as an animal lover, this was probably the highlight of my day. They're soooo cute and it took a lot of willpower for me to resist the temptation to kidnap them and take them with me. With that, it was time to make the long journey back to Dublin as the tour was due to conclude at 6pm. We'd been making great time the entire day so it was no surprise that we also returned on the dot, resulting in a super pleasant and convenient experience for everyone. I had such a fun day exploring and would highly recommend the Wild Rover company if you're interested in a day tour. They're just as good as the Game of Thrones tour I took in Belfast. If I get the chance to visit Ireland again, I would love to take another one of their tours to a different location.
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