Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Day 101 - The Forests and Castles of County Clare

I have never been inside a castle. In fact, before yesterday I had never seen a real castle in person (they are literally scattered across the whole of Ireland. You run into them just driving from one place to the next). Considering I have wanted to do both of these things since I was a child, today's objective was to get up close and personal with some of the best preserved, and still functioning, castles in the central west area of Ireland. As a result, Patrick and I hit the road this morning to continue our trip west to County Clare. While I knew our objective of experiencing a castle was likely to be a memorable one, I had no idea a wrong turn would lead us to discover so much more.

Today's new experience began with our efforts to locate Dromoland Castle northwest of Limerick. With only a day of driving under my belt, my concentration on getting used to the roads in Ireland distracted me from paying attention to much of the scenery on my peripheral. As a result, I failed to recognize our turn to Dromoland Castle on our first pass, which sent Patrick and I a few kilometers down the road before we realized we needed to turn around. Upon realizing my mistake, I began searching for an intersecting street that would give me enough room to turn around and head back toward the castle, which eventually led us to encounter a narrow stretch of pavement surrounded by large stone walls on either side. Intrigued, I turned down the road and stopped for a brief moment until my eyes caught a small sign indicating another castle was down the stretch of road onto which we had just turned. After brief deliberation, Patrick and I decided we would attempt to find this other castle before returning to Dromoland. While that effort would prove fruitless, our decision guided us to an area, and an experience, I will never forget.

As we traveled down the walled road, the asphalt beneath us narrowed until it width was little more than one lane wide. Periodic structures would break apart the stretches of wall on either side of the road, but the area was otherwise barren of any other modern signs of people. As we continued, a dense forest began to creep closer to the walls around us until the sky above us was blotted out by tree limbs stretching far over the road. As we continued, the walls began to decrease in size and consistency along the road, which provided periodic views of the forest. As we gained a clearly view of the densely wooded area, Patrick and I both began to make passing remarks of awe. What we saw was unlike anything else I have seen before and is still hard to describe. Under partly cloudy skies broken up by a bright August sun the interior of the forest along the road was as dark as night. Now, when I write that I mean it literally. Looking into the woods we could only see so far before our view faded to black. It was unbelievable.

A little further down the road the stone walls had completely disappeared, leaving the forest to do its best to swallow up the narrow road beneath us. Eventually, Patrick and I came upon a small patch of gravel next to the road that had a single trail leading from it into the woods. Without a second thought, we decided to pull into the gravel area, park the car, and head into the woods. We both knew there was no way we would miss this opportunity to be in such a unique place, so we made haste in getting out of the woods and walking into the darkness.

Our choice was a good one. For the next few hours Patrick and I wandered through the surprisingly still and unbelievably quiet forest. The place was so devoid of sound Patrick and I actually spoke in hushed tones walking through the woods, as if we were disturbing some sort of intended silence. Eventually, our trek took through to the other side of the forest, at which point we stumbled upon a massive, circular walled structure in an open area. Some investigation revealed an opening at one point in the wall, which had a small sign posted near it. The contents of the sign baffled us. Much by chance, Patrick and I had walked through a forest that contained several ramparts leading to a settlement at its center. This settlement, the circular structure we had just came across, was the ruins of a community that existed 2,200 years prior, one whose protective walls remained standing in the forests of County Clare. We stood overwhelmed and stunned by the history we had just came upon. In response, we walked the inside of the walled area for some time, taking in the sights of the settlement, the outlines of building foundations that could still be seen in the earth, and the few remaining stone relics left by people thousands of years prior. The whole experience left me speechless. If it wasn't for a missed turn, we would have never seen that place.

Patrick and I spent a awhile longer wandering the forest before returned to our car and started heading back toward Dromoland Castle. This time we were successful in finding our turn, which led us to an amazingly beautiful castle nestled in sprawling, perfectly manicured grounds. The castle stood as a mountain of stone atop a small hill overlooking the grounds, with its two main wings fanning out in a arching u-shape across the bright green grass. The sights of the castle, its interior, and the castle grounds were something to behold, even with the skies becoming overcast and misty. Given this was my first experience with a castle, I won't try to describe my excitement or wonderment while we explored the castle grounds. I'll simply let some pictures of this beautiful place do their best to give an idea of what it was like to be there.

After leaving Dromoland, Patrick and I decided to do some more exploring of the County Clare countryside, which provided another awesome experience as the day drew to a close. In our random choice of direction, Patrick and I came upon a small sign directing us to Knappogue Castle somewhere along a stretch of barren country road. In the mood to explore, we chose to follow the sign, which led us down narrow, winding country roads past farms and open fields until we encountered a towering gate ringed by thick stone walls. A sign indicated Knappogue Castle rested just on the other side of the gate, so Patrick and I made a quick turn in and drove to the end of a long, worn road. There another beautifully preserved castle stood overlooking farm fields, forests, and amazing hedge row gardens. It was simple in design, but Knappogue was still an awe inspiring monument to the history of this beautiful country.

Today was an amazing day full of new experiences and incredible places. After my second day in Ireland the excitement and state of wonder is still as strong as when we came across the unforgettable sights at Glendalough. Of course, there is so much left to see in this amazing place, I'm sure this feeling will last through the coming days and well after our trip is over. A place like this makes the "I have never..." concept is easy. When everything is new, everything is amazing, and there are so many new experiences to discover one can't help but broaden their horizons. It has only been two days, and I feel like we have already discovered enough to fill a week in a lesser trip. That stated, Patrick and I decided our adventures over the last few days deserved a little treat. As a result, we decided to have one more new experience for the day, stopping at our first country pub for a nice pint of Irish Stout... This place is freaking incredible!

IHN Bonus: Pub time!

IHN Bonus: Patrick's first
time trying to use a well pump

1 comment:

  1. Looks like a beautiful green land. Enjoy the journey.