Scottish Highlands

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The day after Christmas, Connor and I loaded up a rental car and took off for the mountains and lochs of the Scottish Highlands. After a full day driving, we arrived near Lochgoilhead and settled into one of the best Airbnbs of the last couple years. Our hosts converted an old stable into a gorgeous eco tiny home (she is an architect) and it’s now a Grade II listed building. Fresh baked sourdough, a fire in the stove, piles of wool blankets, and a puppy named Pixie greeted us. We immediately regretted not booking the place for more than two nights. Continue reading “Scottish Highlands”

Scottish Highlands

4 Days in Western Ireland

Months ago, our friends Andrew and Melanie invited us to spend a day or two with them while they honeymooned on the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland. Naturally, we jumped at the chance to see them! We added a couple extra days to the trip so we could see the Cliffs of Moher and maybe a town or two, leaving our itinerary open so we could be spontaneous.

We drove from Dublin to Limerick and pulled into our Airbnb well after midnight. Our hostess’ name was Sadhbh (love it) and she could not have been more welcoming. She must have said “grand” twenty five times in the span of five minutes. We were sorry to crash and dash since she was so kind, but we wanted to make it to the Cliffs of Moher the next day before lunchtime. A failed study-abroad experience in Ireland taught me that if you look out the window and see a dry Ireland, get your butt moving because it won’t last until your next meal. I think its the only place with weather more miserable than England. Which must be why they paint all their buildings in bright, cheerful colors.

Colorful Dingle

We did a drive-by of Limerick’s city center along the River Shannon, saw King James’ Castle, and grabbed coffees and a smoothie from Arabica Coffee Co. on Shannon Street. We highly recommend this place if you’re a coffee lover and find yourself in Limerick! Then we hit the cliffs.

Major travel tip: you can easily avoid the crowds and ridiculous per person “entrance” fee to the cliffs viewing area by parking somewhere other than the official Cliffs of Moher welcome center. We parked at a farm south of the official entrance for 2 euro and then had a glorious hike along the entire south arm of the cliffs. This was the best weather we had for the entire trip, and the views were stunning. If you’re traveling with children, be aware that there are no fences or guard rails. You can get as close as you dare to the edge…

Western Ireland iPhone

Visiting the Cliffs of Moher

Visiting the Cliffs of Moher

Visiting the Cliffs of Moher

Western Ireland iPhone

On the way to Dingle that afternoon, we accidentally took the scenic route through Conor Pass, a twisty narrow road up and down a mountain, not really wide enough for two-way traffic. The fog was so thick that we couldn’t see beyond the car in front of us, but the few glimpses we caught of the mountain were breathtaking. And so begins my repetitive narrative about our time in Dingle. I’m sure it was all beautiful, but we couldn’t see a thing.

Western Ireland iPhone

We had a great dinner in town that evening with our friends and the next day the four of us drove around the peninsula to see some ancient sites and ruins. Half of these were not worth the entrance fee, but to be fair, if the weather was nicer, I’m sure each site would have provided beautiful views of the sea and countryside. If you plan to do this driving tour in bad weather, skip the hill fort and random stone piles and opt instead for the largely intact structures like the Gallarus Oratory…

Gallarus Oratory

Kilmalkedar Church (ruins with cemetery)…

Church door

and Fahan Beehive Huts…

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Each site has a little Irish boy sitting in a booth or playing with his dog ready to collect 2-3 euro per person before sending you through to the sites.

Connor and I stayed in a perfect little flat on a sheep farm 2 miles outside of Dingle Town owned by a woman from Missouri and her Irish husband. Their Airbnb listing mentions:

We are farmers, so we are early to bed and early to rise. The apartment is directly over our bedroom, so if your lifestyle means you don’t know night from day then booking our accommodation might not be suitable… for you or for us.

Noted! Combined with the little signs of scary leprechauns sprinkled throughout the flat reminding visitors to remove shoes, turn off lights, unplug computers, etc we decided our hosts were either grumpy or funny. Later, Jan invited us to a drop in music session at a pub where she would be playing. She asked if we played instruments and said we could borrow some of hers! Naturally, I pressured Connor to seize the day. Playing in a pub in the motherland with a bunch of long lost kin!!! DO IT! Eventually he agreed. So what if it was actually bluegrass music, and the guitar was out of tune… Jan was our new favorite person.

Western Ireland iPhone

When we left Dingle we decided to drive the Ring of Kerry before heading to our next Airbnb on another farm outside of Killarney. Once again, the fog prevented us from seeing anything. We had 1.5 moments of clarity, and here are the pictures to prove it.

Driving the Ring of Kerry

Western Ireland iPhone

I’m actually surprised how many decent photos we ended up with from this trip. It was rainy and foggy every day except the morning at the cliffs. Too wet and foggy to hike. Fishing charters were cancelled. To sum it up:

Western Ireland iPhone

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4 Days in Western Ireland

A Camping Attempt in the Yorkshire Dales

For those of you in the States, imagine for a moment what you would do if your trusty one-stop-shop disappeared off the face of the earth. No more Target or Meijer, not even Walmart. You need to source all your possessions from specialty, expensive boutiques that may not have a website or a brick and mortar in your city. You have no idea how to even find these places to overpay for pillows, cookie sheets, a rain coat, and other superfluous essential items. Your neighbors don’t speak English so you can’t ask them for suggestions. You can either shop at the Dollar Store or Aldi. You hold your breath as you walk through the doors and hope that their pathetic bins of inventory 1) are actually full enough that you don’t have to compromise your dignity and dumpster dive to reach the items and 2) contain something of use.

In this alternate universe, the brilliant idea to go camping over a bank holiday becomes extremely complicated. Where the hell are you going to find an affordable tent of decent quality that won’t leak in the very likely event it rains? Yes, #firstworldproblems. Boo hoo, you have spend an entire day driving around your city looking for a tent or hoping Amazon UK learned something overnight from the States (definitely not).

I haven’t fully processed my thoughts on American vs British consumer habits, and I haven’t decided if I think Americans are spoiled, fortunate, or just doomed to a life of detached consumption and rampant materialism. (The latter is easily noticeable, but it also seems that Americans have more hobbies than the British, and hobbies = gear/supplies/stuff. If the British had more hobbies maybe they would spend less time sitting around drinking in dreary old pubs.)

Anyway, I admit that I’ve grown accustomed to a certain level of convenience and efficiency in my shopping habits. Because Target. Singlehandedly making my life easier since 2005. Dear Target, if you came to Britain, you would blow everyone’s mind and put a lot of small shops out of business.

Alas, I eventually found an affordable tent. The “rain fly” was smaller than a pair of my underpants. I also found sleeping bags, made of the most synthetic of synthetic materials. I’m pretty sure all this gear was intended for backyard sleepovers. The kind where the kids all end up in the house so poor quality gear is a non-issue.

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SO, what did we do with our sub-par gear?! We drove a few hours north to Yorkshire, spent a day in York, stayed overnight at an Airbnb in Leeds, walked the Dales the next day, camped that night, and drove back to Birmingham the following day. Our tent was about 1/8 the size of all the other tents in this field. No joke. We also forgot about the whole food thing so we drove 30 minutes into a town and ordered a pizza. And it was delicious.

Additionally:

  • It didn’t rain.
  • We were freezing cold.
  • Penny was initially scared of the tent.
  • There are cows on the other side of that wall in the above picture.
  • Connor thought he twisted his ankle at the end of the day’s hike.
  • Penny scratched my eyeball in the tent and I spent the drive home thinking I would have to go to the emergency room and wear an eye patch.
  • Both were false alarms.

Check back tomorrow for some pictures of Medieval York and the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales!

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A Camping Attempt in the Yorkshire Dales

It’s Lambing Season in England!

Baby lambs are invading the countryside and I couldn’t be more thrilled!! Over the weekend, we drove an hour or so west of Birmingham to the Shropshire Hills, and we must have seen thousands of tiny lambs along the way. They are so adorable – lots of sleeping and frolicking. Every once in a while we would spot an all-black little dude and those were by far the cutest.

I don’t know which are more numerous right now: lambs or daffodils. I’ve never seen so many daffodil varieties. They line the roads and driveways, pop up in the middle of fields and lawns in pretty significant numbers, and seem to have a mind of their own. Tulips are not a thing here, that’s for sure. We passed rolling fields of yellow wildflowers, too… Birmingham is officially the grimmest place on earth, and I’m so glad we can get in the car when it’s raining and just drive until we find some sunshine. The pictures of flowers taken from inside a moving car did not turn out. Can’t imagine why. But below are a few snaps of the lambs.

Blurry, but gives you an idea of the size difference!
Running and jumping!

Connor kindly pulled the car over a couple times so we could watch the lambs. There’s a brief video on Instagram of tail wagging and little guys running. The pictures aren’t the greatest because I was too busy watching them, but you get the idea.

We had a pint in Church Stretton (how’s that for a name), a cute town with a seriously cool antique shop. We didn’t hike the hills because Penny has blisters from too much pavement play during her spring break stay at the doggie hotel. Ridiculous.

Pathetic. But such a good dog. She didn’t even care that I was doing this to her.

On the way home, we stopped at a farm store to buy some fresh eggs. We also met the mamas. I’m pretty sure they were irritated that we were the new owners of their eggs. Also, I think the chickens were the same size as Penny.
 

Hills and some daffodils in the background!

I’m busting my butt to sift through all our Barcelona pictures and then I’ll have some FUN IN THE SUN pics to show you! How many times am I going to proclaim that I’ve found my “new favorite city?” I can’t promise you that this will be the last, but Barcelona was fab fab fab and it’s my new fave. A bit of Chicago meets LA meets Gothic Medieval Europe with a party vibe, crazy arts scene, and a fierce Catalonian pride complete with a Spanish/Portuguese/French/Italian hybrid language. But I spoke Spanish and that was perfectly fine. As usual, I miss it already.

It’s Lambing Season in England!

Bootle – Lake District, Cumbria

WaterfallLast weekend we drove north to the Lake District and stayed on a quaint farm in Bootle. It was another long and harrowing drive, but it gave us a chance to get away from the city and see a less-touristy area. William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter spent some quality time in the lakes and we could see why! Great views and opportunities for hiking, more sheep than people. (Although, quite a bit of motocross, which was weird/annoying.)

Speaking of views, hikes, sheep… I feel a bit like a broken record… English topography is not as varied as we’re used to in the States. If you end up on a motorway over here, you will definitely see great views, loads of sheep, hills… there are plenty of stopping points on the roads to pause and admire the scenery. If you venture off the motorway into the neighborhoods you will find opportunities for “English walks” and also feel like you’ve started a game of really high stakes Mario Kart. We were never a big video game family, but I am SO grateful that our neighbors had N64 so I could gain some valuable maneuvering experience.

Here’s a good example of a two lane road with a fantastic blind turn.  Full marks if you avoid the oncoming car, hedge, AND house. Oh, and the pedestrians (us).

Beautiful and hazardous
Beautiful and hazardous

Dave the Danger Ranger, if you’re reading this, I can’t wait to drive across the country with you 😀  Seat belts, everyone!!

We did a small walk through Bootle that took us to the top of a hill where we could see the Irish Sea. Penny was a champ! Until she wasn’t…

PennySheepOur hosts invited us to dine with them that evening, which was a literal farm to table experience. When we arrived, Mike was covered in feathers and without any hint of apology explained that he was fixing the duck for dinner. I tried not to think about bonding with a duck and then very unceremoniously eating it. But that’s farm life! They live off their land and that’s just the way it goes. And I admire them for it. Dinner was delicious and aside from the pasta, every bit of it came from their farm. Breakfast was similar – fresh eggs, bread, and sausage. Amazing.

BUT! My favorite part of this place was the little piglets!! Their largest litter ever complete with a runt, named Runtles. I have way too many pictures and videos of these little guys. You can see them in action in this video. Try not to watch as Runtles gets picked on. As always, many more photos are on my Flickr page.

PigletsWe drove to a small village called Coniston after saying good-bye to Runtles, and explored the area before heading back to Birmingham.

Coniston
Coniston

Lake ConistonConnor disagrees with me, but I thought this adventure was a bit underwhelming. Instead of taking the Mario Kart with your eyes closed option and driving north in the dark on Friday night, we decided to head up on Saturday morning. This didn’t give us enough time to tackle a decent hike. Sunday was similar since we wanted to be home by 5:30pm (this did not happen. 7 hour return drive. Woof). No big deal, we made the most of it and had a great time. But I learned my lesson – despite having spent hours researching different hikes, I wasn’t able to find that much information so I just sort of gave up thinking we’d figure it out when we got there. Does that ever happen? Just figuring it out in a village with maybe 50 people living in it? Or ever, for that matter? I really don’t think so. This planner is going back to her planning ways.

 

Bootle – Lake District, Cumbria