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The Road Through Wicklow to Waterford

This entry is part of a series, Ireland 2009»

Yellow Bush

The road tour portion of the Great Irish Photo Safari and Pub Grub Rummage began this morning. John Carey, a professional limousine driver, tour guide and personal friend, met us at 0900 sharp with his Mercedes Benz all spiffed up and ready to go. We checked out, loaded the bags in the boot (not for the first time) and headed out. It was beautiful weather, and Paula Jo and I were excited about the prospects of bagging the elusive Perfect Digital Image, which is known to be much more plentiful in Ireland than just about any place else on earth.

Our first stop was Powerscourt near Enniskerry, once an estate of the Earls of Kildare from the year 1300 or so. The estate was huge at its largest; the mansion and immediate environs covers 45 acres or so, but the original holding must have ranged to thousands of acres. The Powerscourt name can be found on things all across County Wicklow.

Powerscourt Tower

Powerscourt Manor burned to the ground in 1974, and lay in extreme disrepair until 1995. The owners spent £10 million fixing things up, and now it’s a delightful place to visit. Hundreds of thousands visit each year; not all are tourists, either! The locals really enjoy the beauty and history of the estate.

The grounds are truly amazing! Manicured lawns, well-cultivated gardens, ponds and fountains around every corner. Statuary abounds, and surprising little structures are scattered about to provide interest. There’s even a burial grounds for the family pets. This includes prize-winning cows and horses. I guess “pets” doesn’t mean the same thing to rich people, eh?

Some of the trees are the largest in all of Europe. The family children also had their own fort. Well, that’s no surprise, I had one when I was a kid too! However, mine was made out of cardboard and melted in the rain. This one was nearly sixty foot tall, standing on a bluff of some eighty feet in height, made out of stone left over from the original castellations, and had several cannon on the ramparts. Real fake cannon! (I only had a cap pistol, and it never worked well. Then again, I had roller skates and they had to suffer with horses and carriages.)

Some kids have all the luck…

Powerscourt Waterfall

We traveled a few miles over from the estate to Powerscourt Waterfall, a beautiful park where water poured down from a mountain slope across unyielding stone. The air was cool and the colors were wonderful, even with the flat light provided by a solid cloudy sky.

After the waterfall we moved along some winding country roads, up and over one spur of Powerscourt Mountain (I said the name was everywhere!) and down into a densely forested valley. In a few minutes we came upon the entrance to Glendalough, a historical site and nature preserve that is one of the most visited places in Ireland.

Glendalough was founded around 600 A.D. by St. Kevin, a monastic hermit who died there in 617. Locals of that period claimed he lived to be 120 years old. For over 500 years the site was one of the great monastic cities and learning centers of Ireland; perhaps of all Europe.

Glendalough Tower

The site is managed by the state, and tour guides are state employees. We thought that might provide an average sort of escort; instead we got Dara. This young man had a wicked sense of humor, and boundless knowledge about the people, customs and history of Glendalough. He’s a student of archeology and ancient civilizations, in his other life. And he brings the Irish love of language and discourse to his job at Glendalough. He was a true wonder, and a joy.

Dara talked about the famous round towers of Ireland, and their real purpose as bell towers rather than refuges during invasions. He pointed out that Glendalough probably grew to a few thousands, which would make it a very large city for its time. He also talked about the eleven invasions that Glendalough suffered, and how they weren’t all by Vikings as the textbooks hinted. Indeed, most of them were by Irish kings!

Glendalough

By the time we’d toured both Powerscourt and Glendalough it was more than time for lunch! We stopped at a little place near Glendalough called the Wicklow Heather. Somehow it’d gotten off to nearly three in the afternoon, so I really, really needed fortification. I suffered through a Carlsberg pilsner, used to wash down a bowl of cream of cauliflower soup. Paula Jo had a goat’s cheese sandwich made with ciabatta bread, and the ubiquitous chips (we’d say fries). John managed quite well with a large bowl of seafood chowder. We ate al fresco, and Paula actually complained of the chill. I found it refreshing.

After lunch we moved on down to the Vale of Avoca; specifically to the Meeting of the Waters, where John Moore wrote his famous poetry. This area is some of the most scenic countryside yet, although there are not may long-distance vistas due to the dense forests. The rivers were quite beautiful, even though the water was down quite a bit; Ireland is in the middle of a dry spell, it appears.

After taking many photos and buying refreshments and souvenirs at the gift shop, we made a beeline cross-country to the southwest, to the city of Waterford. Of course there were many possibilities for pictures and gawking and dawdling rubbernecking sightseeing, but the afternoon was already getting late. We looked, but we didn’t stop much along the way.

Trees at Sundown

We found a convenient Travelodge for our stay in Waterford. If we had it to do over again, we’d probably look for something else. But at the time, tired and hungry as we were, we failed to exercise good judgment. Oh well, it’s supposed to be an adventure. We dropped our bags and explored the rooms. They were all too well-used, but we were too tired to correct much of anything. Paula’s bed was broken, so we did change rooms, moving upstairs. Directly over John’s room, actually!

Dinner was next up, and John took us downtown, along the river. Parking was at a premium, but we found a spot and started walking through the business district looking for a likely place to sit and imbibe and ingest. We didn’t have too much luck at first. The light was good for photos, though, and the new still isn’t worn off of PJ’s camera so we acted like tourists for a bit and clicked at anything that didn’t move too fast.

John redirected us to the waterfront, where he knew there were some classy eateries. Indeed, there’s a hotel there with a very good restaurant. There was a huge tour group already seated, and we considered looking elsewhere. Fatigue and hunger won out, though, and we took our places and got menus. Our waitress was from Latvia, and her light accent was delightful. In spite of the load on the kitchen our food arrived hot and fast. I ate Murphy’s Irish Stew, Paula had a nice sirloin steak with all the trimmings, and John had roast beef with vegetables. We all agreed our meals were tasty and well-prepared, as well as plentiful.

With hunger driven into full retreat, we moved out into the lowering dusk and strolled back to the car. It was still a bit light out, which meant it wasn’t yet eleven at night. We were learning how late it gets dark in Ireland in the summer! We recovered the car and headed to the edge of town to our lodging.

As we prepared for bed we flushed the toilet. Boy, was THAT a mistake! Seems we shouldn’t have complained about the bed too much in the previous room. We got a serviceable bed by moving, but in exchange we got a certified, world-class Wake-the-Dead commode! Poor John, he was right below us. We thought, he’s going to hate us by morning. Then we heard the answering mating call from below; seems his WC also had a WTD loo! We laughed until we were out of air..

Enjoy the (Cool Countryside) Heat!

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