Monday, November 28, 2016


Trip Date: November 2016

The final leg of our trip was through the English countryside. We flew from Ireland to Birmingham where we rented a car and headed for the Cotswolds. It was hard to believe that we were finally on the home stretch of our trip, but there was still lots to see so we were definitely excited about that. 

The Union Jack is the flag for the United Kingdom
England is the largest country in the United Kingdom and has a population of almost 55 million people. The capital and largest city is London, where we started our vacation, and the official language is English. The land that is now England has been inhabited since the Upper Palaeolithic period or as far back as 50,000 years ago. Not wanting to state the obvious, but the island of Great Britain is filled with a rich and colourful history.

England (dark green) as part of the United Kingdom (light green)
Our first destination was Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace, but we needed to make a quick stop in the town of Warwick to see Warwick Castle. Warwick Castle is what I picture when I think of a medieval fortress. We arrived too late to tour the inside, but were treated to some great views from around town. The castle was originally built by William the Conqueror back in 1068, but was redone in stone sometime during the 12th century.

Warwick Castle along the River Avon
One of the towers in Warwick Castle
As previously mentioned we were headed for Stratford-Upon-Avon which is the birthplace of arguably the most famous writer in the English language; William Shakespeare. We arrived after dark and wandered around the town, ultimately arriving at the Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare's grave is located. The church was closed and his tomb was inside so we just toured around the outside before moving on.

The Holy Trinity Church
Christine standing next to our Citroen Cactus!
A Jester Statue in Stratford-Upon-Avon
This is the home where Shakespeare grew up
We were on the road again early the next morning as we wanted to make several stops along the route to Burford. First up was the mysterious Rollright Stones near the village of Long Compton. The Rollright Stones are a collection of three monuments; the Whispering Knights, the King's Men, and the King Stone. The three monuments range in date from about 3,500 to 1,500 BC and each had it's own purpose. 

According to legend the names of the Rollright monuments are derived from a King who met a witch who challenged him:
"Seven long strides shalt thou take and if Long Compton thou canst see, King of Englad thou shalt be." 
Off went the King, shouting, "Stick, stock, stone as King of England I shall be known!" 
On his seventh stride the ground rose up before him in a long mound. The witch laughed and cackled, "As Long Compton thou canst not see, King of Englad thou shalt not be. Rise up stick and stand still stone, King of England though shalt be none. Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be and I myself an eldern tree." 
The King became the King Stone and his men the King's Men stone circle. The Whispering Knights were members of the King's army that were behind the rest of the group secretly plotting against the King before happening upon the scene and being turned to stone themselves.
The King's Men stone circle was a gathering place for Neolithic People approximately 4,500 years ago and is built from natural limestone boulders that were found within 500m of the circle. It was built in the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age and archaeologists assume there were about 105 stones standing in a circle that would form a complete barrier. Today there are only 77 stones remaining.

The King's Men
The King's Men Stone Circle
The Whispering Knights are believed to be the remains of an ancient burial chamber
It's believed that the King Stone was erected to mark a Bronze Age cemetery
We made a brief stop at Stow-on-the-Wold, a picturesque English town with a lot of character. We even caught the Remembrance Day procession as they made their way from the centre of town to the church for the ceremony.

Market Square in Stow-on-the-Wold
We stopped for lunch in Bourton-on-the-Water, which is known for it's stone bridges over the River Windrush. The sun was shining and the fall colours were still present, making for a beautiful afternoon in town.

The River Windrush flowing through town
One of many stone bridges
Sometimes domestic ducks like to hangout with wild ducks. This domestic duck was looking for handouts with all of his wild cousins!
Christine and I have a pretty big adventure planned for 2017!!
Me, Christine, and Sarah enjoying the day
Our final night in the Cotswolds was spent in the small town of Burford. It was very small so there wasn't much to see other than St. John the Baptist Church. We did manage to find a few pubs that evening though!

St. John the Baptist Church
It's always a little creepy to me when the cemetery is in the front yard of the church
After one night in Burford we were on the road again and headed for Bath, a city known for its Roman-built baths. The entire city became a World Heritage Site in 1987. We spent most of the day exploring the city and touring the ancient baths.

The Abbey Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, or more commonly known as Bath Abbey, was founded in the 7th century
Pulteney Bridge crosses the River Avon and is famous for having shops built across its full span on both sides 
Over 2,000 years ago the Romans built the finest religious spa in norther Europe around Britain's only hot spring. Originally built in 70AD, the Roman Bath complex was used for public bathing and religious ceremonies for hundreds of years. Today the entire area is an important historical site and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the United Kingdom. The steaming hot water still fills the Great Bath everyday as it did all those years ago.

Entrance to the Roman Baths
The Great Bath with Bath Abbey in the background
This is the Sacred Spring and was off-limits to bathers
Our last attraction of the trip was one I was most looking forward to; Stonehenge. No other historical site carries as much mystery and intrigue as Stonehenge. This prehistoric monument is believed to have been built between 3,000 and 2,000 BC, but no one knows for sure what its true purpose was. The entire site is set within the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds.

Sarah and Christine walking towards Stonehenge
The Heel Stone
Prehistoric stone monument
Sarsen Stones and Blue Stones
Me with Stonehenge in the background
The final selfie of the trip!
I think it's pretty evident that we had a great time on this vacation. Christine and I had always wanted to see the United Kingdom, but it wasn't very high on either of our lists (for whatever reason), so we were more than pleasantly surprised with how much there was to see and do. We were there for two weeks and covered plenty of ground, but I feel as though we just barely scratched the surface considering how much history there is. I enjoyed my time in all three countries (England, Northern Ireland, and Ireland) and would gladly return to any of them for some additional exploration.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


Trip Date: November 2016

From Northern Ireland we made our way into Ireland proper. The transition was seamless, without so much as a border, a check-point, or even a sign. The only indication we had left Northern Ireland was the speed limit signs were no longer in miles-per-hour, instead they were now in the Metric kilometres-per-hour. With all the violence in Northern Ireland in the recent past I had expected a patrolled border between the two nations, but that was not the case.

Ireland's Flag
Ireland, officially known as the Republic of Ireland, covers five-sixths of the island of Ireland; the remaining sixth is occupied by Northern Ireland. The capital and largest city is Dublin and the country's population is just over 4.7 million people. The official languages are Irish and English.

Ireland (dark green) as part of the European Union (light green)
Driving in the Irish countryside is quite the adventure. Not only do you need to get used to sitting on the opposite side of the car and driving on the opposite side of the road, but there are numerous traffic circles and the roads are very narrow. Passing vehicles going in the other direction is a heart-stopping experience to say the least!

After a long, stressful day in the car we were more than happy to see the lights of Kilronan Castle glowing in the dark of night. Kilronan is a historic castle that was originally built in 1820 and is now a luxurious hotel and spa. The castle underwent numerous renovations and you can see the difference between the original castle and the new additions just by looking at the exterior of the building.

It was neat walking around the castle as there were old suits of armor and swords hanging on the walls. The room was spacious and comfortable, except for the telephone. Just as we were going to bed the telephone rang. When I answered it there was a sound like children laughing on the other end, but nobody answered when I said "Hello". I hung up and didn't think too much about it, potentially just a wrong number, however the telephone continued to ring throughout the night. Every time I answered the phone the line went dead. This happened several times before I unplugged the phone from the wall. You can imagine the look on my face when the phone rang again and still nobody was there. At that point I called the front desk and inquired about the mysterious ringing in our room. I was told to just unplug the telephone and they'd look into it in the morning. The phone never rang again that night. We only spent one night at Kilronan and when we checked out the next day we asked the front desk staff about the odd occurrences in our room. They were blown away by our story as that had never happened before and Kilronan isn't supposed to be haunted. I have a feeling their opinion on ghosts might have changed after our stay!

Kilronan Castle
Before leaving we went for a short hike around the castle grounds. The fall colours were still clinging to the trees and the sun was shining, making it a beautiful morning outside.

The beautiful grounds of Kilronan Castle
Kilronan Castle sits on Lough Meelagh, a picturesque lake
Unfortunately we couldn't stay long as we had another decent day of driving and site-seeing ahead of us. Our first stop of the day was Lough Key Forest Park, which is home to Castle Island. We went on a short walk through the park and encountered some friendly waterfowl that were looking for handouts.

There is references to Castle Island as far back as 1184. The area was originally known as Moylurg and the castle was the official residence of the McDermott's who were the Kings of Moylurg. The McDermott's ruled this entire area until the 17th century when land ownership was transferred to the King family.

Close-up of a Mute Swan who was looking for treats
Castle Island
Ireland is a very rocky place and as such the stones unearthed from the land became the principal building material. The fields needed to be cleared of stones for livestock to graze, so landowners built stone walls. The walls outlined property lines and contained livestock within. They are still in use today, but due to their instability (the walls are nothing more than piles of boulders with no mortar) they require constant maintenance.

Typical stone wall in Ireland
The country is known for its sheep population
Our final stop for the day was Galway, a coastal city on the western edge of the island. We only spent one night in Galway and had fun exploring the town centre and the pedestrian streets that surround Eyre Square.

Morning reflections in Galway
We were up early again the next day as the Cliffs of Moher were waiting! We were really excited to see the cliffs in person and wanted to spend enough time there to really soak it all in. The Cliffs of Moher are Ireland's most visited natural attraction with over one million visitors each year. The cliffs run for 8km (5 mi) as the crow flies along the Atlantic coastline. They reach a maximum height of 214m (702 ft) just north of O'Brien's Tower. In the ancient Gaelic language, the word 'Mothar' means "ruined fort" and a 1st century fort once stood where Moher tower now stands. Although any trace of the original fort has long since disappeared the Cliffs of Moher still carry the name proudly.

The cliffs were one of my favourite stops in Ireland and we were lucky to have bright sunshine for most of the experience. The winds were strong and they blew in a massive rainstorm just as we were finishing our visit. We were completely soaked by the time we finished running back to the car, but it was all worth it in the end!

Country viewpoint along the road to the cliffs
The Cliffs of Moher
Cliff Selfie!
The area immediately north of O'Brien's Tower
O'Brien's Tower standing on the edge of the cliffs
We spent the rest of the day making our way to Dublin where we would meet Christine's sister, Sarah, who would be spending the final week of our vacation with us. As previously mentioned Dublin is the capital and largest city in Ireland and sits at the mouth of the River Liffey. All three of us were looking forward to getting out and exploring the city.

Trinity College is Ireland's oldest university and was founded in 1592
A few of the buildings on campus were covered in these colourful vines
The Spire of Dublin, also known as the Monument of Light, stands 120m (390 ft) above O'Connell Street. Construction of the tower was completed in 2003.

The Spire
A statue of the famed Irish novelist and poet James Joyce
Dublin Castle officially opened in 1204 and has served various roles throughout its history, including a defensive fortification, a royal residence, parliamentary offices, and a military garrison before eventually becoming a major Irish government complex.

The Record Tower (right) and Chapel Royal (left) make-up a portion of Dublin Castle
Dublin City Hall was built between 1767 and 1779
It's rare to have two cathedrals in the same city, but Dublin is an exception. St. Patrick's Cathedral is the national cathedral of the Church of Ireland while Christ Church Cathedral is designated as the local cathedral of the Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough.

Christ Church Cathedral was founded in 1030 and is the elder of the city's two medieval cathedrals
St. Patrick's Cathedral was founded 1191 and is the tallest and largest church in Ireland
A quick selfie with St. Patrick's Cathedral from St. Patrick's Park
St. Stephen's Green is a popular park in Dublin and was still showing off its fall colours!
The sisters standing on a stone bridge in the park
A statue of Molly Malone, the fictional character from the song of the same name that has become the unofficial anthem for Dublin
A Grey Heron hunting for breakfast along one of Dublin's canals
This canal was right next to our hotel
We really enjoyed our time in Dublin and were sad to see it come to an end so quickly, but we were already looking ahead to the final leg of our journey through the English countryside. The next morning we hopped on a plane and flew into Birmingham for the trip's final chapter.