Friday, January 1, 2010

Emerald Isle: Ashford Castle and Achill Island

On our 4th morning we woke up bright and early and headed to Ashford Castle. It was one of the places I really wanted to visit. I had read that it had exquisite grounds and many scenes from The Quiet Man and other movies had been filmed there. On our way we passed a church ruin and decided to stop and look around.
Looking up into the bell tower.
After exploring the church we continued on to Ashford Castle. When the Garmin told us to turn down one of the roads a few miles away from the castle we thought it must be mistaken, but no, it was just a country road in Ireland :)
The road. We had to stop and take a picture, because it is not everyday you drive down a road like this!
Our super awesome rental car. I was glad we got something compact because even on regular roads often the rock walls for the sheep pastures are right on the edge of the road and lots of cars had scratches down the sides or missing side mirrors from close encounters. Oops!
Stanly the Irish bear :)
The sheep inside a rocked off pasture watching us take pictures on this country lane.
We finally arrived at Ashford Castle around 10am. We reached the stone arched entrance, paid our fee, and had to drive another couple of miles over unpaved curvy roads. It was so worth it when we got there though! Beautiful!
The guarded arched entrance.
After we parked our car we crossed the castle's bridge on foot. Sadly we were not allowed inside the castle because we were not overnight guests, but the grounds and outside of the castle were gorgeous and kept us busy for several hours.
Walking across the bridge.
"A" for Ashford.
Looking down from the bridge.

Approaching the castle. I think the minivan takes something away from it though.
Amazing preserved stone eagle on the roof.
Family crest and coat of arms.

Pretty gate under the coat of arms.
Beautiful carving on the back side of the castle.
Rear of castle.
A stone cross cut into one of the turrets. I amazed at their skills with such primitive tools hundreds of years ago. The castle was finished in 1228. 782 years ago. When something is old here in America it is over 100 years old. When something is old in Ireland it is OLD!
We walked out across the grounds and found this neat stone dock. This is the castle from across the dock.
I sat on these steps for about a half an hour writing in my travel journal and eating a European chocolate bar while my feet swayed in the water. It is one of my favorite memories. Mike was skipping rocks. One of his favorite past times when we are around any body of water.
A walled gate that led back to the castle.
Stanly says "hi."
They had these two towers with big holes in them across from each other connected to the walled area around the perimeter of the castle. I think they must have held thick retractable gates at one time.
A drawbridge across a moat.
We went on a walk through the grounds. I thought these stairs were pretty.
I really liked the clovers.
Squire Danaghers house from The Quiet Man.
The Carped Garden
The tunnel from the carpet garden the the fruit garden.

A bee buzzing in a flower.
A spider in a flower.
Cullens, a really good restaurant on the castle grounds. They served afternoon tea. Mike and I were really hot and tired after exploring the grounds so we went here for cold drinks and lunch. It was the first place in Ireland where I enjoyed the food :)
The view of the castle from Cullens.
The fameous Cong Abby founded in the early 7th century but destroyed by fire in the early 12th century. The high king of Ireland refounded the Abby in 1135 but soon after in 1203 the Norman Knight Willham de Burgo attacked the town and again the monetary had to be rebuilt. Today, little remains.
So this Abby was built sometime in 600 AD. For perspective, the pilgrims came to American in the 1600's and our country was founded in 1776. This abby is more than 1,100 years older than America!
Mike inside of Cong Abby upstairs. The floor is crumbling.
Me in the courtyard behind Cong Abby.
The beautiful ancient courtyard.
After we finished in Cong we still had a lot of the afternoon left. We had talked to some ladies who were staying at our castle at breakfast and they were heading to Achill (pronounced A-kill) Island. It sounded like a great place and I had read about it in our tour book, so I look up directions and off we headed. On Achill island they don't have rock walls at all. Each family has thier own color of paint and they just paint splotches of color on their sheep and let them roam free. Then when they are rounded up to sheer they are divided up by color. It is kinda funny, because there are all of these (pretty tame) sheep running around with spray paint on them. They look like there is some sheep tagging gang running around the island :)
Probably my favorite part of the day. We found this place in the island called The Cottage. It was an amazing tea house. Mike had a cappuccino and a cinnamon roll and I had afternoon tea and I had a reeaallyy yummy chocolate chunk scone with a side of clotted cream. It was so fun. Someday I want to go back to Ireland and just spend a few days on Achill island relaxing, swimming in the bay and having tea and scones here.
More free range sheep.
Driving down to a beautiful bay.
The crazy curvy road down. No guard rails!
Almost there :)
It was so beautiful! We spent the rest of the evening playing in the sand and waves and enjoying a really nice end to a really good day.
Looking up from the beach is a really tall hill and a bridge. It was a breathtaking view.
Stanly at the beach :)
After a wonderful and very full day we started back for our castle (hotel :) ). We stopped in a small town on Achill island for dinner. We had pizza and Guinness (well, Mike did. I can't stand the stuff). It was a really awesome day!


Kath said...

Great photos! I wondered if you were every going to finish blogging your trip! Off to read the next installment. :D

Mike and Sarah said...

Yep, I finally got around to it. Allison putting her Italy pictures from their trip this summer inspired me to finally finish. Well, almost. I still have one more to go :)