Friday, July 7th: Ancient Burials and Tourists everywhere!
We got off on an early start this morning, as we were headed towards the north and ancient burial sites. Many of the places we were planning on visiting I had been to before, but 10 years before. I was especially interested on the differences to the Hill of Tara, which I know will shortly undergo a change as the surrounding roads are widened.
We found the N1 with only a few errors, and took the M50 to the N3, north to our first stop, the Hill of Tara. We made it there around 10am, and went up to the hill before anyone else was there. It is, and always has been, an incredible view from the hill. You feel as if you can see the entire island from your vantage point, laid out in front of you like a patchwork quilt of fields and sheep.
I climbed up the Mound of Hostages, and managed to recapture some of the thrill of my first visit. The place was still quiet and powerful, though somewhat less urgent than the last time I had visited. My solitude was short lived, however, because several German tourists arrived in a bus, and started climbing the hills.
We explored the various hillworks, the mounds, the stones, the sheep, and the stunning view. We wandered the steep paths and steeper hillsides. Finally, the OPW clerk came out to let us know the English AV presentation was about to start, so we fell in and followed her back to the little church which housed it.
The AV presentations we saw throughout our trip were very informative, and had very lush photography, interesting commentary, and relevant data. Everything from computer graphics to archeological dig photos was shown. T inquired in several places whether the set of them were for sale, and was told the request had been made several times - in vain.
We saw a sign as we were leaving for a Holy Well, just down the road from Tara, so took a detour to explore it. It was a small enclosure, fenced away from the cows but with an area where they could drink from the troughed stream. There was a small pitcher, evidently for filling bottles with from the water. It was set up very simple, and very quiet. I believe the well was dedicated to St. Patrick.
We went on to Navan, and around the city to Newgrange. When I was here 10 years ago, there was no visitor's centre, and visitors parked right up near the path to the tomb. Now you enter the centre, which is extensive, and take a bus to the tomb. The centre has some wonderful displays on pre-historic life, and a nice little AV presentation.
You get your time of visit when you arrive, and it gives lots of time to wander the centre and gift shop before you have to walk along a path (and over a bridge) to the bus stop. Then the bus takes about 10 minutes to the site itself. You go within the tomb still on the tour, though it's rather claustrophobic. I am a fat person, but still managed to squeeze inside some of the smaller sections of the passage, but just barely!
We were allowed about 15 minutes after the passage tour to wander around, which in my opinion wasn't nearly enough time to walk all the way around, examining the stones and decorations. However, our tour inside was delayed by the last group being late, so I suppose we would normally have had more time afterwards.
Getting back on the bus, we were second to last in line. The guy behind us (dragging his wife with him) was so concerned about getting on first that he pushed ahead of us and several other people - only to be turned away on the first bus. He was first on the second bus, though, and I gave him a dirty look for queue-jumping, as it got him very little in terms of saving time. We all got back at the same time, after all!
Back at the centre, we started towards Malahide house, after several wrong turns and R roads. Malahide is a wonderful 18th Century manor house, restored with beautiful carved wood panels and lush tapestries, wallpaper, and furnishings. The grounds were fantastic, and I wish we had more time to explore them, but we were rushing to get into the house before closing. There was a wedding we passed on the way here, and as we left, we saw the bride and groom having photos taken on the grounds. That's when the Italian school children came again! Photography wasn't permitted inside, more's the pity.
We asked for a recommendation on dinner from the gift shop clerk, who mentioned Smyth's in Malahide itself. We found Smyth's parked around the corner, saw the bridal party again (in a car this time), and ordered dinner. Smyth's is decorated like a retro American bar, which was really odd. T and I ordered the garlic butter steak, while K tried the cajun steak. Mistake! I tried to warn her never to trust the European idea of cajun, but she didn't listen. It was awful. The steak itself was full of gristle and the seasonings terrible. She asked for, and received, a garlic butter steak instead. Those were great.
We headed south to Howth, but were waylaid by a nice set of stairs going down to a rocky beach. There was a sandy portion, but lots of limestone rocks around, filled with seashells and seaweed. We collected some, watched a mother and her son swimming, watched the mother change on the beach (she wrapped a towel around her as she changed, but wasn't too concerned when it slipped). It was a very peaceful spot, despite the cars driving by on the road above. It was around 7pm and the sea was restful, gently lapping waves against the rocks in a soothing rhythm.
We kept driving along the seashore route, out to Howth. There were some beautiful houses, though few with much land, as I'm sure it's at an incredible premium here. There were a couple more nice beaches, and we stopped at a marina to have some ice cream. Our first choice was closing as we approached, so we went on to Maud's. T had berry ice cream, I tried the truffles and cream, while K had something colorful that I don't remember. It was all rather good, and we had a window seat looking out at the boats and children playing. We met a young lady and her sister (they were perhaps 6 and 4 years old) dining with their grandparents, on holiday up from Dublin.
As we came back into town, the road we were on became Amiens road, which became Moss road, which stops just at the corner our B&B was on. How convenient was that? We slept well after such a full day.