From cave to cottage   Leave a comment

We were a little sad to leave Ballinalacken Manor. We loved the castle, the grounds and the gorgeous countryside, and there was so much more to explore. We decided that next time it’ll be 3 nights, not just 2, in an area we want to get to know. 5 nights would still be a good amount to spend in the cottage.

The Burren country of Clare and Galway is so glorious. We didn’t make it to the Burren itself, but I’m so glad we got to meet, however briefly, the windswept fields and rugged shoreline. I don’t think I mentioned in my earlier entries that at one point I walked behind the manor house just to explore, and found some beautiful woods full of trash, with an old stone cottage or summer house decaying into bits. It felt blighted, totally out of place with the manor and castle and the broad expanses of wildflower fields in front. I did a cleansing, and hope it helped. But that was the only thing that jarred. The rest of the area was simply incredible, and I had some intense, moving, magical experiences.

After another pleasant but forgettable breakfast we loaded up and headed for Doolin Cave, our final Burren stop before heading to the now-eeky prospect of Leitrim. It’s a very nice cave, and the guide was charming and knowledgable, and I think one of the owners of the property. It was a pretty big group and I was near the back so I missed some stuff. It was raining (naturally) but what I grooved on almost more than the cave were the gardens leading to it, complete with enigmatic goats with Satanic eyes.

If you’ve been to Timpanogas in Utah, or Luray in Virginia, or even our own little Crystal Grottoes in Boonsboro you’re not going to have your hair blown back by Doolin. I like caves (although I’d never spelunk, the story and pictures from the crazy people who discovered this one could give you nightmares) and I really liked the huge centerpiece stalactite around which this feature is built, but nothing else was particularly memorable.

I gulped and offered to drive so David, who was feeling much improved but still not 100%, could sightsee. We had walked down the road we were about to drive so I already knew how narrow it was, but I couldn’t expect the poor man to do all the driving for the rest of the trip, so I figured I’d better bite the bullet and get it done.

I’m so glad we opted for the coastal road. It was absolutely spectacular. Unfortunately we didn’t take any pictures at all- I know, those of you who are FB friends are amazed that I put the camera down for a minute, but, you know, driving on those roads is not conducive to spontaneous photography, especially in light but persistent rain. I’m sure the cliffs and rocky beaches and flower-filled little villages and high pastures and brooding forests are equally awe-inspiring in the brilliant Irish sunshine, maybe even more so, but after a lifetime of eerie and often downright frightening Celtic myths and faery tales, seeing this landscape wreathed in mist and rainbows was something I’m not likely to forget, even with my crumbling brain. I adjusted fairly quickly to the roads, and while I couldn’t gaze about at leisure, I certainly saw enough to fall under the spell of what I later heard called the Wild Atlantic Coastal Area.

Eventually we hit the freeway for a long stretch, which wasn’t as scenic, but really, whatever parts of Ireland are ugly, we never came across. Even the miasmic woods behind Ballinalacken were beautiful. And I tell you true, it was a relief to just drive on a real road for an hour or so, without trying to dance the impossible place between thick hedgerow scraping the passenger side and the oncoming lorry.

Then it was off the nice roads and onto little roads. Tiny roads. Silly ridiculous roads barely as wide as the farm lane that leads to Moonshadow, but with speed limits of 80k. The country turned to rural farmland, seriously Shire-ish, which is a type of country that makes my heart go pitter pat, but it was pitter patting more from sheer nail-biting terror that I might encounter an oncoming car. Fortunately it almost never happened.

Our luck ran out when we were well into Leitrim, and our Google Maps dropped us. Not totally, but it started to bug out, and we were so very relieved to have both the printed maps that David had sensibly made before we left the U.S., and the emailed directions from the cottage owner. David took over driving, and as usual stayed calm (carefully, studiously, determinedly calm) as my anxiety rose.

Flipping rapidly between the maps, the GPS and my email, we made our way mostly by trial and error to and through the town of Mohill. It really isn’t very far from there to the first turn off, but tired and worried and in the rain it felt as if we had to be on the wrong road. But no, there was the (defunct) Murphy’s Ale House on the corner exactly as Kerry-Lynn said it would be, so we turned off onto a road so tiny it had grass growing up the center. Eventually we came to the yellow house as expected, took the sharp left we were supposed to make, and were on a road even tinier. Expecting to get crushed by a tractor around every (blind hairpin) turn, we came to a point where we could either go straight or go left. David started to go left, but I shrieked that we hadn’t reached a landmark and had to go straight. He started to say that the road seemed to bear left, but, probably more to stifle my bleating than anything else, backed up and went where I thought we should go. We ended up in a farmyard, inched our way a little further on and came to a living Kerberus, three enormous boxers who glared at us with unblinking eyes and were so closely packed they really did seem to share a body. Then they started barking. Then they came at us. If I’d been driving I’d have had that Jetta up and over one of the fieldstone walls, but David smoothly backed her up and turned her around in the (unwelcoming hostile) farmyard (probably inhabited by cannibalistic psychopaths) and got us out of there. We went the way he originally planned (and the next day I could see that yes, the road such as it was actually did bend that way, but don’t tell him I said so) and on past another house and more hedgerows and a few farm fields and pastures and then into thick dark wet forbidding woods while the road kept getting tighter and tighter, and our poor little Jetta’s proximity alarms kept going off, and my hair was standing up straight on my head. And then it happened. The road sign we looked for, Tour de Hubert, was there before us. One left (the car dinging madly) and there was the cottage.

Out in the rain, fumbling to read the code for the lock box off my email, unpadlock the gate, get the wretched car into the rather ugly little back yard, and finally we hauled our tired wet jangle-nerved selves and our various boxes and bags into the high-ceilinged kitchen of Gramarye Cottage.

My first impression was mild dismay. As I said, the backyard where the car went was nothing like the amazing photos I’d seen online, and the cottage was chilly and felt damp. It was super cute, but without luxury, and while I’m not a luxury-needing gal, I was feeling a little fragile after the harrowing last 10 miles or so of our journey, and the soothing whispered elegance of the Merrion was suddenly something I wanted desperately.

We did some basic unpacking and poked about the cottage. We were pleased to find plenty of wood ready to start a fire in the wood stove later, and to my great delight, a bathtub, since I had thought I read in Tripadvisor that it only had a shower. The upstairs bedroom is reached by a ladder. The downstairs master bedroom bed was surprisingly small (a ‘three quarter’ which I’d never heard of before) but the heat fired up with a reassuring rumble, the kitchen was pretty and super well-stocked, and the little living room inviting.

But we hadn’t passed through any towns big enough for a real grocery store, so had to venture out again and find the Tesco in Ballinamore, about 20 minutes away, another tense and nail-biting drive. We had been to Tescos in England and liked them, but this one is ghastly. It’s in the ugliest building I’ve ever seen, almost insultingly ugly. You would have to work at it to plan something so aesthetically displeasing. You walk underneath a low roof to get to the door, and then realize you have to go back outside (in the rain) to get a cart, and then realize the carts are locked together and you have to have a 20c coin to get them, which we didn’t have. But a lady who had walked by us before with a very typical Irish no eye contact and no smile heard us meeping, and came and put a coin in and pushed our cart at us, brushing off our stammered and effusive thanks. (More on the Irish people in a later post.)

The store is dismal, dank and none too clean, utterly without windows or any source of natural light, and everyone in it seems miserable from the shoppers to the check out clerks. A lot of the food was past the date, and some had been opened and partially eaten. When we got the checkout we discovered that Ireland doesn’t give bags (and really, good for them, but we were caught pants down). Luckily David spied some boxes and we grabbed them and made our escape.

We’d hoped to find somewhere in town to eat, but there was nothing appealing, only bars. So we slogged back home and cooked our own dinner, which was good, I was just so not into it.

But before I started cooking, and while David was building us a fire, I decided to go out and check out the gardens, the faery gardens I’d fallen in love with online, and see if I had made a good choice or doomed our vacation to the dismal backwater everyone in Ireland seemed to think it would be.

And that’s when the magic happened.

I’m not going to describe the gardens here and now. I’ll refer you to my FB page (and I’ll soon have them sorted into albums, I don’t at this writing) but even wordy people like me can’t get everything into words.

Those two acres or so are jam-packed with fae, with magic light and dark, and with ancient spirits. I’ve never seen anything like them. I knew right then that I was going to do a lot of magic while I was there. When I came in I had a hawthorn leaf in my hair.

While I was in the bathtub a Goddess image formed on the window, made of steam.

We realized that David had left part of the charger at Ballinalacken so not only did we have no phone or tv or wifi, we also didn’t even have the capability to charge our various devices. We’re not that plugged in, or so we thought, but it seemed a bit Luddite even for us.

But also pretty exciting.


Posted June 20, 2017 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

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