Monday, September 1, 2014

Ireland Day Four: Killarney National Park

Another long lazy morning. The bakery in Sneem makes delicious raisin buns.

Driving from Killarney to Sneem a few days before, we had seen Kissane Sheep Farms. We looked on the Internet and found they are a working sheep farm, and that if you can arrange it, you can get a tour of the farm and, in particular, see a demonstration of the dogs working with the sheep.

Well, we were both quite interested in that, but we tried calling the farm from the hotel and couldn't get an answer. Of course, this might have been because I couldn't quite parse the format used for Irish phone numbers, so I might have had us dialing the wrong numbers on the hotel phone.

Irish area codes vary in length, between one and three digits (excluding the leading 0), and subscribers' numbers are between five and seven digits. However, a migration to a standard format, (0xx) xxx xxxx, is in progress. However, to avoid disruption, this process is only being carried out as needed where existing area codes and local numbering systems have reached full capacity.

So we drive up to Moll's Gap and stop at the front gate to the farm, where there is a sign instructing to call on the intercom at the gate for further details.

We do that for a while, but noone answers.

These things happen on vacations sometimes. You can't get too hung up on it.

We drive on into Killarney National Park, stopping at Ladies View (for the view), at Torc Waterfall (for the waterfall), and then at Muckross House (for the house).

Muckross House is the real-world version of Downton Abbey, or Monarch of the Glen, or Upstairs Downstairs, etc. It's a 70-room country estate which held 22 live-in servants, hosted magnificent hunting parties, and was once visited by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Its final owners were Americans, the same ones who built the beautiful Filoli House in Woodside, California, which we had visited about 10 years ago.

Our tour guide is very good (this is becoming a theme in Ireland: the docents and guides really enjoy talking about their national treasures to guests), and I enjoy the tour very much.

We realize that we're famished, so we stop at the Estate Cafe. The food doesn't seem to exactly match the menu, but it's delicious and I can definitely recommend the "seafood pie."

The weather is just superb, so we walk through the Muckross Gardens to Muckross Friary, another Cromwell victim; this friary was run by Franciscan monks, not Augustinian monks. As with the ruined monastery at Ballinskelligs, and elsewhere that we visit, the cemetery at Muckross Abbey is still actively used. (I remain somewhat confused about the difference between an abbey, a priory, a friary, a monastery: it's complicated.)

And yes, the Yew Tree in the cloisters is stunning.

The jaunting cars operated for the convenience and entertainment of the tourists give Muckross Estate a very back-in-time feel. As we walk down the long tree-lined path that leads up to the front door of the estate, we can imagine that the Queen's royal procession is approaching, just behind us...

We take an hour and walk through Muckross Traditional Farm, a re-creation of what farming life was like a hundred years ago.

Yucky is what farming life was like a hundred years ago.

On the drive back to Sneem, we stop to try to hike the trail to the Meeting of the Waters and the Tea Room that is said to operate there. The trail is beautiful and we walk for 20 minutes, but I am too tired to make it all the way so we turn back (though we do get some great views of Muckross Estate from across the Middle Lake, as well as that classic view of Brickeen Bridge).

This seems to be a common theme in Ireland: signs often tell you the destination of the road/trail that you have reached, but they generally don't tell you the distance to that destination. You'll come to a junction and the sign might say "this way to Waterford", or "this way to Dublin", or "this way to Limerick".

Which, of course, are major cities, hundreds of kilometers and several hours away.

Or, "this way to Castletownroche," or "this way to Bealnablath," or "this way to Kilgarvan."

Which, of course, are tiny villages of a few hundred people, just a few kilometers away, and likely not even marked on any of the maps I'm carrying.

Which makes decision making at the junction entertaining!

And the trails are like that, too. Looking at it later, on the Internet, I'm fairly sure that the trail to the Meeting of the Waters and Dinis Cottage and the famous Brickeen Bridge was about 2.5 km each way, a 5 km round trip.

And I suspect we walked about 1.5 km before we decided we'd walked far enough.

But I don't really know, and in a way that's part of the pleasure of this part of Ireland: not everything is explained ahead of time; not everything is arranged for the convenience of visitors (including the phone numbers).

When you see a castle, stop.

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