A Travellerspoint blog

End of the Irish one-way road

Blue sky at Skye, the Monster of Loch Ness remains unseen and Mrs Brown makes an appearance.

The trip is drawing to a close, and I am back in Ireland again. The second week in Scotland was every bit as good as the first. The weather for three days where I was staying turned out to be the warmest place in the UK, with regular sunshine and clear skies (you will see in the photos).
I spent a whole day on the isle of Skye, doing a few mountain walks and covering pretty well the whole place. The scenery was fantastic, with the highlight being climbing the ridge known as The Storr (see photos).

Wading through the herds of wild haggis and avoiding the dreaded bagpipe spiders (one bite and you do the highland fling till you drop dead) I went to Urquhart Castle along Loch Ness. Despite the whiskey, I was unable to get even a fuzzy out of focus picture of the Monster, so had to be content with the castle. Typical of the era, the place was cold and drafty, and built for smaller people than now (ducking through stone doorways is highly recommended, I might add), and fought over for a few hundred years. The Caledonian Canal runs right through Loch Ness, and links the eastern and western waters of Scotland. Loch Ness itself is huge; to give you an idea, the volume of water in the loch is greater than the combined total of all the lakes in England and Wales. That gives an idea of how deep it is. It is also still volcanically active, and the earthquakes in Scotland mostly occur here.
All eyes have been on the rugby World Cup, which everyone is very pleased with now that Australia has driven England out of the competition. The arrogance of the English team has been duly noted in the media and caused a lot of animosity (the pinnacle was when the English team announced very vocally that not one of the Australian players deserved or would make the English team). The following day, Australia flogged them. This has been historic as it is the first time ever that the host nation of the world cup hass been knocked out of the competition before the finals. So everyone reckons England got what they deserved.

On the way back to Ireland, when I joined the queue of cars for the ferry, and who should pull up with his entourage beside us but Brendan O'Carrol AKA Mrs Brown and co., on the way back from a tour in England. Very clever and friendly, we had a bit of a chat, and I managed to convince them to come to Australia again for another tour (Jan 2016 - keep an eye out for tickets).

The last couple of days will be spent here in Ireland, feasting and drinking and catching up with the everyone before heading back home on Wednesday night. Will see everyone when I get back, and regale you all with stories of the trip.

Posted by VP28802 07:18 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

What's on in Glasgow this week...

Football, policing, the difference from Edinburgh, and more drink...

semi-overcast 19 °C

So, moved on again across towards Glasgow now. The weather is still being pretty kind, though it did rain well yesterday. Like the eskimos, the Scots have about a hundred different names for rain, like 'dreich', which loosely translates as 'it is raining so heavily that if you don't have a hat it will make your head bleed, but at least it is coming straight down.'

The other day it was to the south of the country (which I think is actually where England is). There I found this wall, built by some Italian bloke named Adrian, who was having trouble with his neighbours a while back. They were a bunch of blue people with red hair (which is where we get the custom back home of calling people with red hair 'Bluey') who painted pictures or something. All they wanted to do was fight so Adrian put this wall up. Then he ran off. And if all that sounds true, then go read a book other than one where the main character is a dog called Ben with a big red ball.

I also went to a typical 18th century castle: this is generally how they come about. This particular one, called Culzean Castle, was built by the Kennedy clan, who were the local lairds (i.e. lords). Basically, they ruled the roost along the coast, and everyone who lived there paid taxes to the Kennedys for the privilege. When it was permitted by those in charge, the Kennedys took over all the local land, including the church which had its own profitable lands. The problem came when the abbot objected and pointed out how out of order this was. So, to make it legal, the laird had the abbot turned on a spit in front of his fire until he signed the lands over. A bit later, the government intervened and said that the contract was void, due to coercive methods used. So the laird went and asked the abbot to sign a new one, which again resulted in the abbot being turned on a spit when he refused again. At the same time, the laird was controlling the smuggling and piracy rampant along the coast and in the port facility (which he owned) near the castle. This control consisted of allowing the smugglers to use caves under the castle to hide the loot (for a 20% cut), while officially the laird knew nothing. This was not unusual, and it turns out other lairds were all doing this type of thing, some better than others. The Stewart clan did so well they ran the country for around 400 years. A bit of irony came later, as many of the clans found themselves broke when inheritance taxes were brought in, so now most of the castles are owned by the government, sometimes with a clause that allows the family to still use the place. As an aside, Culzean was notable as the place where Eisenhower planned the D-day invasion, and he had exclusive use of the place into the 1950s.

Also visited Bannockburn, which is where Robert the Bruce with 6000 men beat the crap out of King Edward I's 16,000 men. Opinions vary on Bruce, with many who hail him as a hero, and others who don't think much of him (one guy told me 'he changed allegiances more times than he changed his underwear'). So, not as popular as you might think. And neither are William Wallace or Rob Roy either, sort of like the image Ned Kelly has. Rob Roy was a cattle thief who was clever at covering his arse, while William Wallace (who looked nothing like Mel Gibson apparently) was not the working class hero he is made out to be.

And this is where Scotland is divided on independence at the moment. They have already moved down this road a way, with a National police force that is under pressure at the moment. Now a combined force, they have cut back numbers (that resources word again). So it wasn't long before two big events happened: in June, there was a single car rollover off the freeway (think the Western or the Hume just past the suburbs), where it took 3 days for police to respond, with one occupant found dead and the other later dying in hospital. Apparently the D24 call was made, but not passed on. The fallout for that has been compounded by a missing person last week, who was found dead after 9 days missing, despite a sighting call made the day after the report, which also wasn't passed on. Still think we have troubles at home...?

While in Glasgow, the opportunity came up for attendance at Celtic Park for a football (i.e. soccer) match involving the local team, Celtic. The team has roots in the Catholic populace of Scotland, and now has a primarily Catholic following around the world, especially from Irish, Italian and Polish supporters. Their arch-nemesis is a team known as Rangers who are Protestant, and have a strong English support base. So these two teams (and their supporters) act like they are at war every time they play. Opposition fans are separated at the ground by security fences and police lines, and at 10 minutes before the end an announcement is made that all visiting fans have to wait for half an hour while home fans leave, and are then escorted to their buses, then further escorted by police convoy to the freeway.

On the way to the ground at 1030 for a 1545 kick off, we passed through Celtic territory, a district that has definitely seen better days. Glasgow is the poor cousin of Edinburgh: while Edinburgh represents the diligent scholar who has studied hard, made a name for himself and has all the trappings and charm of a successful life to show for it, Glasgow is the labourer who has worked hard all his life, without regard to outward appearance, though still feels modestly proud of a job well done, and insists on now getting pissed every day. So on the way to Celtic Park, the distinction was obvious, and it is probably why Celtic enjoy such support from fans of this background. We stopped along the route at Bar 67, a well known and half full (at 1100) Celtic-themed pub, complete with walls adorned with football memorabilia. As we started our first pint, the place quickly filled up. Before long we were drinking and talking with several members of the Italian Celtic supporters club who had flown over for the game. By the time they left (several pints later) we were long lost brothers. By now I was on the way to well smashed. We finally staggered towards the ground, with two serves of chips and gravy on the way.

Fortunately for me, Rangers were elsewhere this day,but the security measures still took place. The word to describe the atmosphere is 'tribal'. Sports fans in Australia have nothing on the fanaticism of these guys. And while there was no trouble at all between fans, this was only because there was no opportunity due to the police line. For the most part it was restricted to chants and taunts by supporters of both sides. We went back to the area the following day, and it still looked run down, only more so now in the absence of any crowds of the previous day. A street market district had appeared, similar to Victoria market in Melbourne, but in line with the poorer quality of the district. Stalls were run down, vendors shabby and furtive, and the items for sale ranging from suspect (like imitation brand name clothing and DVDs) to stuff that had only one previous owner, who wouldn't be back till Thursday, when his stuff would be missed.

I have moved on now to the north of Scotland, the true Highlands, past Inverness. The weather is still fine till mid week, and I am hoping to head to Skye while the weather is so good.

Posted by VP28802 00:46 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

Scotland the mildly heroic

Three days in Edinburgh, and the rugby world cup is all people want to know...

sunny 19 °C

After a quick drive from Dublin to Belfast, the ferry across to Scotland was pretty calm, and I am told, unusual. It didn't rain, and the waves were somewhere else, apparently. The weather has been pretty good across the board since I got here. Across the country (in an hour and a half) to my digs in Edinburgh, and more whiskey (hard to avoid in Scotland). Edinburgh is pretty much a cosmopolitan city like Melbourne, but with better architecture. You just walk less than a hundred yards along the Royal Mile in the city and have tea in a building that has been there since 1600 or so. The publicans and pipers on the streets wanted to talk about the rugby.

Spent all day at Edinburgh Castle on my first day (the castle guide wanted to talk about the rugby when he found I was from Australia), and the photos you will see have not been altered, these are like it was. It's pretty well been a fortress for over a 1000 years, with additions here and there over the centuries as one side or another captures it after a siege. They still fire an artillery piece called the '1 o'clock gun' to signal the hour from the top of the castle walls, supposed to be used to set the time in the docks (but does not take daylight savings into account). They had to bring the gun in because they realised the tower on the hill with a timepiece couldn't be see in the Scottish rain and fog (i.e. summer), so an audio signal was needed. The castle also houses the War Memorial and museum, and is still an operating regimental barracks. If you walk in through the wrong door you find yourself signed up in the Arygll Highlanders for three years.

Over the next couple of days, I climbed the Sir Walter Scott Monument (200 ft high, 287 steps up a spiral stair), which gives great views across Edinburgh, especially since the sun was out again. People keep telling me it's Scotland, of course it will rain, but I am yet to see it (see pics). Went to the museum, which also has great views from the roof, a really good collection on Scottish history, and staff from Australia and New Zealand, who all wanted to talk about the rugby. Then more whiskey, this time as part of a walking ghost tour at night through Edinburgh; after a couple of drinks, you half believe the stories, too. The story of Burke and Hare, and the bodysnatchers, is the best, since it is actually true and documented (look it up).

My last day I went to Rosslyn Chapel (if you have read/seen The Da Vinci Code, or are of the Freemasonic persuasion, you will know where I am talking about). This is probably one of the oldest still operating churches in Scotland, and is still the family chapel of the Sinclairs family, who built it in the 1400s. Plus if you believe all the loonies, nearly every sacred relic in religion is hidden there somewhere, including the Holy Grail, Ark of the Covenant, and the True Cross. I think the lens cap from my camera is also there somewhere. They also asked about the rugby.

Back across towards Glasgow in the afternoon (the other side of the country again), and I will be here for the next week. Should find somewhere to watch the rugby...

Posted by VP28802 11:11 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

Post wedding clarity in Ireland

The only difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish funeral is that there is one less drunk at the funeral...

sunny 15 °C
View I'm Going to Pick a Fight... on VP28802's travel map.

I have finally regained enough motor skills to write again, mainly since I have to drive to Scotland tomorrow. The wedding on the weekend was huge, packed, and well catered. Pig on a spit, potatoes galore (as you would expect) and much rejoicing. The wedding was at a large country estate south of Dublin, used to be owned by the actor John Hurt who established massive gardens. This included an apple orchard right next to the wedding tent and heaps of people were pinching all the apples as the day went on. You've never seen so many suit pockets filled with apples. Or maybe you have, I don't know what sort of weddings you go to...

Last week I went to an old pub which is typical of the country buildings around. I mean, old. It was built in 1586 (there might be a few of you who remember it), somehow missed being destroyed in all the wars that have roamed the country since, and was when people were a lot shorter, It's hard to stay hunched over at the bar for a drink unless you are a hobbit.

There is music on in the pubs most nights, where anyone with an instrument just rocks along to play on a regular basis. Sometimes the local knowledge is handy to find the better ones and avoid the tourist ones. It is all 'diddly dee' music though - even the locals call Irish music that. The small bands guarantee a crowd in the pub, so they get drinks for nothing, play away, and everyone goes home happy; nothing formal and unpaid. They usually don't start till late (around 2200) which means the place usually fills up late and stays that way till stumps. All good fun, but results in many late nights with whiskey...though as has been pointed out, it is only when you stop that you get a bit tired.

Also went on a tour of Phoenix Park and the residence of the Irish President, commonly known as the Áras an Uachtaráin (don't ask how it is pronounced, you'll do yourself an injury). Basically the same as the Lodge in Canberra. He happened to be in that day, and the weather was very good, so he let his dogs out for a run, which are a massive Burmese breed. I thought they were two blokes in a suit. They just came bounding up to the tour group, frightened the bejesus out of us, and then happily sat for pats. Then the guide told us whose dogs they were. The gardens were pretty spectacular, and all the food prepared for state dinners at the place comes from the gardens and the grounds. The police mounted branch and headquarters are also here. It is all set amongst trees that were planted by various British and European monarchs going back to Queen Elizabeth I in the 1600s. Makes the Botanic Gardens in Melbourne look like a back yard.

Anyway, off to Scotland tomorrow where the fresh highland air should rejuvenate what mess I have degenerated into. Three days in Edinburgh, then to Glasgow area for a week, up to the north for another week. Will keep you posted.

NOTE: Due to administrative overload, and the fact that I can't count anymore, the whiskey tally has been discontinued. An overall estimate will be attempted in a strategic summary at a later date.

Posted by VP28802 00:13 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Where does all this whiskey come from?

Irish words learned to date: 'Croker'; GAA; craic; feckin eejit

sunny 20 °C
View I'm Going to Pick a Fight... on VP28802's travel map.

Since last entry, I have been to a Gaelic football final, consumed copious volumes of alcohol, and generally lounged about. I am still not sure which one of these pastimes is considered the national sport. Also the museums are great, especially at the moment, since there is a lot of emphasis on the history that has been fairly well ignored here till recently. There has been a long held saying here that 'Irish history started in 1916' after the Easter Rising, and a lot of other history was ignored. This has changed a fair bit now and they are making other stuff more widespread.

There is a huge blue going on in Northern Ireland at the moment as well; essentially, one of the cabinet ministers of the government has been arrested along with a couple of others for a recent murder of an Ulster unionist paramilitary. Basically it looks like an IRA hit that involves one of their politicians, and looks like derailing the stability of Northern Ireland - again. The equivalent would be if Malcolm Turnbull was arrested for killing a trade union leader. So huge news here anyway.

The weather has been great, which is both good and bad - you can get out to see heaps, but inevitably end up at a pub somewhere (see the pics) for a drink or several. I was actually warned by a bloke the other day to 'stay away from the blonde with the black skirt' - see the pics and you will get the meaning. The good thing (if there is one) about the drinking sessions at the pubs is that's where all the music is. The pubs are a huge focal point for the communities, and unlike back home don't tend to have the problems like we do, as the pub crowd is fairly sedate. The problems come from the nightclubs mostly.

Managed to catch up with the local coppers here. No surprise to find the job the same here as back home, with the same problems. Resources have been cut back, numbers and morale are low across the board, and the only smart ones seem to have all left Ireland and joined the WA police. There is even a show on TV about it over here called 'Gardai Down Under' about all the expat coppers who have relocated to WA. Very popular, too.

Everyone seems to have relatives in Australia somewhere, and you get asked often 'Do you know Paddy, he lives in Australia; perhaps you've met him...?' There is no concept of how big the country is compared to Ireland, and when I tell them how far I drive to work each day (basically from one side of Ireland to the other), they find it difficult to get their head around it. They are also disgusted by the price of a pint of Guinness in Australia.

Anyway, I will be getting out and about a bit more after this weekend (which is the wedding I am primarily supposed to be here for, and probably will be the least remembered due to the presence of alcohol (there is no Irish phrase for 'responsible serving of alcohol', unless it means 'Take care not to spill any'.) Next week will be time to head to Scotland as well, which may sound like a strange and unlikely place to sober up.

Whiskey count:
Jamesons - don't ask, there is a huge haze involving Jameson's Whiskey. Lots, I am told.
Rum - several
Cider - some
There may be other stuff as well, but the jury is still out...

Posted by VP28802 11:59 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

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