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After the visit to Glendalough Monastary Settlement in the Wicklow Mountains, our next stop was to Powersourt Waterfall. First, we had to drive there from Glendalough, which did take a fair amount of time as the Wicklow Mountains are a little larger than I expected them to be. We were not disappointed with the waterfall, and this is the largest one that we saw in Ireland.

Wicklow Mountains is an national park south of Dublin. The area is very barren and there are peat fields, flat areas, and mountain views. The scenery was not my personal favourite, and the drive just seemed to drag on for awhile. However, this park is popular with Dubliners at the weekends as it is so close to Dublin.

Eventually, we found our way to Powerscourt Waterfall, near the Powerscourt Estate. This is Ireland's highest waterfall at over 120 meters high. There are also giant redwood trees (native to California) planted here, but they are still young. 

When we drove up to the waterfall, we were in awe at the size and height of it. We then walked below it to get some photographs and climb on the stones.

After we had enough of the beautiful waterfall, we headed out of Wicklow Mountains and around the road around Dublin. On the way out, I noticed these peat bricks at a petrol station that we stopped at.

Our next stop would be to visit Trim Castle, so keep checking back for my last couple of posts of the Ireland road trip.

Our first stop after our night in Kilkenny was to drive to the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin in Ireland. We would be stopping off at Glendalough Monastic City, a large complex here, before continuing our drive into the mountains. Glendalough is one of the most important sites in Ireland, and it was founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin. Many of the buildings that we saw date from the 10th-11th centuries.

Before we arrived at Glendalough, we stopped off at a couple of places in the Wicklow Mountains on the way in order to take some photographs. We also passed through a small town called 'Hollywood', which was nothing much more than a few sheep grazing on a hillside with the 'HOLLYWOOD' letters on the hill above. We were driving, so I could not get a good photograph of it, but it made me laugh.

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After Hollywood, we entered Wicklow Gap and pulled over to get some photographs. We were not far from Glendalough. We saw some picturesque views over the mountains, including a small lake formed at the base of the mountain. We read a sign here that pointed out the ancient pilgrimage road to Glendalough, called "St. Kevin's Way". 

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We arrived at Glendalough by mid-morning, and it was already busy with a couple of tour buses. However, we managed to find a place to park in order to explore the area. The locals were already out in force, selling souvinirs and food from concession stands and singing their traditional songs in front of the large stone gateway entrances into the Monastic City.

The first architectural feature that I noticed is the Round Tower. The round tower contained the bells to gather the monks together for prayers. The day before, we had climbed the Round Tower at Kilkenny, which is one of only two round towers opened to the public that can be climbed in Ireland. This particular round tower is a hundred feet high and used to have six levels made from wooden floorboards, which no longer exist. The round tower was built between 900-1200. The entrance would have been above ground level, and a ladder would have been placed in order to climb to enter (and then pulled up) so that enemies could not enter.

I saw some excellent views over the mountains from the graveyard.

The next stop was to visit the cathedral, which was the largest structure at Glendalough and would have been one of the largest churches in Ireland at its time.

The priest's house is a small building in the middle of the grave area. 

We also got some beautiful views of this church, which was locked but appeared to be in good condition. 

After we had seen enough, we headed out through the main gateway. Unusually, the gateway is a double-gateway, and this is the only example of such existing. The second gateway did have a tower built on it. The gateway would have been built between 900-1200. Just inside the gateway is a stone with a cross carved into it.

There is a visitor centre nearby, but we actually failed to notice the signs for this and did not visit. We left to continue on our exploration of the Wicklow Mountains. Not far away, we came across a beautiful waterfall named Glenmacnass Waterfall.

The road winded around to the top of the waterfall, where we were awarded with beautiful views. We managed to find a place to pull over to get some photographs.

We continued on our journey through Wicklow Mountains (Sally Gap) in order to visit another waterfall - Powerscourt Waterfall. Keep checking back to see photographs of our visit.

Birthday Visit to Lymington (England)

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My birthday was in the middle of last month. This year for my birthday, the bloke and I decided to go to Lymington. We had a treasure trail walk to complete, and we expected the New Forest to be fairly quiet on a Wednesday, which it was. We were lucky to have decent weather with sunshine (and some cloud), and the rain stayed away. We had a little over two hours to enjoy here while we walked around to solve the clues to the treasure walk.

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The first stop of the day was to Toby Carvery in Basingstoke, a restaurant chain that is famous for its carvery meals, and we had breakfast. I had toast, bacon, tomato, scrambled eggs, mushrooms, potato (mixed with onion and bacon), and a giant onion breakfast Yorkshire pudding. This was delicious, and I really liked the potato and Yorkshire pudding. This was a great start to the day.

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We drove down to the New Forest afetrwards. Despite living in the same county as the New Forest, we rarely ever visit it. We should visit it more as it's not that far as it is a wonderful place to visit. I guess we are caught up in our busy lives.

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We walked past the Sea Water Baths, which I did not know existed. These were founded in the 18th century for health benefits, similar to the spas at Bath and Harrogate in England. They were not open when we walked past. Lymington was also famous for its salt production in the middle ages.

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We continued to walk down the side of the harbour. There are a lot of boats here, and I really wish I owned one of them. 

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We walked around the edge of town and saw some beautiful houses and gardens.

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The High Street and the church in Lymington are attractive, but it's a pity about the scaffolding on the church.

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Lymington's High Street also has a gold postbox. These were painted gold for Olympic gold medal winners in 2012.

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We also popped into a small ice cream shop in order to get an ice cream. The ice cream was alright, but it was not as creamy as I would have liked, even though it was advertised as 'gelato', which I think of as a creamier version of ice cream.

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With our ice creams, we walked down the most picturesque cobble-stoned street near the middle of town and near the harbour before heading back to the car and driving back to Basingstoke for the afternoon. Plenty of photographs of these streets can be seen below.

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We left Lymington and headed back home to Basingstoke. Our first stop in Basingstoke was to visit the Parlour Tearooms, which I have written about before. I had my birthday cupcake here. The tearooms were quiet as it was the middle of the day on a Wednesday. It was nice to be out without worrying about the crowds.

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Overall, this was a relaxing day and it went by much too quickly. 

I have just realised that I've published a series of castle and abbey posts from last year's trip to Ireland all at once, and today is another castle post. I actually visited this on my birthday last year and  can hardly believe that it was a year ago. After the visit to the Rock of Cashel and Hore Abbey, we drove over to visit Dunamase Castle. Dunamase Castle is now in ruins, but it was worth the visit. The visit to the castle and parking was free, and it's a short walk from the parking up to the castle, which is built on and around a hillside. The castle has a rich history. Dunamase Castle was built in the 12th century on the site of a 9th century fort. It was passed to the Anglo-Normans after Aoife (the daughter of MacMurrough) was married to Strongbow. It was then passed through marriage to Marshals in the 13th century and then to the Mortimers in the 14th century.

After Mortimer was executed for treason by order of King Edward III, it changed hands many times. It ended up in the possession of the Irish O'Mores, who were credited with its destruction. In the Cromwell wars, it was not considered a threat because it was in ruin. At the end of the 18th century, the hall was partially restored as a residence, but it was let to fall into decay after the owner's death.


Barbican (foreground), main gatehouse (mid ground), and the Great Hall (at hill top)

The castle entrance is through the outer barbican. This leads to an inner triangular barbican with the main gatehouse at the other end. The inner barbican is surrounded by a wall, and through the main gatehouse is the Great Hall, surrounded by a wall. There is an earlier gate tower in the inner barbican. The main gatehouse provides high level defense and a porticullis with a murder hole. Remains of a drawbridge can be seen along the passage. At the top of the hill is the two storey Great Hall, which was built in the 12th century but contains work  dating from the 13th century.


The main and second gatehouse, pictured from the lower ward

My photographs from the visit to Castle Dunamase are below.


The main gatehouse between the inner barbican and lower ward, looking up to the Great Hall


Looking down the hill to the inner barbican


Wildflowers


Ruins - probably the other gatehouse


The Great Hall at the top of the hill


The Great Hall


Views from the top of Dunamase Castle


Wall area at the Great Hall


Dunamase Castle ruins and views


Great Hall section of wall


Irish farms from Dunamase Castle


Remains of the main gatehouse


Doorways

Dunamase Castle was quiet when we visited; we were the only visitors. It was extremely windy, and the rain had mostly ceased when we visited it. This was a nice visit because most of the other places to see in Ireland charge a fee. This was the last visit on the road trip today, and we headed off to Kilkenny where we would stay the night.

After visiting Cahir Castle, we made our way down the road to the Rock of Cashel. The Rock of Cashel is one of the most popular sites in Ireland and has a long history. It was once the seat of the kings of Ireland, and it is the location where Saint Patrick preached. The legend says that he banished the devil from the caves near the rock. The Rock of Cashel is an early Christain site and contains medieval buildings. It includes the cathedral (and Romanesque doorway), round tower and Cormac's Chapel. Nearby and at the bottom of the rock (hill) is Hore Abbey.

The Rock of Cashel was the seat of Irish kings from the 4th century until 1101, when power was given to the church. St. Patrick preached at the Rock of Cashel in the 5th century. Although Cashel has ancient history, it was only documented since the 4th century. The cathedral actually replaces an earlier structure, and the buildings here date from the 15th century.

We had a look inside some of the buildings before wandering outside.

Some of the interiors contained original artwork, such as sculpture. Even more rare is evidence of painting that depicts religious scenery.

The cemetery is walled and does contain some high crosses.

In the distance and at the foot of the hill is Hore Abbey.

After exploring outside, we went to Cormac's Chapel. Cormac's Chapel is one of the most important religious chapels in Ireland. It was built in the mid-1100s. The plaster inside the chapel is being eroded away by environmental factors, so it is often closed off so that UV lights can be added in order to kill the harmful microbiological growths. Traces of the paint and plaster can be seen in the chapel, which is astonishing considering the age.

A replica of St. Patrick's cross, one of the high crosses of Ireland, stands in the entrance to the cathedral. The original is located inside, along with other artefacts. As mentioned, the cemerery contains other high crosses. There was one (pictured below) that was struck by lightning in 1976. The cross was one of the most impressive and dated from the mid-1800s.

There is a video of the history of the Rock of Cashel, but we did not get to see it. Unfortunately, the video is not shown in English until every two or three hours as they show it in other languages. I wish the other languages had shown English subtitles, at least. That way, we could have watched and understood it. So, we did leave without really understanding the importance of this site.

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Our next stop was Hore Abbey, and the photograph of the Rock of Cashel above was taken from Hore Abbey. The other side of the Rock of Cashel was covered in scaffolding, sadly. This is a pity because the ruins are beautiful; I've seen photographs of them without the scaffolding.

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Hore Abbey is located at the bottom of the hill from the Rock of Cashel. It is a Benedictine monestary, and it was founded in the early 1200s. The monestary changed religious factions; it was given to the Cistercians in the mid 1200s because the archbishop dreamed that the Benedictines were plotting to murder him. The structure dates from the 13th century.

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We had to make our way through the muddy field, following the narrow stone pathway to the abbey ruins. Bits of this pathway were extremely dirty and muddy thanks to our bovine friends in the image above. A word of warning: there are cow patties, so do wear boots or shoes that you do not mind getting muddy. There was no way to avoid stepping through this, and walking around on the grass is much worse because of the wet patch further down the path. However, we'd had rain on the day we visited and a few days of rain prior to that.

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The builders of the abbey would have also been responsible for building the cathedral at the Rock fo Cashel, and the same rock was used.

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Glimpses of the Rock of Cashel could be seen at different angles from Hore Abbey.

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I hope you have enjoyed these photographs of Hore Abbey and the Rock of Cashel. Come back again to see what else we got up to in the Ireland road trip. 

A Visit to Cahir Castle, Ireland

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Cahir Castle was our first stop after leaving Killarney National Park. The castle is located in the town of Cahir, on a rocky island in the River Suir. The castle dates to the mid-1100s when it was constructed by Conor O'Brien. It was expanded in the 13th century, and it is Norman in design. The castle was remodelled twice, once in the 15th century and again in the 17th century as the main line of the owners (Butler family) died out.

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The origins of the castle can be traced back to an earthen form located on this island in the River Suir. Later, the castle would have been constructed out of rock. We walked around to the entrance, the rocky island becoming clearer as we could see the brickwork from the castle raising up from it.

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We saw a full-scale model of the early phase of the castle and the beginnings of the town of Cahir.

As we approached the entrance, we took note of the imposing structure of the castle.

The eagle made of stone sits above the door.

This castle was used in the 1980s film Excalibur. It was also used in Braveheart, but it was not the main filming location for that film. I will be posting about another Irish castle soon, and that is the one that is associtated with Braveheart the most.

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We found ourselves into the inner ward, near the keep.

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Inside is the banqueting hall. It was originally larger than it is today, and part of it dates from the 13th century. Large pageants were held here with hundreds of people in attendance. It must have been quite a sight to see.

The keep was altered to convert it into private living quarters for the Butler family in the 15th century. Its roof was restored in the 1960s.

The views from the castle over Cahir and the river were impressive.

In addition to wandering around the castle, one of the buildings had really good information panels about women throughout history in the Ireland and the roles expected of them. 

The original entrance to the castle is in the northwest tower in the inner ward. It could be defended independently, and it was guarded. A murder hole exists overhead.

Of importance is the original porticulis, which was restored. It dates from the 13th century.

After we had finished, we went to explore the village of Cahir. We just walked down the street a short way and popped into a souvinir shop.

As we were getting ready to leave, I took some photographs of the castle from across the river. The sun came out at this time, so we had hopes for nice weather for the remainder of the day. We then continued our road trip, and the next stop on the journey was the Rock of Cashel.

Guided London Walk: Macarons & Mews

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Last Saturday, I enjoyed a guided walk around Belgravia and Knightsbridge on the "Macarons and Mews" tour. The guided tour is conducted by Yannick Pucci, who is knowledgeable about London history and architecture. Yannick's story was similar to my own in that he was born in another country and came to the UK to study and liked it so much that he stayed. The tour that I was on was quite small, and there were four of us in total. I met another girl from the USA (Chicago) and a couple who were originally from amazing Basingstoke (where I live). We were all around the same age and had the same interests, so it was a great tour to be on. I think I can vouch for everyone when I say that we had a lot of fun and laughter, and we learned a lot too.

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For regular readers of my blog, you know that I like to get up to new and interesting events in London and around the world. I love history, art, travel, and I do have a bit of a sweet tooth (I love afternoon tea). A few months ago, I came across the walk and wanted to sign up. I do love macarons, and I have tried many in London as I endeavour to find the best London macarons. I also know a little bit about the mews as I came across some on a walk through London by mistake several years ago.  

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Mews. For those who do not know what mews are, they were a series of terraced buildings and stables where the horses were kept, and the rooms above were reserved for the workers. The mews are amongst the most desireable central London residences now. They are located throughout London, but this walk covered some located in Belgravia and Knightsbridge. They are often considered hidden gems of London that one would overlook.

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We met up at Hyde Park Corner in front of the Lanesborough Hotel to wait for the tour to begin. I've walked by here so many times, but I actually never knew that the building was a hotel or gave it any thought. Admittedly, I typically walk on the opposite side of the road. The hotel is currently being refurbished. Near to it is an old entrance to the tube station. The roads here are always busy, and I always see (or hear first) expensive cars on the roads here.

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We walked off the main road, and as we walked further amongst the buildings, London's noise became much quieter. We were in Belgravia near the square, and this is where a lot of embassies are. We were told some more facts about the area, but I not going to give everything away; you'll have to book the tour to see the mews for yourselves and try the macarons.

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We checked out the first mews, which was a beautiful and quiet area. Some of the buildings were painted in pastel colours, and many had potted plants and window boxes in front. 

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Amongst some of the mews we visited is a pub known as 'The Grenadier'. The pub served the Royal Foot Regiment of Foot Guards and senior officials whose barracks were located nearby. The regiment was awarded for its bravery in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The pub is rumoured to be haunted as a young man was caught cheating on cards and thrown out of the window where he died. Visitors attempt to pay off the ghost's debts by attaching money to the ceiling of the pub. The entrance to the pub is actually not on the street; it is via the yard where the barracks were.

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We came across some more exclusive mews that were gated, so we could not enter them. We also passed an estate agent's shop window, and we saw the prices of the mews (for both the sale and rental markets). Most of them were selling for about the 3,500,000 mark.

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These mews contained their own community shops. In the past, they would have contained a larger variety of shops for the people who lived and worked here. Today, those that exist are speciality shops and get their trade through word-of-mouth. In fact, I did read recently that the restaurants and businesses in this area and other areas of London and really struggling because most of the buildings are empty. The people that bought the places that could afford it do not live there most of the time and do not really contribute back to the community. Some of the areas are like a 'ghost town'. That's London prices pricing everyone out of London except for the mega-rich.

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We also came across another pub opposite some mews, with an alleyway leading to more mews. We were shown an older photograph of these buildings here, which used to be shops for the people who lived in the area.

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We came across several sports cars, like the one below. We also learned about one of London's lost rivers (the Tyburn) and saw where it is located (underground). 

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The walk includes a visit to five macaron sellers for a tasting, which is included in the price. The walking helped to walk those calories off, and we headed to grab our first macarons. I will not say which brand or shop we visited, but we were first told of some interesting stories about the impressive building nearby. You may, of course, recognise the macarons. They are my favourite macarons (in taste and consistency). I will tell you that I had the peppermint one, which is a new flavour and a flavour that I have not tried before. It did not disappoint.

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Next, we visited Harvy Nichols department store. I had never been inside it before. In the top is a nice cafe and food shop, and our second tasting was here. I have previously had their macarons before as well. I had the peach champagne macaron, and it did taste lovely. 

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I had a chocolate macaron from the next shop. The shop is famous for its chocolate, so I thought I could not go wrong. I did find this macaron to be too sweet, so it was my least favourite. These macarons are slightly larger in size, and some of the flavours are inspired by the oriental/east.

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Next up, I had a coconut and lime macaron. This did taste nice.

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Our final macaron shop was located in Harrods, and it is the famous Laduree. I have actually never had their macarons before, even though they are probably the most popular. I ended up buying a box. I had the cherry blossom macaron, and it did taste delicious. The marshmallow one was nice, and vanilla is always a nice flavour. I enjoyed these, and they are just about as good as my favourite macaron brand (Pierre Hermé).

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We found more mews and walked a bit further down and certainly walked off at least some of the calories we indulged in.

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Overall, we had a perfect day, and the weather was perfect for eating macarons and discovering hidden areas of London.

For more information or to book the walk, visit: http://macaronsmewswalk.eventbrite.co.uk 

After visiting Blarney Castle, we made our way back to Killarney. Before heading back to the hotel for the evening, we had a stop off at "Meeting of the Waters" in Killarney National Park. I had read that it was a picturesque place to visit, and we pulled up into the car park to take a look. The car park was pretty empty, so we had a look at the map at the entrance to the trail to see how far the walk was. The sign said fifteen minutes to get to where the waters of the two lakes meet, so we started off. (Don't trust this sign as the walk there too at least half an hour, and we were walking at a quick pace.) 

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The views on the way to the start of the trail were pretty.

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The walkway was paved, and it was an easy walk without steep hills. We were led through the trail between the beautiful rhododendron bushes. We were at the foot of the Purple Mountain, with thousands of rhododendrons on the hill above us. They were beautiful.

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We crossed over a small pond near the lake, on our right as we walked. We kept hoping that the "Meeting of the Waters" was around the next bend. It could not be far, because the sign said 15 minutes. So, we kept thinking that it was behind the next bend and could not be further.

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We saw a couple of red deer. One was a doe (hind), and one was a buck (stag). The red deer graze the mountains in Killarney National Park. The hinds can be hunted at certain times of the year, but the stags cannot be hunted in the county. It is thought that the red deer have been grazing here since the last ice age. We watched the deer until they headed away from us and went further into the forest.

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We caught glimpses of the mountain covered in the beautiful purple carpet of rhododendrons.

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Finally, we came to the "Meeting of the Waters". This is where the lakes (Upper Lake, Muckross Lake, and Lower Lake) combine. The Dinis Cottage (a hunting lodge) is an attraction here, and the old weir bridge can be seen in the distance, over the water. This can be seen on one side of the lake.

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The views on the other side of the lake were amazing. There were beautiful views all around. I'll let the photographs do the talking.

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I zoomed in using my camera in order to see the old weir bridge in the distance.

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After a quick wander around, we then headed on our long walk back.

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The was our last stop for the day, and we headed back to the hotel to get some much-needed sleep and to find out that my brother's wife had a baby a bit later on that evening. This was on June 9, so a day before my own birthday. Keep checking back for the remaining posts of my road trip around Ireland.

Visiting Columbia Road Flower Market in east London is always a colourful experience. The market is only open on Sundays, and it's best to get there early in order to avoid the crowds. The market does get so busy later in the day that it's a struggle to walk down the narrow street. However, I recommend an early Sunday morning visit, followed by breakfast or brunch in one of east London's trendy cafes or restaurants. A visit to Brick Lane's Up-Market (Sundays only) or Spitalfields Market/Sclater Street Market can also be enjoyed as they are a short walk away. You can also combine this with checking out the lastest street art in the area. On this occassion, I stopped off at Bill's in Hoxton Square for brunch. Read on to see and learn more.

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I last visited Columbia Road Market a few weeks ago now. The spring flowers were starting to bloom, and I love daffodils and tulips. Daffodils are my favourite spring flower. I used to love tulips as we had some that would always grow in our yard each year, and we also had more daffodils, and they have remained a firm favourite of mine. 

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Columbia Road is lined with narrow terraced Victorian-style houses and some hidden alleyways, and it's at the top of Brick Lane. I'd often walk here during my lunch breaks when I worked on Brick Lane, and it's a fun place to watch people. I have seen and heard all sorts of conversations in thick east-end London accents take place here. It made me feel like I was in an episode of Eastenders with the accents. I'm certain that these generations of families who grew up here are still living here, but I'm sure that they will soon be chased out as prices of property increase and the average person is pushed out because it's too expensive to rent/buy here.  

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The shop fronts are very colourful, but this cannot be fully appreciated when the market is going on as it's such a tight squeeze down this already-narrow street. Bring on the flower vendors on both sides, and it's a little congested.

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During the week, it's fairly empty, and most of the shops are shut. It's quiet, except for the few local people seen wandering around and catching up with each other.

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However, the place literally comes to life and attracts so many people every Sunday. The flower sellers arrive very early to start selling their plants and cut flowers. Real bargains can be had, but the best of the deals may happen later in the day when the sellers do not want to take their left-over or picked-over flowers home.

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A favourite of mine is always the blooming cacti. I wish my cactus would blossom. I think they need certain conditions to bloosom, though.

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Every type of plant or flower that you could think of is sold here or sold at certain times of the year.

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I saw some beautiful blue roses when I visited. Along with this collection of roses, I saw a mixture of red, white and blue roses that would have looked perfect for (1) a celebration of Britain or (2) American Independence Day. 

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I also saw some cream-coloured roses with a pink marbled effect.

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And these flowers were pretty.

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The flowers were so beautiful, and I wished that I could have taken some home with me, but I'm not so sure that they would have lasted the journey home. Hopefully I will be in London soon, so the possibility of buying some will not be so impossible.

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After I was finished admiring the flowers, I walked down Ravenscourt Road to Hackney Road. My goal was to look at street art and then visit Hoxton Square to go to Bill's Restaurant for brunch. Bill's is a restaurant chain. It started out as a grocer's, but they were hit by the flood of 2000 (I remember those floods!), and after they had to rebuild, they added the cafe. The cafe has grown and expanded, and they serve good food as well as their own products in their shop. Their restaurants can be found all over the UK now (well, they are in Cardiff and Glasgow but not Northern Ireland yet), and they are in approximately a dozen locations across London.

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The Shoreditch (Hoxton) branch is a large building on Hoxton Square and is bright with a European-style atmosphere. Groups of chillis were hanging to try, and the tables/chairs were vintage-looking.

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I was shown my seat, which wasn't the one above but located toward the entrance and by the nice large windows. I had walked around quite a bit and had had an early start, so my first purchase was a smoothie. I cannot locate it on the menu now, but it had strawberry in it, and it gave me a boost of energy.

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I also ordered the pink lemonade. This was my breakfast, and I didn't have anything before leaving the house earlier that morning, and bear in mind that it takes just over two hours to get to Columbia Road from where I currently live. The drink was much-needed. 

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My food did arrive, and I had ordered the blueberry pancakes.  These came with slices of banana and strawberry and maple syrup. I also asked for a side of bacon (to be put onto the pancakes, of course). Maple syrup, American-style pancakes, and bacon go evry well together. The pancakes were good, and I did really struggle to eat them all. 

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After my fill, I walked through Shoreditch and Brick Lane to check out the latest on the street art scene. Also, combine a visit to the Columbia Road Flower Market with a visit to Brick Lane Sunday Up-Market (and Spitalfields Market or Sclater Street) and brunch or lunch. This is a perfect way to spend a Sunday in London if you're looking for something to do.

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Note that Brick Lane's Market is Sundays only. Yes, there is a smaller market on Saturdays now, but the big day is Sundays, and part of the road is closed off to prevent cars from passing. Sclater Street (off Brick Lane) also has a little market, and Spitalfields Market is open every day. I've been stopped by tourists many times when I was working on Brick Lane, asking where the market was, so make sure that you do visit on Sundays and not during the week. Also, Columbia Road Flower Market is only open on Sundays. Most of the shops on the road are also shut every day except the Sundays. Both Brick Lane and Columbia Road markets can be easily done in half a day at a slow pace, so go ahead and spend some time looking down roads immediately off Brick Lane for street art, and combine with a trip to Poppie's Fish & Chips (write-up to come), Rosa's Thai (write-up to come), coffee and sweet treats at The Antishop or Spitalfield's Market.

After visiting Kinsale, Cobh, and Cork, we drove to Blarney Castle for our afternoon visit. Blarney Castle is one of the most famous castles in Ireland, and I'd certainly heard about it before visiting the country. I am sure that it was featured in cartoons that I watched when I was younger. When we arrived, we had sunshine, which made a big difference to the previous two days. In addition to the castle, the grounds and gardens can be explored.

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The walk to the castle was about ten minutes from the visitor centre, and this was a pleasant walk through the grounds, where we saw flowers and a stream. The walkway was level and paved, so it was an easy ten-minute walk. Along the way, we also saw some information boards that we could read that told us about the history of the castle and grounds.

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The site where Blarney Castle is located was built on three times. In 10th century, it was a wooden hunting lodge. This was replaced with a stone structure in 1210, and in 1446, a residential tower house (the castle) was built here by Cormac MacCarthy. The MacCarthys were known as one of the most recognised and powerful families in Ireland. 

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The castle was seiged four times and eventually was taken by Cromwell and the MacCarthy family forced out in 1690. In 1703, the Jefferey family purchased the castle and grounds, and they are ancestors of the current owners.

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Blarney Castle is built on top of a large stone (Card's Hill), and underneath is a cave. The cave is known as Badger's Cave. When Cromwell's men seiged the castle, the garrison had fled through the cave. When they fled, they took the gold plate that Cromwell's men had expected to claim. 

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A legend says that the passages go to Cork, the lake, and Kerry. I entered the cave, and there are passages that do go far into the earth, but the passageways got very tight and narrow, and I'd have had to get on my hands and knees, so I did not bother. Others also were entering the cave after I did, so there was not a lot of room to maneouver.

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After leaving Badger's Cave, I had a glimpse of the castle towering above, built eight metres up into the rock. The rock was used as a quarry for the building of the castle. The castle was actually built in two stages. In the photograph below, the side on the left was actually only half as large and was later added to. The window that sticks out is the Earl's bedchamber, and the small square openings to the left of the window were outlets for the garderobes (toilets). The exterior walls of the castle would have been whitewashed in its day, so it would have looked even more imposing and powerful.

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The entry to the castle has a gatehouse and kennel for dogs, and all of this was built for defense purposes. Underneath the castle are a long series of tunnels. These were the dungeons, and a lot of them cannot be explored any longer. The water supply for the castle in times of seige was also located in the dungeon.

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After having a quick look, we went to enter Blarney Castle on top of the rock cliff. We climbed the spiral stair cases and checked out several of the rooms and learned about each one. Several good information boards were located throughout the castle and the grounds in order to give us some insight into the castle's history and how the rooms were used.

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The castle's entry point was through the basement, and this area housed cattle before the castle was opened to visitors like it is now. The area was a buttery and storage for barrels of wine. This room is actually two rooms as the floor is missing, and above is the vaulted ceiling of the Great Hall. The fireplace above would have marked the location of the floor.

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As we climbed the castle, we were awarded with beautiful views over the grounds. We were lucky to have such a lovely afternoon as the previous couple of days had not been nice at all.

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We eventually came to Ladies' Room & Priest's Room. Three young daughters of the owner in the mid-1500s grew up here, so this would have been their room. The floor would have been tiled, and a wooden bench would have been in the location in front of the window, and the walls would have been plastered. In the image above, the location of the floor for the room above can be seen, and this was the Priest's room or a small chapel.

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Next we came to the Family's Room, and a larger window was added later on in order to allow more natural light to enter. The room also contains a large fireplace where meat could be cooked. The original plasterwork could be seen (above) too.

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We finally found our way to the very top of Blarney Castle! This is where the Blarney Stone is located. Of course, there was a queue to see and kiss the famous stone. Probably the most famous aspect of Blarney Castle is the Blarney Stone, which is located at the top of the castle. Queen Elizabeth I was thought to have coined the term "blarney" first, which was important to the history of the castle. Her advisor George Carew was responsible for trying to get the MacCarthy family to abandon their ancient rights of the castle and grounds and give them to the English. Each time Carew met the MacCarthy family, they showed eloquence, loyalty and flattery for the queen but never agreed to relinquish their rights. The queen is to have used the term to describe the encounter with the MacCarthys, and the legend of the 'Stone of Eloquence' (or 'Blarney Stone') was born.

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For over 200 years after this, the stone was visited by celebrities, politicians, and writers. Kissing the stone is meant to give the gift of eloquence. The stone was thought to be brought to Ireland by a prophet, and it was then used by Irish kings. It was then thought to have been taken to Scotland to propheticse royal succession. When the MacCarthys went to support Robert the Bruce in Scotland, it is thought that the stone was split in half and sent to Blarney. Apparently a witch told the MacCarthys of the stone's power.

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While we were queueing, we read some facts about the stone and the castle. Apparently, a replica of the castle was built for the Missouri State Fair in 1904 for those who were unable to visit the real castle. In the 1940s, Blarney Castle was offered a million dollars in order to get the stone on a tour of the USA, but that was denied.

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My partner and father kissed the stone, but my mother and I did not because we both did not like the heights. They had to be held over the castle battlements, and you could see down to the ground below. After that was done, we left the castle down a spiral staircase, and I looked up at the stone from the ground. The stone can be seen in the above photograph. It is very high up.

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After our castle visit was complete, we walked through the Poison Garden and had a look at the different plants. The Poison Garden was the idea of the Jefferey family. It contains a variety of poisonous plants.

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Along the trail to Blarney House is the ice house, where food items were stored for refridgeration.

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We continued down the trail, looking at the flower bed. Some of the flowers were also in bloom.

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We soon arrived at Blarney House, surrounded by the beautiful gardens. This house was built by the MacCarthy family and they lived in it instead of the castle. The house is Scottish in style, and it was open on the day we visited, but it closed early, so we were unable to go inside.

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We continued to walk around the gardens, enjoying the beautiful flowers.

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Next up was the trail around Rock Close. The Jefferey family created the landscaped gardens and the Rock Close, built on an ancient Druid site. There are 'fairy' glades, a reconstructed Dolmen (Druid burial chamber), stone circle, cave, and waterfalls. Photographs from the Rock Close trail are below.

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After the Rock Garden, we walked back to the castle to exit the grounds. A woodside and lakeside walk can also be enjoyed at the Blarney Castle, but we did not walk these trails. 

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The grounds of Blarney Castle are really beautiful, and I would say that this is one of the best castles we saw on our trip.

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After the visit to Blarney Castle and its gardens was complete, we headed back to Kilarney where we were staying. Before we headed back to the hotel, we stopped off at "Meeting of the Waters", so check back here for photographs and a write-up of our little walk.

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