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The view beyond the back yard of the Airbnb place in Cashel.

We woke up to storybook fog. Our hosts wished us a wonderful day touring castles. Our first stop was the Rock of Cashel, only 7 minutes from where we spent the night.

On our last full day in Ireland it was time for us to see some castles. We had been seeing ruins of fortifications and towers for days, but the two well-maintained and managed places we decided to see up close were in Cashel and Cahir.

View of the Rock of Cashel as we approached.

The city of Cashel disappears into the fog below us, as we stood at the top.

Wonderful foggy views surrounded us from the Rock of Cashel.

Ubiquitous Celtic Crosses stand clear in the foreground of the misty day.

The cemetery at Cashel is at the base of the fabulous round tower.

A lone sheep sentinel stood bleating in the fog.

The Rock of Cashel is not the name of the structure on top, but the name of the whole prominence, and all the structures on it. The Rock of Cashel, also known as St. Patrick’s Rock, was the seat of the kings of Munster from the 4th century until 1101 when it was presented to the Church in a political move. Structures include Cormac’s Chapel, finished in 1134, the Round Tower, also built in the 12th century, St. Patricks Cathedral, built in the 13th century and used till the 18th century, and The Hall of the Vicars Choral, built in the 15th century. There is also a castle, which was the bishop’s residence.

Our admission fee included a tour of the whole site except the Chapel. We purchased tickets to tour the Chapel as well, which is locked to visitors unless they are attended by a guide. The Chapel shows multiple global influences in its architecture, with the message of unification. A Chapel for worship was meant for all people, in other words. It is remarkable inside and worth the extra Euros.

Tara explores the inside of the Chapel.

This sarcophagus was moved inside because its outside location subjected it to detrimental effects of the weather. One corner was not protected by a roof, and you can see the damage done by rain to the soft limestone.

Roof of the Chapel shows remains of murals.

Much of the stonework inside contained detailed faces that our guide explained were all symbolic of either saints or wicked spirits.

On the tour of the whole site, we began in the Hall of the Choral, and it was explained to us that the Vicars Choral was lavished with luxury. This beautiful building was built for the singers to live and practice their skills in assisting with chanting the cathedral services. They received the best accommodation and food, in hopes of attracting the most talented choral members. Hopes were that God would be most glorified by the most talented choral, and if it became well-known that they had the best choral, Cashel would gain prestige, power, and wealth.

Inside the main common room in the Hall of the Vicars Choral.

In an idea that reminded me of the Muslim belief that it is a sin to create art of living things and therefore presume to copy God’s creation, this tapestry was woven with intentional flaws. It shows that humans are not perfect and cannot mimick God’s creation. Look closely to see a one-legged man whose right leg has a left foot. The boy next to him has a hoof instead of a foot.

There is a small museum in the entrance building. Here different Coats of Arms are displayed.

Here there be dragons!

Standing inside the ruined cathedral, looking to the tower outside.

It was a cold visit, up there on top of the hill where breezes were stiff and it rained the whole time in the fog. We found a small theatre showing a film in German. The theatre was heated. Tara took a seat but I hovered over the radiator through the rest of the German film, and then through the English version that followed. Finally warm and dry again, we went down the hill and found a lovely restaurant to have a hot lunch.

Fortified, we moved on to Cahir. Tara deftly used the navigator software called Copilot they had downloaded a few days previous. We did not have cell service, but were fully functional in areas with Wifi. While we had Wifi, Tara downloaded the Copilot app, and then a map of Ireland. Phone GPS continues to work even when you don’t have cell service. So outside of Wifi access, Tara had a fully functional navigational tool to plot or replot our path, and constantly gave me updates on speed limit and upcoming traffic circles.

Good heavens there are a lot of traffic circles in Ireland! Also – note to the driver in other countries – when you enter a traffic circle in Ireland, you turn LEFT!

Also note: Wifi was available, and free to visitors EVERYWHERE. Every train station, convenience store, point of interest, coffee shop, or gift shop had free wifi. Menus at restaurants had their wifi passwords on them. It was super fast and reliable at all times. We went to the most incredibly remote spot I can imagine finding in Ireland, on the tippy tip of the Dingle Peninsula, and boom – reliable wifi from our host. Um….America? Can we fix our obvious failure in this category?

We drove just 20 minutes to the town of Cahir, and quickly found the carpark for Cahir Castle. There are signs posted at the carpark that list all the movies in which Cahir Castle has made an appearance. One look explained why: it’s picture perfect.

Movie-worthy scene with geese, a swan, and a rook at Cahir Castle.

Our guess at how to approach the castle was incorrect, but serendipitous, as it led us through the grounds in a wide circle behind the castle. It was still raining and foggy, but had warmed up, and we were in good spirits as we walked the grounds and got soaked again.

Walking in the wide lawn behind Cahir Castle.

Cahir Castle from the grounds.

Cahir Castle up close, with a cathedral spire in the background.

We made a big loop and never found an entrance, so we ended up back at the carpark. Luckily for us, this time we noticed the signs for how to pay, as well as a parking security car moving along the other side of the lot. Ooops. I sent Tara on ahead and paid the 2 Euro fee before the security car got there, and ran to catch up. Our entrance into Cahir Castle was free that day because they were in the middle of uploading a software fix, and couldn’t run the computers to take our money. “Enjoy!” the man at the desk told us. We did.

This rook greeted us at the official entrance.

Inside the grounds of Cahir Castle.

Cannon displays inside Cahir Castle.

During the whole trip we had been noticing the attractive flowers and ferns growing from old stone walls.

We had so much fun exploring Cahir Castle, situated on the River Suir. The grounds are huge, and there is so much to see. And then there is more to see, if you keep looking! We found delicious dungeons, and tower overlooks. We followed one spiral staircase up, up, and still up, and kept finding new rooms not previously explored. We found museum displays and mock rooms set up to look like they would have when the castle was lived in.

Cahir Castle is in excellent condition, well cared-for, and very interesting. What luck for us to add this one to our list, when we know practically nothing about Irish castles.

A room in the castle.

Fabulous rack mounted on the wall in one of the castle rooms.

Peering at the city of Cahir through panes of glass.

Looking onto an overlook point from the highest room in the tallest tower.

Tara stands at the overlook and gazes at Cahir and the River Suir.

One museum display had a large and beautiful mock battle of the seige of the castle by Oliver Cromwell in 1650. The lord of the castle surrendered without a shot being fired, despite cannons being at the ready, inside and out. This lack of cannon fire may be responsible in part for the intact walls today.

After hours of happy exploration, we returned to the front desk to ask questions about some arrow slits we had found that fanned open on the outside of the castle, which didn’t make sense to us. If you’ve ever seen arrow slits before, you know that they are tall skinny windows in V-shaped windowsills, to allow the shooter a wide field of view, and ability to shoot from multiple angles while remaining protected. Tara and I found those V-shapes on the outside of the castle walls, which was not intuitive, and seemed like a mistake. The docent explained that these are actually fanned both inside and out, and are partially with a thought to retaking the castle should it ever be captured. I had never heard of that idea! We headed back to the car, still admiring the beautiful place.

River surrounds the castle like a moat. You can see one of the “backward” arrowslits.

Looking toward the front entrance of the Cahir Castle.

The swan posed for me, as though he knew he was helping to create the scene.

The scariest part of my drive was ahead: back into Dublin! Only we were fortunate to be heading to the airport car rental, and that is well outside of the city. We were able to take a circular highway around the outside of Dublin, and thus never had to brave the city itself. Totally unsure of what to expect, we fumbled our way into the parking lot and were treated immediately with calm assurance and tons of help. They took our car, checked it over quickly, asked if we had any problems (we didn’t), then called us a cab. While we waited for the cab, we posted photos to Instagram using – yeah, free Wifi.

That evening we found a nearby restaurant and had our last Guinness in Ireland.

The next morning we had an easy 7am wake up, and got to the airport in plenty of time so we shopped the duty free and bought Ireland mugs and some Slane Whiskey to honor our visit to the Slane distillery. We went through pre-flight customs that allowed us to skip customs when we arrived later that day in Newark. Woo Hoo! Going through US Customs is a pain in the ass and it takes forever. In Ireland it was friendly and quick. By midnight we were home and in our beds in Oregon.

This scene made me laugh because it reminded me of all the traffic circles I had been through recently. There’s a real roundabout in the bottom left of the photo.

Lovely Irish countryside, with a circle in a subdivision, and a quarry too.

Ireland finally dropped so far below me that I realized it was time to say goodbye.

Columbine in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

Columbine in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

Second big hike in a row with no mountain goat sightings. Do you think it’s me?

I hiked into the Goat Rocks Wilderness for three days and two nights with my boyfriend. Our timing was uncanny, and we were up there during the only three rainy days in between sunny weeks either side. Though I went up into the mountains seeking profound vistas, thankfully I was able to see the beauty in front of me when the vistas were obscured by fog.

We began at the Snowgrass Flats Trailhead and hiked to a bypass trail to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). At the trailhead it was pleasantly warm (in the 60s) and there was a beam or two of sunshine. I photographed a lake and crammed my mouth full of ripe huckleberries that loaded the bushes on both sides of the trail.

I am standing at the junction of Snowgrass Flats Trail and the Bypass Trail.

I am standing at the junction of Snowgrass Flats Trail and the Bypass Trail.

Reflections in a tiny pond near the trailhead.

Reflections in a small pond near the trailhead.

Candy!

Candy!

Several spectacular falls are near the trail as it switchbacks up the mountainside.

Several spectacular falls are near the trail as it switchbacks up the mountainside.

We were treated to a couple of sunbeams on day one.

We were treated to a couple of sunbeams on day one.

The trail climbed about 2000 feet to the place we chose for our campsite. The rain set in as soon as we unloaded our gear, and it gradually picked up as the night went on. Since everything was wet, we were comfortable starting a fire. We hovered over the warmth that night and during the next couple days. Temperatures cooled to near 32 at night (0 Celcius) and warmed to the middle 40s during the day.

As is my tradition, I brought the fixins for delicious meals and was so delighted to have a climbing partner to share the weight. It’s amazing how much of a difference that makes! It was so light, my pack barely caught my attention. The first night we had Salmon Curry Couscous, a new meal I tried out that turned out great and was a snap to put together. We set down our dishes and within minutes a mouse arrived to investigate. The mouse left right away: not a fan of curry, I suppose.

For breakfast we had hard boiled eggs, bananas and homemade oatmeal cranberry cookies. Another meal was Bacon Carbonara (with angel hair so it cooks quickly), we had Margaret’s famous baked brie in brown sugar and red wine with dried apricots, and on the final day we had burritos that I had designed as a cold meal to eat on the way out, but since we were so cold I cooked the refried beans and D toasted the tortillas. Tortillas are packed flat against the back of the pack to keep them in one piece on the trail. We enjoyed fresh avocado of course! The trick to bringing produce is to bring it unripened. The firmness protects the fruit and after a couple days it’s ready to eat!

Preparing the pasta

Preparing the pasta

Mouse finds the entrance

Mouse finds the entrance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Campsite the first night

Campsite the first night

Bear grass was everywhere!

Bear grass (Xerophylum tenax) was everywhere!

A lightening of the sky reveals a meadow and pond.

A lightening of the sky reveals a meadow and pond.

The second day we climbed north on the PCT toward Old Snowy Mountain, which I climbed a few years ago. However, the rain and cold slowed us down and there were no views to be had. I couldn’t even tell which direction to look for Old Snowy; it was likely right above us. I was discouraged. The last time I was on this trail, the weather was much more cooperative, and no matter where I hiked or which direction I faced, the views of mountains blew me away. It was the most impressive thing about being here. So on my return trip, I sort of had it locked into my brain that unless I saw a view, I was not really at Goat Rocks. Often our visibility ranged from 20 to 100 feet, and I remained disappointed until the splendid and rare scenes in front of my face got through and slapped me around a little bit: LOOK! Look at this!

Indian Paintbrush, Lupine, and Bear Grass blossom profusely.

Indian Paintbrush, Lupine, and Bear Grass blossom profusely.

We wandered through meadows and found scene after scene of astonishingly beautiful wildflowers in full view despite the fog. We discovered a huge spring where water literally bubbled up like a fountain, and in other places poured out of cracks in the earth. At the trail there was no creek, but twenty feet down the hill was a creek bigger than the one on my property. That’s how much water burst from the lush green hillside.

It was fun to talk to the through hikers. Those are the ones who stay on the PCT for months, doing sections and sometimes the entire length of it. We met several of them, as August is a good time of year to travel through this section: recently cleared of snow. You could spot the through hikers because they were dirty and seemed weary. Or, maybe, not as thrilled with the wildflowers as I was, having probably seen them for a month already. They were consistently humble, the ones I met, downplaying their feat of endurance, insisting that they had “only” been on the trail six weeks, or that they were “only” hiking the Oregon and Washington sections.

Foggy blue and green meadow.

Foggy blue and green meadow.

Looking down the PCT as it climbs north toward Old Snowy Mountain.

Looking down the PCT as it climbs north toward Old Snowy Mountain.

The shale rock here allows for some of the most astonishing cairns I have ever seen. They look like ancient human ruins.

The shale rock here allows for some of the most astonishing cairns I have ever seen. They look like ancient human ruins.

In enjoyed this phenomena very much: the leaves of Lupine collect water.

In enjoyed this phenomenon very much: the leaves of Lupine collect water.

The fog lends an otherworldly quality to each scene.

Here, spring water simply gushes from the hill. Fog lends an otherworldly quality to the horizon scene.

We didn’t stay out long, and were tempted to go back to camp where we could have a fire and get warm again. Upon our return, we found that other campers had vacated a great spot on the edge of a cliff. If we were there, even if the clouds only lifted for 2 minutes, I would get a little bit of a view. Hee hee. We moved our camp and had a new fire roaring in no time. Typically I try to avoid fires in the mountains in August. As you all know, wildfires are nothing to mess around with and I never want to tempt fate. But on this occasion, everything was soaked and I was supremely confident that the forest would not burn due to a flying ember.

That evening a troop of Boy Scouts came in and were considering a camp site right next to ours. We promptly and “helpfully” directed them to the campsite we had vacated the night before, which is up the hill and completely out of sight from where we were. “And it has a stream!” added my boyfriend, trying to sell it while he had the chance. They took the bait and moved on. The Scouts brought a mule named Sadie, and we spent a lot of time talking with Sadie and her elderly master, Bob, who had been hiking this mountain for 30 or 40 years. It was interesting to hear him talk about changes that had occurred. He referred to the trails by their old names, and I had to mentally scramble to keep up with which trails he was talking about.

Our new camp site on a ledge, and D getting the fire going.

Our new camp site on a ledge, and D getting the fire going.

Sadie poses for a photo in the meadow.

Sadie poses for a photo in the meadow.

Bob took Sadie out to the meadow next to us to let her graze, and right then the sun came out. Such a lovely gift for the evening. (Isn’t it a sign, when I can clearly remember each time the sun came out?) We went out to pat the mule and let the old man talk. He was a heck of a talker. In among the words though, he mentioned a nearby waterfall that sounded impressive. We got directions (south on the PCT, instead of north, as we had traveled that day) and decided to hike there in the morning.

The theory was (well, at least this is the Pollyanna spin I was giving myself) that a waterfall is going to be entertaining in the fog. Sparkling, loud, exciting, wet, interesting…waterfalls are always a win. So in the light morning rain we packed our day hike gear again and traveled and chatted and made our way through the fog. My boyfriend is almost obsessed with Trump news, and we enjoy sharing our theories on what in the world is going on here in the states. How does Trump come up with the crazy stuff he says? How can so many Republicans say “Yes, his comments are often out of line and intolerable, but I’m going to vote for him anyway.” D can’t stand Hillary, like much of the country, and I harbor bitter thoughts that America is misogynistic as hell, and suspect that as racist as some of us can be, even a black man is a better choice than a woman. But I don’t say that out loud.

And before we know it, there’s the waterfall! And it was just what I had hoped for: large, loud, exiting, beautiful.

Large and lovely waterfall splashes over the Pacific Crest Trail.

Large and lovely waterfall splashes over the Pacific Crest Trail.

We climbed around on the rocks and talked to through hikers for a half an hour or so, and suddenly the skies opened up. I gasped out loud “Oh!” And we spent another hour there, watching the clouds lift up and sink down, revealing a different piece of paradise each time. I found myself thinking of the story of Heidi, who goes to live with her grandpa in the mountains. This was a final and perfect gift from the Wilderness, before it was time to hike back down the hill.

The headwaters of the Cispis River. The PCT arcs around the entire valley, then crosses a saddle to the other side of those mountains.

The headwaters of the Cispus River. The PCT arcs around the entire valley, then crosses a saddle to the other side of those mountains.

You can spot D heading down the trail.

You can spot D heading down the trail.

Looking back the way we had come, down the Cispus River Valley.

Looking back the way we had come, down the Cispus River Valley.

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