trip report: Ireland & Northern Ireland, June 2017

Meg is Irish, so Ireland is one place in the world she was set on visiting. She had never been and the cliffs of Ireland demanded that she sat on them.
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the decision & logistics

When the legacy airlines started to drop their prices to Europe right before American Thanksgiving on 2016 in response to budget airlines of WOW and Norwegian and each other’s sales, Ireland was the going to be our next destination. The sales started with American Airlines putting certain destinations in Europe on sale from Delta hubs. So, Delta responded by putting nearly all European destinations from nearly all US airports, include our small regional airport in Roanoke, on sale for $400. In turn, I responded by booking roundtrip flights for June 2017, just in time to celebrate Meg’s graduation.

These fares around $400 have continued throughout 2017 with different US and European city pairs, so just keep an eye out and I’ll post/retweet the major ones on my twitter.

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planning

For this trip, I was able to convince Kevin and Shannon once again to join us for our adventures. Fortunately unlike 2 years ago, the last-minute issues they had this time around was not so great and they were actually able to make the trip.

The general consensus among us was for a trip consisted of of finding cliffs for Meg to sit on, old places to look at, and pubs to drink at. We wanted to get a bit of everything for our first time in Ireland but also fight the urge to do too much over the course of the 9 days we had. The plan was then to rent a car and figure out a few locations to base out of for 2 or 3 days at a time.

In terms of trekking, there are a few routes you can take in Ireland like the Wicklow Way, The Burren Way, or Ulster Way. However, most of the notable places can be reached by day hikes. People have been living there so long, there are roads everywhere, including ones leading to the cliffs we wanted to see.

Meg took the point on this one and found several regions she’d like to visit including Galway (with castles, a cool college city, castles, Tullamore Dew Distillery, and the Cliffs of Moher), Dingle Peninsula, and Slieve League. We also suggested heading into Northern Ireland, to Meg’s chagrin, for the Giant’s Causeway.

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flights & itinerary

Ireland_itn

The flight routing was a pretty simple one compared to our typical standard. We flew out of our regional airport in Roanoke (ROA) with connections in Atlanta (ATL) and New York John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) both ways and landing in Shannon (SNN) on the west coast of the Ireland. The routing wasn’t the most efficient, but it was $400 and we were flying out of Roanoke (where it’s usually $400 to fly anywhere). Our flight would arrive a day earlier than our friends Kevin and Shannon, so we would pick up the car on our first day and do our own thing the first day so we would check out the Cliffs of Moher.

Our friends Kevin and Shannon were flying into Dublin (DUB) a day after we arrived, so we would make the 2 hour drive to pick them up. This also allowed us to stop by our first whiskey distillery, Telmore Dew, a mandatory stop for Meg. This was Meg’s Dad’s favorite whiskey, so we had to buy souvenirs here.

From there we would spend 2 nights in Galway, followed by 2 more nights north near Slieves League, and then into Northern Ireland for 2 nights before returning to Dublin to drop Kevin and Shannon back off for their flight while we returned toward SNN for our flight. Our loop allowed us to hit several cliffs and whiskey distilleries. Of course, we’d enjoy as many pubs as we can in between.

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Beyond the locations, we didn’t do too much research about the places and the specific hikes, figure we’d figure it out as we went. We always had decent connectivity with google fi (except maybe on the cliffs out on Slieve League) though the trip to look up information.

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rental car

Because of last minute changes, we didn’t book our rental until a week ahead of our trip. Despite the delay, the rental costs were very reasonable at USD$310.93 for an 8 day rental. Even more so if we rented a manual transmission car instead, more than half the cost of automatic transmissions. Part of our last-minute changes involved deciding on the automatic transmission since Kevin broke his wrist and neither Meg and I were familiar with manual transmissions. Ireland wasn’t a place to get familiar with it either since we had to get use to driving on the other side of the road (left side). Like usual I used autoslash.com as baseline, though the last minute nature of the booking didn’t make it too helpful.

Since we would spend a good amount of time on the road, we also opted for the guaranteed full size car.

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If you are coming from the USA and don’t need the full size car, I’d recommend going with a smaller car. The roads in Ireland, especially the country roads are much narrower than any you’d see in the USA. Not only that, there is no shoulder to provide you a margin of error, instead you have a stone wall covered in ivy. It also made every curve in the road a blind turn of sorts with a possible tourist RVs on the other side running you off the road. It definitely took me a bit to get use to driving on the left side and watching my left edge of the car from going off the road.

So, with the possibility of car damage, it seemed the rental company by default charge for car insurance. Interesting, if you decline it and use the insurance provided by your credit card, there is an €30 administrative fee (which I included in our total cost above). At the time of our car return, they were definitely attentive to the tires, front corners, and mirrors on the car.

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housing

Since we had only about a week in Ireland and we were covering a good amount of distance, we prebooked our housing through Airbnb ahead of time. With the 4 of us, renting entire apartments allows us to save money on multiple hotel rooms and extra occupancy costs. The kitchens and laundries available at the apartments allow us to save money on eating out and the amount of luggage we brought.

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the neighbor’s cat at our Airbnb was very friendly with visitors

The negative of prebooking everything, again, it misses the travel flexibility and misses a specific aspect of Ireland travel, which is the Irish bed and breakfasts. Many of the bed and breakfasts were not on Airbnb, yet at the time we visited. However, we saw them all over the place on the side of the roads.

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equipment

Since this trip was consisted of non-technical day hikes and driving around the island, our setup was merely day packs with a couple change of indoor/town cloth, a set of hiking clothing, and layers for the possible rain (at all times), wind, and temperate weather. Being June, I went with my Patagonia R1 Fleece and Torrentshell as my layers. Meg, who usually runs colder than me, also brought her Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Down Hoody.

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trip report: Irish whiskey

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Going against my usual trip report organization, I’m going to discuss what I learned and my impressions of the state of Irish Whiskey first since I imagine it is a big draw for those traveling to the island. Most of the information you’ll pick up from the tours offered at the distilleries, but this will also include some of what I took away about where the industry is going there.

From the early 20th century, many Irish distilleries have closed down and until recently, there was only several major Irish whiskey Distilleries: Cooley (recently bought by Jim Bean), New Midleton (producing Jameson), Tellamore, Bushmill (this was actually in Northern Ireland), and Kilbeggan (reopened in 2010).

This was due to the massive consolidation that took place in Ireland because of US prohibition in the 1920s, the rise of Scotch Whiskey competition and production through blending techniques, protectionist policies, and conflicts English, who controlled much of the trade in the area. Of course these didn’t stop locals from making their own distilled alcohol called putchin, but they couldn’t sell it back in the days. You are read more about the history  and downfall of Irish whisky over at Wikipedia.

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However, recent changes due to the political and economic landscape created a greater influx of tourism and demand for whiskey. In the economic sense, the shift in the economic mindset for experiences has seen an increase in demand for Irish Whiskey. In the political sense, the relationship between protestants and Catholics have improved considerably leading to an increase in tourism, though there is still the possibility of terrorist activity. The political situation is ever changing, however, with Brexit taking place over the next couple of years. Of course, this isn’t a news site and my opinions are from my short time there so check with reputable sources should you be interested in this topic or USA’s state department for travel warnings.

The higher demand for Irish whiskey has allowed for more distilleries to open up again, many in the last 2 years. Wikipedia has an updated list of distilleries here. However, Irish whiskey needs to age in a barrel for 3 years and 1 day (1 day more than Scotch as the tour guides emphasizes), so the new distilleries won’t have any of their own whiskey for another 1.5 to 2 years. Even more, the good Irish Whiskeys we experienced are aged for at least 6 years.

The whiskeys supplied to many of these new and smaller distilleries are usually from the Teeling family’s private stock. The Teeling family operated the Cooley Distillery before selling it Jim Beam. However, they negotiated and held on to a large stock of the whisky supply, which they provide to the small distilleries. Since selling the Cooley distillery, the Teeling family has restarted a new distillery named Teeling in Dublin. The current state of the Irish whiskey supply in the market is the still limitation that maintains the high cost of Irish whiskey. Hopefully the cost will decrease in a few years when the supplies of the new distilleries start to mature and hit the market.

If you are visiting before then, the distilleries are very much worth it still, including the new ones. Many of the new distilleries have other spirits on hand including gin, vodka, and putchin. The Gin we had from the Connacht distillery was one of the best we’ve had, Kevin finished an entire bottle over two night with some minor help.

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Most of the distilleries offer tours, they are all pretty similar, costly (starting from €14), and not really worth it beyond the first. The tour mainly covers the history and process of making Irish Whiskey and usually ends with a tasting. I would recommend going to a smaller operations for the tour since you’ll get more individualized attention and they could use more of the funding since it takes so much startup investment for them (remember it takes 3-6 years for that initial investment of whiskey production to pay off).

Lastly, a cool thing about the whiskey tour and tastings was that I actually learned to enjoy whiskey. Prior to this trip, my experiences with whiskey came mainly in the form of Jack Daniels and Jim Bean shots or swigging gentleman jack from the bottle by of a camp fire. It was a drink that mainly just burned the back of my throat way too much for me to pick up any the of flavors.

The few key pointers that really let you enjoy whiskey is as follows. First before drinking the whiskey, you want to smell the whiskey both with your mouth open and closed to pick up the full aromas, which is different they you would if you were smelling wine. Secondly, and this is the most important part to enjoy the flavors of whiskey, is to breath out of your mouth after sipping the whiskey allowing the flavor and alcohol to flow back into your mouth rather burn the back of your throat. Lastly, have some distilled water and add a few drops to your whiskey to “open” it up. The flavors can change quiet dramatically and really gives you two different flavors from one drink.

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trip report: getting in and setting up

For us, our 3 flights were pretty uneventful but our layovers were 2 hours in Atlanta (ATL) and 10 in New York (JFK). However, the layovers just served as nice work days for me with access to the The Club lounge on concourse F in ATL and Wingtips Lounge in Terminal 4 at JFK (though it looks like there has been construction there since we visited).

The Club is accessible from any flight that goes through ATL since all the concourses are connected by tram. We always enjoy the bar at The Club lounge and the soup and sandwiches always serve as a decent lunch. At JFK, we landed in terminal 2, delta’s domestic terminal, and took the connecting shuttle for Delta traffic to their international terminal, which is terminal 4. It was our first time visiting the crowded Wingtips Lounge and it was a ok one with soup, salad, and sandwich materials and a good bar. If you are there during the dinner time, they do have simple hot food that goes pretty quickly.

We made sure we had our dinners at the lounge so that we could just sleep the entire time on our red eye across the Atlantic. We would be landing in the morning and had a whole day to explore by ourselves. The flight was quite empty, possibly an effect of the competition from budget airline, both Meg and I had a 2 seat wide row next to the window to ourselves and was able to get some decent sleep. You can expect regular sales from the airlines if they are dependent on the capacities these planes were at.

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The airport at Shannon, Ireland (SNN) was a pretty small airport. It took around 15 minutes to clear customs and the rental car companies were right at the arrival door. There isn’t much around as we walked out of the airport and our car was waiting for us directly in front of the terminal. That’s where the adventure of driving on the wrong side of the road begin for me…

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trip report: Cliffs of Moher

Our first Airbnb was in Galway, north of SNN. While there is a large freeway connecting the two locations. It just happened that one of the most popular cliffs in Ireland is in between and can be reached taking the scenic route of winding Irish roads.

Since the plane didn’t provide much of a breakfast, we opted for an early lunch before our first hike. Liscannor was the town immediately near the cliffs and the Vaughns Anchor Inn (recommended by the guy working the Hertz desk) was our first stop, so a  mandatory pint of Guiness and cider was in order.

I had the scampi & chips while Meg had the crab meat mince, which was the winner between our dishes. I think we were more enamored by the Irish pub feel than the food. Afterwards to made the short drive over toward the Cliffs of Moher.

information

  • name: Cliffs of Moher
  • type: in and out
  • distances: 7.3 mi
  • elevation change:  very slight
    • The gps tracking on my phone was problematic, it measured 1575 feet elevation gain and lose. I believe the cliffs were throwing off the measures.
  • time: 2.5 hours moving (3.5 hours with breaks)
  • location: near Lincannor, County Clare, Ireland

We didn’t do much research about the ways to hike the Cliffs when we went, but there are indeed several different variations. The full point-to-point hike for Cliffs of Moher starts from the town of Liscannor and finishes at the town of Doolin (or vice versa) that covers 18 km (4.5 hours, ~11 miles). A detailed map of the picture below is available here.

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There are several different parking lots (again see map above or here) you can start at depending on how far you want to walk. The exact portion of the Cliffs of Moher along the coast are between Hag’s Head and Carrickatrial. It is very possible to do a point-to-point hike by setting up a shuttle yourself or taking the paid shuttle ranging from €12 to €24 packages.

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Alternatively, The Burren Way is a 114 km (5 days, ~71 miles) point to point trail through County Clare that includes the Cliffs of Moher and will certainly provide a different perspective then the typical tourist visiting these cliffs. For more information, check out this report.

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Not knowing any of the information above, we drove right to the Visitor Center and parked there for €9 (€4.5 for students/seniors; €6 for adults; includes parking). Parking was insanely difficult with so many cars as we were there on a Sunday.

From the visitor center, we decided to start hiking south and away from O’Brien’s tower, an area where majority of the tourists gather.

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During our hike, we saw plenty of tourists chill out on the grassy areas. Again, this hike can really be as long as you want to make it. It’s perfectly enjoyable to find a a nice patch of grass and enjoy the waves crash on the side of the walls.

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The initial portion of the trail heading south away from the visitor center has a barrier that blocks off the cliffs, but soon after, the concrete section ended with a gate. There is a trail that stays further away from the cliffs, but is ignored many tourists and hikers. Go near the edge of the cliffs at your own risk.

Of course, Meg went to every single outcrop at her own risk and my nerves. I’m not a big fan of heights when there isn’t any secure attachments and I think I feel it more in the pit of my stomach when Meg goes on the edge of outcrops. She has no fear in this regards. An Irish visitor actually came up to Meg at one point and said his never see someone go so far out on the edge.

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On the opposite side of the trail from the cliffs, the land were rolling grassy fields lined by stone walls that may be the definition of Ireland, along with sheep and cliffs.

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As we passed a couple quarries, we notices that the rock formations were composed of flat layers of rocks. The quarries were there to mine large flat pieces of these rocks and one portion of the cliffs turned out to just be a field of cairns pilled up with broken pieces of these rocks.

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The trails continues along the cliffs until Hag’s Head and a tower ruins, Moher Fort Site. The number of visitors this far out from the visitor center is far lower in density. From there, the trails turns inland toward the Coastal Walk Parking lot and Liscannor beyond that. Since we didn’t know about any shuttle services we just headed back.

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After a bathroom and water break back at the visitor center, we headed north to where majority of the crowd gathers. There is a fee of a couple euros to enter O’Brien’s Tower and it is a busy tower. All along this area, there is a barrier from the cliffs.

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Further north, there is another gate leading to the trail north along the cliffs. We continued northward as the wind picked up along with a few drops of rain.

Again, that didn’t stop Meg from standing on the cliffs. That was the whole point of this trip after all.

We turned back at Carrickatrial as the weather was getting worse. The trail continuing north goes downhills with the cliffs subsides toward Doolin. It also cuts in toward the fields here and there. There is also a side trail just a bit down from Carrickatrial that short cuts back to the road (R478) at Pollboy. On our way out, we did see a few cars parked here so it may be an alternative pull off point along the coastal trail.

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We returned to our car just as the rain started to pour down, so we were pretty lucky in our decision to turn back where we did.

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ratings (1-5; criteria in link)

  • views:  4. We visited on a overcast weekend day and there were still bus loads of people here, especially in the areas immediate to the visitor center. However, these are still some unique rock cliffs winding down the coast dotted by a couple castle ruins that adds to the aesthetics.
  • difficulty: 1. The hike here is very mild and there really isn’t a set distance you need to walk. It’s really as far as you want to take it. There are slight elevation changes as you move along the cliffs, but very gradual. The highest points are directly near the visitor center with the trails slowly descending as you get further away.
  • technical: 1. There are is clear path here along the cliffs as part of the Burren Way. The actual trails do not go up directly to the cliff sides, but most people ignore that and hang out at the edge anyways. If you do choose to do that, do so at your own risk.

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The drive north toward Galway from the Cliffs of Moher through the rain and winding roads was probably the most difficult I encountered the entire trip. On our way, we passed a pretty cool looking Dunguaire Castle, but didn’t stop since it was raining and we were getting hungry.

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trip report: Galway, transit, and distillery

Meg and I arrived in Galway and our airbnb in the late evening of our first day. Most of the restaurants in Galway were in the town center area and not the most accessible with a car, especially since we hadn’t looked into the parking situation in the town. Our airbnb was slightly north of the city center in a more suburbia area, so we opted for a quick trip to the local Lidl and utilized our kitchen at the airbnb. We’d explore the city on day 2 with Kevin and Shannon.

On day 2, Meg and I made the 2 hour drive across Ireland to Dublin to pick Kevin and Shannon up from the Dublin Airport (DUB). I was so happy to be on a 2 lane wide freeway. On our way back, we stopped at the Telemore D.E.W. distillery for lunch and to welcome Kevin and Shannon to Ireland with a whiskey tasting. For lunch, I opted for a full Pork Belly meal, Meg went for the smoked salmon sandwich, Shannon had a soup, and Kevin had the toasties (a ham and cheese sandwich that’s an Irish specialty). Kevin’s dish was the best.

After another hour drive back to Galway and a nap, we explored the town.

Galway is a lively town with a festive town center. Part of the town center is shopping areas, another area is filled with hole in the wall food joints from all cultures, and the most lively is the area of bars. The city also has a harbor area and several newer housing developments.

During our 2nd and 3rd nights in Ireland, we took the 20 minute walk from our airbnb into the town and visited several different bars and eateries including:

  • Tig Choili with its lively traditional music
  • Tigh Neachtain with the art work covered booth and cozy feel
  • The King’s Head where we started our fish and chips and mushed peas tour around Ireland with a pretty good first offering, otherwise it was a mediocre bar and restaurant
  • Barr An Chaladh, which was our favorite bar and a little bit off the town center, definitely a local bar. They had Irish music the first night we walked by and a Johnny Cash cover guy the second when we returned.
  • Murphy’s Ice Cream where the gin flavored ice cream my favorite
  • Captial Turkish Kebab House for the post drinking kebab and cheesy fries, it wouldn’t be Europe with out a Kebab to end the night.
  • Maxwell’s Restaurant for a nice Irish breakfast on our way out of town.

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trip report: Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage Trail

As we woke up on our 3rd day in Ireland, Shannon was ready for a hike. So looking around at the day hikes near Galway, a Chapel on top of a mountain sounded like an interesting one. So we made the 87 km drive north over 1.5 hours for our only non-cliff hike, at least the Catholic pilgrim nature of the hike is still very much Irish.

information

At the visitor center there is a the parking in metered, which is a bit strange since most hikers on this trail probably don’t know their exact hiking pace. If you need last minute water or a monk made hiking stick, you can buy it at the visitor centre.

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The trail after the visitor center is initially a neighborhood paved road until the Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage informational sign. For pilgrimage, there are specific prayers that is required at certain stations on the trail. The sign will describe them for you in detail.

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A statue of St. Patrick then marks the beginning of the trail.

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The trail continues uphill, at first along a stream turning into a wide rocky trail. The small rocks makes slipping and ankle twisting easy. The view back at the bay made for good reason to stop and catch our breath.

After 1.25 miles and 1450 ft climb, the trail reaches a pass and remains relative flat for the next 0.5 miles. However, the next 1000 ft climb still looms ahead.

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After the pass, there are a couple prayer markers for those completing the pilgrimage. Also after the pass the view shifts to that of the hills and grasslands to the south. A bathroom is located in the area as well.

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1.75 miles and 1600 feet into the trail, the steepness picks up greatly and the trail becomes a pile small boulders.

After a hard 2500 feet climb, we reached the cloudy top.

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The benefit of the strong winds was that the clouds were brown away quickly revealing a great panoramic view, but the drawback was that it was very cold.

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The chapel at the top of the hill served as a nice secondary purpose of blocking the wind for us while we eat our lunch. It was very cool to hear the monks chanting mixed in with the howling of the wind.

When the clouds opened up again, we grabbed a few more pictures of the amazing vista.

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Before “skiing” down the rocks trying not to fall on our faces.

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ratings (1-5; criteria in link)

  • views:  3. The little white chapel at the mountain top drew us to this hike, but it was the view of the bay along with the different shades of in the blue ocean contrasting the grassy green farmland and the rocky peak among the clouds that was the highlight. An added bonus was the psalms emanating from the chapel. Other than the vista at the top, it was grueling.
  • difficulty: 3. The hike is a straight climb with a steep the last half mile over a loose rock field. This trail is no easy pilgrimage, which I guess fits with the Catholic Religion.
  • technical: 2. The trail is clear navigation wise, however, the last steep portion may require a little bit of scrambling skills.

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trip report: road-tripping from Galway to Slieve League via Ballina and Donegal Coastal Drive

After a nights drinking in Galway, we had a long drive up north to our next set of cliffs, Slieve League. The straight drive would be 4 hours, so day 4 would be be a road trip of day. The weather agreed as it was heavy rain day.

In efforts to break up the drive, we found a few detours along the way. Kevin was ready to see a castle and the Ashford Castle by the town of Cong was what we found along the way. With many of the ways into the castle grounds blocked, google took us to the back entrance of the castle. As we walked around to the front seeing if we can take a look inside, we were told that we shouldn’t have came that way and that typically, there is a fee to cross the front entrance bridge to access the grounds. To that said “huh, that’s interesting,” turned around, and drove out of the extravagant castle grounds through the front entrance across the bridge. After walking around Cong and using the bathroom, we continued on our drive.

Next on Kevin’s list was a distillery. The only distillery (at the time of our visit) on the northwestern side of Ireland was the Connacht Distillery in the town of Ballina on the Moy River. The reason for the low number of distilleries in the area was because barley doesn’t grow well in northwestern Ireland. We had our personalized tour (since we were the only ones) of the distillery and learned of the current Irish whiskey climate, detailed above. While they only had whiskey they’ve acquired from older distilleries, their Conncullin Gin was excellent and it was their first release.

A second thing we took away from Connacht was their recommendation for the best restaurant, in my opinion, we ate at during our time on the Island, Dillons Bar & Restaurant. This was also the best fish and chips and mushy peas of we had on the island, though we all enjoyed our dishes and the portions were very generous.

The rest of the drive was north cut through the Irish country side and small towns with a couple awesome scenic views including Benbulbin and

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Classiebawn Castle (which is privately owned with no access). The picture of the 2 together is something though.

We arrived at our airbnb in Carrick late at night in the rain. Day 4 in Ireland ended with a few drinks of Gin by the electric heater.

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trip report: Slieve League (Sliabh Liag)

The forecast for our 5th day was not good, calling for storm and rain. The information we had seen about the trail of Slieve League was that of one-man’s pass, which this youtube video shows a highly exposed ridge, and a trail log on wikiloc that does confirm this is a cliff hike.

So the plan was that we all did our own thing that day, which turned out to be a good thing since our separate exploring gave us an idea of the trails up to the Slieve League Cliffs, which I’ll get into below. It was actually the 3 others that did the exploring of the way from Carrick up to the trailheads,

I just picked them up with the car right before the storm rolled in.

We spent the rest of day 5 visiting the local bar, drinking different Irish gin, and playing highly contested cards.

The weather was much better for day 6, so we checkout of our airbnb early in the day and headed up the cliffs.

information

  • name: Slieve League (Sliabh Liag) via Cliff Hike
  • type: in and out
  • distances: 6.4 mi
  • elevation change: 2223ft ascent and descent
  • time: 4 hours moving (4.5 hours with breaks)
  • location: near Carrick, County Donegal, Ireland

There are 4 different parking lots up to the Slieve League cliffs with 2 different trails. It is possible to do a loop hike by combining the 2 trails.

The first trail is the Pilgrim Path, which is an easier and much safer trail up to top of the cliffs. There seems an organizational effort both online and from the local signage to prescribe this trail for tourists to reach the top of the cliffs because it is much safer. Kevin and Meg stumbled upon this trail on their exploring the day before. The parking lot and trailhead follows a dirt road up with a couple of gates that you have to open manually.

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Kevin and Meg did explore further up this trail when we picked them up.

We also saw the entire Pilgrim Path winding up the valley to meet at the top of the cliffs the next day.

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The trail we researched and the one we did was the Cliff Hike, which gives you the option of One-Man’s Pass (more on that below). Based on the signs, the hike from this trailhead (View Walk) isn’t meant to be taken to the top of the cliffs.

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Most of the visitors to the cliffs from this trailhead stay to the View Walk, but there still plenty continues on toward the the top and it does look like there is active work on the trail beyond this View Walk.

The easiest place to park to reach this trailhead is the Slieve League upper car park at Bunglass Point. Since there is a gate that you have to manually open at the Slieve League lower car park, many visitors assume you can’t open the gate. If you are planning to do the Loop Hike (description at the end of this section) by combining the Cliff Hike and Pilgrim Path, parking at Slieve League lower car park or Ti Linn Cafe & Craft shop might be your best bet, minimizing the uphills at the end of the day. There is a public bathroom at the Slieve League lower car park and food vendors at the upper car park during the summer.

At the upper car park and first section of the trail, we saw good side view of the cliffs.

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Once we gained the first ridge, you are on top of some cliffs seeing the waves crashing on the rocks.

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Around this area, crowds start to thin out more as this is the turn around point for many visitors. Further up, the ground become more muddier and would be less pronounced if it wasn’t for the bags of that looks like they been airdropped in for the construction of new trails.

Further along, the trail continues to follow the ridge by gaining elevation onto the next hill with view of the bay before a new placed trail of steps made from rocks cuts to the right of the next summit point called Crockrawer (Cnoc Ramhar). There looks to be an older trail that follows left and closer to the cliffs and does hit the summit before rejoin the trail at gap.

During this section can also see One Man’s Pass on the next ridge (marked in red).

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From the gap, the trail continues on the ridge until a flat. The One Man’s Pass beginning is around that area.

However, we saw bags of rocks veering to the right just under the ridge and we opted for that trail. When we were there, the conditions were very muddy and it was a slog up the hill. It looks to be better in the future when the trail is finished.

Once we regain the ridge again, turned left to get a view from a view point, which is also the end of One Man’s Pass.

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The view from this point of the cliffs there, behind us, and ahead were pretty good too.

It makes for a good 360 panoramic point.

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We turned back toward the intersection and continued upwards along the side of the cliff.

Once we were on the next set of the cliffs, there was another further on.

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The highest point of Slieve League was still further a head, so we continued one on the rocky ridge and sitting on the ones that hung out.

Before the last climb to the highest point, there was another exposed ridge, though not nearly as dangerous as One Man’s Pass.

As we climbed to the highest point of Slieve League we found a few more our crops to stand on

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and herd of sheepies informed us they were always there first.

We turned back from there and the downhill through the mud was no fun.

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ratings (1-5; criteria in link)

  • views:  4. The Slieve League (Sliabh Liag) cliffs were much different from the Cliffs of Moher. It was much higher cliffs with a more typical rock formations in comparison. The hike takes you on the ridge of the mountain, with drop-offs on both sides at different sections (one of them being the optional One-Man’s Path). Add in the remoteness of the hike and the blending of Irish grassland, cliffs, and the blue ocean, this hike made for great view throughout.
  • difficulty: 2. The hike steadily climbs until reach the top of the cliffs where it meets the Pilgrim Path. The most difficult part the muddy uphills leading up to the top of the cliffs.
  • technical: 2 (does not include the optional One-Man’s Path). The trail isn’t really marked beyond the View Walk, but you make out a trail for the most of it. There were portions where bags of rocks (airlifted in for building future trails) served as our trail markers. The most difficult portion was the trail running parallel and the alternative to One-Man’s Pass. There were some scrambling and plenty of muddy areas there.

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If you are looking to make this a Loop hike, you can combine the Cliff hike and the Pilgrim Path together with some road walking. I would recommend doing the hike clockwise, meaning going up the Cliff hike and coming down the Pilgrim Path. This way you go uphills on the more difficult route, especially if you plan to attempt the One Man’s Pass as well. Climb up is much easier than down climbing as you see where your foot placements and you work against gravity.

As for the starting point, I would recommend parking at the Slieve League lower car park. The loop from there is about 9 miles (or shorter if you don’t continue on to the highest peak) as seen in the estimated route below.

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The meeting point between the 2 trails is marked by a yellow stone and a sign near rocky cliffs.

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If you don’t want any uphill hiking at the end of your day, I’d recommend parking then at either the Pilgrim Pass car park or the parking lot for Ti Linn Cafe (marked as 3 and 2 on the map above respectively.

After returning our car, we had a drive all the way into Northern Ireland for our next airbnb that night. But we stopped at the cute Kitty Kelly’s Restaurant in Kilcar for a late lunch. This was clearly a fancier place and everything we very good. Though the fish and chips portion was a little disappointing.

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trip report: Northern Ireland & Giant’s Causeway

Our drive into Northern Ireland and our airbnb in Portballintrae near Bushmills.

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A couple things we did notice is that diesel, which our rental car took, was more expensive in Northern Ireland at the time. After grocery trip in Coleraine for some drinks and groceries, we turned in pretty early.

Day 7 a beautiful day with blue skies so we made for Giant’s Causeway.

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information

  • name: Giant’s Causeway from Giant’s Causeway Train Station to Dunseverick Castle
  • type: point to point
  • distances: est. 6.4 mi (gps malfunctioned, so estimated based on what I have & other’s trackings)
  • elevation change: est. 935 ft ascent 920 ft descent
  • time: 2 hours moving (3 hours with breaks)
  • location: near Bushmills, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Similar to the other coast hikes, this is another one where you can hike as far as you want. Most people will hike the short 2 miles down to the main attract of Giant’s Causeway and back the trail on top,

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but there is much more to see on the Antrim coast as part of the Causeway Coast Way, a 33-mile route from Portstewart to Ballycastle. Long distance hikers can hike the even longer Ulster Way that circumnavigates Northern Ireland in 625 miles (1000km).

The stretch we opted for was from the Giant’s Causeway visitor center to Dunseverick Castle (more like ruins) with the possibility of going all the way to Ballintoy (where they filmed Game of Thrones; link to trail in reverse). Part of the reason we didn’t hike the latter part was because there is a portion of beach hiking and may be impassible with high tides. Really though, we only had a full day in the area so visiting places car in the afternoon made better use of our time.

Since we were doing an point to point hike, we would have to rely on public transportation to shuttle us. This was another worry about hiking all the way to Ballintoy. The Ulsterbus 402 travels between Coleraine and Ballycastle convering the entire causeway.

At the time we visited, the Visitor Center charges entrance per person, so it is much better to park elsewhere and walk around the visitor center. We ended up parking at the train station for £5 as it was the weekend. There are also free street parking along Causeway Rd if you can find a spot. We could have walked from Bushmills or our airbnb in Portballintrae along the railroad, but again we were saving time. In a few minutes, we joined crowds at the shuttle turnaround down a few stairs.

After a few minutes, we arrived at the main attraction.

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The hexagon-shaped rocks made for some fun exploration even with the large crowds.

After the causeway, the trail starts up the cliff side with a view point of a set of tall hexagon shaped rocks running up the cliff.

The spur trail during our time there was closed, so the only way was up the cliff.

Once we reached the to of the cliff to the Red trail, most visitors turned right and headed back toward the visitor center. We continued left down the winding coast. We were treated with continuous coastal splendor of the different blues of the ocean, green rolling hill, and basalt columns.

It was hard not to stop at every few seconds to stare down the cliffs, but we were well sceniced out by the time we reached Dunseverick Castle. The castle itself was anticlimactic since it was just 2 stone walls left. Just as we sat down to think about lunch, a bus came and our decision to head back was made.

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ratings (1-5; criteria in link)

  • views:  4. The Giants Causeway clearly has become one the most popular attractions around. The main are of hexagonal rock formation protruding out into the sea was swarmed by visitor that a giant might have through she had an ant infestation on her hands. I was very evident why this was so popular, the beauty of the rock formations and the ocean are captured on photograph very nicely together. However, if you only visited this popular section, I think you’d be a little disappointing and I certainly would only rate it a 3. What made this hike so worth it for me was walking that bit further than where most visitors went. The cliffs, again with the contrast of green hill, ocean with different shades of blue, and this time hexagonal columns of rocks, does is indeed make for a highly aesthetic experience.
  • difficulty: 1. The only real only elevation change is going down to the causeway and up back to the cliffs. The rest of the hike along the cliffs is relatively flat with some stairs here and there.
  • technical: 1. The trails are very well marked.

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For the rest of day 7, we first headed for the recommended Morelli’s in Portstewart, which had gelatos. I thought it was mediocre and not really worth going out of our way. Meg said it was worse than Murphy’s because we were in Northern Ireland (not real Ireland, but the UK). After that, we visited our 3rd distillery, the old Bushmill distillery, for a tasting. Interesting, this was my least enjoyable whiskey from the 4 we visited during our trip as I unintentionally supported Meg’s theory.

There were 3 other places here that are tourists draws, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Ballintoy Harbour (for the Game of Throne locations), and Dunluce Castle. Instead of visiting those with our time, we get a tip from our airbnb host about the lesser known Kinbane Castle.

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We returned to Bushmill for dinner and it turns out the weekends are pretty busy there. The first 2 restaurants we went to were fulling booked, but we were able to get a table at The French Rooms. The food there was pretty good, but I just don’t remembers what we got there. There might have been drinking afterwards to celebrate our last night together.

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trip report: getting out

To finish our trip, we made the long drive back into Ireland to Dublin on day 8 where Kevin and Shannon would fly out the following day. We spend the afternoon visiting our last distillery, Teeling. These are the guys that used to own Cooley and they had plenty of old stock. Their whiskey was my favorite of the trip. I may have dropped around USD$100 on a bottle of small batch whiskey and a bottle of single malt whiskey (the ones you see here).

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We dropped Kevin and Shannon off at their Castle hotel in Dublin after walking around the city. We made our way back across the Island afterwards.

We spent our last night in at Killaloe Hotel & Spa, in the quaint river town of Killaloe. It was a pretty nice hotel and served good food. We settled for an easy night by having dinner at the hotel restaurant

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and our breakfast was included in the morning. Their Irish breakfast was actually better then the one I had in Galway.

We returned our car with no issues as I was glad to be done with the curvy Irish roads. At Shannon airport, there was a US pre-clearance where we went through US Customs and Immigration before even getting on the plane. After the pre-clearance area, there were a few stores and a basic lounge called Boru Lounge with snacks and drink we could access with our Priority Pass. A few more Irish whiskey on my way out was nice. Our return flights were connecting through JKF and Atlanta again and we had an uneventful trip back.

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final impressions & budget

Certain places have a distinct feel to it and Ireland does for sure. Perhaps it was the amount of driving, but the rolling hills and the stone fences definitely paints a nice image of Ireland. Our main goal for the trip was to hike to cliffs, drink plenty in pubs and distilleries, and see old things. I think we were all pretty satisfied with the result, though we probably wouldn’t have mind if we had another week to cover the distance we did.

Regarding Ireland as a destination for hiking, the coastal cliff hikes are not the same as high mountains or glaciers, but they do have their own unique beauty. The ruggedness of the cliffs serves as a perfect contrast point separating the blue Atlantic waters and the green meadows. Interestingly enough, the rock formations of our three cliff hikes were all different and unique. It is a truly idyllic and defining sight that cements Ireland for me. Of course, all of this is through the hung-over lens after truly learning to enjoy whiskey.

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trip organization impressions

Even though we tried to take this trip as a slower pace, there is still so much to see and do. The driving, hiking, and drinking (not at the same time) definitely made us antsy at time and tired at others, so our planned breaks were definitely a minimum necessity. Again, none of us would have mind an additional week, but I think we all enjoyed our experiences there. These things can also be compounded when traveling in larger groups with different travel styles. Sometime, everyone just need to do their own thing while other times just takes compromising.

For instance, Meg and I are typically more frugal travelers and it allows use to travel more. In the meantime, Kevin and Shannon don’t get as much vacation, so they are more willing splurge a bit. I think we were able to strike a medium eating out about a meal a day and making our own food for the rest. However, I do think Kevin would have been happy to spend a couple more days dedicated to the pubs.

Alas, it goes back to so much to see with so little time. A key attitude is always to travel with the intent to come back, the first time is just seeing what’s good. I credit that thought to Wiremu, the Kiwi, that I met on my first European trip.

Despite the challenges that come with traveling in a larger group, it is very much worth it. Sharing the experiences with friends is part of the reason I started the blog in hopes to show friends how easy it is to travel so that they’d join us in the future. Ireland with its pubs and distilleries is definitely a place that is set up to be enjoyed with friends. So cheers to future trips, Kevin and Shannon!

budget

The total out of pocket expense we paid for the trip was USD$2538.97. This included our airfare, our portion of shared costs with our friends, and more than the usual amount of souvenirs.

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Our budget this time wasn’t as frugal as we could have been since we were traveling with friends. At the same time, we were able to enjoy the many more different restaurants, drinks out, and of course, our friend’s company, as part of the experience. As mentioned above, we were still able to save money with some compromises by eating and drinking at our Airbnbs. Below is a full breakdown of our spending (right click to see the image at full size).

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One other aspect about this trip was that it wasn’t very easy to utilize points for housing, more directly based on the locations we wanted to stay at. We also didn’t use any miles for flights since it was a cheap fare to begin with. Both Meg and I did earn 5082 Alaska Airline miles each (10164 total) for our flights on Delta since this was before the 2 airlines dropped their code-share agreement.

useful links

 

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