Western Ireland + Cliffs of Moher

I’m not so sure I agree with the list of the seven wonders of the world. Sure, the places listed are incredible and I truly hope to visit each and every one of them one day – but what defines wonder? The dictionary says “a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unfamiliar, unexpected or inexplicable”.  If wonder is taken as in this definition, then finding a place that elicits these emotions must be pretty personal.  I’d say that there are a lot of places in my life that have caused me to feel full of admiration for nature.  At age 20, my list of wonder-full adventures is already lengthy, and this most recent trip to western Ireland certainly earned a spot on the growing archive.

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It astounds me how rural parts of Ireland are. The drive to the other side of the country took us a mere three hours – you can’t even get across California in that amount of time.  Throughout the rainy drive, there were pastures of cows and sheep, small cottages and very little traffic on the roads; then again it was around 8 AM on Tuesday morning. Our first stop was to Kinvara, a small fishing town in Galway Bay.  This pit stop was only about 10 minutes long, because the town consisted of a few ships in the water, some closed shops and a little spread of houses in the surrounding fields. Regardless of the small amount of time we spent there, the views of the Atlantic Ocean were really beautiful. Clumps of seaweed floated along the coastline and a couple ships were sailing out to the ocean – this quiet, little town was full of wonder to me.

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About twenty minutes further down the Atlantic Way are the ruins of Corcomroe Abbey.  When I think of ruins, I typically picture of old churches that are full of really old graves. This abbey was certainly old but some of the graves there were not from too long ago.  The collapsed ceiling and the aged stone was shining brightly from the cloud covered sun.  While walking around the abbey ruins, I found several little doors and windows that were so tiny and being ever-curious, I took it upon myself to climb through each and every one.

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Our tour group was fairly small, just around 20 of us exploring around the ruins. There were pastures just outside the gate of the abbey, filled with rolling green fields and not much else. Again, these vistas were making me realize just how rural western Ireland truly is. After living in the bustling London city center for a month and a half, these rural towns were so refreshing to be in.  Getting away from the concrete jungle and finding a little bit of space in these towns.  Especially in the grey weather, the vibrant green of the hills was illuminated even brighter – Ireland kind of reminds me of Washington in a way.  It looks so beautiful in the dull weather that can sometimes drown a city.

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We went driving down the Atlantic Way a bit further through the colorful Burren landscape. It’s known to be full of smaller versions of the ultimate destination, the Cliffs of Moher. Sure enough on our stop off in this area, I walked right out to the cliffs and sat down to witness the depth of the sheer cliffs. One of my favorite views was the waves continually crashing over the rocks sitting out of the water.  Salt water filled air is among one of the most refreshing feelings.  The mist that was being sprayed up along the cliffs made the cool wind more brisk, so the fifteen minutes spent outside of the bus was just enough.

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The wind was whipping along the coast line when we arrived.  There were hills rising next to the ocean that were void of trees and littered with large boulders. In fact, Burren (or Boireann in Irish) means ‘great rock’ and this massive landscape spans 250 kilometers across Ireland. The glaciers that once dominated the landscape, around 10,000 years ago, are responsible for the rocky grounds and the large boulders the area is named after. It’s well known for having colorful flora and fauna – hues of red, green, yellow and blue sprinkled along the vast views.

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After a lunch in the small town of Doolin, we made our way to the pinnacle of the day… the Cliffs of Moher! On my growing list of wonders, the impressive 700 foot cliffs along the Atlantic coastline certainly earned their spot.  The pictures don’t do nearly enough justice of this incredible view.  In a moment of true jaw-dropping astonishment, I hardly could speak. I’m even having trouble writing about this moment now, lost trying to find the right words so I can convey the sense of beauty I found in this place.  Alongside the fenced pathway sat a pasture of Irish cows; they really do live in a small slice of heaven.

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What would a day on top of Ireland’s famous cliffs be without playing a joke or two? After climbing over the gate that conveniently had a plaque memorializing the people who have died over the side of the cliffs, we dangled our feet over the edge and I fell a little bit more in love with the enchanting area. No need for the heart attack, there was at least three feet of ledge underneath me before the 700 foot fall. Despite the gut-dropping feeling when you’re looking at some pretty sharp rocks that far below you, the view was absolutely incredible.

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What places give you a feeling of incredible wonder?  Let me know in the comments below!

Lots of love,

Laura Reed

 

 

Day Trip: Windsor, Bath & Stonehenge

I’m not usually one to take the tours that make you stand out as the ultimate tourist, because half the fun of traveling is to fit into the local lifestyle, right?  This weekend, I gave into the tourist desires and took off on a day trip to Windsor Castle, the city of Bath and Stonehenge.  At 7:30 AM, I met up with four other study abroad students from the US and we started our walk over to Charing Cross where we would catch the tour.  After some troubles with getting our ticket, we were scurrying across the Hungerford Bridge and praying we would be able to snag a coffee somewhere along the line, because it was just too dang early for the speed we were going.

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With a hot coffee in hand, our tour started towards Windsor Castle and the famous private school, Eton.  It was a thirty minute ride and our overwhelmingly enthusiastic tour guide, Graham, filled the time with fun facts about the area.  Did you know that 93% of the current Parliament attended Eton? And the reason the Union Jack flies at all times on the castles is due to the day Princess Diana died?  It used to be that the royal flag was only flown when the Queen was in residence, so there was no flag to fly at half mast when the public heard the news. Now the Union Jack flies constantly, in case there is ever another tragedy.

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We didn’t buy admission to the actual castle, so Hannah, Rebecca, Elena, Westley & I found ourselves in a pub at 11 AM with mimosas as the rain came down.  Around noon, we had to make our way back to the bus through the torrential downpour for the next leg of the tour.  Due to the storm, Graham decided to change our route so that we would see Stonehenge with clear skies – off to the city of Bath we went! It was a two hour journey west and the most beautiful scenery of the English countryside passed by.  As we came into the Cotswolds region, I was astounded by the views – I don’t think it gets much better than the countryside. I can imagine moving to this area with a small house outside of the city and a running a little bakery in the town – whoops, sorry for the daydream.

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In Bath, we first went to the Roman Baths which were built upon a old hot spring that had healing qualities (it cured an Irish prince of leprosy but I was trying to avoid thinking about that… because EW).  The main pool was green from the minerals, but it was so interesting seeing the steam rolling along the top.  A quick walk through was enough for us, so we went exploring into the city streets.  Bath is a very small town, but it has a great combination of modern stores and the quaint countryside shops you would expect.  The Bath Abbey was hauntingly beautiful. The moment I walked in, I was awestruck by the vaulted ceiling with a canopy design.  Churches hold so much history – there were headstones along the walls that told of the many people buried around the Abbey dating all the way back to the 1600s.

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As we approached the Salisbury Plain, we saw the Westbury White Horse – during the Dark Ages, ancient people dug into the soil to create a picture of a horse and due to the chalky ground, it is visible from miles away (google it and you’ll be amazed).  It is now maintained by the English Heritage Council. Finally, we made it to the Stonehenge visitors center, where we boarded another bus that would take us up the actual historical landmark.

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Walking up to 5000 years of history is not something I do on the daily basis, obviously, so as we approached Stonehenge I tried to think of all the things these rocks had seen. It is not exactly clear why the actual Stonehenge was built, however with the new technology they have found that the rocks came from up to 130 miles away around 4000 years ago.  The Roman philosopher Tacitus was the first to document this strange landmark as a temple to the sun.  Modern historians now believe it was constructed as a temple to the moon during the time when the United Kingdom was connected to Scandinavia by glaciers.

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After an 11 hour day, I was back in my tiny dorm exhausted from a day of traveling and was beginning to feel the cold that I’ve been sleeping off this week.  This day trip was so worth the embarrassment of being a true tourist because of how much we accomplished in the short time we were out.  In the words of our tour guide, it was a “lovely jubbly diddly die tip top pop” day!