Sunday, May 31, 2009

Wicklow Weekend, Sunday

Today is D’s birthday, and after breakfast we planned the grand present opening – not that there were huge amounts of parcels as everything had to fit in the suitcases. We sat in the sunshine by the front door of the house, accompanied by the chooks who had generously donated their eggs for breakfast and various other delights. The sun was hot and there was a definite festive mood about. The paper was carefully removed and the gifts revealed - all to D’s satisfaction and surprise. So it was time to get going as we planned to walk from Bray to Greystones along the cliff top walk.
Parking in Bray was not easy and we finally drove into the car park of the last hotel along the seafront where they had spaces and charged three euros for the day. Across the road on the beach we found plenty of stones and virtually no sand – just a little at low tide. M and I looked in vain for sea glass, well we did find just a couple of bits and some worn plastic! We caught up with the others and began our ascent up the cliff. The path is quite wide to start with and then divides as paths go down to the shore and up to the top of the hill which has a big cross at the summit. It was a bit worrying that there was a sign declaring the path closed due to a landslip, but as lots of folk were coming towards us, we decided to ignore it!
Now the path narrowed and wound its way along the cliff just above the railway line that kept disappearing into tunnels underneath us. Below us we could look down to the sea and stony outcrops where sea birds were nesting. We think we saw cormorants, guillimots, fulmars, kittiwakes, razorbills and various gulls. The birds were nesting and must have had young as the gulls circled about harassing the parents on their way in to the nests. There were many wildflowers blooming along the path, too. This is a popular path and we had to let people pass as we stood aside in some places. We also stopped quite a lot to take in the view and all the activity out to sea.
After a couple of hours we could see Greystones and were soon descending towards the town. They are in the middle of a huge scheme to renovate the harbour area. It also looks like they are trying to halt erosion of the coast line. This all means a detour around the yard, which is full of enormous concrete blocks, yet to be lifted into place as part of the sea wall. When finished, many sea associated clubs will have access to the coast without fear of being washed away. Walking along the road we soon came to the other end of the town where there is a busy beach thronged with visitors on this lovely day. We indulged in ‘99s’ sitting on the wall before strolling to the train station to catch the Dart back to Bray. The train followed the track we had been walking over, dodging in and out of tunnels, but also giving us some fine views across the Irish Sea.

We arrived in Bray and walked down to the beach for a wander along. M and I made patterns from stones – it would be a great place for making interesting installations if you had the time, there are so many different kinds of pebbles. Others collapsed on the lumpy surface for a while – can’t imagine it was that comfortable! But it was time for a cup of something, so we walked back to the road and eventually came across a café serving coffee and cookies. This was just perfect and we timed it right to take over a space from another family, just leaving. We watched people going by with chips and pizzas, but we were abstaining as we had dinner to look forward to.
Back at Ballyknocken we showered and changed and met downstairs at 19.30. The guesthouse doesn’t serve dinner on Sundays, but Catherine had arranged for us to go to a restaurant nearby. We drove down the road to the picturesque village of Rathdrum, found a parking space and then found Bates, our restaurant for the evening. It serves Italian cuisine and is situated in an inn (Bates Inn) dating from 1785. We had a wonderful meal: Scallops, sardines, crab ravioli; Wexford beef fillet, Wexford lamb, Dover sole, Sea bass, Silverhill duck; crème caramel with orange sorbet, chocolate fondant with ice cream, and tirimisu. We drank two bottles of wine: Principe Corsini Maremma Toscana Birillo Red Blend 2006, a blend of Cabernet and Merlot; and Gavi di Gavi 2008. Both were delicious. It was a perfect way to celebrate D’s birthday.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Wicklow Weekend, Saturday

We met for breakfast on Saturday morning – a feast of home made delights and mostly local produce. After Ballyknocken cereals we had French toast or drop scones with nuts and syrup or a full Irish breakfast for one brave lad.
Our first day was spent around the Military Road, starting with Glendalough. On the way there we passed through the highest village in Ireland, Roundwood (238m), which seemed quite popular with the tourists. We found a space in the busy car park at the Glendalough information centre and then followed the path to the old monastic settlement. Founded by St Kevin in 6th century, this is an important site set at the head of a valley containing two lakes. It was sacked by Vikings many times, and then partially razed by the English in the late fourteenth century before falling victim to the Dissolution, 1539. Even so, pilgrims still visit the site especially on 3rd June which is St. Kevin’s Day. Some restoration took place in the mid eighteenth century, but most of the buildings date from between the eighth and twelfth centuries. We walked around the area and then followed the river down to the first or lower lake and back as we had to be on the move again.

 Now we followed the road back and on towards Powerscourt House with its magnificent gardens. The house was a Palladian mansion of considerable size dating from the early eighteenth century and built on the site of a Norman castle. Sadly it was gutted by fire in 1974 but has been partially restored to provide cafes and shops for visitors as well as an exhibition about the history of Powerscourt estate. Luckily the gardens remained intact and are beautifully kept.

We wandered through all the areas, including the Japanese Garden, around the Triton Lake, Dolphin Pond and the wonderful walled garden. There are lots of statues in the Italian style (e.g. after Bernini) which reminded some of Angels and Demons! From the terrace there is a good view of Great Sugar Loaf (501m), made from Cambrian quartzite, it forms a volcanic like cone above the surrounding hills, which are Devonian granite. We decided to have a little late lunch in the café before moving on to the highest waterfall in Ireland. Powerscourt Waterfall falls 130m, and we think that is the height referred to, but it could be the highest in elevation, too.

Reading the guide book, we understood that this was an idyllic area to visit where Sika deer may be glimpsed among the trees and bird spotting was a delight. We were not prepared for the sight that met us – a valley full of cars, picnickers and barbecue aromas wafting across to us. It was awash with people, all enjoying the lovely weather and the beautiful area. The waterfall is lovely as it cascades over the rocks, and many people were enjoying a dip in the pool at its base – albeit a bit cool as it was in the shadow of the rocks. Needless to say, the Sika deer were long gone and only a few sparrows and starlings were to be seen.
We had also read that there were sundews to be found around a place called Sally Gap, so this was our next stop on our circuit of the Military Road. The roads are fairly narrow and winding, so we had to find a pull in so we could search for them. We stopped to look at some deer some way from the road and M went off on a reccy. And there in a boggy area she found loads of sundews, which we all saw and photographed. And even though we stopped another couple of times, we just didn’t find that many again. That was a good and lucky find. So we had to get back and change for dinner at seven. This was at Ballyknocken House – from the kitchen of Catherine Fulvia, so we needed to be ready to do that justice.
At seven we were served dry sherry in the sitting room. There were several other people staying at the house including a Belgian family, some Americans and a couple who were attending the cookery course on Sunday. The wife came from Milan, so was very interested in Catherine’s style of Italian cookery. We went through for dinner after Catherine came and described the meal. We started with antipasto, followed by a potato and lemongrass soup with parsley oil, which was served with Mary’s Brown Bread. Then came sage stuffed pork with carrot and cumin puree and apple slices and a dessert of pear and polenta cake with a strawberry stack. With the meal we drank a wine from the Ardeche estate Mas de Libian, Bout d’Zan. Coffee and tea were then served in one of the other rooms, and we gathered round a table with a hilarious game of naming things beginning with a letter chosen with the roll of a die, which ended in hysterical laughter! It was time for bed.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Wicklow Weekend - Arrival

At the end of May it is D’s birthday and we are often all together for the celebration as it’s around Bank Holiday. This year was to be no exception even though he’s away in Norway. This was secretly arranged by S, who invited us all to meet up in Ireland for a long weekend and we all went along with the surprise, booking tickets and finding out about things to do in Co. Wicklow and Dublin.
Friday came and A and I set off for our flight – arriving some time ahead of the birthday boy so we could surprise him as he and S came through. His face was a picture and S told us that until they were on the plane to Amsterdam, D didn’t have a clue where they were going nor did he have any idea we would be there. Priceless! We waited for M and N to arrive then drove off in our hire car for Wicklow town for a late supper of tapas in Al’s Bar. This was delicious and although we were the sole occupants of this little café, it was great fun. Then we found our way back to the guest house.

We stayed at Ballyknocken House, which has its own cookery school attached. Here TV chef/owner Catherine Fulvio holds cookery classes in all sorts of cuisines. The rooms are all beautifully appointed with ensuites that have huge Victorian baths which have showers in them, so if you go hiking there is the promise of a good soak when you come back. The views are lovely, either over the mountains or out across the rolling farmland towards the coast.

Ballyknocken House information

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009

Surrey County Show

Bank holiday Monday and its the Surrey County Show. As we are now within walking distance, we decided to make our first visit to one of the last traditional county shows still being held in England; and there was also the promise of a great day, weatherwise, with the threat of rain only after six pm.
As the rain may come later, we started early, getting to the entrance soon after ten, There was already a lot of people there, but we could wander through the livestock tents and see some wonderful animals, quite easily.
Then it was time for a break and we went off to find some refreshments. We got pastries to go with our coffee in the food tent, which was packed with local producers, selling their delicious wares. Some of these we remembered from other 'shows' around the county, and some from the local farmer's markets.

We sat by the bandstand, and just before we finished, the band came marching in - the British Legion Band, and they squeezed in to the bandstand with scarcely room to play their instruments. They were dressed in smart uniforms, and were mostly young people, really enjoying themselves.
Just round the corner we found a display of antique farm equipment. All of them have been lovingly restored and were working away, puffing out steam.

There were demonstrations of country crafts such as sheep shearing (by hand) and wood turning.There was a falconry display as well as morris dancing when the Pilgrim Morris Men got loads of young folk up to have a go, which was great and they really had a fun time! There were even some angora goats in their own special tent with some goods made from their wool to buy.
Our next stop was one of the display rings. Here they were judging the donkeys and their owners, followed by the donkey carts, which were put through their paces, showing how smart they were as well as how well they were turned out. Some needed a bit of practise, but the winner looked like a seasoned campaigner with driving skills and turn out to match.

By now it was very warm, with the sun beating down, We went in search of ice cream, which we took into the shade of some trees. Just beside us was the mole catcher - with his catchy slogan! (Making it safe to go back on the lawn.) Then we walked past the roundabout with its lovely horses and gaudy music, past lots of tents selling everything from wellies to jewellry until we spotted the sheep show. Here a New Zealand chap was just starting his show from the trailer of his huge truck. The stars were several different breeds of sheep, which he introduced with a brief history - very tongue-in-cheek! Then he sheared a sheep for us; played some music for the sheep to dance to, and that was it. It was quite hilarious and he attracted a huge crowd of folk and a huge round of applause at the end.
After this light entertainment we walked around the ground to try and get a view of the main ring, which is quite difficult when the stands are full and the other area where you can look over the fence is thronged with people. We found a bit of a view near the entrance gate and saw the last of the prize cows walking around the field. Then from here we could see some of the double harness scurries that were competing around the driving course. It was fast and furious and the main sponsor was competing for a place in the finals. He got through with two pairs of horses, along with several others whom we would eatch a little later.
In the interval we had a demonstration by the monster trucks, which sped about the field, charging across it a diagonals over some wrecked cars. Unfortunately for us, the organisers parked some extra cars across our view, so we didn't see much. Every diagonal charge was an attempt to get the vehicles airbourne, and at last the red one overturned. Luckily the driver was unhurt and the fork lift truck came on to right it again. Then we watched the finale of the double harness scurries, which was slightly delayed as one of the prize bulls, weighing in at over 1000kg, decided it was not getting into the truck taking him home. It bent some fences as stewards, owners and handlers tried to drag it to the truck. Eventually they managed to push the beast in and the show was underway again. The final got under way and then it was the finale in the main ring with the British Legion band leading the way.
The skies were darkening, but the hotair balloonists now entered the ring - and as many people were leaving, we moved up to a better viewing spot. We watched them inflate two of the balloons, but sadly the threat of a thunder storm was to great for them to take off, so now it really was time to go home after a really great day out.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

North Downs Way

Today we began the North Downs Way by walking the second leg from Guildford to Dorking. Why start with the second leg? Well, its Sunday and the usual track repairs have stopped normal train services and the buses don’t run on Sundays – we need to do the first leg when public transport is running!
We began with the well trodden path to Newlands Corner, and having dragged Alan away from the bacon buttie kiosk, we struck out on the new path, following the easily spotted finger posts.

We crossed the A25 and found ourselves on a wide path through the trees, soon leaving the sound of traffic behind, and tuning in to the cuckoo calling in the distance. It was very pleasant walking under the leafy canopy, and we came across the occasional clearing with views across the valleys with conveniently placed benches!

We refrained from a side visit to the Silent Pools, promising ourselves a dedicated walk there one day. It looked a precipitous downhill to the pools , which means a stiff climb back again, which is OK, but we reckoned on about 15 miles for the planned walk, and weren’t keen on adding too much more!
Once again, the pathways were lined with delightful wild flowers and the ferns had come on in bounds, showing off in great fans of fronds along the way.

At lunchtime, we came up to this hill top with its panoramic view and several benches, one being free for a welcome seat. The sheepdog, which sneaked into the picture, was having great fun creeping up on the ball its owner left in the grass just as if it was herding the sheep.

Our path was quite stony and there were plenty of butterflies flittering around us. So difficult to catch with the camera until this peacock landed on the path in front of us and settled to get his photo taken.

We were gradually meeting more people and soon came to the area known as Ranmore Common and the ‘Church on the North Downs Way’ (St Barnabas’s).

It seemed as though we were almost there, but we still had a little way to go, eventually descending the path to Denbies winery for a very welcome cup of tea. The vines are just coming into leaf and flower, so we hope that the flowers get pollinated and lots of baby grapes get set to make another excellent vintage later in the year.

Refreshed, All that was left was to walk down to Deepdene Station and a train back to Gilly. And those who wonder why we didn’t climb Box Hill – well, we’ve done that many, many times!!