Connemara

Leaving Bundoran early on a crisp, autumn morning, we continued our drive through County Donegal heading southwest through County Mayo toward Galway. The journey was broken by the necessity to stop and take photographs of the beautiful scenery. Solitary stone ruins scattered the countryside

1.ruins

and gentle waterfalls tumbled a tune.

2.waterfall

Rivers skilfully traversed rocks before disappearing beneath ancient stone bridges.

3.river4.stone bridge

Shafts of sunlight shone briefly on the mountains before retreating once again behind the clouds.

5.mountains6.mountains7.mountains

As the landscape changed, gentle streams meandered through farmland

8.stream

and  flowed calmly under stone arches.

9.stone bridge

Despite our distractions, we reached Connemara in good time, this old caravan by the side of the road presented a subliminal suggestion.

10.old caravan

We arrived in Leenane in time for lunch, a peaceful village at the head of Killary Harbour. Extending 16km toward the sea, Killary Harbour is the most westerly fjord in Europe, majestic mountains rising on either side make for a spectacular panorama.

11.Killary Fjord12.Killary Fjord

The cemetery has prime position.

13.Leenane cemetery & Killary Harbour

Further along the shore we had a different perspective of the fjord

14.Killary Fjord

and a breathtaking view of Mweelrea, the highest mountain in Connacht and County Mayo.

15.Mweelrea, Killary Fjord

We were looking forward to exploring Connemara, a region in west Galway known for its National Park, stunning coastline and fishing villages. Our intention was to drive to Clifden on the far west side of Connemara and continue the loop back to Galway. Unfortunately, we hadn’t gone far before a police roadblock informed us the road was closed due to an accident. Taking a detour, we came across a pub in the middle of nowhere and sought to assuage our disappointment with a tasty beverage. Entering the establishment, we were greeted with indifference by the three men at the bar who had seemingly already partaken of the amber liquid. The barman disappeared, presumably to prepare for customers. We waited at the bar, then took a seat at a table while the three aforementioned persons spoke to each other in Gaelic and furnished us with less than friendly stares. We were a bit slow on the uptake but, when the barman failed to return, we beat a hasty retreat and, without looking back, made a beeline for Galway. For those of you who have read of our disgruntlement with Holly, our satnav, here is evidence. She is unable to comprehend that we are already on a road!

16.Holly

beautiful firetail

Venturing out for another bout of gardening, I saw movement from the corner of my eye. Expecting to see the resident fairy wrens bobbing around, I was excited to see two little birds I haven’t seen before.

1.beautiful firetail

I wasted no time grabbing my camera and returned to find they were still in the orchard. They certainly weren’t disturbed by my presence.

2.beautiful firetail

I consulted our Guide to Australian Birds book and found out they are beautiful firetail finches. The only finch endemic to Tasmania, (the European goldfinch and greenfinch are introduced) appear to have an olive green head but it actually has the same fine dark barring as the white body.

3.beautiful firetail

The bright red rump and beak, highlighted against black tail and mask, co-ordinate perfectly.

4.beautiful firetail

Males have a black centre of abdomen and undertail, their plumage darkens and eye ring becomes bluer during breeding season.

5.beautiful firetail

Usually seen in pairs, the beautiful firetail eats mainly grass as well as casuarina and tea tree seeds. I don’t know what they were finding so tasty on this occasion, either the grass or some small insects to complement the herbivore diet?

6.beautiful firetail

These birds share an equal partnership, both construct the nest, incubate the eggs and care for the young. Fortunately, their conservation status is secure, hopefully they will visit again.

7.beautiful firetail

County Donegal

After a very comfortable night and hearty breakfast at the Ramada Hotel in Portrush, we took an early morning stroll to admire the scenery before continuing on our circuitous journey of Ireland. The small seaside resort town was quiet this time of year, the snow-capped mountains confirming the advent of winter.

1.Portrush2.Portrush

A panoramic ten minute drive

3.drive

delivered us to Portstewart. Founded in 1792, this fishing village became a popular holiday destination for middle-class Victorian families. The two miles of golden sandy beach are still popular

4.Portstewart

and waterside homes have a stunning backdrop.

5.Portstewart

The spectacular Derryveagh Mountains accompanied us on our route through County Donegal,

6.Derryveagh Mountains7.Derryveagh Mountains

until we met the coast again at Ardara. The beautiful beaches, perfect for swimming, were serenely deserted.

8.Ardara9.Ardara10.Ardara

To the east, the Blue Stack Mountains loomed out of the mist.

11.Blue Stack Mountains

We stayed the night at the Holyrood Hotel in Bundoran, the tourist season was obviously, well and truly over.

The Gorge

We recently crossed another item off the bucket list with a wonderful lunch at The Gorge Restaurant in Launceston. Located in the Cliff Grounds at Cataract Gorge, the building was constructed in 1896 as a tearooms, replacing the white refreshments tent that previously served picnickers.

1.The Gorge Restaurant

In the early 1970s, the Gorge Restaurant opened, being the first licensed alfresco dining area in Australia.

2.The Gorge Restaurant

The Victorian style gardens were showing signs of spring.

2a.Cherry blossom

We opted to dine inside, the relaxing ambience was most welcoming.

3.The Gorge Restaurant4.The Gorge Restaurant

Our window seat afforded lovely views over the garden and tree tops.

5.the view6.rhododendrons7.the view

We settled in with a refreshing Clover Hill sparkling rosé from the Tamar Valley

8.Clover Hill Non Vintage Rosè

while nature provided the entertainment.

9.sparrow

The extensive wine list was narrowed down to a Frogmore Creek 2016 Riesling, sustainably grown in the Coal River Valley. It proved to be the perfect choice.

The friendly waiter was very patient while we decided on our meals, there was so much to choose from. We were very happy with the Crispy Spiced Quail, red cabbage & gin slaw, cauliflower puree and maple bacon,

12.Crispy Spiced Quail

Braised Beef Cheek, Paris mash, thyme roasted baby carrots & lager jus

13.Braised Beef Cheek

and Tasmanian Bush Pepper Calamari, chilli & lime rice vermicelli, coriander & rocket.

14.Tasmanian Bush Pepper Calamari

We savoured the wine while the chairlift glided past the window, sometimes with a passenger, sometimes uninhabited, before ordering dessert.

15.chairlift

My Deconstructed Pumpkin Pie, candied pecans, ginger crumb & spiced cream had to be seen to be believed.

We shared tastings of the Warm Chocolate & Hazelnut Brownie, white chocolate parfait & raspberry coulis

19.Warm Chocolate & Hazelnut Brownie

and the Coconut Lime Tart with rhubarb & blue curacao sauce.

20.Coconut Lime Tart

We walked off some of our decadence returning to the car park, pausing on the suspension bridge to take in the stunning landscape.

21.Cataract Gorge upstream22.Cataract Gorge lower basin

It was difficult to focus on this magnificent cormorant enjoying the sunshine, the bridge was swaying not me.

23.cormorant

Dunluce Castle

The light was beginning to fade as we left the Giant’s Causeway and we had yet to find accommodation for the night. Heading to Portrush to do just that, we diverted to investigate Dunluce Castle. The ruins of the medieval castle perch precariously on the edge of a cliff and are reached by a bridge connecting it to safer ground.

1.Dunluce Castle

The first castle at Dunluce was built in the 13th century by the 2nd Earl of Ulster. In the 16th century, Sorley Boy McDonnell arrived from Scotland and based himself at Dunluce Castle, consolidating his territories in both Ireland and Scotland.

2.Dunluce Castle3.Dunluce Castle

He certainly couldn’t complain about the view.

4.Dunluce Castle

There is a pathway leading down to the cove, looking back at the castle gives a rather startling perspective.

6.Dunluce Castle7.Dunluce Castle

There is a story that the castle was abandoned in the 17th century after the kitchen , along with the kitchen staff, fell into the sea when the cliff face collapsed. It’s easy to believe but apparently a myth, as paintings from the 18th and early 19th centuries show that end of the castle intact.

8.Dunluce Castle

There are caves under the castle, although we didn’t venture that far.

9.Dunluce Castle10.Dunluce Castle

The north wall of the residence building collapsed into the sea sometime in the 18th century, I wonder how long before this one follows?

11.Dunluce Castle