2014 – Day Twenty Two

The Aran Islands today. Big day!

Another perfect day. We really have been so lucky with the weather. Everyone who knew we were coming to Ireland warned us about the rain, but at the end of our second week, we have only seen one afternoon of rain. Some rain at night…but who cares! There is no sight seeing at night, and the country would not be as spectacularly green without the rain.

We get up early (well, I get up early. Chris is ALWAYS up early) and get ready for our tour out to the Aran Islands. There are three of them. Inisheer, the smallest and closest, Inishmaan, the next largest and next further out, and the last and largest, Inishmore. We have decided to tackle the latter.

Bikes at the ready, we set of in the ferry. Chris struggles up the gangplank with his, but a nice man takes mine. Yay! The ride out is just over an hour as we stop at the other two islands on the way. They are very pretty, will crystal white beaches and apparently very pristine flora and fauna habitats. Still,there’s only so much we can achieve, and Inishmore it is.

As an aside, the Islands are famous for their woollen jumpers – the Aran jumpers. Everyone would know them on sight – the beautiful thick woollen cable knitted cream jumpers. Folklore has it that the jumpers were knitted for the fisherman so that no two patterns are the same. The grisly reason why was that so when a fisherman’s body was pulled from the sea, his family would be able to identify him by the cable pattern on his jumper. Sad, but true. But on a more charming note, the Irish believe that seals are the reincarnation of drowned fisherman. I love that. It explains why fisherman give the seals treats from their boats. If I had to drown, I’d like to be a seal. They’re sleekly round and spotty and cute. And they have big whiskers and do seal Pilates on the rocks each morning . Bonus!

We finally arrive and set off on our bikes. We were lucky to see two porpoises off the side of the boat on our way out. Chris’ eagle eye again.

The island has two main roads, but very little traffic. A few mini coaches for tourists, the odd local car, many ponies and traps to cart tourists around (utterly charming) and the rest of us are on bikes! The bike hire place does a roaring trade. We didn’t know about the pony and traps. I might have suggested that had I known.

The island promises a glimpse of a way of life gone by. It’s mostly tiny farms with even tinier paddocks, each fenced with low pointed stone fences. The first impression is a sea of stone, punctuated with patches of green. There are a few lovely beaches with white sand and very clear blue water.

Our first stop is seal bay…and yes, it’s full of seals. Full. Of. Seals. Their sleek little round heads bob just off shore just as curious about the tourists as we are about them. We see at least 10, maybe more. We see a few dive too, their sleek little bodies flashing out of the
water as they go under. These are round faced seals – the pretty spotty ones. Too cute. Chris brought the binoculars, so we get a good look.

We see local cows of all colours, a flock with white goats nimbly skipping over the stone fencing at speed and I see a new type of bumble bee. Much larger than the mainland bumbles with a mainly black body and just a small flash of yellow on his butt. Like the
bumbles. Very much. They’re placid enough to pat, but unlike a honey bee, can sting repeatedly without dying. But they don’t. Either that or they’re just very kind to ladies who like to pat them.

Our next stop is the Island’s main attraction – the prehistoric stone fort, Dun Aonghasa. Situated on the highest cliffs on the island, it’s the oldest stone fort in western Europe. The fort is semi circular, and huge. It’s made entirely of stone and I can’t begin to describe the effort building it would have taken. It sits on the edge of a cliff, rising 100 metres from the sea. The fort has an inner court of 50 metres across, surrounded by a wall that’s six metes high and five and half metres thick at the base. Prehistoric. Made by hand. What ever they were protecting, they certainly put their backs into it. The views are fanatic too, given that we are at the top of the cliff.

It’s quite a hike up and down so we stop for lunch after viewing the fort and stop for a series of photos. It’s all very scenic and even the local cows are very obliging when it comes to photos. I get a shot of them and then in a pony and trap with more than I bargained for.The cheeky driver steals a cuddle after inviting me in. Ah well, at least he was charming with it and even Chris smiles. You can’t say that Irish men aren’t friendly. If I’m left alone for more than a moment, young or old, they’re always willing to offer a helping hand and strike up a conversation. Not so much with Chris about. Haha.

We make our way around the rest of the island – only one hill defeats us. We’ve done pretty well I think, but those two little bones in your butt… ouch. Mind you, they’re sore even after a short ride.

All cycled out and with an hour to kill before the ferry we stop at the pub for a drink – Chris has his first local Guinness and declares it better than at home. I have a taste – it’s bitter, but I can see the appeal.

Back on the ferry with our bikes it takes an hour and a half to motor home. Both ferry rides have been on flat seas, luckily, as Chris can get seasick. No porpoise this time. Lots of sunburnt tourists on the boat. Nice men take our bikes on and off. Thanks lads, as the locals say.

A quiet night in – it’s been a big day.