Monthly Archives: May 2016

Trip through Ireland Ancient East

The Emerald Isle might be small in size but it packs a powerful historical punch. Hit the road on a fascinating five-day trip through the picturesque landscapes and villages, towns and cities of Ireland’s Ancient East en route from Dublin to Waterford, visiting Neolithic burial tombs, high crosses, castles and cathedrals, and traversing 560km and five millennia of history.

Dublin

Kick off in the Irish capital with an overview of the country’s history at the 1877-established National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology. Just some of its highlights are the world’s most complete collection of medieval Celtic metalwork, and four preserved Iron Age ‘bog bodies’ with intact features such as fingernails. Other exhibitions include Medieval Ireland, and Viking Ireland, featuring finds excavated at Dublin’s Wood Quay.

Brú na Bóinne

A Unesco World Heritage-listed wonder from around 3200 BC, the vast Neolithic necropolis Brú na Bóinne, 50km north of Dublin, predates both Stonehenge (by a millennia) and the Great Pyramids of Egypt (by six centuries). In fertile farmland scattered with standing stones, the complex encompasses three main burial tombs: Newgrange, a white quartzite-encircled grass-topped passage tomb measuring 80m in diameter and 13m high, which aligns with the winter solstice; Knowth, containing extraordinary passage-grave art; and sheep-roamed Dowth.

Less than 10km west, in the 18th-century town of Slane, coaching innConyngham Arms, makes a charming overnight stop.

Hill of Slane

The Hill of Slane is where, allegedly, St Patrick lit a paschal (Easter) fire in 433 against the ruling of the Irish high king. Patrick then described the holy trinity to him by plucking a shamrock to illustrate the paradox of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one, kindling Christianity in Ireland. Only faint remnants of subsequent religious buildings here remain, but the views are sublime.

Hill of Tara

Once the home of ancient Ireland’s druids, followed by its high kings, the Hill of Tara is 24km south of Slane. This sacred site is one of the most important in Europe, with prehistoric burial mounds and a Stone Age passage tomb, dating back 5000 years. It’s steeped in Irish folklore and history, and visiting the grounds is free.

Glendalough

Glendalough’s Irish name, Gleann dá Loch, means ‘Valley of the Two Lakes’, and the Upper and Lower lakes at this spot 100km south of Tara – along with wild Wicklow Mountains scenery and a cache of religious relics – are magical. In 498, St Kevin set up here on the site of a Bronze Age tomb and the monastery later established here lasted until the 17th century. The Glendalough Visitor Centre (visitwicklow.ie/item/glendalough-visitor-centre) is a mine of information. Next door, the comfortable Glendalough Hotel, makes a convenient base.

Moone

Amid stone ruins 50km west of Glendalough, stop off to see the distinctive Moone High Cross. Dating from the 8th or 9th century, it’s renowned for its intricately carved biblical scenes.

Browne’s Hill Dolmen

Topped by Europe’s largest capstone, weighing over 100 tonnes, the 5000-year-old granite portal dolmen (tomb chamber) Browne’s Hill Dolmen sits about 20km south of Moone and is one of Ireland’s most intriguing prehistoric monuments.

Enniscorthy

A pivotal chapter in Irish history played out at Vinegar Hill, 53km south of Browne’s Hill, during the 1798 rebellion against British rule. Nearby, the National 1798 Rebellion Centre has evocative displays. The rebels used Norman-built Enniscorthy Castle as a prison; it’s now a museum with superb rooftop views.

Wexford town

Named Waesfjord (‘harbour of mudflats’) by the Vikings, who are thought to have landed here around 850, Wexford town is 22km south of Enniscorthy. Traces of the fort built by the Normans, who conquered it in 1169, are still visible in the grounds of the Irish National Heritage Park open-air museum.

Quarries and surf lagoons

With its grand mountains, rolling hills and stunning coastline, the castle-packed, Welsh-speaking heartland of North Wales has always been an epic place for the active. And the addition of new facilities – including an innovative surf lagoon and record-breaking zip lines – to those age-old charms has created arguably the best place for adventure sports in Britain.

Go underground at Llechwedd Slate Caverns

Slate mining once dominated the economy in northwest Wales: slate from these hills supplied most of the roofs in Victorian Britain and was transported around the world. Its decline over the last century hit local communities hard and left quarried hillsides, great caverns and dark tunnels in its wake.

They’re all visible around the small town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. Surrounded on all sides by Snowdonia National Park, its quarry-scarred landscape means it didn’t qualify for park status. Yet the area has a hard beauty of its own, and once you head downwards you discover another world. You can explore the Llechwedd Slate Caverns just outside town via numerous tours, and adventurous can spend two hours exploring the eerily magnificent mines on a Caverns tour, using zip lines, rope bridges and footholds hammered into the walls, gazing into dark holes and across cathedral-sized caves. It’s a great feeling – you get to put your hands on history, and set your heart pounding.

If that sounds a bit much, operators Zip World also offer Bounce Below, a series of enormous interconnected trampolines and slides. Trampolining in a cave is a unique experience, and the atmospheric lighting and chiselled walls around you give the giggling fun of bouncing up and down a nice counterpoint.

Fly high and low on record-breaking zip lines

Outdoor zip lines offer up a different perspective. You can build up quite a lick heading down these, a physical thrill that’s matched by the awesome spectacle of North Wales swooshing by beneath you. Blaenau Ffestiniog’s three zip lines take you down from the hills above to the mine itself. At Bethesda, northwest of Blaenau, Zip World Velocity (zipworld.co.uk) boasts the longest line in Europe and the fastest (up to 100mph) in the world.

More records are smashed elsewhere. Go Below, outside the appealing town of Betws-y-Coed, has the world’s longest underground zip line and can take you to the deepest point in Britain that’s accessible to the public – almost 400m below ground.

Outdoor activities in Seattle

Often referred to as the ‘Emerald City’ thanks to the lush evergreen forests nearby, Seattle’s sobriquet is no tourist-brochure euphemism. Bears and cougars have been sighted in the city’s rugged Discovery Park, fleece-wearing diners fresh from kayaking trips show up in downtown restaurants, and on clear days from numerous vantage points, Mt Rainier, a 14,411ft glacier-encrusted volcano, appears so close it feels as if you could almost touch it. No wonder such a high proportion of Seattleites choose to ignore manic East Coast work ethics and regularly escape into their ‘backyard’ for a dose of the great outdoors.

On your bike

Cycling in Seattle is one of the most instantaneous ways for visitors to fend off museum claustrophobia and get some fresh gulps of Pacific Northwestern air. Fortunately, with the inauguration of Seattle’s bike-sharing scheme, Pronto (prontocycleshare.com) in 2014, getting about on two wheels has become a lot easier. Intended more as city hoppers than zippy racers, Pronto’s new seven-gear bikes available from 54 city-wide docking stations are adept enough to get you out of downtown and enjoy a brief taste of Seattle’s finest greenway, the Burke Gilman trail. Check out our guide to Pronto for more info.

Stretching 21 miles from the shores of Lake Washington to Puget Sound, the Burke-Gilman follows the course of an old disused railway line. Along the way it meanders past moored houseboats, weird urban sculpture and numerous green oases. If you’ve only got time for one stop, hit the brakes in Gas Works Park on the north shore of Lake Union, a windy promontory popular with kite-flyers where a rusting coal plant was recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

To enjoy the trail in its entirety, you’ll need to swap your short-loan Pronto bike for a more flexible day-rental. Dutch Bike Co in Ballard rents well-appointed, two-wheeled machines from $45 a day. The shop, which also pedals pastries from an adjacent cafe, is strategically located in Ballard at the west end of the Burke-Gilman trail close to Hiram M Chittenden Locks, where lush botanical gardens overlook the point at which Puget Sound’s seawater meets the freshwater of Lake Union. Here you can watch a merry array of working boats as they negotiate the lock system, or disappear underneath to see salmon wriggling up an ingenious fish ladder. Cycle two miles further west and you’ll end up inGolden Gardens Park, well-known for its Bloody Mary sunsets framed by ghostly silhouettes of the Olympic Mountains.