Monday, 3 October 2016

part iii: Annascaul

Yes, I know it's taking me forever.

So, Annascaul, or Anascaul or, in Irish, Abhainn an Scáil or Abha na Scáil. Whatever name you choose, that's where we found ourselves.

I woke to the sound of a sheep bleating in the neighbour's backyard. It's actually an effective alarm clock and who can get mad at a cotton candy goat?

Before setting out on the hike, we had this beautiful day in this beautiful town to rest. The day's plans were to maybe do some light wandering, check out the farmer's market and see what trouble we could find.

Breakfasts at the B&Bs were quite an ordeal. Without ordering breakfast, you'd get cereals, fresh brown bread, toast, fruit, coffee, tea, and juice. Most places offered yogurts and some sort of pastry as well. The night before, you'd place your breakfast order for hot food. Every B&B had a different process for ordering, and at Annascaul House we had to fill in a little form and leave it on the front table so Noel could run to the market across the street before they closed. Cooked options were smoked salmon, porridge (made with Bailey's Irish Cream in most places we stayed), eggs done however you'd like, bacon, sausage, and white or black pudding.

Being from Newfoundland, I knew the latter options weren't delightful custards of any sort and steered far clear of them. Growing up, I knew black pudding as blood pudding. Pork meat, pork fat, beef or mutton fat, and a binder of bread and sometimes oatmeal. Blood optional. Without blood, it's called white pudding. With oatmeal, it sometimes has the tricky name of oatmeal pudding. Don't be fooled!

Just butter for me, thank you.

It's no wonder we don't eat meat.

After we had a very full breakfast, our host suggested a few sights for us to take in. People in Ireland are especially excited to offer the names of favourite pubs. He also mentioned the farmer's market and a nearby lake.

The sky was a mezmerizing blue but it was a cool day, so a little walk to a lake sounded inviting. We got a quick set of instructions from Noel - one or two kilometres down the road past the bridge. We'd see a sign for Tom Crean's grave. Go right and go through a gate to get to the lake.

We opted for the lake and after checking out the market, we found the bridge, and started down a road lines with tall fuchsia hedges. The wildflowers were stunning.



Twenty minutes or so into our walk, we were wondering where the lake was. We had yet to see much beyond a few homes, cows, and the odd black and white farm dog. We were not moving at any great speed, so we kept going, assuming the gate would be around the next corner.

In the meantime we were in awe of the flora. This may sound silly but I had no idea that holly grew much bigger than knee high shrubs. Imagine my surprise as we passed massive towering holly trees!

Holly tree
Squinty wife for scale.

By this point, we were 40 minutes into our walk and where the heck was the lake?

Finally we saw a little sign denoting the burial site, so we knew we were on the right course. The distance wasn't bothering me but it was warming up and I was in a cotton hoodie and jeans. Not the best "I have MS and have to stay cool" outfit.

We happened upon an older couple who were also tourists in search of the lake. Still nowhere in sight, but further proof that we were heading the right way.

So, it turns out that heading to the lake that's a kilometer or two up the road, on your rest day, can turn into a 12km trek. Twelve kilometers. In cotton and denim. 

What the fuh?

Mind you, once we found the lake, it was beautiful. It was surrounded by steep, treeless mountains, speckled with sheep, of course. The water was calm and the surface reflected the tall peaks surrounding it. It was surreal to walk through a valley with sheep bleating far overhead. They echoed into a chorus of wooly cries. Not gonna lie, most of them sounded bored.

While we took in the lake and stopped for a few photos, the couple we had met along the way caught up to us for a chat. They were from Florida and were overwhelmed by the landscape around us. I pointed out one particularly sure footed sheep high on the mountain behind us and we left them there with their cameras pointed up at the wee bahhing cloud.

We made our way back to town, taking in the vibrant scenery, careful to listen for traffic on the twisty, teeny roads.

Wifey's wingspan almost touches both sides of the road at once.
Wingspan wife for scale. This is not a one-way road.

When we finally made our way back to town after walking 12 kilometers on our rest day (do you get the sense this pickled my grits some?), we popped into a café for a bite to eat. To backtrack, we were not having a terrible time.

Instagram link to happy faces.

Up until this point we hadn't been eating fabulous lunches or suppers. There aren't a ton of veg options in most small towns, unless you want fries. When we saw chana masala on a chalkboard sign we basically ran inside the café. Nance ordered the masala and I got some kinda sandwich. Brie, spinach, pear, and cranberry on brown bread with a slightly tart vinaigrette. To. Die. For.

We didn't want to leave.

Curious about the plants of the area, we asked our waitress about one we had seen that looked a lot like humongous rhubarb. One leaf could obscure an entire person.

"Oh," she said, "that's giant rhubarb." Go figure. The shop owner filled her in on the plant's real name, Gunnera. She informed us with a smile that it's "not to be confused with...the other". Only in Ireland can waitresses make STD jokes at lunch seem appropriate and charming.

She was lovely, though, and asked all about our trip - where we were from and where we were headed. She even drew up a list of sights to see in Dingle when we got there. She also told us that there was quite a time across the street the night before and it got wild. That's Hanafins. The place we left as all the women loving women were getting tipsy. We missed a good time from all accounts.

After a bite to eat, we turned in to pack our bags for the next day's hike and to catch some Olympics. During our stay at Annascaul House we met people from Germany, France, the Netherlands, and New Jersey. Yes, I did just equate the land of Bon Jovi with countries.

That concludes our pre-hike portion of the trip. The next day would bring us from Annascaul to the town of Dingle via Lispole. It was calling for sun and rain. Lots to prepare for!


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