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Post Info TOPIC: Ireland and Scotland - October 2012 - Part 2 - Kinnitty Castle, Co. Offaly to Edinburgh, Scotland

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Ireland and Scotland - October 2012 - Part 2 - Kinnitty Castle, Co. Offaly to Edinburgh, Scotland

After a very active two days in Westport it was time to make a long drive to Kinnitty Castle in Co. Offaly.  The weather was perfect again so I opted to take the much longer and scenic route out of Westport along Clew Bay to Louisburgh then south towards Leenane through Doo Lough Pass.  The drive across the Murrisk penninsula towards Doo Lough pass was just pure grandeur.  The closer we got to the pass the more epic the scenery became and at certain points it seemed almost as if the road ahead was simply going to drop off a huge cliff only to reveal as we approached the edge even more breathtaking views as the road sloped downwards into the pass.  We stopped for a photo break at the famine momement at the top of the pass and watched a local sheep farmer direct his sheep dog from a few hundred yards away as the dog rounded up a flock of sheep into order.  Incredible to watch a dog round up so many sheep spread out along the side of the mountain as quickly as he did.  We continued along the spectacular road that outlines the edge of Doo Lough and emerged on the other side of the pass only to see the sharp blue colors of Killary harbor before us in the bright sunshine.  Leenane to one side and in the distance to the right a glimpse of the Twelve Pins mountain range.  My wife took a nap as we passed through Leenane again and I took the less travelled scenic road by taking a left well before Maam and driving along the road that passes alongside Lough Nafooey towards Cong.  We took a short break in Cong as it is a really nice village and then the ride from there was mostly uneventful as we navigated Galway city traffic and then finally found the highway that would take us into County Offaly. 

County Offaly is very rural.  The roads are extremely narrow with stone walls or hedges tightly on both sides.  You'll almost always encounter a tractor or two ahead of you as you work your way through the winding roads.  I think the simple beauty of it is actually underrated.  I actually quite enjoy the ride even though you really have to pay attention as there are a lot of narrow twists and turns through the farmland.  Eventually we passed through Birr then Kinnitty village and to the castle grounds a kilometer or two outside the village.

Kinnitty Castle Hotel is a favorite of my wife's.  We usually make it a point to stay there for a night or two when in Ireland.  We were dissapointed a few years ago when the operation was put into receivership when the previous owner apparently failed to make the finances work out.  But we were glad to see that the place had been brought back alive by a hotel group that owns a few hotel properties in Ireland.  I think the place has lost a little bit of the character that it used to have as I think the previous owner really loved the place and I think for him it went above and beyond just making money (unfortunately with the end result of going out of business).  You used to be able to do Falconry, Horseback riding, etc.  The previous owner had built a nice cottage in the back and erected a stone circle in the field there.  I think they used to do Halloween parties, ghost tours to other castles, etc.  A lot of that stuff seems to have gone by the wayside as the horse stalls were empty, the field with the stone circle and cottage have become overgrown, no falconry that I could see, etc.  But the group running it seems to know how to run a hotel well enough and I reckon the place will remain viable which is a good thing although the place seems primarly geared towards hosting weddings far more than anything else.  Still the service was excellent as was the food and as always my wife and I love hanging out in the library bar and chatting with other visitors, locals who happen to wander in, and the staff.  It was a quiet night there as it was a Sunday so the very cool dungeon bar downstairs was closed.  It's better to be there on a Friday or Saturday when they open the dungeon bar and have live traditional music although the chances are good there be a lot of wedding people there as well.  All in all it was a nice stay and a nice diversion before flying to Edinburgh the next day.  We'll visit again next year for probably a 3 night stay over a weekend.

Kinnity, as it turns out, is fairly convenient to get to Shannon airport for an afternoon flight.  We didn't have to leave until 11am and after a 20 minute ride on windy country roads to Roscrea we picked up the highway to Limerick and onto Shannon and it was quite convenient and no traffic issues whatsoever.  Aer Lingus has a convenient afternoon flight to Edinburgh that takes about 1.5 hours and puts you there at about 4:30pm.  It went quick and was no hassle.  We arrived in Edinburgh on a very cloudy misty day there and that would be the case for our two day stay in Edinburgh.  The taxi ride from Edinburgh airport to our hotel (Grassmarket Hotel) right in the shadow of the castle was about 15-20 minutes and cost about 20 pounds.  Over the next two days we took in as much as we could of this phenomenal and historic city.  The weather wasn't idea but it didn't detract too much from the experience as we spent a lot of it indoors anyhow.  So I'll just sum up Edinburgh point by point:

1.  The hotel.  Grassmarket Hotel was really nice and a great location   It's been recently refurbished and has a very clean, modern, new, youngish vibe to it.  Our room was spacious and clean with a nice bathroom and shower.  It seems like students run the place and they were quite helpful and enthusiastic from the get go.  The location can't be beat as your just a short walk to the castle and the Royal Mile and many other places in the Old Town.

2.  The Castle.  You really need almost an entire day to fully experience this.  Unfortunately it was so misty and foggy that day that we couldn't see any of the views of the city from up there but we still enjoyed the castle and visiting the various museums up there.  We probably only managed to see about 50% or less of the place even though we spent 2-3 hours easily up there.  We ended up taking the regular guided tour as well. 

3.  The Pubs and the Cask Ale.  Edinburgh is a beer lovers and pub connisseour's nirvana.  There are some many classic and beautiful pubs many with it's own array of traditional cask ales.  My favorites that we visited were the Bow Bar on Bow st. just off Grassmarket.  The Bow Bar is a real beer lovers place and a nice play to sit and socialize without the distractions of TV's and loud music.  Sandy Bell's.  (on Cowgate I think?).  Sandy Bell's is a great pub if you love traditional music.  One night we were there there were at least a dozen harmonica players playing traditional scottish tunes in unison.  It was amazing.  They also have some nice "real ales" to sample from the cask.  A couple of locals told us Cloisters was a great pub too but we didn't have a chance to visit.  The Malt Shovel was a nice traditional pub off the Royal Mile was the Halfway House on the same street as The Malt Shovel.  Both had good ales and the Malt Shovel had good pub food as well (I had a very comforting Steak and Ale pie there).  For something a unique we visited a place called the Voodoo Lounge in New Town.  We were touring Scotland with friends from Hamburg, Germany whom met is in Edinburgh and they are Rum and mixed drink connissoeurs so they discovered the Voodoo Lounge where they have a phenomenal list of mixed drinks that they put maximum effort into making.  So if your into that sort of thing and don't mind spending some extra cash on something special the Voodoo Lounge is cool.  Not really my gig though since I prefer a traditional pub with "real ale".  The pubs on Grassmarket aren't really worth it IMO.  Just touristy boozers that seem to cater to a younger crowd.  Getting loaded and getting laid.  I also liked the Brewdog brewpub.  Brewdog brews a range of beers that are reminscient of the type of brewing going on with new/younger breweries here in the us.   The fancy themselves the punk rockers of the UK brewing industry and thus the beers tend to be a bit extreme, hoppy, and strong.  Nevertheless it's a nice pub, the beers are okay if you like that sort of thing, and good music.  It's a diversion from the more stodgy, traditional, "real ale" pubs that are all over the city.

4.  Other stuff.  We went on a "haunted places" tour that was quite amusing.  They took us into some catacombs beneath the city and told lots of ghost stories as part of the tour.  There are several of these kinds of tours to choose from going on every night and originating up on the Royal Mile near the castle.  It was fun.  Plenty of shopping also for tourists like us along the Royal Mile.

We barely scratched the surface of Edinburgh.  It really requires more than two days.  If we ever return to Scotland (fairly big IF) then I think I would concentrate a lot more time here.

Next up the Highlands ...










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Also should note that I've got a fair number of photos that I'll upload to Flikr soon and post a link here.




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Looking forward to the pictures. I'm glad to hear that things are looking up at Kinnity Castle. Perhaps when the economy turns around they will be able to get the other enterprises there going again. Places like that really do survive on the wedding market. It is a bit off the beaten path for most tourists.



"Ireland Expert"  Michele Erdvig

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