• Autumn reflections.

    As Summer turns to Autumn the natural world slows and the preparation for Winter begins. Farmers fill their barns with crops, animals gather and store food for the oncoming winter and trees begin to shed their leaves. This year, as summer passes, I too find myself taking stock. When I set-up Beyond the Glass Adventure Tours, I had the ambition to take people into the Irish outdoors to enjoy the wild beauty and natural wonder that Ireland has to offer and to immerse visitors in the history and culture of Ireland.
    Joining a Beyond the Glass Adventure Tour is a journey into the outdoors, where you will go ‘beyond the glass’ to spectacular off the beaten track locations. You will enjoy activities in breathtakingly beautiful locations along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. On our tours most of the time is spent in the outdoors, be it by the ocean, on a mountainside, on a forest trail or in a National park. The activities are pursuits almost everybody can enjoy – hiking, cycling and boat trips.
    When you take part in a Beyond the Glass Adventure Tour you soon get into a nice rhythm. Each morning after enjoying a leisurely breakfast there is the day’s activity, such as a coastal walk, a mountain hike or a cycle through one of Ireland’s National Parks. This is followed by lunch and a visit to one of the Wild Atlantic Ways signature discovery points, which include castles and other historic sites. Each day includes a drive or a boat trip through magnificent scenery. In the evenings there is time to enjoy local food, a Guinness and traditional Irish music, before you retire for the night to rest for the next day’s adventure.
    Our tours can be an antidote to the busyness of today’s world; although they do not completely avoid it, you will come to some busier places where you will encounter tourist vying to take selfies. But the tours are designed to maximise time spent outside, give the richest experience of Ireland and take place in off the beaten track locations.
    Importantly, while participating on our tours there are no penalties for taking your time. If you move slower and end up at the back of the group; this gives you the landscape to yourself and more time to soak up the views. If a person is delayed getting to the tour vehicle or a boat does not leave at exactly the correct time, It’s no problem, it’s Irish time, it’s your vacation time. An example of this occurred during day 7 of a 2019 8 Day adventure tour. The day began with an hour’s drive from Roundstone to Connemara National Park. While on the drive and within a few miles of our destination we came upon a traffic jam (A traffic jam deep in Connemara on a Sunday morning is not a regular occurrence). We soon learned the cause of the traffic jam was a minor car accident. There was no one injured but before we could progress the cars had to be cleared from the road, which we were told would take 15 minutes. Our wait ended up being closer to 2 hours. I wanted this day, like all days of the tour, to run smoothly and the participants not to be inconvenienced. I was a little concerned about the impact of the delay, but I had no need to worry. Yes, there was slight impatience and occasionally I was asked how long more the wait would be, but in the main everyone was relaxed. During the wait some chatted with locals who were also caught up in the traffic jam, some took a nap in the bus and others walked the roads and enjoyed the colourful hedgerows. By now the participants had spent 6 days on vacation in the outdoors and were more in tune with the rhythms of nature rather than man made clocks. They were not put out, It was another experience on their journey through outdoor Ireland. After we got moving the day continued with a slightly altered plan.

    We live in a time when the speed of life seems to have changed, shifted-up through the gears to super quick. It can feel frantic with ever changing work targets, news feeds that change hourly and Instagram changing by the second. Constantly evolving technology can feel unavoidable as its incorporated into our lives. But we can go ‘beyond the glass’ of the office PC, the office window and the screen of our device and step outside to spend time in nature. Time in nature can be a grounding experience and allow us to sync with the rhythm of the natural world, where the earth still takes 24 hours to complete one revolution and ~365 days to circle the Sun, and the lunar cycle continues to cause the ebb and flow of the tides. Perhaps with each venture to the outdoors we may gain a little more awareness and when we return to our busy worlds, we may move a little slower and steadier. Each Beyond the Glass Adventure Tour is a unique venture into the wilds of Ireland. Maybe you will come join me on one of these adventures soon?

  • The Wild Atlantic Way – A Working Land

    The Wild Atlantic Way, as well as being one of the world’s top tourist destinations, also provides a livelihood for people in many other trades and industries outside of tourism. The towns, villages, fields and harbours along Ireland’s Atlantic Coast are working communities, a lineage carried on for many generations from those who first moved here to make a living. Only the hardiest and those who respected the harsh landscape survived economically. To successfully eke out a living here, you need to do so by working in concert with and within the limitation of the Wild Atlantic coastline. It is true that some trades and crafts did not survive as well as others.

    Many of the beautiful tourist towns along the Wild Atlantic Way originated as fishing settlements, and those that adapted to the changing times still are thriving fishing harbours. If you are lucky enough to visit any of these places, such as Gweedore, Kinsale, Westport or Dingle, you will have the pleasure of eating in some lovely restaurants. The food you’ll eat will most likely be locally sourced. As you stroll around the harbours, if you keep your eyes peeled, you will see fishing trawlers unloading their cargo or about to head out to sea and Mussel and Lobster farmers hauling their lines and pots.

    Wild Atlantic Way
    Fishing Trawlers at Union Hall, Co Cork.

    Markets and Fairs
    Scattered along the west coast you will find many market towns. In fact, there was a time when every town had a regular market or fair. The fair was an intrinsic part of Irish society. As well as a place to sell your produce it was a place to socialise. Many towns still have a weekly or monthly market where you can buy and sample the best of local and Irish made products by artisan producers. Other towns have maintained the tradition of the old fairs by creating a festival around it. The town of Killorglin has done this to great effect; here on the 10th, 11th and 12th of August they hold the annual Puck fair. This fair dates back well before any written records began and probably to pre Christian times, it may have evolved from old pagan celebrations. Fantastically, the centre and most import feature of the festival is a Goat! Before the festival begins some the town’s hardiest individuals take to the mountains to find a suitable candidate, the goat is raised to the top of a pedestal and crowned King Puck for three days and on the third day he is released back to the mountains. As you enter the town you will find a sculpted goat guarding the towns’ bridge.

    Killorglin, Co. Kerry.
    King Puck, Killorglin, Co. Kerry.

    Hand crafts such as spinning, weaving, stonework and knitting were a mainstay of western communities for centuries. Many of these craft skills survive to this day. If you look at one small section of coast, the Aran Islands, you will see many examples of these craft skills alive today. The world famous Aran sweater had its origins on the Aran Islands. The sweaters or Jumpers have their own unique stitching styles, these styles are linked to many myths and tales. An interesting craft of the Aran Islands is Pampooties, specialist moccasin-type shoes. Willow basket or willow creels have been used by the fishing folk of Aran for decades to carry their bounty. Dry stone wall building takes on a life of its own on the Aran Islands. Creating a patchwork of fields, the stone walls have been an inspiration for many artists including Sean Scully. You will notice as you travel the island that on lower ground the walls are compact with the stone placement being close together and on higher ground the stones are placed at seemingly ridiculous angles and there are many large gaping holes in the walls. However there is a very good reason for this, on the higher ground the wind blows much stronger and is liable to take down the wall, however when the wind meets the wall with the holes it just passes on through.

    Cycling between stone walls on the Wild Atlantic Way
    Cycling between stone walls on Inis Mor

    As it is for the entire island of Ireland, farming provides a living for thousands of families along the Wild Atlantic Way. You will encounter many aspects of farming life on your travels. Even though it may appear like a quaint peculiarity for your added enjoyment, the sheep that so often cross the road in front of as you wind your way along the Wild Atlantic Way are people’s livestock, the multi-colours painted on their back is to distinguish ownership. In Connemara, it is not uncommon to see a farmer building a cock of Hay, a practice long outdated elsewhere. The small stone fields do not allow easy access for large modern machinery. In winter on the Burren you will see cattle out on the karst landscape. This may seem to be counter intuitive, to winter cattle on a hillside. The reason is that the limestone rock is excellent at retaining heat, this is also the reason you can spot alpine flowers in the area.

    Sheep on road on slea head drive.
    Sheep Crossing the road on Slea Head

    Much of the industry that was present has been outdated by the advance of technology and only exists in cottage or artisan form. One example of an outdated technology that has disappeared completely is the telegraph system. This, once a marvel of communication that reduced the time from 2 weeks to minutes to bring news across the Atlantic Ocean from USA and Europe. The first transatlantic telegraph station on the European side was on Valentia Island, the first transatlantic message was sent in 1858. The cable station is still present. Interestingly, the oldest confirmed amphibious footprints ever found on PLANET EARTH are only a short distance from the telegraph station.

    View from Tripod footprints on Valentia Island.
    View from Tripod footprints on Valentia Island.

    Navigators, Explorers and Inn keepers
    Among the workers, there are always the dreamers and the discoverers who want to search for more and seek out new lands. St.Brendan, born in the year 484 AD, was a Monk who wanted to spread the Gospel. It is recounted in medieval text that he sailed to America to spread the good word, he landed at Newfoundland. This makes him the first to cross the Atlantic.
    Another Kerry man with attitude came along 1,500 years later. In the early 1900’s, Tom Crean joined the British navy and he was an integral part of three expeditions to be the first to reach the South Pole. During these expeditions there are several awe inspiring stories of survival. One of the most impressive, is the sailing from the Antarctic across the southern Atlantic Ocean in lifeboats for 5 days to Elephant Island, followed by a traverse across the uncharted, glacier covered, South Georgia Island. When Crean returned to Ireland he opened a Pub in his home of Annascaul. The appropriately named South Pole inn is still run by his family.

    The south Pole Inn, Annascaul, kerry.
    The south Pole Inn, Annascaul, kerry.