Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Adventures in Rivendell

This time of year in Ireland is that magical period called Reading Week, when students don't have to go to class and get to screw around by tootling all over the continent really far ahead on their schoolwork for the rest of the term.

Jenny and I are two of the only people on the island treating reading week at face value. We've been doing so much reading and writing and catching up and trying to get ahead that we wonder how we ever do this with silly classes and stuff in the way.

But we promised ourselves that, no matter how much work was staring us down, we would get out of town for part of the week. We tossed around several more remote locations, and then we recalled the recommendations of several native-Irish friends.

So Glendalough it was.

The pronunciation varies depending on who you talk to (some say Glendalock and others Glendalow) (some even say Glenda-lahhhhhcccchhh, which much phlegm), but across the board, everyone agreed that it was one of the most beautiful places in Ireland, and ultimately very close and accessible.

Accessible might be debatable--it's not reachable by train or public bus, and requires at least two legs of journey no matter how you slice it (we took the train and a cab there, a private bus and the DART home)--but the beauty was absolutely understated.

We were truly stunned, and yet we felt right at home, nestled between mountains (for you Albuquerque folks, =decently big hills) and a whole range of spruce, rowan, birch, and other trees. Glendalough is part of the giant Wicklow national park, and we feared that this portion of it would be too large to see in a day. Not so -- we took pretty much the whole thing in during one afternoon, and we dallied and lingered and soaked it all up much more leisurely than many folks. Jenny is the master of capturing the majesty and the nuance of places like this, so I'll leave the real descriptions to her and tackle the itinerary myself. (My comments are in italics, just like on our old beer blog. I've restricted my gushing descriptions to a poem at the end of the post.)

Since pictures are worth a thousand words, enjoy the slideshow before reading on:

Right behind the visitor's center is a cemetery and ancient monastic settlement. While none of the remaining structures are this old, monks first moved in during the 6th century! Still standing are several buildings without roofs (and varying amounts of walls), like the old cathedral, part of a monastery, and part of a house. Then there's the classic Irish tower. And the cemetery is who knows how old. Of the dozens (hundreds?) of legible headstones, several date as far back as the late 1700s, but then many standing rocks are so eroded as to be blank. And who knows how many people are buried among the others without markers?

History nerds buffs though we are, we were really itchin' to get to the nature bits. The two lakes (Glendalough means "glen of two lakes") are fed by a number of streams, most prominently the [Jenny help me out here! (She shrugs with a giant question mark floating overhead)]. The water in the lakes and most of the streams is dark, yet absolutely clear.

Along the path, several little rivulets come trickling down the hill. One caused a noticeable, if small, waterfall, and we joked that maybe this was the waterfall we had heard so much about. (It wasn't.) We ate our picnic lunch by the second lake.
Here's video from the lake, showing just how tranquil it was:

Then we explored a truly surreal pine tree before climbing the hill next to the real waterfall.

Atop the hill, where two creeks join together before tumbling down to the lakes below, Jenny and I lingered among the moss, the trees, the pine cones, the clovers, and the constant rush of mountain water. We even crossed over by jumping on stones to get to the triangular dell in the middle of the fork!

The walk back was just as beautiful, and completely different, because the sun's new angle cast the whole landscape into a new dimension. When we got to the visitor's center, we decided to treat ourselves--so we visited the hotel next to the monastic site (ah, tourism) and had coffee with a "brownie" (=light chocolate cake) and mint chocolate chip ice cream on top!

Then we got to be kids. Like, completely and totally kids. In the adjacent grass field was a typical grass maze-looking thing (a snaking path in a circular pattern cut into the grass). We chased each other through it. We played tag. We played follow-the-leader. We spun around in circles until we made our heads hurt! That's when we remembered that our bodies are grown up, even if our spirits aren't always.

The sun was dipping behind the mountains by this time, though it wouldn't officially set for another hour or two. We boarded the bus, stayed cuddled up as we caught the train in Bray just in time, and disembarked in Dalkey instead of Sandycove. On purpose, mind you--we wanted to continue the day's adventure by walking home from the opposite side!

Collected Impressions of Glendalough
by the feral minds of Jenny and Zach 

The deep fissures of the valley, 
etched by the finger of some God, 
as easily as a child might scrape tunnels through mud. 
We looked across the flat, rippling belly of the lake 
to where the mountains spread like thighs in the distance. 
We find a tree standing not on a central trunk, 
but on a pillar of dark, flowing tresses.
The branches dip 
like the branches on a candelabras.
For the moment, we alight.

(Credit for the phrase and concept of "feral minds" belongs to V.B. Price)

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