HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 4 – Exploring the West Highlands and Inverness 

After a visit to one of Scotland’s most iconic castles, we were off to do some exploring in the great outdoors!

You have not visited Scotland properly until you have gone on an adventure through its wilderness!

Our first stop would be a view point overlooking Loch Carron. The views from the lookout were impressive to say the least!

The Loch itself is on the west coast of Ross and Cromarty in the Scottish Highlands. It is the point at which the River Carron enters the North Atlantic Ocean.

As you can see from the information board above the lake is surrounded by various peaks and even on a cloudy day is pretty spectacular.

After taking several gorgeous photographs, we were back on our bus headed off to our next stop.

This next stop would combine adventures and exploring with a wee ramble through the woods!

This is Rogie Falls!

We read that this is a popular salmon river – great for catching a glimpse of salmon leaping upstream to their birthplaces to spawn.

As you can see in this next photograph, a salmon ladder was created on the right hand side to aid the fish in going upstream!

In order to cross the river, we had to go over the suspension bridge pictured below!

The bridge is actually a great spot to take some epic pictures of the river and the falls below!

After crossing the bridge, Greg took us to another spot where we could take some good pictures and view the falls – and try to spot some salmon!

Below is a picture of the super tiny “bridge” that we would have to cross to get to that point.

I myself couldn’t cross it 😞. Vertigo hit and nope😨! I waited for Natalie while she went to explore the other side.  We now realize there were a couple of things that we did on this trip, which we’re pretty sure travel insurance wouldn’t have covered, had any misfortune come our way! Although these were all exciting things, we will have to make sure safety comes first.

Photo taken inadvertently while stepping off the teeny, tiny bridge – perfectly expressing the feeling of crossing said bridge!!!!

After the wee walk, we drove into the town of Beauly for a quick stop and an afternoon snack.

The town of Beauly is centered around the old priory which was founded in the early 13th century. The history of the town is linked with a number of Scottish clans:

“most notably the Lovat Frasers who owned much of the land around the village and had their base at Beaufort Castle. The Chisholms owned much of the land on the north side of the River Beauly and ruled from Erchless Castle while the Mackenzie clan ruled the lands to the North of Beauly.”

Mary Queen of Scots visited Beauly in the 16th century and was said to have said “C’est un beau lieu.” This is one of the more popular explanations for the name of the town.

Beauly Priory was built around 1230 for the monks of the Valilscaulian order. These monks seem to have come from France and settled in this area and two other priories around the same time.

The site was impressive both in architecture and size. Although it is in ruins today, the priory was only a small part of a complex that had a cloister to the south, complete with east and south accommodation and a west range providing the prior’s lodging.

The patron of priory was Sir John Bisset, who would later have his family joined in marriage by the Frasers of Lovat.

If you want to learn more about Beauly Priory’s history, you can do so here.

It was after the Reformation that the priory fell into disuse. It seems that much of the priory had become a quarry at the time, the stones being used for other buildings in construction during the 16th century, hence so many missing pieces.

Currently, Beauly is in care of the State and has been so since 1913. It is being looked after by Historic Environment Scotland.

After exploring Beauly Priory’s ruins, we decided to take a turn around the town before heading back to our yellow bus.

We were all getting hungry and craving something sweet so our whole group gathered at a little cafe and delicatessen – Corner in the Square for a snack!

After seeing all the delicious cakes and baked goods, we decided this would be the place for our snack. Natalie decided to get the cheesecake, while I got a plum coffee cake. Honestly, this was probably the best cheesecake we had ever tasted! It was so rich and creamy – it was literally like a cloud. The plum coffee cake was beyond delicious as well and very filling! As a result, we are definitely putting Beauly on our to-return-to list just for this reason!

We didn’t even manage to get a photo of the slice whole – we dug in right away! Hence the half eaten photo…

After our short stop over in Beauly, it was onward to our home for the night in Inverness. We stayed at the Youth Hostel, SYHA, and we were informed by Greg that this would be our last stop with him as we would be getting a new guide and new group in the morning!

As you may recall, this was one of our only issues with this specific tour. Due to the length of our 10 day Compass Buster tour, we were shuffled around to join several other shorter 2, 3 and 5 day tours. In the end, we changed tour guides a grand total of three times – making it feel a bit interrupted and disjointed.

The SYHA itself was a great place to stay with plenty of rooms and close enough to the centre of Inverness so we could go out and explore a bit, as well as buy some food for the next day! It was a bit… institutional (?! if you know what we mean…) and wasn’t as cozy or friendly as some of the other hostels we had stayed at/would stay at later on – but it would do for the night!

If you would like more information about the SYHA or you want to book your stay, you can do so here.

After settling in, we decided to walk into Inverness for some dinner and dancing – bagpipes and crazy cardio dancing included!

We decided to have dinner at Hootananny – A suggestion from Greg! When we arrived, rather early, the place was quite slow and we got a table right away. Little did we know that as the evening wore on, the place would turn completely rambunctious and music and dancing would take over!

Excuse the blurry photos as we were all a bit excited from everything going on around us! At the end of the night, we walked back to the hostel with sore feet, ringing ears, the breeze cooling us down and still talking about this crazy night. It was an amazing night full of live music, some Scottish dancing (or perhaps what we imagined it to be?!) and more than a few entertaining dancers on the floor! We would definitely recommend Hootananny to anyone looking for a fun Scottish night-out experience in Inverness!

Overall, Day 4 was full of surprises and amazing sites. Stay tuned for Day 5 and many more adventures as we venture North towards a pretty special group of islands!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

LettersofWanderlust3


© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 3 – Beachcombing

After meeting some hairy coos and visiting St. Clement’s church to start Day 3 of our Compass Buster Tour, we were off for a wee walk and beachcombing adventure!

Northton would be our next stop with some amazing beach views you wouldn’t expect to see in Scotland.

Our walking route can be found here, for anybody who is looking to explore a different side of Scotland.

We were really excited to be walking through the moors of Harris. The landscape was glorious and as the above website explains, it was created by sand being blown over the peat. It is a rather unique grassland habitat housing many species of birds and beautiful flowers in the summer!

We didn’t get to see any birds but we did catch a glimpse of some wild flowers! The landscape never fails to amaze us. The grandeur of the Scotland hillsides was amazing as expected.

Our ultimate destination at the end of this trail would be the ruins of a medieval chapel on the headland. But before we reached the ruins, we would wander around 3 beautiful beaches.

After exploring Ireland, I shouldn’t have been surprised at seeing amazing beaches yet again. Obviously having endless coastlines means that there are going to be some pretty spectacular beaches to be found!

The first beach we saw featured amazing turquoise waters, similar to what we had seen at Port Stoth beach. We didn’t get a chance to get close to the water here, but Greg assured us there would be more sightseeing ahead.

The second beach we encountered was Traigh na Cleabhaig. Going through another gate we came along and saw this gorgeous view!

If we had more time, we surely would have stayed much longer and explored each and every beach! But time was limited and we had to walk on.

Along the way, we found more of our hairy coo friends! 🐮 We always get excited when we see Hairy Coo and this was not an exception 😋.

Finally, we reached our destination. The beach at Northton.

Once we reached this third beach, we all sat down to eat our picnic lunch. Before we set out at the start of today, we had stopped and grabbed a quick lunch so we were all well equipped to enjoy the scenery before us!

More than one of our tour mates will recall “The notorious beach incident of 2015.” HA! We won’t relive it here but, let’s just say that the guys and the gals got different views of the beach while eating lunch. Hahaha! This misunderstanding was cleared up in the end and we all had a good laugh over it! Definitely good times!

Below was our view of the beach!

After finishing our lunch we started our hike up to the Rubh’ an Teampuill headland and the Medieval Chapel there.

The Chapel was built on a prehistoric settlement mound and dates back to the 15th century

There is an eroding prehistoric settlement mound, which produced evidence from the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Beaker, and Bronze Age periods. A little further along the shore, on the headland of Rubh’ an Teampuill, are the ruins of a small late medieval chapel. A closer look indicates that next to the chapel are the footings of an Iron Age broch, which probably supplied the source of building stone for the chapel. – Visit Outer Hebrides

Apparently there was once even a stone wall surrounding the area! The area also seems to have been inhabited many times during the previous centuries, even perhaps having a broch present at one time. Burials date back almost

9,000 years ! That’s pretty darned amazing!

The chapel has had work done in order to save it from total collapse. This is good news for travellers like ourselves, as we get to experience another ancient part of Scotland’s history.

On the other side of the Chapel, we found a glorious rocky outcropping! It was very epic with the waves crashing against the rocks!

And also a very good spot for some epic pictures with the landscape.

We also made some more animal friends who seemed to enjoy grazing so close to the water.

After exploring the Northton Chapel and its surroundings, Greg led us back to our Yellow Bus and we headed towards Tarbert, the main community on the Isle of Harris, where we would be boarding the ferry to Uig and the Isle of Skye!

When we reached Tarbert, what was the first thing we saw as we drove into the town? HARRIS TWEED, OF COURSE!

We couldn’t wait to get out of the bus and go explore the tweed shops. Harris tweed sold on the Isle of Harris is obviously authentic! This is a brief history of Harris Tweed:

From time immemorial, the inhabitants of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland have woven a beautiful and intricate cloth the world knows simply as Harris Tweed.

The islanders of Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra produce this luxury cloth entirely by hand and have long been known for the excellence of their weaving. However up until the middle of the nineteenth century, their cloth was used only on their crofts or sold at local markets, but in 1846, Lady Dunmore, widow of the landowner of Harris, the Earl of Dunmore, chose to have their clan tartan replicated by Harris weavers in tweed.

The results proved so successful that Lady Dunmore began to devote much time and effort to marketing the tweed to her wealthy friends further afield and as a result of her enthusiastic work, sales and trade of the island cloth were soon established with merchants across the country. – Harris Tweed Authority  

If you want to read a bit more about the background of Harris Tweed, you can do so here and here.

We obviously thought we needed a souvenir (or two) from the Harris Tweed shop! We got ourselves some oh-so-lovely wallets and matching coin purses ❤. We really had to stop ourselves from getting more, but that just means we will have to return again and get many more items to remember Harris by!

Soon after, we headed down to the pier and watched the ferry pull in. We piled onto the ferry and headed towards our lodgings for the night in Portree!

Stay tuned for a look at our first Haggis dinner and more of Portree!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

LettersofWanderlust3


© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 2 – The Butt of Lewis and Port Stoth Beach

After a good sleep at the Heb Hostel in Stornoway, we were off to start Day 2 of our Compass Buster Tour!

Greg informed us that Day 2 would be just as action packed as Day 1 had been and we were excited to be on our way! After grabbing some breakfast from Tesco (and maybe another snack or two), we were back on our yellow bus and headed towards more adventures and exploring in the Outer Hebrides.

The Outer Hebrides is a chain of islands located just off the western coast of mainland Scotland. Even in the short time that we spent here, we could see that people here have a very unique and special way of life – with Gaelic being the predominant language and their own traditions, culture and customs. They are also surrounded by some pretty wild, stunning and beautiful scenery, which we were lucky enough to explore on this trip!

As we were on the Isle of Lewis, it was only natural that we would have to visit its northernmost point: The Butt of Lewis!

“The headland, which lies in the North Atlantic, is frequently battered by heavy swells and storms and is marked by the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse.”

Once we stepped off the bus, we already noticed the wind. This would be a common reoccurrence, as we would be visiting many cliffs while in Scotland. After seeing so much of the Atlantic Ocean in Ireland, it was a welcoming sight yet again!!!

Greg gave us free rein to explore as much as we wanted and we took the opportunity to take as many pictures as we could! Our gazing pictures, which started in Ireland, continued on this tour as well…

The Butt of Lewis actually has some of the oldest rocks in all of Europe! They were formed in the Precambrian period over 3000 million years ago! And look at us – stepping foot on these historic rocks in the present day!!!

The wind was really picking up and we could tell by the waves that continued to beat against the base rocks of the cliff! They really do make a thunderous yet calming noise as they crash!

We even spotted seals just hanging out in the water, braving the choppy waters and peering curiously at us!

The basins around the cliffs were amazing in colour. I can only imagine what the water would have looked like on a sunny day. Another reason to return to the Isle of Lewis (as you will later find out).

The Lighthouse, which sits on the site, was built in the 1860’s by David Stevenson. It was built to aid in shipping. It was constructed of red brick and never painted. It was said to be one of his most benign works but even so it has played an important role guiding ships away from the cliffs!

There is not much known about the lighthouse station’s early days but it has changed much over the past century. A plaque outside of the station states that the current equipment was added in 1905.

“The lighthouse continued to be supplied by sea until as recently as 1960. The communications wires strung from the lighthouse are associated with its role in acting as a relay for the Flannan Isles lighthouse to the west. Since 1998 the Butt of Lewis lighthouse has itself also been operated automatically. Nearby is a foghorn which ceased operation in 1995.”

Even with the stormy weather, we couldn’t stop snapping pictures. We will let them speak for themselves:

When someone says “Let’s take a selfie.” And you BOTH take out your cameras… Hahaha!

After we had enough of this side of the Butt of Lewis (ha ha ha), Greg decided to take us to Port Stoth beach – which was on the other side of the road we came on.

Okay, imagine what this beach would look like on a sunny day. GORGEOUS! Even on a cloudy blustery day, the water was this colour. It’s almost tropical – if you forget about the wind and chill!

Port Stoth Beach was used to land all the materials for the building for the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse! It continued to be used to bring materials to the lighthouse until the 1960’s! The ramps that were used are still on the beach today!

Of course, I had to somehow prove that I had been there by writing my initials in the sand! Maybe if it was a warmer day and I wasn’t sick, then I would have gone into the water for a wee dip of my toes!

As we walked back up the slipway, we caught a glimpse of our lovely “Wild and Sexy” yellow bus waiting for us to continue our adventures!

After taking one last selfie, we had to say goodbye to beautiful Port Stoth Beach and head out towards the Trussel Stone and Gearrannen Blackhouses! Stay tuned for more of our Day 2 adventures!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

LettersofWanderlust3


© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

HAGGiS Adventures – 10 Day Compass Buster!

After a couple days in Edinburgh and at Dalhousie Castle, we were off on another adventure – a 10 day Compass Buster tour of Scotland with HAGGiS Adventures.

We definitely busted some compasses on this trip!

After having been on a Shamrocker Adventures’ 7 Day All Ireland Rocker Tour, we had a bit of an idea of what to expect going into this trip. We knew it would be shared accommodations, there would be exploring and adventures (legs day! 🙄) and that there will probably be switches in tour guides and tour groups.

And we knew it was going to be epic – of course! It is Scotland, after all! From all that we have read, seen, heard and probably from our imaginations as well, we had built up an idea of what Scotland would be like and how amazing it would be! And sometimes… you end up disappointed because you had such high expectations to begin with.

But for us, we absolutely LOVED it – from the history and the standing stones, to castles, scenery, glens and lochs! 💙 We had an amazing time exploring Scotland!

Loved the time we spent walking in the great outdoors!

Loved the time we spent walking in the great outdoors!

We felt taking this tour was a good way to see this beautiful majestic country – with our limited budget and time. Sure, it would have been nicer if we could have done a road trip around Scotland ourselves and stopped wherever we wanted to (*ahem* Speyside Whisky Trail and Walkers Shortbread factory!) and spend more time in the places that we liked (The Hebrides and Isle of Skye!). But I don’t think we would have seen as much of Scotland in 10 days time, on our own.

Plus, then we wouldn’t have met our wonderful group mates and friends! 😊

I think we have said it before but we’ll say it again here – the people you’re with definitely make or break your trip! Especially on a group trip… Especially on a long 10-day group trip like this one! This trip, just like the Shamrocker’s trip we took earlier, also combined several different tours together – besides our 10-day group, there were people on 5-day, 7-day and 3-day tours all combined together as well. So… we did have people join and leave our original 10-day group and we may not have meshed well with the last group that joined us… But our original group of people? I would go on another trip with these guys in a heartbeat. Sure, introductions and group dynamics can be… interesting sometimes (like the Isle of Harris beach incident of 2015) but we are so lucky to have met these wonderful, kind and fun people!! I’m smiling like mad right now – reminiscing and looking at all of our photographs from this trip!

So, what did we think of the trip?

We loved that there was lots of exploring and adventures. To traverse a country as vast as Scotland, there was, of course, travel time spent on the bus. But even on long travel days, stops were scheduled quite frequently and we were able to at least get off for a quick ramble and stretch our legs. I think we went on a (long) walk pretty much every single day – even when it was blustery and pouring rain (We’re from Raincouver, so we enjoy a good walk in the rain!) The scenery and landscape was amazing – from the mountains to the waterfalls to the beaches – yup, I said beaches!

Look at that water!

There were some things that could be improved upon – the route was a bit circuitous and there was some unnecessary (to us – but necessary for operations) doubling back. It seems like this was common feedback from previous groups. While we were on our trip, we were told that HAGGiS Adventures was planning to change the route for the 2016 year so that it would flow a bit better. So it’s nice to see that they take feedback from previous groups and are working to improve things for future guests!

Over the next couple of weeks, we will share our trip and experiences with you all. We hope that our posts and reviews will be helpful for independent travelers trying to decide where in Scotland to visit and what attractions to see, as well as for those considering taking a guided tour of Scotland – such as the HAGGiS Adventures trip that we went on.

~~~~~

We will make a note here that we paid for this trip ourselves and did not receive any compensation for writing about our experience. Our blog posts and reviews are of our own experience in October 2015 (better late than never?!) and are our honest opinions.

~~~~~

Here’s the Compass Buster tour description from the HAGGiS Adventures website:

“Think you can take 10 days of it? All the creepy castles, all the crazy history and all the eye bursting beauty? Yes? Then be brave and do the Compass Buster. It spans Scotland from pub to mountain, from beach to monster and all the best bits in-between. And if that wasn’t enough, you get to absorb a ton of knowledge from our legendary guides. So be bold, be smart and take our most complete tour of Scotland.”

The current trip route has changed from when we went but I think most of the locations and stops are still the same. One thing about this trip that was different from our All Ireland Rocker trip was the structure of the trip. The Ireland trip had more of a set itinerary for each day. This Compass Buster trip was less structured and depending on the driver/guide, the places you visit might be in a different order or you might visit a completely different place compared to the group going on the same trip a week after you!

This 10-day tour was a pretty complete tour of Scotland – taking us from Edinburgh out to the Hebrides, then up north to the Orkneys, back through Loch Ness, then out west to Oban and back to Edinburgh. Of course, there were some places that we didn’t stop at or didn’t spend a lot of time in, but at least now we know where we want to go when we plan our next trip to Scotland!

Here was the itinerary for our 10 day trip:

Day 1: Edinburgh → Dunkeld → Corrieshalloch Gorge and the Falls of Mesach → Ardmair → Ullapool → Stornoway (Overnight)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 2: Stornoway → The Butt of Lewis → Gearrannan Blackhouses → Dun Carloway Broch → Callanish Standing Stones → Stornoway (Overnight)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 3: Stornoway → Isle of Harris and Beaches! → Tarbert → Portree (Overnight)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 4: Portree → Fairy Pools → Eilean Donan Castle → Inverness (Overnight)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 5: Inverness → Duncansby Head → John O’Groats → Tomb of the Eagles → Italian Chapel → Kirkwall (Overnight)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 6: Kirkwall → Skara Brae → Ring of Brodgar Standing Stones → Yesnaby → Kirkwall (Overnight)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 7: Kirkwall → Invermoriston → Loch Ness → Fort Augustus (Overnight)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 8: Fort Augustus → Glenmoriston → Eilean Donan Castle (repeat) → Old Man of Storr → Portree (repeat) → Kyleakin (Overnight)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 9: Kyleakin → Armadale → Mallaig → HOGWARTS! → Glencoe → Oban (Overnight)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 10: Oban → Doune Castle → The Kelpies → Edinburgh

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We can’t wait to share our stories and photographs with you all! Stay tuned for Day 1 of our Scotland adventures coming up soon!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

LettersofWanderlust3


© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

Shamrocker Adventures – 7 Days All Ireland Rocker

Our latest blog post was a review of the 7 days we spent wandering and exploring the beautiful country of Ireland with Shamrocker Adventures and some of our thoughts on the trip.

We also wanted to share some of our favourite moments and highlights from our All Ireland Rocker 7 days tour. We hope you enjoy our photographs and highlights. And perhaps this will help you when deciding the locations that you want to visit and the experiences you want to have whilst in Ireland.

~~~~~

Day 1: Dublin → Belfast → The Dark Hedges → Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge → Ballintoy

Highlight of the Day: One of the most memorable part of the day was the Belfast Black Cab Tour. Since we had a large group, we shared 3 cabs and got to hear from 3 different driver guides. We had driver guides from the Unionist and Nationalist sides and thus they were able to share with us the history and 2 different perspectives of the Conflicts. Although they may have different views, all three driver guides shared the same feeling and message of hope.

Overnight in Ballintoy: One of our favourite places – quaint town, beautiful scenery, lovely walks and friendly locals. We also thought it was a great start to the tour since being in a small town really gave us the chance to get to know our group mates. There are 2 pubs in town, a handful of restaurants and a hostel – Sheep Island View Hostel, which we stayed at. We slept in large hostel rooms with many roomies – so it was a good opportunity to bond and make new friends and future travel buddies! You couldn’t NOT meet new friends!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 2: Ballintoy → Giant’s Causeway → Derry

Highlight of the Day: The highlight of Day 2 was Giant’s Causeway – without a doubt! Admission was already included in the price of our 7 day tour, so we didn’t have to worry about getting tickets or waiting in line. An audio-guide was also included and provided a good background on this UNESCO World Heritage Site and the myths and legends surrounding it. We loved exploring the area and the clifftop walk we went on gave us sweeping views of the Antrim coast and the fascinating basalt columns. A definite must-see in Northern Ireland!

Overnight in Derry: It was nice to stay in a Travelodge hotel room for a change – a bit of a luxury after living the hostel life for the past couple of days! Especially having a comfy hotel bed each and a bathroom all to ourselves – made for a very nice sleep and stay here!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 3: Derry → Westport → Croagh Patrick → Galway!

Highlight of the Day: We took in quite a few sights as we made our way from Derry in Northern Ireland to Galway in the Republic of Ireland. I think the highlight of the day was learning more about Irish history, culture and literature. I think I’m a bit of a geek this way – instead of just seeing something and snapping a photograph, I like to learn the history, the what’s, the how’s and the what happened’s. We saw Ben Bulben, which was a great source of inspiration for W.B. Yeats. After spending some time in Yeats Country, it was easy to see why he loved this area. We also heard many Irish stories, myths and legends – from faeries to the Pirate Queen of Clew Bay. We learned about the role of religion in Ireland and St. Patrick. We also learned about the Great Famine, how it changed the course of history and spent some time reflecting at the National Famine Memorial.

Overnight in Galway: See next day!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 4: Galway → Inis Mór → Dun Aonghasa → Galway!!

Highlight of the Day:

Natalie: We had such an amazing time visiting Inis Mór. We lucked out with a beautiful day – blue skies and all! My highlight was biking around the island with our group. Our guide even took us to the world famous “Worm Hole” – which has hosted the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series twice! This little spot is not very well marked from the main road and I know I wouldn’t be able to find it on my own. There was a bit of scrambling and climbing over rocks to get there but… Wow, was it ever worth it! The views from there were stunning – crashing waves, sheer cliffs and the ocean stretching out into the horizon. I almost think this experience was better than the Cliffs of Moher… It was certainly less crowded and allowed for some time to just sit and stare off into the ocean.

Ioana: Also, remember if you don’t bike, you can take a more intimate tour of part of the island on horseback! This was my favourite part of the day and it let me experience Inis Mór in a different way! I made a couple new animal friends and learned a new skill all in one day!

Overnight in Galway: Galway is a great location to set up your basecamp for exploring the Western part of Ireland and for taking in the dramatic scenery here. From Galway, you can easily get to the Cliffs of Moher, the Aran Islands and Connemara, just to name a few famous attractions on the west coast. Besides adventures in the great outdoors, Galway is also a fun city to explore – with shops, claddagh ring and jewellery shops, restaurants, dancing, music and pubs. We were told it is a fun city because it is a “student town.” But I think that’s only part of it – Galway is just a really friendly, lively and vibrant city, with a mix of locals, tourists and students all enjoying it!

We stayed in Galway for 2 nights at the Kinlay Hostel Galway. It was a large hostel, clean and had good facilities – such as the common rooms and spiffy Apple iMacs. It was also very close to Shop Street and all the pubs – which made it easy to get home after having a grand night 😉

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 5: Galway → Cliffs of Moher → Ennis

Highlight of the Day:

Ioana: The Cliffs of Moher was what I had been waiting for all along! Arriving at our destination we, again, didn’t have to pay for our entrance as it was included in our tour. This made it very easy for us to get in and start exploring. Needless to say, it was amazing! The grandeur and beauty of the views we saw was too marvelous to explain in words! It didn’t matter which any angle you looked at the Cliffs from, you always got a picture worthy shot. For me, this was probably my favourite part of the entire trip and although this was a very touristy destination, the sheer magnitude of these cliffs made me want to return again! This is a definite “must-visit” site on your tour of Ireland.

Overnight in Ennis: We stayed at the Rowan Tree Hostel in Ennis – we got a lovely large room and lots of space to move around in. After a nice group dinner at the Rowan Tree Cafe Bar, we headed over to the Knox Pub for some traditional Irish music! County Clare is known for its abundance of traditional Irish music spots, and the Knox Pub was it that night! Another definite “go-to” spot when visiting Ennis. After a couple pints, we even learned a bit of Irish dancing – which may or may not have been a success, but was definitely worth a few good laughs and good memories!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 6: Ennis →  the town of Dingle → Dingle Peninsula and the Slea Head Drive → Killarney

Highlight of the Day:

I’ll just let this video show you the highlight of our day!

Overnight in Killarney: In Killarney, we stayed at the Neptune’s Killarney Hostel. It was a nice place to catch a couple hours of sleep after one last grand night out at the Grand! ( <– Just realized what I did there unintentionally and I’m going to leave it that way now!)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 7: Killarney → Blarney Castle → Rock of Cashel → Dublin

Highlight of the Day: On the last day of our tour, we topped it off with a visit to Blarney Castle and an attempt at receiving the Gift of the Gab by kissing the Blarney Stone! Blarney Castle was an “Optional Extra” that we paid for ahead of time, when we booked our trip. Blarney Castle is much more than just the stone, however! Kissing the Blarney stone, hanging upside down from a tower might I add, was definitely the highlight of that day but there are many other sights to see! Give yourself plenty of time to explore Blarney Castle and its beautiful grounds, gardens and waterfalls!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The last day of our All Ireland Rocker 7 Days Tour flew by as we made our way back to Dublin and said goodbye to our new friends! 😦

~~~~~

We truly had a great time on this tour and this experience was priceless. We met a really fun group of people on this tour and made some new friends that we still keep in touch with! It is really true that the people you travel with can make or break your trip – especially on a group tour like this where you are together pretty much 24/7.

This tour gave us a glimpse of the beautiful Emerald Isle and gave us some ideas for what to see and which places to add to our must-see list for our next trip to Ireland! Do you have anything that we need to add to our Ireland bucket list? Let us know below!

Hopefully our posts and reviews on our All Ireland Rocker 7 days tour have been helpful for you in deciding where in Ireland to visit, what sights to see and whether taking a guided tour of Ireland – such as the Shamrocker Adventures trip that we went on, might work for you.

Next up: Edinburgh! Stay tuned!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

LettersofWanderlust3


© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

Shamrocker Adventures’ All Ireland Rocker – Final Thoughts and Review

Last September, we went on a guided tour of Ireland – Shamrocker Adventures – 7 Days All Ireland Rocker Tour. We chose it because it sounded amazingly fun, had good reviews and we wanted to learn about and see as much of Ireland as possible, with our limited vacation time and budget!

We loved this trip and are really glad we went with this choice! Here are the details of the trip we went on and also our review and thoughts! Hopefully this will help you if you are thinking about doing a similar trip!

~~~~~

Dates:
– September 19 – September 25, 2015
– 7 days, 6 nights

Thoughts: Definitely not enough to fully explore Ireland but we felt it was just enough to visit all the major sights, enough to get a feel for Ireland and enough to get a sense of the places we would like to return to in the future!

~~~~~

Included:
– Tour guide/s and driver/s
– Transportation on a coach bus
– 6 nights accommodations: at hostels, save one night at a hotel (Travelodge) in Derry.
– 6 breakfasts
– Admission fees to Giant’s Causeway and Cliffs of Moher
– Bus and ferry ride to/from Inis Mór

Thoughts: It was really nice to have all of these expenses included in the price of the tour. It allowed us to budget better and have a better idea of how much money we would need whilst in Ireland. We also were able to pay this off ahead of time, giving us and our wallets some peace of mind, instead of having to paying the exchange rate and international bank fees or coming home to a huge credit card bill! We also didn’t have to worry about paying for admission fees or waiting in line to purchase tickets for Giant’s Causeway or Cliffs of Moher, which was really convenient.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

~~~~~

Pricing:
– In January 2015, priced at $789 CAD
– We booked with a 15% early booking discount, so we ended up paying $670.65 CAD for our tour
– Current pricing as of July 2016 is $929 CAD

Thoughts: We thought we got a really good deal, considering what was included in the price! It worked out to almost $100 CAD per day, which we thought was reasonable since it included accommodations, transportation, tour guide and driver, various sights and admission fees and most importantly – the EXPERIENCE! We thought our experience was DEFINITELY worth the price that we paid!

Current pricing has gone up, compared to when we went last year. However, Shamrocker Adventures always has deals and promotions that you can take advantage of, in order to bring your cost lower. We took advantage of a 15% Early Bird discount for our trip last year. Right now, there is a 10% discount for all trips in August and September 2016. As well, check out this page for 3 other ways to save:

  • the multi trip deal (get 10% off your total when you book 2 or more qualifying trips with Shamrocker Adventures, Haggis Adventures or Busabout)
  • special discount for students, which you CAN combine with the other two deals here!! 
  • special discount if you gather 3 or more friends to go on a grand adventure with you! 

*The above info was gathered in July 2016 when we wrote the article. Check out the websites above for updated details and discounts.

~~~~~

Extras we opted in for:
– Blarney Castle – $20 CAD (Current pricing: $22 CAD)
– We did opt in for the Black Cab Tour in Belfast and the Derry Walking Tour. We signed up and paid for these when we checked in on the first day in Dublin. Unfortunately, we can’t remember exactly how much we paid, but it might have been around 15 Euros?!
– Current pricing for the Belfast Black Cab Tour is $25 CAD and the Derry Walking Tour is $9 CAD.

Thoughts: It was nice that there were some optional activities – which allows you to choose another activity if the suggested one doesn’t appeal to you. For example, we opted for the Black Cab Tour in Belfast to learn more about the history of the city. Some of our group mates opted to make their own way to Titanic Belfast to learn more about the Titanic instead.  

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

~~~~~

Not included:
– Admission fee to Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
– Admission fee Dunluce Castle (probably not enough time to fully enjoy it for the short period of time that our group stopped here)
– Activities on Inis Mór (for example: bike rental or horseback riding or pony and cart tour or bus up to Dún Aonghasa)
– Lunch, dinner and snacks
– Drinks
– Souvenirs and extras

Thoughts: What we (and many of our group mates) liked about a tour like this, is the freedom to choose some of your own activities and meals! If you don’t want to do anything else on Inis Mór besides sitting by the harbour to enjoy the view, you can. If you want to save money by cooking your own meals at the hostel, you can. On the other hand, if you don’t want to cook, you can opt to eat out at a restaurant. Our guides had lots of recommendations and were very knowledgeable about all the places we stopped in. Our guides even organized dinners and our own “pub crawl” for us.  You are free to partake in these or do you own thing – whatever you want! We liked that you could “personalize” your trip, according to your own preferences! 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

~~~~~

Final Thoughts:

We would definitely recommend this tour!

We liked the itinerary of this tour and thought it was very well planned. The trip followed a logical loop around Ireland and there was no backtracking or repeating places that we had already seen. Of course, we would have liked more time in some places to explore further but at least this trip gave us an idea of what cities, towns and sights we want to see on our next trip to Ireland!

We visited the major cities and attractions of Ireland and Northern Ireland, like Belfast, Giant’s Causeway, the Cliffs of Moher, Inis Mór, Galway and the Dingle Peninsula. But we also stopped at smaller, quaint places, like Ballintoy, Westport and Ennis. So we felt we got a feel of Ireland, and not just the big cities!

These tours are geared towards the 18 – 35 year old crowd, with its activities and accommodations. But that’s not to say that if you are over 35 that you are not welcome! Some of our group mates were over 35 and I think we all had a good time together!

One thing we didn’t know ahead of time, was that there would be people joining and leaving the tour midway. On the 4th day, we had a new group and tour guide join us. We had all thought everyone on our tour would be together for the whole 7 days, but some left after 5 days. We also lost our first guide and driver on the 5th day, with the other tour guide taking over. Everything worked out well in the end, but we missed our friends who left on day 5 and there was an obvious divide between the two groups. Our first guide even made all of us promise to be nice to the new group… not sure what he thought we would do! But all in all, we thought it was ok and understood why they needed to do this.

There is quite a bit of “adventures and exploring!” We were walking every single day – scrambling up and down hills, jumping over rocks and hiking up and down stairs. So we would recommend bringing some sturdy runners or hiking shoes. Of course, there are always alternatives if you’re feeling tired or if adventures and exploring is not your cup of tea. For attractions like the Cliffs of Moher, Inis Mór and Giant’s Causeway, you are given free time to spend as you choose. While we were on Inis Mór, I went along with our guide for an epic island bike ride and adventure, while Ioana explored the island on horseback. At the Cliffs of Moher, we chose to take a long walk around the cliffs, but there is always the option to stay in the visitor centre or to sit on the benches outside and enjoy the fresh air and scenery. At Giant’s Causeway, you could take the clifftop walk to the Amphitheatre, or you might take the shuttle bus down to see the spectacular basalt columns making up the causeway. So, even if you prefer to look at the scenery from afar or through the bus window instead of trekking through it, we think you can still enjoy this tour!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Overall, we give the All Ireland Rocker 7 days tour that we went on: 10 sheep out of 10!

Google's Sheep  Google's Sheep Google's Sheep  Google's Sheep Google's Sheep Google's Sheep Google's Sheep Google's Sheep Google's Sheep Google's Sheep

We had a blast exploring Ireland and Northern Ireland! We learned a lot about its history, its stunning geology and landscapes, and heard some fascinating stories, literature, myths and legends. We took some great photographs and had an amazing experience. We also made new friends that we still keep in touch with – thank you Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram!

Check out this next post for a recap of our trip and our favourite moments and highlights!

Have you been on this trip before? Or another guided trip like this? How did you find it? Let us know below!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

LettersofWanderlust3


© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

Shamrocker All Ireland Rocker Day 7: Blarney Castle

After six amazing days on the road with our All Ireland Rocker tour, we had finally reached the last day and County Cork!

Day 7 started by leaving Killarney and all of its fun behind us – so we can go find the Gift of the Gab at Blarney Castle.

Blarney Castle, County Cork

I was so excited to finally go exploring in an Irish Castle!


Blarney Castle is a medieval stronghold near County Cork. It’s still quite well preserved and was one of my favourite places to visit on the tour. Lucky for us, the entrance fee for Blarney Castle was an optional “add-on” activity that we had purchased ahead of time when we booked our Shamrocker tour. So we didn’t have to pay or stand in line to purchase tickets. If you are travelling without a tour, tickets are €12.50 if you order them online! (FYI – the cost was $20CAD when we purchased our tour.)

Its height and stone walls were magnificent and our Irish luck continued – giving us a gorgeous sunny day to explore the castle and its grounds!

image

image

As mentioned earlier, we were here to gain the Gift of the Gab. Similar to every other location we visited in Ireland, Blarney Castle was not an exception when it came to myth, folklore and fascinating stories.

image

The most famous being the Blarney Stone, of course. The Blarney Stone is set into a wall below the Battlements, and it has a most unique tradition attributed to it.

There are many different versions as to the story related to the Blarney Stone.

“Some say it was Jacob’s Pillow, brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah. Here it became the Lia Fail or ‘Fatal Stone’, used as an oracular throne of Irish kings – a kind of Harry Potter-like ‘sorting hat’ for kings. It was also said to be the deathbed pillow of St Columba on the island of Iona. Legend says it was then removed to mainland Scotland, where it served as the prophetic power of royal succession, the Stone of Destiny.

When Cormac MacCarthy, King of Munster, sent five thousand men to support Robert the Bruce in his defeat of the English at Bannockburn in 1314, a portion of the historic Stone was given by the Scots in gratitude – and returned to Ireland.” – Blarney Castle

What the people in the region believe is, of course, more mythical:

“Whatever the truth of its origin, we believe a witch saved from drowning revealed its power to the MacCarthys.” – Blarney Castle

image

image

image

Can you spot the person lying down to kiss the Blarney Stone?

After climbing up some very steep steps, with very narrow corridors, we finally arrived at the top of the Battlements.

Along the way, as you walk up, there are several rooms in their original states that give you a glimpse of what life may have been like in medieval Ireland!

 

 

Once we reached the top, we watched as other people gained the Gift of the Gab and got excited for our experience… There can be quite a wait, so be prepared and make sure you leave enough time to explore the rest of the castle and grounds!

image

We also couldn’t help continuing our “gazing off into the distance” tradition while we waited!

image

image

In order to gain the Gift of the Gab, there is an interesting tradition to kissing the stone, as you can see below…

“Once upon a time, visitors had to be held by the ankles and lowered head first over the battlements. Today, we are rather more cautious of the safety of our visitors. The Stone itself is still set in the wall below the battlements. To kiss it, one has to lean backwards (holding on to an iron railing) from the parapet walk. The prize is a real one as once kissed the stone bestows the gift of eloquence.” – Blarney Castle

Thank goodness we didn’t get held by the ankles! But, it was still exciting to be held upside down as you kiss a stone that tons of people had been kissing for centuries!!!

image

image

The view from the top of the tower gave us a chance to see just how extensive the grounds of Blarney Castle were!

image

Once we reached the bottom, we decided to explore the rest of the grounds with what little time we had left!

We had two choices of garden – which we, obviously, chose to go in the direction of the Poison Garden ;).

image

There were many interesting plants that we were warned to not “Touch, Eat or Smell any plant!”

For any Harry Potter fans out there, the garden actually had a European mandrake! You can pretend you are in Herbology and imagine pulling out a screeching mandrake!!! 🙂
image

Walking along, we just kept getting amazed by the amazing nature surrounding us. We were more than a little fascinated by this tree and its gigantic limbs!
image

We also happened to stumble upon a waterfall in a secluded Fern Garden and Waterfall!!! It was so beautiful and peaceful, if you have time to just sit and enjoy nature while you visit, this is the place to do so.
image

image

Walking along, we stumbled upon Blarney House. This is the ancient seat of the MacCarthy’s of Muskerry. The house is still inhabited and at times open to the public, but it was closed when we visited.
image

image

Since the area was so quiet, we figured we should claim the house for our own and again continued our tradition of taking pictures with epic doorways!
image

image

We continued walking and found more gardens! They just kept getting more and more beautiful as we walked along!
image

Sadly we didn’t spot any Leprechauns, but we were quite convinced they lived in this magical area!

image

While walking around, we also came across what our friend called an Igloo for the Canadians! We had to take a picture in it, since clearly it reminded us of home! A little piece of Canada in Ireland ;).


After wandering for a bit, we finally made it to the Wishing Steps! It is said that the Witch constantly uses wood from the Grounds for herself and as a result she must grant wishes to her visitors!

image

In order for the Witch to grant your wish, you must walk down the steps backwards (some even say with your eyes closed) while only thinking of the wish you want granted. If you can do that, then it is guaranteed that your wish will come true! Of course, it’s easier said than done…image

This area is also home to the Witch’s Kitchen, Sacrificial Altar and Waterfalls! We won’t spoil all the stories for you, so you will just have to go and find out more about these ones on your own ;).

image

Continuing our walk, we came upon our first STANDING STONES of the trip – The Seven Sisters!!! I was more than a little bit excited, because of COURSE I had watched Outlander and figured this was my first chance at finding the stone that would take me back in time and to Jamie Fraser (YES, wrong country, but, I had to try).

To know the story behind these stones, you will have to visit Blarney Castle yourself!

image

image

Blarney Castle, County Cork

After attempting to find Jamie Fraser, we had to take our leave from Blarney Castle – without having seen everything on the grounds! There are so many more parts of the grounds that we didn’t have a chance to explore, so we will definitely be returning to Blarney Castle and County Cork in the future!

If you want more information and to plan your own visit to Blarney Castle, you can do so here.

After grabbing a quick lunch and some souvenirs from the extensive Blarney Castle gift shop, we got back on the bus and started our journey back to Dublin :(.

~~~~~

On our way back, Gillian continued to point out historic sites and we made one last stop at the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary.

We first stopped at the side of the road, to catch a glimpse of it.
image

“The Rock of Cashel was the traditional seat of the kings of Munster for several hundred years prior to the Norman invasion. In 1101, the King of Munster, Muirchertach Ua Briain, donated his fortress on the Rock to the Church. The picturesque complex has a character of its own and is one of the most remarkable collections of Celtic art and medieval architecture to be found anywhere in Europe. Few remnants of the early structures survive; the majority of buildings on the current site date from the 12th and 13th centuries.” – Wikipedia

And then we made a stop at a carpark near the bottom of the Rock of Cashel, where we could stretch our legs and explore a wee bit. Unfortunately for us, the structure was being restored at the time and we didn’t have enough time to actually go up and visit the Rock of Cashel. We did manage to wander down a road and catch another angle of the Rock of Cashel – the side without any evidence of construction!

Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary

If you want to find more information about the Rock of Cashel, you can do so here.

~~~~~

Near the carpark, we came across the Brú Ború sculpture. This amazing sculpture represents the traditional music, song and dance that is attributed to Brú Ború, the Irish Cultural Movement. The fluidity of the sculpture is amazing and definitely encompasses the passion that the Irish have for song and dance!
image

Of course we tried to recreate the sculpture ourselves. It turned out much better than I thought it would!

The Brú Ború Dancers, County Tipperary

Unfortunately, quickly after this short stop, our Shamrocker All Ireland Rocker tour ended :(. We arrived back in Dublin and had to say goodbye to Gillian and many of our new friends – although we would reunite with one of our new friends in Edinburgh on our Haggis Adventures tour!

~~~~~

It was a whirlwind of a tour! Having hiked, walked, taken 1000’s of pictures and seen so many beautiful sights, we were lucky to have been part of such an amazing tour group with some pretty amazing tour guides!

We found a new love for Ireland! We left part of our souls in the Atlantic in Coumeenole, so we know we will be returning to this amazing country that is filled with such vibrant culture, rich traditions and mythical stories sooner rather than later!

Stay tuned for more of our adventures from last year with our next stop: Scotland!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie
LettersofWanderlust3


© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!