Rathdrum to Roscrea to Kilkie:
With all the school holiday crowds at the campsite at Rathdrum in the Wicklow Mountains, we decided to move away from the mid east coast, heading back to the less populated west coast.
But the best was yet to come in County Wicklow. We stopped to see the ancient monastic centre at Glendalough in the lower reaches of the hills. The ruins of churches, stone fences and a round tower amid a graveyard still in use today nestled in a lush valley with a stream running through. We walked up to the first of the two lakes which supplied the early monks with their water supply and some of their food. Steep hills rose all around and we had some sun for a change which put a sparkle on the water and made the fields shine.
Driving higher and higher the trees gave way to scrubby vegetation, and one valley revealed the remains of medieval mining of copper, silver and tin. The Wicklow Pass brought us out to the landscape of the inland, quintessential postcard scenes of green farms, tumbledown stone farmhouses and winding roads.
In Roscrea we stopped - yet another castle but this one with a seventeenth century stately home and restored garden built in the castle courtyard. Again the remains of the castle were restored to original condition with all later additions removed. But we were still able to climb up 3 stories and poke into all the corridors and rooms. The house was kitted out with furniture of the era and we had a tour around the rooms inside.
That night our small campsite was part of a working dairy farm. No crowds or hordes of schoolkids on holiday here but we did enjoy the aroma of cows with our dinner.
On again to the west coast the next day brought us to Lough Derg, a long lake which is actually part of the River Shannon that runs out to sea past Limerick further to the south. The lake was beautiful, clear and calm, with sailboats and swimmers making the most of the intermittent sunshine. Another day, another castle, this one in Portumna at the northern end of the lake. The building was only partially restored but the kitchen garden behind high stone walls was a delight. It was set out according to the original plans and grew a marvellous range of fruits, vegetables, flowers in long raised beds.
We made it all the way to the most south westerly corner of County Clare to a campsite called Green Acres which advertised that it was friendly, clean and hygienic. It was none of those - not as bad as the campsite in Tramore, mind you, but fairly close...