Exploring the Boyne Valley, Ireland

IMG_2178After 10 years, I finally made it back to Ireland. This trip reminded me that no matter how much you love a place, it’s not always possible to return as often as you would like.

When I moved home after studying abroad, I made traveling a priority and managed to visit 30 countries by the time I turned 30.

While some of those trips included exploring new places in countries I’d already visited, many were entirely new adventures. This return trip to Ireland was half old/half new, and the most amazing part was that I got to experience both aspects with my husband and favorite travel companion.

We flew round trip from Seattle to Dublin and spent our first day exploring the Boyne Valley in the Republic before heading north to Belfast.

I had never been through this area before–it was beautiful! While Ireland has a reputation for being green, this area is truly lush.

Our first stop was at Newgrange to see the the passage tombs. We didn’t have a set itinerary for this trip–we planned to drive along and see what we could see without being tied to a strict agenda. The obvious benefit to this approach is being open to experiences and unplanned events that are often the highlight of the trip.

The downside to this approach, at least for our stop at Newgrange, is that visiting the tombs requires a reserved ticket, which we did not have. The next available bus and tour were several hours away–if we wanted to stay, it would eat into our afternoon and I had hoped we would be able to see more of the Valley after our visit.

This stop was high on my list so we decided to forgo possible afternoon activities in order to see Newgrange. Luckily we didn’t have to figure out what to do in the meantime because there was another bus departing for Knowth, one of the other local passage tombs, and there were seats available!

I hadn’t originally planned on visiting Knowth, but I’m so glad it worked out because I really enjoyed that site. Whereas Newgrange is one giant and incredible tomb, Knowth is a series of smaller tombs. I loved looking at the engravings on the stone surrounding the mounds and couldn’t believe the grass covering them, since they’ve only been uncovered a short while.

We were able to go inside the largest tomb at Knowth as well as walk on top of it! After our visit the bus took us back to the visitor center where we grabbed a quick lunch before hopping on another bus to Newgrange.

Newgrange is completely different–it’s one huge tomb. Our group was split in two and our half got to go inside first. We followed a tiny, narrow tunnel back into the mound, which opened into a small cave with chambers on three sides. The entry has a small window above it that was designed specifically to allow the winter solstice sunrise to work it’s way up the tunnel and into the chamber!

During the winter solstice you can actually enter a lottery to go into the tomb during sunrise–for those of us who will likely never have that opportunity, they have set up a light so that once everyone is arranged along the sides of the chamber, the guide turns out all of the lights and allows the single light to recreate the experience. It was really neat, and I can see how the actual experience would be very moving. The engineering to build these tombs to take advantage of sunlight during the solstice so many years ago is absolutely incredible.

Here are a few photos from Knowth and Newgrange:

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We headed north through the Boyne Valley to the Hill of Slane, which I had a read about on a few other blogs. We were losing our sunlight, but it actually made for a beautiful drive through the valley and into the small town where we followed some small signs to the hill.

The drive to the top was steeper than I had imagined, but we made it to the top, parked and set off to explore our surroundings. The site has the remains of a monetary, church and graveyard, which were actually quite beautiful in the late afternoon light.

We weren’t alone–there was a family and another couple also exploring the area, but everyone seemed to be occupied with their own discoveries. We climbed to a second story turret in the monastery for a few overhead pictures back toward the church and graveyards, and we spent a while walking around the tombs, checking on dates and and names as we walked by.

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We spent some time on the road following our stop, making our way toward Belfast. We detoured east once we hit Northern Ireland and headed into the Mourne Mountains and toward the coast and Kilkeel. So different from the lush greenery of the Boyne Valley, the coastline was more rugged and barren, but absolutely beautiful.

I had originally hoped we would be able to hike in the mountains, but we reached the park entrance just as they were closing for the day. We headed back toward the coast and took the A2 north toward Newcastle. Just as we rounded into town the sky turned magenta, and we enjoyed the most breathtaking sunset. We pulled over and took a few pictures before packing up and finishing our drive to Belfast for the night.

Our loose itinerary meant missing the hike but visiting Knowth and witnessing one of the most incredible sunsets.

As is usually the case in Ireland, the road less traveled is often times the best.

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One thought on “Exploring the Boyne Valley, Ireland

  1. Pingback: A Day in Belfast, Ireland | Heather's Compass

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