After our more ambitious outing the day before, we arose on Wednesday with the plan of staying closer to our base camp, and give the kids a bit of a break from all the driving around. It was also a suitable break for Sarah and I, since we were both sore from doing more bicycling than either of us had in, well, years.
First off, we piled into the Skoda with Jody and the kids, and she took as too a nearby woods that she and Sandeep ran and walking in from time to time. The woods themselves were amazing in their lushness, covered in deep emerald moss that made you realize why green was Ireland's national color. Before heading out, Jody also told Stella and Otto that in the olden days the Irish believed their forests to be filled with fairies and other magical creatures. Both of the kids loved the idea and spent the majority of our walk shouting out that they had just scene a fairy, or speculating about whether or not a particular hold in a trunk or root bundle might be a fairy home.
Otherworldly beds of thick, green moss.
We then emerged from the woods at the lough's edge, and (while it was obvious that local teens probably used this as a place to hang out), the view of the lough itself was stunning, and gave us a sense of the surrounding countryside.
An always-rare picture of the whole family. Even more rare because Otto decided to actually face the camera... even if his tongue is out.
After dropping Jody off back at her place, we were on to Cong. We had actually passed through Cong two days previous when our Garmin had lead us to Ashford Castle through the back door, and -since our ultimate plan for the day was to show the kids the castle- we figured it would be a good chance to check out the quaint village too.
Cong itself is tiny. Really just one circle of streets, lined with pubs, shops and various plaques and shrines about the 1952 John Wayne movie, the Quiet Man. Neither Sarah nor I had ever heard of the movie before, but it had apparently been filmed in Cong; which is a fact that the village is still quite proud of to this day, commemorating it with not just a number of plaques, but a full sized bronze statue of John Wayne character a women who we can only presume is the female lead.
"A quiet place to rest and remember 'the Quiet Man.' Dedicated to all those who made this modern legend for the village of Cong."
After lunch in a pub, we set off to explore our way to the castle itself, which lay just outside Cong. First we wound through an abandoned church and grave yard, before crossing two bridges (and passing an old monk's fishing house) to the far side of the river. A short walk down a wooded trail, and then the path opened to a large, well-maintained grass field, with Ashford Castle on the far side of it.
The monk's fishing house. Apparently, there used to be a bell, that the monk would ring when he caught a fish, so that the people working the kitchen would know to get ready to cook.
Crossing the bridges, from Cong to the woods around Ashford Castle.
Now, one would presume that presenting two young children with an actual, real-life, honest-to-goodness castle might impress them and capture their imagination. I mean, Ashford Castle is a huge, sprawling buildings with a bridge spanning a moat-like river, huge gates, crenelated parapets and pretty much everything you'd want out of a castle, short of a dragon in the dungeon. You would think that it would be something noteworthy to a 6-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy. You would also be wrong.
Frankly, they were more interested in the grass field and adjacent helicopter landing pad.
Giant, sprawling castle that looks like something out of a fantasy film? Meh. Big-ass grass field? Woo-hoo!
Unfortunately, because Ashford Castle is still a functioning (and fancy) hotel, it's not just the type of place that a bunch of sweaty tourist can wander into with children in tow. So, instead we wandered the grounds a bit, until hunger drew us back toward Cong and it's cafes.
On the hike back, the kids were being annoying. Or, rather, I was being annoyed with the kids. They were both being sort of shout-y, and insisting on wrestling with each other. For my part, I was sort of barking at them, "Stella don't be so loud!" "Otto, don't roll through those bushes." "Quit fighting!"
Finally, Sarah -ever the beacon of reason in these situations- suggested: "You might want to try saying something to them that doesn't start with 'no' or 'don't." And, honestly, it was that little comment that allowed me to step back and look at them in a new light. Because, really, they were having fun, just not the type I had thought they should be having.
Wrestle-battle on the grass next to the road from Ashford Castle. Through the trees, you can still make out the once-in-lifetime castle viewing opportunity that they were completely disinterested in. But, at least they are enjoying themselves... I think.
After letting them play and wrestle a bit longer, it was back into Cong. There we were thwarted by having the two cafes already be closed, but were at least able to procure a scone for Otto to munch on, before driving back to Jody and Sandeep's house.
Back at their house, Sarah was pulled away to take care of some work related problems, and I was left to play with the children outside. And first, half bored, we tossed a football of Otto's around a bit; until we saw the sheep coming.
Jody and Sandeep's neighbor and another man were leading a small flock of sheep down the narrow street toward us. The kids watched, fascinated while the two men struggled to keep the sheep from ducking into the Bed & Breakfast's car lot, or from bolting back up the road the way they had just come. Finally, the neighbor's friend approached us and asked us if we could stand and block the driveway into the Bed & Breakfast (though, honestly, it took a moment for me to decipher his request through his thick accent).
The kid's were super excited. They were getting to help herd sheep! While the three of us stood in a line, as sort of human wall, the two men finally go the flock back together and coaxed them by us. It was fun watching both the kids, both excited and a little nervous watch the sheep flood past.
Helping to "herd" the sheep.
Watching the sheep continue off down the road.
More play time in the grass. This time, behind Jody and Sandeep's house.
With the sheep gone, the kids and I played in the backyard, enjoying the grass and setting sun, until Sarah was able to wrap up her business and then it was Date Night! Jody and Sandeep had offered to watch the kids for us, while we went out for a nice meal. So, on Jody's recommendation, we decided to try out the restaurant in the dungeon of Ashford Castle.
My lovely date, crossing the bridge to our first dinner in a castle.
Just getting into the restaurant was interesting, because it involved going to the hotel lobby, and then being effectively escorted down into the basement. The walk through the hotel was amazing though, with a sort of lushness and almost opulence that you rarely see in real life. We passed by a giant, chandeliered dinning area filled with empty table, save one family, and passed through a high-windowed hall in which two men sat, half-asleep, while a pianist played.
The restaurant itself was great too, living somewhere between elegance and kitsch. The menu itself was a mix of old and new (literally, the menu was divided into two sections), so while I got corned beef (I mean, when do you get to have fancy corned beef?), Sarah had lamb shank prepared in a more modern style. We also, owing partially to some ordering confusion (again, the accent tripped me up), ended up ordering a whole bottle of wine to split. All in all, it was an excellent meal.
After dinner, we considered popping in to a pub but -considering both the split bottle of wine and the previously mentioned narrow roads of Ireland- we decided best to get home again.