Saturday, April 25, 2015

Running an Aran.

On paper, everything about our plans for Tuesday looked like the makings of a fiasco: Get up early. Drive an hour to Ireland's western coast. Take a ferry to the remote Aran Island of Inishmore. Then bike around the island's dirt roads.

First up, so far, we hadn't been doing a good job waking up before 10am each morning. Second, the weather had been cold and touch and go since we arrived. Third, Sarah does own a bike, but it's been sitting in our garage with flat tires... since I met her. That should give you a good idea of how big of bikers we are.

As we struggled through the morning routine, I had my doubts. As we raced to catch a ferry we thought we were going to miss, I also had my doubts. And, as we rode the choppy waters across to Inishmore, Sarah struggling against her tendency toward sea sickness, I really had my doubts.

While Sarah struggled to not let the rolling waves get to her, the kids struggled to work through their sticker books.

But... as so as we had our bikes and were on our way, I realized this day was going to be amazing.

The Aran Islands are everything you'd expect from Irish costal islands: Remote and windswept, with the omnipresent threat of a storm blowing in at any moment. Almost without trees, the island seems to be a simple patchwork of cattle and sheep pastures, framed in with high, rough-hew rock walls. Simple farm houses are scattered sparsely around, and the few cars that would pass us were usually small tourist buses. In many ways, it reminded me of Isla Del Sol, on Lake Titicaca.

Some of the rock walls that line the islands. Impressive in their size and construction. 

Some of the rugged coastline of the Aran Islands.  

Distant farmhouses, across the stone strew plains. Real "edge-of-the-world" stuff.

To get around, we rented two bikes. My bike was a "tag along bike," which was basically a bike with a smaller half-bike attached that Stella could ride on. Meanwhile, Sarah's bike had a buggy attached to the back of it for Otto to ride in. I'd sort of expected that it would take us some time to get up to speed, but -surprisingly- we were up and on our way quickly, making our way down Aran Island's winding, windy, gravel roads almost immediately.
Stella and I on our bike. Since she still rides with training wheels, I was pretty convinced that it would be a struggle to ride with her on back, but she did amazing, and it ended up being a great chance to bond with her.

While biking, there actually wasn't much in the way of distinct destinations, instead if was more a matter of biking along, appreciating the rough coastline, with it's clouds rolling overhead; and imagining what it must have been like for generations of people living out on this distant corner of the world.

At the far end of the loop at most bicyclists followed was a small string of craft shops, a small café and -down a short road- the entrance to Dun Aengus. Dun Aengus is a pre-historic fort, consisting of a number of concentric stone walls perched atop of vertigo inducing cliffs. To reach the for itself you walk across a desolate stone plane and then pass through an entrance in the first wall.

The fort entrance (though looking out, from inside the fort).

The location itself is stunning and beautiful. But, if you have a rebellious 3-year-old who is stubborn enough to literally jump off a cliff to prove he should get his own way... well, it's also a little anxiety inducing. Still, we explored the grounds and appreciated the feeling of being on the very edge of the world.
Stella strikes a pose, near the cliffs edge. 

The cliff's that we hoped Otto wouldn't dive off of. 

Leaning into the wind. 

A rare family photo... though, as would become a reoccurring trend, Otto refused to look at the camera out of stubborn rebellion. (Thus our cliff-diving fears.)

Returning to our bikes, we headed back to the small town that surrounded the ferry landing. While waiting for our return trip, we bought a couple of wool sweaters (and stuffed animal friends) and had a surprisingly good plate of fish and chips.
Otto and his new stuff sheep, which he named... wait for it... Otto.

That evening, when we returned to Jody and Sandeep's house, we had dinner with them and their neighbor, Raychel, who was an easy going and entertaining lady (and who made a great nettle soup). But, Sarah and I both found ourselves fighting an uphill battle against the fatigue of biking all day and had to retire earlier than we would have liked.

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