A Journey To The Isles

Dolbadarn Castle in Wales

As I mentioned in the posts I scheduled while I was gone, I spent 12 days on a combination vacation / pilgrimage to England, Wales and Ireland.  I really need another day to recover from the travel and catch up from being away from home for two weeks, but it’s time to get back into the regular flow of things.

While this is a religious blog, and while I intend to write several posts related to the religious and spiritual aspects of this trip, I’m going to start with a description of the ordinary travels.  Our destinations were inspiring, educational, and at times just plain fun, but there’s something to be learned from the journey too.  So here goes.

We had a traveling party of five.  In addition to Cathy and me, Cynthia, Michi and Lee from Denton CUUPS went along, and Cynthia was the primary trip planner (thanks Cyn!).  Unlike the 2012 trip where it was nine Methodists and one UU Pagan, this time it was four Pagans and one open-minded Christian.  We had all been to England before, but it was my first trip to Ireland.

From the Petrie Museum. Notice the pattern.

We flew from DFW to London Heathrow, arriving about 9:30 AM British time.  Getting out of Heathrow was surprisingly easy.  After two train rides and a 15-minute walk with luggage, we checked into our hotel and went back out for lunch.  We had less than a day in London – by design – and we used our sightseeing time on the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archeology.  It’s a small museum on the campus of University College London.  It has nothing big, but it does have case after case of small items ranging from the Ptolemaic period all the way back to the Predynastic period.

The second day found us running after a train in Paddington Station.  The platform was late being posted and by the time we got there it was about to leave.  We got separated and by the time we got settled Cyn and I didn’t know if the others had made the train or not.  Thankfully, they had.

the Roman Baths

After we got settled into Bristol we took the train down to Bath.  Bath is a tourist town but the Roman Baths are marvelous.  Some parts have been restored and some haven’t, but it’s all amazing to see.  The baths themselves are no longer considered safe to use – partially due to lead pipes, but also because bacteria can grow in the warm waters.  There’s a modern spa nearby that purifies the water for bathing – when we were there the line for it was over an hour long.

The next day was three trains, to Birmingham, to Chester, then on to Bangor in Wales, where we met Kristoffer Hughes of the Anglesey Druid Order.  Kris showed us two castles on the mainland, the largest of which (Caernarfon) is still an active part of the town.  Get away from the sea and the sense of quiet is something I haven’t experienced since I was very young.  Unfortunately, the skies were overcast and we couldn’t see much of Mount Snowdon, but we felt its presence.  Cynthia and I poured libations as we went, but this was the first place where I felt like the spirits of the land acknowledged our presence.

Anglesey Gorsedd Circle

I was expecting to see ancient monuments and other stone structures on Anglesey.  I wasn’t expecting to see a stone circle in what amounts to the back yard of our hotel.  The Anglesey Gorsedd Circle is a modern construction, intended for bardic events but occasionally used by the local Druids.  We visited three ancient tombs, two churches (one still in operation), a sacred well, a sacred lake, and two mysterious standing stones that nobody can figure out what they were used for.

with Kristoffer Hughes at St. Seiriol’s Well

I can’t thank Kris enough for being so hospitable.  He showed us the places we wanted to see even though we didn’t know they were there.  And he was a constant reminder that while the Romans may have massacred the Druids on Anglesey in 61 CE, we’re still there.  This was the highlight of my trip and I’ll have at least one more detailed post on my experiences on Anglesey in the coming days.

From Wales we took a ferry across the Irish Sea to Dublin.  By that time we were getting physically run down, so we took most of the first day in Dublin as a rest day.  The second day we took a bus tour of the city.  We got off at Trinity College and saw the Book of Kells, a 1200 year old illustrated manuscript of the Christian gospels.  It would be beautiful if it was new – knowing that it was made in 800 CE was that much more impressive.  No photography was permitted at the display, but I was able to take pictures in the Old Library, which was pretty impressive itself.

Our one big travel glitch happened the next day.  We rented a car for the rest of our trip, but it developed mechanical problems before we could even get out of Dublin and we couldn’t get a replacement big enough for all of us and our luggage.  The rental agency offered us two smaller cars for the same price, but we didn’t like the idea of splitting up, so we replanned the trip on the fly and went on to Galway a day early.

Last-minute train tickets are quite expensive and when we got the price, the taxi driver who was taking us to the station offered to drive us to Galway for the same amount.  He got a good, easy run and we got to Galway a couple hours earlier and without the work of hauling luggage from taxi to train to another taxi.  With the exception of the mechanic at the rental car agency, everyone went out of their way to help us out with hotels, transportation, and other arrangements.

This meant we missed Rathcroghan and its sites sacred to Morrigan – that was the biggest disappointment of the trip.  On the other hand, there are worse things than being on vacation in Galway – it’s a fun place to eat, drink, and listen to music.  Perhaps we’ll see Rathcroghan on a future trip.

the Cliffs of Mohor

We found a reasonably priced bus tour of the Burren and the Cliffs of Mohor.  Coach tours aren’t my favorite way to see a country, but it was there, and while our driver was a good Catholic he was also a good bard.  The pictures of the cliffs aren’t as good as I had hoped – it’s hard to take pictures in a sleet storm driven by gale-force winds… which was followed by bright sun 15 minutes later.

We took the train back to Dublin – booked 3 days ahead of time, it cost 1/3 what it would have cost for same-day travel.  The travel day was mostly a rest day, then we took another bus tour to the Hill of Tara and to Newgrange.  Weather wasn’t particularly favorable (especially at Tara), but Newgrange is a special, magical place – I’ll have more on it later as well.

All good things must end, and Tuesday morning we were up early to catch our flight from Dublin to Heathrow.  While getting out of Heathrow when we first arrived was fairly easy, connecting through Heathrow on our way home was not.  We decided it was laid out on the model created by Dante for his Inferno.  But we had plenty of time and we made it through, then settled in for the long flight back to DFW.

And now it’s back to work, back to writing, back to regular spiritual practice (as opposed to irregular spiritual practice on the trip), back to where tea comes with ice and the problem isn’t too much rain, it’s too little.  A trip like this becomes an all-encompassing event – it’s going to take a while to process it all.  But a few experiences were particularly strong, and a few themes are starting to emerge.

Enough for at least another week of blog posts.

Newgrange

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About John Beckett

I’m a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I’m an ordained priest in the Universal Gnostic Fellowship. I’m the Coordinating Officer of the Denton, Texas Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. This year I’m also serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of CUUPS National. I’m a member of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

I write as a spiritual practice. It helps me organize my thoughts and work through ideas and concepts. It helps me evaluate my beliefs and practices against my core values and against what I know (or at least, what I think I know) to be true. It helps me interpret my experiences (religious and otherwise) in ways that are both meaningful and honest.

  • http://endlesserring.wordpress.com/ Treeshrew

    Sounds like a wonderful trip, I look forward to hearing more details!

  • Denise LeGendre

    Well, Treeshrew said it all… Can’t wait to hear more!

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    I look forward to your future posts on these places as well!

    You’ve named several places I know quite well: Bath, Newgrange, Tara, Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, and Dublin itself. While Trinity and the Book of Kells is nice, the National Museum is also fantastic, and all the better because it’s free, as it has some of my favorite things in Ireland in it: the Corleck Head, the Broighter Boat, the Ardagh Chalice, the Derrynaflan Chalice and Paten, St. Laisren’s arm, the Tara Brooch…and, a female Graeco-Egyptian mummy that I quite like, amongst other things! ;)

    One of my favorite places in London is the Walbrook Mithraeum; the London City Museum is also quite nice, as is the British Museum. Gosh, I miss it!

    Unfortunately, the only bit of Wales I’ve really seen is Aberystwyth, where the Celtic Congress was in ’03. I hope to get back there one day, and get to some of the other great sites in the U.K. in particular, and revisit some old favorites, too.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      So many places, so little time. I think I could spend a year just in London and still not see everything I want to see… and also bankrupt myself in the process! London has earned its reputation as one of the world’s most expensive cities. It is possible to spend less money, but that costs you more time.

      We saw the British Museum when we were there in 2007. We only had the time and energy for one London museum on this trip and decided to do the Petrie because none of us had seen it – I’m very glad we did. We intended to hit the National Museum of Ireland and didn’t, partially due to other priorities and partially due to running out of gas earlier than expected – we’re all a good bit older than the last time any of us were in the Isles and we just didn’t hold up as long.

      I won’t say we’re already planning our next trip, but we’ve given it some thought – maybe in two years, or maybe four, depending on finances and on whether it’s safe to visit a few more distance places in the near future.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      Another picture from the Petrie Museum. This is an offering tray. The display (not in this photo) dates it from around 2400 BCE.


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