Sun, rain, pearly light are the order of the day.
I get in a long, hard workout, and feel righteous. By the time I shower off the sweat and dress, it’s time for our hawk walk. My first experience with a hawk on my glove two years ago is one of my best memories. This new one will go down in the books, too.
BW opts to take photos, so it’s Jason, Kat and me for the hawks. You can hear the hawks talking as you walk down the path to the gate, and inside, they’re on their perches in their enclosures, watching, occasionally letting out a call. As our falconer Keelin tells us, the Harris Hawks we’ll take out are social birds, and relaxed enough a couple of them have a little stretch while we walk around.
She’s passionate about the hawks, and full of interesting information and funny anecdotes. It seems Ruan, the alpha female despises Dingle the big owl, and it’s her mission in life–for the past fourteen years–to murder him. He’s terrified of her. When she’s taken out, Keelin tells us, they put a board over Dingle’s enclosure to spare him the trauma.
We’re given our gloves, and they bring our hawks. I have Samhradh–his name means summer in Irish. He’s gorgeous, and sits on my glove studying me as if to say let’s see how this all goes.
Jason and Kat have Joyce, a good-sized female, and Stoker, another male. Sibs, two of four named for Irish writers. It’ll be a challenge we’re told to do three at once.
Out we go, and Samhradh immediately tries to fly, so I stop, wait for him to settle again as he’s tethered by the jessies. He’s raring to go. And once we’re on the clear path, Keelin unties the jessies, and they’re off.
Gorgeous, that golden brown spread of wings, the way they just glide without any visible effort. A bit of chicken on the glove, and my hawk glides back again–what a sight, what a feeling, to have that handsome bird fly straight at you, and land perfectly on the glove.
Joyce, I think it was, wasn’t so keen to come right back and had to be coaxed and called. But back she came. And when the three of them take off again, it’s amazing. Up into branches, down again. Joyce is definitely the queen, and decides at one point she wants my glove as it got baited first.
Keelin’s pleased with them as they’re flying together without squabbling, coming back well, or buzzing us–wings just passed my ear–when we’re not baited. At one point, both males–I think–landed on Kat. On the glove and just above–growling at each other over the bait.
I’ve never heard a bird growl–it’s deep and guttural and sounds like it means business. And hearing it, you believe the dinosaurs came from birds.
It drizzles a bit as we walk into the woods. And there you really see how graceful, how agile and quick they are, sweeping and dancing through the trees, swooping and gliding back to the glove. I like to think the hawks enjoyed this as much as we did. At one point Samhradh is so close we nearly nuzzle heads.
Keelin sneaks us bait a few time so we can all three lift gloves together. That’s a wonderful thing to see, three birds swooping together to each find their glove and take their reward. And you can clearly see how they hunt together.
When we go back, I know this is something I’ll have to do again.
It’s a drink and a bite for all of us in the tea room where it’s warm and dry. The sun comes out again to shine the lough.
Bruce and Jason are going to have a rest, but Kat and I decide to explore. It’s bright and cool out, and we choose the path toward the walled gardens, walk by the amazing trees, one so big she put me in the picture for scale and it looks like it must be CGI. Over the carpet garden, so tidy with its tender green and bold red begonias, big red dahlias, and through the stone tunnel into the walled garden. It’s like a little faerie land. Squat buildings of old stone, arbors where they’ve trained pear trees to spread, flowers blooming bright, veggies growing huge. Inside one of the buildings is a huge table topped with old, rough stone, and a kind of stone sink. I love to think they actually use this as I would.
Lamb’s ears and Black-eyed Susans, roses and hydrangeas and begonias, salvia, lobelia. The pretty pear trees and what I think may be crab apple or something like it. Enormous cabbage–red and green–cauliflower with the brain-like heads, tall onion greens, and lovely herbs. Corn! Almost dainty stalks of corn with full-sized cobs.
We walk on, down another path, near the water and to some sort of jetty where you can see the islands in the lake, much closer here. On where we spot swans feeding. Big white ones, smaller brown ones, sticking their heads into the water all the way to the end of those graceful necks.
We come to a yellow gate, consider, then try the path through the woods.
It’s a storybook. All those tall trees, some so slim and graceful, with a thick canopy that blocks the little shower of rain. Soft ground, tiny pine cones littering it, and green and gray shadows. Some trees and big limbs fallen and now blanketed with soft, green moss. Ivy crawling up trunks so thick they’re green-leafed all the way up.
We come out again not far from where we went in, a magical little stroll. Walk up a wide path bordered by giant pines, and round back toward the castle to climb in one of the stone towers that must have been part of the gate to look out the arrow slits at the water. Along the battlements and down again.
We end up at the far side of the castle, where they have the spa–and I remember sitting in that relaxation room having tea and reading.
We go in those doors, head up the stairs, climb up as Kat hopes to explore the tower here. A woman–head of housekeeping I think–asks if we need help. She shows us a tiny door, says it leads up, but she’d never go in herself. Spiders and bats. She’s surprised we’d like to, says it’s fine if we’re quick.
And in we go. Skinny tight-winding stone steps, lots of dust–no bats I saw–bits of rubble, then a tight little set of metal circular stairs. We head up there, Kat in the lead. She finds a door wide open to the roof, but that’s far enough. It’s like a tiny secret passage to the top.
And down again–carefully–where the helpful woman terms us very brave and offers to show us a couple of the rooms here newly refurbished. One is the haunted room, where many unexplained things happen regularly. It seems a lady hanged herself from the tiny balcony above the bed/sitting room long, long ago. Haunted or not, it’s just lovely. Beautifully done with the fabric on the walls, the views, the big bed, a pretty sofa by the windows.
The second room is just as pretty, and boasts a huge free-standing stone tub in the bath. You’d want to stay in there just for that.
Back to our rooms to freshen up a bit as it’s nearly eight and time to head down to Cong for dinner. BW’s got a little tickle in his throat now, and decides to drive in case it’s cold or rainy on the trip back. Kat keeps him company while Jason and I walk. It’s a beautiful evening, soft light, sun edging those layered clouds, and down to the village. I know the spot we’re after as BW and I ate there a time or two last visit.
It’s warm and cozy, and time for a nice glass of wine. The soup sounds good for a starter, and the fish and chips are never wrong. Not only does the soup sound good, it’s wonderful. A table in the corner fills up gradually as we eat. A big family, I think, or relations/friends meeting up for the evening. In the bar they have The Rose Of Tralee competition on for a bit, then switch to football.
The food’s lovely. Kat and BW both get some sort of crispy mushroom starter they’re both deem delicious. The waitress turns the RofT on in the restaurant part–I think as the big table (mostly women) want it.
By the time we’re done, I’m not sorry BW has the car. I’ll ride back with him, while Kat and Jason walk back in the cool night.
Into pjs, check mail and such while BW has the RofT on the bed TV. And the winner is Marie Walsh–we passed through her village here–it’s right on the border of Mayo and Galway–saw signs for her. Though she’s representing Philadelphia, she was raised here, and her proud parents live in the village still. Nice work, Marie!
Today we’ll see. It’s wonderfully sunny out right now, so Kat and BW will decide over breakfast what we’ll do. I think the three of them will take the boat trip this afternoon, and I’ll stay back, do some work.
But I think yoga’s next on my particular plate.
Note from Laura: as Nora, Jason and Kat’s hands were full, all photos are by BW.