Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tintern Abbey, County Wexford

Tintern Abbey was said to have been founded in 1200 when the powerful Norman knight William Marshal set out to pay his first visit to Ireland after his inheritance as Lord of Leinster. However his ship was struck by a storm off the east coast and was close to foundering. He vowed to God that if he safely reached the shore he would found an abbey wherever he landed. He managed to get ashore at Bannow Bay in County Wexford, and Marshal kept his vow, granting 3500 hectares to the Cistercian order to establish an abbey. Hence why Tintern was occasionally called 'Tintern de Voto' or 'Tintern of the Vow'. As the Earl of Pembroke, William Marshall was also the patron of Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire in Wales, he brought monks from the Tintern in Monmouthshire to settle in his new foundation in Wexford, which they also named Tintern in honour of their original home.

Tintern was a wealthy and powerful Cistercian foundation, thought to be the third wealthiest Cistercian abbey after Mellifont and St. Mary’s in Dublin. Tintern would have followed the standard format for all Cistercian Abbeys in Ireland based on the ‘Mother House’ of Mellifont. The cloisters were positioned at the south, and were surrounded by a range of domestic and spiritual buildings, with a cruciform shaped church to the North. Excavations have revealed a number of these features, including the discovery of a thirteenth-century sewer. Although a little unpalatable to some (ahh the glamorous life of an archaeologist), this stone lined drain produced real insights into thirteenth century life, and particularly the diet of the monks. They ate cereals, apples, figs, raspberries, sloe berries, hazelnuts, beef, mutton, pork and goat. They also had seafood with evidence being discovered for mussels, oysters, cockles, and whelks. This shows they had a rich and varied diet that was probably far above what the general population would have enjoyed in the thirteenth century. 

I'm particularly fond of the unusual sandstone gargoyle heads that run along the northern side of the chancel wall of the church (facing the carpark). I'm sure one or two of them look familiar from a night out in Coppers!

Close up of the decorative heads
Like most other Irish monastic sites Tintern became private property after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1540s during King Henry VIII’s reign. The lands were granted to Anthony Colclough, an army officer and he and his descendants made extensive changes and modifications to the Abbey to change it from a Cistercian place of worship into a fashionable but fortified home.

One of the most identifiable features of Tintern is the lovely castellated bridge over the head of a stream and tidal inlet. It dates to the eighteenth century. Nearby is the remains of a large limekiln which shows some of the more industrious activities needed on a large estate of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Tintern is a lovely place to visit. It is free to enter and is under the auspices of the Office of Public Works. Please see here for more information on opening times You’ll find Tintern roughly 16km south of New Ross off the R734, or 29km from Wexford off the Wexford to Ballyhack road R733.

I hope you enjoy our blog posts. Ireland has such a wealth of great heritage sites to visit and I hope to cover more around the country. Next week I’ll be visiting sites in Ulster, particularly in Counties Derry, Donegal, Antrim and Fermanagh so if anyone has any suggestions for places to visit I’d love to hear them. Please leave a comment below or find us on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

If you’d like to consider supporting us you can do so by downloading one of our audioguides. They are narrated by professional actors, and have original music by talented musician Enda Seery to help immerse you in the story. They generally run for around 45mins and can be downloaded from our website at A number are available free of charge and others cost just €1.99, so if you’d like to hear the story of Glendalough, or what life in Dublin was like when it was a Viking Longphort please do try our guides.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

McAllister Park, San Antonio, TX - Sun., July 28

First off, happy birthday to my sister, Jan. I hope you enjoyed your day today and partied with friends. I look forward to spending time with you in September.

This morning, San Antonio Hill Country Hikers meet-up group met at 7:45 a.m. for a hike at McAllister Park. The early birds were there at 7 a.m. to do yoga warm-up moves before we set out on the trail.

At 7:45 exactly, Paul led us on another trail adventure, faking us out from time to time and taking us around in circles. No disrespect, we love you, Paul. You make the group fun.

McAllister Park is 976 acres with 15 miles of trails on the north side of San Antonio, not too far from the International Airport. Today we hiked seven miles of trails, mainly on the Red and Blue Loops (I think). If you asked me to lead a group of people on the same hike we did, I would be bamboozled as to where, exactly, we went. I'm glad Paul knew where we were going! We didn't get lost in the urban wilderness.

Here are a few photos of our hike.

Paul caught us looking dazed and confused at the beginning.
Now we've got rhythm and someone to follow.
We didn't see any bunnies. : (
Virgin's bower clematis
Snapdragon vine (Maurandya antirrhiniflora)

The hiking train keeps on rollin' down the track.
 I ran ahead to get a photo from the front and they all had to ham it up.

Paul, our leader, wins for the best model pose.

Lots of deer in this park!
Deer in the headlights look.
After seven miles of hiking, eight of us wanted to have breakfast, so we went to The Egg and I. It was a great group with lots of conversation and some really big pancakes!

Ruby ordering.
Jessie with her hazelnut coffee and SmartPhone.
Paul with not one, but two, monster blueberry pancakes.
After the walk and a good breakfast, I went back to the 5er and slept for three hours. (I only had four hours of sleep Saturday night.)

This evening, Bob and I went to see "The Way, Way Back" movie with Steve Carrell and thoroughly enjoyed it. The story is a coming of age tale about a 14-year-old boy going on vacation with his mom, mom's boyfriend and the mom's boyfriend's teen-age daughter. They vacation at the shore and the boy is bored, mortified, and angst-ridden dealing with his mother's boyfriend and the interesting group of people vacationing at the beach. He goes to work at a water park where the owner takes him under his wing and helps him deal with being an awkward teen-ager in an awkward life situation. We both recommend this movie.

The short sale on our rental property in Las Vegas is finally going through after we put it on the market a year ago. Tomorrow we sign papers. One more property off our responsibility list; three rentals left in two western states. Luckily, they are all rented and have property managers. Things are looking up.

Travel Bug out.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Birds, Dragonflies and Spiders, Oh My - Sat., July 27

Rain? It rained sometime during the night or early morning hours. When we got up, Rigamarole was covered in water, the picnic table was wet and so were The Beast and the Escape pod.

My 10K Volksmarch today was at Mitchell Lake Audubon Wetlands in south San Antonio. I would have started much earlier than 8:25 a.m., but the wetlands don't open until 8 a.m. When I arrived at the Audubon Society, I had to go into the office to pay my $2 admission fee and sign in for the Volksmarch. The man working at the Audubon Society was very chatty and that took another 15 minutes or so.

A tour of two people was ready to head out for a bird survey. I guess they try to identify as many birds as they can on the survey.

Upon leaving the building and passing by beautiful, butterfly-attracting flowers, I had to photograph a butterfly or two.
Monarch butterfly (danaus plexippus)
Monarch butterfly backlit by sun.
 The first birds I encountered were a family of purple martins on a line.

Purple martins.
Today was enjoyable because I could take my time, listen to bird calls, and try to spot elusive birds (not too successful on the elusive birds). Bob plays basketball on Saturday morning, so I like to hike somewhere interesting and safe when he's not with me.

Here are interesting finds along my path...

Hairy-looking seed pods.
A couple of wild rabbits darted across my path, but they were too fast; no chance to get my camera in position for a photo.
Silver-leaf nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium)
Wild petunia (Ruellia sp.)
Carolina wren.
When the Bird Pond appeared on my right, I started looking for water birds, but didn't see any other than the great egrets. As I walked, a casual glance to my left almost made me wet my pants. I am petrified of spiders and what I saw was a HUGE orb spider sitting in the middle of a web that was, I'd guess, four feet across. The spider in the middle, including legs, was as big as my palm.

Golden orb spider in the middle of its web.
Golden orb spider.
Golden orb spider.
Northern rough-winged swallow.
House finch.
House finch.
While walking near the Bird Pond, I met a man and asked him what birds he had seen. His name is Jim and he writes a blog called Jim's Assorted, Usually Photographic, Ramblings. He said he wasn't looking for birds but was looking for dragonflies. That's his specialty. In fact, in front of us was an Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly, perched beautifully, waiting for its photo to be taken. You can find his photos on his blog. I was able to capture the Eastern Pondhawk as well. Jim explained to me that this particular dragonfly is very mean to other dragonflies and bugs. I would have missed it if it wasn't for Jim pointing it out to me.

Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly.
Once he pointed out that Mitchell Lakes is a good place to spot dragonflies and damselflies, I was on the lookout and you will find a couple more photos of dragonflies today.

Identification, anyone?
Four-spotted pennant.
Roseate skimmer.
As I rounded the corner from the Bird Pond headed for East Poulder, it was full sun ahead: 85-90 degrees with relatively high humidity. My best birding of the day took place in East and West Poulder ponds. The black-necked stilts are in residence and they are gorgeous. They also make quite a racket when a threat comes around.
Black-bellied whistling duck family.
Black-necked stilt
Least sandpiper and killdeer.
Four black-necked stilts in a row.
Black-bellied whistling duck.
Black-bellied whistling duck and willett.
Every once in a while you find something you don't see everyday, like a turtle or armadillo remains. The turtle below was trucking along the trail until I came along, then it got all shy.

Armadillo remains.
Snowy egret fishing.
Neotropic cormorants.
Orb spiders were everywhere today!

Self portrait. Don't you love the hat?
Cacti ready to bloom.
Orb spider in front of cacti.
Beautiful blooms outside the visitor center.
By the end of this walk (which lasted three hours), I was beat. Couldn't wait to get inside the visitor center. The desk person helped me identify the birds in the photos, although he wasn't sure about the sanderling because the photo was so small on my camera screen.

I really enjoy my alone time on walks like this when I can go at my own pace, look for birds and photograph to my hearts content. I would love to learn the songs of different birds to identify them as it isn't always possible to spot them.

Bob worked today. When he came home he could barely walk. He's pretty sure he has plantar fasciitis. He is going to take it easy on his exercising and do stetches to help alleviate the pain. I hope he gets better soon because I'll miss my best walking partner while he's convalescing.

I hope you're all having a good weekend.

Travel Bug out.