Out and About in Cork – Blarney Castle
It was in Iceland that I first realised I never wanted to do a coach tour holiday. As we drove round in our hire car, we’d be overtaken by manically speeding coaches which would arrive, thrust 60 people through the door of an attraction. The tourists would then swarm through the place, before being herded back out again about half an hour later. I can still remember the joy of Petra’s Stone Museum which was one minute full to bursting, and the next, completely dead.
In recent years, we’ve managed to avoid places where coach tours tend to go, however there would be no such avoidance today as we were going to what is perhaps one of the best known tourist attractions in Southern Ireland. We were going to Blarney Castle.
Ironically we went by coach. Admittedly it was a coach being used to run a bus service however it was still a coach that we joined about 20 other people boarding at Cork’s bus station to take us on the half hour bus ride through Cork’s suburbs and out into the countryside to the village of Blarney.
Blarney’s a small village, with pubs and shops arranged neatly along three sides of a village green. The third side is the castle side, and in a remarkable example of timing, our bus had arrived at the same time as a large coach full of middle aged American tourists, with the men wearing the standard uniform of middle class Americans of plaid shirts and baseball caps. More perturbing was that most of the group also seemed to be wearing the same beige anorak – presumably a gift from the tour company.
Doing our best to escape them and their comments about how old the castle looked, how small the castle looked, and how cold the water was in the toilets, we took the first obvious detour off the main path and ended up looking at a dark cave and some battlements, which, inexplicably, no Americans seemed interested in looking at.
Alas our detour didn’t allow us to escape from the Americans, and we ended up at the entrance to the castle proper around the same time, and ended up intermingled with them as we walked round the castle’s one way path system.
Whilst a castle has been on the site since 1200 AD, the current building dates back from around the 15th century. It’s been in a ruined state for a long time, however remains a firm tourist attraction due to the legend that is the Blarney Stone.
Someone who kisses the stone apparently gains the gift of the gab. And that was ultimately what the coach tour were there to do. As we walk round, looking at the various panels and admiring the ruins of various rooms, our fellow visitors were busy doing little more than climbing the narrow stairs and giving each other encouraging messages like “You can do it!” and “Almost there!”.
I would have muttered comments about things like “What, have they never used a staircase before?” however by huffing and puffing that was going on, I suspect some of the group never had…
Whilst not particularly high itself, the castle sits on a raised hill meaning it provides a great view of the local neighbourhood, which gave us something else to look at as we tried to get around the castle which was hampered by that stone kissing thing.
The Blarney Stone is situated right at the top of the castle and actually on the outside of the walls, and to kiss it you have to lie down on a metal grill, stick your head in a gap under the parapet and kiss it. For obvious reasons, it’s been labelled as one of the most unhygienic tourist attractions ever, even if the castle staff did have a big pile of anti-bacterial products ready to wipe the stone with.
This being the only thing they’d come to this ruined pile of rock to do, there was naturally a big queue to kiss the stone from the American group, however as I clearly am highly skilled in the gab department (as anyone who has ever seen be do a job interview will know for sure!) I wasn’t particularly keen and managed to scoot by and get back to the important stuff of admiring ruins and checking out ever little room I could find.
After a rather dire sandwich for me and some microwaved soup for Catherine (Blarney Castle’s food options being extremely limited) we watched as the coach tour left, and another one turned up (thankfully not wearing matching coats), and set out to do what roughly 98% of tourists to Blarney Castle fail to do – explore the grounds.
Rock Close is perhaps the owners attempt of bringing whimsy and fairytaleness of the famous stone into a garden environment, which will be why you see such delights as a “Dolmen”, “Sacrificial alter”, a “druids cave” and a “witches stone”.
It’s all slightly bizarre and whilst the signs in the gardens would like you to believe it’s all real and almost “discovered by accident”, it has the feel of a planned garden, albeit one whose design is rather rough and ready. Even in the dreamy end-of-autumn weather, there were some lovely sights, including the stunning view of a tree covered in red autumnal leaves.
Elsewhere the gardens were in the normal Castle grounds territory – woodlands, trees, random stone buildings and, it being November, mud. As we wandered around – alone bar the occasional sight of grounds staff, we discovered the fern garden, home to, as you might expect, some ferns.
And some rain too. Well it was November. And as the rain looked like it was getting worse, we decided to call it quits and head to the bus so we could head back to the hotel and pop into the jacuzzi. Blarney’s a great place to visit if you can avoid the coach groups, but if you’re going to walk aimlessly round the grounds, you at least want the weather to be dry…