Day 10

The day starts with our last major shopping expedition in the town of Spiddal. We hit up a "craft village" for ceramics and leather goods, then a large, touristy shop for more sweaters. And then we're off to Ashford Castle…

Ashford, seen from the rear on a sunnier day than our own visit. The river is to the right, with the lake out of frame at the bottom. That white circle in the upper right quarter is a helipad.

Ashford. Their slogan is "Excellence since 1228," and they earn it. The approach to Ashford is a winding road through alternating trees and lawns, until you finally break through the trees and see the ranged battlements and gatehouses. The day, at last, not very windy, but it is gray and a bit misty, which is just perfect. The age-blackened stones are slightly dripping with old rain and partly overgrown with ivy in places, making it look like something out of a Dunsany story or a Gothic romance. Ashford's history as an actual fortification is also clear to an educated eye. Its position with a river on one side and its back to a lake is eminently defensible, and there are the remains of outer curtain walls and a moat.

The front of the castle from close up.

A clock tower at the far end of the castle.

Farther down the path from the clock tower (on the way towards the stables), looking back towards the castle.

Near the gatehouse, heading around to the back of the castle.

Looking farther south from about that point.

Turning left to see the grounds behind the castle.

The castle itself from behind.

Stephanie by the fountain.

And turning right at that point to see the lake.

Another view of the mist-covered islands, this from within a corner guard tower.

Why is the window frame white in that picture? It's because of the several centuries old dripping accretion of limestone covering the stone walls.

The corner tower, at the top of a stairway down to a sally port.

Down and out the port, looking at the river next to the castle as it empties into the lake.

The interior keeps up appearances wonderfully. The ceilings are carved, paneled wood, as are the walls (where they aren't velvet wallpaper, anyway). Just about every piece of furniture in the public areas appears to be an antique. I'm particularly fond of a round table, perhaps five feet across, with drawers around its circumference. The entryway leads to various sitting rooms in one direction, the restaurant and a large lounge in the other. The sitting rooms are graced with huge fireplaces decorated with elaborate carvings. Indeed, in one room, there's a room-sized alcove containing the fireplace flanked by benches and carefully turned wooden decorations.

The doorway to the right leads to the entryway. The dining room and drawing room are behind. The closed doorway to the left leads to...

...a large room containing this fireplace alcove. The Latin inscription on the lintel reads "Spes Mea In Deo."

The drawing room

The high-ceilinged lounge has windows with a view of the back garden and the lake. The fireplaces throughout are wood-fired, and the smell of the wood smoke is almost like incense. The main restaurant is the George V Dining Room, named for the late king who, while Prince of Wales, turned a two-day visit into a month's stay. We can see why. We didn't even get past the parking lot before we were sorry we'd have to leave. I suppose we ate dinner or something while we were there, but with the architectural and decorative wonder before us, who cares, really?

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