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No trip to Ireland is complete without a trip to Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone. This age old tradition has made the castle one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. Situated not far from Cork the castle is more than just about the stone with a variety of gardens, arboretrum, rock gardens etc all of which look spectacular. The main house (not Castle) only opens in the Spring so we were unable to walk around it. At a cost of ten euros each you receive a useful map highlighting all the attractions within the grounds. We were in a bit of a rush so we headed straight for the stone within the castle which is only a 5 minute walk from the main entrance. Whilst climbing the many many steps to the top of the castle there are pockets of rooms to peruse detailing ancient bedrooms, kitchens etc, all empty but interesting nevertheless. The climb up is quite cramped and slippy so be warned if you are a bit claustrophobic. Depending on the time of your and the weather the queues can range from hours to a few minutes and we were lucky to catch a good day. The stone itself is built in to an overhanging wall and in order to kiss it you must lay on your back, lean back grasping some bars with your hand, tilt your head back and kiss the wall. There is an old timer there who's unenviable job is to help you and be warned that he likes to keep the queues moving! If you get chance I recommend you take a brief moment to look down, it's quite unnerving! As with most attractions there is an official photographer by the stone, I found that if you have a camera with a tilt option then it is quite easy to lean over and take the photo of your friend and then pass them the camera to take your picture (the official pics are ten euros!). The old timer and photographer will try and hurry you along but don't get flustered, you're entitled to take your own photos. Have I been blessed with the gift of eloquence? Who knows, but I enjoyed the experience regardless.
Having lived in Cork for 18 months, and with Blarney Castle just twenty minutes drive away, I feel a bit silly saying that the first time I went to Blarney was three weeks ago. I now mentally kick myself for not going before, because it is a lovely little place, and I really recommend you pay it a visit if you are in the area. Before you start, buy a little guide book from at the entrance. It’s only £1 and it really is worth it. Not only does it give you a lot of interesting factual information about how the castle was built, what life was like in the ‘olden days’ and other historical titbits to help set the scene, it also guides you round the entire site by using numbered signs around the grounds that correspond to passages in the book. The castle is quite small and set in some breathtakingly beautiful grounds. I went there in the autumn, when the trees were all different shades of gold, orange and red; set against the perfectly-kept green grass, it made a very pretty picture. The path winds towards the castle, taking you over little bridges that span the three small rivers that run through the grounds. There are five storeys to the castle, although a few of the floors have crumbled away over the years and have yet to be restored. The rooms you visit – such as the Great Hall, the earl’s bedroom, the young ladies’ bedroom, the banqueting hall and the chapel, to name a few - all look strangely similar, i.e. cold, empty, irregular and stony, though of differing sizes. ;o) Be sure to bring your imagination with you! Take a peek out the ‘windows’ as you walk round; you’ll be surprised how quickly you climb up. I loved the spiral staircases, although a word of warning: it may not be suitable for young children to go up there, due to the extreme narrowness and slipperiness of the steps themselves. Tried and tested for you: I walked round with my ten-month-old baby in my arms, an exp erience not to be repeated. Today’s Word of the Day is machicolated, so I have to try and use this word in a sentence. Ummm, tricky. Okay then, how about: Blarney Castle has machicolated battlements. Just in case you’re not familiar with the meaning, it means that the battlements are built out from the castle in a kind of fringe of stonework, forming slits through which the defenders of the castle could fire arrows or pour boiling liquids on any attackers on the ground. Just in case you were interested. It’s up on the battlements that you have the opportunity of kissing the Blarney Stone, which is set in the wall below the battlements. You all know the tradition about the Blarney Stone, don’t you? That the gift of eloquence will be bestowed upon all who kiss it? Should you wish to try it, you have to lie on your back and lean over the edge of the parapet (don’t worry, there is a man whose job it is to hold on to you – at least, he said it was his job…). A photographer takes your photo as you do it, and you can buy this at some exorbitant fee as proof that you kissed the Blarney Stone. I didn’t kiss the Blarney Stone myself, as I was put off by the idea of everyone kissing the same part of the stone - quite unhygienic to say the least! Before you leave, make sure you go to the Rock Close. It’s a lovely, enchanting little place of ancient rocks and trees, and really does have a magical atmosphere. The Witch’s Kitchen features a stone that looks like a witch, and one shaped like her hat lying nearby. There are some Wishing Steps, where tradition has it that you have to walk up and down the steps backwards with your eyes closed for your wish to come true. Some of the trees here date back a thousand years, and the stones two thousand years. It is believed to have once been a druidic settlement; feel the shivers down your spine when you see the sacrificial stone known as the Druid̵ 7;s Altar. I loved this place; there was a very strong feeling of prehistory and magic, although I would advise you go there before dusk, as it can feel a bit eerie once the sun starts to set. The breathtakingly impressive Blarney Castle House can be seen across the grounds. Unfortunately, it is no longer open to the public, as the family have returned to live there, which is a great shame (for us anyway, certainly not them!). It is worth walking nearer to it, though, just to fully appreciate its beautiful Scottish baronial design. The village of Blarney is very picturesque and well-maintained, and I recommend you take a little walk around before you leave. The village green is surrounded by houses all painted in muted reds, yellows and greens. There are a few pubs nearby for you to refresh yourselves: Mackeys and the Muskerry Arms are probably the nicest. There are also the Blarney Woollen Mills nearby if you still have some time on your hands. A visit to Blarney will probably take up an afternoon, and I’m sure will be an experience you will not regret nor forget.