Saturday, 14 September 2013

Newgrange & Knowth

I almost died of excitement when Martine asked if I wanted to see Newgrange. It had been at the back of my mind, but I wasn't sure how far it was from where they live. Silly me, given the size of Ireland, everything is relatively close.

Today, we left RuairĂ­ with football and beer and had a girl's day out. Martine drove us over there in Sunny, newly named for the fact it was such a perfect day: bright blue skies, warm sunshine and still winds.

It must be towards the end of the tourist season. Martine was worried there would be long queues, but there was hardly anyone there. We walked straight through and onto a bus.

Well, not quite. We stopped to admire the artwork on display in the Visitor's Centre. It was absolutely incredible but, although each piece had a title, it wasn't clear who the artist was. If anybody knows please drop me a line below.

There were intricate depictions of ancient sites, Irish legends (including The Children of Lir - my favourite, check out Michael Scott's retelling) and the four seasons. Truly stunning.

We also continued the theme of good food in the slightly pricey but deliciously well stocked café. I opted for chicken vol-au-vent with coleslaw and, um... fruit salad.

Meanwhile, Martine went for the healthy option...

There was enough cream to fill both our coffees, so life was most certainly decadent and good.

From there, you walk across a bridge to get to the buses.

Gorgeous Day

We went on both tours, starting with the bus to Knowth. I must admit, for a megolithomaniac, I hadn't done much reading on this place, and didn't know anything about it before I got there.

We had a brilliant guide, Mary, who was completely into her subject. I took so many photos of the site, so I'll try and narrow it down to some of the best, or most interesting. For more on my standing stone obsession, check out the Standing Stones tab on this blog, and my mate Paul's website: The Northern Antiquarian.

Knowth Panoramic
(click to enlarge)
One of several serpent stones.
My favourite rock art picture of the day.

This one above didn't come out very well because of the light, but it is fascinating. Unlike any of the others. Google Image 'knowth calendar stone' for a better view.

Image from National UFO Centre

Posts marking site of wood henge, predating settlement of site.

Quartz and granite eggs.
Reminds me of the lump of quartz at Dundurn (3rd pic down)
and the quartz on the saint's grave there.

Earth Boob

Below are two panoramics from the top of Knowth. You should be able to enlarge them by clicking on them.

Newgrange from Knowth
(that green bump in the middle)

This is taken from the top of Knowth, looking West. That hill in the centre just struck me. Prime location for a hill fort, perhaps? Mary, our guide, said that it was an oak wood, the ground covered in shamrock. Wish I'd had time to investigate.

Entrance Stone

The rock art at Knowth is absolutely incredible, try a Google Image search for 'knowth rock art' to see more. It's between four and five thousand years old, yet it's so well preserved that it is hard to believe it's even a few hundred years old.

Talking to an American at the gift shop afterwards, we both agreed that if you only had time to do one, Knowth would be the one to see, though everybody comes here for Newgrange. It's like Stonehenge and Avebury (or better yet, Castlerigg). You come to see the landmark, but miss the hidden treasure.

On finishing our tour of Knowth, we headed over to Newgrange. After Stonehenge, this is perhaps the best known prehistoric site in the British Isles, although it's the older of the two.

Panoramic of Newgrange
(click to enlarge)


The wall has been reconstructed using the original materials found at the site.

Some more panoramics, click to enlarge:

Newgrange from the Back
Not so much funky art here, but one particularly impressive owl stone, and an incredible entrance stone.

Daud and Percy were certainly impressed.

You can't take photographs inside Newgrange, but luckily someone else has taken one of the ceiling, so I've nicked theirs. It's impressive because it's the original, undisturbed ceiling and central capstone, which has been standing for up to five thousand years!

There are some incredible carvings in there, including the famous triskele, and a couple of large bowls, possibly for death rites, birthing or offerings - probably all of the above.

The guide turned out the lights in the chamber and used a single bulb to recreate the effect of the sun illuminating the chamber on Winter Solstice. It was really impressive. When you enter the door behind the entrance stone (pictured above), you go uphill along the corridor, although it doesn't feel as though you are. By the time you get to the centre, you're level with the window above the door, and perfectly aligned with the winter sun, which lights up the chamber for seventeen minutes each year before plunging it back into darkness.

There's a lottery you can enter to win an invitation to the site at Solstice. It's open to everyone, so long as you can get there on the day.

Wonderful place.

Not entirely sure what this is, but it's in the field beside Newgrange. Someone has suggested it might be a smaller reconstruction?

There were also some unexcavated  tombs over the road, which reminded me of Kilmartin.

Nice closing touch as you returned to the Visitor's Centre. Someone had drawn the outline of the owl stone and everyone stuck their used stickers to it. Colourful and creative.

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