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Alastair Thompson
Lives in Bretagne, France
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Alastair Thompson

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On Friday 29th January Greg Meylan and I took a trip up the Jura Mountains to the north of Geneva for a days skiing while the kids were at School. The days was mostly rather misty and thanks to the unseasonably warm weather the snow was thin and wet. However in the hour before we left  the mountain cleared and we got some decent fast runs in and views of Mt Blanc above the clouds to the south over the city of Geneva.
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Croagh Patrick is known as the Holy Mountain of Ireland. Last year in July 25,000 people climbed it, some in bare feet to take part in the "Reek Sunday" pilgrimage. Which is remarkable because it is no easy feat to climb it. 

Waking in Westport a Texan chap at breakfast asked us if we had seen snow on the mountain. We hadn't and he took us the window and pointed to a peak in the distance which reminded us immediately of Ben Ohau in winter. At 764 meters it is roughly half the height of Ben Ohau but as you start from sea level the climb is similar in magnitude as are the views.

I was a bit skeptical about the plan which was suggested by our B&B host David. Partly because it was about 4 degrees and I have become accustomed to the Atlantic Sea throwing bringing in some pretty torential rains from the west. However as we reached the bottom the summit was clear and the skies appeared to be clearing too. Moreover there were a bunch of hardy types setting off for the summit and the sign said it was a 3.5 hour round trip. So we decided it worth a crack.

And it was most certainly worth it. the path is steep and strewn with bolders. No attempt appears to have been made to make it safe for the pilgrims, some of whom climb it in bare feet - admittedly in July. But even so it is hard to imagine that their feet are able to still be walked on once they return.

In addition to the hardy Irish regulars there were a couple of other visitors, one dressed as a wizard with a girlfriend with red hair, we passed them on the way up but were passed by most of the locals, some of whom told us they had climbed it 20 times or more.

The snow-covering at the top was special and unusual and that and the clear skies had probably attracted more than the usual Sunday crowd. The pilgrimage however takes place in whatever the weather happens to be and nothing seems to deter the crowds.

The final second part of the ascent is particularluy steep something which cannot be photographed unfortunately and snow covered the path for the final 100 meters or so. At the top there is a church (known as an Oratory) which was closed and a monument called the bed of St Patrick which is where St Patrick is said to have slept for 40 days when he visited the mountain and banished all the snakes from Ireland.

From the top as you can see in the pictures we could see a long way and we stayed up there for about 20 minutes. It was a truly glorious day, capped off by a visit from a beautiful little red robin who appeared to be happy to pose for photographs.

Alastair 10/1/16 
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Day three of our Wild Atlantic Odyessey saw us travel through four counties and move from Ulster to Connaught. We woke in the town of Donegal to a fairly bleak day. We travelled south and watched some surfers in Bundoran, the set was pumping very consistently with a wonderful wave which I think even David McLelland and Pattrick Smellie will be impressed with.

Bundoran is right on the border with Letrim. Letrim's coastline is rather short - between two rivers which presumably mark its borders - and rather nondescript, hence no photos. We then entered the county of Sligo, and quickly ran into some striking landforms one of which is appropriately named Benbulbin (Irish: Binn Ghulbain) which we had seen from the cliffs of Slieve Leaguie.

We skirtied around the town of Sligo to the west and heading for the sea-side suburb of Strand-hill which has some magnificent seaweed baths which we did not visit as we were short on time. Behind the beach of Strand-hill  there is another similar albeit much smaller landform which like Benbulbin is peaking through the clouds.

Entering Mayo we hightalied it west of Ballina across some plains which bore a striking resemblance to the Desert Road and McKenzie Country in Wellington. We ended the day in the strong hold of Queen of the West Grace O'Malley the Island of Achill, the largest Island in Ireland. Once again we found ourselves on the wild Atlantic coast and watched the sun set to the south west before driving south to Westport - presumably the original Westport. Which is situated in the beautiful Clew Bay which could be thought of as being Ireland's equivalent of the Marlborough Sounds. Only strikingly different. Like the Marlborough sounds it is made up of sounds, flooded river valleys, one of which also formed the moat around Queen Grace's island fortress.  

- Alastair 10/1/16
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This morning we woke up to a crisp day and a clear sky (a rare thing these past three weeks in Ireland). We went down into town and walked along the waterfront and onto the Peace Bridge which is located immediately on the waterfront in front of the old walled city of (London) Derry. The walled city was built on an island in the 17th century funded by London merchants who were presumably keen on colonising the West of Ireland. The island was surrounded by a bog beyond which the Catholic folk of island gathered and traded with the agents of London.

In 1689 James the Second (the eventually deposed Stuart monarch who suceeded Chales the Second) decided to lay seige to the city and failed as part of his attempt to defend is kingdom from William of Orange, and so it seems that the so-called peaceful "Glorious Revolution" wasn't altogether peaceful, rather the violence took place at the North Westernmost point in the United Kingdom.

As (London) Derry was basically a creation of the merchants of the City of London it was perhaps appropriate that their victory over the might of the English Sovereign should have its denoument there also.

283 years later in 1972 Bloody Sunday took place near the walls of the walled city in the Bogside as it is known. 13 young protestors were shot by the British Army who then proceeded to cover up their crime for as long as they could. The site of the massacre is now the site of a bunch of murals (many of which you will see pictures of in this gallery) commemorating the events in a place now known as Free Derrry. 

Derry was a fine place to start our wild Atlantic way adventures which I plan to recount in photos over the coming few days.
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The town of Cathedral City of Armagh was the site of the first stone chirch built in Ireland by St Patrick in the 7th Century AD. And in 2015 it was announced by archeologists that they had also found the remains of the lengendary Irish King Briian Boru. We visited it on the first day of the second leg of our Irish Christmas travels. The Church of Ireland St Patrick's Cathedral which is on the site which St Patrick built his original church was closed but we did manage to visit the site of Brian Boru's internment - which was particularly special for Wendy as he is an ancestor. We then visited the Catholic St Patrick's Cathedral which is on a nearby hill - the twin St Patrick's Cathedrals are visible from eacth other. The Catholic St Patrick's Cathedral is exquisitely beautiful in its interior.
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Lakes pond in the dunes beside the houses we are staying in. Here are some pictures of a fun game we played with one of the ponds.
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Alastair Thompson

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In the final chapter of our travels Wendy and I have spent the past 11 days in Switzerland and the France's Savoie Region. We visited our son Gregor in Courcheval for three days and spent the rest of our time in Geneva with the Stone Meylans. Unike our previous three visits to the Swiss/French Alpes in 2002, 2008 and 2014 this time the clouds lifted and we managed to get a good view of the mountains and the highest of which - France's Mt Blanc - can be easily seen from downtown Genveva.

The weather has been unseasonably warm during our visit with temperatures in the doubled digits for most of our stay but today as we prepare to depart it is starting to snow in Geneva.

In this the first of four photo albums of our visit Wendy, Greg Meylan and I went for a walk on the mountain to the south east of Geneva. We drive up to  1300 metres where there is a beautiful active Monastery run by the Monastic Family Of Bethlehem and order of silent nuns and monks which was formed in 1950. 
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A visit to the cliffs of Slieve League was the highlight of Wendy and my second day tripping along the Wild Atlantic Way.on the West Coast of Ireland.

First however we visited Glen Cholmcille the village of St Cholmcille aka St Columba. It is a very remote bay in Donegal reached after driving over some mountains (NZ would probably regard them as hills). For more info see  >>  http://www.gleanncholmcille.ie/turas.htm << we visited two of the 15 Turas  while not really knowing what they were at the time - a Turas is a pilgrimage and it was to be a day of those.

"Slieve League, sometimes Slieve Leag or Slieve Liag (Irish: Sliabh Liag) is a mountain on the Atlantic coast of County Donegal, Ireland. At 601 metres (1,972 ft), it has some of the highest sea cliffs on the island of Ireland." - From Wikipedia: >> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slieve_League

The cliffs of Sliabh Liag are also the site of a pilgrimage although the walk to the top was more than we had time for.

We arrived at the viewing platform to see the cliffs as the cloud shrouded the top and light from the sun in the south west played over the bottom of the cliffs. On our way up we passed a sheep with a remarkable resemblance to Sean the Sheep.

We then ascended the rocky path above the viewing platform. The view from the path when one approached the edge made for a feeling of giddiness. Wendy was ahead of me as we climbed and I eventually found her sitting on a rock looking into the west. As both of us looked down from the head of the bay the skies cleared and the clouds rose up the cliffs. On returning to the viewing platform the sun was shining on most of the cliff faces, which at this time of year is apparently pretty rare.

It was pretty cool.
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After a look at the Bogside murals in Free Derry Wendy and I headed west to Letterkenny, narrowly missing an accident a short distance out of town. From there we crossed over some low mountains and reached the Donegal Coast at Dunfanaghy. With the light failing fast we headed south along the wild Atlantic way to Glenties where we had a lovely dinner and are about to go to sleep. On the way we saw some spectacular coastal scenery which is shown in these pictures. I have uploaded full size images to the site so you can zoom into them if you are interested and see some of the detail. Most of the images were taken from near Knockfola as the sun went down. Twas grand. >> https://goo.gl/maps/DPUXdJSXUN42 
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Knockfola is apparently the Bloody Foreland - due to being red in the setting sun. We stayed near Glenties for a week last year as a base to visiting north-western Ireland.
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I think I am the first member of my family to take a trip to Counrty Down in Northern Ireland to visit the place my Great Grandfather James Robert Thompson left from in 1890 to emigrate to NZ - reputedly financing his trip with the proceeds ot the sale of some cattle which he was sent to take to market.. James, his elder brother David, and three sisters, Editih Elizabeth and Mary were born in a place called Knocknagore which I was unable to find - I was however able to find the church at Knocknamuckley where his elder brother David was married. Unfortunately we didn't arrive till after 4.30, by which time it was dark. A second trip is clearly in order plus some additional research to see if I can track down the some current Thompson cousins if any of them are still around. 
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Our accomodation this New Year is a beautifully restored Irish Farmers cottage. On arrival on the 29th we were greeted by four horses who live nearby and who took a like to the grass around the cottage one of which I decided to call Tír na nÓg, the magical horse from Into The West - a great movie - the final scene of which was filmed just a few kms south of where we are. 
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Bretagne, France
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Wellington, Christchurch, New Zealand - Auckland - Christchurch
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Wellingtonian, Kiwi, journalist, publisher and poetic revolutionary. Likes KiwiFoo, Webstock, whiskey the holy trinity and long walks in Spain.
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18 years in the online news publishing business since Jan 1997.
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