The Matterhorn greets the day


September 22, 2002|By Special to the Sun

Four-footed guide to Irish island

A Memorable Place

By Beth Brady

I prefer to be left alone when exploring new places, to get lost and happen upon something amazing. Guided tours have never been my preference.

During a family vacation to Ireland, we managed to escape the predictability of packaged excursions. For three weeks, we drove the narrow, fuchsia-lined roads in search of Ireland's secret treasures. For the most part, we maintained our traveler's independence until we boarded a boat in Doolin, County Clare.

After a short ride through salty mist, we arrived at Inisheer in the Aran Islands. As the ferry docked, our initial view was of several locals offering horse and buggy tours of the island. These guides, with their heavy Gaelic accents and antiquated transportation, were a far cry from the microphone-laden bus guides in Dublin. We guessed their tours would be educational, but we stuck to our intuition and opted to traverse the island unaccompanied.

A few yards into our journey, a dog approached us. At first, we assumed the dog was following us, perhaps hoping for some food scraps. It took us a few minutes to catch on, but eventually we realized that he wasn't a follower, he was a leader. We had just acquired one of the world's rare canine escorts.

He directed us through passages in the miles of stone walls to a beautiful vista on the beach and eventually to Tobar Einne, the holy well of Aran's Patron Saint. The dog waited patiently while we stopped at a tiny cafe to have slices of rhubarb pie and cream.

As tour guides go, he was among the best. He ran ahead of us a quarter-mile to find the best route, and then returned to lead us on a brisk pace to the next sight. He spoke little (a few barks to capture our attention) and expected nothing more than a few pats on the head in return for his services. He took us from place to place, proudly exhibiting the best features of his homeland.

On our last stop, he brought us to Teampall Caomhain, a 10th-century church located within the island's ancient graveyard. There we overheard another tour guide (of the more common human variety) describing the harsh conditions the first settlers to the island faced.

As we became distracted with tales of limestone terrain persistently fertilized with seaweed, we didn't notice that our loyal guide had disappeared. We hoped we had not offended our furry friend.

It was time to get back to the ferry. Nearing the boat, I noticed our guide -- he was introducing himself to a new group. I smiled as I realized that he was not angry with us, he simply needed to move on to the next batch of lost visitors. He was just another tour guide, doing his job.

Beth Brady lives in Jessup.

My Best Shot

Don Wright, Freeland

"During a bus tour in Austria and Switzerland, my wife and I thought the most beautiful area was in and around the quaint Swiss village of Zermatt. We arose for an early departure one morning and found the village still in darkness, but, looking to the right, we saw the sun turn the snow-covered Matterhorn into a peak of gold. This was the highlight of our tour."

Readers Recommend

Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Priscilla Teeter, Westminster

"April in the Netherlands was cold and wet, but also magical. The Floriade horticultural display took a back seat to the historical village of Enkhuizen. Its leaning church is home to the grave markers of several pilots who died defending the village in World War II."

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi, South Africa

Kimberly Evans, Pasadena

"Situated north of Durban, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve is home to the 'big five' -- elephants, lions, rhinos, buffaloes and leopards. This is one of the oldest game reserves in Africa and the third largest in South Africa. If you're looking for the ultimate wildlife experience, it is the place to visit."

Let Us Hear From You

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A Memorable Place: In 500 words or less, tell us about a travel experience that has changed you; the nostalgia a special place evokes; the power of a favorite beach, the mountains, a city cafe. (Cash value: $150.)

Readers Recommend: Briefly tell us about places you've recently visited that you'd recommend to other readers. (Photos are welcome.)

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