I am behind with my report from the trail by two days now. Three if you include today. I could say that I have been cut off from any internet connection during my passage through the Magillicuddy Reeks, but any reader from Ireland would immediately find out my fib, because, whatever other privations and missing creature comforts the farmhouses and B&Bs may have to put up with in this country, be it running water or central heating, of this you can be quite sure: they all have internet connections and wifi, usually at a pretty high speed. I am sure that a country designed by teenagers would have a similar infrastructure. So as I can’t use that as an excuse, I will have to run with the truth. The previous two nights – in Glenbeigh and last night at the Stepping Stones B&B at the foot of the Bridia Pass – I have been so exhausted from my 23 and 30km routes respectively, that I was unable to string a spoken sentence together, let alone move my fingers over a keyboard; my one and only wish being to shower, fill up on carboydrates, protein and liquids and then fall into bed. This series of wishes was duly fulfilled every evening, allowing me to recuperate just enough to refit my boots onto my wounded feet, shoulder my ridiculously overweight backpack and get back on the trail by 0730 the next morning. No room for communicating very much in that schedule.
Which is a pity, as the last three days have continued in much the same vein as the first two: breathtaking scenery, unbelievably interesting trails – both challenging and beautiful – hospitality that still leaves me speechless for the uncomplicated, professional and big-hearted by which it is dispensed by the owners and managers of the B&Bs and hotels, in which I have stayed. Of particular note were my hosts yesterday – John and Sandy “Cooky” Heppell of the Stepping Stone, Glencar. If you want to take a look at the map (I will be posting one shortly with my daily routes and GPS Waypoints, once I figure out how to transfer the data from my Montana to my laptop), then you will see that the B&B is in fact only near Glencar if you zoom out quite a bit on Googlemaps and if you zoom in, which is what you do automatically when you actually are standing on the little red dotted line that marks your route on the map, you will discover that there is an enormous stone ridge – the Bridia Pass – between you on the Glencar side and the home for the night on the other. This was very disconcerting for me at 1600 to discover that I had a 600 ft climb up and a similar descent on the other side ahead of me before I was going to be allowed to have my urgently needed cup of tea. Anyway, up we went and down we went, the down bit causing not inconsiderable damage to my feet and with them my pride, to be greeted by John and Sandy as if we were long lost grandchildren, coming back to the homestead after decades of penal servitude in Austrailia. Out came the homemade icecream that I had read about during the preparation for the walk and dreamed about with an intensity approaching mania over the previous two hours, teapots were magicked onto the table, wet socks were whisked off to the sock fairies for them to do whatever it is they do, to turn horrible steaming lumps of muddy wool into sweet smelling, comforting articles of clothing, backpacks and outdoor equipment were banished to the porch (no tents or sleeping bags allowed insides “as they might have nits..”) and warm clean rooms were opened and we esconced inside. I could write an entire blog piece just on Sandy’s homemade icecream. This isn’t any old icecream dashed off in a Kenwood Icemaker, this is a Secret Recipe that has been handed down for generations and which Sandy has spent a lifetime perfecting. Sandy is – you should know – sweetest and kindest hostess you could wish to be pampered by, but her resolve is cast iron when it comes to protecting the Secret Recipe for her ice cream. I wasn’t even allowed to photograph it for fear of having a MRT scan probe the cell structure of the creamy spheres.
Paul and Sandy are special for another reason as well. Both are originally from Newcastle-upon-Tyne and have been together for at least 40 years. Paul was a professional butler, working for a number of storied families in the UK and Sandy was a cook. They worked as a pair and retired out to this remote spot in the heart of the Magillicuddy Reeks in the late 90s, restoring a ruined farmhouse to the comfortable, well designed and fully functional guest house it was today. I suspect that the real reason for their chosing this wild, solitary spot was to enable Sandy to work on her icecream recipe undisturbed and far from the prying eyes of Ben and Jerry and the industrial spies from Langnese and Nestlé. Be that as it may, Paul’s professional attention to detail and their dedication to service shines out in every aspect of their hospitality and it would be worth driving from Dublin just to spend one night in their company (and for the chance of tasting Sandy’s Peanut Butter or Lemon icecream).
Paul shot the lights out this morning, when having made us breakfast at 0630, he drove 27 km to catch us up on the other side of a second pass over which we had climbed in the morning, in order to retrieve and deliver my precious Garmin Montana 650 T navigation device, which we had stupidly managed to lose before our ascent. Unbelievable.
When I write “we” incidentally, I refer to me (of course) and my good friend Martin Stuchtey from Germany, who had flown over after a busy week in London to Shannon Airport and driven to join me for a day and bit of walking on Friday evening. Martin is an old friend and neighbour from my days in Pöcking in Bavaria and one of the world’s leading experts on water, oceans and circularity. If there were ever to be an Olympic team comprised of people whose intelligence, expertise and creative thinking could save the planet, he would definitely be on it. He is also a countryman to his finger tips, half man and half mountain goat, with a mischievous sense of humour and the energy of a 20 year old. It was a pleasure and a privilege to have spent an intense 36 hours on the trail with him. Even if he did manage to lose our Garmin.
As to the trail – well, I will let the photographs speak for themselves. The stretch from Cahersiveen to Glenbeigh, along the coastal path and through gentle forest with an almost permanent view of the Dingle Mountains across the Bay to the north, was completely different from the long haul from Glenbeigh to Bridia as the tracks became more alpine and dramatic than the days before. We encountered Gondor after about an hours tramp up through Windy Pass and the sense of being within a Kingdom in the Kingdom never really dissipated until I arrived by boat at Ross Castle on the shores of the Lower Lake before Killarney this afternoon.
An enduring memory will be of Martin and I singing the german lyrical version of the irish blessing “May the road rise up to meet you” -“Möge die Strasse uns zusammen führen” – at full choke on a particularly beautiful stretch of the Kerry Way in the forest of Glencar.
May the wind be always at your back
And the sun shine warm upon your face!