I am dedicating this entry to Michael and Pam Thornton, their children, as well as Jack and Pinny, their dogs and Milly the sheep, who, because she grew up with the dogs, also thinks she is a dog, a fact which was amusing to us, but utterly bewildering for Stella.
Michael and Pam run the Coolefield House B&B, which serves as their family home. Coolefield, as I have previously written, is located about 5 km north east of Millstreet, at the western perimeter of the farm that they also own and operate. The 80 acre farm on which Michael tends to his 70 head herd of dairy cattle has been in his family for generations and the house, although on first impression a squire’s home with at least a 100 year old pedigree, turns out to have been built only 5 years ago, during the final years of the time when the Celtic Tiger prowled the land and just before he gave his final roar.
Coolefield House is exquisite and Michael and Pam such unbelievably friendly and attentive hosts, that they have managed to spoil the rest of this trip for me completely. Not only is the probability of my being able to enjoy friendliness and hospitality on this grand scale in the low percentiles, but added to the uncomplicated way in which they received Stella into the family (along with Jack, Pinny and Milly) and catered for her as well, the world-beating cinammon porridge with fresh strawberries and bilberries before a full Irish breakfast fit for a High King, plus their generousity in chauffering us from the Trail back home every evening and the enormous room with a boutique style bathroom replete with a gigantic shower, I do not have a cat in hells chance of replicating this visit and I still have three weeks to go.
If that weren’t enough, Michael and Pam are just wonderful people to be with and the reason that I have changed my schedule and decided to walk my route with a smaller series of base camps to which I will return in the evening to rejoin the route in the morning, is because I just could not bear the thought of leaving Coolefield a minute earlier than it was absolutely necessary. That change has the advantage of making my daily excursions between base camps considerably easier, as I can leave a large amount of my equipment “at home” and only need to have the full load back on between base camps, with the disadvantage of increasing the logistics complexity and costs to and from the Trail. The changed routine seems to be working well for Stella and for me at the moment, so we will continue with it for the moment.
On my return from the Trail, I have the run of the house and Michael jr. has introduced me to the game of hurling, giving me my first lesson in the handling of the hurley and the striking of the sliotar. We have discussed local legends such as the Well Day on the 6th May, when pilgrims from all around gather at a well on a farm near Millstreet and hang a bag with their troubles and worries onto a tree and leave without them. We have analysed the business model of dairy farming, we have discussed the property market before, during and after the reign of Celtic Tiger, we have meandered around the Irish Counties and their poets and have discussed various walks in the country, in particular the O’Sullivan-Bere Walk which O’Sullivan, the High King was forced to take with 1.000 members of his clan, after a resounding defeat at the hands of the royalist troops in 1602, leaving from Dursey Island on New Years Eve and arriving in the North some months later with his followers reduced to 35 survivors in total. Michael is starting on his version of the Walk on 31.12.15 and I will be rooting for him! We have ruminated in depth on the pros and cons of tying ones own flies for salmon fishing and Michael waxed lyrical on the exquisite flyfishing properties of his stretch of the Blackwater River that runs through the farm. I would like to think that we have become friends in these last days and I will be sad to leave them tomorrow.
As for our second day on the Duhallow Trail, we put on a cracking pace from the moment we set off from Millstreet to the moment we finished the section for the day, on the main Cork road south of Nad, at the eastern most point of the delightfully named Boggeragh Mountains. This route covered the best part of 30kms which took us over fields, country lanes, grassy paths, woodlands, fell tracks on the upper sides of mountains, cliff-like trails, peat marshes – which felt like walking in new snow, as we fell into hole after hole covered by the long brown grass – boggy passageways through the woods, and finally hard, gravel strewn service roads leading us through the ghastly industrial wasteland moonscape of a vast windfarm, on the hill beyond the Butter Road.
Kerstin was done for by a cold and fever that had crept up on her during the day and was laid flat as soon we arrived home, but recovered enough to make her journey back to Dublin and Germany in one piece, having been artificially restored by a double dose of extra strength porridge at breakfast grace à Pam.