It was the worst of times…

Two days walking, 63 km of distance covered with a mere 2.500m of ascent roughly equally divided between the two days, but the experiences could not have been further apart.

Britta had been planning from the start to join me for a day’s walking on the final section through the Wicklow Mountains and had chosen the stage that ended at her favourite spot in our new home county, the magical valley of Glendalough, home to Irelands most ancient monuments, the Church of St. Kevin and the small group of buildings established in the 6th C. and still pretty well preserved. The route was to take us via forest tracks and fell ways through two valleys with steep ascents and descents, some dramatic views before ending at the Upper Lake of Glendalough. The final section of the walk that would bring us to the Heritage Centre just before the village of Laragh was a walk along the lake shore. In the few months that we have been settled (if that is the right word) in Ireland, I had not yet had the chance of visiting this famous spot of natural beauty although I had passed very close on my cycling tours. Britta, as I mentioned, loved it there and had been for day trips on numerous occasions alone and with guests. Perhaps you can imagine that after almost a month of walking, predominantly alone, I was thrilled at the thought of spending the day in the company of my wife and hoped for a good weather that day.

It couldn’t have been worse.

From the moment Matt dropped us off at Iron Bridge, the rain started. Light drizzle to begin with but turning up the volume by degrees, until after an hour of stiff walking up the first long pull up the side of our first hill, it was coming down in an unrelenting torrent of water. There are, as anyone brought up in England or Ireland, especially the North of the Kingdom, will know, many many facets of what is generically called rain. The most insidious and the type most likely to drench you completely is light almost dust-like in its consistency, but ubiquitous. It is as if the air has been replaced with water, tiny micro-droplets that never seem to fall but envelope everything in an inescapable blanket of water, soaking every pore of every garment and working its way past every protective barrier completely to occupy and own whatever finds itself in its demesne. The clouds had descended to valley level and added to the vapour like quality of the rain, brought the visibility down to about 50 yards. It wouldn’t really have mattered that much if the visibility had been better, as we were unable to raise our heads to look up anyway, so intent were we on preventing the rain from filling the hoods on our waterproofs. It was relentless. All day, without even a second of respite, the rain kept coming. Britta reckoned that, by the end of the day, we had experienced 5 different level of pissy weather, from mild to OMG, with most of the day spent at the upper end of the scale.

After two hours of stomping up and slipping and sliding through quagmires of mud on the descent, we arrived, looking as if we had just completed an assault course, in the Valley of Glenmalure, some 12 kms from our starting point. We had the chance of stopping at the Glenmalure Lodge, one of the few inns that are passed on the trail at all and though we were severely tempted to drop in, dry off and warm ourselves with a hot soup and tea, we collectively decided to press on up the next steep ascent immediately, fearing – probably correctly – that, once ensconced in the warmth of the Lodge, we would not have had the strength to complete our journey.

We arrived in Glendalough after 7 hours walking, drenched, mud-caked and shivering. Every single item of clothing we had on was dripping wet and I feared that most of the kit in my backpack would have been similarly maltreated, despite the protective shell. The view was non-existent, but even so, the magic of the place was undeniable, with the steam rising off the Lake, the dramatic tree-covered slopes looking jungular and impenetrable, plunging into the water. It was without doubt the worst weather I had experienced on the entire trip and disappointed as I was that we should have chosen precisely that day for our walk together, there is nobody I would rather have had with me to share what would otherwise have been a thoroughly miserable day on the trail. We did have our moments though:

– The extraordinary massive semi-natural formation of rocks and stones hacked into the steep mountainside as we approached the final mountain before descending into Glendalough, reminded us of nothing so much as a giant’s staircase. I half-expected to hear the mighty boom of fee fi fo fum as we scrambled up it.

– The young french girl’s golden labrador, with its own saddlebag ( Brilliant piece of kit, that had “I want” written all over it.

– The sight of a young man coming out of the mist towards us at the top of the last hill with the most enormous backpack on his shoulders, looking for all the world like a snail carrying its house and displaying roughly the same proportions. We stood and watched in amazement as he wandered, stickless, up towards us, we both asking ourselves the same question: how on earth can anyone manage to walk a yard, let alone miles, with that monstrosity on their back and how can anybody go trail-hiking with such a badly packed pack?

Britta left me at around 1700 in the carpark at the Heritage Centre, this time with Stella. We had taken the decision to send her back for the day, as I was worried that the last few days and todays weather had taken their toll on her and was keen to give her the opportunity to rest. Also – I was concerned that with the next day’s walk over fells and open hillside, through sheep country, I would have to have her on her leash for most of the time, something that neither of us really enjoy. I spent the evening alone attempting to dry as much of my kit as could physically be draped over every last inch of the available heating in the bathroom and bedroom of my little B&B, an attempt that by next morning had proven only partially successful. A surprisingly good dinner at the Wicklow Heather Restaurant in Laragh finished what was surely the most exhausting and certainly the wettest of all the days I have walked so far. I fell asleep praying that tomorrow would not be quite as relentless.

Unfortunately my phone gotwet during our walk on Friday – as soon as I get it working again, I will loud up some pictures and impressions from our day.


Start of the South Leinster Route and a generally miserable day

Friday, May 1st. Swings and roundabouts. One day you are walking on gentle grassy banks along a majestic river in the spring sunshine with a cool breeze on your face, enthralled by the verdant luxury of the surrounding countryside and the next day you are trudging along mile after mile of black tarmac, often along the side of main arterial routes carrying lorries and an endless rush of busy traffic, with a cold, wet miserable east wind pushing against you and a grey menacing sky hanging over your head, threatening worse to come. Feet hurt from the tarmac, the views limited and where they should be, clouds hanging in the valleys.


I have been waiting for today or one similar to it. I am well into the third week and, at present rate have about 8 days to go. I am averaging between 25 and 30 kms a day and am walking at an average of exactly 5km/h or a kilometre every 12 minutes. 30 kms translates into 6 hours walking, which with reasonable tea and lunch breaks along the way turns into a 7-8 hour walking day. 10 hours was the most we have managed so far.

The routes are

Kerry Way (¾) : 110 kmIMG_3135

Blackwater Way: 168 km

East Munster: 75 km

South Leinster: 105 km

Wicklow Way: 129 km

Total Distance: 587 km

To date, we have covered 376 kms which is approx. 2/3rds and I am expecting to take seven to eight days to complete that stretch, which will bring me to Sunday, 10th or Monday, 11th of May, two days earlier than scheduled, but in time for my wedding anniversary on the 12th, which I had set myself as my real target date. I may have to tag another day on to complete the walk to the centre of Dublin, which is a good way from the official end of the Wicklow Way in Marlay Park in the south of the City, but I can do that and still be “in budget”.


I am probably being more than a little unfair on poor old South Leinster, as it is not really its (her? his? their, even?) fault, that the only walking section on the entire trail so far (and by the look of it at all) had to be on my black dog day with probably the most inclement weather of the trip. However, anybody reading the comments on the Irish Trails Website will not be able to overlook the fact that most experienced walkers are seriously underwhelmed by the quality of the walking and the construction of the trails, especially if they are used to fell-walking in the UK or trail walking in the Alps or in Italy. My impression is that Ireland is fairly new to walking and trail hiking as a serious sport and outdoor pursuit and is only really beginning to come to terms with the potential that the great Irish outdoors has, as it were, on its doorstep.

I was expecting much less though. I was expecting to have rotten to non-existant signage and to have to construct my trails with the help of my GPS system and the rudimentary maps on the Irish Trail site. That was my biggest worry and I was sure IMG_3152that, before I set off, I would waste hours in losing the trail and having to retrace my steps, seriously dragging down my average speed and distance covered. I had been told to expect this as well by various people who had had partial experience of the routes. It is definitely a load of cobblers, because the signage has been nigh on perfect, failing me only at the start of the Duhallow Way and on the last off-road kilometer before Cahersiveen, that latter slip costing me over an hour at the end of a very long day (the first) and led IMG_3153to my being macerated by a bramble and gorse thorn attack. Apart from that top marks to the various Trail maintenance teams, to whom I extend my heart-felt thanks for their stirling work. The South Leinster seems to be well signed and there is no reason to expect it suddenly to disappear and I know for a fact that the Wicklow is excellently maintained, so that I should be able to report that a walker can in fact walk from the south-eastern most point of the country to the capital without once having to ask for directions. Just follow the little yellow man!
My favourite moment of what was, otherwise, a day singuarly lacking in favourite moments, was the discovery of a stone seat built into the outside of a long garden wall, which I passed at around midday, some 8kms past Piltown. This slate seat, easily IMG_3148broad enough for Stella and I to fit comfortably onto, smiled at us as we passed and even though I had not planned to stop quite then, it seemed somehow churlish not to sit as we were tacitly bidden and to rest with a cup of tea. I love these little signs of compassion and thoughtfulness for passers-by. They shine with the altruistic spirit that conceived of them and brought them into existance. They are empathy made flesh or stone and I am always grateful for them personally, always avail myself of them and am always touched by the affirmation of our goodwill towards each other and in particular to strangers. There was no benefit to the builder of that wall, presumambly the owner of the huse IMG_3136and grounds behind it, from including a seat on the outside. It cannot have been conceived and built for his or her use. And yet at some time during the building of the wall, the owner will have had the thought, born perhaps by the memory of a similar seat found in a wall somehwere far away, in another country and time perhaps, and on which, weary from his walk or merely stopping to admire a view, he became the temporary beneficiary of another’s largesse, compassion and foresight and vowed one day, if perchance he should ever come to build a wall, to include a seat for passing travellers in it.  And so the seeds of empathy take root in each one of us and are multiplied a thousand times over, as anonymous acts of generousity spur us instinctively to give on, what we have received. So it was with the seat today, so it was with the water cup yesterday. Perhaps it wasn’t such a bad day after all.


This mornings r…

This morning’s report from the Environment Agency at Abingdon, just south of Oxford:

“The river and flooding forecast is as follows: The River Thames is high but is currently stable or rising very slowly in the Abingdon and Culham areas. No property flooding is currently expected The weather forecast is to expect some heavy showers moving through the area on Friday, especially this afternoon, as well as gale force winds.

10:14 on 03 Jan 2014”.

I think I am going to stop checking the Flood Warnings