I blog about my outdoor life, mostly in the Southern Appalachians and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina and our national parks.
I’m writing a book on visiting all the national parks in the Southeast – the battlefields, monuments, historic sites as well as the traditional national parks. My book, titled Forests, Alligators, Battlefields, will come out next year, 2016, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
I’m involved in outdoor and conservation issues. I hope these blog notes will inspire you to go and explore the outdoors, wherever you are.
Beth and I have finished our walks through Ireland. With the Kerry Way, Dingle Way and more than half of the Wicklow Way, we calculated that we did over 275 miles. That doesn’t begin to compare with 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail or over 1,000 miles of the Mountains-to-Sea across North Carolina.
Still, it was a great way to see a part of Ireland. Instead of renting a car or getting on a bus and visiting many places for a short time, we chose to concentrate on walking and understanding a small section well.
But if truth be told, that’s not how we made our plans. We decided on walking in Europe and then learned about the marvelous trails in Ireland.
As I’ve commented before, there isn’t much wilderness in Western Europe. Every corner has been lived in, farmed, tilled, and grazed. When you see sheep or horses, you know that the land is privately owned. People live and work in their national parks, though with many restrictions, I’m sure. So you can walk and walk and plan to have a bed, shower and meal, if you want that.
But the walking feels wild, even with sheep bleeting on the path. We had to figure out gates, stiles and sometimes confusing instructions and signs. We met few hikers on the trail and stopped and said hello to everyone we met. This kind of vacations allowed me to talk to locals in the shops, pubs and at our B&B. The people here really appreciate visitors and want to tell us about their country. Since there were few Americans on the trail, locals were intrigued about us and our walks.
Ireland Walk, Hike, Bike (www.southwestwalksireland) had organized our lodging and transported our bags from B&B to B&B. They were very good at helping us tweak our plans when we made it clear that we were hikers and not just on a walking holiday. So a big thank you to Linda Woods and her staff.
After the drama of the first day, the Wicklow Way south of Dublin was much kinder to me.
The weather was better and I was paying more attention to the twists and turn of the trail. We were led on open, wild country where we could see forever. Almost all of the trees in the countryside were cut down eons ago, giving wonderful views.
But as I keep commenting.
This is not untouched land. We passed through the monastic city of St. Kevin. We had scheduled a short day, only six miles, so that we had plenty of time to understand the ruins in Glendalough.
St. Kevin was a hermit who lived in a cave and presumably spent his free time praying. He was supposed to have lived from 498 to 618. To have lived this long certainly required divine intervention. But others must have found out about his lifestyle.
A monastery was founded after his death that became a center of learning. This is where monks wrote out and illuminated manuscripts. Then a village sprung up around the monastery. Well, others needed to grow and process grain and other foodstuff while the monks prayed.
Today, the monastic city still has an intact Round Tower and St. Kevin’s church. The cathedral is in ruins. The rest of the area is a huge graveyard, where people can still be buried. But here’s the modern story.
Close to the B&B where we stayed was a modern St. Kevin’s church.
I was not able to go inside but the grounds held a fascinating group of outdoor sculture. The most memorable was a memorial designed by Brother Joseph McNally, a local monk who had been in the United States when the twin towers were attacked on 911.
The Wicklow Way is the oldest long-distance trail in Ireland, having been established in about 1981. It’s only about 82 miles. Like most walks, it has a lot of roadwalking but it enters and leaves Wicklow Mountains National Park several times.
Unfortunately our plans don’t allow us to do the complete trail. If you’ve been following me, you might think that Beth and I will be in Ireland hiking forever, but no such luck. This is our last trail.
Beth and I started the Wicklow Way in the pouring rain. We were dropped off in Marlay Park, south of Dublin, for five days of walking in the Wicklow Mountains. Unlike the Kerry and Dingle Ways, we knew we are not going to do the whole trail.
The trail entered the forest. Or should I say two trails entered the forest- ours and the Dublin Mountains Way (DMW).
Both are marked with the familiar yellow walking man. I had my raincoat, rain cover, hat and gloves and was so grateful that the trail was so good and well-marked.
At some point, I entered a fairy land. I heard voices from above and I’m not a spiritual person at all. The trail was under a zip line and climbing course. Could you imagine being able to walk under a zip line course in the U.S.?
I figured where there’s a bunch of people and commercial activity, there must be toilets and a snack bar. I was right on both counts.
But where was Beth? Why wasn’t she enjoying a cup of tea in this awful weather? Could she be that far ahead?
I continued to follow the markers and noticed that the signs said DMW. I was on the wrong trail. Somewhere, who knows where, the two trails split. I missed that sign in the rain and mist. Where the heck was I? And was Beth waiting for me somewhere in the rain?
I went back to the zip line area and found someone who knew about trails in this area.
“You’re on the wrong trail,” he confirmed. “Where do you want to go?”
“Away from Dublin,” was the best I could come up with. My walking instructions were soaked by now.
“Well,” the guy said, ” the simplest way is to turn left on the road ahead and walk three miles and you’ll meet the Wicklow Way.”
“Three miles?” Everyone talks in kilometers but this guy insisted on miles.
So I started on the road, sticking my thumb out without any success. Where were all those friendly Irish? Then I realized what I looked like. I was covered up with only my eyes and legs uncovered. Who knew what lurked under all that clothing?
I took off my hood and hat and made sure that my gray hair was fully visible. The next car on the road stopped and picked me up. He took me to a point where the trail went into the woods. He wanted to take me all the way to our B&B. It was tempting, given the weather but I had no clue where Beth was.
If Beth was behind me, she would catch up. If she was in front, I wouldn’t catch up with her. Again, I hoped she wasn’t waiting for me.
The rain let up a little and I was able to take a couple of pictures. The sides of the trail were covered in heather. Where the coastal trail had heather along with many other flowers, here we have fields and fields of heather. Whole hillsides are painted purple.
So the moral of the story is – you’re not in the wilderness here and the Irish will pick you up. And Beth was ahead of me.
After the drama described in the last blog post, the last two days of the Dingle Way were magical.
The trail was easy, well-marked and beautiful. We had a 17-mile day but so much of it was gentle. We walked on the beach and through villages.
In one, we passed a pub and thought about morning tea. We leave so early, about 7:30, that I’m starved by eleven o’clock. The pub was closed and wouldn’t open until 1pm. But a kind woman, who turned out to be an employee, asked
“Are you looking for the toilet?”
“Actually, we were hoping for some tea.”
“You sit in the courtyard and I’ll bring you some.”
“Maybe you have a piece of brown bread.” I sounded desperate but the Brown Irish soda bread is a wonderful snack. I also love it for breakfast.
She brought out tea for two, brown bread, butter and jam. With a little cheese from my pack, it became a great lunch, all for 5 euros. And I got her recipe.
She warned me that Irish whole wheat flour is much coarser and that I was going to have to add some multi-grain cereal to the mix. I can’t wait to try baking it at home.
The last morning on the trail, we were joined by Tony, a retired hike leader and guidebook writer. He gave us a lot of insight on his world. Tony, a secondary school teacher, in his former life, grew up and lived his whole life close to Castlegregory, where we spent our last night on the Dingle. Eventually, he left teaching and found a new vocation on the trail.
The Dingle Way is shaped like a lollipop. The start of the trail is at the stick end, in Tralee. After a day of walking, you’re at the circle part. We finished the circle and didn’t see the need to redo the stick. So we ended our trek in front of Ashe’s pub at about 11 AM. The pub was closed but we did take the obligatory pictures in front. We had tea at a gas station store, where we waited for our ride to the Tralee train station.
Then back to Dublin to reorganize. I need to do the laundry, re supply our lunch and snack inventory, look for a book to read and a Post office. There’s lots to do on this holiday.
The Dingle Way has turned out to be a fantastic trail, even more interesting than the Kerry Way, if I can be so choosy. But it isn’t without its challenges.
Most of the trail is rolling but one day, we had to climb to a pass through a sheep pasture. We started out in misty, moist weather at 7:30 am, our usual staring time. We had a make-shift breakfast, because our lodging wasn’t willing to serve us so early.
As we climbed, we were following yellow and sometimes white posts. The rain had picked up and we put on our rain jackets and rain covers for our packs. I wasn’t yet willing to put on my rain pants, since I find them so uncomfortable when I’m climbing. The posts weren’t obvious and I kept taking a compass reading to the last post, in case we had to turn back.
By the time we arrived to the top of the pass, we couldn’t even see any sheep or sheep droppings. They weren’t as dumb as us and didn’t see the need to climb as high in this driving rain. But worse, we couldn’t see our first posts going down.
We roamed around the top, all the while keeping that last post in sight. Finally, Beth found the next post and we started down. We hopped down into mud and muck and had long ago, stopped trying to keep out boots clean and dry. Finally we saw sheep again, a sign that we were making progress. We reached the bottom and sunshine and all was right with the world.
When we got to our next B&B , I emailed Linda Woods of Ireland Walk Hike Bike (www.southwestwalksireland.com) and told her of our challenging day. But the woman at the lodging that we had left also telephoned Linda and said,
“The American women have left for the mountain. It’s foggy and they’ll get lost.” Or something to that effect. Linda told that we’ll be all right, but got worried. In her email to us, she even talked about a search.
“A search?” That is serious. You don’t institute a search for people who aren’t lost and are doing exactly what was planned. So I assumed that was hyperbole and laughed it off.
If you’re expecting great pictures from the top, you’ll be disappointed. There would be just gray punctuated by rain drops on the camera lens. But I thought you’d enjoy a picture of my feet. Duct tape works great on hot spots or over band-aids, never directly on broken skin. Thank goodness Ireland has duct tape.