Author: stevesally55

THE LYCIAN WAY 6 : POSTSCRIPT.

3 weeks since arriving in Turkey we are back at Dalaman airport after a pretty smooth run yesterday from Cirali. It had proved impossible to get info on the net about buses either via Antalya or back over the coastal route we had hiked. Local knowledge also left us similarly confused with varied, conflicting or non existent opinions on the way to do it. In the end we kind of left it to the gods and they served us well. A small minibus dolmus up to the main road met a bigger one that took us to Kalkan that met another one that took us to Feithye that met another that took us to Dalaman where we waited 5 mins for a cab to the airport hotel. Literally walked from one bus to the next. It still took us 7 hours though. Mind you not bad considering it had taken 3 weeks to hike.

When planning the trip I definitely overestimated the ground we would be covering a day. Not realising the difficulty of the terrain I had estimated 25 days hiking at 22 km a day to complete the 540 km that I believed was the length. Wrong on many fronts. The actual length ( without variations) seemed to be 440km. And we could only average 16km a day. And we only walked 18 days.

So we covered about 290km. If we had continued for the planned extra 10 days at that average we could have made it but the route is supposed to get tougher for the end stages.

We ended in the most beautiful of places. Olympus and Cirali are set in , literally, awesome surroundings and maybe because of the Olympus National Park are pretty low key resorts with no high rise hotels or even buildings over 2 story that i can think of.

So it was lovely to spend a day on the vast stretch of beach, relaxing. Gazing at the majestic mountains and floating in the cooling sea. Lovely to enjoy the sun rather than try to hide from it. Lovely to walk around without breaking a sweat from the load on our backs. Chilling.

That’s not to say that the hike was not enjoyable. It definitely was. But a little too demanding at times to be classified as fun.

But of course effort brings rewards and the views from the high points justified the struggle in getting there and the relief of submersion in those beguiling turquoise waters made the sweaty clambering beforehand well worthwhile.

The Turkish people were invariably really friendly and hospitable and we only came upon a couple who seemed keen to grasp every lira the Likya Yolu could provide. The food was good and nourishing although it could be hard to find much of a lunch or dinner in the village stores. We had a wide range of accommodation, mostly wild camping, which you can do virtually anywhere, but also camping in yards and gardens and campsites, a few pensions and a hotel at beginning , middle and end. Oh and the room in Dorothy and Ramazan’s villa with a pool. All of it was good value. The falling value of the Turkish Lira was good for us but I felt for the many who relied on the income of the vanished European tourists, who stayed at home due to Covid concerns.

There were precious few fellow thru hikers on the trail, we met mostly people out for the day or a short section. It was early in the season though so perhaps more will come. It would have been better to hike when the weather had cooled but we were constrained by the last Ryanair flight home. Apparently it’s been the hottest Sept/Oct for nearly 40 years.

The route is varied and although we didn’t make it up into the high high mountains we enjoyed a lot of different landscapes. But if your someone who likes to stride out uninterrupted , “smashing it” as they say, and clocking up the km this is not the route to take. 2km an hour was not unusual and some clambering, scrambling sections were painfully slow.

The archeological remnants of millennia old civilisations were astonishing to witness, scattered liberally along our entire journey, and gave us pause for thoughts about the rise and fall of empires. Where were we on the pendulum at the moment, and would our structures last so long after our demise?

On our last evening we got a spin up to the phenomena of Chimeria. The natural gas seeping through the rocks from the bowels of the earth has been alight and flickering since before the days of the Lycians. From the car park it was a km of steep rocky steps up towards the ridge above the town. Our final hike.

A strange scene- like a stage set or a ritual celebration or the mass awaiting of something unknowable to occur.

Some people cooked marshmallows.

We bumped into Igor again, one of the first hikers we had met, sharing a camp weeks before and crossing paths again days later. Bonded by the Way.

The darkness fell and the atmosphere rose, as more people arrived and the rituals continued we made our way back to our lift.

Final dawn and I had to greet the sun from within the sea. All calm and peaceful, with a first light turning Olympus mountain pink and groups of yoga folk decorating the beach.

After a day on the buses a last swim in the airport hotel, under a deep blue sky and the planes that have bought us home.

So now, when and where next?

THE LYCIAN WAY 5

4 days of hiking since our sojourn in lovely Ucagiz and the surrounding turquoise waters holding the ghosts of a once mighty civilisation.

It’s been 4 days of up and down. In terms of geography, terrain, health, emotion and decision making.

First up Ivor gets a work call that makes him anxious to get home and organises a flight for the 11th- ten days early. So we need to plan where we can be to get him a bus back etc.

We had already decided to leave out the upcoming 3 day (3 long days climbing to 1800m) section over the mountains as there are no food, water or accommodation options and the amount of water we’ve been drinking made it too much to carry. Way to much. So we were going to do the popular choice of getting a bus from Demre to Kumluca and a quick spin in a Dolmus to Mavikent to start the trail again. Taking out that chunk made it much easier for me to finish the Lycian Way in time.

But first we had to get to Demre.

Setting off as usual in the gloaming, down a concrete block road that seemed to radiate immense heat, past the boatyards, a cemetery ( a reliable source of water, like the mosques, as the Muslim faith seems to be keen on clean), and a stretch of plastic greenhouses and goat pens.

The track alternated between smooth red soil cleared of stones to the more usual jumble of ankle twisting rocks.

We knew there was supposed to be an isolated cafe/ bar/ camping at an inlet along the coast and we were hoping for breakfast but it was still early when we got there and the only person around was still sleeping it off.

A funny set up the place seemed to be closed but this kayaker was staying in a tent and making himself at home at the inn. He talked about a customer who was camping and made us a cup of tea. I saw my first kingfisher.

The indented coastline and offshore islands made for very sheltered anchorages and we past some with many yachts floating between blue and blue.

Turning inland we crossed a stretch of thankfully level ground before climbing up to the tops of the cliffs and past more greenhouses around the hamlet of Kapakli.

It’s been shocking to witness the amount of plastic going into the environment here. So many plastic water bottles and the hanks of plastic cord that the greenhouse crops grow up are all dumped- to slowly slowly become part of worm, earth, plant,fish et all. All but the rocks I guess.

Descending again to the coast on more rocky ground we stopped for a swim at beautiful Cakil and continued on a sometimes tricky scramble to eventually get to a footbridge across the river Sura and the big wide beach at Andriake where I couldn’t resist another cool down and we organised a cab to the bus station in town.

Arriving at Mavikent around 5 we only had time to walk down the seafront strip alongside the beach to where the rag taggle collection of homes on stilts ran out and we could find somewhere to pitch our tents.

We had a few km of road walking in the morning to get us to Karaöz from where we would do a big loop down the peninsular to Gelidonya lighthouse on a long, strenuous and exposed route. The scenery was spectacular. Towering mountains and tree covered cliffs above a tranquil transparent sea. We stopped, or were stopped, on arriving at Karaöz by an insistent proprietor of a cafe where we had breakfast.

Out past more greenhouses and fully loaded with water we headed off, past Pirate Bay, long a hang out of the bad men , and on past numerous campsites, some more inviting than others. I had to stop at a beautiful fruit/ flower garden for some freshly squeezed before the long hot climb up and up to the lighthouse.

By this time I was over hot and dizzy again so had some electrolytes and cooled myself in water from the wasp and hornet surrounded cistern. We rested up in the shade but were too harassed by insects to camp there as planned. One of them got lost in my belly rolls and stung me! Talking to a hiker who’d arrived from the other way and looking at his app there seemed to be camping options further on so we saddled up again and carried on. After a while a group came down towards us led by a lively and boisterous fella we’d met on the trail a couple of weeks ago. Turned out he was a guide and he gave us the heads up on a spot at the high point pass to camp. Some of his group, those struggling at the back, were suffering visibly while he loudly and happily sweated on his way. Speaking of sweat I produce a drop from the end of my nose every couple of seconds and my shorts look suspiciously like I have embarrassed myself after a very short time of exertion in the heat.

Next day was another tough hot one when I had to stop once or twice feeling a bit faint. Something was up and I wasn’t sure if it was heatstroke. But we made it up and over another mountain, past more ruins to the cooling and reviving sea at Adrasan, where the gulet day cruise boats anchored up on the beach and parascenders swooped in to land. We bobbed about in the ocean, found a camp and frequented the stall of the lady selling frozen organic fruit juices.

So after discussions with my medical support team it seemed a possibility that my blood pressure meds were too strong for my current exercising, undereating body causing whitey like symptoms, and to try a day without them. Much much better.

But in the meantime I had wondered if it was a good idea for me to continue solo – not in great shape. It’s wild out there and if you fall ill on your own……

Anyway the next days hike, which was another pretty tough sea level to 800m and back through scree, rock , scrub and thick and fallen forest felt ok. No dizzy fits.

We left Adrasan along the beach and then the river, where pensions and restaurants had their tables placed over the water like the river at Seti Fatma in Morocco’s High Atlas where I hiked last year.

As we climbed we past a goatherd and his jumping bucking bell tinkling herd. Also a squashed scorpion. I’ve been disappointed not to have seen a live one, or a snake, or a tortoise. Actually I did see a little tortoise in the first few minutes of our trek- but it was similarly squashed.

Amazing views from the top of the pass as we looked out at some big mountains including Tahtali Davi/ Mount Olympos the 2366m giant I was hoping to cross the back of. So , what goes up must come down, though why sometimes they can’t go round alludes me. It was a long descent clambering over and under many fallen trees but the surrounding scenery got more and more spectacular. At a pass there was a building and a grain threshing floor. Extraordinary to think of growing grain right up there.

And then we were looking down at Olympos. The site of the ruins and the modern village of glam ping, camping, boutique hotels, eco resorts and restaurants. A very steep path slid us down to a badly needed Fanta and a decision was formed. Health and safety considered it was not wise to continue solo. I could rest on a sunny beach and bob about in the cooling waters for a week. I could check in to a nice hotel and hang by the pool sipping cold beer. But why would I when I could return to an Ireland entering winter and self isolate in a tiny wooden cabin for two weeks quarantine.

And having lost one of the Three Amigos before we started, better that the remaining two return together.

So we ambled through the ancient ruins of Olympos and swam in the sea again before moving on a little to Cirali where we eat and I wrestled with the Ryanair “change your flight” section before giving up in despair and moving to the “buy another flight sucker” section.

So a final day of sea and sun awaits and also a trip to the ” burning rocks” of Chimaera this evening. Tomorrow we’ll have to get to main road bus route and start the long return.

I’ll post a report of the flaming rocks and overall Lycian Way thoughts in a couple of days.

THE LYCIAN WAY 4

So 2 weeks of Lycian Way hiking under our boots and the packs should feel like an extension of ourselves – a humpback your completely accustomed to – they don’t.

2 weeks in our bodies should be ” track fit”. Lean, mean walking machines – agile and balanced – striding strongly up or down without thought or effort – they’re not.

Well mine anyway, I won’t speak for Ivor. I think the main problem is the pack weight. And the rough, rocky and steep terrain. And the heat.

In fact the heat did for me a couple of days ago and I suffered a bit of the wobblies. I’d been feeling it coming on for a day or so and knew the signs of heat stroke/ exhaustion so been soaking my head in cold water and drinking lots of water and dioralytes and trying to stay out of it- but not easy when you’re hiking the Likya Yolu in September apparently. So my medical support team advised a day off. And today we had a good one. And yesterday was also pretty chilled. And the day before started with a boat ride.

Kate Clow the pioneer designer of the trail says in her seminal guide book of the route from Kas ” You could walk to Liman Agazi, the sheltered bay opposite Kas, or you could take the boat” Then she writes about the route scrambling down cliff faces and advises not to hike it with large packs. We didn’t need advising twice. So down to the colourful harbour where we secured our places in a little boat for a couple of euro.

The day before the bay had been very choppy after a few days of winds but now luckily it was pretty calm. The isolated beach the little ferry was taking us to was on a roadless peninsular and beyond the few comfortable restaurants and boutique hotels was a world of wild.

As soon as we reached the first opportunity for a cooling swim we were in- so hard to leave.

But leave we must- because there was promise of a cafe at Fakdere beach another hour or so along the trail. Fakdere was the site of the excavation of a nearly complete Bronze Age shipwreck which contained amphorae filled with resin, ingots of copper and tin, blue glass, ostrich eggs, ivory, Ebony, bronze cups, amber and glass beads and a lot of gold jewellery. All lost at sea 1400 BC. The buildings used by the excavators had been converted to cafe and accommodation.

Except it was all closed down. After more full body immersion cold water treatment we continued on , first up a steep gravel tractor track the back down through the rock , rubble and prickly scrub. After another enforced shade break where an illegal development had been bulldozed we managed to make it to a flat sandy area at the end of a road below Sisla Mevki. It always seems strange and somehow insulting to struggle to a place that others casually motor to. We were welcomed by some motor bikers who supplied cold water and a comfy chair while I gathered my remaining wits. That was it for the day.

The young ones had a bit of a party, the full moon shone unshielded through my flysheet free tent and I lay, like a rabbit in the headlights, feeling cold and shivery in my clothes in my down sleeping bag.

Up at daybreak to gain km in the cool, we set off for Bogazcik an agricultural village that also housed Ali’s Pansiyon where we stopped for a late breakfast , served by the cheerful matriarch as she wound her tomato strings and met up with a young hiker we’d seen at Fakdere. As we were heading off a German girl arrived who was covering serious ground. A hardcore hiker she had started the Lycian Way direct from the Kungsleden (?) the Swedish long distance trial I’d discovered when in Abisko in the far north. A serious trek. She’d had to give up after about 400km cos of two weeks strong wind. Carrying a 20 kilo pack!Made my inner moaning about the 12kg on my back seem a bit whingey. Better toughen up.

Off into the wilderness again fortified by a fine breakfast, bottles of cold water and talk of heroic hikes, we went up past but not too the ruins of Apollonia way up top of a hill too high.

Then on over the red earth through a strange limestone landscape past more ruins of tombs and buildings and twisting and turning down down again to the magical inlet at Aperlae where there are are many remains from 500 bc underwater. There were a couple of major earthquakes in this region that caused an inundation and evacuation.

And we found our rest place for the rest of the day evening and night at The Purple House, rumoured you be closed but thankfully never so. An old house owned by Riza, converted in the honourable bodging, upcycling, recycling , reducing and reusing tradition. Originally his great grandads 220 years ago, long abandoned with the ancient city alongside it was rediscovered by Riza after 8 years as barman in a techno club in Antalya. Talk about a change of seen! Totally out there – way off grid.

With the still huge moon hanging in a night sky miles from any light pollution and a group of women singers serenading is from an offshore yacht it was a special place to stay. Riza organised his friend to pick us up from the other end of the narrow isthmus early next morning and boat us to Ucagiz, saving us a lot of rock scrambling. He even transported our packs by the only transport out there.

A magical ride over calm waters in the early morning light past yachts at anchor in the island sheltered sea. One was a super mega yacht owed by a Canadian multi billionaire. Nearly 100 m long- $200,000,000 worth. I liked our vessel as much.

Ucagiz was a flower filled harbour town doing a lot of business with boat trips and cruises of all kinds and the Pension that Riza had sent us to, where we camped in the garden, got the brother to take us on a trip around the antiquities.

Amazing sights, amazing beauty, sunken cities. We stopped for a swim at the end of Kekova island and swam ashore to see more ruins. Riches in the debris of time.

Back in town we continued the day off with a stroll to tombs and a swim. And now to dinner. Hopefully fit for another long trek tomorrow.

THE LYCIAN WAY 3

Olsen treated us well at his coming together camp/ A frame site outside of Kalkan. Our conversation relied completely on google translate which meant it was not smooth flowing or wide ranging but we did discover he was a professional footballer for Galasataray for many years.

Unfortunately the mosquitoes in the A frames did not treat us well and the little sleep was frequently interrupted by high pitched buzzing followed by frantic hunting and slapping- and repeat.

So it was kind of a relief when the Iman started his 5.50 call to prayer- our cue to get up and get hiking. Up across rocky olive groves and scrub and the stoniest fields I’ve seen. There are a lot of very stony fields here.

Up to a main road where a platform resting place ( kosk) was next to an old water cistern and ruins. And strangely a scattering of graves beside the road.

Next up, literally, a long climb. First up tarmac road of new villas, then bulldozed track awaiting new villas, then old roman road- now still used as animal migration route to get the goats to high pasture (yayla) for the summer months.

Already hot we stopped at a cistern that had a bucket and had a cold water wash and cool down.

The vegetation here can be merciless. A lot of the time long trousers and sleeves are needed but we are usually in shorts and quite often top less so the thorny scrub has taken its toll.

The rocky ground and fear of falling or twisted ankle means our eyes are on the ground a lot but every time we look up- a vista appears.

Coming into the next village, Bezirgan, up on the high plane between the mountain ranges (Ova), we passed through rows of the wooden grain stores (ambars).

A scattered agricultural village with lots of grain fields and fruit trees, there were huge sacks of apples awaiting collection and juicy bunches of wild grapes hanging out over our route from the hedgerows. A narrow walled path led us out and up.

A different landscape again either side of Saribelen where we carried on past the stage end to wild camp and shorten the distance of the next days hike. We found a lovely spot amongst Burren like limestone formations and settled in for the night.

The moon nearly full on the light rocks and the wind blowing through the giant pines above us made for a interesting night but early morning we were off again to climb higher over a pass then down into another valley, past a charcoal burners circle and over an empty and austere but beautiful ova. The level going made for some rapid progress after much tortuous stumbling over stones ground.

On a wide tractor track we climbed up till we had views of the coast again and continued on this high ground before dropping down again into another ova.

This was the home of Huseyin and the red and white markets led us straight to the little house where his wife? Called us in for cay, tea, and pronounced as in the Indian Chai.

A fine hardworking lady, who showed me her arthritic hands and left me wondering about her life.

It was a magical place,with goat topiary, fantastic stone, wonderful woodland, flat fields for grazing and a huge empty landscape. I would love to see these ova’s in spring with fresh green grass and wild flowers.

And there were traces of former lives lived here. Old farmhouses and stone remains of buildings from a dim and distant past.

Coming into the next village and hoping to replenish our supplies at the ” market” (shop) was a slightly surreal affair.

A huge Turkish flag hung in the sky and as we approached a car drew to a halt asking if we wanted breakfast or pension. After telling the couple we only needed the shop, market – he turned the car around and drew to a stop outside Yesil’s Lodging and proceeded with the hard sell. Later we were to read he was notorious for being a somewhat aggressive salesmen. The irony was that unless you wanted a bed for the night or a cooked meal his “market” had little to offer.

That wasn’t just a fridge. That was the village shop.

The next strange event happened not long after we had escaped Yesil’s grasping hand when we came upon the younger brother of our friend Gerry Mulkerrins picking rose hips for the cay.

He gave us a big bunch of grapes and we carried on along a long valley into forest covered hills on a path that led us to a Wellcome resting shelter and water fountain.

Refreshed again we began another long and steep climb that had us climbing high over the valley through woodland path and forest track. I startled a family of wild boar at some abandoned shepherds huts and they took off at high speed.

And finally at about 940m we found our camp for the night. A resting platform built under an ancient and huge spreading plain tree next to a dribbling water source.

But even a dribble adds up pretty quick to enough drinking water even when you are getting though about 4 lt a day. It was just as well we were as fortified as we were as just as we were falling asleep, a clatter if hooves on stone announced the arrival of z as large group of horses, perhaps 10, come searching for water. They returned many times throughout the night, sometimes on mass, sometimes in twos or threes. And then the screech owl started.

In the morning we continued up and along a wild overgrown ridge to another extraordinary archeological site- Phellos. Perched high on the end of a precipitous ridge it was most probably a Roman garrison city and has been left to the encroaching scrub for a long time.

And then the long scrambling down through the stumble stones and pricking plants into Cukurbag where some kind person had positioned a free cold water machine on their garden wall.

At the far end of the village, just as we had given up finding breakfast we found Nirvana. Breakfast Nirvana anyway. A beautifully put together complex of garden, houses and rustic cabins that make up 3oda.

A craftman’s vision had gone into the creation of a special place full of quirky features.

And the finest breakfast of homegrown/ homemade fruit, veg, preserves etc etc you could hope for on a long hard hike. A lucky find. 3 Oda.

After a couple of days of bread , cucumber,cheese and tomato and little else, it was a foodie treat and we headed off on the final leg to Kas replete. Easy to start, crossing a wide, flat and dried and cracked area- difficult to finish with an incredibly steep and slippy descent down to Kas.

Thankfully down safely we rewarded ourselves for the hardships endured and to come with a room in a hotel with a pool and buffet breakfast. Tomorrow we go wild down the coast again. Starting with a boat ride.

THE LYCIAN WAY 2.

So 4 days trekking since last post and I’m hiding from the sun in a tiny wooden A frame at the foot of the 900m mountain we now have to climb. An emerging camp site being put together by a young guy from Macedonia. All off grid, a dozen or so little “bungalows” set in an olive grove that the Way winds through. It’s called the Olive Garden Camp if you’re ever over this way. It’s just after the busy, mostly British, resort town of Kalkan which we got through as quick as possible. Picked up a new cap for me as some bush grabbed the last from my pack this morning, and supplies and cash for Ivor, and got the hell out of Dodge. We’re hoping that a dawn start from here will have us up the mountain before the sun boils our blood.

We’ve seen a lot of outstanding ruins since Pydnai, the first of which were at the World Heritage site of Xanthos.

We’d taken a dolmus bus from Patara Green Park to avoid 5km of road through plastic greenhouses and wandered around the 2500yr old city after walking through the covered market below, which could have supplied some wonderful and cheap gardening tools. Too heavy to carry another 400km!

There were many signs illustrating the wonderful monuments that had been ” smuggled”, ” abducted” and ” removed to ” the British Museum by Charles Fellows who ” discovered”!! Xanthos in 1840. Ahh the arrogance of the robbing Empire.

More ancient wonders were literally on route later when we hiked on from Cavdir to Uzumlu and found ourselves walking an amazing aqueduct which, two millennia ago, carried water from the hills all the way to Xanthos.

Further on we discovered (that’s the Empire spirit talking!) a section that was still working, carrying a gushing flow of deliciously cool water down towards the sea of greenhouses past a delightfully chilled “kosk”or sitting platform.

From there we had to walk upstream through thick jungly vegetation passed a waterfall- not what we’d expected in this dry landscape.

Then on through shady forest but up and up through shady forest which meant by the time we literally staggered to the posh villa we’d lucked on for the night the cool pool was pure heaven.

Deborah and Ramazan treated us right royal and sent us off stuffed with a ” full turkish” in the morning to pass a wealth of fruit on route until we were past the villas and out in the scrub again.

At Amber we passed a jolly man squashing grapes and doing a fine impression of a drunken grape squasher. His wife gave us a drink of his foot juice. Lovely.

Next up Akbel provided us with a seamstress(?) for fixing Ivor’s chest strap on his pack. No money accepted.

We should have put money into the local organic veg suppliers but can’t take the weight.

Soon we were on a very inhospitable section. Not the people but the vegetation. Very sharp, very prickly, very dry, very overgrown.

We had been warned to wear long shirts/trousers but “it’s too darned hot”.

More antiquities in the middle of it all in the form of a 2000 year old Roman water engineering marvel of Delikkemer. The sealed siphonic pipes ran atop a 500m long wall, 1.6m wide and up to 12m high. Each of the 1000 pipe blocks weighs 800kg and the wall blocks are massive. The mind boggled.

On through the dried grasses of autumn to take shade and lunch at a water source we shared with a community of frogs and I think it’s where Ivor saw a tortoise in the bushes.

Whenever we are heading to a sea level stage end the route planners seem to delight in sending us up first. And so it was. On route to the village of Gelemiş we had to climb, getting temporally lost but finding more beehives.

A busy town with multiple sleeping options we chose to camp behind Medusa bar. A funky operation with showers and beer.

The red/ white markers led us astray first thing and we had to retrace our path back through the town. There is quite often a difference of opinion between map, markings and apps. Some markings have been painted by wily pension owners to lead you to their business. Allegedly.

But we made it down the road to the ancient city of Patara. Now inland from the 12km beach it used to be a harbour city and has seen a succession of people’s and cultures. And most importantly was the birthplace, in the 6th century, of one St Nicholas, AKA Father Christmas, although how he could handle the heat in that red outfit is beyond me.

What impressed me the most was the harbour bath house, a huge edifies that once housed a gym, sauna , solarium etc etc with cool, warm and hot rooms and swimming pool and underfloor heating and massive hot water storage tanks. 2000 years ago. Hats off to the Romans.

Culturally sated we went to the beach where many turtles lay their eggs. I saw a multitude of little scuffling tracks and little holes so I guess it’s laying time, not hatching time.

From there we had to traverse the peninsular to the south and back around to Delikkemer and then a “dangerous” and scary keg on to Kalkan. We thought we’d best break the stage and leave the scary stuff for a day so after a hot hike up and over Eren T mountain/ hill we descended to a lush and isolated beach to cool in the now placid waters.

Onward down the track passed other tiny bays people had claimed as their chill zones we made it to the water fountains and popular picnic/ swimming spot for local Turks. Exhausted and needing to be near drinkable water we decided to stay.

In the morning the twinkling lights of Kalkan drew us on from the camp. Back to the aqueduct then down a pretty crazy path up and down jagged rocks with 100m falls to the sea if you made a tiny error. Slow going but eventually we emerged into the opulent villa land on outskirts of Kalkan. From there a sweaty slog into town and a dolmus a few km down the highway from where we clambered through the olive groves to our tiny A frames.

4 more days and we’ll be back at the sea. Until then I’m hoping for some cool mountain air.

Oh yeah, Ivor got mobbed by wild boar in his tent last night. Didn’t sleep a wink.

THE LYCIAN WAY 1.

(Thanks to grand daughter Sylvie for the illustration)

Rambling man is now attempting to hike the Lycian Way, a 20 year old route put together by Kate Clow from a wealth of ancient paths, tracks and drovers roads along the Turkish ” turquoise coast”. A 540 km trek from Fethiye southeast then northeast to near Antalya, it has 29 sections and takes 30 to 33 days. We have only 26 days available so will have to miss a bit.

I say “we” cos I’m joined by Ivor Bundle again. Sadly the planned trip by the Tres Amigos was scuppered when Mickey ( Man of the Mountain) Dawson buggered up his knee and was forced to stay home.

A wise decision as this trek is no place for dodgy knees being pretty rugged in hill walking terms. We’ve only been at it for 4 1/2 days so far and I believe the easier sections are supposed to be at the beginning but it’s been pretty hard going on steep and rocky paths with sections of loose stones and scree ,occasional landslides and rockfall interspersed with wider or flatter mule and tractor tracks. Nearly all off road and totally glorious. Still 30 degrees or more, with packs weighing 12-14kg loaded with food and water, we try to start early and hunt the shade for a breather when we can.

The days are about 12 hours long and full of de-camping, hiking, hiding from sun while lunching, hiking, camping, washing clothes, reading up route etc etc that little time or internet is left for blogging – so if you’re interested in more info on this wonderful route, check online- suffice to say it passes several holiday centres on the coast but mostly travels through small villages of farmers and goat herders and travels up and down between the high pastures and forests and the beaches and harbours of the med. A long long history of a succession of civilisations, cultures and peoples have all left their marks upon the landscape and the hiker will ramble through remains of the ages as they walk here.

We started the adventure at Kayakoy, and after our first Turkish coffee and Turkish delight headed up to explore the old Greek town of Levissi, abandoned after the massacre of Greeks in the Ottoman Emoire during Ww1. A subsequent treaty and population exchange ensured the towns inhabitants could not return.

From the top of the ruined town we had an 8 km walk, following our first red/ white trail markings through a tall forest of pines with occasional views of the Taurus mountains rising pale blue in the distance.

On the far side of the ridge we were a little confused at a junction of ways until a big and boisterous man and his companion showed us the way down to Ölüdeniz and Ovacık, where we had a room prebooked. Turned out he was a publican on the strip of gaudy bars , restaurants, shops and what have you in this most British of resorts. We had no idea that such a place existed here and it was an assault on the senses.

The kindly publican had us in for a drink and we set off to eventually find our hotel, which we sadly left at 7 next morning without time to indulge in the enticing facilities.

Before long we’d made it to the official start of a long journey, fingers and toes crossed.

Immediately we started to rise steeply with views of the beaches and harbour of Ölüdeniz and the capes and headlands beyond. We passed a number of fellow hikers rising from their tents as we climbed first on a wide track and then, a sign of things to come, a rough and stony path.

Access to water is pretty important on this route and I’d bought with me a little cup/ mini bucket and string with which to gather water from the old storage wells or cisterns that dotted the route so was interested to see if the first we passed contained the life juice. It did.

Blue skies, green trees and dried and yellowing scrub made for pretty landscape.

There was abandoned development here and there and lots and lots of bees hives. Later we discovered stalls selling pine honey- a new one to me.

Finally reaching a level section of high ground we took the opportunity to relax a moment and enjoy the one spring fountain we’d found that wasn’t busy with bees.

The first stage end is at Faralya,but after a tasty and hearty lunch at a pension run by a charming and friendly couple we had the strength to carry on to Kabak beach, passing our first Lycian tomb.

Ancient and twisted trees dotted our route that steeply returned to sea level where after a swim we found the Secret Garden campsite hidden away, maybe illegally , in the woods behind the beach. First day, two stages done.

First erection of Ivor’s tent successful and rested by an exhausted sleep we left early next morning to avail of the shade afforded by the towering mountains to the east of us we had now to scale.

Cyclamens and asphodels emerged everywhere from the forest floor as we reached the top and were rewarded with far reaching views.

Old grain terraces and olive groves mostly abandoned, the strong scents of herbs and pine needles in the heat and the deep red of the naked arbutus strawberry tree.

Here and there along the route are little stalls selling cay, (tea) and water, drinks etc. Sometimes manned sometimes with honesty box they usually have resting platforms and shade, lovely shade.

They have lovely little wood burners for heating the tea water and this one had a subterranean cooler.

At Alinca we were treated to more delicious food and Turkish hospitality at a pension / shop/ restaurant. Our hosts have always been very friendly and inquisitive, and the food wholesome, local and homegrown and made. Little gifts of fruit are often offered and the tea cup often refilled.

A grand design modern home sat below us with a view to die for. Location location.

We met a couple that we bumped into often over the next couple of days, the only walkers met on the trail since the first day. Maybe it’s still too hot!

Off again, at a junction we had to decide. One way to join our new friends at the ruins of Sidyma or another route south to the nearer village of Gey. We had run out of time- so headed for Gey. It takes a long time to cover any ground on this terrain and we’re afraid we’d run out of light.

So so hot we used the magnificent old water cistern to cool down. A big metal bucket on a rope thrown into the water and hoisted for a shower. The refreshment lasted moments.

A cross country slog and a final exhausted stretch up a section of road and we arrived in Gey to ask for food and shelter. Taken in by a household we couldn’t decide were in business or not, we pitched in their yard and they again did us proud with dinner , breakfast and shower. Only problem the overpopulation of cocks that crowed incessantly from 4am!

The lady of the house wove carpet and there were huge sacks of wild herbs dried in the shed. The neighbour drew water from the cistern in the morning as we headed away , making for a wild camping spot on the coast about 8 hours hike away.

Beautiful and ancient old olive and holm oak trees, many delicate stacks of stones to mark our way, and so many asphodels poking up from the dry ground from their huge bulbs.

Long abandoned threshing circles and constant vista down towards the coast.

Another village, Bel, another lovely couple and a chance to have tea, cake and shop for supplies. Loaded up with water ( 4 lt) and good we carried on into the heat with a lot of altitude to lose.

Passed the tiny and mostly abandoned village of Gavuragili we continued down towards the pebbly beach still being pounded by big waves, similar to our swim at Kabak beach. We found a nice place to pitch in the cliff top trees next to the campground where there had been a festival last year and still sported the signs and decor. We met our new friends Olga and Basil there and I spent the night star gazing without my fly sheet.

A short day today started at 6 before the burning orb rose into the clear sky with a wash etc at the village washing station before climbing a forest track up and over a ridge and down to views over the flat plain ahead. The 12 km beach of Patara backed by protected wetlands and behind that hundreds of plastic poly tunnels. We stopped for breakfast on the trail overlooking the ancient ruins of Pydnai before exploring the amazing stone work at ground level.

From there it was a short but tricky stretch down over rock and a landscape recently burnt to a very dodgy bridge over the river separating us from Patara Green Park camping, whose advertising signs have been regularly enticing us since we started.

A day to have a swim, do the washing , erect the tents etc and wrestle with the internet in an attempt to post a blog.

We also had to mask up when the governor came to call proceeds by a mass of police.

Dingle Ramblings

We had thought we might head down to the southwest and do the Sheeps Head, or Dingle Way long distance trails but having just survived Storm Ellen and with Storm Frances on the way thought it wiser to do day hikes from the camper as the weather permitted. And so it was that we arrived at Brandon Head under Ireland’s highest mountain outside of the MacGillycuddy Reeks with a plan.

This was staycation summer on the Dingle peninsular and we were concerned it could be crowded. But no, once you venture into the hills there is always wide open spaces for all. Even on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Our planned route of an out and back to the pass between Masatiopan and Piaras Mor north of Brandon Mountain changed when we saw the signs for a loop to Sauce Creek.

The Loop was 12km I think and we would add another 10 km by continuing west over the pass on the Dingle Way. It was a dramatic place to park up for the night with waves crashing onto the cliffs below us and views out over Tralee Bay to Kerry Head and the Slieve Mish Mountains.

Climbing the stile with the red walking man signs in the morning we climbed higher up the headland and away from the cliffs through a wild and open landscape of russet brown grasses and bracken and the purple and yellow splashes of sheep trimmed heather and gorse.

We passed one of the Second World War lookout posts that we’ve come across on numerous headlands around the coast of Ireland. Manned 24/7 by 2 men who watched for and logged and reported any military activity, the LOP’s were often accompanied with a giant EIRE laid out in white painted rocks on prominent sites to alert pilots they were over the coast of neutral Ireland. Historical remnants that often puzzle the coastal visitor there are still around 50 of the original 83 standing sentinel awaiting some other purpose.

Almost lost in the soft boggy ground and hidden in the long rushy grasses were the stone walls of animal shelters or human habitations from a time of hard and isolated living. We descended into a deep valley to ford a steam and then climb up and over the rounded summit of Cnoc Duileibhe (311m).

Heading due west towards the sounds of the sea we reached the flatish heathery area of Sliabh Glas and a view down into the jaws of An Sas. Translated as “trap with a noose” the horseshoe shaped Bay was reputed to hold fast any boat that ventured, or was swept, in. There used to be 3 families living at the bottom of the 750m long curve of cliff, scrapping a living from a few acres of land and the vastness of the sea, the last to leave in 1910 after a local midwife lost her life falling from the heights on her way down to deliver a baby.

Half of the Kerry coastline is defined as “soft” and liable to erosion and about 10 acres of these cliffs fell into the sea in 2014 so much of the remains of the early settlements are slowly being lost to the sea. As we turned our backs to the ocean and continued south the ground was riddled with deep bog holes and fenced off ravines and care was needed to avoid a twisted ankle or worse.

Rising over a knoll following the marker posts we had a vista of uninterrupted bogland and the silver glinting of Brandon Bay beyond. Reaching an ancient trackway we turned west again. We were now following the Dingle Way on its route over the shoulder of Mt Brandon and down towards Feohanagh and Smerwick Harbour.

At the far end of the track we stopped for lunch at a roofed building amongst what had been an extensive settlement. It had possibly once been a home and still had traces and relics of its past life but now looked like it was a shelter for people working on the track or tending the cattle that were now the only inhabitants of this lonely spot.

This was the hamlet of Arraglen and was once home to 13 families. A lot of effort was being put into creating a solid path from here up towards the coll high above with a mini digger creating ditches and drains. At its end we continued to clamber over the steep slope to the pass at 610m where somehow we missed the 1500 year old Ogham stone but reveled in the views down to the west.

Below us were the walls of Fothar na Manach, the Fields of the Monks, where a community of monks lived and farmed what must be one of the wildest and most inaccessible sites in Ireland next to Skellig Michael which would have been visible in clearer weather. We could see Brandon Creek, from where St Brendan and the lads headed off to America in the curragh, the sloping pointed peaks of the Three Sisters, and, fading into the murk of sea and sky, Slea Head and the Blaskets islands.

Returning to the camper via the Dingle Way along the old bog track we were rewarded with equally stunning views to the East which at times included Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest. But Mt Brandon continued to wear its hat of cloud. In the sheltered walls of the boreens in the valley below the colors of the fushia, montbretia and heather were a shock after the bare mountain above.

Moving on to the most westerly point in Ireland , on Dunmore Head , for the night, we were again grateful for an empty and dramatic seaside parkup without any ” no overnight parking/ camping ” signs.

We had planned to tackle Mount Eagle in the morning but the cloud was too low so we explored the short but sweet local loop around the head, where some of the last Star Wars movie was shot. We could imagine the location finder was well pleased with themselves on discovering the stunning otherworldly scenery of this western outpost with only the hauntingly atmospheric Blaskets Islands any more “Far Out”.

Atop the headland was another LOP, that’s Loop Out Point to those who haven’t been paying attention, this one with an Ogham stone for company, it’s 1500 year old script still plainly visible.

The sky was clearer to the north so we headed round the indented coastline on the Slea Head Drive wondering if pre-covid we would have encountered coach tours on the narrow winding road. Parked up overlooking the embracing shelter of Smerwick Harbour we walked a muddy farm track to gain access to the commonage around the Three Sisters.

An untamed and rugged landscape that had witnessed the savagery of man at Dun an Oir, the promontory fort we explored below the Sisters. It was here in the defensive Iron Age site that one of the bloodiest events in Irish history took place in 1580.

A force of 600 Spanish, Italian and Irish, sent by Pope Gregory in support of the Desmond Rebellion were forced to defend themselves there when their ships had been blockaded within the bay. The English forces, 4000 strong, massacred them all after they had surrendered following a 3 day siege. All but the commanders were beheaded and the bodies thrown into the sea, the heads lined up in an adjoining field, since called Gort na gCeann ( Field of the Heads).

With a wild, wet and windy night forecast as Storm Francis swept in we thought we’d better retreat inland to safety. Glanteenassig Forest Park in a sheltered valley nestled among the peaks of the Slieve Mish mountains sounded good. The 450 hectares of forest, mountain and peatland were billed by Coillte as ” an outdoor enthusiasts dreamland”. Seemed to fit the bill. Up a long single track lane towards the only farm at the valley end we turned in over the Drishoge river and drive on up the forestry track to the upper lake, Caum.

Amazingly the 2 km circular walk around the lake was all boardwalk. Some serious amount of effort and cash had been put into placing the 1000 or so slabs of 9×2. Wether this was to protect us from the environment or the environment from us I couldn’t be sure but certainly made for a dry footed walk over some seriously wet ground.

The deep lake, gauged out by a retreating glacier, was silent and tranquil as we awaited the wind and rain in a carefully selected parkup.

Our sheltered position protected us from much of the storm and it was only when I ventured away from the van in the morning that the amount of rain became evident. It was easy to understand the origin of the name Glanteenassig or Gleann Ti an Easaigh which translates as Valley of the Waterfalls. They were streaming down the mountainsides in silver ribbons and when we walked to Lough Slat the words of the Irish poet J J Callinan couldn’t have been truer,” a thousand wild fountains rush down to that lake from their home in the mountains”.

A roaring, foaming, rushing mass of white water raced down beside us as we ventured up the River Walk alongside the Owencashla and the views from the picnic spot high up on a glacial moraine were elemental.

With the storm abated we headed out to another fine seafront parkup for the night with miles of empty beach backed by a vast expanse of salt marsh. So much nicer than the nearby campsite/ trailer park we abandoned after having our showers and charging Sally’s computer.

Our final hike was around the Glennahoo valley, a truly beautiful u shaped glacial valley carved out of the mountains by unfathomable forces. We started at the old graveyard at Ballyduff or An Baile Dubh, associated with the Celtic deity Crom Dubh, a god of fertility and harvest.

An old narrow boreen led us past empty dwellings and up onto a treeless expanse of rough grass and turf banks, the track once tarmac way beyond ” civilization”.

The extraordinary track continued up the narrow ridge of Beenbo to 475m where we had a fine view back down the romantic Glen of Macha na Bo ( Plain of the Cow) and south across a featureless expanse of bog towards Anascaul, the final destination of the ancient trackway.

A bit of a soggy trudge to an unnamed hillock below us followed by an even soggier trudge back around towards the cliffs at the head of the Glennahoo river valley rewarded us with the panorama of the trip. We stopped for a sandwich and soaked it up. Nearly 300m below us lay the fields and homesteads of people who lived in the isolated splendour of a terrible beauty.

Setting off again we met a sheep farmer and dog out looking for his flock. He told us that the houses had been lived in until the fifties by the Dineens and the O’Donnells. From there another old trackway leading over the mountains from the valley took us down to Wolf’s Step, where the last wolf in Ireland was allegedly killed in 1710.

We crossed over the river here and continued down the steep track with a series of waterfalls beside us until finally reaching the valley floor and stopping again to contemplate the life of Mary ‘Macha na Bo’ the last inhabitant of this lonely spot, supposedly an old lady with long flowing white hair who would emerge to hurl abuse at hikers but also on occasion have them in for tea.

The long straight track out of the valley was about 4 km long but seemed to bring us forward decades or centuries in time. Looking back towards the mountains and turning out towards the sea the path felt in a time and space somehow separate from the 21st century tourism hotspot of Dingle and the busy city of Tralee visible in the distance.

Walking the long track had reminded me of the long long line leading back to the early inhabitants here, so palpable through the wealth of remnants left scattered across the landscape. A special place out on the western fringes of what is now known as Europe that has drawn people to it for Millenia. Long may it last.

Co Laois – The Leafy Loop in Lockdown

Looking for a long circular hike we discovered the Leafy Loop in Durrow, Co Laois. It sounded lovely. 23 km of waymarked trail through plantations of beech, ancient native mixed woodlands, conifer forest, hazel coppice, riparian spinneys alongside steams, over lush fields and along wsterside paths by the Nore, Erkina and Gully rivers.

One of the longest looped walks in the country and in a part of Ireland we hadn’t visited since calling into the Durrow scarecrow festival a couple of years ago. We loaded the camper and printed off the maps and then…

Counties Laois, Offaly and Kildare re-entered a 2week lockdown that night because of rising Covid numbers. Our planned walks were on either side of the Laois and Kilkenny border and we had a decision to make. We could do our Kilkenny Walks no bother. But the Loop went into Laois.

Right or wrong we decided, on balance, that if we stayed outside on the trails, kept well away from anybody else and didn’t stop anywhere else in the county we would be doing no harm but still felt slightly uneasy and guilty for going.

Once out in the woods and up on the hills however, taking a step from an open county to one in lockdown , the arbitrary nature of the winding border made a mockery of the imposed restrictions. We understand the need to restrict people’s contact with the virus and we behaved safely but illicitly.

The walk was normally described as starting in Durrow village but in an effort at social responsibility we avoided the possibility of human contact and started in the Coillte operated Dunmore Demesne woods on the outskirts of town.

The trail immediately lived up to its “Leafy Loop” moniker and continued to do so. Durrow means ” Plain of the Oak” and this area was reputed to have woods so dense in the 18th century that the outlaw Jeremiah Grant and his gang of ne’er do wells were able to hide out with ease. It wasn’t until the early post independence days that mass felling took place making the current tree cover a precious thing.

Following the River Gully for awhile we crossed over a stone bridge past the remains of the outbuildings to the old Dunmore House- rendered roofless in the early 20th century to avoid paying rates and soon becoming a ruin that was knocked leaving only the basement and some steps down to the river Nore.

We encountered a pulley system across the river serving some unknown purpose and later a metal bridge brought us downstream to a stone bridge carrying the main road over the river.

A very pleasant stretch beside the river bought us to another footbridge, this time across the Erkina and out onto open fields where the path followed the meanders of the Nore past the impressive bulk of another grand mansion- Knockatrina House mid way through extensive ( and expensive) reconstruction.

A beautifully bucolic landscape in the ” fat of the land”, so different from the rushy impoverished country where the multitudes wrestled a living around our way in the West. Emerging from the fields and reentering woods we crossed the main road again at the site of the Durrow brickworks, an enterprise that produced fine red bricks from shale dug from the hill we climbed from 1890 to 1922.

The steep climb took us to The Ballagh, our high point at about 250 m from where we got occasional views through the trees over the lush farmland of Laois.

The fields were big, the sheds were big and the dairy herds were big. Down through a hazel coppice , across another road and past the lodge into Bishops Wood where the man of the cloth was executed in penal times beside a tree still growing here.

Bishop’s Wood is one of about a dozen “Life Sites” around Ireland where care is being taken to restore native woodland by removal of invasive species and reintroduction of a variety of original plant life. But strangely this was where we got very confused and thought we were lost as what was marked on our maps and google earth as forest had become mono grassland.

The sizeable chunk of field in the photo had , until recently, been forest. We watched a long long line of cows progressing across the prairie from the milking sheds in the distance before turning back into the woods and the charm of the lush path beside the Erkina.

Liable to annual flooding this is part of the largest alluvial woodland in the country and is remnant of a huge wetland known as the Laois Curragh. It was bursting with green growth of meadowsweet, flag iris, Angelica, bugle, sedges rush and water mint and buzzing with insect life. From here you could continue riverside to Durrow but we took the footbridge over to our last stretch of Bishop’s Wood, freshly strimmed.

A couple of km of road saw us back in Dunmore Wood to complete the Leafy Loop, a delight in the summer and, I imagine, even better in the spring when a carpet of bluebells and wild garlic adorn the forest floor. A few minutes drive later we were in Co Kilkenny, no longer illicit, on our way to Jenkinstown Woods for the night, parked up in the walled garden below the threshing mill. Mission accomplished.

Next day we tackled the Gathabawn Loop, a 12 km hike up and around Cullahill Mountain, small enough at 250 m but towering above the surrounding plains and providing far reaching views over 360 degrees. This walk would have us back and forth across the county borders in an uncontrollable way.

We checked out the terrain from a viewpoint carpark overlooking the mountain and waited for the cloud to lift before driving down to Gathabawn village to start the walk opposite Mackeys bar.

Passing by the pleasant Millenium Garden we climbed beyond the old Coolcashin graveyard and the invisible remains of a Norman settlement to reach the charming in name and nature, Ballygooney Lane, which took us up towards the windmills and forestry of Binnianea.

Emerging from the trees we crossed open farmland to reach the equally charming Shirley’s Lane. Was the abandoned farmhouse Shirley’s old home?

Now out of the mono species grassland and on to the wilder pastures we could see why it had been given special area of conservation status. Plant rich limestone country with many different grasses and herbs and protected because of the population of Green-winged,Frog, Bee, Early purple and Twayblade orchids. We sat atop a rath for lunch and admired the views.

Weaving our way through a short section of new plantation we walked along the back of Cullahill Mountain to discover a well placed bench where we rested again to soak up the vista to the north ( Slieve Blooms), West ( Silvermines), east ( Blackstairs, Mt Leinster, Devils Bit) to add to the southerly views earlier ( Comeraghs, Galtees).

Down below us sat the remains of Cullahill Castle the seat of the MacGiollaPadraig or Fitzpatrick clan long rulers of the area until the castle was sacked by Cromwellian forces. It is apparently adorned by a Sheila- na -gig high on a surviving wall. A 17km linear walk, the MacGiollaPadraig Way, has been created from Durrow to Gathabawn and we had shared much of its route.

Crossing the fields deep in drying hay we passed the sad remains of a famine village reminding us that the rich and prosperous landscape laid out before us had not always been so bountiful for the people. Passing by the rath or fairy fort again we made our way along the Gooseneck road to rejoin Ballygooney Lane and back to the Millenium Park and a more recent Fairy world.

Miners Way and Historical Trail: A Loop Around Roscommon, Sligo and Leitrim

Seems like a long time since we were walking the Camino Mozarabe under a blue Spanish sky. Longtime lockdown under the Covid curfew. We left Spain just as the shutters came down and were blessed with acres of homestead gardens to work and rest in under a blue Irish sky for weeks as a hush fell over the world. As a cautious emerging of people began to take place so the clouds also started to gather and by the time we were able to leave the county the summer had settled into the rainy season.

But a change of surroundings was needed along with a kickstart to a much needed fitness programme and trial of our new homemade lightweight 2 person tent. And so it was that we arrived on the shores of Lough Meelagh on the outskirts of Keadew, Co Roscommon to embark on a trail I had long had on my “to do ” list. The Miners Way and Historical Trail is a complex shaped figure of eight with “wings” to surrounding towns and the Leitrim Way and the Beara Brefne Way. It’s “officially” 118km but many hikers would reckon it’s much more. Our circular route without wings or connections came in at 110 km over 5 days.

Our first day was from Keadew to Lough Key forest park. 28 km

It was a ” fine soft day” as we entered Knockranny Woods, sharing our route with a nature trail to the Neolithic court tomb. We were immediately impressed with the amount of staple studded boardwalks erected to keep us out of the slop.

The whole trail was to impress us with its signage, stiles of many styles, wooden and metal bridges, strimmed and mown grass, general waymarking and above all- access over farmland and open mountain. A lot of people have been caring for it and thanks for that.

The woods were fully formed with many mature specimens. It seemed that the historical estates in the area had bequeathed a wealth of woodland.

The first half of our trip, the first two and a half days, would be spent on the Historical Trail with another couple of days continuing on the Miners Way, bringing us back to Keadew via the iron and coal mining areas around Arigna. The closure of the mines in 1990 had led to the development of the trail in an attempt to encourage tourism to the area. And we felt it was a beautiful but neglected landscape deserving of more visitors, with a wealth of rivers and lakes and varied upland and mountainous terrain.

After walking the southern shoreline of Lough Meelagh we reentered a mossy and mushroom rich woodland for awhile before a quick change succession of quiet backroad and rushy field sections led us down to Knockvicar where we had lunch beside the River Boyle which takes leisure boats from Carrick on Shannon to Lough Key.

We had a look around the Knockvicar Organic Garden with its welcoming orchard and displays of fruit and veg and flowers. It shows what can be done with 10 polytunnels on a very small space. They also run training courses and offer a gardening service.

There was a “Trail Closed Today” sign ( which has been there for at least 3 years!) owing to some ongoing land dispute and we were sent on a detour on a bogside track and through thick scrub woodland before emerging onto the lanes leading into the forest park over the “fairy bridge”.

We were weary by the time we reached the epicenter of the park with many staycationers strolling, cycling, picnicking and boating. There was a camping and caravan park but only catering for those self sufficient in bathrooms, toilets and kitchens so we moved on looking for a wild camping site affording some shelter from the rain.

Sally fancied setting up next to the mysterious mother and child statue but the ground was too peg resistant. I couldn’t find out anything about the sculpture other than it was by Jaqueline Duigan of whom the National Visual Arts Libary says ” virtually no information is available on this artist”.

We ended up a little further down the trail, behind the Nash designed gate house to the Rockingham Lough Key estate. A wet and windy night was promised and we were well sheltered by trees and Nash’s wall.

Quickly into Boyle in the morning under a leaden sky that released its watery payload sporadically as we bought supplies and miraculously found a seamstress to mend my packs shoulder strap for under a fiver. Then a long climb up into the Curlew Mountains. After about 3 km of road we headed cross country on the ancient Red Earls road past the site of his 1599 ” Battle of the Curlews”. It was soggy going across the boggy moorland and into a block of forestry where we stumbled upon a 2 story stonebuilt farmhouse subsumed by the trees.

There was a lot of mushrooms and bilberries available but we filled up on bread and cheese as the midges filled up on our blood and the drizzle cane and went. We stopped again after a few km of empty lane when a heavy shower had us sheltering in the shed of an abandoned farm cottage. With a swing in the garden and a cot in the cow shed it had a forlorn feeling of broken dreams.

But ” things can only get better” and as the weather improved so did the surroundings as we came down out of the saturated Curlew and up into the dramatic karst landscape of the limestone Bricklieve mountains. A tarmac and gravel track turned into a grassy boreen and finally a narrow wall lined path, past beautifully located abandoned farms and cottages with mighty views down to Lough Arrow and Lough Key with the Plains of Boyle beyond. We climbed alongside and then crossed a narrow u shaped valley, the Devils Bite, before joining a disused bog track heading northwest towards the Carrowkeel passage tombs.

We had crossed into Sligo and Carrowkeel Neolithic cemetery with 14 five thousand year old passage tombs was just one of the very many impressive archeological/sacred sites in the area. Our friend was meeting us at the bottom of the access track so we didn’t have time to explore but the Bricklieves had instilled a desire to return for further ramblings.

22km done we were very happy to be transported to our friends house for a night of good food, drink, company, warmth and sleep and a lift back to the trail at Castlebaldwin in the morning for the next 22km leg.

We kept a close eye on the clouds as they rose and fell over Carrowkeel making our way on a mix of road and field around the top of Lough Arrow, over the river leaving it to the north and up past the abandoned Cromlech Lodge hotel, once prosperous enough to warrant a helicopter pad, to the Labby Stone- Ireland’s second largest portal tomb.

Another change in the landscape and we hiked mown paths across fields and up onto the Plain of the Pillars a reference to the 14 megalithic monuments in the area. It’s a place of glacial drumlins formed in groups known as “swarms” for some reason. We had lunch at a trig point at 226m overlooking Lough Arrow and a land inhabited for thousands of years, and left with a mass of reminders of their passing including a rich concentration of ancient saunas or sweat houses.

In recent years many inhabitants have deserted the land hereabouts and we past many homesteads slowly returning to the earth. Another downpour was avoided by resting up in a hay barn where we took the tea in comfort.

Settling off again under heavy dark skies over the rushing river Feorish we were on the look out for a camping spot. Nothing suitable found we asked a farmer if we could erect our tent in his hay shed. He said he had a better,less exposed option for us- the old home place cottage- and directed us toward it. It proved to be completely buried under vegetation outside and junk and rubbish inside, so bad that the damp and dark cowshed next door was preferable.

We did a fine job of fixing it up a treat and settled in for the night. Not everyone’s idea of glamping but we have modest needs!

Still misty and moisty next morning as we started another 22km leg by following an old miners track up towards the wind farm atop Carrane Hill. We had switched on to the Miners Way and the hills here were littered with old coal mines.

Down into The Glen, a narrow valley between Carrane and Corry and Lynchs mountain where many miners had lived and whose children must have attended the school we passed on the way to the Arigna river.

When we entered the forest things got tricky. Recent felling had left the track a quagmire of deep mud and muck. The waymarks disappeared and we were left floundering about through a section of clearfell attempting to find the bridge across the river. Not easy.

When we eventually managed to get to the road beyond the forest there was a “Trail closed today” sign! Looking online later I saw a notification on the closure due to felling dated 2018.

Onwards and upwards to the highest point of the whole trail at over 400m. By the time we reached the top ridge the rain was relentless and we were enveloped in cloud with no view to reward our efforts. Too wet to use the phones camera anyway we squelched on down below the cloud towards Lough Allen in Leitrim and the sanctuary of more friends and a place to dry out, warm up, and eat drink and be merry.

Our 5th and last day on the trail was a relief. Blue skies, sunshine and only 16 km over interesting and beautiful countryside to return us to our car.

A leisurely start after a lift to the trail and off over the stiles again and along the thoughtfully laid gravel paths across fields towards Arigna. The sunlit landscape made us appreciate the terrain we’d been through even more as we recrossed the Arigna river and returned to mine country stopping for lunch at the Mining Experience Centre’s restaurant.

The final leg took us up over the flank of Kilronan mountain on ancient old miners tracks. They’ve been hacking away at the rock for over 400 years up there and it felt like we were following in the weary footsteps of generations.

A sunny final days hike was a lovely way to finish a much anticipated but sadly pretty washed out walk. We arrived back at our car by Lough Meelagh well satisfied and tempted to advise the strollers around Knockranny Woods to carry on ( and on and on and……….)

CAMINO MOZARABE: Almeria to Granada 5

Tocon to Granada.

Both of the last two stages of our journey on the Mozarabe from Almeria were spectacular and we were glad we had given ourselves the extra time that the stop in Tocon had allowed. It would have been a long haul from Peza to Quentar in one go, as it was we only had 16 km from one albergue to the next. As we walked past the big walnut trees below the bar, whose nuts the family had been cracking as we’d had dinner the night before, a woodpecker was hammering away in the branches above us.

We walked out of the village on the road for a km or so then turned up through boar churned woodland to a sparsely vegetated hillside and rejoined the original Quéntar route along a gravel track that climbed higher and higher.

Juniper appeared amid the white crazed rock that covered the landscape and we followed the track in a massive zig zag down to an area recreativa among riverside poplar trees.

Climbing again we passed through a pine wood that had been tapped for its resin. This thick sap like substance produces both rosin and turpentine. Apparently demand is on the increase because the natural material substitutes pollutant petroleum derivatives.

Higher and higher the track led us to more and more spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada’s and the hills that enveloped us. New benches,map boards and post and rail fencing were signs that there was a fair investment in encouraging this Camino route or hiking the area in general.

And then we finally reached the highest point of the entire route at the bizarre surroundings of an old talc mine. 1418m high with views across to the highest peaks in mainland Spain, covered in a smooth shiny white blanket.

What goes up must come down, and so we started our descent towards Quentar, passed some lovely fincas set among a sea of olives.