Author: stevesally55

RIVERWALK : The Suir Greenway

After our last micro adventure on and around the waters of the midlands we decided to do a linear riverside hike in the south east down the Suir valley.

The Suir, one of the Three Sisters (along with the Barrow and the Nore) that come together to flow into the sea at Waterford harbour, rises in the Devils Bit mountains and flows for 185 km through the lush landscape of Tipperary, Kilkenny and Waterford and for millennia has been a major commercial and transportation route providing access to towns and ports in Ireland, Britain and to the continent.

The Anglo Norman Butler dynasty had ruled over this corner of Ireland for 800 years creating castles, tower houses, quays and huge wealth and along with various Quaker families had made Clonmel an important commercial centre with milling, tanning, textile, brewing and distilling industries making it the largest inland town in Ireland.

The greenway runs along the tow path route from Clonmel to Carrick on Suir a distance of over 21km. We took 3 trains to get to the historic town, staying overnight in the fabulous Birdhill House and setting off bright and early to the starting point 4km down stream.

The riverside location has been embraced with new cycle and walkways through parkland and lots of sponsored tree planting. There is a longer “Blueway”, a kayaking route from Cahir to Carrick, and we passed a canoe slalom course running 300 m from Lady Blessingtons Weir with groynes, islands, poles, ledges and lines that is reputed to be the most exciting in Ireland , though the heron didn’t seem impressed.

Back and forth across Convent, Old and Gashouse Bridges we finally set off in the sunshine passed flood defences and the hotel on the opposite bank.

The path was busy with walkers and cyclists for a long distance out of Clonmel with quite a few access points along the way. We were treated to some quirky man made artworks and plenty of natural splendours.

In 1537 a right of way 7 ft wide was established along the riverbank to allow for the towing and loading of boats. The boat towing was done by men and ropes who had to negotiate rocks, gravel banks and other obstacles until in 1755 a petition for funds to create a tow path allowed the use of horses and reduced the costs by two thirds. The 60ft boats, called Yawls, would carry between 12 and 20 tons and be pulled by between 4 and 12 horses. The journey upstream from Carrick to Clonmel would take about 5 1/2 hrs. The horses would return by road in about 2 1/2 hr whilst the yawls would float back on the current. The trade dwindled after the railway came in the 1800’s and finally finished in the 1960’s.

The apple orchards of Bulmers were a pleasant feature of a stretch of the greenway where sheep grazed beneath the trees in a fine example of silvopasture. Established in 1935 by local man William Magner it’s become a global brand and here 17 different varieties of cider apple are grown to create the Bulmers blend all pollinated naturally by bees. The local authorities had also adopted the Pollinator Plan and No Mow May in an effort to increase the food source of bees and all the other pollinators. The path was rich in wild and planted flowers that we appreciated as much as the insects.

The river is world renown as a brown trout and salmon fishery, lying over limestone and having the best characteristics of a chalk stream. The fish get big having very few pike predators and no coarse fish competition and a record breaking salmon weighed in at 57lb. The fishing ” beats” are run by private and public clubs and syndicates and there are about a dozen little huts adorning the banks along the greenway.

The good folk of Kilsheelan, half way along the route, where we have enjoyed the greenway previously, have upped their game again with more planting of trees and wildflower meadows around the village and a riverside garden. We stopped for coffee and a snack and remembered our encounter with an otter last time we walked here.

The waters of the river flowed swiftly at times running over rapids which must make it exciting for canoeists although we were surprised not to have seen any on the Blueway since the slalom at the start. There were also 15 weirs on the route made to power mills, maintaining water levels, trapping eels and fishing. The light played on the surface to create constantly changing patterns.

The land around us looked top quality without the rushes of the west as we passed through bucolic scenes of productive countryside with the rising bulk of the mystical Slievenamon or Sliabh na mBan, the Mountain of the Women, in the background. We’ll have to come back for that to explore its 5000yr old tombs, portals to the Otherworld.

The vast agricultural exports and easy transportation had generated a wealth and power reflected in the impressive tower houses from the Middle Ages and mansions that line the river including castle Gurteen de la Poer from 1865 near Kilsheelan by the same Archetect and builder as Kylemore Abbey in Connemara. For over 20 years it’s been owed by controversial Austrian artist Gottfried Heinwein and been the venue for all sorts of celebrity gatherings including the marriage of even more controversial Marilyn Manson to Dita Von Teese.

The skilled and dedicated fly fishermen we passed in their waders were working the “slow pools and slick water”, ” shallow and deep glides, interrupted occasionally by shallow riffles”, but you probably guessed that. The names of the fly they would have been using, and possibly made, are equally poetic. Alders, reed smuts and midges, pale wateries, blue winged olives, black gnat, yellow stoneflies and various sedges. Access to the pools etc was by way of numerous metal ladders and care had to be taken when wading in a strong current.

Although there is a strict catch and release policy in place the value of wild salmon ensures that poachers will break the law and this can lead to nasty confrontations. In July 2020 gun shots were fired at Inland Fisheries officers who had come across poachers near Carrick on Suir who then fled. Their boat, net and 9 salmon were seized. Those fish were just a few miles from their final spawning destination after swimming all the way from Greenland or the Faroe islands.

Other, more damaging, environmental crimes may have been perpetrated here too by a far more powerful entity. Seeing a large factory partly hidden by trees approaching and a “Private MSD Fishery” sign I asked a fisherman we were passing what the place was. Turns out to be the Merck, Sharp and Dohme pharmaceutical plant at the centre of a long running sorry saga. The international pharma giant, 2nd largest in the world, arrived to the 188 acre sit in Ballydine in 1976. Within 2 years local farmer John Hanrahan had accused the company of air pollution that had caused a range of problems from still and deformed births to barren animals, cancer, unexplained sudden deaths of pets, rusting metal, poisoning of grazing and by 1986 the death of over 200 cows. In one of the longest civil cases ever heard in Ireland the High court eventually found for the company and he was ordered to pay over €1 million in costs. But he appealed to the Supreme Court in 1987 and won his 12 year battle bringing about a major change of attitude by government and the setting up of the Environmental Protection Agency. A supposed victory by the small man over a Goliath but the Hanrahan family were never able to recover and have had to give up the farm after over 700 years. The episode bitterly divided the community with other neighbours reporting strange behaviour,illness and death among both stock and family and others afraid to speak out whilst the majority, unaffected, were happy with the employment offered by the giant.

A month ago in, May 2021, it was reported that MSD have applied to expand the plant with a new €140 million facility bringing in 300 construction workers for 18 months and adding to the 2,700 workers already at Ballydine. Hard to argue with that.

Soon after we came upon a sacred spring and a lot of memorials. Serendipity.

On the last leg into Carrick and into tidal waters we saw a lot of the narrow wooden traditional craft known as cots, sadly many half sunk. Another sunken vessel here was the cause of the worst Irish inland waterways tragedy ever in 1799. A large barge carrying soldiers, men women and children broke its mooring above the town bridge and was swept broadside into it shattering the boat and casting the passengers into the river. Over 100 died including 60 children.

Our last few Km, to the station for the return series of trains, passed the restored glories of the Butler Tudor manor, built to impress a visiting Elizabeth 1st with whom Black Tom Butler was reputedly having a ” liaison”. Now owned by the OPW, and unfortunately closed inside by Covid, we had a wander around before crossing the park to the little used station.

Lough Ree Rambles : Back to the Heartlands

A fine weekend forecast we headed back to the heartland of Ireland – literally – for a series of lakeshore walks and a visit to some historic and sacred islands by boat.

Lecarrow in Roscommon, on the midwestern shore of Lough Ree, is the nearest village to the geographical centre of the country and that was where we began and ended our trip.

First up a long anticipated exploration of St John’s Wood, one of the finest, biggest, most intact, oldest and species rich ancient native woodlands in the country. Although it has been used as a timber source for hundreds of years and no really mature trees exist it has survived as continuous tree cover and is now protected.

We parked up for the night in the blue dot car park and dived in to a sea of green on a damp evening, immediately enveloped in an otherworldly tree presence.

Mostly in State ownership and managed by the NPWS the wood is part of a Special Area of Conservation with rich and varied biological diversity. The main tree canopy is made up of fine big oaks and ash ( not so fine), wild cherry, wych elm, with an understory of hazel, holly, willow, crab apple, white beam and yew. The rich variety of forest floor flora testifies to a long history of uninterrupted woodland cover with species such as the rare Toothworth and Birds Nest orchid.

A stone wall bisects the wood and runs down to the lake where the shallow soil is washed away to reveal the limestone bedrock to which the trees cling. In a patch of deeper earth badgers have made themselves at home.

On the western side of the wall the wood is left to do its thing whilst on the eastern side it is managed for conservation which has involved some “coppice with standards” plots for a few years in succession as well as some limited grazing by ponies, bat and bird boxes, maintenance of nature trails including the cutting back of trees alongside to encourage herbaceous flowers and an educational program and scientific monitoring.

The Irish Native Woodland Trust, which does great work and deserves support, owns a small bit of the wood and has recently obtained more land nearby where it is planning to establish a native tree nursery using seed collected in St Johns Wood and to plant an additional 15,000 trees. This project has been part funded by Ryanair through their customers carbon offset donations.

The following morning we drove north through rich and fertile farmland, admiring the size and spread of the many mature hardwoods, and shocked yet again by the massive loss Ash dieback will cause.

We were on route to the Cloonlarge Loop, a lovely peatland walk put together by the proud citizens of the tiny village of Kilteevan, just east of Roscommon. With some development assistance and support from the NPWS and Dept of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht a 7km trail had been put together that meanders quiet back roads through the bog and woodland and features a host of creative and educational features. Fair play to them.

The way was dotted with a wealth of info boards explaining the importance of the peatland habitat and the regeneration efforts going on post extraction and displaying the various species of flora and fauna to be found on the loop. There was also rock art of the local national school, quirky woodcarvings and places to sit and be still.

The flowers were buzzing with pollinators and butterflies flapped past through the warm and sultry air. It felt like a timeless summer day as we wandered the lanes and callows to the lakeside, and agreed with the words of botanist and geologist John Feehan.

“Bogs are places of enchantment. …You feel drawn to them as though they awakened an echo deep within us of the open savannah landscapes in which our human kind had its origins……”

There were some photos and illustrations of past activities on the bog including the discovery in 1969 of a Bronze Age wheel while cutting turf. A locally made vintage hopper was on display with a message to Stay Safe laid out in turf sods.

The peatland had certainly played a huge part in the daily and historical lives here and the ending of turf cutting and closure of the Bord na Mona operations across the midlands involves a massive cultural shift. It seemed that the people behind the Cloonlarge Loop could celebrate their past close connection to the bog as a fuel and employment resource and embrace the current understanding of its vital natural qualities and need for protection. There is a 30-100year long term plan here to restore 70 hectares of degraded raised bog to an active state and help to capture carbon.

The future generations were being involved and stimulated in their natural heritage by the inclusion on the walk of fairy trails and bat and bird boxes, insect hotels and even a little library of nature and colouring books and a story telling chair. Top marks to the trail.

Next stop Strokestown House where an exhibition, “Memento Mori”, by Paula Stokes in the 6 acre walled garden commemorates the 1845 famine. The huge Palladian mansion which houses the National Famine Museum has been closed for some time but the Irish Famine Summer School international conference was being held on zoom while we were there and the exhibition opening was timed to coordinate with that. A work consisting of 1845 hand blown glass potatoes in the form of a cairn represents a burial monument to the million people who died.

The exhibit was housed in the Gazebo tower above the pineapple pit where the landlord classes could gaze at all they had dominion over, untouched by the horrors of famine.

Unfortunately the gardens, in the care of the Irish Heritage Trust, are in a sorry and neglected state. Although impressive in size and laid out well the amount of volunteer workers they have cannot keep up with the work necessary and it’s all getting out of hand. But on a pleasant sunny day, with flowers in bloom, it was easy enough to ignore all the weeds and hope for future fulfilling of potential.

The museum is having a massive makeover due to open next year and a newly initiated National Famine Way walking route goes from here to the Royal canal and down to Dublin port where the coffin ships awaited those desperately seeking a new life abroad. I hope that an influx of tourist euros will enable the place to slough off its air of forsaken neglect.

Another looped walk on the shores of Lough Ree awaited at Lanesborough where the looming presence of the ESB turf power station, the last to close in December 2020, signified another seismic shift in the fortunes of the midlands. Ironically many of the Bord na Mona workers made redundant by the ending of turf harvesting are now employed in the peatland restoration programmes. An €11 million ” Just Transition” fund from government and the ESB is set to help Midlands projects that contribute to a move away from carbon intensive activities towards a more sustainable, climate resilient economy.

Parking up beside the lake I was tempted by the sunshine to go for a dip but the scum of millions of mayfly put me off and I contented myself with watching others for awhile before we set off on the woodland loop.

The 4km track led us through two old limestone quarries and a variety of woodland types past callows and reedbeds. Very pleasant in the dappled shade and well appreciated by the Lanesborough people.

Back in Lecarrow in the early morning we cast off in our hired punt and motored slowly down the canal linking the sheltered harbour to the lake at Blackbrink Bay a couple of km away. Opened in 1794 it was busy with boats carrying limestone, corn and flax ( grown on the canal banks and a popular midlands crop) out to the Shannon transport network. The railways bought about a steep decline and by the 1960’s the canal was choked and unnavigable. The start of pleasure boating instigated a dredging scheme and the canal was reopened in 1967.

Once out on the lake we slid across the flat calm waters for about an hour, all along St Johns Wood and then south west around Inchturk to Inchmore, the largest island on Lough Ree at 132 acres. Several families lived here until quite recently with the schoolhouse only built in 1927. We moored at a small quay at the end of a muddy lane leading to the houses and the old fishing lodge of the Marquis of Westmeath.

I have discovered that one of the intact houses has just gone up for sale as the owner is moving to New Zealand. You heard it here first.. €130,000 ( very open to offers) will get you a 2 up 2 down with 70’s extension on an acre. Off grid living. Compost loo. Cooking on the fire ( or less poetically -gas). Rain or lake water. And loads of Peace and Tranquility. Priceless.

Check out Island House, Inchmore on YouTube for drone footage or island house.site. Your new life awaits.

Further up the beautiful tree lined track we entered a wide field on the southern end of the island. Here was the remnants of much older habitation, a substantial ring fort. Hard to photograph effectively at shadowless midday the site had a timeless vibe to it sunk as it was in prehistory.

More recent relics were the lodge and scattered machinery nearby but we were unable to locate the remains of the early Christian monastery founded by St Lioban.

Back off in the boat we motored west past the tiny Nuns Island , site of another monastic settlement and nunnery and in 2014 the discovery of a cache of rifles, ammo and Semtex. It seems the island may have been used for IRA training in the past, somewhat of a tradition as other islands here were known as hideouts during the War of Independence.

We landed at Safe Harbour on the Rindoon peninsular- the scene of countless conflicts for over 1000 years. The vikings were here in the 9th century before Brian Boru saw them off in the 10th but the impressive remains there now are from the Anglo-Norman days when throughout the 13th century this was a very impressive medieval town of perhaps 1000 people. Abandoned after the Gaelic Resurgence of the early 14th century repeatedly attacked and looted the settlement, it remained left forgotten and overgrown for 650 years. Nowadays recognised as unique in Ireland and Britain the peninsular is rich in visible history with its rare windmill, castle, church, town walls, bee boles and a hospital. We spent a sunny afternoon on the looped trail.

One more stop to make on our scenic cruise of the lake we ventured north of Blackbrink Bay to land on Inchcleraun, another sacred spot with seven medieval churches and yet another monastery , this one founded in 560 by St Diarmaid the Just. We chatted to the farmer who comes to mind his cattle every day and left his dogs guarding the boats while we set off through the lush meadows to explore.

The monastic settlement lasted about 800 years before finally giving up the ghost after repeated raids by the Munstermen. The peaceful air and tranquility of the island belie the turbulent history of being frequently plundered and burnt by invaders.

From the cluster of churches, St Diarmuids, Teampall Mor- Great Church, Women’s Church, St Marys and Church of the Dead, we walked to the top of the island to find the medieval belfry church, Teampall Clogas with its unusual square bell tower.

Near here is the Sunny Place of Maeve, where the famous Queen of Connaught met her end at the hands of Furbraith, the son of her sister whom she had murdered whilst pregnant. The baby survived and grew up plotting revenge. Knowing Maeve liked to bath from the island he practised firing the distance from the mainland with his slingshot. However on the fateful day he spotted her at the Sunny Place he had no stones to hand, so used what he had to hand, a hard cheese for his lunch. His practise payed off and she dropped dead- ending the turbulent reign of the Warrior Queen.

And so ended our more peaceful visit to the islands of Lough Ree with their traces of otherworldly existence slowly smothered by nature and to the woodlands and bogs of the shore hopefully now protected and able to continue in their timeless cycles.

Clara Bog- A Hike in the Hidden Heartlands

I dropped a red pin into the heartlands of Ireland. Not quite dead centre and actually more Ancient East than Hidden Heartlands according to tourist board marketing.

We were off to explore Clara Bog and the native woodland and esker country beside it on the Ballinough Doorey Loop.

One of the few raised bogs in the midlands not fully exploited, and now protected by a wealth of environmental designations, we’d been before to the visitor centre in town and the 1km timber boardwalk that loops across the quaking quagmire of mosses, bog cotton and exotic carnivorous plants. The 450 acre nature reserve contains all the poetic forms of raised bog – hummocks, hollows, flushes, lawns and unique soak systems.

Taking advantage of the free travel pass afforded by my senior citizen status we let the train take the strain and arrived at Clara station after a relaxed hour gazing at the passing greenery.

From there we set off through the town on the Tullamore road to join the loop a couple of km away. We were confronted with vast derelict industrial buildings and discovered later that a Quaker family, the Goodbody’s had created a dynasty of benevolent employment in a succession of flour, flax and jute mills and textile factories helping Clara to be one of the only midlands towns to increase in size between the famine and independence.

The river Brosna runs through the town ( and powered all the mills ),as did the Athlone to Tullamore railway which transported all the goods produced, and by 1890 the Goodbodys employed over 1000 people many living in company built housing.

The family themselves lived in Inchmore House, now sadly deserted and becoming derelict, for sale with 20 acres and the adjoining Quaker meeting house.

Escaping the traffic on the busy main road we took to a lane that led us alongside the railway and an esker the area is renown for. The Esker Riada is the system of ridges of boulders, gravel and sand left by retreating glaciers that stretches from Dublin across to Galway.

Acting as the main east/ west highway for hundreds of years the elevated dry ground was a sure way across the sodden boglands of the midlands with an historical and cultural significance that has prompted Offaly county council to push for it to gain World Heritage status.

We soon turned off onto the official looped walk and set off through naturally regenerated woodland on what may have been old tracks laid down for turf extraction.

The turf extraction industries of the past had left less than 50% of the original bog surface remaining and maps of the changes over 200 years show the increases in tracks and drains.

A short side track took us up to a picnic table and benches atop Rabbit Hill where we lunched overlooking the Bog of Allen and the distant Slieve Bloom mountains.

This trail had been developed recently, about 2018, by Offaly council in response to the Get Ireland Walking Stategy supported by Healthy Ireland and judging by the number of cars at the trailhead ,Mulligans car park , was popular. The map board there displayed a number of different options and info.

A stretch of tarmac road took us passed a railway cottage virtually on the line and on to a track of esker gravel that wove between dandelion laden fields and into Doorey Woods.

The ancient native woodlands here were species rich and made up for the sad sight of Ash suffering from dieback with carpets of ransoms and bluebells and sturdy oaks over 500 years old.

Another tiny side track led us to the moss covered stones and remnants of wall that are all that remains of a prefamine village now lost to the woods.

A boardwalk of old railway sleepers took us out across a section of the raised bog, part of a restoration project funded by an EU Life programme. 200km of deep drains have been blocked by 15,000 peat dams to raise water levels and effectively increase the area of active bog on 12 special conservation areas.

A special place of special species with 24 different sphagnum mosses. A rare moss thought to be extinct was found here in 2014 and there are also (unfortunately) 2 kinds of rare midges in the area. The bogs, known as Ireland’s rain forest, are recognised as greatly important for bio-diversity, flood control and as a carbon sink- storing twice as much carbon worldwide as forests.

Leaving the boardwalk we cut through some trees to reach farmland and a old track that led us to the road that bisects the bog and a couple of km later were back at the station in Clara.

An easy leisurely walk of about 10 km made better by travelling by train. A good start to a recovery programme ( from a couple of stent implantations – the necessity of which explains the dizzy breathlessness on the Lycian Way) that hopefully will lead to the Portuguese Camino in September.

CONNEMARA NORTH: Journey into Joyce Country

The 5km restraining order finally lifted, allowing us to travel anywhere within our county so we headed back up to Connemara in the camper- this time to the far northeast.

Joyce Country is a wild, beautiful and often overlooked area of north Galway and south Mayo between loughs Mask and Corrib from Maam to Clonbur, from the mighty Maamturks mountains to the tranquil wooded shores of the lowland lakes.

Named after the Joyce family who arrived from Wales in the 13th c in the wake of the Norman invaders it kept its name and identity due to its remote inaccessibility. The family married into the O’Flahertys and other clans and ended up controlling a vast area of the Barony of Ross.

We parked up on the pier at Cornamona, last visited when our boat had broken down out in the lake and the rescue services had towed us to shore here ( a story told in my Lough Corrib: Walking on Water blog post)

On arrival I noticed a couple struggling with bailing buckets and ropes tied to a listing vessel and went to help. Incredibly, when I told the fella about the circumstances of my previous rescue there he said “That was me”!

He had been the duty commander of the volunteer team that fateful day- and now, coincidentally I was attempting to help with his leaking boat.

Unfortunately it proved impossible to get the holed aft back to shore and the boat was left on blocks for the night.

Our first hike in the morning was up Benlevy or Mt Gable, a 416m mass that dominates the isthmus between Mask and Corrib, guarding one of the major routes into Connemara from the east. It also has what is reckoned to be one of the most beautiful and scenic mountain walks in Ireland and supposedly gives a lot in return for not too much effort, with one of the reviews on the Mountainviews website reporting on a family birthday hike claiming ” an easy walk for first timers- our 9,6 and 3 yr old did it”! It wasn’t that easy!

Years ago we had walked the Seanbhothar route between Clonbur ( An Fhairche) and Corr na Móna, a 10km hike along the old road along the shoulder of Benlevy ( Binn Shleibhe) and had been enchanted by the views of the island dotted lake. The proper Irish names would often be used as most of this area is within an Irish speaking Gaeltacht, the largest in the country.

Pulling up in a small car park at the base of the mountain at Ballard we were happy and grateful to see we were welcome as hillwalkers and a stile and signage had been provided. The route was unmistakeable though as we followed the old turf cutters track steeply up the side of the hill passed some contented sheep.

The views down over the islands got better and better and in the distance to the west the high ranges glowed in the morning sun. The track went all the way to the broad and open summit plateau where we continued west for another km or so to reach the concrete trig point.

Crossing the summit passed the peat hags we gained views northwest over Lough Nafooey and Finny and further on northwest over Mask and Coolin Lough and the woodlands we were off to explore next.

Sally couldn’t resist collecting some bones that belonged to an unfortunate sheep that had died and was being subsumed into the bog.

The area we were exploring was all part of the 1500 sq km proposed Joyce Country and Western Lakes Geopark , a €1.2 million project running in 2020 and 21 to prepare a submission to UNESCO and hopefully be granted Geopark status in 2023 and join the Copper Coast (Wexford), Burren and Cliffs of Moher (Clare) and Marble Arch Caves (Fermanagh and Cavan). Unfortunately started during the Covid pandemic the plan was to run a series of events and activities and an educational programme for all levels.

Having explored all three of the other Geoparks I’d definitely say the area is worthy, with the contrasting upland and lowland landscapes and big range of rock types and habitats so good luck to them.

On to Clonbur to the glorious woodlands on the shores of Lough Mask. Part of the Ashford estate owned by the Guinness family ( along with another 20,000 acres of County Galway) until sold to the state in 1939, Coillte have restored/created 300 hectares of diverse native woodland here under the EU’s LIFE Nature programme.

We parked up next to the early Christian settlement and abbey of Teampall Brendain at Rosshill cemetery and headed off around White Island and then the 7km Ballykine loop.

The spring flowers were a glory as we followed the path over a man made causeway and around the island, stopping for a rest at one of the scenic benches.

Although there were some mature conifers and exotic non natives the restoration carried out had involved the removal of many to encourage natural regeneration of native species and the planting of many more. The yew wood had been extended by the planting of cuttings taken locally.

After our circumnavigation of the lake island we continued eastwards and out onto the limestone pavement that make this mixed woodland so special. Part of the much larger Lough Carra Mask SAC this is the largest area of limestone pavement outside of the Burren and is home to all the same species of tree , hazel, ash, white beam, buckthorn, black and hawthorn, spindle and yew.

Across a wooden bridge over the Clonbur river we passed small lakes to a track junction at the site of an old sawmill. There we had our antisocial lunch on the ” not happy to chat” bench, although I would have quickly moved if anyone had happened along.

Next up a strange collection of moss covered limestone boulders that was referred to as the Guinness luncheon house ruin, a reed bed haven for bird life, a stone built submerged jetty and the chimney remnant of a shooting lodge.

Not wanting to disturb the dead, (or be disturbed by them!), we moved for the night to a park up on the Lough Mask limestone plateau.

A remarkable spot. In the morning we ventured out onto the slab and marvelled at the walls, the grikes and clints, the egg box and boulder in socket formations ( unique globally to the Lough Mask region) , the bonsai tree microcosm and the tenacious orchids.

Our last walk was another circumnavigation, this time the 3.5 km loop of Big Island again joined to the mainland by another Victorian causeway. We were greeted by chainsaw carvings in the children’s nature corner and fine mature tree specimens.

With the sun shining we took advantage of another scenic bench to sit in the sun and admire the views of the Partry mountains before climbing up to the top of the island’s inner mound for more meetings with remarkable trees.

Venerable old trees, giving life even in death, we returned homewards along a fine wide woodland ride, planning our own journey into native woodland management.

SIERRA DE LAS NIEVES

A short journey of 15 km inland from the busy beaches and constant consumerism of Marbella on the Costa del Sol takes you to another world and the southern edges of the Parque Natural Sierra de las Nieves, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve of nearly 100,000 hectares.

We made 2 hiking trips to explore the park between lockdowns after finding a long distance route, the GR 243, traverses the area from Istan in the south to Ronda in the north, over 6 sections and 122 km with a couple of variants.

We discovered we could do a 3 day triangle at the southern end and avoid transport complications.

Leaving our car near the Cerezal recreation area outside of Ojen we headed off on the GR variant and PR-A 167 route to Istan.

Ojen is one of the half dozen or so tranquil whitewashed villages and towns surrounding the park that were Moorish strongholds and still retain the crumbling fortresses of the reconquest era. With a wealth of minerals to exploit in the Sierra’s rocky interior the area was at the forefront of the industrial revolution in the 19th century. Hard to imagine nowadays when the decreasing population is drawn to employment down on the coast. Ojen’s main export now is a anise like spirit that bizarrely is particularly popular in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

First few Kms were a rocky scramble up a dry stream bed and on a lovely path through a forest of pine with distinctive peaks rising above us. As the sun climbed and the heat rose so did the strong scents of pine needles and oil and I recalled the studies of the positive effects on the mental and physical health of “forest bathing” and the phytoncides, the chemicals emitted by the trees.

Emerging onto a forestry track on a high level plain planted with a variety of conifers and eucalyptus we passed a number of weekend walkers and a few parties of mushroom gatherers- all of whom had dogs that made us wonder if they used them to sniff out the fungi. They seemed to have been successful anyway and had baskets brimming with a mushroom similar to chanterelles that we were told bled red juice when cut with a knife.

Climbing a narrow rocky path up and over the ridge we found ourselves in wild untamed country with a vista of peaks disappearing into the cloud. The extent of the park became apparent. When originally designated in 1989 the Natural Park was 78sq miles and this was increased to cover 362 sq miles on achieving World Biosphere Reserve status in 1995.

We had passed signs warning us that our route demanded physical fitness, good mountain orienteering skills and experience and we began to see why when we started to clamber down the descent towards Istan on a, luckily dry, stream bed, the Canada de Juan Ingles gorge. Tricky going but rewarded by the magnificent views and flora, particularly the dwarf or fan palms and the masses of aromatic rosemary, thyme and lavender.

Istan is a place of water boasting numerous springs, fountains, pools, the rivers Verde and Molinos and a network of ancient irrigation channels built by the Moors. Once a place of great wealth with a thriving silk industry and forests of white mulberry, walnuts and oak, hillsides of vineyards producing wine and raisins that bought ships from France and England, all changed when after the rebellion and defeat of the Moricos ( Muslim converts to Christianity) in the mid 16th century the area was practically uninhabited until Christian settlers from other areas in Spain took over the old Moorish properties.

The next leg was a longer but easier 20km trek on mostly good tracks to Monda, over the Canada del Infierno and the high point of Puerto de Moratan at 600m.

Leaving town on a road passed the Nacimiento ( the birth or spring) of the Rio Molinos we headed into the wild hinterland with remote houses dotted here and there in the folds of the hills.

A tiny tree had been dressed for Christmas on the track that took us eventually up to the pass and a helipad- maybe for forest fires or mountain rescue. The landscape seemed to hold more moisture with lush grasses accompanying the palms.

From the Puerto it was a long descent alongside a massive fenced and gated estate of forest, orchard and arable strips between rosemary covered scrubland.

Crossing a river bed on the outskirts of Monda we climbed an ancient cobbled track before arriving into town to find our bed by the loofah plants.

The final leg of the triangle back to Ojen was a 16 km combination of GR243 and GR249, my old trekking companion the Gran Senda de Malaga. Starting off on the trail we had arrived into town on, we soon diverted under the road and into a forested area, eventually turning off onto a steep overgrown track that climbed up and over the mountains separating the two towns.

The views all the way down to the coast awaiting at the top made up for the scratching and effort involved in getting there and the difficulty in scrambling down the steep path back down to the Cerezal recreation area and eventually , with relief, the hire car, still safely where we left it.

The Sierra is very shortly to become designated a National Park, the 1st in Malaga province- 3rd in Andalucia and 16th in Spain, an upgrading to the premier league of protected environments that will mean an increase in investment in infrastructure to develop responsible tourism such as visitor and nature education centres, lookout points and outdoor leisure facilities. The dozen or so towns in the area are hoping this will help stem the flow of outward emigration and bring increased employment possibilities.

The logistics of returning from a multi day linear walk put us off returning to the GR 243 so our next trip to the area was centered in a couple of spots from which we rambled on a number of routes deep into the Parks interior.

Staying at a mountain hotel high above the town of Tolox for a night enabled us to tackle a couple of great trails, the first of which, the PR-A 282 route to Las Cascades, took us in a 11km loop around the steep slopes, deep valleys, gullies, ravines and precipices typical of the landscape with the added attraction of some mighty waterfalls in full flow after some days of rain and snow.

Starting off from the Puerto del Monte we climbed a zig zag track way marked with yellow and white dashes up through the red peridotite rocks this area is renown for. The lower altitudes of the Sierra are made up of the worlds largest massif of this rare rockform. The impervious nature of the rock holds the water that nurtures the lush vegetation and creates the dramatic cascades.

Somewhat alarmed at the signs warning of “fording rivers, landslides and falling into voids” we carried on around the deep creases and folds to a series of cascades where the more adventurous enjoy canyoning and we were satisfied with sitting and picnicking.

Beautiful, and if it had been a bit hotter I might have managed a cold power shower. Instead we descended to the valley floor and tried to stay dry footed while crossing backward and forward over the river before climbing again to our starting point.

In the morning, stepping out of the Hotel Cerro de Hijar, we were off on the SL-A 229 Rio de los Horcajos, supposedly only 9 or 10 km but , as usual, working out a fair bit more. Another loop, this one took us up and over a pass to a steep sided valley that we descended into to follow the river down into Tolox and up again to the hotel.

Climbing over the pass we could see the snowy peaks of some of the parks higher mountains including La Torrecilla at 1920 m ( 6300ft) Malaga’s highest. On its limestone slope, at 1670m, is the entrance to the 3rd deepest cave shaft in the world, dropping vertically over 1000m. Known as GESM it is one of a great many caves and shafts in the limestone mountains and a great draw for potholers and cavers.

The steep valley slopes were covered with ancient, much pollarded chestnuts which along with holm, cork, gall and Portuguese oaks and pine carpeted the Sierra up to the snow line.

We followed a beautiful old stone track down through the shrub to the Rio Horcajos. The whole area is covered with a network of trails, as is much of rural Spain. These paths between villages have been used for hundreds of years by shepherds, goatherds, muleteers, charcoal makers, herders and travellers of all kinds forming a web of communication and information.

It wasn’t long before we came to a recreation area at the hermitage of the Virgin of the Snows where natural springs emerged from the ground to join the river that we followed into Tolox on a verdant path between rampant crops.

The river had once supplied the power for many mills in Tolox , for grain and olive oil, but nowadays the local sulfur rich waters of the Balneario o Fuente Amargosa emerge at a constant 21* and supply Spain’s only medicinal spa. Famous for the treatment of kidney and urinary problems by drinking and respiratory disease by inhaling the mildly radioactive vapours you need a doctors prescription for a 2 week treatment. The building was our last stop before a final leg aching climb back up to the hotel and car. Time to move on.

We were moving on to Finca las Morenas, an off grid farmhouse with accommodation run by a couple of Mediterranean garden designers who moved here after decades of working in London. In an isolated setting adjoining the Natural Park outside of Yunquera the converted sheds next to the 300 yr old farmhouse had been tastefully and thoughtfully renovated and featured many environmentally friendly features designed to save water and power. Situated at above 700 m it was a perfect spot from which to explore the upper reaches of the Sierra.

Our first trek from the finca took us into the pines on a foresters track that took us slowly up another 500 m to the Cueva del Aqua, the cave of water, and into the snow. Obviously the Sierra de las Nieves, the “Mountains of the Snows” have a reputation for getting a fair bit of the white stuff and there had been some heavy falls before we came.

This walk would also bring us for the first time into stands of the tree the park is famous for, the Abies Pinsapo, the Spanish Fir endemic to this region. “Discovered “in 1837 it is a botanical relic of the pre glacial period that by the 60’s was in danger of extinction due to felling but under protection they now cover an area of 5000 hectares. Some are National Monuments and hundreds of years old and are the emblem or symbol of the Natural Park but unfortunately a more subtle and pernicious effect of mankind’s damage to the environment could still be their downfall. An invisible fungus has been attacking and killing the trees whose natural resistance is thought to have been weakened by climate change and ecologists are calling for a seed bank to be created to ensure survival of the species.

We reached the cave after about 6 km and carried on up to a picnic spot with a view before returning to explore it on our way back down to the finca. Deep enough to provide plenty of shelter for goatherds and their flocks the walls bore the smoke stains of countless fires.

Next day we set off to drive up to the Mirador Puerto Saucillo above Yunquera to do a hike up to Penon Enamorados ( Lovers Crag/Rock) the second highest peak in the Sierra at 1760m. Unfortunately the road up had been blocked half way up by local police adding another 6 km and 300 m ascent to our days walk.

After a chocolate break on reaching the mirador at 1240m we set off on a yellow and white marked route the PR-A 351 and were immediately immersed into the snowy landscape that had long been a source of industry with the building of snow pits and the subsequent transportation ,by mule ,of snow and ice all over the province.

Chilly enough in the shade but climbing up out of the forest and onto more open rocky ground we were able to bask in the sun and take in the far ranging vistas.

The crisp clear air, bright sun and dazzling white snow made the views over the surrounding Sierras to the distant coast even more dramatic and awe inspiring as we climbed across an icy slope studded with occasional lonely Pinsapos and recently planted galloaks towards the “wedding cake” pile of Enamorados.

We were truly blessed with the conditions as we reached our goal at 1745m, happy to picnic at the bottom of the pile of rocks below the summit and take in the view of Torrecilla, another 200 m higher. Another time.

Our return leg to the mirador was on a smaller track across a coll, and along a ridge and then down to the bottom of the valley, at times a slippery slide down snowy slopes. The trail, invisible beneath its white blanket was thankfully marked by many stone cairns, leading us back into the Pinsapo forest past tracks in the snow, the nearest we got to seeing any of the deer, boar, goat or muflon that are among the rich variety of fauna living in this wilderness.

We had discovered yet another area of Spain worthy of more exploration and will have to return. So many wonders. So little time.

Connemara: The Southside

December 2020: Emerging from another Covid lockdown I finally get around to a post on a short exploration we enjoyed just prior to shutting ourselves away again within our 5km cocoon.

Heading west into Connemara we usually favour the mountainous areas to the north, the mighty lumps of quartzite and marble that make up the Twelves Bens and the Maumturk ranges. From the peaks of some we have gazed south, across the low lying bogland scattered with shining pearls of light reflected from a myriad of lakes and pools, to the sea beyond. The coastline there is so wildly indented, so convoluted, with peninsulas bulging out in all directions, surrounded by a flotilla of islands and islets, that it takes effort and time to explore some of the further flung pieces of this mesmerising landscape.

So although we have, over the years, been many times to the (relatively) more accessible beauty spots, we wanted to delve deeper and started with a walk on An Cheathru Rua, anglicised as Carraroe, a low lying peninsular of about 4×1 miles jutting south from Casla.

Home to nearly 2500 people, over 80% of whom are native Irish speakers, this is the heartland of the Connemara gaeltacht and the Irish language media ,being the base of the Foinse newspaper, with RTE Raidio National Gaeltachta and TG4 television station both nearby.

We started our walk on the beach that featured in the first Irish language film “Poitin” directed by Bob Quinn whose home and production company are/ were based in Carraroe.

Tra an Doilin, Strand of the Creek, is nowadays better known as Coral Strand and is made up of a rare biogenic gravel, a coralline algae known as Maerl. An Cheathru Rua translates as the Red or Ruddy Quarter in reference to the poor land of rock, heath, grass and rush possibly through the browning or bronzing of dead vegetation. In the past the Maerl would have been used as a soil conditioner to sweeten the acidic soil.

Heading north along the coastline past grazing horses in rocky fields we soon reached Doilin Quay.

There are very many piers, quays and landing/ mooring places all over the South Connemara area, a reflection of the vital importance the sea had for the generations of people gaining sustenance from these waters for over 4000 years. Roads have only come relatively recently and the sea was the main route from place to place until modern times. Another name for this place is Ceibh na Mine, Meal Quay, because cornmeal used to be landed here.

From here we left the “official” loop and continued on a narrow path along the coast, climbing over and through a wonderful variety of stiles fashioned from the granite to hand.

Soon enough we reached ‘Tadhg’s landing place’, Caladh Thaidhg a once busy port built in 1840 by Tadhg O’Cathain, a prominent local busnessman running a fleet of boats from here to the Aran islands and Galway city.

The hookers and other boats of old were busy transporting primarily turf to the Aran islands, a trade that continued into the 60’s when “cosey gas” as Kosangas was known had started to arrive on the islands. Connemara turf is still important fuel in these parts though and we passed many neatly piled stacks on our ramblings. None of these sods originated in the local area though as the profitable turf trade to Galway city and the Aran islands had ensured that the granite hereabouts had been stripped bare to earn money, at one time leaving only the unsellable top layer of heather roots or “scraw” to be burnt at home.

From the pier we turned up the road toward Loch na Tamhnai Moire , lake of the big field, anglicised as Natawnymore and turned off into a charming little grass covered boreen that led us up, down, around and back to the road from the village to Coral Strand, from where we looked across Greatman’s Bay, Cuan an Fhir Mhoir , to our next walk on Garumna island.

Although only a km away by water we had to drive about 20 km by tarmac ,up to Casla and then on a lovely road that spanned 3 bridges between the islands of Eanach Mheain , Leitrim Moir and Garmna. A beautiful landscape but as in WB Yeats’s words, ” a terrible beauty”, as this area suffered terribly in the famine and post famine years.

Carraroe in particular became famous for the evictions of the cottagers and especially for a rebellious battle against them. In 1880 the western half of the peninsular was owned by the Kirwan estate whose men with 60 police were serving eviction notices and closing houses when a melee broke out that warranted an extra 200 police to be sent down to Galway and on to Carraroe where they charged and bayoneted a group of women defending the homes, wounding several severely and one mortally.

The New York Herald reported that when attempts were made to serve eviction notice at another home the women ripped it to shreds and a did of blazing turf was snatched up from the fire and smashed into the inspectors neck. With 2000 or more protesters now gathered to defend the cottages the situation was deemed too dangerous and the notice server, a Mr Fenton, refused to carry on and all the police were withdrawn.

However evictions did eventually continue over the coming years and the Land Leaguers Davitt and Parnell visited and used its example in America to raise funds for famine relief and political change.

Hardships unimaginable to us as we embarked upon the 8km loop in the sunshine with full belly’s and a cosy camper van to return to.

Garumna is the largest of dozens of islands in the archipelago of Ceantar na hOilean, the mosaic of water, rock, bog and land that are the heart of the south Connemara Gaeltacht. Small lumpy fields of dips and hollows bordered by a writhing mass of stone walls are made up of a variety of habitats and flora. Pools and marsh, granite slab and boulder, rush and grasses, bracken, gorse and heather. The low lying acidic land rises bare metres above the Atlantic whose westerly winds beat down any trees attempting a life here.

As we set off westwards towards loch Hoirbeaird we had to disagree with the anthropologist Dr Charles Browne who came here in 1898 to study ” probably the poorest and most primitive population in Ireland” when he said of the area that ” a more utterly barren, dreary looking region could hardly be imagined”, although I had to admit that some of the holiday accommodation had seen better days.

We turned off down a small winding backroad that became a track which took us , after losing our way, down to a tiny quay lost among the seaweed covered rocks.

Gathering seaweed has a long history in the area as a food source and fertiliser and the days of burning kelp for soapmaking, dyeing, paper and glassmaking and producing iodine were succeeded by collecting vast amounts of ascophyllum nodosum or egg wrack for the extraction of alginic acid, used in so many foods, cosmetics, biotechnology as well as animal food and fertiliser. Some 20,000 t are now harvested annually by hand in the region and transported by road to factories across the water in Cill Chiarain where the Canadian owned company Arramara Teo are about to upgrade their factories to food grade and take in bladderwrack seaweed as well, a move which they say will have ” far reaching economic benefits within the local community and west coast of Ireland”

We had our lunch gazing at all the riches clinging to the rocks and reminiscing about the times, 40 years ago, when we earned our living gathering seaweed in West Cork.

Turning back up the track aways we found our turnoff, a grassy track leading us deeply into the island towards a line of smoke in the sky. Someone was clearing heather or gorse in the hope of fresh grass but we passed some areas where this method of burning had resulted in mosses alone.

We reached the coast again at the medieval church and graveyard at An Tra Bhain, the white beach, from where pilgrims would gather for the journey out to the monasteries of the Aran islands.

An enchanting path now led us northwards along the shoreline of Greatman’s Bay, looking back over towards the Coral beach, and on reaching yet another little jetty we turned west again to return to the camper along a quiet backroad.

Looking for a quiet park up for the night we drove back over the causeways to Leitir Moir and Eanach Mheain and followed our noses to a graveyard on the north coast overlooking the Bens and Maumturks way in the distance.

The very tranquil spot was shared by the buried with golfers who got to play in what surely must be the most dramatic setting on the Wild Atlantic Way, although a risky spot for amateurs, being surrounded by water.

The following day we headed further into the depths of the Connemara Gaeltacht by driving around the large peninsular of Iorras Aithneach to Mhairois where another loop awaited.

Another beautiful 5km walk on beach and boreen started at the ancient seaside church ruins and headed southwest along the immense strand where the ghost of a friars massive hound was said to be seen running races from end to end.

At the far end at a headland we turned south along a rock shoreline of wonderfully hued slabs and boulders of granite and tropical looking crystal clear waters, as calm and flat as a mill pond.

The views across Cuan na Beirtri Bui, Bertraghboy Bay were stunning, a palette of blues and greens and pale turquoise from which swellings of land emerged, rocks, islets, islands and mountains. The microcosm was as appealing as the wider picture with miniature seas held in rock pools and the abstract artworks of gigantic stone sculpture under our feet.

There was the work of man here too. Ruins of stone cottages that must have caught the spray of storms sat squatly atop the rock, a testament to the resilience of man and his work. Calm and tranquil in the weather we were enjoying, the usual conditions must have made for a harsh life on the Atlantic’s edge.

I fruitlessly searched around for a Holywell marked on the map below the high tide line, the third of these seashore relics we’d passed on our rambles unspotted. Further along, on the grassland above the beach of An Tra Mhoir, we discovered another of the Eire navigation and neutrality markers from the days of “the emergency”we had spotted in many places around the coast. This was number 52 of 83 and had been recently restored by locals.

Next up was an inlet that was fed by a stream we crossed on a new looking recycled plastic bridge. A good use for the silage wrap that so often gets left to decorate the hedgerows, block drainage and ends up in the bellys or around the necks of wildlife.

On reaching the road we took the detour to the right to check out the Atmospheric Research Station in Mace Head. It is uniquely situated, far from shipping lanes, cities and other pollutant sources to look for aerosol and trace gas elements within the clean air mass coming from the North Atlantic. Part of a large number of international research networks into global warming it also produces data for the weather forecast. In 1994 it was recognised by the World Meteorological Organisation as one of the most important stations in the northern hemisphere.

*Not my photo

Then up to the top of the broad summit of An Mas , translation buttock, where the Coastal Watch Look-Out Post number 82 still kept a watch out for friendly and foreign goings on.

Having our sarnies we had a magnificent view northward to the mountains and southwards over the rough and rocky fields littered with long abandoned cottages and beyond to the sea and islands, the nearest being St Macdara’s, home to an early Christian monastery.

Then back down the winding boreen, passed signs of the low intensity of the agricultural practises in the area. A couple spending a long long time driving some cattle into a ruined cottage and a tractor in retirement.

Finally we did get drawn towards the distant peaks , to the ancient woodland of the Nature Reserve on the shores of Derryclare lake in the Inagh valley north of Recess. This 19 hectare old oak woodland is a remnant of what used to be and an indication of what could be again if the ravages of a “sheep wrecked” environment could be resisted.

Access is down a forestry track off the R344. Parking the camper we crossed the river between locks Inagh and Derryclare above a salmon hatchery, and followed the track around the end of the lake and on until we eventually found an unmarked and slight trail that seemed to be going in the right direction and were soon enveloped in a mysterious green stillness of another world.

The aboriginal oaks, hangovers whose ancestors arrived here after the last ice age, are smothered with thick coats of mosses and host colonies of polypody ferns. Although in theory protected, the sheep continue to find their way in and these elderly trees do not have a lot of youngsters to take their place having been nibbled at birth. The National Parks and Wildlife service have been ringing the non native conifers and have translocated 19 red squirrels from Portumna Forest Park to Derryclare. They have been doing well according to study’s and hair tubes and traps and wildlife cameras keep a close eye on their movements.

The edges of the Oakwood are home to a range of other species, alder and willow on the marshy boggy bits and birch and ash on the dryer sedge covered ground.

Here and there are yew, chestnut and sycamore but the species that the visiting botanist really get excited about are the lichens. The clean air and humid climate have allowed over 100 species to flourish here, some unknown elsewhere in Europe or the northern hemisphere. or extremely rare.

The macrocosm of the mountain ranges, the lakes, the bogs and the vast fractal coastline complimented again here by the microcosm of forests of mosses and lichens and fungi. A beautiful interconnected web reaching out from within the earth up to the highest peaks and passing through the hearts of some who journey here.

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.