walking in Ireland

INISHBOFIN:19th March 2016

3 months since a Ramblingman posting i thought i would report on a couple of recent excursions or micro adventures as i believe they are called in the on-trend world.

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The first was a trip we’d been meaning to take for a long time. To take the ferry from Cleggan on the northwestern tip of Co Galway the 7 miles out to Inishbofin or to give it’s proper name, Inis Bo Finne, the Island of the White Cow. The inspiration to finally get it together was supplied by the presence of our WWOOFer (Willing Worker On Organic Farms, or nowadays for some reason changed to WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms). We wanted to show off Connemara to Hanna on her first trip to Ireland from Germany.

It was a fairly gloomy day driving through the bogs and mountains and the clouds hung low over the sea as we boarded the boat along with a surprisingly large amount of other folk and the two dogs.IMG_4956

We had been having beautiful spring weather recently so it was a bit disappointing to gaze out towards the grey 6 by 4 km smudge on the horizon and back towards the twelve Bens and the Maumturk peaks lost in cloud.

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It took about half an hour to cross to the island and pass the beacons that led ships into the fine sheltered harbour below the smattering of buildings that comprised the main settlement.

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The island has three looped walks and with 4 hours available to us we had combined two of them, the Middle and Western Quarters. Climbing up from the harbour along the network of boreens we started out on the Middle Quarter loop first, albeit in the opposite direction to the way marks, which possibly explains how we got lost fairly soon after passing the cottages,new and old, and heading out north towards the islands high ground.IMG_4966

Passing an airstrip carved into the rocky and boggy ground we took the wrong turn but only had to climb to the highest point to get back on track and admire the views east towards the mainland and south across the ocean.

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Rejoining the way marked route we descended from the 90 mt highpoint towards the bog track leading to Loch Bofin and the pebble embankment separating it from the Atlantic at North beach.

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Following a flock of sheep being herded along a boreen we moved on to the open expanse of the Westquarter and now in bright sunshine passed by the sad monument to the memory of some American students that had drowned off the coast here in the 7o’s. IMG_4982

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Somewhere around here there had been a quarry of valuable soapstone which, along with the abundance of fish, fresh water, fertile ground and a sheltered harbour had made Inish Bofin an attractive place to live for the 6-8000 yrs of human settlement. Strangely there are none of the megalithic remains of standing stones, circles or burial tombs that feature on the mainland from that period, leading some people to surmise that a different people with a different culture may have inhabited these islands. There is a promontory fort, Dun Mor, that we under below once we reached the old green road that travels along the southern shore with a warren of rabbit holes peppering the slope below it.

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There is a fine view from this section of the walk over towards Inishark and the now roofless houses finally abandoned in October 1960.We couldn’t resist clambering down to the beautiful pristine beach hemmed in by headlands on either side and after fruitless beach combing to the eastern end, availed of the handy rope to climb back up to the green road.

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The sparkling sea and sunshine and soft, sheep cropped grass persuaded us that this was a good picnic spot before we rejoined the tarmac road that serves the simple homesteads and its remnants of rusting transport.

It’s a shame that Inishark could not sustain itself long enough to enjoy the better economic conditions that Inis Bofin seems to enjoy, with new sea defences, a fine and active community centre and a hotel popular with stag and hen nights by all accounts , but it’s lonely and empty stillness could be a draw of itself and can be enjoyed during the Inis Bofin Walking Festival in a couple of weeks (22nd to 24th April) when a guided hike over the island will take place, weather permitting.

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Our ferry awaited and soon we were cruising out past Port Island separated by a narrow gulley and once the castle site of Don Bosco, not the puppet once popular on Irish TV, but a famed and feared Spanish pirate who, along with his mate Granuaile, the pirate Queen, in another castle opposite, controlled these waters and plundered any foolish enough to venture in. Since the 16th century another warlord, Cromwell, has had a presence here in the star shaped shape of the barracks used as a prison for catholic priests from all over the country declared guilty of high treason for being– catholic priests.IMG_5009

It would have been their last view of their homeland as they eventually got shipped out to the West Indies and an unknown fate. We, on the other hand, had the pleasure of anticipating a fair weather drive back through the mountains of Connemara now revealed in all their glory for the benefit of our German visitor.

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BALLYHOURA WAY: 20/21/22nd April

18/32/20kms

Glorious sunny weather and beautiful  lush spring countryside this week on the Ballyhoura Way, another dog friendly trail me and the hounds undertook over 3 days. 

It’s a 90 km walk, starting east of Liscarroll in Co Cork and finishing at Limerick Junction near Tipperary town. 

There are spectacular views for much of the route over the Golden Vale, the Glen of Aherlow and the Galtee Mountains as the way involves 4 upland sections over the Ballyhoura Mountains, Slievereagh and Benyvoughella Hills and along the ridge of Slievenamuck before coming down into Tipp. 

The way makes up a segment of the Beara-Breifne Way which follows the route of the 14 day March of Donal O’Sullivan Beare and 1000 of his supporters in January 1603 from West Cork to Leitrim where only 35 people remained. It’s an epic tale and wonderfully told in a one man show by Aidan Dooley if you get a chance to see it. 

Coincidentally the International Ballyhoura Walking Festival is happening next weekend over the May bank holiday and sections of the route had been freshly strimmed and a couple of new bridges installed. It’s the oldest walking festival in Ireland ,celebrating its 21st birthday and is expecting over 1000 walkers. The whole area is really well marketed as Ballyhoura Country with a wealth of outdoor activities intergrated with accommodation etc and made me wonder if the Slieve Aughties could do likewise. 

The first 20 km of the way is on tarmac roads which I didn’t fancy with the dogs so I left the van at the 2nd trailhead just south of Ballyhea where the trail heads off road and heads into the hills. 



A nice stretch of primrose dotted boreen with plank bridges over ditches led us up to a rutted farm track with views back over the Golden Vale. 





Before long we entered forestry where it was a bit off putting to come across this sign

but heartening to find a weath of mountain biking trails looping and crisscrossing the walking routes. 





I usually find forestry boring to walk through but here it seemed more open with cleared views and plantings of beach. 





I don’t know wether it was bad signage or loss of concentration but somehow I missed the turn to take us up over the top of Carron mountain and had to use the maps I had downloaded from the irishtrails website to follow forest tracks around to get back on track. In doing so I came upon the site of a party held many years ago where a troop of scouts had hiked through the marquee erected over the trail during my early morning ambient set. A surreal memory. 





As is the sideways image of the site that I cannot make go the right way up. 

We reached open moorland 

and climbed to the Ways highest point at Castle Phillip (477mt) and down a little to camp witha view North. 



A fine sunset

and a fine sunrise



We carried on down through the forest with more bike trails

and the Ballyhoura Trim Trail, a looped circuit of exercise stations for sit ups,  parallel bars, hurdles, ladder walk etc



There were info boards on different species of fauna and flora and a bridge led us through a lovely beech wood. 







Out to open country again overlooking the vast 6500 acres estate of Castle Oliver where the tree planting in the 18th century was based on the battle positions at the battle of Waterloo and was thought to be the birthplace of Marie Gilbert better known as Lola Montez, actress and dancer and mistress of King Ludwig of Bavaria. 



One of the gate lodges of the now broken up estate. 

A riverside strip of ash woods led to a collection of holiday lodges both grand and basic



though none as basic as the little off grid Eco cabin we came to a little later

A lot of wind blown trees on Ballyroe Hill made for an interesting archway  n the way to Kilfinane the main town of  the Ballyhoura Country area where the lady in the impressive info centre ran around sourcing maps and guides for me and water for the dogs. On the outskirts of town the site of the old corn mill set up by Richard Oliver which brought prosperity to the town was being invaded by Knot Weed. 

The sun shone brightly lighting up the gorse flower on the trail with the Galtees now in sight. 



Some unusual fencing made the section of road walking to Galbally more interesting. 



After over 30km it was good to get to Moor Abbey our campsite for the night on the banks of the river Aherlow. The abbey had a troubled history, taking 300 years to complete and being burnt 4 times. Legend has it that 3 Friars beheaded by Cromwells men shed no blood. 





The next morning started with a 2km walk along the riverside and another km up hill across open grassland and fields to the track that traverses Slievenamuck with views across to the 3000ft peaks of the Galtees. 







There had been a fire in the forest the previous weekend that came perilously close to the houses there. 



Not long after I got lost trying to take a “short cut” to avoid a  bit of road walking. Not having my GPS on me I couldn’t work out where I was and ended up on a looped trail to the top of the ridge. 



Seeing Tipperary laid out below me I made the brave but foolish decision to head straight down to a road leading there which involved a lot a clambering through nearly impenetreble  thickets and forest. 



We made it , just, and a 4km road walk took us into Tipp where we took a taxi in half an hour the 3 day route back. 

NORTH KERRY WAY: Kerry Head to Tralee 13/14th April

20/24km

The North Kerry Way starts in Tralee and goes north up the coast to Ballyheigue before doing a loop around Kerry Head. I left my van in Ballyheigue ,did the loop on the first day, slept in the van,continued to Tralee the next day and then got a cab with the dogs back.

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An old narrow boreen lead us out of BallyheigueIMG_2087

climbing up to higher ground passing the ancient earthwork of An Clai Rua [track of the red ditch] a 6 foot wide bank that runs intermittently from  Kerry Head all the way to Co. Limerick.

IMG_2106  A much quieter way than it’s neighbour the Dingle Way through a landscape dotted with many signs of abandonment both ancient and modern.IMG_2088 IMG_2089

I took a detour of a couple of kms down towards the sea to visit the well of St DahalinIMG_2092

known as Tobar na Sul [The spring of the eyes] which is reputed to heal blindness and still visited by people who come to bath their eyes in the holy waters. We picked up a huge greyhound there who was determined to follow us IMG_2099

and it took an hour to find the owner and move on up the gorse lined bog road to Maulin mountain.IMG_2101

Good boots were needed on a long wet stretch of sunken path that must be a river in the rain.           IMG_2102

Towards the top the track became wide and open again and the views opened out to take in the mouth of the Shannon all the way down to Limerick and across to the south Clare coast and Loop Head lighthouse.

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A tiny path lined with newly and optimistically planted trees IMG_2107 took us over Triskmore Mountain and down to a track leading west, passed more hounds IMG_2109 and dumped rubbish IMG_2110 to the end of Kerry Head where the farm would not win any prizes for eco awareness. IMG_2113

Turning south the expanse of Tralee Bay lay before us from the Slieve Mish range all the way west to Mount Brandon at the end of the Dingle Peninsular.The fine grassy fields were in south facing strips down to the sea from the road we followed past more old cottages back to Ballyheigue Bay.IMG_2114

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Next morning we headed off down about 8km of wide empty beach going inland briefly on a sluice bridge over the Tyse river IMG_2127

and across the flat heath Cul Tra “the back strand”, the dogs excited by the rabbits and skylarks.

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Back to the beach above Banna where the view was distracting enough for me to miss my path

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off the beach which meant i had to cross the luckily low tide sands of Carrahane Strand to get back to the road.

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The road was fairly narrow and fairly busy with no verges or easy escape from the traffic with the dogs so i was glad when we crossed the old Tralee to Fenit railway line and came down to Spa harbour.IMG_2151   IMG_2152

In the 18th century this was a popular and fashionable location when many of the large local English population came to take the mineral waters there. I don’t know if the sea wall i now followed was part of the relief scheme work carried out during the famine but half way along is a small bridge called Meal Bridge and was where the workers collected their Indian Meal payment.

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A deep narrow channel through the shallow water of the bay leads to “The Point” where the Tralee shipping canal brought freighters safely up the 2 1/2 kms to the city for 100 years.

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It passes the windmill that was restored by local people and continues to grind grain and now also holds a museum of famine emigration in ships like the Jennie Johnston whose replica was built here recently.

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The Ireland of today is in a very different place toothed and all the talk of austerity and the hardships of water charges are bought into perspective when you walk, blissfully, on “amenity areas” overlaid onto the spine of a desperate past. The landscape is/was beautiful, I only hope it gave some succour to the sufferers of the past.

ROYAL CANAL: Enfield to Killucan 5th April

24kms 

A disappointingly cloudy start to a disappointingly cloudy day and by the time we had faffed around packing up etc it was 10,30 before we got going. 



There were more people out and about running and walking down the tow path. Easter Sunday strolling. 

Before long we got to the Meath/Kildare county boundary and the river Blackwater aqueduct. 

The aqueducts are very hard to photograph Lord knows how hard to construct. My admiration for the engineers and labourers of the time grows with every passing km. 

After Kilmore bridge

the canal went through a lovely wooded stretch awns the towpath became narrow and lined with primroses. 



The next bridge Moyvalley, had a nicelooking canal side pub/restaurant but unfortunately we were too early, or maybe it was just as well. There was a big fishing competition going on with a long line of guys and a mass of gear strung out down the towpath. 



The line ended at the Ribbontail lifting bridge, built to facilitate people going to the nearby church but ironically a favorite hang out of the Ribbon Men, naughty men who back in the day would make holes in the canal bank to cause big breaches which would create loads of work to repair. 



Good rich land surrounded us. Big fields. Big trees. Soon we crossed high above the river Boyne on another aqueduct.  



A very cheery lady called Sadie passed us going the other way and a few kms later caught up with us from behind. I fell into step with her for a chat for awhile but her 76 year old pace was a bit too much for my track buddy who has been suffering badly from cold/flu and it was as a relief to e able to slow down again when she peeled off. 



An inspiration. That gives us another 15 years anyway. 

A nice length of wilder path got us to the pub at the Hill of Down where we had been hoping for lunch. 

No luck beyond Guiness ,lager and crisps which kept us going another 8 kms to the great pub restaurant Nanny Quinns at Thomastown harbour where we had a slap up. 

Near here were moored up the last two working barges on the canal but it must have been awhile ago. 



We camped up on a lovely spot not long after and a new barge came through the lock. 

A nice lad had just got himself a 20 grand bargain. New Diesel engine,7 year old steel hull. Him and some mates were taking it down to Dublin to live on. Their first boat trip. It had already involved a trip to hospital for a load of stitches after the lock key had  spun on the rachet and cracked yer mans head open. Good luck to them. 



So time for gathering firewood and settling in to admire a nice sunset as the clouds had finally gone. 



ROYAL CANAL: Maynooth to Enfield 4th April

22km

Back on track. Good to be walking again even if my pack is heavier now I’m carrying two tents ( one for the dogs !) and cooking gear. But now that I’ve lost 10kg off my belly I can afford to put it on my back without fear of overburdening my knees 

There may have been some doubts about whether we would make it out to the canal after what I’m told was a fun filled dinner party the night before but luckily Sally wasn’t too hung over and we set off on schedule. 

It was alarmingly drizzly on the drive up but by the time we got to Maynooth it had dried and warmed up a bit. We parked in the train station which adjoins the canal and we are planning to come back by train from Longford in 125km and 5 days time. The track runs alongside us for a lot of the way as the land bought for the canal construction was wide enough for both. It wasn’t long after the canal was open that the train took over passenger travel anyway. 

In my relaxed state I was intent on starting to walk the wrong way, East rather than west, but luckily I now have a track buddy to put me straight. And I’m still following arrows 

We followed this wall, of St Patrick’s college for a good long way, they must have some serious amount of land on campus. We went up through two locks and noticed how short and narrow they appear to be. You’d only get one boat in at a time. But there is almost no boats on the move anyway. This was the only one we saw all day. 

After we walked the Grand Canal a few years ago we thought how underused the whole amazing resource was and the Royal seems the same. There’s some fine bridges that have to accommodate the canal, train track, river and one bridge even had a arch just for the towpath. 



Before long we were approaching Kilcock

where they were very keen on waterpolo and had numerous goals slung across the water. 



The section of the canal beyond Kilcock passes through Cappa bog which caused big problems during construction with sides slipping and bottom swelling up, a bit like ourselves. It looks nice now though. 



Irish Waterways hav been cutting the reeds From the canal and shrub from the banks and we came across fine looking little vessels for the job. 



Just before Enfield, or Innfield on some maps, we came upon a fine motte and bailey. 



Enfield had a lovely canal side amenity area with harbour and slipway and shower and toilet block but we decided to carry on out of town to camp, a little wary of the lads bush drinking antics. So we got some food and drink and headed off into a gorgeous evening a couple of km to a nice wide patch of grass with loads of firewood around. 



It was a bit near the motorway that we could hear all night but apart from that….all good. And a huge full moon rising.