Whatever the weather

Does the weather affect YOUR mood?

Today it was mostly grey outside, with intervals of gloomy drizzle, and I spent most of the day quite overwhelmed by everything I needed to do.  I just couldn’t get myself motivated to give anything a reasonable effort.  We’re currently preparing to move house.  We’re also embarking on a major renovation project to reinstate an old Irish stone cottage, and also get a mobile home installed on site to live in whilst we work on the cottage.  I have lists everywhere, I have lists of my lists.  I have hurriedly scribbled notes, ‘don’t forgets’ and to-do lists on scraps of paper all around the place.  I have the phone numbers of various building contractors hastily scribbled on even more scraps of paper.  When my phone rings it’s like a snow globe of paper scraps as I try to work out which contractor is calling me before I answer the phone.  On days like this, all these lists and all these scraps of paper feel like they are burying me alive.

However, just the other day, the sun was out and it was a beautiful, sharp winter’s day.  After a good morning walk with the dogs, I was the epitome of a highly efficient working machine.  The housework was done.  All my lists were in order, my scraps of paper were sorted, and after the info contained upon them had been dealt with in a better manner they were consigned to the recycling bin. All was well in my world.

I have always said that I much prefer the winter to the summer.  My main argument on this being that in the winter, if you’re cold, you can layer up and get warmer.  However, if you’re too hot in the summer you have fewer options.  But what I love most about the winter are sharp, white frosts and the excitement of (too infrequent) snow falls. I’m like a child at Christmas if there’s even a hint of snow on the local weather forecast, and then spend the next 24 hours checking to see if its started yet.  All that aside, we’re about to move into what is effectively a tin box.  I am wondering if we’re mad, but I keep telling myself that Spring is only around the corner, the days will start to get longer soon, and the temperatures will start to lift.  I have a feeling this will become my new mantra this winter!

One aspect of our relocation that I’m really looking forward to is the host of hill trails to discover that will be pretty much on my doorstep.  Not quite mountains, the highest summit is 455m, but there’s an upland ridge with 4 summits identified along it on my OSI map for the area.  The nearest summit is less than 1½ kilometres (as the crow flies) from our cottage, and I can’t wait to be able to get up there and explore…all from my own front gate!

In the meantime, let’s hope the sun comes out again tomorrow, so I can have another productive day! So much to do, so little time.  Yes, the weather most definitely affects my mood.

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Call off the Search & Rescue teams!

I’m not missing, and those hard-working SAR heroes have much more important things to do!

Six months have passed since my last blog post, and for this I sincerely apologise.  I’m self-employed, and my work is mostly seasonal.  Summer is the main ‘busy’ time for my business, but I had all the right intentions to post a blog or two, in between the busiest times, but alas it (obviously) didn’t happen.

There have been a few highs and lows along the way.  Our first event of the summer season was also the wettest event I’ve ever attended.  Biblical amounts of rain – non-stop, relentless heavy rain for a solid 36 hours – but fortunately the event wasn’t a complete washout for my business.  The weather that weekend did herald the trend of the summer though.  I think I can count on one hand, and still have fingers left over, the number of events we did this summer that weren’t affected by rain. However, despite the unsettled summer weather my business enjoyed the best summer we’ve had since I was a fledgling start-up, culminating in a successful weekend at the biggest event we’ve ever done.

With regards to getting out hiking over the summer, well sadly that was  big fat zero.  My poor, neglected walking boots are sulking in the bottom of the wardrobe, feeling distinctly unloved.  As a matter of fact, I didn’t get much waking done at all, not even my daily walks around the local lanes.  I had a small surgical procedure done in June, fortunately during a 2 week break from business commitments, but not being a great ‘stay-at-home’ patient I only gave myself 2 days at home to recover before I was itching to get out walking the lanes again.  However, that was too early and caused complications, making my GP force me to promise not to walk for at least a month.  My business wasn’t really affected, mainly due to having a wonderful group of supportive friends that attend the same events, who helped me with all the heavy lifting that needed to be done. But the walking fell by the wayside.  By the time I was ‘allowed’ to walk again, the summer events were in full swing, and when you’re only home for 2-3 days each week I found it really hard to get back into my daily walking routine again. I’ve gained a stone in weight since June, and I am kicking myself.  However, now the summer is over, and I’ve a small break before the busy Christmas period kicks in, I’m working really hard to rebuild my daily walking routine, and get rid of that hateful gained weight that I had worked so hard to lose in the first place.  The walking target of 550 miles in 2015 that I set myself is completely out of the window, but I’m setting myself monthly distance targets on Runkeeper, and hoping to slowly build my miles back up again.  I can’t believe how unfit I have become by not walking these last 3 months, distances and pace that I found easy before are now a struggle and I’m a red-faced puffing mess as I stagger around my local lanes each morning, but that only makes me more determined to get back to where I was.

It as not my intention to end this post on a sad note, but I wasn’t sure of the best place to position this.  Sadly, over the summer we lost one of our canine walking companions.  Millie has always had a few health issues, mostly stemming from a dose of pleurisy she suffered as a young dog, leaving scarring on her lungs.  In later years she developed a form of colitis which took careful management of her diet to keep under control.  But despite all that she was always a happy, lively dog, and bright as a button.  At the beginning of the summer she was showing early signs of congestive heart failure, which was made more complicated due to the lung scarring.  Our vet was wonderful, and his ‘magic injections’ helped to quickly clear the fluid from her lungs and heart when she was struggling.  I took her away for a sneaky camping weekend in early August, and on the day we were leaving to go home I noticed one of her back legs was hanging limp, she was dragging it around like it was a rag-doll. The vet feared that she may be showing signs of Degenerative Myelopathy, but that we would watch and wait and see what happens.  He gave her a different magic injection, to stimulate the nerves, and she was walking around on all four legs within a very short amount of time.  But I wondered just how much more this little girl could withstand. I was away at an event in Roscommon, the event was disaster from a business point of view, but it was a lovely event in a beautiful part of the country.  On the final night a few of us were discussing whether to stay on for an extra night, just because.  The rain arrived the following morning, so we scrapped our plans and all headed off home.  I got home to find Millie in her bed gasping for air, the husband looking concerned.  I took her temperature and it was through the roof.  The vet started her straight away on strong antibiotics and a magic injection to clear her lungs.  But it didn’t work. Her breathing never improved.  I took her temperature hourly, and it just kept dropping. Initially we took that as a good sign.  However, it hit the minimum temperature for a healthy dog and kept dropping.  It dropped 7°C in just 5 hours.  She was going into shock.  We went back to our vet’s house at 11pm that night, and he gave her more stuff (forgive me if I wasn’t concentrating too well at the time on what he was giving her, we thought we were taking her on her final journey at the time, so we we’re relieved when our vet told us not to give up on her just yet).  He told us if she could get through the night to get the 2nd antibiotic into her in the morning then she had a fighting chance. I stayed up with her, I couldn’t bring myself to go to bed, but she died in my lap just after 3am.
Run free little bear

I have to sign off there for now, but not for another 6 months, I promise.  I just have to go and hug my dogs.

The Stoney Man – Ridge of Capard

Last Sunday was a simply beautiful day, and whilst driving back down the M7 from Kildare the day before the Slieve Blooms had been calling my name.  The Ridge of Capard looked glorious under the sun on that bright Saturday afternoon, and I knew that I’d much rather be up there, than down here, driving on the motorway.  Plans were then made, that if Sunday morning was even half as sunny as Saturday had been, we would head up to the Ridge of Capard, and pay a visit to The Stoney Man.

Situated just below the summit of Clarnahinch Mountain, some claim that The Stoney Man is the finest viewing point in the centre of Ireland, and it is often asserted that on a clear day you can see at least six counties from there.  My mother and I had made a half-hearted attempt to visit the Stoney Man previously, but time constraints on that occasion meant we had to turn back and head home that time, without reaching our goal.

As you might expect on such a sunny day, the car park was almost full when we arrived, and the steps up to the nearby viewing platform were full of families, making the most of the beautiful day to visit this popular local beauty spot.  Having been up to the viewing platform a few times, we instead took the boardwalk path off to right, out of the car park, and soon spotted our desired destination for today’s walk, The Stoney Man, way off in the distance.  Dolly had a ball leaping on and off the boardwalk, to investigate the heather and bog holes.  She miss-judged one of the bog holes at one point and, to her surprise, got much more soggy than she expected.

Dolly on boardwalkWe followed the boardwalk until it met up with the Slieve Bloom Way, where we then left the looped trails and joined Slieve Bloom Way to begin picking our way through the firmer sections of heather and bog, from marker post to marker post.  On reaching the spot where my mother and I had  been compelled to turn around on an earlier visit I was relieved to see that some bog bridges had been installed across some of the wetter, deeper sections of bog.  Given the recent dry weather and low rainfall I was surprised at how wet the ground was up there.

At a couple of different points we spotted stone piles off to our left.  I’ve come across smaller ones in various places where we’ve walked, and they always remind me of Inukshuks.  We made a small divert to visit one of them, we nicknamed this one “The Stoney Boy”.  Having seen, from a distance, another walker take a stone from the pile, presumably as a souvenir, we looked for a suitable stone to add to it instead.  The walker had walked past us, on his way back to the car park. with his rock in hand, and I’m never sure whether to say anything in these situations?

Whilst researching for info on The Stoney Man I came across this: [link to original article]

As a one-time resident of the Slieve Bloom Mountains I was always intrigued by the presence of quasi-orderly heaps of stones at various points on the mountains, the most prominent being ‘The Stoney Man’ near Capard.
Carter explains that it was customary for travellers in the area to leave a stone, the symbol of self, as one passed certain points and he references an ancient Irish tradition which tells us that five stones constitute a cairn since they represent the five old kingdoms of Ireland.

It seems that travellers in this area have been doing this for generations, and we unwittingly continued the custom by add our own ‘Symbol of Self’.  That makes me smile.

The boggy ground briefly gave way to these curious rippled rocks, and we spent a while pondering on how they might have been formed.  The Slieve Bloom mountains are claimed to be the oldest mountains in Europe, and it is understood that their height has been substantially reduced over time, by weathering, from 3,700m to 527m.  We came up with several crazy theories on these ripples, which could be totally wrong (most likely), or miraculously correct (unlikely), but neither of us are geologists, so I think there’s little point in sharing our ideas.

Rippled Rocks

Rippled Rocks

Soon enough we were back on boggy ground, but the Slieve Bloom Way trail developers had thoughtfully installed a narrow section boardwalk to take us over the worst of it, and to bring us almost all of the way up to The Stoney Man.

Nearly there...

Nearly there…

Oh boy, what a spot, what a view!  Even on a hazy day, you felt you could see the whole of Ireland, let alone the alleged six counties. Whilst snacking on our snacks and supping on our tea, we sat there…soaking up the sun and soaking up the views.  I had wanted to visit the Stoney Man for a long time, and he hadn’t let me down with his promises.  It had taken us just under an hour to get here, but we had done our fair share of dawdling and diverting to look at interesting ‘stuff’ so I’m sure it won’t take that long, next time!  It was a relatively easy hike to a spot that delivered breathtaking views, and I can see us visiting this place often in the future.

Adjacent to The Stoney Man is this deep hollow area, which previous visitors have sadly used as a rubbish bin for their fruit peel, tea bags and treat wrappers, so before we left this beautiful spot we picked up as much as we could find to bring back with us.  Leaving litter like this really does spoil the area for others, and it is potentially dangerous for wildlife. To paraphrase Leave No Trace – Ireland; if you brought it out with you, take it back with you, please!

Stoney HollowOne of the things that caused much of our dawdling on the way up was my delight at finding so much frogspawn.  It was almost literally everywhere!  If anyone is planning on dong this section of the Slieve Bloom Way in the near future, please do watch where you step, because several lady frogs have got a little confused and deposited their spawn in the middle of the path.  It may have looked like the perfect tadpole nursery when they laid them, but the tadpoles might disagree when they hatch out!

I think the last time we got out for a decent walk was in January, with crappy weather and my annoying bad hip interfering with our free time in the interim period.  So it felt mighty good to get back out on the Slieve Blooms again.  The weather was perfect, I felt good, my legs felt strong, and my hip remained pain-free. Long may it continue!

What about the middle bits?

I was absolutely delighted to get these three books as gifts last Christmas, and I’m really looking forward to exploring some new hiking and walking areas on this lovely island of Ireland.

Christmas BooksI’ve been wanting to get my sweaty paws on Kieron Gribbon’s book, “Ireland’s County High Points: A Walking Guide” for ages, and now I have my very own copy.  I don’t think I’ll be setting any records with regards to how quickly I complete all of the CHPs, unless there are records being set for the slowest, but I’m really looking forward to doing some CHP bagging in due course.  Starting with the smaller ones…obviously!

The other two books are Helen Fairbairn’s Ireland’s “Best Walks: A Walking Guide” and Joss Lynam’s “Best Irish Walks“.  These two are so far well-thumbed, but we haven’t had the chance yet to try out any of the walks detailed within, apart from a couple of locations that we’ve skirted close to on our own previous walks.  Presently the road map is being studied, alongside the walking guide books, and I hope that weekends where we’re both free, and the weather isn’t inclement, the trusty VW campervan is going to be loaded up with hiking gear and we’ll hit the road.  Walking guide books are a great way to easily explore an area where the number of walk routes, summits, attractions etc could be overwhelming…so little time, so many options. but there are also a few gems in areas that I didn’t even consider for walking, and I will enjoy discovering those too.  However, another reason I’m looking forward to going on some of the featured ‘best’ walks is to try to determine the criteria used to decide whether a walking route qualifies as a ‘best’ walk.  I say this because I was a little dismayed to find the map page in both books clearly showed a distinct lack of ‘best’ walks in any of the central areas if Ireland?  (The pattern of walking locations does also look suspiciously alike, but I won’t go into that!)

Ireland's best walks: a walking guide Helen Fairbairn - Collins - 2014 http://amzn.to/1B0coiA

Ireland’s best walks: a walking guide
Helen Fairbairn – Collins – 2014

Best Irish walks Joss Lynam - Gill & Macmillan - 2001

Best Irish walks
Joss Lynam – Gill & Macmillan – 2001

What? Nothing in the Slieve Blooms, Ireland’s oldest mountain range; nothing in the Ballyhouras, Silvermines, Slieve Aughty ranges?   No featured routes along the many miles of canals, rivers and lough systems, abundant in the Midlands and Central Plains areas?   There are, in my opinion, whole swathes of central Ireland, that may not have dramatic high summits, or wild coastal areas, but still have a breathtaking beauty in their own right, and plenty to offer anyone looking for a good walk.

Perhaps I should write my own walking guide book, with the emphasis on Ireland’s Middle Bits!  Then again, maybe I won’t…I quite like the fact that many of the places where we walk are quiet and relatively undiscovered, and maybe these treasures of the ‘middle bits’ are more enjoyable because of that fact.