It really did seem like a good idea at the time, and I thought I was ready for it.
It was my idea, I wanted to do it, and I pushed for it.
Laying in bed the night before, listening to the wind howling around the cottage, I pondered my acceptable excuses for not going, for staying home and lighting the fire. I decided that we wouldn’t go if it was raining.
It was cold and dry the next morning, and the husband started digging out his rucksack, sorting through his clothing. I gave in to the idea that we were actually going ahead with this. I sorted out some sandwiches, and filled a flask. He was in the unenviable position of still fitting into all his proper walking gear from when he used to climb serious summits in the highlands of Scotland etc. I never managed such feats, even in my fitter and slimmer past, but I did previously have my own share of decent walking gear, for the less strenuous lowland hiking I used to enjoy…some of which was in my old VW camper van, sadly stolen December 2010, (including a really decent pair of hiking boots, my walking poles, beloved ankle gaiters and the best ‘plus-size’ 3-in-1 jacket I’ve ever found that actually fitted me comfortably, and a collection of fun & colourful hats I’ve collected over the years). What remaining clothing I did have didn’t fit. It may go without saying, if it did fit and I could still use it, it would have been in the camper van to be used whenever we were away…and so I was left with hubby’s ancient spare thinsulate hat, some mittens I knitted myself, a pair of leggings I typically wear under my jeans when I’m trading at outdoor craft fairs in cold weather, and some light trousers that I think I paid €6 from the ‘sale rail’ in my local Tesco. I did have an old outer-jacket from another 3-in-1 set I had, that was just about useable, and I found an ancient old Berghaus fleece that would just about do up over my expanded waistline…not ideal, but we were hardly heading up Carrauntoohill, so I figured I’d survive! To be honest, until that morning, I hadn’t put much thought into my lack of proper clothing
We decided to bring Monty. He’s a 12-year-old Jack Russell, robust for his years, and always up for a fun day out.
Taking the back lanes from Moneygall, up through Derrycallaghan, and around the sides of Benduff, Borrisnoe, and Kilduff mountain, I consoled myself that I could still call this off, and we could be satisfied with having a nice drive out…the other part of me looked up towards the summit of Benduff and wondered when I’d feel ready to attempt that…
In the car park at the trailhead, and a van pulled in. A young couple nodded to us as they started up the steep track out of the car park. OK, we’re really going to do this. As we go through the kissing gate, I look up the track to see how far the young could have got, to find they are running….yes running….up that track. I know I’m not fit, and I know I’m going to struggle…but I hope that even the fit amongst you, who know this track up out of the car park at Devil’s Bit, will agree with me that it is steep, and its a reasonable effort to walk up it, even for the fit & healthy…and these two were running. I felt intimidated, I felt embarrassed, and without even starting, I felt like a failure.
A quarter of the way up that first section of track, and already I have to stop. My legs hurt, I can’t breathe and my lungs are on fire. I’m frustrated, because my walking at home has got so much better, and I really thought I’d cope better than this. I decided that if we got to the top of this track, I’d be happy enough with that effort, and we could call it a day. It was harder than I ever imagined, and I felt utterly pathetic. I’d take 10, 20, 30 steps, and stop to catch my breath. It must have driven the husband crazy, I could tell he just wanted to get going.
We got to the top of the track, and I decided to go along to the forestry gate, to check out the next bit of the trail. OK, if we went up the next bit of trail to the next marker post, I’d see how I felt. I was satisfied that I’d made a good enough effort having come as far as I had. We went up through the forestry bit to Carden’s folly (AKA The Rock Tower), moving from marker to marker. I was puffing loudly, and clearly puce in the face, when the young running couple passed us on their way back down. I know I possibly (probably) imagined this, but I can’t help thinking that they cast pitiful looks at the mess I was in and the struggle I was having in just walking up the mountain they had just literally sprinted up. The path up through the forestry is boggy and wet. I’ve one wet foot from a particularly muddy section that was deeper than it looked. My walking shoes have mostly coped, but have proved to be not really up to the job once you get off nice, hard packed trail paths.
At the folly I want to sit, rest, and ponder whether I want to go on or go back. Have I achieved enough that I can go back to the car park and be happy with what we’ve done? But the cold wind in this exposed area is causing the husband to be grumpy. He (quite rightly) wants to either keep going, or for us to move somewhere a little more sheltered for me to do my pondering. A quick check of the trail map against out surroundings, suggests to me that the next section is on forestry tracks and certainly starts off downhill. I look up towards the peak of the mountain, see people up on Little Rock, looking at the base of the cross, and decide that I have come this far, I’ll just go a little further and see if I really can get up there. At this point, we can either head straight on and go up to the summit (this option is quicker, I’d reach the summit, and then we could just turn around and go home), or we can follow the National Loop Walk map and turn left (this option is longer, but we’d complete the full 5k loop walk that had been my original intention). Feck it, in for a penny in for a pound, we turned left.
We were heading down a gentle slope on a proper forestry track. Finally I could walk out properly, and not stop in a gasping heap every 50-100 yards…but in the back of my mind, I know that ultimately this loop walk is meant to bring us via the summit, so any ‘downhill’ trail we follow just means we’re going to have more ‘uphill’ to deal with further on. But for now I didn’t care, I could walk, and walk properly, and not feel such a useless and unfit lump. The dog was having a ball, and I found I was finally starting to enjoy myself. Even then I knew that if I decided I had had enough, I could turn back towards the car park with no shame, and all was good.
Some of the forestry track had been ‘resurfaced’ with very coarse rubble, so for a few stretches we had to carry Monty. He was struggling to find an easy route ‘through’ the track, and we were becoming conscious that he’s not a spring chicken anymore. Finally we turned right off the track, and onto a softer path, upwards through a tunnel of forestry. Just so incredibly peaceful, and I reckon on a bright sunny day, the sunlight filtering through the tree cover overhead in the forest glade would be breath-taking. Then we were out in the open again, and the temperature was noticeably cooler with a light snow flurries all around us. Small puddles were iced over, and there was a real bite in the wind. We could see the cross on Little Rock, and it really didn’t look too far away from here. I started to really believe that I could achieve this now.
At the base of the rocks below Little Rock the path disappeared. What had been a good strong and easy-to-see path to follow was gone, just completely gone. Husband did his best mountain goat impression and went on ahead to plan a route up the summit, and Monty and I followed cautiously on behind. It was the husband at this point who tentatively broached the subject of turning around, but when I pointed out we were well over half way around, we both decided that if we could find a way forwards we’d prefer to do that.
We did pick a route up to the top of Little Rock (well worth it for the views!!), and then around the side of Little rock, to rejoin the main path, but I’d suggest that as this is a ‘National Loop Walk’ then perhaps the path on this section could have a little more work done, if only to make it easier to find? I appreciate that a ‘Moderate’ graded trail isn’t meant to be all flat & easy…but being able to see where you’re meant to be going would be quite helpful!
Monty was really struggling at this point. It was -2°C, with a windchill of at least -8°C. It was damp, it was lightly snowing. We’d come a fair distance, and he was an old dog. I felt pretty crap about bringing him, and he looked downright miserable.
We stopped briefly at the grotto halfway down the slope, where Monty got extremely freaked out my the Virgin Mary statue, then at the bottom of that slope, as we rejoined our out-route below Carden’s folly, Monty perked up. I guess he recognised that we were finally heading back to the car park.
My walking shoes really struggled on the slippery ground going downhill. Another incentive to start saving up for a decent pair of boots. At one point I slipped badly and ended up on my arse in a boggy puddle. I was fairly soaked from head to toe. Fortunately the combination of knowing that I was less than 10 minutes away from the car park, and that I also had a complete change of dry clothes awaiting me there, allowed me to laugh, to get up and to just get on with it.
All the way back down the final descent. Monty was positively pulling my arms out again, his tail was waving and his ears were up. I had a smile across my face. Despite presenting myself with several options to ‘give up and save face’ almost all the way around, I’d kept going and I’d completed what I had originally planned to do.
It wasn’t easy. I’m not fit. I’m grossly overweight. It was sub-zero and snowing at times. And perhaps attempting a loop walk marked ‘Moderate’ was a little ambitious for a first timer. I stopped countless times to catch my breath, stretch my back and rest my legs. But I bloody well did it, and that was good enough for me.
Next weekend its the 4-day break over Easter, and I’d like to get out at least twice…but I think we’ll look for nice flat areas, so I can concentrate on getting some mileage in, rather than altitude, haha! Will be slightly less demoralising perhaps?
Lough Boora Parklands looks nice and flat…!
I track my walks on Runkeeper – it lets me know exactly how far I’ve been and how fast I did it. I’m not aiming for any speed records, but its nice to see an occasional improvement in my pace, no matter how small. It also keeps me honest! I have set it so that it also nags me if I don’t get out often enough at home, during the week. I need that nagging!
I had the App set for ‘Auto-Pause’ so that I didn’t have to keep pulling my phone out and hitting ‘Pause’ every time we stopped. I had hoped it would give us a more accurate reading of our actual walking time and pace. But what actually happened is that ‘auto-pause’ did indeed engage whenever we stopped for me to get my breath back, but it also engaged every time I so much as slowed down, and wouldn’t disengage until I was 100m or so further down the path. I never use ‘Auto-Pause’ when I walk at home during the week, and next time we go out hiking I won’t bother either.
Some quick facts on the Devil’s Bit:
It is 478m (1570 feet) above sea level at its highest elevation
It is listed as a ‘Marilyn‘
It is on OSI Discovery Map no. 59
The 5k Loop walk is graded: Moderate
The nearest town is Templemore
The Devil apparently took a bite out of the rock when he tripped over, whilst chasing St Patrick across the land. He stood up and spat the rock out, forming the Rock of Cashel. That’s the version I was told – other versions of this tale exist depending on who you speak to 🙂
According to the Mountain Views website it is the 516th highest summit in Ireland