I recognised the car park as soon as we pulled into it. I’d been there before. I think we parked in almost the exact same spot too!
The last time that both my parents had to come over to stay with us I had taken them on a scenic drive around the Silvermines and Keeper Hill. We’d stopped off in Toomevara, and purchased the makings of a picnic, and then we’d headed up into the hills. Driving of course, not walking! We’d stopped at this same car park, facing the majestic Keeper Hill, and we’d scoffed our picnic lunch whilst plotting on the road map the places we’d like to visit next.
Back then, if you’d suggested to me to get out and go walking for a couple of hours…well, after I’d finished chewing my mouthful of sandwich (good manners cost nothing!) I’d have either laughed at you, or sworn at you, or quite possibly both (good manners out the window at such a preposterous suggestion!)…but this time I was itching to get out, to get my rucksack on and to get going. Still, I did take a small moment to cherish the memory of a happy day spent here driving around these hills with my late father.
We set off down a gentle slope out of the car park and hesitated briefly at the first junction until we spotted the arrow marker we were meant to be following. We continued heading downhill, past an area of trees apparently planted by the Irish American Cultural Institute, and memories of the never-ending ‘uphills’ kept trying to crowd to the forefront of my mind. The stunning views of Keeper Hill, opening up in front of me, tried their hardest to distract, but I knew that at some point all this ‘downhill’ would inevitably lead to the trail heading uphill. At a Y junction, continuing downhill did look tempting, but that trail would have taken us in completely the wrong direction and so we turned uphill.
We did stop fairly shortly after starting the ascent, but only (truly!) because I’m trying to get into the supposedly good habit of drinking water every mile. I find if I don’t make a point of telling myself to drink water, I don’t drink any at all. And then when my head starts banging, well its too late really. That dehydration headache has set in, and it’s just not going to shift itself.
The first half of the ascent didn’t seem too bad. I still stopped for breaks more than I wanted to, struggled with not being able to ‘keep going’. However the views across to Keeper Hill were fabulous, and spotting a couple of ponies ‘fly grazing’ in the bushes on the slopes below us, meant that when we stopped I could pretend I was stopping to admire the view. The husband isn’t gullible, but he humours me. At one point, we came across a big puddle full of frog spawn and tadpoles. Alas, we couldn’t investigate further as a couple with an unruly labrador came down the hill towards is. Their labrador and Monty very quickly decided they didn’t want to be friends. So it was easier to just pick Monty up, hold him out of reach and to carry on up the hill away from them.
We stopped for snacks at the end of the forest track, and contemplated the steep section of muddy path ahead of us. Once again I found myself looking up at the summit of Keeper Hill and being more and more determined to get fit enough to get up there soon! We also looked across from where we were to the Silvermine’s West Top & Far West Top. I knew realistically that I wouldn’t be up to getting there today, but I did think a diversion up to the West Top looked tempting and that I’d give it some more thought whilst we did the next trail section…so perhaps all the struggling I’m doing on ascents isn’t messing with my head so much after all, for me to even contemplate something like that as an option?
However, after pushing on up a short but steep section of mud, out onto a good, hardpacked trail…I looked towards our return path home and realised that if we diverted up West Top I would never have the legs to also go up East Top on the return leg, and thus we’d never get home! I don’t think even the mountain goat husband expected the home-bound route to be as steep as the next section was! Two walkers were just coming down off East Top and heading off up to West Top, and they paused to ask how we’re getting on. Between breaths I said all was good but I was struggling, to which he replied that if I’d got this far, up the trail we’d just walked, then I couldn’t be doing too badly! I sincerely doubt he has a clue how much that comment perked me up! It certainly helped me pick up and walk in the direction of what looked like a vertical path, knowing I would get up there, even if I did find I was stopping almost every 20 strides to whisper sweet nothings to my extremely angry Achilles tendons!
The photo really doesn’t do it justice, it was steep enough, that standing upright at some points I could reach forward (without leaning forward) and almost touch the path in front of me! But I took it in short sections, stopped for leg breaks when I needed them, and I got up there…I was gasping for breath and swearing loudly, and internally I was fist pumping too. My celebrations were a little curbed by two other walkers having a picnic in the heather just off the trail. We swiftly walked on.
The easy way back to the car park would be to have followed the forestry track around to the left, but our trail markers pointed straight on…into a bog…and so, straight on, into the bog we went! It had been fairly dry recently, I wouldn’t want to attempt this section of the trail after any significant rain. Not only would it be highly unpleasant (hey, I grew up on the New Forest and I cut my walking and riding teeth on bogs, but this was just deep, wet, gloop!) but the amount of additional damage you’d do to the ground trying to pick the driest route through it would hardly make it worth the effort.
We came out of the bog and onto a slightly overgrown firebreak. It was a steep enough descent in sections, and the path got a bit rough in parts. However, alternative routes through the undergrowth had been made by previous walkers, and a few wheel marks showed that mountain bikers must have been this way recently too. I slipped at one point, and once again landed on my arse in a patch of wet mud (thank DoG for dry clothes back at the car!). I’ve finally bought myself a pair of boots, but I’m still at the ‘wear them at home on carpets’ stage, until I decide that they do fit well and are comfy, even when my strange feet swell in their odd ways. But trails like this are just beyond the limitations for my walking shoes, I need better grip on the slippy stuff, and my feet and ankles need better support on the rough stuff!
The firebreak eventually deposited us back on to the trail section, less than 300 metres from the car park. Thankful to be back on level, firm track we picked up the pace back to the car. I was smiling to myself inside, because when we set out on this loop walk, I was mildly horrified that the last section back to the car would be uphill, and I remember thinking that was really unkind and would be hard work on tired legs. But now, after the few steep sections we had just tackled, it barely felt like a slope at all…pah, call that a hill!
Dry trousers, dry socks, comfy crocs, and a cup of tea! The perfect end to a great walk in a beautiful spot.