I’ve been promising to bring Mum up to Sligo for years, and each time she has stayed with us we’ve never found the time to do it! This time we had 2 weeks, and I promised, if the weather was good, we would head off camping for a few days, pointing our camper vans in the direction of Sligo! Glorious weather ensured we had a fabulous 4 days of camping, staying for the first few nights on a fabulous adults-only site next to Lough Arrow in Co. Sligo, and finishing off for our final night in an idyllic spot near Cliffden, in Co. Clare.
The husband and I have camped a few times in Sligo, in tents and on one occasion, a trailer tent (both forerunners to our beloved camper van) and one of the campsites we’ve used in the past was located at the foot of Knocknarea. Knockarea is distinctive and is an easily spotted landmark.
It stands in isolation, dominating the landscape on the coast just south-west of Sligo town. With Queen Maeve‘s cairn in the centre of the relatively flat summit, it is very distinctive, and can be seen for miles. The cairn is believed to be the resting place of the legendary Queen Maeve of Connacht. Although unexcavated, it is believed to be a neolithic passage tomb.
We considered walking up Knocknarea several years ago, back when I didn’t realise how ill I was. We’d planned to do ,it and I was really looking forward to it. We stood in the car park that day, and I looked up the path, and onwards up to the summit, and I just realised that I couldn’t do it, that it wasn’t going to happen….and I have always regretted that, and felt that I should have at least tried.
However, having now done it, and with the benefit of hindsight, I’m really glad we didn’t try it that day. I would never have got up there. And I would have felt far worse giving up, and turning back halfway, if I’d even got as far as halfway. I know many people would disagree with me here, and claim that I should have tried it, and that perhaps I was more of a failure for not giving it a go at all. But we drove away that day, knowing that we would be back, and that I would go up there, and that I would visit with Queen Maeve, but not until I knew I was realistically capable of doing so.
And this time I knew I was in a much better place, both in my head, and with my health…and whilst I hesitate to call myself fit, I knew I had it in me to get up there.
We hadn’t factored in that it would be the hottest day of the year so far. So as we busied ourselves in the car park, putting our boots on and rubbing on the sun cream, we also raided all the camper van’s cupboards for water receptacles. I volunteered to play pack-pony, so we loaded up my rucksack with water bottles, more sunscreen. I felt a little foolish, heading off on what would seem to be a relatively short hike, with such a full rucksack. We spotted a few people carrying nothing with them at all, but we used nearly 8 litres of water between the three of us, and our three dogs, so those people who went up there that day, with no water all…well I just don’t know how they did it? I would have been in serious trouble, going up to that summit, in all that heat, with no water to drink. And heading up there with the dogs, and no water to give them, would have been unforgivable.
The first section of path is a good trackway. Some sections are a little uneven and require a bit of concentration on where your feet are going, but certainly in dry weather, it was easy enough. Just a long, gentle pull up hill. We stopped by some farm buildings, put the dogs into as much shade as we could find, and gave them a drink. Once up through the kissing gate, there is no longer any decent track, and you’re going up grassland slopes steep in some sections, with a few uneven rocky sections too. We stopped for a while at the last bit of shade that we could see – a small copse of thorn trees, trying their best to hold on to the side of the hill. One lady, tried to divert her path and join us in the shade, but her husband barked at her to keep moving, telling her that if she stopped she’d seize up (??). She was puce in colour, and sweating profusely (to be expected in this weather, up this hill), and I think she would have gladly stopped in the shade for a short while. to catch her breath and get a drink of water. She gave us an embarrassed look, shrugged her shoulders, dropped her head and pressed on. She was even more embarrassed the next time we saw her. More on that later!
Satisfied that the dogs were doing OK, that they were drinking plenty and not over-heating, and conscious that there would be no more shade for them until we were passing these trees again on our way down, we pressed on. This next section was the steepest bit. I decided to scramble up some rocks, instead of taking the slightly longer zig-zag route up the grassland slope to the right. At the top of the rocks a big hare popped up out of the long grass to our left. He (or she) didn’t seem fazed by us at all, and just sat watching us for a while before lazily loping (?) off away from us. Although they were all on their leads, it was fortunate that NONE of the dogs spotted him, I can just imagine their reactions if they had. Magical to be that close to a hare though, I only wish I’d got the camera sorted in time…sorry!
I was starting to lose the will to live on this steep section. The husband was striding on ahead, doing his best mountain goat impression. Even my mum was making it look easy, or at least it seemed. But my legs were getting heavier and heavier. A lady coming down the hill assured me it wasn’t far, and that it was well worth the effort. She wasn’t wrong, on both counts.
Literally just over the next rise, the path flattened out to a more gentle slope, and there in front of us was Queen Maeve’ cairn. The weather today, apart from the heat, could not have been better. The views were 360° and there was not a cloud in the sky! We did the compulsory posing in front of the cairn.
It was just about midday, and climbing to the summit of Knocknarea on a very hot day, over 12-noon, when the sun is at its highest, was possibly not the cleverest idea. However, a light breeze certainly helped keep us all, dogs included, a little cooler, and allowed us to spend a little longer exploring the summit than we might otherwise have done.
We explored a deconstructed passage tomb nearby. Apparently the smaller tombs on the summit were severely damaged by excavations in the 19th century.
I wanted to head off on one of the summit paths, to see where it went, but my tired legs warned me not to over do it. The husband offered to go on and see if it was worth doing, and that he was call us on….but he came back, chuckling! He’d found the ‘barking’ man from earlier, and his highly embarrassed wife. The wife was stood, fully clothed, enjoying the view. The man was also enjoying the view, whilst stark naked! I have no problem with naturists, assuming that was his reason (?), if anything I envy their courage in taking it all off. However, he was only barely (NO pun intended!) off the path, and I’m glad we didn’t have any kids with us. It seems, after a quick Google, that technically he was breaking the law, but we were amused, rather than offended, so he certainly wasn’t going to be reported by us, each to their own and all that. Once his wife spotted that my husband had noticed them, she was utterly mortified!
Heading down . The loose surface required careful concentration, particularly on some of the steeper sections . Instead of going down the rocks I’d scrambled up, I chose the zig-zag option, over the grass slopes. Longer, but least likely to turn an ankle or twist a knee. Once through the kissing gate we were back on the surfaced path, and all too soon back in the car park. The dogs cooled off in the shade underneath the camper van, while we stripped off boots, socks and discretely changed sweaty clothes for fresh tops.
One of us was celebrating a birthday today, so we decided we’d earned a good pub lunch, and headed off to find a good pub. Just to demonstrate how hot it was, as we drove along, the road surface was glistening where it was melting.
I remember reading somewhere that Queen Maeve is buried in an upright, standing position, which is one explanation for the height and size of her cairn. I cannot remember which way she is purported to face, out across the Atlantic, or back across her Kingdom, presumably the latter, but whichever way she is looking, she is assured of a breath-taking view…lucky girl! I am so delighted I finally got up there, after our regretful previous visit, and I am really looking forward to doing it again on a future trip to Sligo.
…I’ve always promised to bring Mum up to the Giant’s Causeway too, so I guess we’re going there next time!
PS – It wasn’t until preparing for our next walk, and going through my rucksack, that I realised that we had lost my collapsible dog water bowl. Similar to this Quencher from Ruffwear: http://www.ruffwear.co.uk/dog-gear/dog-bowls/quencher
So incredibly convenient for folding up and packing away in a rucksack, taking up very little space.I’m 99.9% sure it was underneath the camper van, in the shade, when we drove off. The promise of a pub lunch and a pint of iced lemonade making me forego my usual ‘walk round; before we leave. It is highly unlikely it will be returned, and we don’t expect it to be, so I only hope it was found by a dog walker, who knew what is was and who is making good use of it to keep their own dog(s) hydrated on long walks.
PPS – Apologies for the ‘hazy’ quality of the photos, all my pics of that weekend had a similar haze. I think unbeknownst to me, there was some suncream spilled on the lens.
- Sligo in Summer (amandafylee.wordpress.com)
- ‘Sligo – Who Knew?’ tourism campaign proves to be a big internet hit (irishcentral.com)
- Top ten magical prehistoric sites in Ireland (PHOTOS) (irishcentral.com)