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.

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.

Slippery when frozen!

Golden Grove Woods – Glasderry Wood – Golden Grove Woods
18th January 2015

Golden Grove woods, near Roscrea (also, confusingly called Orange Wood Hill by Coillte) is somewhere I’ve brought the dogs to for walks on numerous occasions in the past, including one interesting bikejoring session involving Dolly and Dee, 2 bicycles, too much speed, loose gravel, a lack of brakes and a lot of swearing (mostly at ourselves, occasionally at loose dogs, but definitely not at our own dogs!).  We concluded on that occasion, that due to the popularity of the place, resulting in the high number of loose dogs running about, it is not really a very suitable bikejoring location, unless you go very early in the morning, before all the locals bring their dogs out. What can I say, we were relatively new to the sport in those days, and now choose our bikejoring locations with a lot more care, knowledge and forethought.

The woods themselves are described on the Coillte Outdoors website as “part of an old woodland site […] reputed to be the site where the last act of cannibalism took place in this country, hence the name Cnoc na Meas or the Hill of the Banquet.” And despite the popularity of the area, it is (nearly) always an enjoyable and peaceful walk (except when hooligans <blush> are racing through the woods on bicycles being pulled at speed by dogs!).  In the spring the bluebells take over, and it truly looks like a blue carpet has been laid down all through out the wooded area.

We hadn’t really had much chance to get out for a decent long walk in a good while, and whilst Golden Grove offers a pleasant, but short, loop walk, involving forest tracks and local lanes, I wanted a little more than that.  I wanted a good leg-stretcher, so we decided to extend the well-used loop, by diverting to Glasderry Woods halfway around.  I was told of a farm track that would bring you out to the road that led to Glasderry Woods, and a quick look at the OSI Discovery Map No 53 confirmed the existence of the farm track.

It was a bitterly cold day, we had woken up to a crisp white hoar frost.  However, the sun was out and the breeze was slight.  It was a beautiful day for a walk.  From the car park we set off downhill on the road, turning right onto a gravel track a the top of the first rise.  At the end of this gravel track you would usually turn right, along a lone, which would bring you along to the entrance barrier at the top of the woods, with the final section of the unofficial loop bringing you gently down to the car park through the lovely old woodlands.  However, this time, once the gravel track brought us to the lane at the end, we went straight ahead, onto a muddier farm track, which would eventually bring us onto the lanes near Glasderry Woods.

The lanes brought us through mainly uninspiring flat farmland.  Perhaps that’s a little ungenerous.  Flat farmland, is…well it’s flat farmland.  Fields, hedges, barns, flat.  This is not a walk route to give you breathtaking views across the Irish countryside, or hill ascent personal challenges, but by combining Golden Grove with Glasderry Woods, you get a pleasant walk covering a respectable distance, and a picnic area at around the halfway point if you’re so inclined. You get a lake to walk around, and a lovely woodlands stroll to finish off your outing.  Perhaps many people like walking on rural lanes, with hedges you can’t see over, but I found myself checking my map on more than one occasion, sure that we’d ended up on the wrong road, because the lanes seemed endless and I was getting bored. I did chuckle when we passed a tumble-down cottage, with a toilet roll sitting on the windowsill.  I didn’t even want to think about why it might be there, but it had clearly been there a long time, as the ivy was beginning to grow over it.  Fortunately Poison Ivy doesn’t grow in Ireland, so if you are caught short, this toilet roll will still be perfectly safe to use, if a little damp!

Ivy loo rollAfter what felt like a hundred miles of lanes and hedges, we arrived at the car park entrance to Glasderry Woods.  For some reason Coillte has closed the car park to vehicles, but a couple of cars were parked in the entrance way, and we could hear a dog bark by the lake, so we carefully picked our way across the cattle grid, and went into the woods.  Glasderry Woods is home to Lough Roe, also known as Gloster Pond, or even Glasderry Pond (why do these places often have more than one name? #confusing ).  The lake (as I shall refer to it from know on) is an artificial lake and, according to the Coillte Outdoors website, was “created for the [nearby] estate to ensure a plentiful supply of water for the domestic needs, the gardens and recreational needs of the Lloyd family who lived in nearby Gloster House“.  When I first came here with my dogs many years ago it wasn’t easy to walk all the way around the lake, unless you had thigh waders, a long stick to test the depth of the sticky mud and exceptional balance (perhaps aided by your long stick?) so that you didn’t fall into the aforementioned mud after you’d lost one of your boots in the mud suck (yes, I was that woman!).  However, since then a lot of work has been done, presumably by Coillte, to make the worst sections of the path on the far-side of the lake much more walker-friendly, with a bridge and hard-packed gravel pathways.  Some recent work in controlling the invasion of rhododendrons was evident too.

The lake was still frozen solid, so with much childish giggling, we spent a short while skipping pebbles across the frozen surface of the lake, and delighting in the singing and twittering sounds that the ice rewarded us with.

There are several interesting features in and around Glasderry Woods.  and I really would love to know more about both the history of the place, the estate it served and also about the various stone features (bridges, walls etc) you come across as you walk around.  I couldn’t see any evidence of maintenance works being done to the car park area, so I don’t why the car park would be closed?  I hope it is opened again soon as I’ve always found Glasderry Woods to be a peaceful place to bring the dogs, bring a picnic, and just chill out for a while down by the lake.

The downside to Glasderry Woods is that it doesn’t take very long to walk all the way around, and all too soon we were back on the lanes heading back towards Golden Grove.  To add a little excitement to our return journey Dolly slipped badly on a frozen puddle as she jumped back on to the road from a hedge bank. We didn’t see exactly what she did, but it resulted in a very lame dog who hobbled slowly the rest of the way back to the car.  No obvious injury or cuts, so we concluded it must be a twist or sprain.  We did attempt to carry her, not wanting her to limp all the way home, but she’s very heavy and didn’t take too kindly to being carried.  We weighed up whether one of us should stay here with her, whilst the other went to fetch the car, or whether we should just press on.  We decided to carry on and see how she was.  Trying to keep a sore dog warm, whilst waiting on the side of the road on such a bitterly cold day was going to be a last resort.  She was happy to keep moving, albeit a little more slowly.  Then, perhaps in sympathy with Dolly, I also slipped on an icy bit of road surface.  At the time it didn’t feel too bad, my hip felt a little sore and twisted, but I was still mobile and felt able to carry on.  In hindsight I think Dolly and I should have just stayed there as previously planned, whilst the husband went to get the car and come to our rescue. I was unable to stand up or walk about by bed time that evening, and Dolly just curled up in her bed, looking miserable, for the rest of the day!  However, we pressed on, Dolly and I on 3 paws and 1 leg, with the husband trying to ignore the grumbling of his increasingly sore wife; and all our spirits lifted as we came to the final section of the walk, down through Golden Grove woods.

According to Runkeeper, the entire circuit was 6.2 miles (although those lanes make it feel much longer!), which is almost exactly 10km.  I made a mental note that it would be a very handy 10km loop if you were training to run a 10k race…I hasten to add that is not something I’ll be doing any time soon!

Dolly was absolutely right as rain after a couple of days of rest.  It’s taken me a while longer, and my hip is still sore 😦  My brother-in-law gave me a pair of slip-on ice grippers for Christmas…perhaps I should have worn them!  I wonder if they make something similar for dogs?

Rock of Loyer Loop, Moneygall

12th October 2014

With my Hiking-Wagen still having work done, and the husband busy at work over the weekend, I wanted to find a short, local walk  so that we could grab a couple of hours out in the fresh air.  At just 4.6km in length, the new Rock of Loyer Loop walk in Moneygall ticked both those boxes.

I packed a small backpack, to carry some waterproofs as the weather was undecided about whether it wanted to rain on us or not, and in anticipation of the picnic area mentioned on the trail description, I threw in a small flask of coffee and some treats too.

The start of the walk is located adjacent to a children’s playground, and there’s a tarmacced car park there too.  A mapboard with details of the loop walk is positioned close-by on a grassy area, and across the road a small green sign on a wall indicates the direction you start off in.

Going down the lane towards the main street you can’t help but notice the proud local links to Barack Obama – a patriotically painted cottage is visible from the car park.

Patriotic Cottage - Moneygall, Co. Offaly ©The Curvy Hiker

Patriotic Cottage – Moneygall, Co. Offaly
©The Curvy Hiker

Once on main street the first business you pass is the Obama Cafe (sadly closed on our visit), and the now famous Hayes bar, where the US President poured and enjoyed a pint of Guinness in the village previously inhabited by his ancestors.

President Barack Obama talks with pub-goers as...

President Barack Obama talks with pub-goers as First Lady Michelle Obama draws a pint at Ollie Hayes pub in Moneygall, Ireland, May 23, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But history and genealogy aside, the trail takes you up main street before taking you to the right, opposite the village post office.  Keep a good eye out for the direction markers, we had printed a route map from the internet, so we knew we had to turn right, but the marker at this junction was partially hidden by thick cabling attached to the post that it’s on, and could be easy to miss!

The trail then takes you up the lane, past the church and some residential houses, and also a tumble-down abandoned cottage which I couldn’t resist checking out.

After around half a mile the signs point you off the lane and over a tall metal stile.  A “No Dogs” sign marks the point where you leave the public roads and enter on to farmland.  We had left all our dogs at home, and I will confess that I was curious to see why they might be so strict on the ‘No Dogs’ thing, but on the other side of the stile was a very narrow path bordered by barbed wire on one side, and an electric fence on the other, separating us from the cattle that were grazing peacefully in the field.  The electric fence was live – no I didn’t personally check it, but I could hear the fenceline ticking, indicating that a current was passing along it.

The trail takes you gently uphill, through fields with grazing cattle and sheep (hence the “No Dogs” signs), on clearly marked paths, and the occasional stile.  Typically we had chosen a dull, grey day for our walk, but the views down across Moneygall were lovely, and on a bright, clear day I can easily imagine that the views across the landscape would be fabulous! At one point the trail creators have thoughtfully placed a simple wooden bench; a great place to rest awhile and take in the views.

One more field to walk up through and then the trail brings you downhill, along the edge of a forest, to meet up with a gravelled farm track, via a sturdy kissing gate.  The loop arrows point you the left here, however if you need to cut the walk short for whatever reason, turning right here will take you back down into Moneygall village.  We were looking forward to checking out the picnic area, so we turned left and headed up hill.

On our way up to the picnic area we came across a ewe lamb stuck in some brambles.  Upon further investigation, she wasn’t very stuck at all, but obviously in her head she was stuck fast, and looking very miserable.  Her mother was a little way away, bleating her head off calling for her lamb.  I was able to lean over the fence and check the lamb over for any obvious injuries, but other than feeling a little cold, and a bit underweight, she seemed physically ok.  I disentangled her from the few small brambles caught in her fleece, then turned her and encouraged her to walk out into the field.  I don’t know how long she had been stuck for, but she initially seemed fairly disorientated, and the slowly began to realise that she was free again.  We carried on our way, knowing that we would be passing back this way on the return leg of the trail, and so we could check her again on our way back.

Not nearly as tangled as she thought she was...

Not nearly as tangled as she thought she was…

At the end of the track we did find the picnic area, but we were more than a little dismayed to see that it was completely fenced off with yet more electric fencing.  I wonder if the picnic area is only accessible/available during the summer months?  If so, it might be a nice gesture if the trail developers would mention it as such.  I can’t imagine the landowner wanted walkers unclipping it to gain access to the field and the picnic area, otherwise they might have made it a little more walker-friendly, so we left the fencing alone, and instead turned to trudge back down the track retracing our steps all the way back to the kissing gate where we’d first joined the track…with our untouched flask of coffee and ‘picnic snacks’.  I resisted the urge to “Hurumphf!!” as we did so.

On the plus side, the views across to the Devil’s Bit, even on a dull, grey day, was fantastic, so I can’t wait to see how the views would be on a bright, clear day…hopefully on a day where we are welcome to access the picnic area!
We also checked back in on our woolly friend on our way back past and were delighted to see her reunited with a happier looking mum!  We bumped into the sheep farmer on our way back down, and let him know about the lamb further up the hill.  She had still seemed a little dopey to me, and I was happier to head home knowing that the farmer would be checking on her.
The wind had picked up, and added to the fact that I was a little bit grumpy at not being able to access the promised picnic area, we mostly plodded back down the track with our heads down and our collars and neck warmers pulled up to our ears, but I did look up at one point to spot a ring fort on a hillside facing us.  Apologies for the poor photo, my phone struggles with distances sometimes.  Ring forts have always fascinated me, and always get me thinking about who might have lived there, how their lives might have been, and why a particular place might have been chosen for the fort.  This one appeared to command a good view down the valley and away across the midlands, and was in a good position to be able to spot incoming potential invaders I think.

At the bottom of the farm track you join a quiet country road, which brings you right back to the car park where you started.  I was absolutely stopped in my tracks by the beautiful scent coming off these stunning wild honeysuckle!

Despite my disappointment of not being able to access the picnic area (I won’t mention it again, I promise!), my overwhelming impression was that a lot of hardworking had gone into construction this looped trail, the gateways and stiles were all really well made, and can only heap praise on the trail developers for making it happen and doing such a good job…but about that picnic area..!  No, no, I promised I’d drop that subject!

Once back in the car park it seemed rude to just pile back into the car and head home, so instead we wandered around the corner, back on to the main street, and headed to Hayes’ bar for some well-earned refreshments!

The Rock of Loyer, as I understand it, is/was a rock on Loyer Hill.  In a historical geological survey document I found online ages ago, the description is given of a large limestone boulder, measuring 9 feet by 21 feet by 7½ feet, situated on the top of Loyer Hill.

If you want to test your eyes you can read all about the geology of the area at this link. http://www.geologicalmaps.net/IrishHistMapsDownload/B02080.pdf The brief mention of the rock is on page 16 of the PDF document.

Hand-drawn depiction of the Rock of Loyer.

Hand-drawn depiction of the Rock of Loyer.

I don’t *cough* make a habit of searching for historical geological documents, but I was poring over some old maps online (I do make a habit of getting absorbed in old maps!) and whilst browsing the area on the OSI website, near to a property we own, and using the 25″ historic map layer (dated 1897-1913) the words “Rock of Loyer” caught my attention and intrigued me.  Google, at the time, gave me nothing but the geological survey, which didn’t fascinate me quite as much as the maps.  However, the lack of further info on the rock did make me wonder if the Rock of Loyer was one of those things that may simply be lost to history.  But when the Rock of Loyer loop walk was launched earlier this year I was delighted that the rock was being celebrated in some small way.

I have no idea if the rock is still there, or if it may have been removed during forestry operations, but the OSI maps of years 2000 and 2005 do appear to show something in the area that may indeed be the Rock of Loyer, still in place.  By my reckoning it is in the middle of the forestry area that the trail skirts around.  If it is still there, I would absolutely love it if the trail could be developed in the future, with the agreement of the landowners, to bring walkers up to see the namesake of the trail that they are on.

Historic map link (1897-1913): http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V1,603532,680038,7,9

Map link (2000): http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V1,603529,680024,7,4

Map link (2005): http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V1,603529,680015,7,0