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.

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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!

550 miles in 2015 – February update

February wasn’t a great month of walking for me.  Niggling hip pain and atrocious weather slowed me down considerably.  Torn between walking on the sore hip, or resting it, and not really knowing what to do for the best, I walked some days, and rested on others.
Some days I found that walking on it seemed to ease it.  After 5 minutes or so, it would be warmed up, I’d feel a lot more supple, and the rest of the day would be relatively pain-free.  Other days, walking appeared to ease the pain at the time, but I’d be completely hobbling by the evening and sleepless with pain through the night. On mornings where I woke up with a sore hip, and seeing storm conditions outside, the decision to stay indoors with painkillers and a hot water bottle instead was made much easier!

As a result, I only managed to get 38.9 miles under my belt during February, when I was aiming for 46+ miles.  I’m frustrated, but being within touching distance of 39 miles is still a good chunk of mileage towards my end of year goal.  Added to January’s sub-target total of 41.6 miles, I now need a total of 469.5 miles to reach my target for 2015.  In the following 10 months of 2015 I need to average 47 miles/month to reach it.  Roll on spring, and some more settled weather!

I was always of the conviction that my hip pain was a muscle/soft tissue issue, and not a hip-joint issue.  I cannot describe how I came to this conclusion, it just didn’t ‘feel’ like a joint issue.  I know I probably should have gone to my GP, and I would be the first to suggest this to a friend complaining of the same, but I think that my ‘take each day as I find it’ attitude with this hip has worked somewhat.  I know I can barely feel a twinge now.  I can walk a few miles, and not feel increased pain in the evening, and I think it’s finally sorting itself out.  I dare say my GP may perhaps have been able to fix it more quickly, but perhaps she might also have simply said rest it and take painkillers.  The last few days have been mostly pain-free, for the first time in over 6 weeks!  Hopefully I can get back on track and hit my monthly targets now 🙂

 Woodland path

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?