Whatever the weather

Does the weather affect YOUR mood?

Today it was mostly grey outside, with intervals of gloomy drizzle, and I spent most of the day quite overwhelmed by everything I needed to do.  I just couldn’t get myself motivated to give anything a reasonable effort.  We’re currently preparing to move house.  We’re also embarking on a major renovation project to reinstate an old Irish stone cottage, and also get a mobile home installed on site to live in whilst we work on the cottage.  I have lists everywhere, I have lists of my lists.  I have hurriedly scribbled notes, ‘don’t forgets’ and to-do lists on scraps of paper all around the place.  I have the phone numbers of various building contractors hastily scribbled on even more scraps of paper.  When my phone rings it’s like a snow globe of paper scraps as I try to work out which contractor is calling me before I answer the phone.  On days like this, all these lists and all these scraps of paper feel like they are burying me alive.

However, just the other day, the sun was out and it was a beautiful, sharp winter’s day.  After a good morning walk with the dogs, I was the epitome of a highly efficient working machine.  The housework was done.  All my lists were in order, my scraps of paper were sorted, and after the info contained upon them had been dealt with in a better manner they were consigned to the recycling bin. All was well in my world.

I have always said that I much prefer the winter to the summer.  My main argument on this being that in the winter, if you’re cold, you can layer up and get warmer.  However, if you’re too hot in the summer you have fewer options.  But what I love most about the winter are sharp, white frosts and the excitement of (too infrequent) snow falls. I’m like a child at Christmas if there’s even a hint of snow on the local weather forecast, and then spend the next 24 hours checking to see if its started yet.  All that aside, we’re about to move into what is effectively a tin box.  I am wondering if we’re mad, but I keep telling myself that Spring is only around the corner, the days will start to get longer soon, and the temperatures will start to lift.  I have a feeling this will become my new mantra this winter!

One aspect of our relocation that I’m really looking forward to is the host of hill trails to discover that will be pretty much on my doorstep.  Not quite mountains, the highest summit is 455m, but there’s an upland ridge with 4 summits identified along it on my OSI map for the area.  The nearest summit is less than 1½ kilometres (as the crow flies) from our cottage, and I can’t wait to be able to get up there and explore…all from my own front gate!

In the meantime, let’s hope the sun comes out again tomorrow, so I can have another productive day! So much to do, so little time.  Yes, the weather most definitely affects my mood.

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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!

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.

Keeper Hill is a keeper

Within a few short days of arriving in Ireland, we took a trip down to Limerick to pick up a few furniture bits for our new lodgings, and I will never forget driving down the Nenagh bypass (now incorporated into the M7) and gazing at the hills to our left, with a road map in my lap, trying to identify the landmarks of this new land we were calling home.  As I stared towards what I deduced (correctly) were the Silvermines, the clouds lifted and the summit Keeper Hill appeared behind them in all its glory.  I probably should add here that I was doing all my gazing and landmark research from the safety of the passenger seat, whilst the husband (or “the boyfriend”, as he was known back then) dutifully kept his eyes on the road ahead.  I remember saying that I wanted to go up there one day, which elicited a fairly non-committal grunt from the driver’s seat.  I can hardly blame him for his lack of enthusiasm or belief in my vow; at the time I was even heavier than I am now, was struggling with an undiagnosed thyroid issue, and would have very definitely been the last to be picked for a ‘Lets All Go Up Keeper Hill’ team!

Earlier last year, during a day out in the Silvermines, I was to recall that car journey and that vow, and spending the day with Keeper Hill in full view only served to strengthen my resolve.

But now I can proudly say that I’ve done it!  I’ve walked up to the summit of Keeper Hill, I’ve seen what can be seen, and it was worth every single step!

Many times over the past year, when planning where we were going to walk next, I’d jokingly said “Let’s go up Keeper”, but I’d realistically known in my heart I wasn’t ready, but this time I said it, and I meant it!  The weather forecast was good, and I felt good too.  The distance felt do-able, and I knew that if I just remained determined, I’d get there.  In hindsight, during the planning phase I’d made a fairly important rookie mistake, but I’m here, typing this up, having seen the views from the summit, so it wasn’t a truly terrible blunder, more an error of judgement, a miscalculation if you like!  More about that later, but in the meantime, kudos to anyone who can guess what my slight oversight might have been!

We parked up, took the almost obligatory map-board photo, and double checked the route and the distance.  This pic nearly always makes it on to my blog posts, but also acts as a quick route checking facility during the walk, being easier and faster to look at my phone than dragging the map out of my rucksack.

Immediately out of the car park we headed up hill, and continued heading up hill.  After a mile or so of steady ascent I was delighted that the husband was the first one to take the opportunity to stop for a breather check his boots and adjust his laces.  It gave me the chance to think about how many stops we’d have already taken by now if I’d tried this route a year ago.  We took this opportunity to offer water to Dolly too.

At one point we passed a highly coloured chalybeate stream, the vivid orange colouration indicating the iron rich nature of the water emerging from this spring. 

Chalybeate stream, rich in iron.

Chalybeate stream, rich in iron.

We got to the point in the trail where it was decision time.  We had agreed that we would see how I felt at this point.  One option was to carry straight on, and remain on the Ballyhourigan Woods loop, which would take us around Ballyhourigan woods, and bring us gently back down the hill to the car park.  Or, we could turn left, and carry on towards the summit of Keeper Hill.  All felt good, and from here the flanks of Keeper Hill didn’t look too scary, and so we turned left and enjoyed a very short, but sweet, downhill section, before resuming an uphill trek.

The trail took us upwards, always upwards, but also around the south-west flank of Keeper Hill and would ultimately leave the Slieve Felim Way to take us straight up the southern side.  We passed a few piles of small trees in brown paper sacks, which I assume were baby trees waiting to be planted?  And hopefully not dumped by some tree-clearing fly-tipper!  I can’t imagine fly-tippers would take the time and care to place each small tree into individual sacks.  The views up Keeper Hill actually seemed to get more daunting as we progressed, but all felt good with my legs, feet and lungs, and so we kept going.  It did help immensely the glorious views both upwards and down into the valleys certainly contributed to keeping my spirits lifted, and my legs moving.

This particular waterfall stood out to us, and we can only guess that this the ‘Spout’ as described in the Trail Description.  Alas, there was very little water around but we both decided that we’d love to come up here after heavy rain and see the waterfall in full spate.

The Spout - Keeper Hill

The Spout – Keeper Hill

The trail was fairly level as it wound around the side of the hill, and a lovely, but short, downhill section provided welcome relief to my tired legs.  But all too soon we left the Slieve Felim Way, and the incline got steeper.  I found I needed to stop to rest take in the views around us more often, and I was starting to flag. I found Keeper Hill to be quite deceptive. The incline reduces toward the top making the summit constantly appear to be just over the next ridge.  When you felt you were nearly there, you’d get to the top of that rise and find yet another uphill stretch in front of you.  In a moment of almost perfect timing we met a lovely lady coming down from the summit, who congratulated me on getting this far,  assured me that it wasn’t far to the top now, and that it would all be worth it.  There is nothing so good as an encouraging word to help you pick yourself up and re-focus, so whomever you were, thank you!

You knew you were finally getting to the top when the gentle breeze, which had turned into a stronger breeze, ultimately developed into a persistent wind.  Even on a beautiful clear, sunny day, the strength of the wind surprised me.  The first visual thing to greet us were the telecommunications masts and associated outbuildings, fencing etc, but I tried to ignore those as I took in the glorious views all around us.  We found our way to the trig point, and I scrambled over the boulders to pose for the almost obligatory Trig pic.  I can’t describe the feeling of being on top of a mountain that you’ve wanted to go up for so very long.  Keeper might not be one of Ireland’s ‘biggies’, but at 694 metres (2,277 ft), it’s a creditable No.57 in the Irish Highest Hundred List, the highest point in North Tipperary, and is a mountain that has captivated me ever since I first moved to this country.  Standing atop of it was a massive achievement for me, and I’ll admit I was grinning like a loon.  A sweaty, red-faced loon, but a loon nonetheless!

The photo of me, using the trig point to stay upright, partly due to the strong wind and partly due to my wobbly legs, is in my opinion hideous, so that particular photo remains for my eyes only, but here’s a slighty arty pic of the husband enjoying the views down over the Silvermines from the summit!

Keeper Hill summit

Keeper Hill summit

We found a small spot, out of the wind, to sit down, absorb the views and enjoy a well-earned cup of tea.  We shared a packet of wine gums with Dolly, and celebrated with a ‘Summit’ Snickers bar.  I checked my phone to see our progress on the Runkeeper app, and at this point, after a little bit of head-scratching, it dawned on me that I had made a bit of a silly rookie mistake!  Did you guess what it might have been?  I have been so used to doing looped routes and trails, that when I checked the trail distance for this route, I thought that an 8.2km (5.1 miles) route, incorporating the summit of Keeper Hill would be an admirable hike for someone of my size and fitness level.  It never occurred to me that, this being a linear route, the 8.2km was the distance in one direction.  It had occurred to me a few times, on our way up, that we had walked quite a way to get to the summit but just put it down to my mind playing tricks on me during the sections where I struggled the most.  Oh boy!  That made getting to this summit feel even better!  Although I was a little deflated to see one of those mad hill runners, looking fresh as a daisy,  sprint up to the trig point, touch it, and then sprint back downhill again.  I try not to let them make me feel inadequate, and firmly remind myself to walk my own miles, and not to judge myself against how others do theirs!  But deep down I’ll confess I feel a little jealous of anyone with the fitness levels, and strength of mind, to do something as insane as hill/fell running.

5 miles up meant 5 miles back down, and so we started our descent.  I’m always surprised to find that going downhill is almost as hard work as going up, although it always seems to go quicker. I discovered that the joy of an uphill linear trail is being able to enjoy the views even more on the way down, because you’re no longer concentrating on keeping up enough motivation to get to the top!  However, my legs were getting decidedly wobbly by the time the car park came into view, and for the first time ever my feet were really sore.  However, the achievement and memory of sitting with a cup of tea on top of my favourite mountain, combined with (mostly) coping admirably with the unexpected and unplanned distance that we’d covered, meant that I was still smiling as I finally dropped my rucksack into the back of the car and filled a water bowl for Dolly.

The DOMS hit me by about Tuesday, and Dolly certainly preferred her comfy bed to her daily walk for a couple of days…but Keeper Hill was absolutely worth every step, and I’m lucky that it is relatively local to me. I can’t wait to do it again!