Good disappointment!

During a previous visit to the Ridge of Capard back in the Summer I recalled noting that the ‘longer’ route, on the Info Board in the Car Park, was 4km, and that the estimated walk duration was 2 hours.  I remember thinking that whilst 4km wasn’t much in distance, if the powers-that-be reckoned it should take 2 hours to complete that loop, then it must be a fairly challenging trail.

The Weather Gods aligned with the Time-Off Gods, giving us both a free Sunday, with fabulous weather, and a yearning to get our hiking boots out in the air again.  It was going to be a coin toss between going back up to the Ridge of Capard (I’ve been dying to show the husband the views from up there!) and an 8km loop walk I’ve been eyeing up for a while.  However the coin toss was no longer required when my printer spat the dummy and spewed the contents of its colour cartridge all over its internals.  Being the self-styled Queen of Over-Preparation I didn’t want to walk in an unknown area without a copy of the route and trail description, so the decision was made to head to the ridge.

The trail starts off on the familiar wooden boardwalk.  We took a small diversion up to the viewing point, and spent 5 minutes taking photographs of family groups for visiting tourists, before discretely heading off on our intended walk, without really getting a chance to enjoy the 360° views.

At the point where my previous walk route went through a gate and followed the Slieve Bloom way up over the ridge, we followed our chosen route along a gravel track.  Soon enough we came to a locked metal gate, and a metal ladder stile. I was anxiously thinking of the best way to get a 20kg, wriggling, squirmy Dolly up and over the stile (those steps are NOT very dog friendly!) when I spied a gap in the wall over to the right.  There was a bit of scramble over rocks, logs and through brambles, but it was still easier than trying to get a big dog over that stile.

The beautiful Glenbarrow valley opened up below us, and the track descended gently into it.   The info board had warned of keeping clear of ruined buildings and stone walls, and we soon came across the remnants of old stone cottages and what we assumed were small stock enclosures.  A small cottage came into to view on the left, with a small plaque on the outside wall:

Ann Clear's cottage plaque

According to this webpage, The Cones, was once home to a number of families that survived this bleak landscape. After the Irish Potato Famine, their numbers decreased from about 12 families in the 1850s to 4 families after 1911.  It is hard to imagine how anyone could scratch a living from the land around here, and I have to remind myself that these tree plantations are relatively new, and the landscape would have looked quite different back in the day.  Naughty I know, but we ignored the sign warning us to stay away from the unstable building, and had a quick peek inside.  I tried to imagine the tales that were told, sitting around the fireplace in the evening.  The views that might have been seen, down the valley, through the window.  And the lives that had passed through that cottage’s history.  I could have stayed there all day, letting my nostalgic imagination run wild, but the husband and the dog were keen to move on.

Shortly before turning sharp right, we came upon the magic tree.  Even when we were right up close to it, it was difficult to see just how it was growing at all.  It seemed to be floating in mid-air 🙂

Magic floating tree

The trail took us through a section of forestry, and then a long uphill section.  The communications mast near the car park (The Metal Man) came into view sooner than I expected, and a right turn on the trail brought us to some wooden steps…which my poor, tired thighs didn’t thank me for at the time.  The steps went over the top of a bank, and then a small section of boardwalk allowed us to traverse a small boggy, spring.  A short section of easy, flat trail brought us all too soon back to the car park!  I didn’t want to stop, really I didn’t.  I felt barely warmed up, and simply couldn’t believe we were back at the car already!  However, I knew there was a trig point somewhere near the car park, so whilst we stopped momentarily at the car for the husband to remove a layer, I double checked the OSI map again.  Back down the lane, and a left turn up a soft track brought us to quite possibly the easiest summit-top trig point.  You could pretty much drive to it if you so wished.  Breath-taking views however, and it added about a quarter of a mile onto our walk.  After a quick cup of hot tea, whilst watching a large bank of rain clouds heading in our direction, we legged it home to light the fire…

Tea with a view

I really enjoyed that, but I’m a little disappointed that it wasn’t longer or more challenging“…are words I would never have said about walking ANYWHERE a year ago!  Let alone out on the Slieve Blooms, so I allowed myself a slightly indulgent smile and reflected on the fact that my disappointment was a good thing in this instance.

From a recreational point of view – a lovely walk in a beautiful spot, on well-maintained tracks, with breath-taking views.
From a personal point of view – I wanted to breathe harder and for my muscles to hurt more…

Of course, I had hoped to make use of having a free Sunday this coming weekend, but the weather forecast is looking woeful.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind bad weather…but finding waterproof over trousers to fit me is a complete non-runner so far.  Therefore walking in heavy rain will just have to wait until I’m slimmer!

…Cool woods

The evening before, we had visited the stunning Ridge of Capard.  It was late afternoon when we got there, and we simply ran out of time to fully enjoy the area.

Throughout our walk along the Ridge I had been telling Mum about the beautiful Glenbarrow falls in the valley below us, and the curious rock formations at Flat Rocks…and the satisfaction (for me!) of getting to the top of the steep section half way around.

With all this in mind, we gave more thought to planning our day trip out, and giving ourselves as much time as we felt we needed.  With our morning chores done, and with our sandwiches packed, we headed for Glenbarrow.

We had a very quick diversion to Cathole’s Falls…we’d seen the signposts on our travels the evening before, and this was another place that I’d never visited.  Once again, I mentally added this location to the never-ending list of places I want to come back to, but today we had other plans, and so after a short wander, and a little toe-dipping, we hit the road and pressed on to Glenbarrow.

I had waxed lyrical about the peace and quiet of the Glenbarrow area…and with it being mid-week I fully expected us to be the only ones there.  But TWO coachloads of schoolchildren soon dissuaded me of that idea.  Filled with the excitement of nearing the end of term, and the end of their school year, they were enjoying a day trip out.
Oddly though, and perhaps fortunately (if I’m allowed to say that?), they were loading up onto their coaches and heading away to their next destination…so we would have peace and quiet on the trails after all.

Ireland was still in the grip of a mini-heatwave, and it was ridiculously hot.  I suggested to Mum that we walk as far as the falls, and see how both we and the dogs were coping with the heat, before we decided whether to carry on or turn back.  The trail from the car park to the Falls was mostly through tree cover.  Once we pressed on from there we’d be heading towards trail sections that were in the open and afforded little shade for us to rest and cool down in.

We weren’t hunting for Geocaches this time, so we came across Flat Rocks much quicker than I’d remembered rom before.  With proper boots on this time I had much better grip on the wet rocks too.  Dolly loved being able to paddle in the shallow river sections on the rocks, and the moving water gave us a great opportunity to safely water the dogs without using up our own water resources.

Dolly on Flat Rock

The Falls themselves looked significantly different due to the lack of recent rainfall.  We found a path that almost allowed us to get into the river bed, up to the base of the Falls.  No way we could have done that on our previous visit.  I was saddened to see that a relatively recent visitor had deemed it appropriate to throw their banana skin into the falls.  Would it have been SO difficult to take their rubbish back home with them?  Judging by the freshness of it, it hadn’t been there long.  Perhaps the culprit would do well to remind themselves of the principles of Leave No Trace.

Spot the banana skin...

Spot the banana skin…

The dogs were coping well with the heat, the woods had done a great job in keeping us cool, and so we pressed on.  I wish I’d taken more photographs of our day out, but sections of the path ahead had been so muddy as to be almost impassable the last time I’d gone up here.  However, this time they were rock hard and bone dry, quite a contrast!  And much easier to walk across!  At the bottom of the dreaded ‘steep section’ we stopped to water the dogs.  Knowing that once past this spot we would be going steeply uphill, and out under the glare of the sun.  I also wanted to talk to my head about going up this steep section.  It IS only short, but it is steep (even the map calls it steep!) and I find the uneven steps at the beginning of it to be real leg-killers.  Imagine my delight at getting to the top of the section without stopping!  I won’t say I wasn’t puffing, panting, bitching and moaning…but I got up there, and I didn’t stop on the way.  And for me, that’s a small victory!

The steps to Hell

The steps to Hell

We found a tree to hide in the shade under whilst we watered the dogs, watered ourselves, got my breath back, and then we carried on along the trail.  I swear my stride had a little bounce of confidence in it, as we walked along. Smug isn’t the word I’m looking for, but I was more than a bit chuffed that I’d faced the dreaded ‘steep section’ and got  to the top relatively easily!

I had explained to Mum about the last time we did this route, and how I thought we’d taken a wrong turning.  If she was willing and up for it, I wanted to try to find the correct route, but it might a fool’s errand and it may involve turning back and re-tracing our route, back to the path that I knew would take us back to the car park.  Arriving at the junction where the route arrow points straight on, but the route map suggests we should turn right….we turned right.  And we walked.  and we walked some more.  And then we walked a bit further.  And then I got out my OSI map, and tried to work out where we were.  Where I thought we were heading, and how closely the OSI map, and our current position, correlated with the loop route map I’d snapped on my camera phone.  Fortunately my navigational skills learnt during my time with the Venture Scouts didn’t let me down.  I know I’d need a refresher course in Navigation to get myself out of trouble in the fog on a hill top…but on a clear sunny day, with fairly easy landmarks to distinguish, I soon pinpointed exactly where we were and which direction we were heading in.  By my reckoning, at the next left curve there should be a path off to the left.  I promised Mum that if there was no path, I’d give up on finding the ‘correct’ route, and we turn back and stick to the route I knew

The track started curving to the left,  The trees to our left were coming to an end, and the land ahead was opening up to be flat heathland.  And there, hidden in the undergrowth on our left, was an ‘easy-to-miss’ finger post with a route arrow on it….bingo!  Between two trees there was a narrow path taking us into deep, dark woods…we were getting hot and sweaty at that point, and those cool, dark woods could not have been more welcoming!

Deep, dark woodland path...

Deep, dark woodland path…

I was confident this was the correct path, but reassured Mum that even if it wasn’t it was heading in the right direction, and I would ensure we got back to car park…getting lost on the New Forest, just me and my horse, and finding new ways to get home had been a favourite hobby in my youth, and had given me a reasonably reliable sense of direction!

It was downhill all the way.  Steep in some sections, rough in others.  We required our poles a few times to negotiate some awkward sections, and I wouldn’t fancy it if the ground was wet or slippery…indeed Dolly and I had words a couple of times to ensure she wouldn’t pull me off-balance in her enthusiasm to explore & sniff at the limit of her Flexi lead…but it was deep, dark, silent and magical…and reminded me of exploring long-forgotten areas of the New Forest.

Soon enough, the path brought us along side a fence, which in turn dropped us down to the forestry barrier, taking us down the lane back to the car park.  The car park was empty, so I moved the camper van in under some trees, and opened all the doors to cool it off, whilst we enjoyed mugs of hot tea (humans) and bowls of cool water (canines).

I was delighted that I had got up the steep section, which had so frustrated me on my previous visit, much more easily.  Some of that was from my head knowing where the end of the ‘up’ bit was, and also, I hope, because my fitness is improving.  I was also pleased that we had also found the elusive correct trail, so the distance on my Runkeeper app corresponded more closely with the trail length on the route map, and I’d got to walk through some fabulous dark forest.
I wonder would I be brave enough to do the same forest section, in the dark…hmmm…maybe a Halloween Night Hike….well, I do get a perverse joy in deliberately scaring myself sometimes! Yet another “I want to do that” to add to my mental list.

We had enjoyed a really lovely walk, in a beautiful area, on a really hot day, and made the most of the gorgeous cool woods.


Hot ridge…

Mum certainly brought the weather with her, so on a beautiful sunny afternoon we headed off to the Ridge of Capard.  This was a location that had intrigued me for a while, but also one that I knew would be open and exposed, and pretty miserable in poor weather.

Ridge of Capard

I underestimated both how long it would take to get there, and how long I’d want to stay there…the windy, rural lanes out of Mountrath were more windy and rural than the map suggested.  Not a problem for driving on, but the journey took longer than I expected.  Which in turn, knowing how long it would take to drive home, sadly meant we were clock-watching almost from the time we arrived in the car park.  Fortunately the much-photographed viewing deck was very close to the car park, and the wooden boardwalk was very easy to walk up.  The 360° views from the viewing deck are truly spectacular, it wouldn’t be hard to believe that the whole of Ireland is at your feet.  Checking my watch once more, we decided to just head off along the ridge trail, for as long as we could, before time told us we had to turn back.

The wooden boardwalk makes this a very easy loop walk, but bear in mind if the weather is looking dodgy in any way that there is absolutely no shelter once you’re up there.  Monty and Mum’s dog, Alfie, had great fun hopping on and off the boardwalk, and leaping through the heather, being surprised by the occasional hidden ditch, much to our amusement.

I had a yearning to try to reach the Stoney Man, but time was against us.  We reached the point where the Capard loop walk started to turn back towards the car park, and we carried on instead, picking up the finger posts of the Slieve Bloom Way, taking us further along the ridge.  Despite the prolonged dry period of weather we were enjoying, sections of the track were still surprisingly boggy, and this gave me a perfect opportunity to get my new boots into some wet stuff, and test out their waterproofing.  Realising that time was pressing, and the route ahead was just more of the same boggy heather with the Stoney Man beyond our reach today, we reluctantly turned back.

Slieve Bloom Way fingerposts

Slieve Bloom Way – follow the fingerposts…if you can see them!

Over a quick but well-earned cup of tea* in the car park before hitting the road home, we laid plans to visit (re-visit for me) the Glenbarrow Falls the next day.  All along the ridge path, on the way back to the car park, I had been pointing out some visible sections of the Glenbarrow loop walk out in the valley below us. The cool woods would be a welcome change to the hot and exposed Ridge on these rare, hot, sunny days

*Necessary so we could (a) get fluid into ourselves and into both dogs too, and (b) leave all the doors open on the camper van for 5 minutes or so, to cool it down for the trip home….phew it was hot!!!

Glenbarrow Waterfall Loop & the mystery of the missing 3km…

There were tentative plans to head to the Silvermines yesterday, but waking early to low cloud and drizzle gave me pause to rethink.

I know that glorious clear & sunny days seem like they are few and far between in this country, but when one of the main plus points of getting to the east top, and/or west top, and/or far west top, of the Silvermines is to admire the 360° views, a cloudy day really isn’t going to cut it.  It most certainly wouldn’t have been a pointless trip, the sense of achievement for me just to haul myself up there would have been more than worth it, but dog-damnit, in addition to the health and achievement, I want the views!

The very lovely people at Shannon Region Trails .ie recently sent me a big pack of walking brochures and loop walk maps, so over large mugs of freshly brewed coffee we looked for a suitable alternative.

Decisions decisions

I had my heart set on doing a light spot of Geocaching today, and the previous evening Ihad printed off 3 suitable geocaches on the Silvermines. With Geocaching still firmly in my mind, we decided to head to the Glenbarrow trailhead for today’s outing.  There are two geocaches listed for Glenbarrow, both situated pretty much on the trail path we would be following.  The trails would go through woodlands and young forest, and along the banks of the River Barrow, so it would undoubtedly be a beautiful place to spend a few hours, and wouldn’t be spoiled by low cloud.

Geocaching is something I dip in and out of and have done since I first discovered it in 2005. I go through mad phases of eating, sleeping, breathing geocaching, checking constantly for new geocaches to be published, chasing that elusive ‘FTF‘…and then, for me, the mad haze eventually lifts, and my life returns to normal for another while, until the geocaching bug bites me again.  If you haven’t ever heard of the activity. think of it as a 21st century treasure hunt for gadget geeks…as someone once said, we use millions of dollars worth of satellite technology for hunt for Tupperware boxes in hedgerows.  It nearly is as simple as that!  Go HERE for more info, but be warned, it can become very addictive! 😀

The Waterfall Loop was listed as 7km and ‘Moderate’.  The weather was good, and I was feeling bold.  Although I wouldn’t make my final decision until we got to the Clamp Hole Waterfall, and I’d decide if we walked on and completed the Waterfall loop or took the shorted Flat Rock loop walk.

The trailhead is clearly signed out of the car park, and we were soon on our way.  So peaceful to walk through the forest, with streams running down from small waterfalls to your left, crossing under your feet beneath small wooden bridges (Monty preferred paddling through the shallow streams).  The River Barrow wending its way through the valley, down to your right.  It’s clearly a popular walking spot, but even with other people around, its easy to lose yourself in your surroundings and soak up the atmosphere of the place.  I knew we would be near to the first Geocache within 5 minutes of leaving the car park, so I tried to fire up my trusty Garmin Etrex.  I knew we’d struggled to latch onto satellites given the thick tree cover, and it may take a while, but it has never completely let me down.  But after 20 minutes, it just didn’t want to play.  The battery indicator was flashing empty, and I mentally kicked myself for not checking the basics before we left home.  We spent a while just hunting for the geocache anyway, sometimes (very rarely, but I have done it!!) you can just strike it lucky if you think to yourself “where would I hide it?”  No such luck this time, and the husband was keen to give this one up as not found and get going. As a last-ditch effort I tried a free little geocaching app I’d downloaded onto my phone, not expecting much, but I have to say it pin-pointed my location very quickly, and took us to within 3 metres of the geocache!  It wasn’t affected by the thick tree cover at all.  Its called ‘c.geo’ and has my complete seal of approval!

One geocache done, and one more to go.  I knew roughly the location of the next one, up near the Clamp Hole Waterfall, so I could just enjoy the scenery for now.  I was pondering over the ‘wooden hut’ on the map, until I came upon a large wooden hut!  They mapmakers weren’t lying.  It faced onto the spectacular ‘Flat Rock’.  Sadly the ‘wooden hut’ was littered with empty beer cans.  I tidied them up into one big pile, but had no way of carrying all of them with us.  I’m fully aware of the fun that can be had in your late teens, with the freedom of a driving license and a friend who can get served at the local ‘offy’, but we never ever left a mess behind us after a ‘party’, there just is no excuse :-/

The Wooden Hut

The river was low, which meant we could get right down on to Flat Rock and explore properly.  I learned that the wet bits are very slippery, and gave the husband plenty of laughs as I did the splits, unable to get either walking shoe to grip and nearly ended up in the river.

Flat Rock

Next stopping point for us was a strange, split level rock formation.  It almost looked man-made, and made me wish I’d concentrated more during the geology modules of my A-Level Geography!

4x4 paws

The spectacular Clamp Hole Waterfall, we heard it before we saw it.  I can only imagine the noise and spray when the river is in full spate. it must be quite a sight!  The husband went to watch the cascading water, and I went to hunt up the final Tupperware box.  Mission accomplished, I took one look at the very tall step up on the path beside the waterfall, watched one gentleman climb up the post and rail fence to the side in his efforts to get up, and I decided to retrace my tracks and go up through the trees.  A little further to walk, but much easier!

29 - Clamp Hole Waterfall

At the top of the water fall, we stopped to water ourselves and to water the dog.  Monty turned his nose up at the fresh bottled water we presented him with, and instead he quenched his thirst in the pool at the top of the waterfall.

Drink stop for Monty

This was the point of no return.  We either turned around now and picked up the return section of the Flat Rock loop, or we pressed on and completed the Waterfall Loop.  This is clearly a popular walking spot, and there were plenty of people walking as far as the Clamp Hole Waterfall, but we didn’t meet anyone else after we’d continued on from the waterfall. I guess the majority of visitors only journey between the car park and the waterfall, which, in fairness, is a beautiful walk and well worth the effort. A handwritten sign, tacked to marker post on the far side of the waterfall,  warned us that the trail ahead was very muddy in places, but we were in no rush to get home and I felt good enough to carry on.

After all, just how muddy could it get…?

That’s no so bad!

Getting muddy

I can pick my way through that!

More mud

Hmmm, ok, yep, this bit was muddy! But still do-able.

Hmmm, mud pies

Once the path started ascending, it started drying up.  There was one steep descent, fortunately there were handrails, because the large boulders on the path, and slippery clay didn’t make it very easy to keep your feet under you.  The Slieve Bloom way peels off to the right, and then we turned to the left to face the section on the map described as a ‘steep climb’.  They weren’t joking!  Although it was made easier by wooden steps where possible and clever use of the natural terrain to aid your climb, and although it is a relatively short section on the map, it just seemed never-ending at time.  Just as it would level out a little, looking ahead would show you another steep section coming up fast.  I really struggled at one point,  I couldn’t seem to take more than 5 steps up without my heart banging in my ears and I just felt really odd and uncomfortable.   The sun was shining, and we were out in a relatively open section. I stripped off a layer, I stripped of my hat, and then I took my jacket off.  Feeling a lot more comfortable, I then found I could make much better progress.  In hindsight I’m fairly sure I was just over-heating from my efforts, and that nothing more sinister was going on.  I suffer with palpitations occasionally.  I’m relatively used to them, but they are still a very unpleasant sensation, and when my heart really starts to bang like that I do tend to get wary.   We stopped for a short water break somewhere near the top, for us and for the dog, and to admire the spectacular view down and across the valley behind us.  Because we couldn’t easily see where this path would stop climbing, I did feel fairly silly finding the top of the path within a 100 yards or so of where we’d stopped.  We should have just kept going.  Felt bloody great to get to the top though.  It wasn’t easy, but I had mostly kept going.  It was indeed a steep climb, over rough ground and fairly unforgiving.  I didn’t break any speed records, but I got up there and I felt I’d coped much better with the climb and the terrain, than I had a month previously on a similar section of the Devil’s Bit mountain.

Stairway to heaven or hell?

At the top we found ourselves on a forestry road, and I was relieved to have some fairly easy trail to walk on.  The trail instructions told us to watch out for a 3-way junction, and to turn right at the junction.   The only junction we got to had a marker arrow post, and the blue arrow (Waterfall Loop) very clearly indicated we should go straight on, and so we did.  But after a while it became fairly obvious we should have turned right.  It didn’t matter, it wasn’t the end of the world, the section of track we were on would bring us to the same place, but this section of track was a short-cut, and I felt I was cheating.  It wasn’t a major shortcut, we weren’t going to gain much by taking it, but it wasn’t the correct route.  I will confess I got a bit grumpy about all this, but the husband is very good at ‘handling’ me when I’m like this.  He mostly laughs at me!

Looking back

I felt decidedly fresh when we dropped back down into the car park, and I was momentarily buoyed by the fact that I’d just completed a 7km ‘moderate’ and still felt bouncy…so to find only 2.4 miles logged on my Runkeeper app was a little deflating.  I even checked the Runkeeper track map, to see if perhaps I’d dropped GPS signal in the tree cover somewhere, and it had missed half the route…but no, the Runkeeper map closely matched the Loop Walk map (apart from that minor wrong turn on the last section). 2.4 miles comes out at only 3.8 km.  We figured with the wrong turn we’d done approximately 200 metres less of the main route, which would bring us closer to 4 km.  So the husband’s theory is that whomever ‘measured’ the walk, simply wrote ‘4’ in his notebook, but forgot if that was km or miles when he got back to the office, and decided to err on the side of caution (4 miles, approx 6½ km).  Who knows?  It could be true!

You can see where we missed the turn at point F - but i don't think the correct track would have accounted for the missing 3km..?

Official map (Left) – Runkeeper GPS Track (Right)
You can see where we missed the turn at point F – but I don’t think the correct track would have accounted for the missing 3km..?

I was cross and I was really grumpy, and even an amazing cup of hot chocolate from the ‘caravan cafe’ in the car park (far right in the photo below) couldn’t make up for my 7km ‘moderate’ only being a 4km ‘Moderate’.  I felt cheated, and in my head I drafted a dozen complaint letters, without a clue whom to send them to.

The 'caravan cafe' [far right] sells hot drinks and snacks - brilliant idea!

The ‘caravan cafe’ [far right] sells hot drinks and snacks – brilliant idea!

But what didn’t actually hit me until we were on our way home was that only a month ago a 4km ‘Moderate” would have had me on my knees, with my lungs on fire, my feet burning and my leg muscles waving white flags of defeat.  It really did feel good to have done 4km on some rough ground, up some steep climbs and to have finished feeling like I actually could have just turned back down the trailhead and gone around the loop all over again.  And if that isn’t a measure of some definite progress to be pleased with, well then I just don’t know what is! 🙂

No need to ask Monty how he felt on the way home, I think this photo sums it up 😉

Very tired boy

Here are the rest of the pics: