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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Better late than never I hope!

Now that I have (mostly) sorted out my layout/theme woes, and can finally compose new blogs posts with half an idea that they will actually post properly, and my layout won’t go mad on me, I feel I can at last review how 2014 went for me.

I set myself the challenge of walking 500 miles in 2014, and finally hit that number on the 17th November, more than a month ahead of the year-end date that I’d set for myself.  My final miles for the whole of 2014 finished up at 528.6 miles in total.  I’m not quite sure what happened in those final 6 weeks, as my daily miles diminished, with December giving my lowest monthly total of the whole year, at a measly 26.3 miles.  I dare say the Christmas festivities, travelling between Ireland and the UK, visiting with family etc., all played their part in reducing my mileage.  I also had a week on the sofa, after a minor hospital procedure during that time.  All that aside,  I can only hope that reaching my target distance the previous month didn’t result in me relaxing my walking schedule, albeit unconsciously!

Just for fun I stuck ‘526.8 miles’ into Google and have since learnt that just by walking a couple of miles a day, 5/6 days a week, I could walk from Coolangatta to Brisbane in a year.  Obviously it’s highly unlikely to be something I’ll ever do, but knowing that I could made me smile!

An unexpected bonus of all that walking was losing 46 lbs over the year, without really trying.  That has also made me smile, really smile! 🙂

For 2015 I have decided to up the mileage a little more, and have set my goal at 550 miles for the year…or roughly the driving distance between Le Havre and Biarritz if you prefer! 😛

In January I only managed 41.6 miles…not helped by slipping on some ice during a recent hike and twisting my hip.  I tried walking it off for a few days, which didn’t have the desired effect. I then resorted to making myself take a week off from all exercise to give it a chance to heal properly.  Frustrating from an exercise point of view, but I did get lots of knitting done for my craft stall! [How very rock’n’roll!] “Every cloud…” and all that.  My hip is now feeling 99% good but that enforced break now leaves me with 508.4 miles to cover in the remaining 11 months (an average of 46.2 miles/month).  Wish me luck!

To finish of ‘my’ review of how 2014 went for me, I’d like to share some of the fun/strange/bizarre search terms that brought people here…welcome all!  But if some of the following brought you here, then I’m not entirely sure this is where you were hoping to end up…

  • the fat hiker – close but no cigar!
  • curvy pics – those pics are that way ->
  • buy tadpoles in Tipperary – I don’t think that it’s possible to buy tadpoles anywhere, let alone in Tipp?  Happy to be corrected though!
  • curvy blonde life – curvy I may be, but blonde I’m not, sorry.
  • mature curvy fencing – I don’t know, I just don’t know?
  • naughty hiker wife – when she just won’t do as she told!  Bad wife!  Actually, maybe that IS me?
  • going mountaineering in campervan – unless it’s a VW Syncro or a Unimog, I don’t think it’ll get far up the mountain?
  • curvy boy – Alas the husband is a slim jim, so they weren’t looking for him!

The number of search terms finding this blog, looking for curvy / large / xxl / 4xl /  plus size hiking gear is a very sad lament to the fact that the majority of outdoor gear manufacturers have very little to offer us, but that is a whole ‘nother blog post! So I’ll leave you with my favourite search term of 2014:

  • can you drink savlon – I think I’ve mentioned this one before, but it *always* makes me laugh out loud! But, if you’re not sure and you’re here looking for the answer, then no, you can’t drink Savlon!  That’s not what it’s for.
Sugarloaf Hill - Knockmealdowns - Summer 2014

Sugarloaf Hill – Summer 2014 ©The Curvy Hiker

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!

Sugarloaf Hill – Knockmealdowns

A planned camping trip with my mother to Parson’s Green in Clogheen had me checking my OSI maps to see if there was any good walking in the area.  Who was I kidding, the place is surely a mecca for walkers of every experience/fitness level!  The campsite itself sits under the Knockmealdown mountains, with Sugarloaf Hill standing proud above the caravans, tents and campervans.
Towards the north-west the Galtee mountains are clearly visible, the choice of walks in the area are endless.

Parson's Green campsite, overlooked by Sugarloaf Hill

Parson’s Green campsite, overlooked by Sugarloaf Hill

Once settled on our camping pitch, with the obligatory glasses of wine poured we spread the map out and started formulating a plan for the next day.  Sadly, the clouds came down whilst we were doing this, obscuring all the lovely mountaintop views, which meant that, route options decided, we would have to wait and see what the weather actually did the next day, before finalising our plans.

OSI Map No. 74 - plus dog water bowl, stones and a Tipperary & Waterford walking Guide, to stop the map blowing away!

OSI Map No. 74 – plus dog water bowl, stones and a Tipperary & Waterford walking Guide, to stop the map blowing away!

The evening ended with heavy cloud and light drizzle, and after a short spin around the farm with our dogs (the campsite also has a pet farm and activity centre) we retired to our beds early, to endure a night of heavy rain and strung gusty winds, strong enough to make the vans rock…it didn’t bode well for heading out walking the next day 😦

Sunshine greeted us in the morning, with the local peaks featuring a thin cap of cloud. A quick check of a mountain weather forecast website, and we decided to have a go at tackling Sugarloaf Hill, after packing some wet weather gear and extra layers into our rucksacks.

We parked at a small car park below Bay Lough, as suggested by my walking guide-book (Tipperary & Waterford – A Walking Guide, by John G O’Dwyer).  I wanted to visit Bay Lough but I didn’t really want to retrace my steps down and up from the car park at The Gap, so this car park afforded us a visit to Bay Lough incorporated into a planned walking loop.  Looking around there was no obvious path up out of the car park, so we tentatively followed a faint path uphill out of the car park without a single notion on where that particular trail went, and immediately started ascending through thick rhododendrons.  Fortunately my GPS tracker showed that the stony path was taking us in the right direction, as we puffed up the slope, under the hot, stuffy canopy.  It wasn’t a particularly steep slope, but ascending straight out of the car park, with no chance of warming up properly, made it harder work than it should have been.  However, we were shortly rewarded with the deep and dark Bay Lough opening out on our righthand side.  The dogs had a bit of a paddle, and quenched their thirst at the lake shore, whilst we drank from our water bottles.  Mum tried hard not to look up at the summit of Sugarloaf.  I think I knew then that she didn’t want to do it, but neither of us mentioned the elephant in the room at the time.  Instead, I advised her to keep a close eye on her dog, who has a passion for swimming at every opportunity, in case Petticoat Loose grabbed his little legs to drag him down under the water.

The proliferation of rhododendrons in the area is becoming infamous, and the invasive plant really does seem to be taking over around here.  Whilst the area looks amazing, a riot of pink, when in bloom during the months of May and June, the leaf canopy can be so thick, that no plant life can survive underneath it and it is simply out competing the area’s native plants. Back in June South East Mountain Rescue had to come the assistance of a couple who had got themselves thoroughly stuck in the midst of the rhododendrons. [Bay Lough, Knockmealdown Mountains, Callout 15th June 2014]

Rhododendrons in bloom above Bay Lough – June 2014 ©South East Mountain Rescue Association http://www.semra.ie/

A lovely flat path took us up a gentle incline towards The Gap, and the view back down towards Bay Lough and out over the Golden Vale in the sunshine was fabulous.  We took shelter from the sun inside Bianconi’s Hut, and enjoyed wine gums, dog biscuits and water.  The huts were originally built to provide shelter and rest for the horses pulling the Bianconi Coaches;  they would change horses at the top of the climb either way.

Bianconi's Hut © 2014 Eamonn Fitzgerald's Rainy Day.  http://www.eamonn.com/2013/03/10/changing-station-for-mr-bianconis-horses/

Bianconi’s Hut
© 2014 Eamonn Fitzgerald’s Rainy Day.
http://www.eamonn.com/2013/03/10/changing-station-for-mr-bianconis-horses/

Mum decided she didn’t fancy going up the Sugarloaf.  She’s the first to admit that walking mostly on the New Forest in the UK she just isn’t used to hills, and instead she and Alfie would walk back down the road, via The Vee, to where we’d left our vehicle.  She told me to carry on, and that she would be just grand waiting for me in the campervan, with the comfy sofa, kettle, books and a fridge full of food and drink, haha!  And so we parted ways, and whilst mum and Alfie set off down the road, Dolly and I set off up Sugarloaf Hill, on our own. <gulp>

We made it to the top of the first rise, and were surprised to see the car park at The Gap and Bianconi’s Huts look so small below us already.  It was steeper than I expected, and I was relieved to see a flat section stretch out before us.  A chance to give my poor legs and lungs a bit of a breather, while I talked my head into getting us up the rest of the way.  My improving fitness gets me further and further each time I challenge myself, but it is absolutely my head that gets me to the end of each challenge.  If my head isn’t in the right place, then I know I’ve had it! Sometimes I have to play games with my head, so whilst Dolly and I sat on a flat rock by the county boundary wall, supping water, I mentally broke down the rest of the ascent into 10 manageable chunks, and then the steepness didn’t seem so daunting.

The path started off well enough, and really it was no hardship to stop to catch your breath, when all around you are incredible views.  The rocks had a lovely pinkish hue to them, which in turn made Dolly look almost blue against them.  I did try to photograph this strange phenomenon, but the shots just don’t show up what I was seeing, so that memory must stay in my head instead.  Some of the rocks had what looked like a quartz element running straight through the middle of them, I only wish I’d paid more attention during A-Level Geography!  I nearly stepped on a hairy caterpillar, and when I (very) gently prodded him with a small stick to see if he was still alive, he wrapped himself tightly around the stick.   I carefully placed him out of harms way, and safely away from clumsy hiking boots.  Google informs me that it might be an Eggar moth caterpillar, but I’d be happy to be corrected.

After a while the path all but disappeared completely, and had turned into a bit of a rock scramble.  At this point I was starting to flag, my legs were getting heavy, and I’d started to wonder if I was mad.  It was sunny, with a high cloud base.  The views were amazing, but I was hot and bothered, and worried if I’d overstretched myself.  I was on my own, and totally responsible for both my own and my dog’s welfare.  Was this a clever thing to be doing, on my own, on a hot day?

Whilst pausing to rest my legs catch my breath admire the views, and share out some water rations with Dolly, we met some fellow walkers, descending from the top.  They assured me that it wasn’t much further, however when I asked them if they knew of a path down off the other side towards The Vee they replied that they didn’t know of one.  Uh oh!  I had banked on coming down the other side, and then returning to the car park down the road from The Vee.  and after all the scrambling and slate sliding I’d just done I really didn’t fancy going down the way I’d come up.  They assured me that with my map, compass etc I’d be grand and would be sure to find my way down somehow… if only I had their confidence!

Sure enough, just as my fellow walkers had promised, the county boundary wall I was following soon met with another stone wall, running perpendicular to it, and the ground levelled out to reveal a stone cairn, phew, we’d made it to the top!

Dolly and I shared a hug…well I hugged, and Dolly mostly wriggled and flailed her tail in a circular motion, and then we stood up to take stock of our surroundings.  360° views can be such a cliché to use, but truly the views in all directions were magnificent!
We tiptoed to the south-east edge to try to see Lough Moylan below, but we couldn’t see it, and I wasn’t brave enough, on my tired, wobbly legs, to get too close to the steep drop off.
We looked out towards the summit of Knockmealdown and spotted the path to the summit along the stone wall marking the county boundary between co. Tipperary and Co. Waterford.  All of my ascent had been on the Waterford side of the wall, but now I was back in Tipperary.  I did consider following the path, to make an attempt at Knockmealdown.  The weather could not have been more perfect up there on the top.  The cloud base was high giving full views all around, the sun was shining and the breeze was light…but not knowing how I was going to get back down yet, coupled with the fact that my mother was waiting patiently in the campervan down below, I decided to leave Knockmealdown summit for another day, and I just hope the weather is as good next time!

Dolly and I settled ourselves on a lovely flat rock near the base of the summit cairn, and sorted ourselves out with water, and my map, so that I could identify everything we could see.  I scoffed the chocolate Wispa bar, my reward for reaching the summit, and we just sat for a while and soaked up our surroundings.

Panormaic, from the Galtees (left) t the Comeraghs (right), with Slievenamon too.

Panoramic, from the Galtees (left) t the Comeraghs (right), with Slievenamon too.

Whilst I’d have loved to sit there for the rest of the day, there was the small matter of whether there was an available path down to where I’d hoped to descend to.  So, after packing everything up again, we headed off in a northerly direction to see what we could see.  A second cairn, slightly lower, was a few hundred yards away, so we made our way towards that.  We went around to the left of the lower cairn, and spotted what looked like it might be a path below…but an expanse of rocks stood in our way. There was nothing for it but to gingerly pick our way across the rocks to see if we could get to the path.  I think if you went to the right, around the lower cairn, you might pick up the path easier, as when we met the path it seemed to be coming from that side of the cairn.  So, there’s a lesson learned for me!

I say path, I’m being generous.  There was a hint of path, strewn with loose boulders, big rocks and drop offs that had my hips and knees waving white flags at me after a very little time.  Occasionally the rocks and boulders would thin out, and for a [very] short stretch you’d have a reasonably good path to follow, but soon enough the drop offs started again and the jumbled boulders reappeared.  I found I had to concentrate on exactly where I was putting my next foot down on each and every step I took, and whilst I didn’t need to stop to catch my breath I did make myself stop, purely to enjoy the views on the way down, because it simply wasn’t safe to descend on this ‘path’ and take in the breathtaking views at the same time.  We passed a couple of little cairns on the way down.  One was off the trail to the left of us, so we diverted for a look-see, and another was directly in the path ahead of us.  I have no idea what they represented, or why they were there, and would love to know more about them.  There was no sign of The Vee below me at all, so I kept checking my GPS tracker, along with the map, compass etc to make sure that I WAS going in the right direction, and not just heading randomly downhill to DoG knows where, but soon enough we came over a rise, and there was the familiar Vee bend below us…a long way below us!

My mother had sent me a text to inform me that it had taken her approximately 20 minutes to walk to the car park from the apex of the bend at The Vee.  Given that this descent was taking more out of me than I had anticipated, and not fancying a 20 minute road slog with complaining hips and knees, after balancing on these rocks and boulders all the way down off the summit, I sent a text back suggesting that I was just coming down the slope above The Vee, in case mum fancied driving up to watch me come down…and 10 minutes later I was delighted (and relieved) to see a familiar campervan pull into the lay-by below.

At one point I felt my ankle go over on a rock that moved underfoot.  I lost my balance, and instinctively grabbed on to a thick clump of heather beside me as I fell. Lying there, I couldn’t move as Dolly’s lead had wrapped itself around me, so I wriggled my ankle to determine that it wasn’t broken, and then unclipped Dolly’s lead so that I could get myself upright again.  Thankfully the heather clump (and Dolly’s lead) had stopped me from falling off a drop-off…and THAT is one of the main reasons why I’m always hesitant to go hill walking on my own.  I stood up, relieved that my ankle wasn’t hurting at all, but feeling a strange and disconcerting ring of pain all around the top of my thigh.  The thought flashed across my mind that I might have broken my femur, but logic took over and I figured I wouldn’t be standing up on a broken femur!  My thigh hurt for a while afterwards, like a tight band of metal clamped around the top, but after a bit the pain dissipated.  I do have a smashing bruise there now, so I guess I just twanged it hard when I fell.

Seeing the Vee coming closer, and Grubb’s Monument coming into view, made the relentless loose rocks and unstable footing more bearable, and soon enough I was at the top of the steps beside Grubb’s Monument, with only a short bit of descent left before I arrived at the road.  Hallelujah!

On reaching the road I must have looked an odd sight.  For the first dozen steps or so on the tarmac my legs were so wobbly I must have looked drunk!  Mum was parked in the lower lay-by, and there was a cut-through down to the lower section, but I just couldn’t face another rocky slope, so I stayed on the road and walked around the hairpin bend, my legs soon started to cooperate on the flat, smooth surface again.

Mum greeted us with a big hug, a mug of water and a bowl of water, and to the bemusement of picnicking tourists parked nearby I dropped my trousers to check my legs for bruising.  We sat and I pointed out landmarks to mum, and told her my tales of the Sugarloaf, and then in a totally clichéd ending, we retired to Halley’s Bar in Clogheen for well-earned pint of Guinness!

Sláinte !

Sláinte !

Sugarloaf Hill, it was (mostly) a pleasure!  I’ll be back! And next time Knockmealdown, I’m coming for you too!