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.

Doggie Dos and Don’ts: Good Practice Advice

This popped up on my Twitter feed earlier today. There’s a lot of good information, and sensible advice, in this article from the British Mountaineering Council website, with regards to bringing your dog out walking with you, and it’s well worth a read:

Doggie dos and don’ts: good practice advice.

Whilst our laws regarding rights of way are a little different here in Ireland, ultimately if you’re taking your dogs walking with you wherever you are, you are 100% responsible for their behaviour at all times.

For the sake of a simple life, with no desire to be shouted at by angry landowners, Parks & Wildlife rangers or Coillte officers, I tend to just keep mine on their leads. When I’m walking the local lanes at home, I generally have 2 with me at any time, and want instant control whenever I hear an approaching vehicle. And when we’re out walking on the local hills, we tend to just take one with us at any one time, on a long flexi-lead.  Don’t get me wrong, they get regular of off-lead exercise, but its on well-fenced, private land, next to our cottage, with the landowner’s permission, and using common sense in choosing which field to let them off in, when the livestock are turned out.  We’re surrounded by ewes and lambs at the moment, which is utterly adorable, but it’s making off-lead exercise sessions a bit challenging.

On very rare occasions, if the location allows and the geography suits, I may let Millie off the lead whilst out walking. She’s a ‘home-bird’, and never goes very far from us if she’s on her own (if she’s running loose with Monty, that’s a whole different story!). She likes to keep us in sight at all times, thus in trees and woodlands and other suited locations this is perfect for allowing her an off-lead mooch. At worst she might flush a bird or a squirrel, but she can’t fly or climb trees, so the ‘chase’ is generally over within a few yards. I also let Dee accompany us off-lead during a recent ramble around Knockbarron Woods. Her head and heart might be willing to seek out wildlife, but after about 20 metres, her creaky old joints and her ageing physiology catch up with her all too quickly, and she just gives up…demonstrated perfectly when a doe crossed the path in front of us, and after a few animated strides in the direction of the deer, Dee gave the canine version of a shrug, and slowed to a walk before turning back to us.

I also now make a point of carrying a spare slip-lead in my pocket or day pack, it’s a short section of rope, with a metal ring on one-end, weighs almost nothing, and takes up no space at all…the times when a good lead or collar breaks, are generally the times when you need a lead!  The last time I had a lead snap, I was ill-prepared, with my least-reliable dog, and a couple of miles from home.  I felt like I was stooping for days after walking the rest of the way bent over, with the my finger snagged through the collar.  I’ve also used my spare lead in the past to collect up a straying dog we’ve come across on more than one occasion, to bring it to safety, and/or return it to its owner.

Dolly - Monicknew

When this photo was taken, we were out in the middle of nowhere, with no one around.  Five minutes later a small group of deer crossed the track in front of us.  If Dolly had been off her lead, I think I could well still be out searching for her now… perhaps a slight exaggeration, but she’s a fast dog, with incredible stamina, who can can cover a lot of ground extremely quickly, and can be a good distance away from you in no time at all.  I would estimate that her recall is 95%, but that 5% of selective deafness could get her into a lot of trouble, very quickly, and it’s just not worth the risk to her, or indeed to whatever has caught her attention.

I love having our dogs accompany us on our walks, it wouldn’t be the same without them…and with a bit of common sense and respect for our surroundings, we aim for happy trails and happy tails 😉

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Brittas Loop – Clonaslee

Stunning autumnal colours welcomed us as we parked up at the trailhead in Clonaslee village, and set off on the Brittas Forest Loop.  With this riot of colour all around us I knew this particular walk was going to be lovely, and it didn’t disappoint.

The Clodiagh River kept us company for the first part of the walk, as we passed through gates and crossed stiles…so many stiles!  Even if there were no hills to speak of on this route at all, the many, many stiles gave my legs a great workout!  I don’t know the full reason behind why all these stiles are here, but I’m guessing that numerous fields adjacent to the route all have access to the river for watering their livestock, so each field had a thin strip of land running down to the river, bordered on both sides by fencing, with stiles to give access to the footpath.

We came across some strange stone-built structures, and guessed that these were the ruins of a bridge, a weir and a pump house that had previously served Brittas House (also known as Brittas Castle), as suggested on the Irish Trails website.  I am always fascinated by old structures like this, and love to explore them, trying to imagine how it might have looked when it was all in full working order.

Not far after the ruins the trail curves away from the river and starts to take you up a hill.  At the top of the hill was the (almost) obligatory gate and stile, but my legs were relieved to see that the gate was not padlocked and opened easily, bringing us out onto a farm track.  We stopped for brief chats with a local farmer, busy planting a new hedge, and then for more chats a little further along with a herd of nosey cattle, waiting near the gate for their cake rations.  It was a good place to stop for a drink of water, with pleasant views down the hill, across the fields, to the village of Clonaslee.

We crossed a quiet country lane, onto a small forest path, and continued our way through mature woodland, with some fabulous sections of old stone wall.  Presumably the original estate boundary for the nearby, and now derelict, Brittas House.  We got a little confused when we came to Brittas Lake, I think a marker arrow has dropped off a tree perhaps?  However, we decided to do a loop of this pretty little lake anyway, and we soon found our way back onto the correct path after just a little head scratching.  According to this website, Brittas Lake – which has recently been restored – was originally constructed as a reservoir for the house. Its banks are stone lined and water was pumped from the Clodiagh River.

The forest path soon gave way to a forestry road.  We did keep our eyes open for an ancient well, as indicated by the trail map on the Coillte website, but all we found that might possibly have been it was what looked like a small, overgrown ditch with a fence around it?  If this was indeed the site of an ancient well site, it may benefit from a spot of maintenance.  I’m often a little saddened when these small, but historical, sites become forgotten.

Millie’s ears pricked up at the sound barking dogs nearby and we soon found ourselves walking along a pleasant grassy ride, behind houses.  From this we supposed that we must be drawing close to Clonaslee again.  A large set of iron gates loomed before us, and I started to wonder if we’d missed another arrow marker, whilst calculating in my mind how far we might have to back-track if the gates were locked.  The huge gates were indeed locked, but there was a small slipway to one side to allow pedestrian access, phew!  We found ourselves in the middle of Clonaslee and a local resident, coming out of her house near the gates, asked us if we were lost.  I thanked her, and assured her that we were fine.   Nevertheless, that did get me wondering if we should have exited the trail through these gates at all?  It seems that we were on the correct track, according to the majority of trail descriptions and maps for this loopwalk, and that this gate was on the intended route.  However one website indicates that we should have turned left at a small wooden gate (so small/hidden that we obviously missed it and any associated arrow marker that may or may not have been there?) before we reached the houses, and instead passed by the Coillte regional offices before turning right on the public footpath/pavement by the main road.

Reminding myself to double-check the route once we got home, we carried on through the village of Clonaslee, and turned right by the bridge to bring us back up the lane alongside the Clodiagh River to the trailhead parking area.

Here are the rest of my photos…

Throughout the walk we came across numerous different types of fungi.  I only wish I knew more about identifying mushrooms and toadstools etc.  So don’t ask me what they are, but here are a selection of the best pics…and if you think you know what any of them are, please do comment 🙂

According to various online sources, Brittas House went on fire in 1942 and, despite the best efforts of the Tullamore Fire Brigade, it was almost completely destroyed.  Just for fun, here is a little bit of local history I found online regarding the demise of Brittas House, which may or may not be true…

Brittas House was empty, a caretaker lived nearby. Local lore has it that the fire was arson, started by [the] same caretaker because he was stealing the valuables inside and selling them off. The women, Alice Maud and Kathleen, [the owner’s at that time] both lived in England at that time. The story goes that one of them decided to move back to Brittas, so the caretaker set fire to the house, it burned for two days.

November 2013

Maeve’s grave

I’ve been promising to bring Mum up to Sligo for years, and each time she has stayed with us we’ve never found the time to do it!  This time we had 2 weeks, and I promised, if the weather was good, we would head off camping for a few days, pointing our camper vans in the direction of Sligo! Glorious weather ensured we had a fabulous 4 days of camping, staying for the first few nights on a fabulous adults-only site next to Lough Arrow in Co. Sligo, and finishing off for our final night in an idyllic spot near Cliffden, in Co. Clare.

The husband and I have camped a few times in Sligo, in tents and on one occasion, a trailer tent (both forerunners to our beloved camper van) and one of the campsites we’ve used in the past was located at the foot of Knocknarea.  Knockarea is distinctive and is an easily spotted landmark.

English: Sligo Airport runway with Knocknarea ...

English: Sligo Airport runway with Knocknarea mountain in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It stands in isolation, dominating the landscape on the coast just south-west of Sligo town. With Queen Maeve‘s cairn in the centre of the relatively flat summit, it is very distinctive, and can be seen for miles.   The cairn is believed to be the resting place of the legendary Queen Maeve of Connacht.  Although unexcavated, it is believed to be a neolithic passage tomb.

We considered walking up Knocknarea several years ago, back when I didn’t realise how ill I was.   We’d planned to do ,it and I was really looking forward to it.  We stood in the car park that day, and I looked up the path, and onwards up to the summit, and I just realised that I couldn’t do it, that it wasn’t going to happen….and I have always regretted that, and felt that I should have at least tried.
However, having now done it, and with the benefit of hindsight, I’m really glad we didn’t try it that day.  I would never have got up there.  And I would have felt far worse giving up, and turning back halfway, if I’d even got as far as halfway.  I know many people would disagree with me here, and claim that I should have tried it, and that perhaps I was more of a failure for not giving it a go at all.  But we drove away that day, knowing that we would be back, and that I would go up there, and that I would visit with Queen Maeve, but not until I knew I was realistically capable of doing so.

And this time I knew I was in a much better place, both in my head, and with my health…and whilst I hesitate to call myself fit, I knew I had it in me to get up there.

We hadn’t factored in that it would be the hottest day of the year so far.  So as we busied ourselves in the car park, putting our boots on and rubbing on the sun cream, we also raided all the camper van’s cupboards for water receptacles.  I volunteered to play pack-pony, so we loaded up my rucksack with water bottles, more sunscreen.  I felt a little foolish, heading off on what would seem to be a relatively short hike, with such a full rucksack.  We spotted a few people carrying nothing with them at all, but we used nearly 8 litres of water between the three of us, and our three dogs, so those people who went up there that day, with no water all…well I just don’t know how they did it?  I would have been in serious trouble, going up to that summit, in all that heat, with no water to drink.  And heading up there with the dogs, and no water to give them, would have been unforgivable.

Path out of car park

The first section of path is a good trackway.  Some sections are a little uneven and require a bit of concentration on where your feet are going, but certainly in dry weather, it was easy enough.  Just a long, gentle pull up hill.  We stopped by some farm buildings, put the dogs into as much shade as we could find, and gave them a drink.   Once up through the kissing gate, there is no longer any decent track, and you’re going up grassland slopes steep in some sections, with a few uneven rocky sections too.  We stopped for a while at the last bit of shade that we could see – a small copse of thorn trees, trying their best to hold on to the side of the hill.  One lady, tried to divert her path and join us in the shade, but her husband barked at her to keep moving, telling her that if she stopped she’d seize up (??).  She was puce in colour, and sweating profusely (to be expected in this weather, up this hill), and I think she would have gladly stopped in the shade for a short while. to catch her breath and get a drink of water.  She gave us an embarrassed look, shrugged her shoulders, dropped her head and pressed on.  She was even more embarrassed the next time we saw her.  More on that later!

Dog watering

Satisfied that the dogs were doing OK, that they were drinking plenty and not over-heating, and conscious that there would be no more shade for them until we were passing these trees again on our way down, we pressed on.  This next section was the steepest bit.  I decided to scramble up some rocks, instead of taking the slightly longer zig-zag route up the grassland slope to the right.  At the top of the rocks a big hare popped up out of the long grass to our left.  He (or she) didn’t seem fazed by us at all, and just sat watching us for a while before lazily loping (?) off away from us.  Although they were all on their leads, it was fortunate that NONE of the dogs spotted him, I can just imagine their reactions if they had.  Magical to be that close to a hare though, I only wish I’d got the camera sorted in time…sorry!

First glimpse of Benbulben

First glimpse of Benbulben

Views across to the Ox Mountains

Views across to the Ox Mountains
The hare was just this side of the stone wall!

I was starting to lose the will to live on this steep section.  The husband was striding on ahead, doing his best mountain goat impression.  Even my mum was making it look easy, or at least it seemed.  But my legs were getting heavier and heavier.  A lady coming down the hill assured me it wasn’t far, and that it was well worth the effort.  She wasn’t wrong, on both counts.

Literally just over the next rise, the path flattened out to a more gentle slope, and there in front of us was Queen Maeve’ cairn.  The weather today, apart from the heat, could not have been better.  The views were 360° and there was not a cloud in the sky! We did the compulsory posing in front of the cairn.

Me & Meave

Me & Meave

It was just about midday, and climbing to the summit of Knocknarea on a very hot day, over 12-noon, when the sun is at its highest, was possibly not the cleverest idea.  However, a light breeze certainly helped keep us all, dogs included, a little cooler, and allowed us to spend a little longer exploring the summit than we might otherwise have done.

We explored a deconstructed passage tomb nearby.  Apparently the smaller tombs on the summit were severely damaged by excavations in the 19th century.

Deconstructed Passage Tomb, near Maeve's cairn.

Deconstructed Passage Tomb, near Maeve’s cairn.

Passage Tomb

I wanted to head off on one of the summit paths, to see where it went, but my tired legs warned me not to over do it.  The husband offered to go on and see if it was worth doing, and that he was call us on….but he came back, chuckling!  He’d found the ‘barking’ man from earlier, and his highly embarrassed wife.  The wife was stood, fully clothed, enjoying the view.  The man was also enjoying the view, whilst stark naked!  I have no problem with naturists, assuming that was his reason (?), if anything I envy their courage in taking it all off.  However, he was only barely (NO pun intended!) off the path, and I’m glad we didn’t have any kids with us.  It seems, after a quick Google, that technically he was breaking the law, but we were amused, rather than offended, so he certainly wasn’t going to be reported by us, each to their own and all that.    Once his wife spotted that my husband had noticed them, she was utterly mortified!

Starting the descent...

Starting the descent…

Heading back

Heading down .  The loose surface required careful concentration, particularly on some of the steeper sections .  Instead of going down the rocks I’d scrambled up, I chose the zig-zag option, over the grass slopes.  Longer, but least likely to turn an ankle or twist a knee.  Once through the kissing gate we were back on the surfaced path, and all too soon back in the car park.  The dogs cooled off in the shade underneath the camper van, while we stripped off boots, socks and discretely changed sweaty clothes for fresh tops.

English: Path down from Maeve's Grave. The wel...

English: Path down from Maeve’s Grave. The well worn path of visitors climbing Knocknarea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of us was celebrating a birthday today, so we decided we’d earned a good pub lunch, and headed off to find a good pub.  Just to demonstrate how hot it was, as we drove along, the road surface was glistening where it was melting.

I remember reading somewhere that Queen Maeve is buried in an upright, standing position, which is one explanation for the height and size of her cairn.  I cannot remember which way she is purported to face, out across the Atlantic, or back across her Kingdom, presumably the latter, but whichever way she is looking, she is assured of a breath-taking view…lucky girl!  I am so delighted I finally got up there, after our regretful previous visit, and I am really looking forward to doing it again on a future trip to Sligo.

…I’ve always promised to bring Mum up to the Giant’s Causeway too, so I guess we’re going there next time!

PS – It wasn’t until preparing for our next walk, and going through my rucksack, that I realised that we had lost my collapsible dog water bowl.  Similar to this Quencher from Ruffwear:
So incredibly convenient for folding up and packing away in a rucksack, taking up very little space.I’m 99.9% sure it was underneath the camper van, in the shade, when we drove off.  The promise of a pub lunch and a pint of iced lemonade making me forego my usual ‘walk round; before we leave.  It is highly unlikely it will be returned, and we don’t expect it to be, so I only hope it was found by a dog walker, who knew what is was and who is making good use of it to keep their own dog(s) hydrated on long walks.

PPS – Apologies for the ‘hazy’ quality of the photos, all my pics of that weekend had a similar haze.  I think unbeknownst to me, there was some suncream spilled on the lens.