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!

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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!

A little deja vu in the Silvermines.

I recognised the car park as soon as we pulled into it.  I’d been there before.  I think we parked in almost the exact same spot too!

01 Welcome

The last time that both my parents had to come over to stay with us I had taken them on a scenic drive around the Silvermines and Keeper Hill.  We’d stopped off in Toomevara, and purchased the makings of a picnic, and then we’d headed up into the hills.  Driving of course, not walking!  We’d stopped at this same car park, facing the majestic Keeper Hill, and we’d scoffed our picnic lunch whilst plotting on the road map the places we’d like to visit next.
Back then, if you’d suggested to me to get out and go walking for a couple of hours…well, after I’d finished chewing my mouthful of sandwich (good manners cost nothing!) I’d have either laughed at you, or sworn at you, or quite possibly both (good manners out the window at such a preposterous suggestion!)…but this time I was itching to get out, to get my rucksack on and to get going.  Still, I did take a small moment to cherish the memory of a happy day spent here driving around these hills with my late father.

We set off down a gentle slope out of the car park and hesitated briefly at the first junction until we spotted the arrow marker we were meant to be following.  We continued heading downhill, past an area of trees apparently planted by the Irish American Cultural Institute, and memories of the never-ending ‘uphills’ kept trying to crowd to the forefront of my mind.  The stunning views of Keeper Hill, opening up in front of me, tried their hardest to distract, but I knew that at some point all this ‘downhill’ would inevitably lead to the trail heading uphill.  At a Y junction, continuing downhill did look tempting, but that trail would have taken us in completely the wrong direction and so we turned uphill.

Monty & Keeper Hill

Monty & Keeper Hill

We did stop fairly shortly after starting the ascent, but only (truly!) because I’m trying to get into the supposedly good habit of drinking water every mile.  I find if I don’t make a point of telling myself to drink water, I don’t drink any at all.  And then when my head starts banging, well its too late really.  That dehydration headache has set in, and it’s just not going to shift itself.

The first half of the ascent didn’t seem too bad.  I still stopped for breaks more than I wanted to, struggled with not being able to ‘keep going’.  However the views across to Keeper Hill were fabulous, and spotting a couple of ponies ‘fly grazing’ in the bushes on the slopes below us, meant that when we stopped I could pretend I was stopping to admire the view.  The husband isn’t gullible, but he humours me.  At one point, we came across a big puddle full of frog spawn and tadpoles.  Alas, we couldn’t investigate further as a couple with an unruly labrador came down the hill towards is.  Their labrador and Monty very quickly decided they didn’t want to be friends.  So it was easier to just pick Monty up, hold him out of reach and to carry on up the hill away from them.

Ponies 'Fly Grazing' on the mountain

Ponies ‘Fly Grazing’ on the mountain

We stopped for snacks at the end of the forest track, and contemplated the steep section of muddy path ahead of us.  Once again I found myself looking up at the summit of Keeper Hill and being more and more determined to get fit enough to get up there soon!  We also looked across from where we were to the Silvermine’s West Top & Far West Top.  I knew realistically that I wouldn’t be up to getting there today, but I did think a diversion up to the West Top looked tempting and that I’d give it some more thought whilst we did the next trail section…so perhaps all the struggling I’m doing on ascents isn’t messing with my head so much after all, for me to even contemplate something like that as an option?

Keeper Hill (Sliabh Coimeálta)

Keeper Hill (Sliabh Coimeálta)

However, after pushing on up a short but steep section of mud, out onto a good, hardpacked trail…I looked towards our return path home and realised that if we diverted up West Top I would never have the legs to also go up East Top on the return leg, and thus we’d never get home!  I don’t think even the mountain goat husband expected the home-bound route to be as steep as the next section was!  Two walkers were just coming down off East Top and heading off up to West Top, and they paused to ask how we’re getting on.  Between breaths I said all was good but I was struggling, to which he replied that if I’d got this far, up the trail we’d just walked, then I couldn’t be doing too badly!  I sincerely doubt he has a clue how much that comment perked me up!  It certainly helped me pick up and walk in the direction of what looked like a vertical path, knowing I would get up there, even if I did find I was stopping almost every 20 strides to whisper sweet nothings to my extremely angry Achilles tendons!

Far West Top

Far West Top

The photo really doesn’t do it justice, it was steep enough, that standing upright at some points I could reach forward (without leaning forward) and almost touch the path in front of me!  But I took it in short sections, stopped for leg breaks when I needed them, and I got up there…I was gasping for breath and swearing loudly, and internally I was fist pumping too. My celebrations were a little curbed by two other walkers having a picnic in the heather just off the trail.  We swiftly walked on.

Path up to West Top (the first two 'roller coaster' bits are just teasers, 'warm-ups' if you like!)

Path up to West Top
(the first two ‘roller coaster’ bits are just teasers, ‘warm-ups’ if you like!)

View from West Top across to Far West Top

View from West Top across to Far West Top

The easy way back to the car park would be to have followed the forestry track around to the left, but our trail markers pointed straight on…into a bog…and so, straight on, into the bog we went!  It had been fairly dry recently, I wouldn’t want to attempt this section of the trail after any significant rain.  Not only would it be highly unpleasant (hey, I grew up on the New Forest and I cut my walking and riding teeth on bogs, but this was just deep, wet, gloop!) but the amount of additional damage you’d do to the ground trying to pick the driest route through it would hardly make it worth the effort.

22 Boggy

We came out of the bog and onto a slightly overgrown firebreak.  It was a steep enough descent in sections, and the path got a bit rough in parts.  However, alternative routes through the undergrowth had been made by previous walkers, and a few wheel marks showed that mountain bikers must have been this way recently too.  I slipped at one point, and once again landed on my arse in a patch of wet mud (thank DoG for dry clothes back at the car!).  I’ve finally bought myself a pair of boots, but I’m still at the ‘wear them at home on carpets’ stage, until I decide that they do fit well and are comfy, even when my strange feet swell in their odd ways.  But trails like this are just beyond the limitations for my walking shoes, I need better grip on the slippy stuff, and my feet and ankles need better support on the rough stuff!

Firebreak

Firebreak

The firebreak eventually deposited us back on to the trail section, less than 300 metres from the car park.  Thankful to be back on level, firm track we picked up the pace back to the car.  I was smiling to myself  inside, because when we set out on this loop walk, I was mildly horrified that the last section back to the car would be uphill, and I remember thinking that was really unkind and would be hard work on tired legs.  But now, after the few steep sections we had just tackled, it barely felt like a slope at all…pah, call that a hill!

Dry trousers, dry socks, comfy crocs, and a cup of tea!  The perfect end to a great walk in a beautiful spot.

26 Dry clothes and tea

Plan B, better than Plan A – Part 1 of 2

Sometimes Plan B is better than Plan A ever would have been.  This just might have been one of those occasions.

After a really pleasant Saturday spent at Lough Boora Parklands, I definitely wanted to get more out of the long Easter weekend.  The engine part we needed for the camper van was still stuck in the UK, and so it was easy enough to convince the husband to come out for another day.

Perhaps Lough Boora left me feeling cocky, but driving home Saturday evening we discussed what we might do on Easter Monday, and we both decided that we’d like to go somewhere that was a little more testing.  A bit more of a challenge, but not so much that I was daunted at the prospect.

Arderin

Arderin was possibly a little ambitious, and I knew I wouldn’t manage to do it as quickly as many of the reviews claimed on the Mountain Views website.  I’ve had similar experiences with time-estimates for the summit of Lachtnafrankee when I went up there for a geocache a few years ago…20mins up and down from the parking lay-by… yeah, right!  However, Arderin was local, a county highpoint for both Offaly and Laois, and from Googling it every which way I could Arderin looked achievable as long as I told myself that it was OK to take my time.

And it probably would have been.  As we drove up through the forestry to the nearest parking spot, we both gasped with delight, upon driving around a corner and seeing a beautiful frozen waterfall ahead of us, twinkling in the morning light, filtering through the trees.  Of course I was so fixated by its beauty (the photo really DOESN’T do it justice!) that I didn’t consider just how cold it had to be, for a waterfall, in a forest, to be almost completely frozen…

Arderin 05

It was a balmy 7°C, with a light breeze, when we left home (less than 9 miles away).  Arriving in the car park, the car thermometer stated it was now –2°C, and getting out of the car we were met by a fairly strong, constant breeze, with a chill factor well into the minuses.  We layered up, we even layered Millie the dog up (I’d learnt my lesson on bringing middle-aged JRTs up mountains!) and then I went to suss out the path from the car park down to the gully…which was most conspicuous by its absence.  I could clearly see the path up to the summit from the other side of the gully below…but I couldn’t see any path from where I was in the car park, down to the gully.  (Further research online that evening showed me that there apparently is a reasonable path down, if we’d gone 100 yards up the road)

Now I understand that some scrambling is occasionally required, and that not everywhere has a flat path for access.  But at the moment I only have a pair of walking shoes.  They’re good ones; if I hadn’t bought them in a factory outlet, they might have been considered reasonably expensive ones (I googled them!), but they are still shoes and offer no ankle support.  One of the many lessons I learnt on the Devils Bit was that scrambling up and/or down rough ground needs ankle support, and that these walking shoes weren’t particularly suitable for that kind of jaunt.

I looked down the gully, at the lack of path, at my walking shoes and I started to have second thoughts.  Millie was looking miserable already and we hadn’t even left the car park.  My cheeks were almost numb with cold and the husband just had THAT LOOK about him.  All you ladies with long-suffering husbands, you’ll know exactly the LOOK I’m referring to!  This is meant to be fun, and this wasn’t going to be fun.  I really did want to ‘bag’ the summit of Arderin, but ultimately I wanted to enjoy the experience.  More importantly I wanted all of us to enjoy the experience.  But today, in these conditions, knowing that my meagre fitness level was going to make it hard work anyway, this wasn’t going to be fun.  I couldn’t see a fun element to this at all.

Misery Hill Is Closed

But I absolutely did not want to go home!  And the (former) Venture Scout in me always likes to be prepared, usually grossly over-prepared (you should see what I make the husband carry in his Lowe Alpine daypack – just in case!), and so I dragged out a few printouts of alternative walks that I’d hastily shoved in the glove box – and in the warm shelter of the car, we decided to form Plan B…

[to be continued…]