The Stoney Man – Ridge of Capard

Last Sunday was a simply beautiful day, and whilst driving back down the M7 from Kildare the day before the Slieve Blooms had been calling my name.  The Ridge of Capard looked glorious under the sun on that bright Saturday afternoon, and I knew that I’d much rather be up there, than down here, driving on the motorway.  Plans were then made, that if Sunday morning was even half as sunny as Saturday had been, we would head up to the Ridge of Capard, and pay a visit to The Stoney Man.

Situated just below the summit of Clarnahinch Mountain, some claim that The Stoney Man is the finest viewing point in the centre of Ireland, and it is often asserted that on a clear day you can see at least six counties from there.  My mother and I had made a half-hearted attempt to visit the Stoney Man previously, but time constraints on that occasion meant we had to turn back and head home that time, without reaching our goal.

As you might expect on such a sunny day, the car park was almost full when we arrived, and the steps up to the nearby viewing platform were full of families, making the most of the beautiful day to visit this popular local beauty spot.  Having been up to the viewing platform a few times, we instead took the boardwalk path off to right, out of the car park, and soon spotted our desired destination for today’s walk, The Stoney Man, way off in the distance.  Dolly had a ball leaping on and off the boardwalk, to investigate the heather and bog holes.  She miss-judged one of the bog holes at one point and, to her surprise, got much more soggy than she expected.

Dolly on boardwalkWe followed the boardwalk until it met up with the Slieve Bloom Way, where we then left the looped trails and joined Slieve Bloom Way to begin picking our way through the firmer sections of heather and bog, from marker post to marker post.  On reaching the spot where my mother and I had  been compelled to turn around on an earlier visit I was relieved to see that some bog bridges had been installed across some of the wetter, deeper sections of bog.  Given the recent dry weather and low rainfall I was surprised at how wet the ground was up there.

At a couple of different points we spotted stone piles off to our left.  I’ve come across smaller ones in various places where we’ve walked, and they always remind me of Inukshuks.  We made a small divert to visit one of them, we nicknamed this one “The Stoney Boy”.  Having seen, from a distance, another walker take a stone from the pile, presumably as a souvenir, we looked for a suitable stone to add to it instead.  The walker had walked past us, on his way back to the car park. with his rock in hand, and I’m never sure whether to say anything in these situations?

Whilst researching for info on The Stoney Man I came across this: [link to original article]

As a one-time resident of the Slieve Bloom Mountains I was always intrigued by the presence of quasi-orderly heaps of stones at various points on the mountains, the most prominent being ‘The Stoney Man’ near Capard.
Carter explains that it was customary for travellers in the area to leave a stone, the symbol of self, as one passed certain points and he references an ancient Irish tradition which tells us that five stones constitute a cairn since they represent the five old kingdoms of Ireland.

It seems that travellers in this area have been doing this for generations, and we unwittingly continued the custom by add our own ‘Symbol of Self’.  That makes me smile.

The boggy ground briefly gave way to these curious rippled rocks, and we spent a while pondering on how they might have been formed.  The Slieve Bloom mountains are claimed to be the oldest mountains in Europe, and it is understood that their height has been substantially reduced over time, by weathering, from 3,700m to 527m.  We came up with several crazy theories on these ripples, which could be totally wrong (most likely), or miraculously correct (unlikely), but neither of us are geologists, so I think there’s little point in sharing our ideas.

Rippled Rocks

Rippled Rocks

Soon enough we were back on boggy ground, but the Slieve Bloom Way trail developers had thoughtfully installed a narrow section boardwalk to take us over the worst of it, and to bring us almost all of the way up to The Stoney Man.

Nearly there...

Nearly there…

Oh boy, what a spot, what a view!  Even on a hazy day, you felt you could see the whole of Ireland, let alone the alleged six counties. Whilst snacking on our snacks and supping on our tea, we sat there…soaking up the sun and soaking up the views.  I had wanted to visit the Stoney Man for a long time, and he hadn’t let me down with his promises.  It had taken us just under an hour to get here, but we had done our fair share of dawdling and diverting to look at interesting ‘stuff’ so I’m sure it won’t take that long, next time!  It was a relatively easy hike to a spot that delivered breathtaking views, and I can see us visiting this place often in the future.

Adjacent to The Stoney Man is this deep hollow area, which previous visitors have sadly used as a rubbish bin for their fruit peel, tea bags and treat wrappers, so before we left this beautiful spot we picked up as much as we could find to bring back with us.  Leaving litter like this really does spoil the area for others, and it is potentially dangerous for wildlife. To paraphrase Leave No Trace – Ireland; if you brought it out with you, take it back with you, please!

Stoney HollowOne of the things that caused much of our dawdling on the way up was my delight at finding so much frogspawn.  It was almost literally everywhere!  If anyone is planning on dong this section of the Slieve Bloom Way in the near future, please do watch where you step, because several lady frogs have got a little confused and deposited their spawn in the middle of the path.  It may have looked like the perfect tadpole nursery when they laid them, but the tadpoles might disagree when they hatch out!

I think the last time we got out for a decent walk was in January, with crappy weather and my annoying bad hip interfering with our free time in the interim period.  So it felt mighty good to get back out on the Slieve Blooms again.  The weather was perfect, I felt good, my legs felt strong, and my hip remained pain-free. Long may it continue!

Good disappointment!

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

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

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

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

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

Ann Clear's cottage plaque

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

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

Magic floating tree

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

Tea with a view

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

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

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

Lost camera on the Ridge of Capard

I’ve had a rip-roaring, relatives-visiting, campervan-driving, wedding-attending, electric-picnic-festival-going, twisted-knee-leg-elevating, wedding-anniversary-celebrating, routine-hospital-appointment-attending couple of weeks and it has been completely hectic!  But now I’m finally able to draw breath, turn my computer on & catch up on work! As soon as I’ve gone through the 1,200 emails waiting in my inbox, I hope to get back into my normal routine!
(Yes, I twisted my knee at the wedding, after tripping off a curb stone, whilst wearing stupid heels, at the church, landing on my knee, with my leg twisted back up under me, in a very undignified manner…but, NO, I was stone cold sober at the time, I promise!)

But in the meantime, I came across an email from Gerry Walsh earlier, asking me to spread the word regarding his lost camera. He lost it last Saturday (31st August) and I understand the camera has his contact details in a readme file on the memory card.

So if you are heading up to the Ridge of Capard any time soon please keep an eye open!  And please share Gerry’s blog post, link below, anywhere you that feel might help in finding and returning his camera.

Lost camera on the Ridge of Capard

Goal setting

Today I did a short walk along the lanes, with two of our older dogs.  It wasn’t a complete amble, but I wasn’t really pushing myself for a mins/mile pace either.  I hadn’t really done much for the past four days, for various reasons.  I wasn’t home for three of them, and then yesterday, doing something really simple, I felt a sudden spasm in my back.  I could barely stand up straight, and taking a full breath was agony.  The spasm was in my upper back, level with my chest.  With painkillers, duvet and a hot water bottle pressed against the sore part of my back, I spent the afternoon on the sofa, watching crappy films, and feeling guilty that I wasn’t out there walking, or on the computer working.  My back felt better this morning, not back to normal, but more available movement and less pain.  I hesitated whether to walk at all this afternoon, but I felt a hundred times better afterwards, and my back felt more supple, so I guess it was the right decision. Sometimes I despair that I’m wasting my efforts, that I’m never going to get really fit, that I’m never going to do the ascents & distances I aspire to.  Then I just have to look back at how immobile I was when I started, how gasping along a mile on good ground in 40 minutes felt like a major achievement, and then I can appreciate how far I’ve come.  I do feel on the whole I am making some progress and feeling more confident about trying longer distances each time we head out.

Up until now I’ve just been working on getting out walking, both on the lanes locally during the week, and also out exploring the all the local walking havens that have been almost on my doorstep all these years.  However, the idea of tackling a proper long-distance route keeps popping up, and subconsciously I keep finding myself travelling over to the ‘waymarked trails’ sections of various Irish walking websites, instead of keeping myself firmly on the loop walks pages…on a recent trip to the Ridge of Capard, I was delighted to stray on to the Slieve Bloom Way for a while.  Turning back and heading home, given our time restraints that evening, was the sensible thing to do, but I dearly wanted to just keep going, to carry on from finger-post to finger-post, and just not stop.  A new and refreshing outlook on my walking, and a notion I am happy to welcome into my head space!

National_Waymarked_Trail_Waymarker_(Ireland)

Waymarking sign, comprising an image of a walking man and a directional arrow in yellow, used in Ireland to denote a National Waymarked Trail.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I primarily talked to myself about doing a decent day walk, confidently planning a full days walking for some mythical future date, and initially looked at the Offaly Way, even though it is 38km in length and more importantly graded ‘easy’ – the perfect introduction to the world of long-distance hiking.  Its local enough that I figured we could split it into 2 days, and drive home each night, or throw everything into the camper van and make a weekend away out of it.  However, I then found a review somewhere hinted that at least half of it was road work, and I faltered a little there, as I think I would find 17km or so on roads fairly boring?  I should add, that the roads are local roads, and I’d know them well from driving them fairly regularly – so it’s not as if the road routes are showing me new sights etc – does that make sense?  I’d probably be happy to do all that road work in an area I’d not visited before. (But I do find I struggle on roads at the best of times, with shin pain and sore ankles after a mile or two, regardless of my footwear).  I should also add that the Slieve Bloom website has stated that no dogs are allowed on the Offaly Way, which is an additional black mark against it in my book.

With all that in mind, I moved on from the ambitious day hike goal.  I incorporated the camper van firmly into the planning process and I’m now tentatively looking at a good 3/4-day hike, or just a few days walking in another part of the country.  Next Spring or Summer looks like a great target to aim for.  I’m not generally a weather wimp, but the thoughts of dealing with wet, mucky gear & equipment, along with wet, cold us, in a small VW camper, over several days, in the winter, is not something I could honestly or easily look forward to.

Potential places and routes on the list so far include the Kerry Camino, the Great western Greenway and the Beara Way

I feel the Slieve Bloom Way itself is more than worthy of a mention in this planning phase too!  It feels less adventurous, mainly because it’s on my doorstep, and an ‘adventure’ is something you do or have somewhere else isn’t it?  But that is a silly way to look at it.  It is a well-respected 60km waymarked circuit over, across and around the Slieve Bloom Mountains, typically done over 4 days, and is a perfectly acceptable long-distance trail to add to the list of potential goals.  The fact that it is local is totally irrelevant.

Obviously 3/4 consecutive days of long walks are a far cry from what I’m doing at the moment – so this is a goal.  But if I don’t set myself a goal, and a date to work towards, then I fear I will just find a rut I’m comfortable with and stay in it. For example, I’m quite happy with 5-10km ‘moderate’ trails at the moment.  They are hard enough that I’m finding them a challenge.  It is satisfying to return to the car park, in one piece and I feel that I’ve achieved something.  It would be all too easy to just stay there, and not consider longer, harder trails when planning our outings.

Galtymore from the Black Road ascending Galtybeg

Galtymore from the Black Road ascending Galtybeg
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are hoping/planning to do the Slieve Bloom way over 4/5 weekends this autumn, doing a section in a day, each weekend, and I think this will be great for me to see how I cope mentally and physically with the longer distances on a one-day hike.  I also drove past the Galtees on the M8 the other day, and caught an enticing glimpse of Galtymore amongst the low clouds – which has inspired me to try at least one silly ascent this coming winter, and take myself completely out of my ‘Moderate trail’ comfort zone.

Do you have any specific walking/hiking plans or goals for this coming winter or next summer?