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!

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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!

The Midges of Monicknew

It all started out so well!

The internet has been teasing me with images of Monicknew Bridge and I’ve been keen to explore the area for a good while now.  The husband had a rare Monday off, so after a busy weekend for both of us, the Bocadh Lodge Loop seemed the perfect way to stretch the legs and wind down.

Bocadh Lodge Loop
Trail Start Point: Car Park
Length: 7km
Time: 2.5 hrs
Degree of Difficulty: Moderate
Metres Climb:160
OSI Map: No 54
Trail Way Marking: Red

Trail map

We parked the car, and started to change our my footwear and sort our stuff out…and then the midges arrived.

At this point the husband realised that his boots were most probably sitting in the hall at home, waiting to be put in the car! Fortunately he had a sturdy pair of walking shoes on, and we didn’t argue about who was responsible for loading HIS boots…much! Throwing everything I could grab into my rucksack, instead of carefully sorting through it, and double checking we had sufficient water and dog bowls for the hot, humid weather, I shouldered the pack and we headed off down to the bridge, anything to escape the clouds of midges that were biting us in places that midges had no business being in!

We did stop briefly on top of the bridge, to look down into the valley below…and then the midges arrived.

Walking by a forestry barrier on the far side of the bridge, the trail started to gently ascend up through the trees.  I was really pleased with how I was feeling.  Yes, it wasn’t steep, but it was uphill and I felt good.  I got into a good rhythm with both my stride and my breathing, and I was easily managing to keep going.
Not something I could have said 6 months ago!

I was dismayed to spy a fridge freezer lying in the undergrowth down to our left.  Presumably dumped by someone who clearly had no appreciation of the Leave No Trace principle.  What always confounds me when I come across mindless fly tipping like this is that after you’ve gone to all the effort of getting something like that into or onto a vehicle…why not drive it to a recycling centre?
We pondered the type of mindless person who thinks this was an appropriate way to dispose of their fridge freezer…and then the midges arrived.

My Runkeeper app came to life and announced that we had done a mile…and we were still steadily heading uphill.  A whole mile, all up hill…go me!  I said to the husband that if we saw a likely looking stopping point, we’d stop for a small breather, offer Dolly some water and water ourselves too.  It was a hot, humid day, and I was conscious of making sure that Dolly, hyperactive at the best of times, stayed properly hydrated.  She’d stopped to drink at a few springs, but although I knew it was only discoloured due to the peaty ground, I still didn’t think the water looked all that appetising!

Peaty spring water

We just about managed to get Dolly and ourselves watered…and then the midges arrived.

Setting off once more, still heading up hill.  We did pause to admire the incredible views back across the Slieve Blooms at a sharp switch back, but mindful of the midges, we didn’t pause for long!  At this point we’d joined up with the Slieve Bloom Way, and could follow the well-marked trail, relentlessly upwards and finally over the brow of the hill we’d been climbing since leaving the car park!  Whilst delighted with myself about how well I’d coped with the long pull uphill, I cannot tell you how nice it was to start going downhill at last!

14 - Still going up

Follow the arrows

Whilst enjoying the well-marked Slieve Bloom Way trails with their clearly marked arrow posts, do keep an eye out for this little marker though, it’s fairly well hidden and easy to miss!  It’s at a junction, but if you’re not necessarily expecting to turn off then it would be all too easy to go wrong here.

17 - Hidden arrow

It occurred to us at this point that we hadn’t met a single soul so far!  And then we remembered that it was Monday, instead on heading out on our usual weekend day.  Mental notes were made to remember this.  Weekends are obviously easier and more convenient, but some of the more popular locations can get a little busy.

Stopping at a location that afforded us both magnificent views, as well as somewhere to sit down in comfort, I unpacked the tea flask.  We enjoyed a cuppa and I was hunting through the rucksack for a few snacks I’d packed earlier…and then the midges arrived.

We headed off again, and soon arrived at the end of the forestry track.  We were greeted by a fancy looking metal ladder stile, with a red arrow direction marker on the other side.

Big strong stile

We crossed the stile and duly turned right as directed by the arrow, and then, sadly, the rest of this section became mostly guess-work.

There was no obvious path, and the long grass had clearly not been walked through recently.  This saddened me a little.  This had been a lovely loop walk, easy trails and tracks so far, and I wondered why it wasn’t used more often?  Maybe the rest of this loop walk would answer that for me!

Walking in a grassy area, between a wire fence to our right, and short trees to our left, we could only assume that we were still on the right path, going in the right direction.  As you might have guessed, the midges were absolutely plaguing us today.  This meant that stopping to get our bearings, work out where we were, and see on the map where we should be, wasn’t easy.  Literally, within seconds of stopping, the midges descended and made life hell.

A little further on we came across this forlorn looking arrow and presumed it was for our benefit.

24 - An arrow marker...sort of

Pushing on through the long grass, reminding myself to check ourselves and also Dolly for ticks at the end of the walk, we eventually were faced with a less fancy wooden step stile. into a field.

26 - Small flimsy stile

It was wobbly and rickety, and, all curviness aside, it didn’t feel safe at all stepping up on to it.  So, inspite of knowing better, we went over the fence to the side instead.  Sadly the barbed wire is starting to sag a little where others have clearly done the same in the past.  But I’m guessing that stile has been wobbly for a good while.

Bocadh Lodge

Bocadh Lodge

After crossing the stile fence we found ourselves stood in a field, facing what we guessed was the ruins of Bocadh Lodge.  I have tried, and failed, to find more information about Bocadh Lodge, which is a great shame.  It is named on the OSI maps, and I’d love to know more about the history of the place.  We would have explored the ruins a little, if only for the fact that we found ourselves stood in a field, with fresh looking cow pats in the grass, a dog on a lead, and absolutely no idea where we were meant to go next.  I stayed near the fence with Dolly, whilst the husband made a brief foray into the field to try to find an arrow marker…with no luck.  The ever-present midges were encouraging me to keep moving, walking in small circles, whilst keeping a wary eye out for any cattle.  The guide to the loop walk had mentioned crossing farm tracks, and leaving gates as you find them etc.  We knew from the trail map and the OSI map where we needed to get to, but we couldn’t see a way of getting there.  I spied a marker post near the lodge, and we went in that direction….only to find this:

Blank marker post

…which didn’t really help us very much!  The trail description had mentioned crossing farm tracks, but it didn’t mention going through fields?  We were starting to think we’d come the wrong way.  But I couldn’t see where or how we could have gone wrong since crossing the big green ladder stile.  whilst I had bemoaned the lack of arrows or clear path through the long grass, there really wasn’t anywhere we could have turned off.   So, conscious that we had a dog with us, and that there may be cattle somewhere in this field, we gingerly headed across the field.  Heading to the far side to find that the gap in the hedge, that we both agreed had looked a likely exit from our vantage point at the ruins, was very definitely fenced off.  We walked along the lower field perimeter looking for at the very least a gate that we knew the field must have, and finally we came across an open gap.

31 - Exit this way

It was only a short stretch across the field from the stile after all, but retracing our steps back to the stile, now knowing where the gate was, it still wasn’t easy to spot!  I don’t know if the blank marker post was a ‘work in progress’ or if the arrow marker had fallen off (we did have a quick look on the ground beneath it) but if whomever is responsible for maintaining this loop walk ever reads this blog, I heartily recommend they do some more work on their arrow markers!

Case in point being the very next set of direction arrows we found, which were way down past the gate, and would in no way have been visible from the field.  They were barely visible when you were stood beside them:

We cleared away some of the foliage hiding the direction arrows, for whomever may pass this way after us, but I fear it was a futile effort.  Our very next “which way now?” conundrum was less than 100 metres way.

Which way now?

Which way now?

Now I don’t particularly like to walk into farmyards out on walks, abandoned or otherwise, unless a direction marker clearly shows me that the trail goes that way.  Similarly, I don’t like going through chained up gates, into fields containing cattle (just out of shot to the left), unless an arrow clearly points that way!  Here we had neither, and the OSI map was telling us that to go back along the track we were on would take us quite a significant way in the wrong direction before it eventually met a road.  I especially don’t like going into a field of cattle, with no arrow to tell me that it’s OK to do so, whilst I’m out with a dog, albeit under close control on a lead.  We stood there and pondered our options for as long as we could stand the cloud of angry midges around our heads.  There was no way I was willingly going into that field with our dog, and my preference was to investigate the farm buildings.  However, the farm track we were on went through the gate and along the top hedge line of the field, so that seemed most likely.  The husband was about to head into the field, along the track to see if he could find any direction markers when the cattle suddenly became fascinated by the sound of a lawn mower starting up down the hill below them, and they gradually moved off, down the slope to investigate.  He headed off into the field and quickly came back to tell me that there was another green ladder stile at the other side of the field, and clearly the obvious route was through the gate.  He went ahead, so that if the cattle became bored with the lawn mower, and decided to check out our dog instead, I could let her go and the husband could call her across the field to him, hopefully from behind the safety of a fence, and away from me, so I could carry on across the field.  The cattle didn’t notice us until we were just ducking under the strand of electric wire at the far side of the field.  Yes, the metal ladder stile was just placed at the side of the field, but not attached to any fence?  And the only direction arrow we found was on the far side of the field, beyond the strip of electric fence.

It was an uneventful trip back to the car park from this point.  The track dropped us down to a road, and we walked along the road back to the car park.

A loop walk that had been really lovely for the first two-thirds, had become a frustrating and disappointing game of “which way now?“, and concluded with an uninspiring trudge along a winding, fast section of road.

I’m trying SO hard to reflect on how well I had felt on the looooong uphill pull, and the magnificent views that we enjoyed from the highest sections of the loop walk, but that disappointing last section just keeps popping up in my memory instead.

Monicknew is an area I do intend to return to, there’s so much more to explore, but I’ll choose my own route next time! 🙂

…and I won’t forget the midge-repellant next time either!

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