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!

Rock of Loyer Loop, Moneygall

12th October 2014

With my Hiking-Wagen still having work done, and the husband busy at work over the weekend, I wanted to find a short, local walk  so that we could grab a couple of hours out in the fresh air.  At just 4.6km in length, the new Rock of Loyer Loop walk in Moneygall ticked both those boxes.

I packed a small backpack, to carry some waterproofs as the weather was undecided about whether it wanted to rain on us or not, and in anticipation of the picnic area mentioned on the trail description, I threw in a small flask of coffee and some treats too.

The start of the walk is located adjacent to a children’s playground, and there’s a tarmacced car park there too.  A mapboard with details of the loop walk is positioned close-by on a grassy area, and across the road a small green sign on a wall indicates the direction you start off in.

Going down the lane towards the main street you can’t help but notice the proud local links to Barack Obama – a patriotically painted cottage is visible from the car park.

Patriotic Cottage - Moneygall, Co. Offaly ©The Curvy Hiker

Patriotic Cottage – Moneygall, Co. Offaly
©The Curvy Hiker

Once on main street the first business you pass is the Obama Cafe (sadly closed on our visit), and the now famous Hayes bar, where the US President poured and enjoyed a pint of Guinness in the village previously inhabited by his ancestors.

President Barack Obama talks with pub-goers as...

President Barack Obama talks with pub-goers as First Lady Michelle Obama draws a pint at Ollie Hayes pub in Moneygall, Ireland, May 23, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But history and genealogy aside, the trail takes you up main street before taking you to the right, opposite the village post office.  Keep a good eye out for the direction markers, we had printed a route map from the internet, so we knew we had to turn right, but the marker at this junction was partially hidden by thick cabling attached to the post that it’s on, and could be easy to miss!

The trail then takes you up the lane, past the church and some residential houses, and also a tumble-down abandoned cottage which I couldn’t resist checking out.

After around half a mile the signs point you off the lane and over a tall metal stile.  A “No Dogs” sign marks the point where you leave the public roads and enter on to farmland.  We had left all our dogs at home, and I will confess that I was curious to see why they might be so strict on the ‘No Dogs’ thing, but on the other side of the stile was a very narrow path bordered by barbed wire on one side, and an electric fence on the other, separating us from the cattle that were grazing peacefully in the field.  The electric fence was live – no I didn’t personally check it, but I could hear the fenceline ticking, indicating that a current was passing along it.

The trail takes you gently uphill, through fields with grazing cattle and sheep (hence the “No Dogs” signs), on clearly marked paths, and the occasional stile.  Typically we had chosen a dull, grey day for our walk, but the views down across Moneygall were lovely, and on a bright, clear day I can easily imagine that the views across the landscape would be fabulous! At one point the trail creators have thoughtfully placed a simple wooden bench; a great place to rest awhile and take in the views.

One more field to walk up through and then the trail brings you downhill, along the edge of a forest, to meet up with a gravelled farm track, via a sturdy kissing gate.  The loop arrows point you the left here, however if you need to cut the walk short for whatever reason, turning right here will take you back down into Moneygall village.  We were looking forward to checking out the picnic area, so we turned left and headed up hill.

On our way up to the picnic area we came across a ewe lamb stuck in some brambles.  Upon further investigation, she wasn’t very stuck at all, but obviously in her head she was stuck fast, and looking very miserable.  Her mother was a little way away, bleating her head off calling for her lamb.  I was able to lean over the fence and check the lamb over for any obvious injuries, but other than feeling a little cold, and a bit underweight, she seemed physically ok.  I disentangled her from the few small brambles caught in her fleece, then turned her and encouraged her to walk out into the field.  I don’t know how long she had been stuck for, but she initially seemed fairly disorientated, and the slowly began to realise that she was free again.  We carried on our way, knowing that we would be passing back this way on the return leg of the trail, and so we could check her again on our way back.

Not nearly as tangled as she thought she was...

Not nearly as tangled as she thought she was…

At the end of the track we did find the picnic area, but we were more than a little dismayed to see that it was completely fenced off with yet more electric fencing.  I wonder if the picnic area is only accessible/available during the summer months?  If so, it might be a nice gesture if the trail developers would mention it as such.  I can’t imagine the landowner wanted walkers unclipping it to gain access to the field and the picnic area, otherwise they might have made it a little more walker-friendly, so we left the fencing alone, and instead turned to trudge back down the track retracing our steps all the way back to the kissing gate where we’d first joined the track…with our untouched flask of coffee and ‘picnic snacks’.  I resisted the urge to “Hurumphf!!” as we did so.

On the plus side, the views across to the Devil’s Bit, even on a dull, grey day, was fantastic, so I can’t wait to see how the views would be on a bright, clear day…hopefully on a day where we are welcome to access the picnic area!
We also checked back in on our woolly friend on our way back past and were delighted to see her reunited with a happier looking mum!  We bumped into the sheep farmer on our way back down, and let him know about the lamb further up the hill.  She had still seemed a little dopey to me, and I was happier to head home knowing that the farmer would be checking on her.
The wind had picked up, and added to the fact that I was a little bit grumpy at not being able to access the promised picnic area, we mostly plodded back down the track with our heads down and our collars and neck warmers pulled up to our ears, but I did look up at one point to spot a ring fort on a hillside facing us.  Apologies for the poor photo, my phone struggles with distances sometimes.  Ring forts have always fascinated me, and always get me thinking about who might have lived there, how their lives might have been, and why a particular place might have been chosen for the fort.  This one appeared to command a good view down the valley and away across the midlands, and was in a good position to be able to spot incoming potential invaders I think.

At the bottom of the farm track you join a quiet country road, which brings you right back to the car park where you started.  I was absolutely stopped in my tracks by the beautiful scent coming off these stunning wild honeysuckle!

Despite my disappointment of not being able to access the picnic area (I won’t mention it again, I promise!), my overwhelming impression was that a lot of hardworking had gone into construction this looped trail, the gateways and stiles were all really well made, and can only heap praise on the trail developers for making it happen and doing such a good job…but about that picnic area..!  No, no, I promised I’d drop that subject!

Once back in the car park it seemed rude to just pile back into the car and head home, so instead we wandered around the corner, back on to the main street, and headed to Hayes’ bar for some well-earned refreshments!

The Rock of Loyer, as I understand it, is/was a rock on Loyer Hill.  In a historical geological survey document I found online ages ago, the description is given of a large limestone boulder, measuring 9 feet by 21 feet by 7½ feet, situated on the top of Loyer Hill.

If you want to test your eyes you can read all about the geology of the area at this link. http://www.geologicalmaps.net/IrishHistMapsDownload/B02080.pdf The brief mention of the rock is on page 16 of the PDF document.

Hand-drawn depiction of the Rock of Loyer.

Hand-drawn depiction of the Rock of Loyer.

I don’t *cough* make a habit of searching for historical geological documents, but I was poring over some old maps online (I do make a habit of getting absorbed in old maps!) and whilst browsing the area on the OSI website, near to a property we own, and using the 25″ historic map layer (dated 1897-1913) the words “Rock of Loyer” caught my attention and intrigued me.  Google, at the time, gave me nothing but the geological survey, which didn’t fascinate me quite as much as the maps.  However, the lack of further info on the rock did make me wonder if the Rock of Loyer was one of those things that may simply be lost to history.  But when the Rock of Loyer loop walk was launched earlier this year I was delighted that the rock was being celebrated in some small way.

I have no idea if the rock is still there, or if it may have been removed during forestry operations, but the OSI maps of years 2000 and 2005 do appear to show something in the area that may indeed be the Rock of Loyer, still in place.  By my reckoning it is in the middle of the forestry area that the trail skirts around.  If it is still there, I would absolutely love it if the trail could be developed in the future, with the agreement of the landowners, to bring walkers up to see the namesake of the trail that they are on.

Historic map link (1897-1913): http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V1,603532,680038,7,9

Map link (2000): http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V1,603529,680024,7,4

Map link (2005): http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V1,603529,680015,7,0

Keeper Hill is a keeper

Within a few short days of arriving in Ireland, we took a trip down to Limerick to pick up a few furniture bits for our new lodgings, and I will never forget driving down the Nenagh bypass (now incorporated into the M7) and gazing at the hills to our left, with a road map in my lap, trying to identify the landmarks of this new land we were calling home.  As I stared towards what I deduced (correctly) were the Silvermines, the clouds lifted and the summit Keeper Hill appeared behind them in all its glory.  I probably should add here that I was doing all my gazing and landmark research from the safety of the passenger seat, whilst the husband (or “the boyfriend”, as he was known back then) dutifully kept his eyes on the road ahead.  I remember saying that I wanted to go up there one day, which elicited a fairly non-committal grunt from the driver’s seat.  I can hardly blame him for his lack of enthusiasm or belief in my vow; at the time I was even heavier than I am now, was struggling with an undiagnosed thyroid issue, and would have very definitely been the last to be picked for a ‘Lets All Go Up Keeper Hill’ team!

Earlier last year, during a day out in the Silvermines, I was to recall that car journey and that vow, and spending the day with Keeper Hill in full view only served to strengthen my resolve.

But now I can proudly say that I’ve done it!  I’ve walked up to the summit of Keeper Hill, I’ve seen what can be seen, and it was worth every single step!

Many times over the past year, when planning where we were going to walk next, I’d jokingly said “Let’s go up Keeper”, but I’d realistically known in my heart I wasn’t ready, but this time I said it, and I meant it!  The weather forecast was good, and I felt good too.  The distance felt do-able, and I knew that if I just remained determined, I’d get there.  In hindsight, during the planning phase I’d made a fairly important rookie mistake, but I’m here, typing this up, having seen the views from the summit, so it wasn’t a truly terrible blunder, more an error of judgement, a miscalculation if you like!  More about that later, but in the meantime, kudos to anyone who can guess what my slight oversight might have been!

We parked up, took the almost obligatory map-board photo, and double checked the route and the distance.  This pic nearly always makes it on to my blog posts, but also acts as a quick route checking facility during the walk, being easier and faster to look at my phone than dragging the map out of my rucksack.

Immediately out of the car park we headed up hill, and continued heading up hill.  After a mile or so of steady ascent I was delighted that the husband was the first one to take the opportunity to stop for a breather check his boots and adjust his laces.  It gave me the chance to think about how many stops we’d have already taken by now if I’d tried this route a year ago.  We took this opportunity to offer water to Dolly too.

At one point we passed a highly coloured chalybeate stream, the vivid orange colouration indicating the iron rich nature of the water emerging from this spring. 

Chalybeate stream, rich in iron.

Chalybeate stream, rich in iron.

We got to the point in the trail where it was decision time.  We had agreed that we would see how I felt at this point.  One option was to carry straight on, and remain on the Ballyhourigan Woods loop, which would take us around Ballyhourigan woods, and bring us gently back down the hill to the car park.  Or, we could turn left, and carry on towards the summit of Keeper Hill.  All felt good, and from here the flanks of Keeper Hill didn’t look too scary, and so we turned left and enjoyed a very short, but sweet, downhill section, before resuming an uphill trek.

The trail took us upwards, always upwards, but also around the south-west flank of Keeper Hill and would ultimately leave the Slieve Felim Way to take us straight up the southern side.  We passed a few piles of small trees in brown paper sacks, which I assume were baby trees waiting to be planted?  And hopefully not dumped by some tree-clearing fly-tipper!  I can’t imagine fly-tippers would take the time and care to place each small tree into individual sacks.  The views up Keeper Hill actually seemed to get more daunting as we progressed, but all felt good with my legs, feet and lungs, and so we kept going.  It did help immensely the glorious views both upwards and down into the valleys certainly contributed to keeping my spirits lifted, and my legs moving.

This particular waterfall stood out to us, and we can only guess that this the ‘Spout’ as described in the Trail Description.  Alas, there was very little water around but we both decided that we’d love to come up here after heavy rain and see the waterfall in full spate.

The Spout - Keeper Hill

The Spout – Keeper Hill

The trail was fairly level as it wound around the side of the hill, and a lovely, but short, downhill section provided welcome relief to my tired legs.  But all too soon we left the Slieve Felim Way, and the incline got steeper.  I found I needed to stop to rest take in the views around us more often, and I was starting to flag. I found Keeper Hill to be quite deceptive. The incline reduces toward the top making the summit constantly appear to be just over the next ridge.  When you felt you were nearly there, you’d get to the top of that rise and find yet another uphill stretch in front of you.  In a moment of almost perfect timing we met a lovely lady coming down from the summit, who congratulated me on getting this far,  assured me that it wasn’t far to the top now, and that it would all be worth it.  There is nothing so good as an encouraging word to help you pick yourself up and re-focus, so whomever you were, thank you!

You knew you were finally getting to the top when the gentle breeze, which had turned into a stronger breeze, ultimately developed into a persistent wind.  Even on a beautiful clear, sunny day, the strength of the wind surprised me.  The first visual thing to greet us were the telecommunications masts and associated outbuildings, fencing etc, but I tried to ignore those as I took in the glorious views all around us.  We found our way to the trig point, and I scrambled over the boulders to pose for the almost obligatory Trig pic.  I can’t describe the feeling of being on top of a mountain that you’ve wanted to go up for so very long.  Keeper might not be one of Ireland’s ‘biggies’, but at 694 metres (2,277 ft), it’s a creditable No.57 in the Irish Highest Hundred List, the highest point in North Tipperary, and is a mountain that has captivated me ever since I first moved to this country.  Standing atop of it was a massive achievement for me, and I’ll admit I was grinning like a loon.  A sweaty, red-faced loon, but a loon nonetheless!

The photo of me, using the trig point to stay upright, partly due to the strong wind and partly due to my wobbly legs, is in my opinion hideous, so that particular photo remains for my eyes only, but here’s a slighty arty pic of the husband enjoying the views down over the Silvermines from the summit!

Keeper Hill summit

Keeper Hill summit

We found a small spot, out of the wind, to sit down, absorb the views and enjoy a well-earned cup of tea.  We shared a packet of wine gums with Dolly, and celebrated with a ‘Summit’ Snickers bar.  I checked my phone to see our progress on the Runkeeper app, and at this point, after a little bit of head-scratching, it dawned on me that I had made a bit of a silly rookie mistake!  Did you guess what it might have been?  I have been so used to doing looped routes and trails, that when I checked the trail distance for this route, I thought that an 8.2km (5.1 miles) route, incorporating the summit of Keeper Hill would be an admirable hike for someone of my size and fitness level.  It never occurred to me that, this being a linear route, the 8.2km was the distance in one direction.  It had occurred to me a few times, on our way up, that we had walked quite a way to get to the summit but just put it down to my mind playing tricks on me during the sections where I struggled the most.  Oh boy!  That made getting to this summit feel even better!  Although I was a little deflated to see one of those mad hill runners, looking fresh as a daisy,  sprint up to the trig point, touch it, and then sprint back downhill again.  I try not to let them make me feel inadequate, and firmly remind myself to walk my own miles, and not to judge myself against how others do theirs!  But deep down I’ll confess I feel a little jealous of anyone with the fitness levels, and strength of mind, to do something as insane as hill/fell running.

5 miles up meant 5 miles back down, and so we started our descent.  I’m always surprised to find that going downhill is almost as hard work as going up, although it always seems to go quicker. I discovered that the joy of an uphill linear trail is being able to enjoy the views even more on the way down, because you’re no longer concentrating on keeping up enough motivation to get to the top!  However, my legs were getting decidedly wobbly by the time the car park came into view, and for the first time ever my feet were really sore.  However, the achievement and memory of sitting with a cup of tea on top of my favourite mountain, combined with (mostly) coping admirably with the unexpected and unplanned distance that we’d covered, meant that I was still smiling as I finally dropped my rucksack into the back of the car and filled a water bowl for Dolly.

The DOMS hit me by about Tuesday, and Dolly certainly preferred her comfy bed to her daily walk for a couple of days…but Keeper Hill was absolutely worth every step, and I’m lucky that it is relatively local to me. I can’t wait to do it again!

Sugarloaf Hill – Knockmealdowns

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

Parson's Green campsite, overlooked by Sugarloaf Hill

Parson’s Green campsite, overlooked by Sugarloaf Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sláinte !

Sláinte !

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