Quote of the Moment
"All really great things happen in slow and inconspicuous ways." Leo Tolstoy

Thursday, 27 March 2014

E8 Day Two: Ardgroom to Beara Camping

Repetition of previous map. You can see Ardgroom, Beara Camping is just north of the 3 lakes. Also the route is slightly different as I think this is the cycle route. The hiking route takes you over all the hills!
So day 2. Some people have commented that they are surprised I continued after that day. Well I put it down to a) the continued excitement of the trip, and b) the wonderful Hilda at the Panorama B&B; she really did do a great job of setting me up for another day's hike. I can't thank her enough!

With all my things packed and ready to go, Hilda offered that she would take me down to the start of the trail as the B&B was off the Beara Way by quite a distance. This I accepted with all thanks. I was straight on to the bog refreshed and fit.

The Bog.

Today's hike promised more variety of terrain, which I was looking forward to, but started with the same. Also the day was cooler, much cooler, but broadly dryer. It was also clearer, and as I climbed up the mountain I managed to see some really great sea/harbour views for the first time since I put my first foot forward at Dursey Head. The coast here is - unsurprisingly - stunning, but also working. And it is this low impact fishing industry (Muscles and Crab) which adds to the beauty here instead of detracts.

You can see the Iveragh Peninsula on the other side of the bay.

I continued over the gap between Drung Hill and Keecragh Mountian, which began to harden and become more rocky. Steep in places, it really got my legs going again. The path slowly declined into a depressions with running streams criss-crossing the turf and at one point almost ending the hike there when one stream crossed the path, the girth, depth and flow of the water created a real challenge. I spent some time here, alone, working out if crossing the water was even possible! To the point that, in more frustration than sense, I practised throwing my pack to see if that was an option. I felt it was more than likely that, here, well away from anyone else who could help, I (and more importantly my pack!) would be soaking wet and the hike would have to be called off!

The offending 'stream'.
After discounting a bunch of daft ideas and crossing points I decided to risk it on one where the key disadvantage was the trust I would need to place on submerged stones with my weight and the hope that the stream wasn't as forceful as I expected. I crossed. Breathed a sigh of relief. And continued.

To me, all human endeavour, even if it's reasons can only be speculated upon through the distance of time, is interesting. What is it that truly motivates people to create something, despite the effort and costs involved? Stone circles are one such feature that falls into this category. It is tricky to see and feel the weight of meaning behind their construction and existence. What would someone who had had a hand in lugging the huge stones to remote locations truly have felt when they saw the completion of their work? I just don't know. Even so, in Ireland, a sense of stately nature is retained and they form the perfect spot for pause and reflection when on a long hike, whilst the weather holds out that is!

The Stone Circle at Cashel Keelty.
Another gap, this time between Knockatee and Drombohilly was approached to via Lauragh Village and a bunch of small country roads/paths. I didn't realise quite how much I would relish the hard, artificial surface that brings modernity to the isolated and unspoilt countryside, but I am afraid I did. After nearly two days of walking on, through, in, within bogs I was ready for somewhere to walk that didn't need constant attention. The traffic was light, and I welcomed the small moment of interaction between me and passing drivers. One highlight of my little foray into civilisation was an old petrol pump advertising Guinness!

The final section up and over the gap was difficult. I focused on regular pauses at each of the way markers as the path became increasingly steep. It nearly did me in. I vowed that I would do more to support myself, eat more snacks, drink more water and take more breaks. Once through the gap the decent was tricky for the first half until the path followed a concrete farmers track which joined the Cloone Loughs within a beautiful valley headed by a spectacular waterfall (which I was only able to view from a distance). 

The next day's hike was almost straight over those hills!

 To get to my next overnight stop I had to walk some way off the Beara way. But as it was on roads it was pretty good going despite the rain worsening. My body wasn't playing up too much, but it had just had enough and I was glad to see that the campsite was actually closer than I had expected. I knocked, waited, and was greeted by a lovely Dutch couple who owned the place. Beara Camping it seemed was busy during the proper tourist seasons, but, for this year, I was the first visitor! This was turning into something of a habit, this part of Ireland really does not open until at least mid March. My stay here was free, which was good, but mostly that was because there were no working toilets or showers. I did have access to a gas cooker and made myself some warm food in the communal barn.

Beara Camping

I had planned to camp, but was offered a little plastic shed thing to stay in over night which was nice. Especially because it snowed that night. Temperatures dropped to below freezing and was not entirely pleasant. (Though I was warm when in my sleeping bag)

Sunday, 23 March 2014

E8: Day one; Dursey Head to Ardgroom

A good map of the route. I took the northern path.
More photos, less rambling... I hear you! ;-)
The first days walking started with a Taxi. Essentially there is no way to get to the start of the hike via public transport. But before I start, here are some facts about the Beara Peninsula.
  • It is beautiful.
  • It is very remote.
  • The 236 bus route from Cork to Castletownbere is the most expensive to run in Europe. It is subsidised 85% by the council.
  • The reason that the Beara Peninsula has not gone the touristic way of the Iveragh Peninsula and Killarney is because the roads are so narrow that coaches can't go all the way around.
  • After the walk I read The Edge of Ireland, a book which highlights the rich spiritual and artistic heritage and people of the Beara Peninsula. Including a Buddhist retreat called Dzogchen Beara, the enduring traditions of Seanachi (keepers of oral history) and a plethora of artists, musicians and craft producers. (Most of which I missed out on with my demanding hike.)
The above and so much more, I will say now, means that I have promised to myself that I will go back there. It is just a magical place. 

A dilapidated sign for the 'Last Light Ceremony' that was conducted at the end of the Millennium. 
My Diary reads...
"Hot shower! Yes!"
...As the first line from the 1st March. With the Lodge being - at least officially - closed no hot water or heating had been in action for weeks and despite my three day bus journey I wasn't able to have a shower until the morning, which seemed doubtful when I went to be. Oh, what levels of appreciation you achieve for the small things when you embark on adventures!

It is then followed by..
"Well, today's hike was harder than expected."
The reality of the hike hit me pretty hard. I was suffering from a cold, which didn't help, and my pack was much too heavy for the sort of walking I had planned.

The day started well. The taxi was on time and when I arrived at the start of the Beara Way I was in good spirits, the sight of the water surging though Dursey Sound was very powerful alongside the craggy coastline (which reminded me of the very best of the North Cornish coast), and it wasn't raining (yet!). I started the walk. It felt amazing! I was actually doing it. Elation filled me to the brim and I couldn't believe I had actually arrived. It was quite emotional really.

Me, feeling pretty chuffed to actually be at the start of something that was months in the planning.

This, I was soon to find out, was a DRY path!
The path began with a good incline on alternating damp/slippy vegitation and rocky terrain. Some scrambling was required in places which was a little precarious with the wind. Also something which I was going to have to get used to was the nature of the path itself, often it was badly signposted and had no visible signs of it's existence. Which isn't necessarily a problem, but it became tricky once it rose into the cloud cover and visibility dropped dramatically.

 On the way I met Michael - a Tipperary man - who started just before me and I caught up with him soon after the first hill. With two hiking poles and two gps trackers he was remarkably more kitted out than me and was infinitely more experienced in the sorts of walking I was going to have to do; Bog Walking! We stayed together up until Allihies, with a promise that we were not able to fulfil, to meet up again further along the hike when I was closer to his home. I learnt quite a bit from this encounter (thank you Michael!), but it was also a real boost to my spirits to walk with someone else. My plan for the hike was always to do it alone, little did I know how draining solo-hiking can be on the spirit and how much the chatter and companionship of someone, even a total stranger, on a long hike such as this is so important.
The weather got worse and worse as the day progressed. Most of the hike was in the clouds and visibility was poor. Around Allihies the walk is along country roads which lead up to the old mine workings of Anhillies mine workings and the Slieve Miskish Mountians. This disused mine workings were in various states of disrepair but very interesting to see. That said I wasn't really in a position to appreciate them...
"Alone I climbed. And climbed. And cursed my heavy bag, the weather and my lack of training. The distraction of good conversation had gone. I motivated myself with a Cream Egg."
I was pretty grumpy at this point, but then I spent the next couple of hours negotiating the turf, bogs and hills that led towards Ardgroom. This was a point which almost broke me. The walk was treacherous, going up the mud clinged to and infested your boots. Going down every step could see you fall and slide into puddles of mud and sheep droppings. It was a continual trial that sapped the strength, it was not a day to be out on a walk.

"I fell, slipped, skidded, tumbled and was generally consumed by the bog. The highlights of this section - the Mass Rock, the Mines, the sea and soothing roar of the waves - were eclipsed by the wet, the mud and the rotting vegetation. The hillside had effectively erupted with little streams of rainwater and micro-waterfalls that filled the land."
 I eventually arrived at Eyeries. I sat, in a slight lull in the rain, steeling myself for the final 10 kilometres. About 3km along the country road someone pulled over, offered me a lift and I accepted. I was done in. But luckily I had the Panorama B&B to look help me recover that night, and what a wonderful salvation it is for a tired and demoralised hiker! More on this next time.


Thanks once again for reading this blog. Turned out to have more words in it than I expected! OOPS! Oh and the walk wasn't all bad, just this section was a shock. Things perk up much more further along. ;-)

Please comment and share.

Friday, 21 March 2014

E8: The Arrival

I left Prague at 5pm on Wednesday the 26th February. In doing so I was embarking on the most adventurous trip I had ever done. To hike over 550 km (340 miles) solo across a country I had never been to at a particularly poor time of year for the weather and with a full pack (which I never weighed) including tent, winter sleeping bag, food and water (read: v.heavy)! I was as excited as I had been in a very long time, after a difficult time for me I had put all my energies into planing, booking and now departing on a real challenge.

Anthony the Unready?

I had always planned to get to Ireland by plane. I checked the prices one week and completed the whole budgeting process. Then, when it was time to book the week afterwards, the price had jumped from approximately £35 single to £100 (without accounting for baggage). I was mortified. Perhaps the trip, which was running on the most fragile of shoestrings, would have to be cancelled! I did some digging around for alternatives and found a bus. Well... 4 buses that would take me the whole way from Prague to Adrigole Ireland in 3 days and two nights. 3 days and 2 nights on buses, with 6 hours in London and 3 in Dublin. I must have been a bit mad, but the price was right - £100 in total plus saving at least one nights accommodation cost - and I had always wanted to go on a long distance bus for some unfathomable reason. So I left Prague on a Student Agency bus (£30 Prague - Dublin, BARGAIN!) that would travel through the Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and France, through most of which I was asleep.

I wrote in my Diary...
"The Bus has just been processed by Passport control for both the French and the English authorities within 100 metres of each other. I just realised that I don't actually know how we will be crossing the English Channel! It is a little unnerving. I will just have to wait and see. Within the next hour I could be on a ferry for the first time since I was a child the Channel Tunnel for the first time in my life!"
It turned out to be the Channel Tunnel which was decidedly underwhelming and boring. With nothing to do in a hollow tube of a train carriage and the bus with no entertainment system as it had to turn it's engine off. Oh well, it still was a first for me!

With some time in London I planned the day before to meet up with an old friend, Chris. We met on his lunch break on a nice early Spring day and on his lunch break where a particularly nice burger was consumed (Thanks Chris!). The walk I took from Victoria Coach Station to Soho where he worked had one interesting monument in the way, Buckingham Palace where I saw the Prime Minister speeding away in a horse drawn carriage and took a bunch of photos which didn't really come out properly!
Best of a bad bunch.
I then had another overnight bus to contend with. This one was run by Eurolines and cost £35 (Double BARGAIN!) and would take me all the way to Dublin, and this time I knew it would partly be by ferry. In comparison the Eurolines bus service is far behind the Czech Student Agency service. On Student Agency you get free hot drinks and a particularly entertainments system full of films, music and a couple of TV series. On Eurolines you get none of that. A shame really.

On arrival to Dublin I met a couple of nice people on and off the bus who I chatted with for a while as we waited in Dublin's Bus├íras. I had my picture taken by a random unsuspecting bus. And waited for another wheeled vehicle of bum-numbing despair which would take me to Cork (£35!).

This is starting to sound like one long string of buses. So all I will add is I arrived in cork with just enough time to go to the toilet and comfortably wait around at the correct bus stop. No anxiety, slight boredom and an almost successfully completed journey!

A castle seen from the Bus. I hoped that I would get to see more of this on the trip. I didn't so I suspect that a return to Ireland is a distinct possibility at some point... In a car!

Irish Weather. Irish Hills. (Dry) Irish fields. Picture taken from the bus.
 It turned out that in the weeks before my arrival the Beara Peninsula had suffered a MIGHTY STORM. The net result of which was to cause difficulties for me on my arrival to Adrigole and the 'Peg's Shop' bus stop. I got off and frequented the said Peg's shop for supplies then strolled the 200 metres of country lane, continually astounded by the wonderful, stark and enrapturing Beara countryside (more on this in a subsequent post). I arrived at the Hungry Hill Lodge, and it was closed. I looked at my phone, no signal. I entered the grounds of the Lodge, no-one was there. So, concerned that I would have to camp out for the night, I trudged back up to Pegs Shop in the hope that they could phone someone off the landline for me.

The Kitchen at the Hungry Hill Lodge, my first night's accommodation.
Since the MIGHTY STORM all mobile and most internet services across the Beara Peninsula had been broken. This meant that I could not contact the owner of the Hungry Hill Lodge, said owner didn't know that I had a booking and I was not able to contact home to tell Sarah that everything was ok and I was set to start the walk. A bit of a disaster on the side, everything about me was fine, but the peripheral things that would have made the start comfortable and easy had suddenly and surprisingly failed because of the failure of technology. Still I couldn't grumble, once contacted the owner came to the Lodge within 5 minutes, I had a warm roof over my head and the owner of the Hungry Hill Lodge - who turned out to be from Coventry - was welcoming. All in all I could count this as a good start to my Irish E8 Adventure!


Thanks for reading this first instalment of the hike. I promise that they will get shorter! Please take the time to comment and if you know anyone who might be interested in these adventures please share on Facebook, Twitter or anything!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

E8: The Return

To start, I would like to thank everyone who has been keeping half an eye on this blog for their patience and support in my endeavour to complete the Irish E8. Your support was and continues to be the driving force for what I achieve. Even if you are just a number in the 'views' part of the management of this blog, or someone who comments, or indeed someone in my personal life who has given advice and encouragement, thank you!

Now to business.

I am back in Prague. Early. I did not complete the hike, in fact I did about 1/3 of it. There are a bunch of reasons why I stopped, but the main problem came down to the loneliness of the hike. This is something that I will explore in more detail in future blog posts.

From Dursey Head at the start, I got as far as Mallow, Something like 150-200 km of the most strikingly beautiful, desolate, wet, boggy, magical, peaceful, wet, muddy, hilly, constantly engaging and wet countryside I have ever walked. I feel proud of myself for going, and very happy to be back to the real world.

That means I completed the planned sections of the Beara Way (North coast)...

...Kerry Way (Kenmare - Killarney)...

...(Blackwater) Dunhallow Way in full...

And part of the (Blackwater) Avondu Way (as far as Mallow).

At Mallow the B&B was opposite a main line train station that went directly to Dublin. This proved too much of a temptation (salvation?) at the time. I ended up the next morning on a train to the capital and then doing the double-bus shuffle back to Prague.

Over the next month I will be blogging my experiences of the walk. I kept a diary each day, and there was something about walking solo across essentially empty country (I met 2, yes, 2(!) walkers the whole 8 days) that brings forth coherent thought. I hope you will stick with me as I recount this tale of unending bogs and the kindness of B&B owners. Also there are some pretty good pics!

Quick Post: Ads

Dear one and all!

I am a poor decrepit soul, and I needs the monies. In the endeavour to get the monies I have enabled ads on this site. I would be very appreciative if you gave them your full attention and, if relevant to you, please click!

Unfortunately there is a problem that Google seems to focus on your location when determining what language the ads should be in. This sort of issue regarding language being driven by location is a frustration within Google in general, but with regards to ads it is a critical problem. I am investigating the issue with Google to see if there is a solution. But please, if you have any experience - and hopefully - a solution to the problem then please get in touch.

More interesting posts coming soon, including tales from my E8 hike and exciting planning for my next big adventure - CHINA!