Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

Irish journeys

3rd July 2009

Last weekend saw me across in Éire for a few days and some chances for spending time among its quieter parts were fitted into what was in essence a social visit. The first one was to Gougane Barra on a day that started out looking grey and damp before continual improvement began to become noticeable. That guaranteed some sunshine whenever the clouds got out of the way. Those clouds kept a lid on the temperatures but it would have been nice to have had more sun for photographic purposes. The second escapade took us across the Shannon estuary to Kilkee in West Clare on a day when the weather predictions were even more dubious. Because I was away from the world of Internet connections, television and radio forecast bulletins became important and the trick was to keep an eye on those flashes of time resolved displays and they are never there for very long. For the Gougane Barra outing, the trick was to have the band of grey dampness continue to the north and it didn’t disappoint. The reason for heading to Clare was to salvage some satisfaction before a more concerted band of rain arrived from the south and south-west. Hoping for blue skies and sunshine was out of the question but some pleasant coastal strolling along the cliffs more than sufficed. There may have been drops airborne in the strong breeze but you can cope with that. In fact, steady rain did arrive around 15:00 so we left for home after a good few hours taking advantage of what was on offer; we had got something from the day.

Since the real travels, virtual roving has been going on in my mind. Much of this has been driven by curiosity but poring over maps has increased my awareness of the Irish countryside too. For instance, I have been casting my mind over the area round about Clifden in County Galway. Of particular interest are the Twelve Bens in Connemara (some call them Pins but be aware that others cannot abide that naming) and how walks can be made possible by use of public transport. What led me to this was my discovery of Citylink’s Galway-Clifden-Cleggan/Letterfrack service. It seems far more user friendly of the alternative offered by Bus Eireann (services 419 and 421 if you’re interested), who well may save time, money and effort if they standardised their timetables a bit more in place of the hotchpotch that is there at the moment (even going for a "stopping at anywhere safe" modus operandi would be better than the seemingly overly formal state of affairs that exists now). What really caught my eye was the way that the N59 rounds the Twelve Bens and the stopping points on any bus services that would provide access points for walking; Canal Bridge and Letterfrack both look promising. As you might have been able to tell, Connemara is not a part of the world where I have ever been before so all of this action is building up the picture for a possible future excursion. For now, it will remain on the ideas shelf until an opportunity for making something of the proposal comes to pass.

Freed of the constraints of temporal reality, the brain can course back and forth in time at will and so this posting ends up with my casting my mind into the more distant past. The cause was my collecting up a number of island ferry websites for the Miscellany. The more well known suspects like the Aran islands off the coast of Galway and Tory island off the Donegal coast coast come to mind though they also aren’t places where I have been. In fact, I am of the opinion that I have only ever been on one Irish offshore island and that Sherkin island off the coast of Baltimore in West Cork. It was also a while back when I ended up there as part of my first ever school trip, something that was full of new experiences that didn’t mean very much to me at that young age. Lengthy coach rides, ferry crossings and walking around an island won’t phase me these days but it was a big jump for a small lad on that sunny June day. Descriptions such as enjoyment and suffering wouldn’t have been appropriate but it all went rather over my head at the time. Thinking about it now, it’s ironic that these are the kinds of thing that I seek out these days and last years escape to the Western Isles had all of those ingredients. To a point, things have come full circle but you have to be ready for opportunities too.

I have already made one leap from the past to the future in this piece and I am now set to repeat the feat. Looking at Sherkin, Cape Clear Island and other bastions of Irish language and culture has me pondering an Irish island hopping trip for sometime. Unlike some of their Scottish counterparts, the islands aren’t big so there’s no need to bring a car and any of the ferry services that I have found on the web have been for foot passengers only anyway; smaller vessels with a mixture of open and closed decks seem to be commonplace. Even with smaller sizes, the prospect of appealing mixtures of sunlit seascapes and landscapes can only cause one to find out more and I’ll be popping onto the ideas shelf to be pulled off for more inspection from time to time.

One use for all of this mental meandering through the Irish countryside and around its shores would be for that longer summer trip that I have every year. However, I haven’t counted Scotland out of the running at all and I have too many ideas if anything. All in all, I think that setting down a list is in order. The next task is to whittle my way through the options in readiness for setting off…

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