Outdoor Discoveries

It's amazing how things develop. After all, this blog started out as a news section for the rest of the website. With encouragement from readers, it has become a place for relating my countryside wanderings and musings about the world of outdoor activity. Walking, cycling and photography all are part of what I do out-of-doors and, hopefully, they will continue to inspire me to keep adding entries on here. Of course, there needs to be something of interest to you, dear reader, too and I hope that's the case. Thanks for coming.

Category: Ireland

Added meaning

21st August 2022

Reading about a location without having been there is not the same as reading about places where you have been. By having been somewhere, there is an added resonance that otherwise would be missing. It is as if a connection has been made and its absence is very noticeable when I go looking at destinations in North America, Australasia or any other part of the world where I have not travelled. Moreover, it is especially apparent if I go writing about any of these.

For whatever reason, I most often seem to build such associations through solitary perambulations rather than being with others as so many do. Even if it feels like a false dualism, there are some reasons why I operate in this way. One is that it allows serendipity that otherwise would be confounded by the preconceptions of others. Another is that my personality type often causes me to act too deferentially to avoid any form of conflict.

That may how explain Irish outings with my late parents often were constrained by their preferences and what they had fallen into doing. Even so, my having developed an aversion to how they enjoyed coastal scenery meant that we went to Gougane Barra and Killarney quite a bit. Walks and photo stops were limited compared to what would be had on a day hike and the abundance of photos that I have brought back with me from recent trips to Ireland are ample proof of that.

While it is the place of my birth, upbringing and much of my formal education, Ireland was always one of those places that I had not visited like the others. When you have family somewhere, the connectedness is good but it can limit opportunities for personal exploration when you live in another country as I have done.

Some ongoing life changes mean that this year is changing that state of affairs with various trips across the Irish Sea. Every county in the province of Munster has seen my footfall on three different trips. The first offered unexpected opportunities as much as I was glad of those during the second one. Then, there was a third that gave me what I had hoped to get and then went beyond this again.

In each of these, being out for walks in the Irish countryside allowed me to connect with it in a way that I have not done before. Going on foot meant going slower and that really helped since you do lose something by running or cycling through a landscape and using motorised transport means that you lose even more than self-powered travel. Walking means that you can stop whenever a view halts you so it can be savoured and embraced. 2022 has allowed a lot of this so far.

An endpoint is that I no longer look through Mountain Views or other published material about Irish hillwalking as if I am separated by a pane of glass but have found my own way into and around the Irish hills. There is added meaning for me now while I mull over trip ideas that take me into the Dublin, Wicklow and Mourne Mountains while also visiting or revisiting western locales. A return to Clare and Connemara would follow up on my 2018 trip nicely and there also is much to savour around Mayo and Donegal. My mind wanders as I muse over these prospects and what I have enjoyed so far might even free me up to act on such designs.

Rekindling thirty year old connections

20th August 2022

After a break of more than three years, I finally experienced a summer getaway from my usual home turf. Rather than heading across the Atlantic as I did in 2019, I returned to the country of my birth to spend some time around Ireland’s south and southwest.

There was a lot of hiking and the weather essentially obliged much as it did on my Western Isles escapade in 2008. My time around Killarney did see some clouded skies and the occasional light rain shower but there were spells of sunshine too. The rest of the time saw near-constant sunshine with associated heat that might have limited my strolling but for an inbuilt determination to keep exploring. The timing of my return was near impeccable because even hotter temperatures were to come and they might have curtailed activities a great deal.

The days around Killarney were long ones that made up for disappointments earlier in the year while they also allowed me to follow up on residual inspiration from those encounters. The first day had me traipsing through Knockreer Park to reach Ross Castle where the nearby peninsula of Ross Island used up a bit of my time. From there, I continued to Muckross Abbey and Muckross House from where I was lured into completing a circuit of Muckross Lake before returning to my accommodation again. Sunshine came and went but there were enough interludes to allow some photographic efforts on my part.

The same could be said for the hike from Kenmare to Killarney that followed part of the Kerry Way. That was inspired by an otherwise unexceptional into Killarney from a damper Tralee when I ascended Torc Mountain when it was beset with a low cloud base. The sight of a track going into the distance was enough to get me inspired and a later bus departure did nothing to stop me. The ascent to the saddle between Peakeen Mountain and Knockanaguish was near constant but the scenic rewards were plentiful. The same could be said for what lay beyond on the way by Windy Gap and a lunch stop was in order to make the most of it. There was an ascent for tiring legs for passage by Cromaglan Mountain on a rough path. Torc Mountian was the next landmark and I could not forego an ascent in clear conditions. Sunshine may have been occasional on the day but extra lighting was there so often that I could not complain and some shortcuts were taken on the return to Killarney that made me wonder at my lack of attention while passing through the Muckross estate. That might have more to do with how fatigued I felt at the time.

The next day was to be a less intensive day involving an out and back walk into the Gap of Dunloe from Beaufort Bridge with a return bus journey to lessen the walking. Skies were clouded but I persevered in hope that was not in vain. The head of the gap was reached at a good time for returning to the bus stop again but even a passing shower could not stop me from dropping into the Black Valley with lighter footwear than might have been best for what was to come. The rewards were such that I do not regret what I did for this was revisiting some countryside that I only got to see from a car bound for my two parents’ home after a long driving trip. Then, there were stories from short breaks that they enjoyed in the area so my actions may have been inevitable. The Kerry Way again guided my steps for I passed Lord Brandon’s Cottage and the Upper Lake in surroundings that felt quite wild. After Derrycunihy, I was set to retracing steps from the day before without the ascent of Torc Mountain. There was time for a food stop near a quiet cascade and I chanced passing Torc Waterfall too even if there were more people there than I might have expected. Passage by Muckross House and Muckross Friary was enlivened by evening sunshine and the same could be said for the rest of a hike that left me less tired than I might have expected. A visit to Tomies Wood might have ensured the shorter day that I had in mind but I was missed out on so much if I did. That and O’ Sullivan’s Cascade get left for another time but that is no bad thing.

The next morning saw me revisit Knockreer Park before onward travel to Cork city where I would base myself for the remainder of the trip. Travelling forced a quieter day on me before taking up things again with a day trip to Bantry that featured some time spent strolling around Whiddy Island and enjoying its views of the Beara and Sheep’s Head peninsulas. Thoughts of time spent around Glengarriff and Castletown Bearhaven may inspire me for any future trips since outrageously long day driving tours did pass those. The Beara peninsula also features vantage points like the Healy Pass and there are islands like Beare and Dursey for some offshore walking too. There is much in the area and a gift of some good weather would help greatly too.

Inland wanderings in the Knockmealdown Mountains gained me wide views not only of those summits but also those of the Galtee Mountains and there might have been a glimpse of the Comeragh Mountains too. This is quiet countryside and I relished the empty hillsides around Knockshanahullion near Clogheen. Sugarloaf Hill and Knockmealdown may have been more attractive to those seeking more height but I was happy to admire them and avoid the crowds. There may have been no sighting of The Vee for me but any tree covered offered shelter from the heat and I was back in Clogheen to catch the last bus of the day to Cork. In addition to the hill wandering there was another reason for my interest in the area since my father wrote an essay on martyred priest Fr. Nicholas Sheehy who ministered in the area and was hanged in Clonmel on false charges. His remains rest in nearby Shanrahan Cemetary and there are monuments to his memory both there and in front of Clogheen parish church.

My last full day of the trip dedicated to wandering saw me spend more time around Kinsale than I expected. The cause was coastal walking between and around two old military forts. Of these, James Fort was the first and needed a circuitous amble to get there because it was across the harbour from Kinsale town. Charles Fort may have been nearer the town but did not feel that way in the afternoon heat and I was lured along the coast by a good path to extend the walk. Damien Enright’s guidebook did some good service when it came to adding information and inspiration. The return to Cork may have been in warm weather but I could not be stopped from wandering an old university alma mater of mine and it has changed a bit since I was a student there. A quick rendezvous with Cobh ensued before I was content to leave things at that for the day. Blarney Castle might have been another prospect but that needs to wait.

All in all, this was a trip that allowed for so much to be done. There are some loose ends but they do not weigh on me at all. If anything, there was what felt like a sense of closure and reconnection that may open up other parts of Ireland for visits. The extra sense of connection now reduces my self-repudiation for not seeing my home country and adds to a sense of meaning in anything I read about its areas of hill country since they will not feel so alien to me now.

It was good too to again frequent parts where I had been with my parents, albeit in a different way. Going on foot really slows you down enough for a landscape to seep into you and any ambiences to become embedded in your memory. Doing the same with places in Clare, Galway, Mayo, Donegal, Down and Wicklow would build on this but no one knows what a future can bring.

Unleashed yet reassociated

19th August 2022

Every time that there has been a royal jubilee while I have lived in the U.K., I have not been in England for it. The chance of a double bank holiday weekend is enough to make me think of getting away from home for a while. 2002 saw me spending time in Edinburgh while 2012 saw me heading to Pitlochry and Highland Perthshire. While such pageantry has never been my thing, it really is not the case these days after political events during the past ten years.

That set the scene for a real escape from Britain so I ended up in Ireland. There was the added motivation of my needing to do a few things over there as well. My base this time around may have been Tralee but Killarney was in my sights after a cloudy afternoon in April downed my spirits after a sunny morning. In hindsight, it was just as well that I had not stayed there for the place was thronged with bikers attending BikerFest but that was a later discovery.

After a day spent meeting people in West Limerick, there was time for exploring newer horizons before attending to necessary matters. With the Dingle peninsula on Tralee’s doorstep, that perhaps was unavoidable and a sunny afternoon saw me lured along the Dingle Way as far as Camp before returning again by bus. Before all that, some morning sunshine brightened up the town’s park so some camera work ensued after days of sunshine struggling through heavy cloud cover. The windmill at Blennerville was another sight to savour as I discovered that Tralee has a ship canal even if it only sees use for leisure pursuits these days. When I finally entered hill country, I was still decided on an out and back walk but the glorious afternoon lighting of the scenery was enough to disabuse me of such a notion. It proved not to be a move to regret.

The next day came cloudy with afternoon rain but I still got as far as walking along the ship canal tow path before the rain came. Business phone calls and other plotting occupied me while the weather was inclement and the following morning need some more of the same before the advent of afternoon sunshine drew me to Dingle. From there, I was drawn out on a circuit using parts of the Dingle Way and Siúlóid Cholmáin as I ventured as far as Ventry and back. It made me cast my mind back to another royal occasion when my aunt and late mother ventured as far as Dingle on what was a cloudy day and the road felt as if it would keep rising forever. My brother was painting the kitchen at home with the wedding of Charles and Diana on television. Dingle did not seem to impress my mother but it possibly was more of a fishing port back then. Coastline, sandy beaches and mountain scenery were more to her liking and I do seem to recall the mention of Inch while I wonder what they might have made of Ventry if they had got that far. The beach there is large with a lifeguard on duty but my sights really were on hills like Brandon and what lay across Dingle Bay. Being able to glimpse the Skelligs in the distance was an added bonus. Mapping make-believe waylaid me on the way back to Dingle but I made the bus back to Tralee with minutes to spare after a glorious afternoon.

The Irish June bank holiday weekend was not to be blessed with sunny weather so Saturday saw me embarking on a circuit near Tralee. Though still under construction, the completed part of the Tralee to Fenit Greenway got me started. Being a bit sleepy and not realising that I was crossing the busy road to Ballyheigue, Ardfert and other parts of North Kerry got nearer to a moving car than I would have liked. thankfully, they paused to let the distracted wanderer pass. Curiosity about building progress led me along that road to see what was happening to the greenway before I retreated to quieter roads near silage making and golfing. Leaving those near Spa, I then followed the coast using the North Kerry Way until I reached the ship canal again. Breaks in cloud cover persisted to allow some sun before that eventually was lost. A local rowing club was out training in the canal with an observer on a bicycle that was not an aid to uninhibited strolling before the rowers really got moving. Then, it was back into Tralee where dry weather and some sunny persisted later into the afternoon. One might have considered that the weather forecast was wrong but it sadly was not. We were facing into what might be called a “fine dirty” or “nasty” evening in rural Irish parlance.

Oddly, the wet weather was coming from the east and not the west so figuring out drier places to be for the last two full days of the trip was to be challenging. The penultimate of these took me to Killarney where I reached the top of Torc Mountain, where some low cloud cover obstructed the views and I started to consider the possibility of walking from Kenmare to Killarney along the Kerry way but that needed to wait. The location that I reached still was an oasis of calm compared to Killarney town itself since there was a crowd of people in the place attending the aforementioned BikerFest. Muckross was similarly unaffected even if the throaty rumble of bike engines was to be heard as their riders went towards Moll’s Gap. Some seem so fascinated by the idea of filling quiet places with a racket that others like me wonder at them since we so value the calm. Seeking that led me away from Muckross Road to reach Knockreer Park on the way to the town’s train station. The rain finally caught up with me at this point but I had snatched drier interludes from a day that did not promise much.

The following day was similarly troubled yet I headed to dingle, reputed as one of the wettest places in Ireland. What was to get me wet on the way to Annascaul was a fine mist. Even so, I might have been tempted to make for the Conor Pass but for the lack of any view. Thankfully, the day dried with the passage of time but not before my imagination conjured up images of Mananan mac Lir enjoying a late lie in among the Kerry mountain shower bed. While sunshine weakly broke through at times, the greyness prevailed while I noted that boreen walking possibly is unique to Ireland on a day when such whimsical thoughts kept entering my mind. The dry weather was lost while I awaited a bus in Annascaul, one time home to Antarctic explorer Tom Crean, but I remained glad that I had not tried walking from there to Camp. The scenery may have been more majestic but it really needs to be seen in better weather. Such are ideas for future visits.

Tweakage

29th May 2022

Eventually, my ongoing attention to website appearances was going to include what you find here. The changes have been evolutionary and updated some underlying technologies as well. There has been simplification too as well as some rethinking of what should be in the different sections.

All the images in the photo gallery are now the same size and many film photos were rescanned. Some have been replaced with digital ones and the prospect of doing so was the cause of some added trip ideation. In part, the wanderings around Calderdale, Marsden and Hadfield were inspired by this and day trips to Dublin and the Lake District also aided the effort. Some photos were removed without the prospect of any replacement too. Sometimes, images can feature subjects that no longer inspire or have been added when photo albums acted as components of trip reports, things that now appear on this blog. Times change and so do we.

As I was doing all this, knowledge of the happenings in Ukraine hit hard since global wanderings feel more plausible in the absence of global strife. That feeling has eased now and several trips to Ireland have happened. These took me to places new and old. The former of these included Lough Derg, the Slive Felim hills and the Clare Glens while the latter included Killarney and parts of West Limerick like Adare. More may follow yet.

Some Irish hiking titbits

22nd January 2020

In the middle of the first decade of the century, blogging was an activity that felt new and novel. Thus, walking, hiking, backpacking and other outdoor activity blogs felt likewise and I did mention other blogs on here in those early days. That has lapsed but some reading about Irish outdoor activities stoked it up again.

It was perusing an Irish adventure guidebook that had lain unread for more than two years that caused the perhaps momentary restart. Hiking and walking are my main interests but the book also included others like swimming, diving, snorkelling, surfing, caving and climbing. It also promoted responsible enjoyment of nature’s delights so it perhaps was not a surprise to have mentions given to Leave No Trace Ireland with its Seven Principles and Invasive Species Ireland.

There are very good reasons for highlighting the need to respect the countryside when legal access is so limited that there is much dependence on the permissive kind and goodwill can be lost so easily by a spot of carelessness. It is a theme that recurs in reports on the Mountain Views website where many a hill outing gets documented. It is not just the likes of James Forest who visit Irish hilltops.

Of course, not everyone is bound for a summit so initiatives that have given us the National Waymarked Trails or Loop Walks more than retain their importance. Satisfyingly, there is about 4,000 km of walking covered by the former of these and someone set to walking all of them and that story gets told on the Tough Soles blog. However, this was not what brought it to my attention but rather the maps that are shared on there. Completing the lot is quite a feat and others might be inspired to do the same and make Ireland even more of a walking destination. Anything that drives enhancement of facilities has to be a good thing.

Trip reports often get accompanied by photos and that is very true of my own offerings. What is more unusual is when artwork like sketching or painting is used instead as is the case on the Hikelines blog. Initially, this featured a lot of longer hikes in Ireland but a knee injury sadly changed that. Even so, the shorter strolls still suffice for adding those alluring handcrafted images and new posts retain the same amount of interest.

Even now, my own incursions remain more limited than anything mentioned above so there remains more scope for advancement beyond what I did in the counties of Clare and Galway during August 2018. For this, the prospect of an extended weekend in Killarney appeals when there is so much near at hand there. For that, the Killarney Shuttle Bus may or may not have a use depending on its intent though I have seen it mentioned in the book described near the start of this entry. If not, longer self-devised circular walking routes would support any desired exploring like they have done for me in other places.

Another thought arose while writing these words: using previously visited places as launchpads for exploring new locations. Dursey Island in West Cork or the Blasket Islands near Dingle are examples that come to mind and small offshore islands do have much to offer a seeker of wider adventure. The Irish mainland does some of that too and I even get to thinking about counties where I never have set foot; Down, Donegal or Sligo are just three of these with hills that await attention.

What gets in the way of seeing all this is a wider wanderlust that is cause of my reading guidebooks while surveying other prospective holiday destinations. That will continue and it is premature to talk of these possibilities and the ones that might have come to my notice during the Adventure Travel Show that I went to see last weekend. Some plans are best described when they have happened and, in marked contrast to my Irish ruminations, that will remain my approach to these other putative designs.