While staying at Dzogchen Beara I had decided that after a few days of lolling around I would shake off the cobwebs by trekking up Hungry Hill, the highest point on the peninsula. As it turned out the clear skies that were forecast for most of the country turned out to be a long-lasting low-level blanket of cloud. I knew without even looking out the window that Hungry Hill would be shrouded in mist and while weather generally doesn’t put me off gallivanting around in the outdoors I thought it would be pointless to scramble to the top of a mountain to see precisely nothing.
Futhermore, not being familiar with the path, there was a risk that I would fall off said mountain. Now, I am a pretty fatalistic person and I wouldn’t mind falling into a ravine if I was killed outright but knowing my luck if I fell into a ravine I would survive the fall and then, as I lay there I would make one final discovery about myself:I would be one of those extraordinary people you hear about that survive earthquakes for weeks on absolutely feck all and I would lie there for an eternity as crows and buzzards pecked at my diminishing entrails finally succumbing to a bad cold. So Hungry Hill was out.
But I didn’t want to leave Beara without taking some air so I determined to head to Allihies and stroll up to the Copper Mines before departing to find more convivial company.
At Allihies I stopped off to supplement my walking equipment-which consisted of a map, no compass(I wasn’t going far), a bottle of water and three (stupid)apples and too many clothes-with a small bar of chocolate. The shop at Allihies was deserted and impatient to be off , I took a bar of Fruit and Nut and left a Euro on the counter. Knowing Irish towns out of season this is probably the talk of Allihies yet:The Mystery of the Missing Chocolate Bar and the Appearing Money. So in case you’re wondering-it was me!
ASIDE ABOUT CHOCOLATE: My choice of Fruit and Nut was not accidental but the result of long knowledge of essential nutrition which led to my concluding that a Fruit and Nut bar will give you both Fruit AND Nuts as well as CHOCOLATE!That’s all the food groups covered then and it meant I could use my apples to throw at any aggressive sheep.
Breaking the cardinal rule of walking(besides not having a compass)I didn’t tell anyone where I was going but this turned out to be good as I didn’t know that I wasn’t going where I thought I was going.
Anyhoo, I checked the map and the sign posts and headed off up to the mine. It was probably about 15 or 20 minutes up a boggy badly kept path. Following my decision to ration my chocolate out sensibly, I polished off the thing within ten minutes. Still I knew the sugar would stay in my system. I was also glad to notice that my Piddle Absorption Theory was coming into play in the same way it didn’t during the Anne Valley Run so there was no need to stop off behind a wall.
The mine was very nice, as mines go. There was a little on the history of it on one of those…thingies, which I didn’t read though I get the impression that children were lowered in buckets to mine the coal…uh no, that would be copper… with their teeth. They should start that again, give the young folk something to do.
I could see another mine nearby and decided to head for that and loop down the road to Allihies. Except there were no signs. I decided that I would head in the general direction of the mine, which I did though the “path” seemed to be more of a striation in the rock than anything. I had to head upwards to avoid a ravine and pretty soon I was happily scrambling through rocks and bogs confident I would reach a road.
So I got to a road and a very nice road it was too except it led it the wrong direction(well it led in two directions but one direction was back down and I do hate going back). So forward I went, just to see where I would find myself. Soon enough I found I was walking along a hillside on the north side of the Beara peninsula. On checking the map I realised this was part of the Beara Way. Doing a bit of “triangulation” with a grubby finger I reasoned it would be about 10km and sure it was a nice day and a good road so what the hell. The only drawback was that the chocolate was gone so, feeling hungry after the scrambling, I was forced to eat a stupid apple, which I did, grumpily.
There were a few sheep about and compared to Waterford sheep they seemed to be rather hostile, shouting sheep insults at me until I got within a couple of feet and then turning and ambling off. What the West Cork farmers have done to make them take such a stand god only knows. Then again maybe Waterford sheep are especially nervous. It did bring back bad memories of a time when I ill-advisedly cut through a field of sheep with young lambs at Kells in County Kilkenny and was harassed by a ram. Really. It’s not funny. I picked up a few stones, just in case, as the stupid apples would now have to stand in for real food.
As I neared a turn off I would have to take that would lead me around the mountain back to Allihies I spotted a man in blue overalls chasing a sheep around. “Ah”, I thought. “there you go then”.This was followed swiftly by the realisation that I was alone on an open hillside with a man whose first choice of partner may not have been four-legged. I picked up my pace and passed him just as he had tied the sheep into his trailer. I exchanged a few pleasantries (one actually-“yes, isn’t it!” to a unintelligble question)and hurried on.
Immediately ahead there was a stream over which lay a piece of corrugated metal and a pink plank. The plank looked a bit flimsy but I thought “This is the Beara Way!” and I imagined lots of unsmiling people in North Face jackets with flasks of tea and GPSs plotting out paths for the ordinary Joe Soaps of the world to use and stepped out with confidence and immediately crashed thigh deep into the water. I jumped out as soon as I fell in and galloped soggily on, spurred on by the thought of a man with a trailer and some rope offering to dry me off.
Before I knew it I was out on the open hill, the path nowhere in sight, with a few sparse way markers and some building cloud for company. I forged ahead despite the fact the way markers were getting further and further apart because there was a bunch of clouds(is that the collective term?)teetering on the ridge above. Up across the boggy bits, down the rushy glens, running really fast for fear of little men. I made good time around the mountain into a more sheltered valley.
At this point I broke another cardinal rule. I decided to take a”short cut”. Instead of climbing all the way down a valley and up another hill to double back and meet the track to Allihies I could cut a good mile off by heading in a straight line for the col where the path split up.
This you are saying, will end in disaster. Well, it didn’t and I really don’t know what those people in their North Face jackets are up to with their pink planks and ziggy zag routes. Ok it was a bit boggy and I did a bit of sinking up to the knees but nothing serious…Anyhoo, you are all invited to the inaugural trek of the Westown Way Detour, just bring some towels.
ASIDE ABOUT SERIOUS HILLWALKERS:Many moons ago, myself and three chums set up The Alternative Comeragh Mountaineering Club(The Comeraghs being our mountains here in Waterford). We did this because of an innate fear of well-equipped serious people with sandwiches and flasks of tea who frowned upon things like whisky and laughing. We lasted for the total of one trek the whole thing falling apart when, clinging to a steep rocky bit we all finally admitted to each other that we were afraid of heights. A pity but I still hold dear the vision of one of our more effete members mincing up the mountains holding an umbrella over his head in a gale force wind, a wind so strong incidentally that it stripped all the skin off the lower half of my face, a fact which no-one mentioned until I was back in Waterford and a few pints in. Ah well. I have since worked on my fear of heights but my fear of well-equipped serious people just won’t shift…
I found myself entering a wood which tallied very well with the map except everything was proving to be an awful lot bigger in reality than on the map. Stupid grubby finger. I was happy though, to put the bogs behind me. There are no bogs in woods as everyone knows that the trees drink all the water. Hah. Another one of my theories inexplicably bites the dust. This wood was dark and mossy with some trees torn up by the roots as if by some giant Tree-Picking type creature.The whole thing put me in mind of the Fire Swamp from the Princess Bride. All I needed were some ROUS(look it up).
So, not only was there a bog in the wood but the Serious Well Equipped People had built a bridge that led straight into it. As soon as I put my foot down, even before, I knew that if I sank into this mother I wasn’t coming out. I turned in mid-air and leapt for a nearby tree. Thank you tree. And so made my way through the rest of the bog from tree to tree like a muddy monkey. This was possibly more exciting than using a bridge but I think the Serious People could have given us a heads up about it.
The rest of the walk, though very long, was on paths that were recognisable as such. I did have one mountain to climb. I had noticed the contour lines were very close together on one part of the route, but in the way of such things you dismiss it until you are actually there panting”Shit, this is a STEEP hill.”You will see my detailed notes on the map above…
There was a fine view of Castletown Berehaven from the top though, or Castletown Barebottom as the four year old me likes to call it. (The very first place I remember living was called Apple Crumble Road and ever since the disappointment of finding out it was boring old Upper Cranbrook Road, I like to convert names into something a little more interesting as a small act of rebellion against the general boringness of the grown-up world. )But I digress….(again)
When I finally got back to Allihies I was up to my oxters in mud and I felt like I was getting a couple of blisters. I NEVER get blisters as I have feet of asbestos despite, as you all know, having the ankles of a princess. As it turned out this time I didn’t have blisters either but, it FELT like it, which is what counts. I had thankfully been wearing my most excellent Salomon walking boots which I had bought for a trip to Africa ten years ago and have been with me since. Mind you the Penneys ankle socks with love hearts on probably weren’t the best socks though, not for Serious People anyway.
I ended up changing into a whole new set of clothes at the car in the centre of Allihies, which would have given them more to talk about if I didn’t have my vast changing tent with me. (Thanks Mammy 🙂 )Mind you, if you hear talk of a woman in the area in full purdah, that was probably me.
In the end, the accidental hike turned out to be 15km, not 10km. So much for Grubby Finger Navigation…
I was relieved to finally get in the car and head to Castletownbere and McCarthy’s pub and a bowl of chowder and glass of Guinness which I raised to Pete McCarthy who started us off.
DEDICATED TO….I was happy to be leaving Beara in the end too. It was a good break, not just for what I have put in the posts but also for what I don’t write about:Friends(unless they’ve done something mad of course, in which case I change their names) 🙂 .
A lot is written about friendship. Over my life I have found that the idea that friends are there for you when you need them(like THAT TV show suggests) is a crock. People have their own lives and as we get older and our friends marry and have kids often times friendships are put on the back-burner. I do know some great people though and after a lot of pondering I came to realise that my friends weren’t there for what they could give to me. My friends, in a way, are the stars in my sky, not essential for light but they make the sky beautiful. Friends can be the colour in your life. Yes, they can sometimes be there(thankfully), yes, you can sometimes get to work closely with them or spend a lot of time with them but it doesn’t do to expect too much…or maybe I have shite friends….. 😉
Still, I do like to see people, so on this trip to Cork, I decided to make a few visits to people that I hadn’t seen in a while…and I am so glad I did. I was welcomed with open arms. I was fed-oh the wonderful, wonderful food!- and watered. I was chatted to and listened to. I was taken out and walked, I sat and chilled and had tea and had wine poured into me. I was offered beds and urged to stay on. I was made to feel wanted and cherished. To say I was floored by all this doesn’t touch it and so I dedicate this post to ye, my old and new friends:Pete, Linda, Leonie(designer extraordinaire), Atmon(Eamon!), Eli(cool dude), Gerri and Adele. Thanks lads, you have no idea how much it means and you’ll all be seeing me again soon 🙂