Eugene and Dee have two boys, Max and Oscar, so although we were in an insulated part of the house, undisturbed by noise, the life of the house starts early, and we managed to join in before too much of the morning had disappeared. After breakfast we followed Eugene and Max to Glendalough, the next national park on my tour. Travelling with a two year old is quite different to any other method, so we had plenty of time to examine rocks, grass and birdies. Plenty of birdies.
Max had started the day seeming unimpressed with me, but for some reason I was his preferred vehicle whenever he was bored of walking-normally, very sensibly, when he could see a path disappearing into the distance. I wasn’t about to question it, making the most of being flavour of the moment. Nothing cuter than a little person chattering about what they can see whilst riding on shoulders or in your arms, though Max is pretty big for his age, so I had to shift position from time to time, or be grateful when Eugene found an exciting reason to walk for a bit. The lakes are fabulous, needless to say, and the bridges particularly interesting to Max. And it’s just a privilege to slip into another family’s routine. Max was even up for a hug goodbye, so my earlier unimpressive appearance had obviously slipped by then.
After we left we headed further into the hills where the landscape, in Eugene’s words, “gets lunar”. Pretty impressive, though the traffic further on was less so, as Blessington’s annual tractor run filled the road and diversions made the road to Enniscorthy hard to get to. Eventually, grumpiness at an empty stomach made me turn round, eventually cheered up by cake from a shop and much cheered, as the rain poured, by checking in to the Glendalough hostel with a book.
Both the Flying Flynns have at some point suggested I tour Ireland and run races, as something they’ve enjoyed in the past and today not only was I continuing to follow their advice, but I met a man who knew them. John Walsh was helping organise the Shanagarry 5, the second in a series of 4 5mile races in the Ballycotton area. It’s not actually free, but at 5 euro and with a long prize list it’s pretty generous, even if some of the prizes were of kitchenware rather than cash for a change. With nearly 600 entered this was the biggest race I’d run in Ireland, and too competitive for me to pick up a prize even had I kept my time under 30 minutes. I was the cause of the arrival of an out-of-town bandit who picked up a prize in the ladies’ race, though.
We arrived early, so early we could warm up for a few miles and still have time to relax/get nervous before the start. My ‘want to get there early’ stretches also to the start line which is often a tactical error, as a good position two ranks in becomes a tougher one five ranks in when the late and deliberately (so as to be on the front line) late quick ones arrive. Here we hung back and did alright, standing right next to the one wheelie athlete. In the event he was set off first, with a Garda accompaniment on a bike; he was not the quickest wheelie, so this was to get him clear. Plus he got a great ovation that way.
We went. The race starts slightly downhill, and this is not flat country so we soon climbed. I wasn’t sure how my legs were, but they were okay early on and I made some ground on the fast starters. Some time before I’d decided that it would be useful to see my half mile splits, to see if my theory that I have a slow first half, then a quick mile, then slow again, was true-looking at mile splits can’t show me that. I changed my autolap on the garmin then didn’t race for some time, so kept getting lap beeps annoyingly quickly. This time they were useful, but the theory is still unproven, with the terrain too up and down to tell. The race was a bit of a struggle, though I was moving up and down relative to people of about the right standard, having a particular battle with a v50. A long upward mile to 3 did for me, though, both half splits around 3:15, some way outside my 2:59 target average. Finally we reached the top and I used the fact there was a sharp corner and then a downhill to get some momentum. Unbeknownst to me, Linda had been closing so saw and envied my acceleration downhill, though both the people I passed there were to catch me later. I held on to whatever speed I could, and in the event was happy with 30:14, closer to the half hour than I thought I’d get. Linda was First Lady under 30seconds behind, and convincingly ahead of second. They won’t have minded too much, as there are prizes for the series, too, and they’ll be in for those.
Race hq was a GAA club house, so while we waited for results what seemed like half the field cooled down with laps of the football field, whilst we chatted to a couple of locals. The welcome was faultless, as ever, with those taking registration curious about our clubs and those talking at the end told us all about the prize Linda was about to receive-100euro voucher for the army and navy store-and who the local personalities were.
Prize giving, added to the working out time took a while, as the 1st, 2nd and 3rd in a variety of age categories picked up a voucher, laptop tray, can opener, wok or whatever else. We headed for Cork to find somewhere to stay only to find the obvious candidates full. ZZ top gig was blamed, but it may just be a busy city. Eventually a b&b owner gave us a tip that another b&b up the road had a room left, so we headed there. The road we were on seemed to hold back entrances, so I felt quite conspicuous ringing the bell at 11, but although the owner looked us up and down and said he didn’t normally take people after 10, it was never said in such a way as to suggest he wouldn’t take us, and he showed us in as warmly as anyone else did, plus he opened the garage door so I could stick the car in, away from parking restrictions and the like. Finbarr, at the Park view B and B, is a great guy. Linda and I went for a couple of pints in Cork to celebrate and wind down.
Another day, another bike ride due to end in me picking up an American to give them a lift. I may have to head back and I’ve myself more time to cycle these spots, but the ride out to Slea head was filled with views, the sea nicely counterpointed by a cloudy sky, whilst inland the mist was in places almost close enough to touch. Coming back I indulged a little smuggery as I passed tour bus after tour bus heading the other way, keeping to time and battling the narrow roads while I freely peddled along.
Free except that Linda had started her day with the 7.15 bus to Tralee while I had started my ride after 8.30 and was then due to pick her up from the bus station with no means of getting in touch. My answer to her 3am “what time should I give up hope?” was a simple “I’ll be there” but I had to hope she was as keen as me to meet and would wait.
As I remember, adding to this in August, I was pleased with myself to be back at the hostel while the time had an 11 in it. An Irish lady was staying there with her son and was as keen today as she had been yesterday that I’d be around later to kick a ball around with him. Maybe I just looked like a football expert, or she’d seen Patrick and I having a kickabout the day before (which would have scotched the first idea, by the way) but my ego allows me to think otherwise. Odd. And sort of heartbreaking, in a ‘are you looking for male company for him?’ way. I had other things to do, though, and in the absence of staff snuck into the hostel to shower. I figured it would be worth the extra time.
That and the drive meant I wasn’t at Tralee till around 1. I’d stopped in a village, always pleased that every little place has a shop. The first shop was an odd one, a funny mix of things, but I found some fruit and then, joy, home made scones. Not much else in there, at all, very odd. The other end of the village had another shop, and I stopped there too, to make sure I could deliver on the promise I had just made, to render a scone to Linda on arrival. We’d not made a plan, so whether she’d feel able to leave the bus station and get lunch, I really didn’t know. Second shop much more conventional, for the record, bread and fillings got and eaten. I nearly ate the second scone anyway, mind.
So, to Tralee. The phone knew where the bus stop was and I pulled in. Could I see a familiar face? I could not. Did I dare leave the car and wander? It was a pay car park, but ought to be alright. I circled, realising the bus station was off to one side, so people waiting outside were doing something train-related. Eventually I parked the other side of the road and there, as I stood checking the traffic for space to cross, came the shout of “John”, part attention grabbing, part statement. Perhaps small part relief that I had actually arrived, too. Crossing made no sense, she waved me off and came to me.
And so I had company. No plan, other than the ring of Kerry, but company. Shortly into the ring I spotted a beach and pulled off. Brilliant beach-golden sands backed by dunes, with a stunt -real? – abandoned boat carcass to play on. And over the dunes, as we were warmed by the sun, another beach, stretching off. We found a route to walk through the long grass, discussing the kidnappers we were chasing and deciding they could not have for far, not with the terrain this difficult. Further along we saw a sign to Valentia island. I had read reviews of a hostel there and was intrigued; if this was the best they had to say, this might be interesting. It was Linda who made he decision, though, answering my ‘want to go?’ with a definitive yes, then pulling a map out of her bag. Glorious gardens, apparently, recommended by a local, no less. We had a goal, to go with the easy understanding we had already hit without effort.
The island isn’t big, though using a tourist map to navigate, with its oversize representations of sights and undersize visions of roads, wasn’t ideal. As soon as you cross the bridge there is a museum and tourist info, and I pulled in through the no entry side-a show-off does what?-and we wandered in.
We wandered out, too, wondering why we had wandered in when we knew we were heading for Glanleam gardens. Setting off, I got confused by the towns, or rather settlements. They’re only tiny, so expecting clear delineation so I could orient myself by them on the map was foolish. It gave us a chance to come back on ourselves via a pretty coastal road, though, and for Linda to point out, again definitively and with total accuracy, “Bench”. The statement both deserves, for its definitiveness, and doesn’t, for its lack of drama, an exclamation mark.
Glanleam house and gardens are reached down a single track road, which seems strange for a recommended tourist attraction until you realise this is a private house with beautiful tropical gardens that fell into disrepair until taken over by a German lady. She redid the gardens only to see them destroyed by a storm, so this is attempt two. She lives there now; driving in you pick a place to park on her drive and she could not have been more welcoming even though we arrived after 5 and opening hours are supposed to be 10-6. As she happily talked us through a route that would take in everything it was obvious we’d be a lot longer, but equally obvious she either didn’t mind or just liked us. There are reviews for this place on trip advisor that bear no relation to our experience, I’m not even convinced they are of the same place, the bad ones, though one or two sound like they might just have annoyed her. At any rate, the place is beautiful, stunning plant life, dramatic drops down onto the sea and a walk that takes you up to the lighthouse. Closed when we got there but we still got to have our own special scramble on the rocks and then ignore the signs saying ‘private’ because we were allowed to be there. Simply stunning in the sun.
No pictures. Probably a good thing, forgetting my camera for the ride meant I concentrated on the cycling and the experience, but as I set off to see if I could cycle through the Gap of Dunloe, as both the hostel and Lonely Planet had recommended, I didn’t really think what I might need. In fact, I was thinking more that promising to meet someone around midday to give them a lift, giving me two hours to complete a 50k loop was probably a bit optimistic.
Patrick had come in to the dorm room late last night, so we only met in the morning, but he seized on the idea that I was heading to Dingle and had a spare seat-I’m not even really sure how it happened, but I accrued another hiker without trying. Trip-wise, he had come over as flight-crew-girlfriend’s flight buddy, which is just the cost of airport taxes. A bargain from the States, but lends itself to little planning, that’s what they’d done, so money was tight.
In the meantime I had a mountain pass to conquer, a bit daunting for someone who’s not much of a cyclist. The route started where I’d left the car, near the Cathedral, heading along the main N71 before turning off. Very soon came a ‘Gap 10km’ sign, which was encouraging, though it then seemed a long way to the 9km sign. A jaunting cab (pony and trap, not rhyming slang) hire spot announced where the road became narrower, and walkers spreading out to cover the whole road showed that little traffic was expected. I’d started fairly early, before 10, so was ahead of most groups early on and climbed. Frankly, this is a challenge for more or less anyone. It had me out of the saddle a few times, but only to crest a mini hill, never because I’d been going up for so long I needed a break. Reach one crest and the beauty of the Gap stretches before you, copper-coloured water streaming by on one side, hills left and right, purple flowers dotting the hedgerows. A mini waterfall drifted lazily off a bump in the landscape, the sun shone-defying yesterday’s forecast-and ahead a car showed me the road was winding left and right through the peaks.
This, then, was the challenge proper of the gap, but it still wasn’t anything too bad. I climbed more in the glens early in my trip, after a fast cycle down to Cushendall. Here, I made the top and revelled in a lovely Irish lady calling me a hero and letting me know it was all downhill from here, whilst secretly wanting a little more up so as to have earned a really long down. Doing the route anticlockwise, though, seems to give you more down than you’ve earned, which is definitely the right way round. I think it’s because you then have to climb back up to Killarney, but that part of the route I’d covered the day before and it was nothing to worry me. I rolled down the hill, soon catching the car that had passed me on the up, and whose passenger, out of the car, had only been alert to potential cars passing after a photo stop, nearly giving me a bonus point on my climb before her boyfriend warned her I was coming. Back into the National Park and onto a smooth tarmacced road I was flying, though there is then a couple of miles on the Kerry way, which is a pebbly walkers’ trail. The route to the N71 is well marked, though there may be a longer but quicker route. Nonetheless I was soon back on the road, and downhill yet again to boot, waving happily to a couple of cyclists slogging up the other way, laden with panniers. I got down into the drops for a while once the terrain levelled out and with a sign announcing Killarney was 11km, this was going to be nearer 40k than 50 so it was worth putting in some effort to get a workout. Traffic slowing up ahead, behind a digger, got me back into the drops on the last climb into town, trying to hang on to the digger, powering past an elderly cyclist out for a ride (i admit that trying to whizz past him was my main motivation) and keeping me working on the last section. Just under 41k, comfortably under 2 hours and back to the hostel at 11.57.
I must have taken a shortcut, the owner reckoned on more like 2.5 hrs, he looks fairly fit and I really didn’t hit great speeds. Still, a fantastic start to the day. Picking up my passenger we headed to Dingle and with sunshine overhead that was another great journey. Inch beach is beautiful, deserving more than the brief photo stop we gave it, and the road gives plenty of views of the North Atlantic as you travel West.
The hostel is a little out of town, but that allowed us to explore a little whilst looking for it, kick a ball about on the lawn whilst waiting for staff and then to walk into town when I remembered I was out of money and so couldn’t pay anyway. Dingle is charming, a perfect tourist spot and with shops to tempt me-food and sporting goods, bliss. I eked out my last euros for a lunch picnic in the harbour, found a bank and then on the way back bumped into Linda, who Patrick and I had met when we first arrived at the hostel. I already knew she was a runner, and now discovered she is quicker than me. Damn! Ego firmly tucked away, then, for now. It seemed natural to share chocolate with her. Johnny doesn’t share food. Interesting.
Summary: cycle, great, dingle, dangly, beach, *****ing, Guinness, later.
“Not a day day.”
“Like a Muslim civil war”
“Some sunny, some shee-ite.”
It is, just that. Just like Friday, when I sunbathed for 30 minutes, went inside to sleep and woke to grey skies and rain. Changeable didn’t really know what it meant till the word came to Ireland.
One of the best things about staying in a hostel is wandering into your room and automatically having a conversation with a roommate you’ve never met before, and that’s exactly what happened last night, a Canadian girl rolling cigarettes on the floor-making roll ups, rather than racing cigarettes for fun-chatted happily about Ireland and their-I spotted her friend on the top bunk when she joined in-plans for England the next day. They were going to all the great spots, flying in to Liverpool, then Chester, London, Grimsby.
Right. At any rate, they went out for their cigarette and that was nearly the last time I saw them until I removed my hands from the cigarette rollers neck. Some time in the morning, off goes her alarm. She silences it. Half an hour, perhaps, later, off it goes again, waking me before her though she eventually silences it again. Each time I assumed this would be the last time but no, at least twice more it went off, she just liked the snoozing. How cute. IN YOUR OWN ROOM. An 8 person dorm, not so much, you selfish *****.
Ahem. I got up around 10 and eventually got out for a run. Eschewing yesterday’s paths, nice though they’d be for a run, and headed down to the main park entrance, which turns out to be a nice warm-up-2-miles away. As you can imagine, running through the trails in a national park is awful, nothing to redeem it, not the greenery, the shy mountains peeling through the gaps, nor the thrill I always feel yomping past walkers kitted out in full goretex, with their day pack and some with poles, while I got ready in 5 minutes, no breakfast, covering 14 miles in under two hours and wearing a T-shirt and shorts. Shit, as I say. I was so distracted by the crappy scenery I even forgot to frown (much) at the dad taking his family of small children through two sets of ‘no entry to bikes’ signs on their bikes. It’s a one way road so the pony traps and occasional car can go through. Not the most dangerous spot, but still odd behaviour to file under “not sticking it to the man, but to your fellow man (you dick)”.
Most people have moved on from the hostel but I’ve still two nice roommates who are sleeping away Sunday and allowing me to feel virtuous in my exercise and justified in having my feet up in front of the telly. They even have sports channels, I might see the cricket if it starts.
Summary: read Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat, 9/10, ran 14 miles, shopped in Tesco’s bargain section-blueberries, pasta, broccoli!
Castle Demesne parkrun and Killarney
An early start, to make sure my host’s efforts in getting up to make me a full Irish breakfast weren’t wasted, and I had a go at clearing the table. If you put cereal there then obviously it’s meant to be an intro, and went well with the kiwi fruit she’s lovingly cut up, before the main course. Fabulous, and over an hour and a half to parkrun.
The drive from Ballyhea to Macroom was easy enough, and for the sake of my sanity it was lucky that there weren’t any more places with Bally in their name. Every time I see a sign I give it a “ba-eeee” just, as computer game players from the 80s might remember, as the game intro used to go.
Thought I was a bit better prepared this time, with the phone sat marked with the right point for parkrun, not just a ‘find the town and the rest is gravy’ view, but I still did a loop of the centre before I spotted that I’d hit the right point, gone on and so the phone was, in the u-turn free fashion it prefers, taking me back there. Get to Macroom, look for castle gates, go through them. Still, although I’d checked previous results the kerfuffle over getting to the start, and then the distraction of chatting to two people in 50 shirts, run directors from Tees barrage over visiting relatives, meant I forgot to check for competition. At the end, in fact, one bloke said “I picked you at the start” to come in first; professional short shorts, apparently. At any rate, I headed off with the chances who took the lead and seemed to know where to go, round a lap of the GAA field (later covered in tiny tiny people leading the rules, cute factor 10) and on down the hill to the lake. Here I found myself taking the lead without much effort, so now I was in the hands of the marshals. And a smily, happy and resolutely unpointing lot they were too, but I was running easily enough that I could talk to them for directions. The run goes past the water, up a short sharp hill and along, then round a cone and back on itself, and you do that section twice so get a fair idea where you are in relation to others. The finish is uphill, the distance thoroughly approved of by my garmin which gave it 4.99. And the organiser is a one woman dynamo; I was chatting to a runner who is coming back to it after years off, and having to tell himself that 10,9,8 m/mile is okay-until Achilles’ tendon tears put him out, he was a 14min 5ker about to go to Oregon on a scholarship. The lady who runs the leisure centre and parkrun had a rackets court that wasn’t used, so she and staff stripped it and manually repositioned the gym. That despite a 6k grant to do the same – I didn’t ask what became of the money, though the implication was certainly that it could be better used elsewhere.
After a pause for a photo of the visitors I took a quick pic of the castle gates and headed off to killarney. On the way I couldn’t resist the signs for the toy soldier factory, which was an interesting enough short stop-amazing detail, and amazing prices, over 10€ a figure. Chess sets come with free worldwide postage, but without a price. I suspect if you have to ask…
After some faffing I’d decided on Neptune’s hostel and it turned out to be a good choice. Right in the centre of town but with parking a few hundred metres away by the cathedral, it has comfy beds and large communal areas. It was also rammed with people-they’ve 150 beds, so if full, there are a lot of people, though without feeling massively in your face.
Friendly Kung-fu staff member Ian (didn’t actually get his name, but he should have one) had suggested walking back down to the national park entrance by the cathedral, from where Ross’ castle was a half hour walk, so I did that, losing myself on the various trails. On the way in to Killarney I had wondered if I’d become inured to the sights, with a mountain range failing to leave my jaw dropped, and I strolled blithely through the shady paths of the park. Thinking about running, as I remember. It turns out that although from a distance the mountains seem grand and imposing, once you’re closer up they become shy, even coquettish, and so it was that I walked blithely through the wooded park only to turn a corner and find the mountain peering at me through a gap in the trees. Jaw duly dropped again, running forgotten, head back on nature. I liked the town already, and that walk made me think, really for the first time fairly seriously, that I could live here. Voted Ireland’s best large town to live in, 2012, I learnt later. Although the castle is about a half hour walk, once there you’ve the whole of Ross Island to explore, and can easily do several more miles. Governor’s rock gives a great view over Lough Leane, as does Library Point, and there’s a mining tour to follow. No actual mining visible, as the copper mine was abandoned to flooding in the early nineteenth century. I thought the coolest bit was the cave, marking Bronze Age open air mining. Atmospheric.
Lazy, with signs of meatballs. No, rain
After a week covering distance and staying mostly one night in each place, I had done enough sightseeing for a while. Having wandered round Ennis last night and then run round it in the morning I had got to grips with the town – it’s very pretty, and the churches in particular looked magnificent against the deep blue sky at 10pm. All I had to do today was move the car, and the run had shown how charges vary. €1.30 per hour in the centre, 500m away near the park, the same price for 4 hours. I moved the car there before the run, and that set me up for a lazy morning. In the afternoon I headed for the coast, dozed in the sleepy village of Knock while it rained, and headed back to the hostel for the evening.
Lazy. Sadly there was another snorer in the room and the hostel, while full of people, is strangely quiet. Just a little too big to encourage people to meet one another, I guess, and no staff going “tonight I will mostly be going to the pub, if you want to come”, which worked so well in Derry. No great problem but for a sleepy hostel I didn’t get quite enough sleep.
There are three Aran islands, small medium and large, and I’d decided to head for the largest, Inishmore, so as to get a little more cycling in. Or, at least, to be somewhere with a loop rather than the series of cul de sacs of the smallest island. Middle island is deserted, and the ferry companies only sail there occasionally, it seems. Of you’re thinking of going, you’ll get 10%25 off online, but head down to the pier and look clueless/interested and the ferry companies will swoop. Perhaps there was a time when just one company operated, but now there are three and within 5 minutes chris had given me the low down on the islands and promised me the Internet fare on production of the leaflet. I went to head off, satisfied, but Bill next door invited me in, gave me the low down on the islands and promised the same fares. Somehow my brief silence reminded him I’d been next door and he chopped off two euro immediately. I booked, no heart for the serious haggle, but if you enjoy it this may be the place for you.
Dunguaire castle. A little gem.
The crossing was bumpy to start with and takes over an hour-from Rossveal it’s quicker. Once there you can be on your way quickly, and a bike in your hand is repellent to the tour and bike rental offerers, so I was off round the island. It’s a time team delight, a series of low stone walls to be seen in every direction. The highlight, apart from spotting butterflies and birds every time you pause, is the ancient stone fort, abandoned in the tenth century. It draws crowds but is a reasonable 3 euro to go in. It’s enough of a hike from the visitors’ centre that on my way down I spotted 3/4 of a family laughing while their daughter stopped in partly-mock disgust at the length of the walk ahead. Those less sure of foot struggle, too, as the path steepens at the top, so any willingness to become a human bannister finds plenty of takers.
The fort is three sided, with the cliff edge the fourth. Not a place for small children without reins-the edge is sheer and unprotected. Plenty of Americans up there when I went, from the yompers taking it in their stride to those ironically commenting on the staggering age of the place – “well my flat’s, like, 50 years old, so I know a bit about age”. It’s a view and a half, and I could feel the vertigo in the soles of my feet as the braver went to the edge, lying down to peer over.
“My grandma’s gonna pee her pants when she sees pictures of me at the edge”
They really say that, it’s not just from Pretty Woman. The way back down (via path) has a view of The Worm Hole, a natural rectangular shaped pool into which the sea rushes, sloshing dramatically against the edges.
Heading round turned into as much walk as cycle, as the road bike wasn’t really up to the rocky unkempt ‘road’, but I had an even better view of the rocks and small stone walls ads result, before cycling round to the small harbour town and along to the eastern edge of the island, which holds playing fields, the airfield and, round the corner, a beautiful and deserted beach. I used it for some core exercises, as you do.
Back in town I slipped past the Aran sweater shops and bars in favour of ice cream and coke from the Spar. It’s a nice Spar, mind, plenty of space to sit outside in the sun. Finally, to he ferry, delayed by being busy, and back to the car in hope that it has enough petrol to make it to a station. 464 miles on this tank is pushing it. Once I’ve got petrol, preferably without having to cycle and fill a bottle, it’s Ennis for me. Looking up a running club there is entertaining, thanks to Jessica.
Ferry sailings for a day at inishmore go out at 10, back at 4 (maybe 5, if your company is having a busy day). As it turned out, The O’Brien line’s “we’re busy, we might be coming back at 5” turned into a 6pm exit from the island, getting us into Doolin after 7, but no one seemed to mind too much, mostly laughing at the fact that we were watching the port wall for signs of a mast coming in. I’d stupidly not filled the car with petrol in Ennis then found the Ennistimon service station closed the night before so was as empty as an empty thing, but it turned out that the ‘couple of pumps outside a shop’ was a real petrol station so my worry that the journey back to Ennis would involve a bike ride and return with a can of petrol was unfounded.
“Ah, I’m jealous, you’ve got it all to come-Connemara’s my favourite part of Ireland”, as the Dutch woman beneath me said in Sligo. For most men, having a woman underneath them commenting on geography might be a blow to their masculinity, but it’s just how it goes when you’re last into the dorm and have to take the top bunk. I saw her point today.
Again, without delayed gratification, but with a sense of bloody hell, this is stunning. This morning I had a cycle round the Connemara loop, seeing as Letterfrack lodge is on the beginning of it, though I was a bit disappointed to realise I had only done a part, as my loop brought me back when a left turn would have taken me onto the other side of the main road and round the other part. Not so disappointed that I headed out to complete it, mind, and 85km might be a bit optimistic for me in any case. Glorious views out to Renvyle. Where Donegal was filled with yellow flowers, Connemara has pink, flooding the hedgerows in both cases, and almost as if someone has colour coded areas as on a map. The loop road was quiet and pleasantly undulating, with a gentle flat section for me to really turn my legs over at the end.
Job done, I lounged at the hostel, t-cutting the car where I’d scraped it yesterday before realising I was hungry. Lonely planet points out that Letterfrack is really just a cluster of buildings around a crossroads, but as such it is extraordinarily well appointed. The supermarket is a fairly posh one, open till 10 every evening, and with a cashpoint-proper bank one-inside. There are several places to stay and a few to eat and drink. I picked up lunch in the shop and then used their picnic benches outside to assemble and demolish it in more sunshine. It has been cloudy but with the sun warming through the clouds most of the day, and occasionally you find yourself with a bowl of blue sky up above. For me that happened when I visited the Benedictine monastery, Kylemore Abbey, which has a stunning location, in the shadow of Doughruagh (pronounced dog-rough?) and looking out over a freshwater (detail supplied by my own tasting finger) lake.
After lunch I wandered up the winding road to the Connemara national park, only realising halfway up that I had turned right at the crossroads to get to the shop and that instructions at the hostel said to go straight on for the park. ****, on the long winding road, not the short straight pedestrian access.
From the visitors’ centre there are a variety of walks, a short 500m nature trail, 1.5k low loop, 3k bottom-of-hill and finally the 3.7k summit of Diamond Hill loop. They were there, so were all to be done. On the 3k I spotted a walker up ahead and figured I could catch him but it took some time, and I only really made it because he stopped to take a photo. He fell into step with me and we chatted easily, once again a reminder to slow down and welcome other people in. He was older but had been a runner-info offered without knowing I had too-and kept a good pace while we swapped life histories. A fellow Englishman, wife at the abbey, and I was glad of the company, though we never even swapped names. Although we talked work and economics etc it was just as things came up rather than because it was necessary to get the measure of each other, and I’m enjoying hearing people’s stories so much. Of course, religion intruded; mostly positively, as my friend talked about his work with young people and how it continued now, following a career as an IFA, even to the extent of 60 or so of them keeping an eye out for people vulnerable after drinking to excess in Taunton. Wonderful. I let him off the “I don’t know if you’re a Christian but when you look at this view it makes you wonder about a creator”. There was a brilliant programme on Richard Feynman on BBC2 recently. He’s probably not as famous as he should be in he uk, which will surprise any American you mention his name to, but a great scientist. He very gently explained his views as, and I paraphrase, incredulous that anyone could think scientific thinking was limiting. The idea that only thinking spiritually allows you to see the beauty in something in and of itself is grossly offensive, of course, and he went on to say that not only does he see the beauty in a flower, but that he understands that evolution made that flower beautiful to us, but attractive in a whole different way-seeing as their eyes see entirely different colours to us-to bees so that the flower’s pollen is collected and spread. How that doesn’t enhance the experience was beyond Feynman. See the beauty, maybe understand it too, surely better than some mystical ‘ah, maybe this was created’.
I didn’t enjoy the steeper part of the descent-it’s a well maintained and obvious path, accessible to anyone moderately fit, but still had slightly hairy bits for me. While I was tentatively grabbing at rocks on the side to give me a sense of security, my 20years older friend was chatting to his mother on the phone. At least with him there I didn’t quite submit to the indignity of going down in a crouch.
Just for the record the views were spectacular. A phrase I could use every day. As we paused at the top, the bay swept away to one side, with the island of Inisbofin visible out to sea. They were bathed in sunshine, the *******s, while we had cool but dry weather. My roommate from last night got up at 5-taking camera gear out ‘for the light’-but it was a bit murky, and I could now see how that could be so on such a nice day, as without the sun everywhere was a little hazy. Had he known it would be like that he could have spared me the sight of him wandering past in his pants to check the window at 4 and 5, but at least it explained why he’d not drawn the blinds.
After a close encounter of he midge kind I spotted the pedestrian route out. Walking down a sign said ‘Letterfrack Industrial School graveyard’ and figuring there couldn’t be any good story there I nearly didn’t wander in, but decided that even if the story wasn’t given in the place, I could look it up later. A definite sense that this graveyard was put in place after the fact, as atonement for the ills, with rows of heart shaped memorials for boys who died from the 19th century up to 1956. I’ll save you looking it up, this from Wikipedia:
“St Joseph’s received a lasting notoriety through revelation of physical and sexual abuse of the boys by some of the Brothers there, with evidence of sexual abuse and extreme physical punishments going back to the 1930s. 147 children died there while in the care of the Christian Brothers mainly from abuse and neglect.”
“The Catholic Archbishop of Tuam, Dr. John McEvilly bought the property in 1884.”
That name’s a gift, isn’t it? Lovely cemetery, at least. Now there is a project to turn the buildings at the site into a theatre and arts centre, though it looked as though work in the outbuildings had stalled.
My afternoon ended back at the hostel, shooting the breeze with the excellent owner, Mike-although Ballyeamon barn is special for the way the craic comes and finds you, this may be the all round best place I’ve stayed so far. It helps, of course, that I’m tired following races and a succession of one night stays, but nonetheless this is a special place for a slightly longer stay. Oh, and I’ve found a race for Friday, a 5 miler further South.
There are lots of short races in Ireland, especially 5ks, though I seem to be a week out in my appearance at most places. This weekend, though, it didn’t take much schedule jiggling to take in Lifford on Friday, the streets of Sligo on Sunday and parkrun, of course, a given on Saturday. I’ve mentioned the first two, and Sligo completed a trio of totally different experiences. On Friday I made a schoolboy error of line and pacing, catching a group at the top of the hill, with under a k to go, all of it downhill. An older runner detached himself from that group to go with me, timed his acceleration perfectly and took off round the front of a car which I had to go round. Next time: on his shoulder, kick for 17:59 to his 18:00.
On Saturday I took a lovely hat trick of first places in parkruns, which will probably never happen again to me. Taking first was straightforward enough, though I took the lead a little early and had to rely on a shout to turn right at the right point. From then on I knew to do three laps of the field-climbing up on the left then yomping down on the right-before hitting the same route on the way back. No marshals, or in fact anyone, there though as I crossed the bridge, so I stopped to make sure I was going the right way. Spotting the bloke in second I carried on for a finish on the cinder track.
The Sligo Champion streets of Sligo 5k was on the Sunday at 1:15. Registration was possible at the Champion offices on Saturday afternoon, I thought, though it turned out to be the evening. That done I was ready for the day. Lovely feeling to the whole thing, plenty of Garda out on the streets ready to stop or slow traffic. This event and Lifford did show the truth of parkrun’s existence as a run, not a race; both had a very different feel to any parkrun. I don’t know if it’s the sense of focus from some, more groups out warming up together, different conversation or how much of it comes from within, but I doff my cap to parkrun’s success in differentiating itself from races.
We set off outside the Champion’s offices. Learning from Lifford, I had put myself in about the fourth rank of the runners, knowing how many quick boys there would be. I couldn’t spot the quicker ladies this time, as they’ve been useful in pacing, though the only likely candidate I did spot turned out to be a good minute ahead. The start is on a good wide road, allowing some sorting out in the field and I found my spot without trouble. Sweeping round town there was a slight down and then an uphill towards 2 km which helped keep the effort level up. I was passed here but chased him down, again that helped keep me working. I knew the course from 4k, having driven it earlier and was thinking ahead, before realising that had distracted me a little. I concentrated again, trying not to have a duff km in the middle.
By now I was settled into a place. There were plenty of local Sligo runners, in white club colours, and I had passed a number. There was one more up ahead I could see, and as we swept left for the final km into town I worked on reeling him in. Just ahead of him was a grey haired runner and I was determined that this time I would beat someone older than me. I caught the first with about 700m to go and he gave me a ‘go on!’. As we created a small rise ahead of the final right turn I had got onto my goal’s shoulder and decided to make it stick, pushing hard as I went past. This was it, I felt him lift his effort, I’d been working hard and in pain for a while now but there wasn’t far to go. We were back in town, onto the final straight, through a shopping street. I could see the finish 300m away and gave it everything, full gurn face on to the finish, legs moving as quickly as they ever have done.
Inelegant it almost certainly was but it worked. I had done for both those behind me and picked up a time I was happy with: 17:47. I sat with a bottle of water for a long while before a cool down jog, accompanied by a sense of satisfaction. There was a gathering in the local town hall, sandwiches all round, though no prize for me-I had beaten the first v45, but was only 7th v40.