One of the things I enjoy about walking, hiking, camping and similar outdoor activities is all the gear I can buy. I’m also a real sucker for badges, patches and similar collectable items. The perfect confluence of all of this is German walking sticks…
I bought this stick from a gift shop on the shore of a lake in The Black Forest, Germany in 1998. It was unadorned at that time but I saw many German walkers with badges nailed to theirs as souvenirs of places they visited. I didn’t have much money at the time so couldn’t buy stick and badges. I also remember worrying about getting it home in my rucksack as it has a traditional alpine spike ferrule. This was a much more relaxed time for air travel though and I had no issues at all
Fast forward to 2001, Catriona and myself were on honeymoon in St. Johann, Austria. In one of the tourist trap gift shops I spotted two small badges for walking sticks and they were sold to me without even thinking about it.
I don’t use this stick very often as it’s about 10cm too short to make it perfectly comfortable but it’s full of memories for me. It’s come with me to many homes over the years but it always comes. On Sunday it came with me to the woods. While preparing and enjoying my hot chocolate my mind spent more time in Germany and Austria than Donegal…
According to Mountainviews.ie my closest recorded summit is a small hill (219m) just 6.9km in a straight line from home. In fact I can see it from my front door. The hill is officially called Meenavally but locally it is known as The Steeple.
On the top of the hill there is a small, squat and pretty ugly tower built with stone and lime. There is a door in one wall and an internal winding staircase that brings you to a flat area with a low parapet. In the centre of the upper floor there is a round opening with a metal grate that allows vertical access from the ground floor, almost like a chimney.
Over the years there have been many gruesome rumours about the tower on the hill. Stories are told of satanic rites and devil worship including disappearing children and human sacrifice. None of these rumours are true but the origins of the tower are still interesting.
The townland is called Tircallen and from the 1600s the area was part of a larger estate of the same name created during the Plantation of Ulster. It was purchased by Sir Henry Stewart in 1789 and in the early 1800s he constructed the tower as an astronomical observatory which was very much in vogue with the gentry of Ireland at the time. Unfortunately, there are no surviving records of Sir Henry’s so it isn’t known what observations he made or what contribution this tower made to scientific research of the time.
The tower is also called The Steeple after the hill but is also known as Mullaghagarry Tower after the name of the forest woodland it is now located in. The forest is a commercial forest owned and operated by Coillte. It’s likely that the estate was acquired by the government’s Land Commission in the 1930s for redistribution to local tenant farmers which was the policy of the time. The tower, however has survived relatively unscathed.
I’ve been to the tower multiple times on foot and also by bike as we used to use the area for night time MTBing a few winters ago. I placed a geocache in the area in 2006 to mark the date of 06/06/06. In 2007 myself and a few other geocachers took part in a documentary on geocaching for RTE’s Nationwide programme. It’s the second location in the video below.
Although I’ve visited the tower many times I want to revisit all locations afresh for my Local 50 challenge so on Sunday I went back. I used a different access point than usual and my plan was to create a looped walk of approximately 9km. However, my maps are really out of date now and the hoped for track petered out on private farmland that I wasn’t happy venturing on to.
I attempted to work my way around through the trees on faint paths but not knowing the area too well I ended up back out on the main track and at that point decided to make it a simple there and back walk but still ended up with 6km. Rosie the dog was with me and despite some very heavy rain showers we had a very nice afternoon.
Not much photography on this walk but I did film and the results are linked below if you want to watch. Thankfully I seem to have solved the audio sync issue I had before.
It’s always nice to get stuff in the post and especially nice today as fellow Irish blogger Declan, aka Unironedman, kindly sent me a runner’s buff, one of the ones he had produced for the recent Down To Town Marathon. I’m no marathon runner by any stretch of the imagination but who doesn’t like free stuff? I took advantage of a break in the weather and a spare hour to take it for a very enjoyable walk in Monellan Woods. If you don’t already follow Declan’s blog then I’d highly recommend it.
Sunday’s run went very well. Everyone had a great time, we raised a lot of money and I managed to run my 5K with no issues. In fact I ran my fastest 1K (5:41) and 1mile (9:08). It was too fast though and I had very sore spasms in my shins that afternoon and I haven’t run all week. I decided to rest them and start back at it next week again.
Sunday evening we all met up in Buncrana again for a night out. It was great fun and the entire staff was there (bar one guy away at a birthday party) plus a good few partners. My initial plan was a couple of drinks early on, 0/0 for the rest of the night and sober to drive home by midnight. That plan soon went down the pan and especially when Catriona agreed to come over and join us to drive me home. That turned into my first drunken night out for probably 3 years.
Monday was a Bank Holiday and I spent most of the day recovering from a bad hangover. In the evening we went back to Buncrana to collect my car, took the opportunity for a lovely walk on the beach just as it got dark and a fast food dinner.
That night I couldn’t seem to switch my brain off and was awake until well after 5am. Catriona was up for work before 7 which woke me again so I figure I had less than 2 hours sleep wiping out most of my Tuesday. Thankfully I’d booked the day off work as an extended long weekend. I did manageto summon enough energy in the afternoon to tidy and clean up the garage though which was long overdue.
I had a few errands to do on Wednesday morning and early afternoon but decided I needed to do something constructive with my days off before returning to work on Thursday. I decided to head for Monellan Woods for a walk with Rosie. I also took my new Trangia alcohol stove and made a hot chocolate drink. I sat and enjoyed that as the last of the daylight faded before heading back to the car in the dark and off home again. It was the perfect mindfulness way to finish my few days off.
I also took my camera and made another YouTube video. I was pushed for time as the light was fading quickly and my phone camera doesn’t cope well with low light (very rushed so didn’t think about a light) but I enjoyed making and editing it. The second half is very poor light quality but I recently watched a YouTube video that contained the advice not to strive for perfection, just make and create and if you enjoy the process then that is good enough. If you want to have a watch the link below will take you there.
I’ve had a dodgy stomach for the last few days and really didn’t feel like cycling today. However, sitting around the house vegetating with YouTube wasn’t doing my head any good so I decided to head to the woods for a walk with Rosie.
I’ve always associated yellow with Spring. The majority of the early flowering plants produce yellow flowers to make them more visible to bees and flies in the low light of the early season. However, the colour of Summer seems to be purple. The profusion of purple over the last 6 weeks has been very noticeable when out and about on foot, cycling or even just driving to work. The forest today didn’t disappoint.
With the flowers come the insects. All along the tracks the constant noise of bees and flies of various species and sizes were like a chainsaw working in the background. Some of them sat still long enough for photos.
As well as all the insect activity I could hear loads of birds and even saw three deer (possibly the same deer in three different locations?) and even managed one blurry long distance photo as one of them high tailed it away from the scary human.
The weather forecast all week has been giving today to be pretty grim with wind and heavy rain all day. I had resigned myself to a day off in the house with possibly a short walk at some stage. However, the forecast was slightly wrong with the weather front breaking into two with a spell of pretty decent weather in between. As the morning progressed this looked more and more likely so I decided a change of scenery was in order and jumped in the car with Rosie and headed for Barnes Gap.
I was last up this track just over a year ago. Either I way underestimated how long it takes to construct a wind farm or Covid shut them down for ages. Construction is still very much ongoing with the hateful implications for the forest environment. The narrow, rocky, rutted and overgrown tracks that were really nice for walking and mountain biking have been replaced with construction sites, quarries and wide roads for construction vehicles.
In general I feel windfarms are a good thing. They will be part of the wider strategy to move away from oil dependency. I’m not a fan of the destruction involved in their construction though. With the amount of road building, use of plastics and heavy machinery it’s hard to see how they can offset the environmental cost of construction during their lifetime. I’m no expert though and also don’t have any alternative to propose. This site was also the location of the infamous moving bog last year.
Despite essentially walking through an active construction site I had the place entirely to myself this afternoon. I also had the pleasure of the wind in the trees, water running in the drains and streams as well as lots of birds singing.
After the dire forecast the weather was actually quite pleasant for most of the walk. During the last 20min the rain did arrive but I did expect it and had dressed appropriately. I did catch the start of the second band of wet and windy weather but just managed to miss the worst of it.
I had estimated the walk to be about 7km but it turned out to be 8km. As the weather has continued to keep me off the bike, despite my back gradually improving, I’ve managed a total of 35km this week. The weather is set to finally improve this week so I hope to get some short evening spins as well as a longer spin Wednesday. If I’m to get in a last minute 100k spin this day week I need to get myself back in shape!
It’s Catriona’s birthday this week and as we’re all at work and school she wanted to celebrate today with a family day away, especially as we appear to have temporarily skipped straight from Spring to Summer.
On the way down we stopped at my brother’s coffee van (#curiouscoffee). I’ve stopped a couple of times already on my way to work but as they are only open 9 weeks now it was a first visit for Catriona and the boys.
Coincidentally Mum and my sister plus kids had a similar idea and we met them there and sat having a chat for a good while.
The main aim of the day was to go for a family walk. We had chosen Glenevin Waterfall outside Clonmany but the car park and trail were closed. According to Google it’s “temporarily closed” so it must be a victim of the lockdown restrictions.
Our next choice was always going to be a beach walk anyway so we headed for Pollan Strand less than 10 minutes away and walked pretty much the full length of the beach. It was 6km in glorious warm sunshine, as close to Summer as it gets in this part of the world.
On the way back we stopped at the Four Lanterns in Buncrana for burgers and chips topped off by 99s in Raphoe. An extravagant day of spoiling ourselves but a lovely family day out.
Yesterday morning was fabulous. Very calm and sunny and despite an early frost it was lovely. After the school run I came home and organised my bike and kit all ready for a late morning spin. First though I had to wait for the guy to come and replace one of our worn out electric showers. With two teenage boys back at school and both of us working one working shower is no longer enough in the morning!
The shower man came about 10 and left about 1130. I don’t know if it was spending the morning making small talk and listening to his stories or if it was the change of weather from sunny and calm to overcast, cool and breezy but my cycling desire had totally evaporated and the thought of dealing with traffic was totally unappealing all of a sudden.
I was rattling around the house trying to think of something to do when a flash of inspiration brought to mind Killeter Forest and the marked trails. A quick perusal of the pdf established that the 10km Bannadoo Trail was the best option.
Over the last number of weeks I’ve been drawn more and more to the woods. Something about woods and forests and being in the trees is helping me mentally, a form of forest bathing as referenced above. My go-to place for many years has been Monellan Woods. It’s local and relatively quiet until the last year or so. Over the years I’d rarely meet anyone else while walking there, occasionally another walker or runner. Since Covid and an explosion in outdoors activity word has obviously spread and now it’s a lot busier. Tuesday evening for example I met at least 6 other groups/solo walkers and runners. It’s still a beautiful spot but it’s lost a lot of it’s calm and solitude.
I didn’t have this problem in Killeter. Almost 7.5km is on forest roads with the rest on a very rural road. Apart from the surface there isn’t much difference between the road and the forest tracks as the road also runs through the same mix of mature Spruce plantation and clearfell. The only company I had for almost two and a half hours was the trees, hundreds of singing birds and insects. Not another person or car the whole time.
The walk turned out to be almost 11km including the short walk from the car park area to the start of the loop. Most of it is through mature plantation so the views are minimal but there’s a beautiful lake in the last couple of kilometres as well as the site of the former Derg Lodge. Although I missed out on a cycle it was a worthwhile change of plan.
I expected it to be difficult to keep up the level of activity of the last few weeks when I went back to work but I had a plan for the week. I didn’t plan on multiple days of stormy wind and rain though.
Tuesday onwards has been pretty grim which had a big impact on my cycling. My plan was 60km each of my days off (Wednesday and Sunday) with 25km two mornings before work (Tuesday and Friday). Tuesday morning wasn’t happening as I really needed the extra hour in bed. Wednesday I did get out but the worst of the storm was to hit that afternoon into Thursday so I only managed a wet and windy 26km. It was still stormy Friday morning so the bike was out again. Today it’s Mother’s Day and #2 son’s 13th birthday so 2.5hrs on the bike was never going to happen. I had hoped for an hour in the morning but a walk was just about enjoyable, a cycle would have been hateful. A total of 26km for the week, how the mighty have fallen!
Walking has been more successful. I’ve managed to keep up my streak of walking every day. Even on the wettest days it’s not hard to dress up appropriately and make it at least partially enjoyable. My target for the week is 30km and finishing on 28.9 my only issue was skipping the 2km walk on Thursday morning. Heavy rain and hail showers was not my idea of a good way to start the day.
The biggest result of the week has been finally starting a strength and conditioning program. I’ve been following the Chain Reactions kettlebell routine from YouTube. Monday, Thursday, Saturday with a 2km warm up walk (skipped on Thursday). I’ve also added in some upper body movements to give a 25-30min routine. I was very stiff on Wednesday but OK since and hopefully it’s the start of a new habit.
My last spin on the bike was a MTB recovery spin the day after my half marathon walk. That was Wednesday last week!
Since then there has been a series of nasty weather fronts that have crossed the country. Some of these have involved heavy spells of rain, we had one day of snow and virtually every day has been very windy or even stormy. We’ve had 4 yellow weather warnings and one of those was upgraded to orange for part of the day.
An often quoted phrase states “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes“. While I do agree with this to a certain extent I’m not a fan of cycling in extreme weather. Ice and thick fog are definite show stoppers for me but I tend not to go out in stormy weather either, especially if there is a risk of heavy rain. Stormy weather can be dangerous to ride in but for me it’s just not any fun!
I haven’t been sitting on my arse though. Over the last 8 days I’ve walked every day and twice on a couple of days. I’ve managed to rack up almost 63km over 10 walks. Only one was a short walk (2km) on Tuesday when I had a stomach bug. Despite pretty much hating cycling in wind and rain I somehow don’t mind walking in the same conditions.