Today was that special day when I get home from work and I’m able to go for a walk in the woods before it gets dark for the first time this year. I managed to get home just in time to make the most of that unique period just as the sun is setting and the moon is rising.
With a massive relaunch sale at work the last two weeks have been long hours, very little time off and demanding days so this evening was very much needed to clear my head and leave me feeling rejuvenated.
It was brilliant to hear so many birds singing vocally as soon as I got out of the van. It put a real pep in my step and I could have sat for hours and listened to them.
The last 10min or so were in under the taller trees which brought an earlier darkness but I had enough moonlight to boost my night vision just enough to still be comfortable. I really do love the woods at dusk.
Corravaddy is a Coillte plantation forest between Letterkenny and Ballybofey. In recent years Coillte have spent some money in the area, upgrading paths, putting up signage and installing some bridges. It’s a popular place to walk being so close to two large towns. Catriona and the boys have been a few times with friends of hers but I haven’t. Looking for somewhere different to go this afternoon I decided to fix that.
Being a Sunday afternoon it was a bit too busy for me and Rosie both but I think I’ll go back another day mid-week when I think I’ll get a bit more peace and quiet.
I finally got around to getting my vaccine booster this morning. I was going to book an appointment at the vaccine centre for a day last week but then our health centre announced a vaccine day. I decided to delay for a week for the convenience factor.
My first two shots were in the official vaccine centre in Letterkenny with a full-on Health Service setup manned by nurses and supported by Irish Army personnel. Checking in, proof of ID, short medical questionnaire, queues and 15min recovery afterwards – easily 30-45min. Today couldn’t have been much more different. Owen and myself arrived a few minutes early for our 11am appointment and were back in the van within 5 minutes! It wasn’t exactly hello, sign that, here’s your card, sit down, jab and piss off but it was close. That’s the way it should be 👌
From the experience of others and from my own experience of the first two vaccines I’d decided in advance that today would be an easy day. However, with the weather being settled and dry I was itching to get outside by the afternoon so decided to go for an easy walk in one of the local forests.
I packed a bag and half way round I went into the trees to make and drink a hot chocolate. I found a great stand of larch trees and a perfect spot to set up my stove and sit for a half hour. The larches have all dropped their needles at this time of year which meant it was bright under the trees and felt much more open than usual in a conifer forest.
Just before Xmas I’d ordered an ultralight stove and stand from Speedster Stoves. It’s a little alcohol/spirit burner but I hadn’t tried it out yet so brought that with me today to heat water.
The great thing about making hot chocolate like this is that it is scalding hot at first and needs patience and time to cool down. This forces me to slow down, relax and enjoy the moment. In the woods this is amplified further by the peace and quiet. I’ve used gas stoves before but the alcohol stoves seem much more appropriate. They’re virtually silent and being that bit slower also add to the need to slow down.
Unfortunately not everyone understands the value of sitting still and enjoying the silence…
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 been finding it difficult to get into a good headspace for a good few weeks now. I wrote back in the middle of July that I was finding it difficult to get motivated to walk and cycle and basically get past the planning stage of anything really. Despite pushing myself to do some things I still feel that I’m only operating at something like 75% of normal. It’s like a series of those days when the weather is full of low hanging clouds and misty drizzle, grey and dispiriting.
With those kind of feelings along comes that good friend comfort eating. I’ve definitely been guilty of resorting to a much increased consumption of chocolate, crisps and biscuits over the last 6/8 weeks. That combined with a considerable drop in activity has resulted in weight gain and I’m now at the top end of my scale. I’m really not comfortable in this zone as it’s getting easier to just let it go.
Energy levels are poor. I’m sleepy and lethargic at strange parts of the day. I almost nodded off at lunchtime today and I’ve found the evening commute difficult on a number of occasions with a sleepy head and droopy eyelids. I’m going to bed at decent times but don’t think my sleep quality is where it should be.
I’ve also been having some “digestive” issues in the last month. I’m not sure if that is a symptom or a contributing cause. I’m concerned that it is the beginning of an intolerance or maybe a form of IBS but have a feeling that it’s mostly dietary and stress related. I’m hoping that a few weeks of cleaner eating will help settle me down again. It can only help with the weight gain also!
I had very little interest in riding my bike today and with a mid morning vaccine appointment for the two boys and an afternoon forecast for persistent rain I knew it was unlikely to happen anyway. Shortly after lunch and almost nodding off I decided to try and lift some of this hateful lethargy and went for a walk in the rain. It was quite warm with no wind and mostly just drizzle when I set off. The heavier rain came along the road but I don’t really mind walking in these kind of conditions. Along the way I met some new neighbours 🐮
The route was mostly local minor roads and lanes but also skirts through one of the local forestry plantations. I took a small bag with me containing my gas cannister, stove, cook pot and water. The plan was to go into the trees and make a hot chocolate.
I didn’t really want a hot chocolate but it’s difficult to rush one without scalding your mouth so it forces you to slow down and take your time. I had Rosie with me too which wasn’t a great idea as she can’t settle when out like this, wants to keep moving and whines a lot.
I ended up sitting for at least half an hour while I prepared my drink and allowed it to cool. It was nice to sit and enjoy the forest and try to settle my mind. I found it surprisingly difficult to switch off my brain, random nonsense and ideas flitting around but I guess I just need more practice to get better at it.
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.
I dropped my road bike off with the bike mechanic yesterday morning on my way to work. I had hoped to get it back early this morning and get a spin today but they’re very busy. He suggested it would be this evening before it would be ready so I had to make alternative plans.
It’s a while now (March last year) since I had a proper day out on the MTB. I’d spotted a great route a few weeks ago by a guy I follow on Strava and with a slight modification I soon had almost a 60km, mostly off road route to ride.
First though the bike needed some TLC. My poor MTB doesn’t get much more than very basic maintenance and performs way better than I deserve. However, before riding it today I had to spend some time scrubbing down and re-lubing the drive train and pumping up the tyres. After my hydration miscalculation on Sunday I also figured that taking my Camelbak would be a wise idea. Of course, it hasn’t been used in almost two years and needed a good sterilisation and clean too. By the time I’d everything prepared it was after 12 before I was in the car and off to the start.
The car park and start location is part way into Barnes Gap between Ballybofey and Donegal Town. The first 5K would be along this busy main road following part of my route from Sunday’s 100K. After this it turns off onto quieter side roads for another 5K to Leghowney Community Hall where it finally goes off road.
The route follows the first section of the Leghowney Loop Walk up through Meenadreen Windfarm. The first section of this is up a punishing climb for just over 2km with the gradient fluctuating between 10-14%. The windfarm has a 25km/hr speed limit and halfway up there was a speed display sign that seemed to take great delight in telling me I was going at 8km/hr.
This climb is up through mostly mature forestry and at the top opens out into the generic upland bog that is typical of this part of Donegal. It’s here were the turbines are located. There appeared to be two windfarms in total with the main one consisting of 25 turbines. Altogether there must have been 40 with a couple more locations visible on nearby hills. One thing about Donegal, there’s no shortage of wind!
Close to the first turbine there’s a very out of place bench that looks exactly like a memorial. I’m not sure of the meaning behind the plaque as I couldn’t see any signs of habitation but possibly any old ruins were cleared during the construction works?
The route through the windfarm is almost 9km in total along graded access roads. It varies from stiff climbs to sweeping descents. However, it’s hard to escape the feeling that you are riding through an industrial complex in the middle of nowhere. Once again I struggled to see the justification of the impact of windfarms while being hypocritical enough to enjoy the trails they provide!
Exiting the windfarm by a large gate with a pedestrian kissing gate, definitely not designed for bikes, I came out on the Laghey to Killeter road close to the border crossing called Kelly’s Bridge.
A short section of road brought me to the forest section of The Bannadoo Trail I walked at the end of April but heading in the opposite direction. Another 6km of undulating forest track before reaching Big Bridge.
Along this forest track I met a guy walking two beautiful beagle dogs. One of them decided to run along after me giving me a bit of a fright when I realised he was chasing me about 150m after I passed him. Not nice getting startled on these rough tracks, he could easily have caused me to slip and crash.
From Big Bridge it was back to climbing again. I’ve only ridden this section once before and from the opposite direction and I didn’t remember it being so long. It was almost 9km with the first 4km of that climbing, sometimes steep, and always with a track surface composed of rock dust that sucks the energy out of the legs. Along this section I was treated to the sight of a red deer bounding across the track from one forest section to the other before enjoying the final few kilometres downhill and back to road for a while again.
This 5km is the last significant section of road and took me past the start and finish of my Barnes Gap walk from a couple of weeks ago. It used to be possible to go up here and make an alternative route but with the ongoing construction I didn’t fancy the hassle today.
Turning after 5K took me on to a bog road that runs along the top of Lough Mourne which is the water source for most of the Finn Valley. This is a pretty barren location when the weather is against you but has a severe beauty on a warm, almost sunny day like today. Thankfully the wind wasn’t against me as it’s also ferociously exposed. The track is mostly used by tractors accessing the bog and as such the surface is incredibly rocky and rough, eroded further by water runoff. My ass took a real pounding* for 3km before I eventually dropped down to the head of the Lough and stopped to let tender bits recover.
*not intending to spend time in a maximum security prison, this is a phrase I didn’t ever expect to write!
Two short sections of road broken by a fast descent of a rough track at the back of the water treatment works brought me back to the forest and saw the last of the tarmac for the day. Along the first section of road I spotted a large buzzard hunting the abandoned grazing between the road and forest. He was hovering for ages but didn’t get to eat this time and eventually drifted off as if embarrassed to fail with me watching.
This last section of forest is familiar to me from two routes I’ve ridden a number of times. The first section crosses a steep ridge but normally I ride it in the opposite direction. It’s one of my favourite off road descents but today I had to ride up it. Close to the start of the climb there was a Cavan reg car randomly parked at the side of the track and a few hundred metres on I spotted a forest worker who obviously owned it. He was quite short and wearing a huge pair of wellies that looked way too big for him. These were literally his downfall as he tripped and took a tumble as he stepped to the grass verge to give me space to puff my way past. It was a real slow motion tumble and perfect roll and thankfully only his dignity was bruised. I was especially happy to see him getting up again as I didn’t fancy stopping and starting on that bugger of a climb. I was of course also happy to see that he wasn’t hurt!
Just before the steepest section the track cut off to the left and within 20m my Garmin was having a fit that I was off course. I looked at Google Maps to confirm I was right, there couldn’t be two tracks that close and going in the same direction, so I pushed on. The track did seem more overgrown than memory but it’s been a few years so I was happy enough. A few hundred metres later the track dead ended and I had to turn back. I’m sure that the Garmin would be sniggering if it could. The little Cavan man also got his revenge as I met him driving along the track as I made my way back to tackle the last couple hundred metres of 14% climb before taking the correct turn this time.
The advantage of doing this section the opposite way is that the tough uphill I normally struggle along now becomes a fast downhill although sadly broken by a gate halfway. It was along the flat section of the ridge that I had my most surreal experience on the bike a few years ago. I was pedalling along and swore I could hear music. Coming around the corner I met a beautiful black lab followed by a guy playing bagpipes! He walks the dog up here and brings the pipes to practice where he doesn’t bother the family or neighbours!
The final 10km was tough. It’s two sections of forest with a section of upland grazing in between. The forest is the usual graded track but the farmland section is back to a rocky lane. It’s a steep area rising and falling along the edge of the hill but generally climbing all the way. The farmland section is the steepest and the toughest with deep eroded sections exposing rocks big enough to stop me if hit the wrong way. By the time I reached the end of this all my contact points were sore and tender and crying out for a break.
Through this area there are a number of abandoned buildings. It was obviously a much more populated area over the last 100 years but completely abandoned now. It must have been a tough life eking out an existence up here, especially in harsh winters.
The final section of forest starts with a rapid downhill and one I’ve ridden many times. Knowing the terrain I let the bike go and aided by the open forest gate I got halfway up the next hill with momentum on my side. The next couple of kilometres are a series of rolling short, steep climbs with shorter descents gradually increasing the elevation each time. The track had changed to finer gravel and loose small stones making it very tiring on already tired legs. The strong breeze was also back in my face making it feel even harder again. I was very pleased to make it to the top of the last climb and took a few minutes to admire the views across the back of Barnes Gap, into the Bluestacks and catch my breath.
The last section is an exhilarating and very fast descent back to the road just 50m from the car park. This area gets a lot of rain so the steep track is badly rutted and eroded by constant run-off. It takes a careful eye and concentration to navigate safely especially as tired as I was. I made it safely and enjoyed this last blast of adrenaline before finishing.
Back at the car I was starving. I had a substantial late breakfast before leaving the house and had two bars along the way but I was out longer than expected and more than ready for food. Getting home I made a ham and cheese toasty that I may have swallowed whole! However, hydration was not a problem today.
I have my first vaccine appointment in the morning and I also have a 100km spin planned. I’m not sure about that now having read BgddyJim’s experiences post vaccine but as I still haven’t heard from the bike mechanic that decision may be made for me.
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!
Over the last 6 months or so I’ve been watching progressively more on YouTube. I’ve become a regular follower of quite a few channels, some cycling but mostly outdoor – hiking, wild camping and bushcraft. A while back I made my first YouTube video and shared it here. Since then the idea of making this a more frequent thing has been rattling around in my head.
One thing that has held me back is the worry of ridicule. Putting myself out there in film feels pretty pretentious and there is the fear that I could be making a complete arse of myself. However, on my Bessy Bell walk this week I took along a tripod and did some filming as well as photography.
I have to say I did enjoy the filming. Looking for shots and compositions as well as sharing the sights and sounds brought a different dimension to the day. I also enjoyed the post filming editing and production, finding the right footage and mixing in music, commentary and photos. It’s a bit like writing this blog, just a different medium.
Below is the finished article. It’s far from perfect and I learned a lot from this first proper attempt but at least I’m happy to share it.
I haven’t been on the bike since the 100km spin for April. The following Bank Holiday weekend was pretty grim weather wise and the Wednesday after I managed to hurt my back doing some clearing out of the attic and garage. I’ve had problems with my lower back for a good number of years with a slightly bulging disc that causes sciatica when irritated. Nothing major but it flares up from time to time. I’ve had various physio treatments for it but I have a weak core and a terrible lazy streak that means I never totally get rid of it.
This time I strained my left side which resulted in pain and inflammation on both sides of my lower back. I’ve had to start on a course of pain killers and wear a back support to work to allow me to stay on my feet all day. I’ve been able to keep working and walking but had to stop cycling to allow it to heal. It had improved towards the end of last week so I decided that a hike was in order to get me out in the fresh air for a few hours and to test the limits of my back in a situation where I could easily bail if I was in too much discomfort.
Bessy Bell is a large hill/small mountain just outside Newtownstewart and approximately 25min from home. I was last up here about 5 years ago and figured this would be a good time for a revisit. The 12km loop is completely on stone forest roads and easy for navigation. The climb to the summit isn’t too taxing (maximum height 420m) and the views are very rewarding.
Rosie isn’t a good traveller, she gets car sick, but at only a 25min journey I decided she could come too. She’s getting on at 10 1/2 now but has been full of energy all week so I figured she would manage better than me!
After the summit you descend most of the way by the same track before branching off to follow the Ulster Way most of the way back to the start. This is pretty level all the way with a mix of forest and clearfell areas, very easy and pleasant walking.
The Ulster Way is overlapped in this region by the International Appalachian Trail. New signage has been installed in the last 6 months or so and this is a later section than my previous walk in Killeter Forest a few weeks ago.
For food I took the usual packed lunch but also decided to take a gas cannister and stove for the first time ever. Normally I carry a flask of tea which usually results in a sub standard, stale tasting and lukewarm drink for lunch. Using the stove provided a very refreshing cup to accompany my sandwiches and definitely worth the slight extra weight.
The final 1.5-2km section is along a stretch of rural road. It’s a busy enough road but quieter than I expected this time. Also there was still lots of flowers to admire and nice scenery to enjoy along the way.
Despite the rest of the country being under a thunderstorm warning it managed to stay dry, warm and mostly sunny for the day. My back coped well and has continued to improve slightly every day since. I hope to get back on the bike for short spins this week.