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Monday, 31 October 2016

Our last Annascaul walk.

Today was the last day of the 10th Annual Annascaul Walking Festival so it was with a sense of sorrow that local and visiting walkers converged on Hanafins Bar for the final walk, a marked loop walk, around the upper perimeter of the village to Meelin  Hill with views of the bay and the surrounding area. Mary and I had decided that we wanted to do a slightly longer walk that would take us to the Annascaul Lake we had heard so much about. When most left for the local walk we headed out past the South Pole Inn and took the small country farm road towards the lake. The first few miles in the bright clear morning took us through a series of farms where we observed the local farmers tending to the needs of their animals. Life was busy for these people whilst the rest of us enjoyed our leisure pursuits on a Bank Holiday morning. There was a much cooler temperature to the morning with a feeling that Autumn had finally started but with the clear skies above, the visibility was excellent and walking conditions perfect. The hedgerows still had a sprinkling of colour with bright yellow flowers intertwining dark blues of blackberries, reds of  fuschia, as they all cling on before the cold of winter finish their display for another year. The famous Kerry hedgerows of fuschia which, from the Irish, is translated as " the tears of Christ " must be a truly spectacular sight and a reason, if a reason is needed, for Mary and I to make a return to this wonderful and magical place. After a few miles we came to a crossroads where we left Gurteen and started to climb up into the hills that would take us through Counduff and then the lake. The landscape was changing and the colours soon changed to the soft browns and purple of the heathers covering the surrounding hills. The scenery and beauty of nature was breathtaking with an almost religious atmosphere and reverence that was so silent and calming that you felt the sound of your own breathing would interrupt this peacefulness. When we passed through an agricultural gate we started the descent that would lead us to the lake. Rounding a bend on the path there was a real wow factor as the lake in all its sparkling beauty was revealed in front of us. What a place to sit on a rock drinking a cup of coffee being mesmerised by the calm lake with nature painting a replica of the mountains on the still water. Life doesn't get any better but all too soon it had to end so finally we grudgingly got up and started the long walk back leaving the beauty and peaceful countryside to its permanent inhabitants, the flocks of sheep grazing lazily on the heather covered slopes. Back at our beautiful cottage we vowed that we will soon return to this paradise of walking. We really have only scratched  the surface and there are hundreds of hikes and walks to be planned for as well as joining the local walkers on their Sunday morning walks from Hanafins Bar. Tonight we are heading down to the village to join the Halloween festivities. Drink will be taken.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Exercise with learning. Perfect.

This morning we met at Hanafins Bar for the third day's walking in the 2016 Annascaul Walking Festival. Yesterday's climb along the Doorah Range was at times difficult and demanding whereas todays promised to be more informative with less climbing. The official brochure described today's walk as an archeological walk that would retrace 4000 years of settlement from the Bronze Age cairn at Dromavally through the Christian Ogham stones at Rathduf and seeing the development of 21st Century farm life. At around 10.30 on a bright sunny morning, John Hanafin, the owner and proprietor of Hanafins Bar led us along the Main Street for what would become a very entertaining and enjoyable walk. John is an expert on local history and geography but it was his communication style that included local stories and folklore that made this a truly remarkable ramble. First we walked along the old military road that was constructed to link the British military garrison in Killarney to the naval base at Dingle. In the 1830s this became the Royal Mail road and was also part of the butter route to Cork. The pace of the walk was relaxed and casual with John continually pointing out interesting sights. Our first rest was at Ballintarmon where we had the opportunity to study a large stone sculpture by the renowned Irish American artist, Jerome Connor. In the bright sunshine we walked along the country lanes to Glantane where we were treated to an intensity of green that has made Ireland known as the Emerald Isle. The intense green interspersed with splashes of red from the fuschia, white from the lambs, browns and blacks of the cows, grey of stone walls and all topped with a pale blue sky that had traces of white fluffy clouds was a masterpiece we were privileged to pass through. Soon we were making the gentle climb from Rathduff up to the townland  of Flemingstown where we could see down the hidden valley. John pointed out the outline of a square fort and regaled us with local stories and superstitions associated with these formations. Back down through Rathduff and then on to the old graveyard at Ballintaggart. This was a real highlight of the walk as we walked around the large tombs. I've never seen anything like this. Because the ground is impossible to dig then large rectangular family tombs are constructed firstly from local stone and then in later years from concrete blocks. On the way down the hill to Ballyandreen we passed a Kerry Camino sign with yellow arrow and shell. Over the small bridge at Ballyandreen,where in past times the areas milk was collected, we had a thirty minute walk to the edge of Annascaul ending at Hanafins Bar where we were again treated to soup and sandwiches. It is nice to finish the day's walk socialising with fellow hikers as we sat outside in the bright sunshine.
Later in the afternoon Mary and I went for a stroll along Inch beach and were really impressed with the beauty of the whole area. Large breakers crashing on to a sandy beach that is surrounded on three sides with imposing mountains. We stood mesmerised at the skills of the surfers as they travelled along the giant waves but soon it was time to visit a local hostelry where we enjoyed Irish coffees.
Sad to say that tomorrow is the last day of the festival so we are heading down tonight to the South Pole Bar to meet up with fellow walkers.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

The Doorah Range Walk

Today Mary and I met up with a group of about fifty walkers outside Hanafins bar in Annascaul for the start of the second of four walks in the Festival of Walking. Today's walk was described in the brochure as a moderate rated walk that would go over three modest peaks forming the Doorah Range which stands on the edge of Dingle Bay. I don't know who does the grading for hill walks but if that walk was " moderate " then I'm bloody glad I haven't been subjected to a rating of difficult or even strenuous proportions. We started at the stunningly beautiful Minard beach where the ocean has thrown up rocks that are now arranged as an effective storm break which protects the small country road and surrounding countryside from the anger and violence of the winter seas. Above us and overlooking the sandy beach was the ruin of the building where Tom Crean signed up to join the British navy which was the starting point for his future heroic adventures. A small country road guided our merry group toward the start of the climb that would eventually see us at the summit of Acres which would be our highest climb of the three peaks making up the Doorah Range. As we made our jolly way in the bright morning sunshine I was surprised to come across a sign displaying the Kerry Camino along with a yellow arrow and scallop shell. It seems I can never get away from this symbolism and my life is now intrinsically entwined with all things Camino. The country was awash with colour and looked like an artists landscape overlooked by a bright cloudless sky. Things were going too well but this all changed when we made a right turn off the road and started climbing the hills using the sheep tracks as paths. The colour of the landscape had changed from the bright green of fields sectioned of with brown hedges that gave a quilt affect to a sea of brownish purple heathers that were just starting to show yellow, white and red flowers, that shone like precious stones in the bright sunlight. Underfoot the going was tough as we stumbled through the prickly heather being ever vigilant not to trip on stones or holes in the soft black peaty soil always concentrating on the path and not allowing our minds to wander on the beautiful sights of hills, cliffs, sea and sky that were unfurling all around us. This was hard going and you could hear the loud beating of your heart synchronised with the aches of your legs as you pushed through the sponge undergrowth towards the summit towering vertically above. Two hours of climbing took us to the summit of today's highest peak where we enjoyed the best cup of coffee, ever, and a slice of fruit bread. Lying on the heather, drinking and eating, was a time to reflect and take in the beauty of creation and surely this has to be one of the most beautiful scenes in the world. All too soon our rest was over and the return to Annascaul was as pleasant a walk as you could ever imagine and in stark contrast to the earlier climbing. Walking along the ridge of Doorah we could see the small trawling boats down below in the sparkling waters of Dingle Bay and overshadowed by the grey almost mystical mountains whilst to our left the beautiful green landscape unfolding like an artists painting. The walk ended back at Hanafins Bar where we were treated to soup and sandwiches and where miracleously the aches and pains disappeared in the company of good friends.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Annascaul Walking Festival

This morning Mary and I packed the car and set off for the village of Annascaul  which lies among the mountains, lakes, rivers and valleys in the heart of the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. We were making the 400 mile drive in order to take part in the 2016 Annascaul Walking Festival which starts on the Friday night and finishes on Monday. The village is famous as an Irish Mecca for hiking and hillwalking and has been described as a walker's paradise where hill and dale, river, lake, sea, conjure up an ever changing tapestry,vividly coloured with the richness of the wild Kerry flora and fauna. Annascaul is also famous as the home of the famous adventurer and explorer, Tom Crean, who was a member of three major expeditions to Antarctica: 1901-04 Scott's Discovery Expedition, 1911-13 Terra Nova Expedition and Shackletons Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Crean was a remarkably brave explorer made famous by his 56K solo walk across the Ross Ice Shelf to save the life of Edward Evans and also as a member of a small crew who volunteered to make an open boat journey of  1,500 K from Elephant Island to South Georgia to get help for Shackletons Endurance crew who were stranded. In 1920 Crean retired back to Annascaul where along with his wife Ellen he opened a pub named, the South Pole, where he lived until his death in 1938.
What an experience we had this afternoon visiting this famous pub where we enjoyed not only a drink and lunch, but also the opportunity to pursue the many original  framed photographs from Toms Expeditions and newspaper cuttings.
The walking festival organised by the Annascaul Walking group from Hanafins bar started this evening with a torch lit Tom Crean Walk. We didn't know what to expect so it was a pleasant surprise to find over 100 people ready to do the walk from the front of Hanafins. This was a three hour walk on the quiet rural roads that undulated around the surrounding countryside and included a visit to Crean birthplace and final resting place. It really was a Halloween experience as we walked around the dark country graveyard lit only by the flickering and dancing beams of torch light. We enjoyed the company of locals, people from all over Ireland and even a couple from Cornwall. Tomorrow we start the serious hiking with the Acres Hill walk over the Doorah Range where sheep paths will lead us to the edge of Dingle Bay.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Ups and downs on the last day

Friday morning was an exceptional time at the Sanctuary of Our Lady on top of Montserrat. I got there at 8.00am, well before the visitors started to arrive, but by midday sitting with a cup of coffee just people watching, I had a decision to make. I would have liked to stay all day but I also wanted to finish this journey before my feet gave up on me and I still had the walk to Manresa. With a reluctant heart but I hoped sensible head I used the Cremallera to take me back to the beautiful little village nestling below in the shadow of the mountain. The weird and wonderful rock formations look like figures and on my walk up the previous day they reminded me of a simple or primitive form of Mount Rushmere but then I learned that it is called the ridge of angels and that seemed much more appropriate as they guard the village below. The walk along the ancient, twisting village streets was as if I had gone back in time but then too soon I was on the modern sun drenched road that would eventually, about three hours later, lead me to my journeys end, Manresa. Feet in a total mess, due to the heat, the outskirts of the city was a welcome yet daunting sight. Far away perched on a hill stood the vast gothic structure that is the Basilica of La Seu which had been one of the principal sources of  inspiration for Saint Ignatius during his eleven month stay between 1522 and 1523, but there was a lot of ground to be walked on before I got there. I crossed the River Cardener on the eleventh century medieval bridge with its eight semicircular arches and suddenly realised that I was actually following his footsteps over the same bridge into the old town, it was a very sobering thought. Parts of the city and its historical significance, not only in European but in World history, cannot be denied and as you walk along Balc street in the medieval quarter the atmosphere can still be felt with its maze of narrow, irregular, poorly lit even on the brightest of days, and so badly ventilated it is almost airless. Narrow arches and overhanging balconies add to the dark sinister feeling that had formed in my mind.  I found the Chapel of the Rapture where Ignatius tended the sick and where one of the best known mystical episodes happened. Around the corner and there was my finishing line. The former college of St Ignatius, the second school formed by the Jesuits, which is now a Regional Museum, also houses the pilgrims office where the final stamp is added to your passbook and you are awarded the Ignatian Way Certificate. Several important places to visit, the Basilica and the cave where Ignatius lived and started to write the Spiritual Exercises. The Gothic Basilica of Santa Maria de la Seu built on a hill is the principal architectural and artistic icon of the city and I walked round and round but couldn't find a way in it was locked. There was a group of people looking to get in and one of them asked me and then we chatted. He was a retired archaeologist and had stayed and done work on Carrickfergus Castle, small world. Anyway the Basilica was closed and wouldn't open until 7 and the same news greated me at the cave. It might seem like a disappointing end to a tough journey but it didn't feel that way. I had reached the end and I was ready to go home.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Montserrat

This morning after a refreshing breakfast I walked about 6k to the Cremallera or Rack railway that climbs vertically from the village of Monistrol de Montserrat, after being told by my hosts last night that no one now walks up to the monastery perched high on the holy mountain, Monserrat. After using the Cremallera I now agree with them,when they told me, I was mad for having done the climb. The Cremallera is a fantastic experience and affords you the opportunity to not only enjoy a great feat of engineering but to wonder and marvel at the amazing scenery with sheer rock formations to your right and a plunging view down into the plains below, on your left. I saw more during the fifteen minute journey today than I saw in the near four hour climb yesterday. You don't see much looking at your feet and with sweat blinding you. At the top and it took me awhile to fully grasp the beauty, magnitude, history, peacefulness and special atmosphere that is the Sanctuary of Monserrat. I have always been inspired by the square and basilica at Santiago along with the special atmosphere created by pilgrims, well today, I experienced something that rivals if not betters Santiago as the finishing point for a walk. I was the only person there who was doing the Ignatian Way and the place was packed with people but such is the peaceful, spiritual surroundings, people show respect  thus creating a silent devotional aura, perhaps because everyone , myself included, is so captivated by the  beauty of mans creation which enhances the setting nature has spectacularly provided. I wondered around, mouth open, just soaking in wonderful sights. I stood admiring the outside of the monastery  and was further taken back when entering through the door that I wasn't inside the church but had entered a large square with cloisters down each side and the door to the church in front of me. I joined the silent queue that had formed to walk past the large, beautifully ornate, 12th Century carved image of Our Lady of Montserrat, the Black Madonna, La Morenta, perched high above the main altar, Santiago style. You would need several days to fully explore the Sanctuary and the beautiful grounds but I did make sure to find, in the Basilica, the sculpture of St. Ignatius which recalls how he knelt before " Our Lady of Montserrat" on 24th March 1522 and offered up his knights sword before dressing in a pilgrims sackcloth. Well I didn't have a sword, not even walking poles to offer up, and sackcloth doesn't really appeal, so I did things the modern way and presented myself at the pilgrim office to get the official stamp on my passbook. I felt sad leaving Montserrat but I still had to finish the walk at Manresa. Taking the train down meant that the walk would be only about 7k but I'll finish now and keep Manresa for tomorrow's blog.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Getting harder near the end.

It was an early 6 am start in order to get some serious miles in before the heat of the sun. Starting in La Panadella this was a long and at times quite boring walk along the side of the N11. It struck me,that all the traffic is now thundering down motorways, in this case the A2, and the wide national roads are relatively empty of traffic except, that is, for cyclists who now have these excellent roads almost to themselves. My walk was mostly downhill and the miles fairly flew by as I first approached  the village of Santa Magadalina del Cami where I was fortunate to find a small cafe and had the pleasure of enjoying a coffee, sitting outside, and watching the village awaken. The next town to pass through would be Jorba, about 8K away so you can imagine my surprise when after an hour of walking I came upon the service station, Jorba, and couldn't believe that that I had travelled so quickly. The answer came about 3K later as I walked into the delightful and picturesque village of Jorba. Service stations are traditionally some distance from where they are called after, silly me. The sun was up so it was time for a cold drink before leaving Jorba and making the final stretch that would lead me to the city of Igualada. Walking down a tree lined avenue that led towards the centre of this city, which according to the large welcoming sign, was the capital for Spanish leather work, I was yet again amazed at the beauty and indeed cosmopolitan atmosphere of a sizeable city that honestly I'd never heard of. Maybe that's just a sign of my ignorance and everyone who reads this already knew Igualada is the capital of the Spanish leather industry. Walking through Igualada further strengthened my belief that our thinking that we are advanced and everyone else isn't, is so wrong. A city that treasures its historic buildings whilst at the same time embracing modern concepts was evident to my eyes. All to soon I was leaving the outskirts of the city to follow the road leading to the famous monastery, sitting above the Spanish landscape, on top of the holy mountain of Montserrat. The advice is that you should use the road, " for pilgrims it is not at all advisable to take the mountain trails". I therefore walked along the N11 until St. Paul de la Guardia where I branched off on the road to Monserrat that stated the distance as being 12K. Three hours of uphill walking and I would be there at around 5pm.  It was definitely uphill, in very high temperatures, on a corkscrewing road, with no space allocated for walkers and large coaches and cars swinging around the bends to and from Montserrat. The scenery was stunning but fear of being hit by a coach or car, concentrating on the climb and enduring the heat, meant that appreciating the beauty of the surroundings was well down my priority list. Imagine my anger and frustration when, after two hours of hard graft, I encounter a sign informing me that Montserrat was now 3 hours and 15 minutes walking time away. What could I do but keep walking. Forty minutes later and on rounding a bend, there it was, the magnificence that is Montserrat, my final destination. These signs need sorted. Honestly, I was to tired and hot to spend time at the monastery and went down to the beautiful little village, Monistrol de Montserrat, where I am staying at Hotel Restaurant Guillaimes. This evening, fully recovered after a shower and dry clothes, I enjoyed an exceptional meal created by Joan and Jordi, in the company of Michael from Belgium and Peter from Germany. Tomorrow I will explore Montserrat followed by Manresa and then the adventure will be over.