Bray to St. James Church, Dublin – Stage One of The Celtic Camino

Early Friday morning I received a text from my friend Oihana asking if I was free to take a walk the following day. I said I did and the starting point was to be Bray in Wicklow. Bray is roughly an hour on the train from my home and about 30 km walk to Dublin city centre. The plan was to walk for 15 km or so and then we could catch the train or bus home. However I brought up the suggestion that we could walk to St. James Church and complete the first stage of the Celtic Camino. We were to bring our pilgrim passports and collect sellos just in the event that we do make it to the end point. I felt in good shape so there was no reason not to. If we made it and collected our certificates, we would then be entitled to a Compostela having walked from A Coruna, something I have been planning to do in March or April of 2018.

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We met on the train in Dublin city centre and continued on our way to Bray, which is a large seaside town in Wicklow. It has a large promenade and a great cliff walk that I have yet to try. We arrived close to 9am and looked for somewhere to receive our first sello. We were told by one of the staff that the information desk at Bray train station would provide us with one. We were delighted however we had much amusement changing the date on the stamp! We had proof that we were in Bray and we took a selfie just in case the powers that be had any doubts!

Onwards we went and walked northwards in the direction of Shankill, a large residential estate and town. It was a shame we moved away from the sea and I hope in time, it will be possible to walk closer to the coast in that direction. It took close to an hour to pass Shankill and we were delighted to meet a large church called Crinken Church. We hoped that it would be open and it was!! A music group were practising inside and welcomed us in. One had walked the Camino before and was delighted to hear of this new Camino. We asked if they had a sello and after much hesitation, he said he would look. He returned with a stamp of two footprints..very symbolic! We later learned that the name of the church is St. James’ of Shankill..win!

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We both felt good and with plenty of water we felt that we could complete the 30km. It was still early however the temperature was increasing. It was predicted to reach 27c in the afternoon and at 10.30, it was in the early 20’s, so we tried to stay in the shade as much as we could. Before leaving Shankill, we received another stamp at the Post Office. They were delighted also to hear of the new route and said that they were planning on walking in Spain soon. We also saw a man wearing a t-shirt with a large yellow arrow. 🙂 That could only mean one thing…he has been on the Camino! We wished him a Buen Camino and walked on!

From Shankill, our next stop was Killiney and we were back on the coast again!! The seaside breeze felt great. With the sun out for the day, dozens of people were making for the beach and the walkways were crowded with folks out for the day. I decided to take a little detour and walk through Killiney Hill. That means jumping up about 100 steps to reach the top of the Hill and the famous Obelisk statue. Phew..what a climb. And it was a perfect time to stop for a rest and to marvel at Dublin bay from a height. I could see where we both started and also where we both had hoped to finish. It is one of the highest places in Dublin and great for a walk. Killiney Hill is a large park and is very animal friendly. Plenty of dogs were out with their owners lapping up the sun.

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Adelante!! We left the park after that much needed rest, and rather than continue by the coast, we walked on a trail called The Metals straight to Dun Laoghaire. The Metals is a 3km straight walkway that was formerly a rail line from the quarry in Dalkey to Dun Laoghaire. It’s a lovely walk way but there are no opportunities to collect sellos. We might collect one or two in Dun Laoghaire, we hoped. And we did, as the local library was open. They were glad to assist.  Dun Laoghaire was bustling. It’s amazing what the sun can do. We continued on but not before we took the below pictures.

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From here we would walk along the coast until we reached Dublin Port and 3 Arena. It seemed like the entire population of Dublin were out by the beach, even though the tide was out! With time passing, I became more aware of a niggling pain in my foot but a 99er ice cream seemed to ease the pain for a while. We reached Dublin Port at 2.30pm, a full 5 and a half hours since we started. It was by far the best walk in Dublin I have taken, made special by the great company and the people we met along the way. From Dublin Port, it was a straight walk along the quays up to St. James’ Church which closes at 3.30 on Saturdays. I had slight doubts that we weren’t going to make it but Oihana is super-positive and assured me that we had all the time in the world. I was introduced to the Jeannie Johnson ship that is based along the port and EPIC, the Irish emigration musuem. Where have I been all these years??! Along the quays we walked until we came to Christchurch Cathedral and Vicar Street. Then the Guinness Storehouse and St. James’ Church. We arrived at the Camino Information Centre at 3.15pm and showed our credencials.

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Yes, I had sore feet, yes I had a farmers’ tan, but boy! what a walk?!

If you are interested in walking the Celtic Camino, this is a great route for your Irish leg. Alternatively, you can walk a pilgrim path, for example St Kevin’s Way or St. Declan’s Way. But for somewhere closer to home, this is ideal. If you are unable to walk it in one day, you can walk it over two days. You will be still entitled to a certificate from the Camino Society. So 5 out of 5! Now to look forward to A Coruna in 2018.

All Along The Banks of the Royal Canal

On Saturday, I took a stroll along the Royal Canal Way with the Camino Prep / Training meetup group. We started in Maynooth and made for Dublin, which is 28 kms in total. The Royal Canal Way is a 144-kilometre (89-mile) trail that follows the towpath of the canal from Spencer Dock in Dublin’s docklands to Cloondara in County Longford. It is typically completed in four to five days, however we decided to take in the final day. It is designated as a National Waymarked Trail by the National Trails Office and is managed by Waterways Ireland. In 2015 Dublin City Council began extending the walking and cycling route along the Royal Canal Ashtown to Sheriff Street Upper in Dublin, and that is where we finished. The Royal Canal Way connects with other trails at Mullingar, and more excitingly, will eventually form the eastern end of the Dublin-Galway Greenway. The Royal Canal was originally built for freight and passenger transportation from the River Liffey in Dublin to Longford. The canal fell into disrepair in the late 20th century, but much of the canal has since been restored for navigation, thanks to Waterways Ireland.

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The Royal Canal

 

We started the day early by taking the train to Maynooth, 30 kms outside of Dublin City Centre. The train line follows the trail so we could see fellow walkers out for a stroll as we flew past them. Rain was forecast so I brought rain gear but as it was sunny in the morning, I was hoping it would stay. After a 40 minute trip on the train, we arrived just after half 9 and it wasn’t long before we saw the start of the trail.

There were 5 of us this day, and we hoped to arrive in Dublin before 4pm. The trail is mostly on gravel, or concrete pathways however there are sections with very little signage and the trail is non-existent. We passed through Leixlip in Co Kildare, before entering Dublin at Clonsilla, Castleknock, Ashtown and then Blanchardstown. Dublin City Council have done great work by creating a greenway from Castleknock to Ashtown and there were plenty of walkers and cyclists out while the sun was shining. However, as rain was predicted, it did rain heavily on two occasions. The rain gear was out pronto and served me well. But within minutes, the sun was out. It was a changeable day.

The closer we came to Dublin, the more built up it became and the more houses we saw. Drumcondra is the last town you pass through before arriving at Lock One on the canal. There were houses on both sides of the canal, along with a bustling street. As the sun was out, there were kids jumping into the canal to cool down. We then passed Croke Park standing tall above us. Many a battle have I seen in there!. And there it was, Lock One…the first gate and we had arrived at the end of our walk. It was a tough one, even though the trail was completely flat.

There were many highlights. We passed Brendan Behan’s statue in Drumcondra. Behan wrote the great “Auld Triangle”. In it he wrote “and the auld triangle went jingle jangle,
all along the banks of the Royal Canal”. Here is a great version of that song sang by Luke Kelly and the Dubliners.  We spotted many families of swans, and the odd duck too.  The Canal also actually flows OVER the M50, which is Ireland’s busiest motorway…I’ve never seen anything like it,

We have walked only a small section of the Canal, and in the coming weeks I hope to walk some more..possibly from Maynooth westward. It’s a great trail but it does get confusing in places, as you come closer to Dublin. Keep an eye on this blog for more on this great trail.

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Bray Head with Camino Society Ireland

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Bray town, around and over Bray head and back to the town.

Another weekend and now just 100 days (eek!) before I fly back to Spain and into Madrid. Time flies, doesn’t it? And speaking of time flying, this day 4 years ago I had completed my third day on my third stint on the Camino Frances. My 2013 Camino was easily my favourite and one I will cherish for a long time. I met so many good people and I hope, one day, to see some of them again.

This weekend was shaping up to be something special. During the week, temperatures were in the 20s and the sun was out most days. I had 2 walks planned and was eagerly looking forward to them. Today (Saturday) was in Bray with Camino Society Ireland, and Sunday with the Camino prep / training meet-up group. There were rumours of rain coming up from the South to hit Dublin today but I quietly had my fingers crossed. The last thing I wanted was to be mid-hike in the middle of a downpour. So I packed my rain gear in the hope that there would be just a few showers and that would be the end of that. I left the house in the midst of light rain but nothing that would bother me.

After an hour trip by train, myself and my brother arrived at Bray and was welcomed by quite a few fellow walkers. There were more at the first outing in Howth a month previous but I would put that down to the weather. I brought my Osprey 33 litre backpack with Helly Hansen rain jacket and Berghaus rain trousers. I had my pacerpoles with me this time as we were advised to bring poles with us. They proved to be a great help.

So 10 am came and went and we started to move out. The walk involved using the cliff walk from Bray to Greystones but rather than continuing to Greystones, we would climb up and over Bray Head and loop back to Bray. Looking from Bray, it seemed daunting, but we were assured that the climb was gradual and not as steep as it looked. Onwards we went along the promenade which was bustling with joggers, walkers and a solitary accordionist. The clouds were dark but I wasn’t dressed for rain at this stage.

10 minutes in, as we were walking along the cliff walk, we felt the first drop. One drop became two until a steady shower started. “This is down for the day”..I said to myself. I pulled on the rain jacket and continued in the hope that it was a solitary shower and it would clear sharpish. At the very least, it would be a good time to test the rain gear! A half an hour and it hadn’t relented. The zip-offs were soaked so I thought that now would be a good time to don the rain trousers. The backpack was a lost cause at this stage and soaked through. I should have brought a cover! After a little while, we stopped for a bit so I could put on the rain trousers. They were a massive help! I would recommend them to anyone interested. Most there had ponchos but I prefer rain jacket and trousers.

The climb up the hill was tough in places but nothing too challenging. It was pretty funny seeing a sign warning us of the presence of a bull and totally disregarding it. Yes, we are that crazy!! There were a few awkward obstacles to negotiate but all in all the climb is anything you would see while walking from Rabanal del Camino to Foncebadon. At times, we were walking through flowing streams but the rain started to subside while we were making the descent back to Bray. It was pretty misty also, and it was a shame that we didn’t see the one thing that we came to see…Bray Head cross. Visibility was very poor being so high. The descent was gradual but the rain made walking difficult and it was very easy to slip. After another hour, we made it back to base safely and in one piece.

Despite the conditions, it is a beautiful walk and I would love to give it another go in better weather. During the week, the Camino Society left me a message on Instagram (after I expressed concerns about the forecast)..”It will be like a new adventure”..and it most certainly was. It gave me a great chance to test my rain gear and find any faults..which there were many. I have a few months to find a more effective rain jacket as my Helly Hansen just didn’t cut it. It was also great meeting society members again and talking about future plans. Bernard and Jim can’t be praised highly enough. I can’t wait for the next outing.

Unfortunately, with the poor weather conditions, I felt it wise to cancel the Camino prep / training meet up in Howth tomorrow. I have been on the Howth cliff path while it is raining and it can be difficult to negotiate some sections.

More photos can be found on Camino Society Ireland’s facebook page.

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Another ramble – Dun Laoghaire – Killiney Hill

With slightly under 4 months left before my next stroll in Spain, I can already feel my anticipation levels rising. I want to go now!….but I would probably lose my job and annoy a whole bunch of people. So I might as well wait until September. That first day is going to be eventful..I can just see it now! Catch a flight at half 6 am – arrive in Madrid at 10 am – catch a bus to La Rioja shortly after, and then walk 12km to Navarrete where I will treat myself to a meal and my first cerveza. I can’t help it that I’m a worrier, but I just hope I don’t miss that bus in Barajas! Plan B’s aren’t my strong point.

Anyway, I have been picking up the practice over the last few months, thanks to the Camino Prep Meetup group. I can honestly say I would not have walked as much over the last 2-3 months if it wasn’t for those guys. The Ireland Camino Society are helping out too as they have their 2nd monthly walk to Bray Head on the 27th. Big thumbs up to the guys for organising these walks. They are a massive help to those in the midst of training for the Camino. Their motto “giving something back” is very apt. The Prep meetup group follow up with a walk in Howth and the Bog of Frogs the following day. It is my fourth time walking this trail but it is perfect, I love it!. I have nothing planned until then, however I will think of something.

The organiser of the Camino Prep group has just returned from his final leg from Ponferrada to Santiago..with a Camino glow! You can view his photos and an amazing video of the botafumeiro on his Instagram account. It is well worth a viewing. And while I type, another friend is walking from St Jean to Pamplona. Yes, I know…soon I will be in their shoes, but it’s nice to follow along as they walk.

Saturday saw us walking along the southside coast of Dublin also. The Prep group met in Dun Laoghaire and walked gradually upwards, through Dalkey to Killiney Hill. After a good rest, we walked back to Dun Laoghaire on a trail called The Metals. The Metals is named after the rail track used to carry stone from Dalkey Quarry in the hills to Dun Laoghaire. The track is long gone but it is now a trail 7km long. I will definitely be walking this loop walk again before September. It was fantastic. After a coffee and snack, we bid our goodbyes.

On the 27th and 28th, I will be live-instagramming on our walks (is that even a verb??) so make sure you find me and see the sights in Dublin..both Bray and Howth. My account is @clearskiescamino. Also, if you are from the Dublin area, why not join our Camino Prep Meetup group?

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126 days…

It is May 1st – “Lá Bealtaine” in Irish.  May Day officially heralds the beginning of the summer and the powers that be have granted us a day off from work. Gracias a ellos! “Lá Bealtaine” derives from the Old Irish words “Bel taine” meaning ‘bright fire’. Many people say summer doesn’t start until June but the good weather has kicked off here in earnest with temperatures in the high teens for the remainder of the week. It will be hotter than Ibiza, I have heard!

Today also marks 126 days before I fly to Madrid. Yes, I too have downloaded one of countdown apps for my smartphone. It can be exciting and frustrating at the same time!! Until that day, I will be taking as many walks as possible with the “Camino prep / training” meet-up group. We have a great walk this Saturday lined up along the Grand Canal Way in Kildare. I also am weeks away from receiving the keys to my new apartment, and I will have much work to do when the time to decorate comes around. Unfortunately, I have forgotten how to paint and will need re-training. 🙂

I also have the Camino Celta very much on my mind of late. I hope to walk St. Kevin’s Way in Wicklow before the summer is out. This pilgrim path will serve as the Irish leg of the Celtic Camino. The remainder will start in A Coruna and end, of course, in Santiago. I will be entitled to a compostela at that stage. There is plenty of time for the Spanish leg however – I have 2019 in mind.

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Howth Bog of Frogs Coastal Looped Walk

I seem to be getting into the swing of things now! My third walk in as many weeks and there are more planned in the near future. The more the better, many people say. This walk was not organised through the Camino Prep Meet-Up group however, but by the Camino Society of Ireland. I walk the same route tomorrow with the Meet-Up gang so I know what to expect!

Anyway, at the end of March, I received word via Facebook that there was to be a Camino Society of Ireland monthly hill walk, and the Bog of Frogs was to be the first of many. I jumped at the chance of meeting others who have Camino experience so I penciled that date in my calendar and looked forward to it. Howth is about 5 km from my home and it’s been a while since I have walked this trail. The IrishTrails website states that this trail is “Hard” and is 12 km in length. The Camino Society advised that it should take 3-4 hours to complete and to bring warm clothing, rain-gear, water and a packed lunch. So, nothing out of the ordinary there.

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I brought my brother along with me, as he was eager to try out walks on more difficult terrain. I’m hoping that one day he will join me on one of the Camino routes in Spain. Time will only tell, I guess. He’s a much quicker walker than me but I keep telling him that I choose to walk slow (ahem!). We both arrived in Howth close to 11am and waited for the remainder of the walkers to arrive. It wasn’t long before the organiser and full group of walkers had arrived outside Howth Dart Station. After the usual safety announcements, we were on our way.

Howth is a bustling village and as we walked past the Harbour, coaches filled with tourists were arriving. There is plenty to see and do here including Lambay Island, Ireland’s Eye, Howth Castle, The National Transport Museum, the Martello Tower and the Baily Lighthouse. There is a nice slow climb on leaving the Harbour and once you reach Kilrock car park, you are greeted with a steep climb on stone steps to the Nose of Howth and onto the cliff-tops. We chose to walk the Coastal Looped walk. This looped walk is the longest of four and is marked with purple waymarks. It is very difficult to get lost as you walk along the cliff-top. On walking the cliffs, there are stunning views of Lambay Island and Ireland’s Eye. What really struck me was the sight and scent from the bright yellow gorse that is more widespread as you make your way along the coast. Within the first hour, the Baily Lighthouse comes into view on your left. We decide to stop for lunch at this point. The rest is welcome. We are two thirds of the way through the trail at this stage and I am enjoying it immensely. It’s great to talk with people who are passionate with the Camino, like myself. Many have walked the Camino Frances, but many have also walked the Camino de Norte, the Via de la Plata, and the Camino Primitivo from Oviedo. Some are returning to Spain next week while some are walking later on in the year, like myself.

After lunch and a number of Kit-Kat bars later, we decide to move on, walking further on along the coast. We were told that there was a climb approaching so the break came at a perfect time. A short descent to the beach was followed by a nice climb at Red Rock right up to Carrickbrack Road. Phew! Crossing the Carrickbrack Road leads you to a further ascent but this time it is more gradual. A welcome relief. We reach the summit within 10 minutes and approach Howth Golf Course. I found it quite amusing watching golfers attempt to take tee shots while we cross the course. The owners of the course have made markings for those crossing the course, so you will know where to walk and where not to walk.

After a further half hour of varied terrain, including passing through Deer Park golf course and Binn Eadair GAA club, we were led back to civilisation and Balkill Park estate. Here there is a nice descent to Howth Village and there are plenty of reminders of the tramline that once was a mainstay in this area. The tram served Howth Head until 1959 and there were plans made to reinstate the service in 2016. After just under 3 hours, we arrived back at Howth Dart Station.

Finally, I’d like to thank the Camino Society of Ireland for organising this walk and I hope this is the first of many. Special thanks goes to Bernard for taking charge for the day, to Michael for leading the group and to Jim for taking up the rear and making sure no-one was left behind. I’d also like to thank the 20-or-so walkers that came out and made the day special.

Overall, the day was very enjoyable with plenty of sights, smells and great conversation. The Bog of Frogs is tough in places, but if you are planning on walking the Camino de Santiago, you can’t look further than this route to prepare yourself. We were blessed with fine weather also. I would imagine the trail is difficult to walk in poor conditions. Here’s hoping the weather is the same tomorrow for our walk with the Camino Prep Meet-up group.

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And a video from someone who walked the Bog of Frogs trail:

A Long Flat Walk…

Boom! I’ve gotten my first training walk done and dusted. I am going in the right direction now. I had many a cobweb to shake off after my stay in hospital but it was good to take part in this one and with many great people. As I have mentioned before, I am part of the “Free Camino prep / training” group on Meetup.com. It is a group based in Dublin for those who are preparing for a trip to the Camino or who have been in the past. I really enjoy being around folks who have been or are in the midst of planning. While I was in hospital, the group has grown dramatically and there have been numerous walks around Dublin. The organiser of the group is walking his own Camino in late April and is eager to take on as many practise walks before he goes.

This walk was 15 km in length and started just outside Clontarf Train station. The sun was shining from the off and the whole of Dublin were out either walking, running or cycling. Over the course of the day, we walked northbound along the coast, taking in a detour through the sand dunes of Bull Island and out again at Sutton. After 4 hours, we ended up in the harbour town of Howth, where we had coffee and snacks. This was a perfect flat walk with little or no incline, but that said, it was very enjoyable.

There are events planned for the next two weeks; next Saturday sees us in Glendalough taking on the White Spinc trail, and the following Saturday (22nd) the Camino Society of Ireland are walking the Box of Frogs trail on Howth Head. More of those in the coming weeks.

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