Camino Society Ireland hike – Ticknock Woods – 1st July 2017

65 days.

The countdown to my next Camino continues and I long for the day I throw on my backpack and find the first arrow. I can then let the simple life take over and let the walking do the talking. It’s not long away, that’s for sure, so any practice hike until the 4th of September is a good one. Camino Society Ireland held their third hill walk today for members and friends. After last month’s washout in Bray, I was hoping that the weather would be a little kinder to us. A little sun even?

We weren’t disappointed however as the forecast was for variable cloud and sunny spells. I’m not going to argue with that. That said, I did bring along the rain gear, just in case the folks in Met Eireann were passing on false information!

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Ticknock Forest is located to the very south of Dublin and in the Dublin Mountains. Now, being from the north-side of the city, transport was always going to be an issue but the Camino Society posted directions on Facebook and Google Plus a number of weeks beforehand so all was well. A quick journey on the Dart and following a cross-Dublin bus trip, we were collected and brought to the start point in Ticknock Forest. It is also the site for Biking.ie, a Mountain Biking Company, so we would be sharing the trails with bikers. The word “bicigrino” flashed before my eyes!

I had decided beforehand to invite members of our Camino Prep meet-up group along as it might be helpful to them in their decision to walk the Camino. Eight came along and I was delighted with that. We started off, after some safety announcements, shortly after 11am and it was uphill from the off. The numbers were close to 30, most I knew, some I didn’t. So I wanted to get to know the folks I hadn’t met before. We varied our walk between sections of the Dublin Mountain Way, the Wicklow Way; all the while taking in the best views of Dublin. Naturally, the higher we climbed, the colder it got, so I was glad to bring along a fleece! We reached the top of our climb within an hour and decided to stop for some lunch. Una sabia decisión!

The terrain varied from clear rocky trails, boardwalk, loose gravel, to a particularly dodgy descent through boggy marsh. But maybe that was me taking a wrong turn! Hmm! Highlight of the day was descending through a pine tree forest and spotting an arrow on a tree. It reminded me of the descent to Roncesvalles on day one back in 2014. All in all, we walked close to 10km however, it is one part of Dublin I want to return to. There is potential to walk for longer and there are many trails. An enjoyable day. Thanks to Bernard and Jim for organising.

The next walk will be at the end of August, so if you are interested and live close to Dublin, keep an eye on www.caminosocietyireland.com. If you have an Instagram account, make sure you follow the Society also, there are plenty of exciting things in the pipeline. Below are just a few photos that myself and my fellow peregrino Oihana took today.

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Howth Head – A Camino on my doorstep…

I can’t praise Howth Head and it’s various loops high enough. I live 15 minutes on the train from this great town and it’s impossible not to get tired of this beauty of a walk. The Bog of Frogs Loop – it’s longest walk at 12km – has many surprises and I’ve often described it as Camino in one day. It has everything – uphills, descents, bright colours, smells and of course, the sea!

I walked it on Sunday with the Camino Prep / Training meet-up group, starting out just after 10.30. Howth was pretty quiet at this time save for a pipe band that were setting up, possibly for a competition later on that day. Before arriving at the head, there is a gradual ascent on footpath – a little like what it’s like coming out of St Jean Pied de Port, until we arrive at the cliffs. A decent climb up rocks leads us to the cliff face and you can see all of Dublin at this stage. On busy days, people from all over the world visit this area to take in it’s views. I don’t blame them.

Onwards we walked with the strongest walkers at the front and myself and fellow peregrino Oihana at the back. Three hours later we arrived back to the village and devoured a well deserved cafe con leche. It was also great to meet new members to the group, some of whom are planning their own Caminos in the coming months.

Next Saturday, the 1st of July, I walk through Ticknock and the Dublin mountains with Camino Society Ireland. If you are in the area and want to join us, more information is here

Below are some photos of the walk on Sunday, many thanks to Oihana for taking such great pictures.

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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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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:

The White Spinc Trail – Glendalough

Another beautiful day and another trip with the Camino prep meet-up group. Each time I meet with them, I feel like I have stumbled across a pot of gold. Yesterday, we took on the Spinc trail at Glendalough. As some of you may know, Glendalough is home of St. Kevin’s church and monastic site. The Wicklow Way also passes through this area.

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We arrived at 10am and started on a short walk to the trail head. At that point, we were greeted with a long and steep climb. It wasn’t all doom and gloom though as there were steps to aid us..near on 650 of them! It wasn’t long before the calves began to give in! After a half hour, we reached the top and were met with a fantastic view above the upper lake and Glenealo river. After a quick breather, we marched on, taking advantage of the boardwalks. A short time later, we reached the top of the Spinc. Boy, was that tough! But for all the aches and pains, we were rewarded ten-fold with amazing views. Looking down over the cliff-face, you can see the path on the other side of the lake. We would be walking this in a few hours.

The trails were full while we walked as many took advantage of the Easter season and took in a hike. There were many tourists out also. I was really impressed to see children of all ages run up the ascent with no bother! A further hour passed and after a descent (in some parts dangerous) we reached the old Lead-mine ruins. We all stopped here for lunch and a breather. We weren’t far from the end, with another 4 km on the flat left. On arriving back to base, we grabbed a coffee and a snack in the Glendalough hotel. I was really happy with the day and having no rain was a bonus! The next few weeks’ walks will keep me busy as I have the Howth Bog of Frogs planned with the Camino Society of Ireland on Saturday, followed by the same on Sunday with the Camino Prep Meet-Up group. The next Saturday (29th April) we have decided to walk from Hazelhatch to Sallins along the Grand Canal Way. Let’s hope it is fine that day too.

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Ireland? Or Galicia?

Last weekend I took a trip westward to meet my good friends C and J. I have written a number of times about them after we met in 2013 outside a wet and windy Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Whenever we can we all meet up to reminisce, have a few cervezas and of course, talk about our respective future Caminos.

I hadn’t told them that I had postponed my April Camino to September so their response to that was along the lines of “Oh, so we will have plenty of time for more walks”

Excellent!

So after a pilgrim meal and a few cervezas on Friday night, we woke up bright and early and headed off to our starting point. I brought a full pack and my Pacerpoles in the attempt to make this walk as realistic as possible. I had a Helly Hansen rain jacket as I am eager to leave my Altus at home. So I was wishing for a little bit of rain to test it out. On arriving at the start point outside the village of Doon in Limerick, the clouds were grey and full so I was optimistic! We set out just before 9am and immediately started to climb. The legs started to pain me before I reached the top. I thought to myself “Hmm, I am nowhere near Camino-fit”. But these types of walks are ideal if I am to conquer the Leon hills and O Cebreiro again.

The majority of the walk was along back roads close to the villages of Hollyford and Lackcomer in Tipperary, and Doon in Limerick. The trail followed the River Multeen for most of the day so it was great to have the sound of running water beside us at all times. In fact, there is a waymarked trail called the Multeen Way, which is part of the Ireland Way, but we decided not to follow it and we went about our own way. We had great craic talking about past Caminos and our plans for the next. C & J are walking from St Jean to Santiago in September just after I return from my 2 weeks. So I will be vicariously walking with them. My Pacerpoles were fantastic. It took me a while to get used to them and how to use them right, but once I did, I had a much quicker stride and there were no pains in the legs. I had no problems with the Osprey pack either. C told me she always gets by with a 28 litre pack, much to my surprise!!

Our day ended with a huge hill to climb; a little like the climb to Alto del Perdon! I powered ahead in the hope of reaching the top quicker. At this stage, we were in the clouds and, in fact, close to a wind-power plant. Alto del Perdon is definitely right!! We finished off with a nice descent back to the car and short drive back to base.

Whenever I am in the Limerick area, I do my best to visit Glenstal Abbey to go to Vespers. I couldn’t pass the chance again. I have been to Vespers twice in Rabanal del Camino and have been in love with their sound and harmonies since that first time in 2012. I arrived back to base close to 10pm when we watched a number of Camino related videos from YouTube.

Addicted isn’t the word!

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A Very Camino Bank Holiday Weekend..

So is it really May? Did 4 months just pass me by, because I didn’t feel them go? It won’t be long before September is here. However, I have great fear that my mini-Camino will pass me by and I’ll be wishing I was still there when I return home.

That was the case during the long Bank Holiday weekend. It was as close to a trip to the Camino – without leaving this country of mine..and it was great!! I met up with good friends who were on the same level as myself, we ate great Spanish cuisine and drank probably too much riojan wine. And lastly I walked and climbed through the hills of Limerick in Ireland. There were a few showers of rain or hail on Monday but they only made us stronger.

To start with, I met Nidarosa (from Somewhereslowly.com) and her friend in Dublin city on Saturday night. They had completed the final 110km of the Camino and they were still in Camino-mode. They discussed their week long trip with me as we ate tapas from the Salamanca Tapas restaurant. I would recommend eating there, the food is delicious. It was great to see Nidarosa again and meet another Camino friend! The night turned from young to old but we said our goodbyes until next time.

The previous week, I had arranged to meet J and C, 2 of my Irish Camino buddies that I met in 2013. The earliest train to Tipperary was at 9am so that meant an early start…not so good with a hazy head! I arrived and within the next hour I was making my way to the Ballyhoura mountains in the south west of Ireland. It is generally a biking trail park but there are a few walking trails. We climbed..and climbed..and climbed until we reached the summit of Ballyhoura. I couldn’t see much life underneath me, as you can see from the pictures below. It took us a good 2 hours to reach this far, and now for the descent…the dreaded part. It was all good though. It had been raining a little beforehand but nothing on that day. The conversation ranged from our favourite albergues, Camino angels to our love of ordering the first cerveza when walking has been complete. I also got a few tips for my upcoming Camino Finisterre. The walking this day was tough but I really enjoy walking with J & C and any ache I receive is paled into insignificance. We left Ballyhoura for an amazing pasta and a few pints in a typical Irish pub. When I mean  “typical Irish pub”, when you order tea or lemonade, you are from the city!!

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After a lie in the next morning, we decided to head out again for another hike. This time, we would take it a little easier and walk on flatter ground. The town of Bruff and the surrounds of Lough Gur were chosen. Back roads and country lanes can be safer than the hills, but you need to be on the watch out for any budding Lewis Hamilton in the Irish countryside. It was also a little longer at 13km also. This walk is as close as you are going to get to Galicia. It even had a smell of cow in the air.

The ups and downs,
The bridges,
The large stone walls,
The corner shop,
The eager greeting from a passerby,
The church bell ringing.

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We arrived back at base (picture above is not base) and while we had some well earned pasta and red wine, we watched Jamie Nicol’s excellent Camino film on YouTube. A tear was shed and as my head nodded in agreement with Jamie, I thought about lucky I am. I enjoy being around friends, but being with Camino friends, that you cannot buy.

I arrived home in Dublin late on Monday night and was back in the real world on Tuesday. Hopefully the aches and pains will be a warning to me to get walking before September.