Someone once said “I do the same things I did when I was 12 years old: I ride bikes, I read books, I walk in the woods. And I listen to music”.
For the past 11 weeks and for the foreseeable future I won’t be riding bikes but I will be doing everything else and I can add going to the training field!
John Muir, father of the American National Parks, talked of ‘washing the spirit’ and whether it be on two wheels or two feet there’s a great sense of freedom to be out in untamed nature, to be on your own with your thoughts or none at all..some like to golf but I prefer to seek out new places to visit, new hills to climb and that elation of reaching a peak or covering a distance…
The strangest of years in living memory saw us rediscover our own country in 2020. Fear, worry, stress, anxiety were all our bedfellows as we wondered where the invisible enemy would strike next. Travel was restricted, social contacts likewise and to get away from it all we sought out the quiet places.
We escaped into nature. It’s amazing how much the most popular trails have deteriorated during lockdown as people took to the outdoors for exercise, fresh air and their sanity. Luckily we have lots of green spaces on this beautiful island of ours.
As soon as lockdown was lifted I found myself heading away almost every evening to somewhere new.
I’ve covered over 1500 kilometres since March on my bike. All of it on quiet country roads or off road along the Barrow Way, the Grand Canal, the Royal Canal and a myriad of cycle trails. Counties cycled in this year were Carlow, Laois, Kildare, Wexford, Kilkenny, Offaly, Westmeath, Longford, Meath, Galway, Roscommon, Clare, Tipperary, Cavan, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Armagh and Down, 18 counties in total! All beautiful and all equipped with that network of rural roads that are safe and a joy to cycle on. I’ve donned hiking boots to visit Máméan in Connemara, the Devils Bit, Slievenamon, the Blackstairs, Ballycumber and Askamore to name but a few.
I’ve made a short video above of some of the sights we saw in our travels. Many thanks for following my blog during 2020 and I hope it brought you some enjoyment.
One of my favourite walking destinations is just over the border in Tinahely, County Wicklow. The Tinahely Walkers Initiative have turned the village, of 2020 County Senior Football Finalists, into a bit of a walking Mecca. Full credit is due to those who banged heads together to arrange a series of looped walks in the area. It obviously took a lot of collaboration between landowners, who granted access, the local walking group, Wicklow County Council and the Heritage Council to develop the walks. Its a tremendous addition to the range of activities and locations for outdoor activity in the Garden County. Hopefully we will see similar initiatives in Carlow.
There are three loops starting at the end of Mangans Lane: (1) Mangan Loop 9kms; (2) Ballycumber Loop 14kms; Kyle Loop 20kms. In addition there is the Railway Walk which links the village with the beautiful Tomnafinnoge Woods Loop.
Today, on National Walk Day, we chose the middle loop – the Ballycumber Loop. We couldn’t have got a better afternoon for a walk. This route is a stunner, a lot of it is on grass in the early stages, some on forest trails and part of it across the heather and fern filled open mountainside.
I have to thank my father for passing on a love for all things Irish – our games, our culture and our heritage. Travelling along in the car we were entertained with quizes, ’20 questions’, ‘animal, mineral or vegetable’, geography and history!
We scanned the horizon for landmarks – who would see the sea first… ‘what’s that landmark over there’ and one that always caught my attention, as we drove south to Kerry on our summer holidays, was the Devils Bit!
Legend had it that the Devil himself (or was it Babs…!) bit a chunk out of the mountain and spat it out to form the Rock of Cashel! We were mesmerised by this stories and the journeys passed quickly.
Its taken a long time but I finally made it to walk up the Devils Bit today and what a day for it, blue skies and amazing scenery in all directions. I would highly recommend it as an easy hill walk and a great way to get an introduction to our hills and mountains.
It was also the location of a famous mass meeting in 1832 against the tithes, paid by Catholics to support the Protestant clergy and over 50,000 people are estimated to have attended to hear Daniel O Connell speak and for a symbolic burying of the tithes.
On the way up to the cross you pass Cardens Folly, a tower built by a local landlord, John Rutter Carden.
There is a nice Looped walk which takes about an hour to complete, it’s a steep rise at the start up to the cross and back down through the forest returning by the same path to the car park. I went back up as I wanted to walk to the top of the actual Devils Bit and it was well worth the effort!