Category Archives: Europe

European hiking

Finally, Belfast

Loyalist area
Loyalist area

I very rarely blog about topics not related to the outdoors. But I want to put down some observations before I forget.

When Beth and I decided to hike in the Republic of Ireland, I knew that I was going to visit Northern Ireland as well. Lenny, our son and I lived in Oxford in the early 1980s. These were the Thatcher years and the troubles of Northern Ireland  were in the news every day. If it wasn’t the miners strike, it was the troubles in Northern Ireland.

I took the train from Dublin to Belfast.

“Will I see a sign that says ‘Welcome to Northern Ireland’?” I asked a woman sitting across from me.

“No.” She smiled.

Loyalist parade
Loyalist parade

But there was no need for a sign. As soon as the dual language (English and Irish) signs ended, I knew we had crossed the border.

I’m staying with an AirBnB host who’s very talkative. He took me on a walking tour downtown, which was very helpful. As soon as we came back, a police car was on the street, close to where I’m staying.

“Well,” the officer said, “there’s going to be a parade. And this is a bit of a contentious area.”

imagei didn’t waste time. I grabbed my camera and walked through the Protestant area, photographing murals, which depict the men who died during the “troubles”. Queen Elizabeth also featured in their murals.

Then I bumped into the band parade.

Wow! I was not prepared for such fervor from the Loyalists. There are more Union Jacks in the few blocks around here than I’ve seen in all of London. Every house is blazing with British flags.

Bands after bands of men and boys, with different uniform, marched. Some came as far away as Scotland. In the hundreds of males in the parade, I only saw five women.

Apparently the band season occurs in the summer. I was just lucky to be here at the right time. I walked on the sidewalk, sort of following the parade. The parade started and ended with the police, both in cars and on foot.

imageThe locals here are more difficult to understand than in Ireland. I think that they have more of a Scottish accent mixed with the Irish. But I smiled a lot, even if I didn’t appreciate all that was said.

Many of their people came to the U.S. down the Great Wagon Road and into Appalachia. The men I spoke to knew where North Carolina is.

i took a lot of pictures. Here’s one depicted the 1690 Battle of the Boyne. Look up this important date. Remembering that I’m still blogging on  mini IPad.

 

 

 

Irish Walks – a wrap up

Beth and horse
Beth and horse

All good things must come to an end.

Beth and I have finished our walks through Ireland. With the Kerry Way, Dingle Way and more than half of the Wicklow Way, we calculated that we did over 275 miles. That doesn’t begin to compare with 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail or over 1,000 miles of the Mountains-to-Sea across North Carolina.

Still, it was a great way to see a part of Ireland. Instead of renting a car or getting on a bus and visiting many places for a short time, we chose to concentrate on walking and understanding a small section well.

Get me out of here!
Get me out of here!

But if truth be told, that’s not how we made our plans. We decided on walking in Europe and then learned about the marvelous trails in Ireland.

As I’ve commented before, there isn’t much wilderness in Western Europe. Every corner has been lived in, farmed, tilled, and grazed. When you see sheep or horses, you know that the land is privately owned. People live and work in their national parks, though with many restrictions, I’m sure. So you can walk and walk and plan to have a bed, shower and meal, if you want that.

But  the walking feels wild, even with sheep bleeting  on the  path. We had to figure out gates, stiles and sometimes confusing instructions and signs. We met few hikers on the trail and stopped and said hello to everyone we met. This kind of vacations allowed me to talk to locals in the shops, pubs and at our B&B. The people here really appreciate visitors and want to tell us about their country. Since there were few Americans on the trail, locals were intrigued about us and our walks.

Ireland Walk, Hike, Bike (www.southwestwalksireland) had organized our lodging and transported our bags from B&B to B&B. They were very good at helping us tweak our plans when we made it clear that we were hikers and not just on a walking holiday. So a big thank you to Linda Woods and her staff.

But  my trip is not quite over. Stick around.

 

 

 

 

Wicklow Way through mountains and monastery

On the Wicklow Way
On the Wicklow Way

image

After the drama of the first day, the Wicklow Way south of Dublin was much kinder to me.

The weather was better and  I was paying more attention to the twists and turn of the trail. We were led on open, wild country where we could see forever. Almost all of the trees in the countryside were cut down eons ago, giving wonderful views.

But as I keep commenting.

This is not untouched land. We passed through the monastic city of St. Kevin. We had scheduled a short day, only six miles, so that we had plenty of time to understand the ruins in Glendalough.

St. Kevin was a hermit who lived in a cave and presumably spent his free time praying. He was supposed to have lived from 498 to 618. To have lived this long certainly required divine intervention. But others must have found out about his lifestyle.

A monastery was founded after his death that became a center of learning. This is where monks wrote out and illuminated manuscripts. Then a village sprung up around the monastery. Well, others needed to grow and process grain and other foodstuff while the monks prayed.

Round Tower
Round Tower

Today, the monastic city still has an intact Round Tower and St. Kevin’s church. The cathedral is in ruins. The rest of the area is a huge graveyard, where people can still be buried. But here’s the modern story.

Close to the B&B where we stayed was a modern St. Kevin’s church.

I was not able to go inside but the grounds held a fascinating group of outdoor sculture. The most memorable was a memorial designed by Brother Joseph McNally, a local monk who had been in the United States when the twin towers were attacked on 911.

911 sculpture
911 sculpture 

The Wicklow Way is the oldest long-distance trail in Ireland, having been established in about 1981. It’s only about 82 miles. Like most walks, it has a lot of roadwalking but it enters and leaves Wicklow Mountains National Park several times.

Unfortunately our plans don’t allow us to do the complete trail. If you’ve been following me, you might think that Beth and I will be in Ireland hiking forever, but no such luck. This is our last trail.