|My Wild Irish Hike
Isabel Bearman Bucher
© Copyright 2002 by Isabel Bearman Bucher
We'd been waiting for these days - the final retirement of both of us. The first thing we did was exchange homes for six weeks with a family from Kilkenny, Ireland. When we finally mastered driving on twisting, narrow Irish roads, on the "wrong" side, which took real heroic effort, we headed north east of Kilkenny, to the Wicklow Mountains, hiking book in hand. Having hiked great American Wildernesses for almost thirty years, much of it hanging off the side of some Colorado fourteener, I looked at the Irish "hills" with wee bit of a piece-of-cake attitude, for not even the tallest approaches 2,000 feet. What I didn't know was that what Irish Knocks (higher) and Slieves (lower) lack in height, they more than make up for wicked trickiness. And, the leprechauns get you for throwing an attitude on them.
Robert and I had come several miles on a soft, shamrock studded Green Road, bordered by the ancient stone walls, struck with Foxglove and Ivy. Those were roads cut during the 1840 potato famine to help the starving Welch and Irish get to work. The wide expanse of the Cloghoge Valley and it's like named whisky - colored river spread before us. White puffs dotted the green hillsides - sheep eating contentedly. The hiking guidebook stated that the "harder hike" continued six miles on the north shore of Lough (Lake) Dan. We were finishing a turkey sandwich by a little abandoned white, thatched roofed cottage, when three dozen sheep came barreling down the lane, chased by a tiny, tempest black dog. They veered off at the last second, followed by an Irish gentleman limping last, brandishing shillelagh and oaths aimed at the dog.
Robert decided to bail out, saying he'd had enough. The two gentleman strolled back down the lane, exchanging politenesses, while Robert tried to kick the dog off his ankle. I turned towards the Knock, delighted to have the splendid Irish countryside to myself. I thought of my old pal of the trail, Mikey Karni, and wished she was sharing this. She was forever reading English hiking books that talked about walking from pub to pub on a pleasant, sunny Sunday, using friendly green roads, pasture, meadow. All of it had a romantic flavor, smacking of Wuthering Heights, Yorkshire Moors, and fine tweedy capes. Civilized. Doable. Piece of cake.
It didn't take long to know this wasn't a Rocky Mountain High. Polypody Ferns, so named by the hiking book, the kind that die instantly in my house, and cost a fortune, now shoulder high, began obscuring the trail. Then, without warning, my foot disappeared off the track. I tried to grab, missed, and fell flat on my face - Pentax zoom lens poking my stomach. Green moss simply grew over the three foot hole.
It was downhill from there, using the uphill route.
At the north end of the lake, the "slip," whatever that was - New Mexico yanks aren't greatly acquainted with nautical terms - was where I was supposed to climb steeply up, avoiding the crags. After bushwhacking for a half hour, trail hunting through those rotten ferns, I finally figured out that there WAS no trail up. It was an OYO. On your own, through billions of the dear polypodies, growing up thousands of hillside acres. They tripped me, they trapped me, they hogtied me cold, and I had to tear them away to even walk again; they hid slippery rocks. The lightning cracked, the sky turned the color and texture of lumpy oatmeal, the wind blew and the rain poured. Hand over handing, finally on top, 1,600 feet later, and sweating like a bull, although dripping wet, I was rewarded with the fleeting half minute view of a lifetime. A dozen Irish Boy Scouts, camped on the slip, were cheering wildly, waving a green flag in celebration of my fortitude. I gave them an Italian arm salute and continued, free at last, ready for Mikey's Wuthering civility. From there, I pointed north towards two grassy "hillocks", climbed the summit of Knocknacloghoge (1754 ft.), and put a rock on the summit, while the wind and rain blew me down. I hid my cameras, tucked in my Santa Fe Opera plastic poncho, blowing to heck and gone shreds, on top of my rain suit, on top of my running suit, spandex, undershirts and T-s. Rain storms then came and went like bad jokes off the Internet.
"Proceed through a wide expanse of bracken and heather," I read in the now soggy, rumpled book, "Down to the wee Cloghoge Brook. "
" Mikey, my darling ! You should be here! Let the civilized hike begin!"
What followed was the biggest dog and gimp-legged pony show, I've ever lived through. The whole of it - desolate wind-swept misty miles, was a bristling, bracken, heathery minefield. I'd be going along fine, then, I'd put out a foot, and it would disappear in a four foot crag. Whoops! Comes face flat, sit-down-butt whomping, side rolls, and simple gimp-legged trips. Civilized Wuthering Heights could just go take a flying leap, which I did. Again.
"Green grass, at last." I croaked. "Comes the banks of the Wee Cloghoge."
Came the blanket bogs in the green grass. Everywhere, was water, mud, slip, slime, all following the contour of the slick rocks. I thought about every Tarzan movie I saw as a kid, when the bad guys fell in the quick sand, with their hand waving a fond adieu as it disappeared into the muck. Slog through it, tramp in it - ankle deep, knee deep, black muck peat - they only sell the dry kind over at Albuquerque Walmart. It sucked when I pulled out a suffering boot, only to get the other in calf deep. I resembled one of those dopey wind-up toys, a soaking, stinking, soggy-wet bog trotter, hopping, flopping and flipping.
"Follow the charming brook down, keeping to it's left side." I hissed through barred teeth.
Then, a foot track appeared through the darlin polypodies! I'd been following sheep trails for so long, and had fallen in so many little round piles of baa-baa dip, and whatever else left calling cards up there, the sighting of an actual human boot track gave me peachy-pink shivers, which was certainly not the color of my outward appearance. Oh, well. At least the sheep dip was being rubbed off by the bog muck. Down the Cloghoge, down the valley, battle up the hillside, one more time to a Green Road. Thank God.
This road had it all - the darling polypodies, the muck, the bogs, the rocks, the crags, the holes, the heather and bracken. I had hit each and every part of the review section of this charmin' trail. And, to make this just one big super-terrific Mary Poppins - it started raining, again. Hard. Lightning? Of course. I limped around some 12th century Celtic ruin, climbed over a pasture fence, fell into the sheep dip and cow pucky muck, charged and hooted at a darlin' gawking lamb, kicked a clod and threw a brackish vocal raspberry at a contented black and white Bossie, who ran like hell. I finally dragged myself over the quaint, ancient, rotten, rocky old wall. With ripped darlin' pants, I trudged two Irish miles (which are longer by their count) up the sweet hill, to where Robert snoozed in the car, safe, warm and dry, Irish tour book rising and falling softly on his chest.
"Well, how was it!" He trumpeted, when I cranked on the car handle.
"Oh, just a darlin piece of cake," I responded, humbled, now down-sized to leprechaun proportions.
"My God. What stinks?" he hooted.
Ireland, My Ireland
For the next six weeks, they "lived Irish." When the great potato famine forced the
sons and daughters of Eire to leave, they
took with them a shamrock, a chunk of
peat, and a chip from their hearth. On
their last day, Isabel and husband Robert watched the sun go down in the place
they'd learned to love so much, under-
standing why the people took those three things to their hearts. They also knew
they'd love this beautiful place forever.
You're born of the mists that softly come and go, scarves floating on soft, cool Irish days. You're rainbows over Killarney lakes that reach to the sea - bowers of roses and overflowing generous blossoms that cram a Kilfane deep window sill. You're the largest collection of the worst carpet I've ever seen. You're made of ancient ruins, and country roads with the Misses driving the cows home. You're little girls dancing on the cobbles, fiddles playing in the slipways; Celimusic and smoke wafting from pubs. You're pointy noses and chins and rosy cheeks that tip a hat as they pass in front of your car. You're jam-packed little colorful towns, wild red hair, wilder drivers and tour busses. You sing in breathy brogue and evening meadowlark. You're valleys so deep, so wide and so green, you smother a heart. You're mountains sweeping fiercely up into the brooding skies, dressed in white wedding veil streams, gushing down. You make souls swell, and tears fall. And, you survive bombs.
Ireland, my Ireland.
Long may you live.
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