Saturday, 25 May 2013

The Clare Burren Marathon 2013

Well today I did my third marathon. Last year this event was my first ever and even though I hadn't done any  quality training for it this year due to injury etc I was determined to have a go again this year. It is a run that spends most of its length on trails or green roads and the remainder is split between gorgeous country lanes and finally on a reasonably busy road. I finished in 3 hours 59 minutes and so reached my target of staying under four hours. It was a you would expect tough and I had to did deep to keep going over the final six miles but at the end there is a great sense of achievement and satisfaction.

Camping heaven
I went up on Friday evening and headed to my favorite wildcamp spot in the country. This is an area about five kilometers south of Fanore where you can park your car and pitch your tent on good ground that is perched above some cliffs where you can sit and watch the sunset and the view across to the Aran Islands is superb. That is to ignore the stunning views across Galway Bay towards the mountains of Connemara that promise great future days out. I like to take a wander and explore the the unique landscape that is The Burren. Limestone paves the entire landscape and is criss-crossed by cracks and fissures where rare alpine plants like Gentians sit side by side with Orchids and Primulas. I have a passing interest in flora and being here is too good a chance to spurn the opportunity to explore this garden landscape. I did of course also enjoy a nice sunset and also enjoy the advent of a full moon. It would have been even better if I hadn't arrived without my sleeping bag. I was warm enough to start with but as the night wore on the chill set in and lets just say I slept fitfully at best. I would say live and learn but it seems sometimes that I never will.

Across Galway Bay to Connemara

Looking towards the cliffs of Moher

Great rock climbing

The Twelve Bens

Spot the rock climbers

The view on one side 

The view the other

I got up before six and walked about a bit to get the blood circulating again and had a fine breakfast of porridge and a sandwich after. This was still over two hours before the race start so I felt it was okay to eat a big meal. I had to be in Ballyvaughan before 8 am to register so in the end I couldn't tarry and I busied myself breaking camp and getting stowed. By the time I arrived, a good number had already arrived and many more were pouring in as well. Parking was organised with military like precision and even the side of the lane you walked to the start was preordained. Eventually the appointed start time 9 am neared and everybody was ushered behind the start line to ready for the off. Whoever thought it was a good idea to have an aerobics instructor try to get people who were quashed in to a tight space do warm up moves needs a good talking to, but thankfully she eventually gave up and we were off. Another niggle was the number of walkers who were at the front of the crowd and this made making progress difficult to say the least. Still things soon settled down and everybody was able to settle into their chosen rhythm.

 Out of the village and soon we were on a little country road for a few miles before we turned onto a green road which rose gradually and afforded stunning views over the gorgeous scenery. Eventually we were back on another little lane before entering another green road and again climb to another plateau where the views just kept on going. Down again along a lane to the village of Fanore and shortly thereafter we were running along a trail near the beach. Then follows the highlight where you run up another trail that runs for a few miles about 300 ft above the ocean where all you can see in the limestone pavement sweeping from above all the way to the shore, this runs right around Black Head and you can see right across the bay,stunning. Unfortunately by now after over twenty miles it is a little difficult to fully appreciate it but it nevertheless a most welcome distraction. All good things must end and we arrived back on the busy road for the last three and a half miles. Now there is nothing for it but to put the head down and grimace and bear it. The end seems an eternity in coming but when it does it is all the sweeter. Sitting here now I can feel the aches and pains but I know they will fade but already I am thinking of doing another, but not yet. A big thank you to all involved for their courtesy, wonderful stewarding and organisation. I really hope to be back next year.

The following are a number of pictures of the route taken last year by Pat O'Keeffe of the Marathon Club of Ireland. Thanks Pat, I think the pictures show just what this wonderful event is all about.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Two Runs For The Price Of One

Perhaps its where I'm staying for these few days or perhaps I am just getting more motivated (probably a combination of both) but today I went for TWO runs. This morning I went with Ruby and went for a hike/run  over the attractive unnamed hill that rises to just about 1000ft above Gleesk. It has been on my to do list ever since I arrived in Sneem and today was my chance and even the weather was playing ball. Thanks to the frequent showers the air clarity was superb and with some blue skies about everything looked amazing. I was really surprised to see in the distance a dusting of snow had fallen on the Reeks. There was a chill in the air all right but it is the middle of May so it was something of a rarity at this time of year. Anyway I drove as far as the quarry at Derry West and set off across the terribly wet and rough ground. Running wasn't an option on this ground and it was a challenge to avoid the many watery holes and runnels. Still I was enjoying myself and I can vouch for Ruby as well. She is such a good dog and I never have to worry about her taking off after sheep or anything so I can relax.
The view back towards Sneem

Towards the Everagh Peninsula

 Eventually I reached the summit and I wasn't disappointed with the views. The ground fell away steeply to the sea on one side and further on the Beara Peninsula looked great. On the other side Coomcallee looked great and the hills continued onwards into the distance. From here we set off along the ridge towatds the communication mast about 1500mtrs away. This wasn't that straightforward as there were several steep dips and climbs in between so it wasn't always possible to maintain a run. Once we reached the mast we enjoyed a lovely gambol along the good access road and we were soon on the main road where we returned few kilometers to the car. It hadn't been a  long outing (an hour at most) but it packed a big punch in value terms and I was well pleased to return to our apartment where I had a late breakfast.
Into Coomcallee

View from the apartments towards the hill

A couple of hours later we were off on our travels again. Margaret was going to see a garden near Glengarriff and I was taking the chance to run through the national park that fills the this most beautiful valley. From the garden I ran down the five or so kilometers into the village of Glengarriff. This is a fairly busy road but thankfully today traffic was light and I was able to enjoy the views down to the beautifully forested valley below and the savage looking hills that rise up from the other side. Once in the village I turned right and quickly right again and followed the signs for the Beara Way. Now I had left the busy road well and truly behind and I went along a beautiful lane that went through tranquil native woodland broken at times by rocky buttresses and often giving glimpses of the stunning hills that soar all around. I was now quite tired and the couple of little bars I had brought were now gone but I reckoned I was over half way around. Eventually I left the woodland behind and I found myself running through an open wild and rugged unspoiled landscape. Soon I entered a lovely valley called Coomerkane that was a verdant oasis of green fields amid this otherwise savage place. There were several homesteads here and sheep and lambs were again all about. As I continued I became concerned that I couldn't see the way out of this area and sure enough I soon arrived at a dead end. Bugger and dammit the legendary Mc Auliffe route finding had once again emerged and I had no choice but to turn around and retrace my steps. I met a young woman walking with her dogs and she told me I had to go back to the last junction and then go left. Sorted.
The back of Coomerkane
I hadn't realized that I had gained so much height but thankfully the return to the junction was mostly downhill. I went left and here I was caught in a nasty squall that quickly drenched me. I was now starting to struggle and the unnecessary five kilometer detour hadn't helped. I was getting hungry and cold but I didn't have much of a choice but to keep going. I reentered the wooded valley floor and turned in the direction I hoped would lead back to the car. I was thrilled to see a red squirrel bouncing along the lane towards seemingly quite unconcerned by my approach. I stood and it came to within 10 feet of me and I could see that its mouth was full of leaves so I figured it was intent on building a nest or drey for itself. It scooted up a spindly sapling which gave it access to the canopy and it was soon lost from view. It was a delightful interlude but I needed to get back so I continued on. I eventually saw a lane that started uphill to the right and this I hoped would reach the main road high above from where I could return to the car. Alas after walking steeply uphill for a fair bit this too proved to be a dead end and I had once again to return back whence I came. Double bugger and dam. I was by now running on empty. Another squall had chilled me and I wasn't able to go at a pace that could warm me. Hunger was also a problem and when I eventually reached another lane after over two kilometers I turned and walked up the hill and I must confess that by now even walking was tough. I had to stop several times and I was really tempted to sit and rest for a while but I was already late for my appointed return time so I kept going as best I could. At last after two kilometers and two hundred meters of height gain I reached the road for the car and  was able to see an end to my trip. It was now downhill all the way but even so I wasn't able to run all of the four kilometers back. I  did manage to shuffle most of it but I had to walk for short interludes. I was literally shaking by the time I reached the car and lets just say Margaret was not impressed by my lateness and she had been getting worried about me. So after 26 kilometers, several wrong turns and wonder, joy and almost despair I could now relax. It took a while, several sweet treats and a good feed before I could say I was glad I had done it. Next time I will take enough to eat. But what a place, it is easy to understand why it is one of the most sought after places to live by the comfortable retired and wealthy internationals. I must return and explore some more.
Typical Beara scenrty

Homestead in a wild and savage land

Towards Barley Lake

The Sneem River

Monday, 13 May 2013

A Delightful Run On Country Lanes

Today while Margaret was touring the renowned Derreen Gardens near Lauragh I availed of the opportunity  and went for a run on a 16 kilometer loop from the car. To say the least I have been lacking in discipline and training of late and as the pounds have gone on my appetite for real outdoor effort has waned. Still I was feeling good and as I started off down through the old forested road I was enjoying myself and looking forward to the challenge. I was soon in the hamlet of Lauragh and here I turned left onto the most lovely little road that wend and wound its undulating way upwards to the pass to the east of the pretty hill called Knockatee 330mtrs. The run was at times fairly steep and my lack of training was showing but I persevered and I was somewhat relieved to finally reach the pass. Here I turned left and made a quick detour to the summit. A brief drenching from a passing squall didn't dampen my delight at the stunning panorama that was on show. To the north the entire Everagh Peninsula was laid out before me and on the other side the stunning mountains of the Beara Peninsula were equally pleasing. I had to try and capture a few pictures with my phone and that done I set off down for the road and continued on my way.
The view over Kilmakillioge harbour


A great little mountain
It was great to run at my ease down the road from the pass and when I got a little lower I found myself marveling at the beautiful little pageants that presented themselves. Gurgling streams tumbled through pockets of woodland whose floor was often carpeted by bluebells. Songbirds serenaded everywhere and when you add to this the glorious scenery all about it was little wonder that I felt privileged to be here and be able to enjoy the experience. As I trundled along I was thinking about the 16 year old boy from north Kerry that had come to prominence last year when despite suffering from terminal cancer appealed to young people to turn away from suicide and try to live their lives. Today he had lost his fight for life and the news just reinforced my determination to enjoy what gifts I had been given. The route followed the coastal road from Tousist to Bunaw and back to the garden in Derreen. It was such a joy and I couldn't think of anything better than running deserted little roads that went from little cove to cove and whose adjoining paddocks resounded with the calls of little lambs frolicking in the sun. So after a couple of hours I arrived back at the car tired but delighted with my day. We compared notes on our respective outings and we both professed ourselves pleased. Sometimes it is hard to beat the southwestern tip of Ireland.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Purple Mountain in the Wind

Stunning Black Lough
What is good weather?. It seems so long since we have had a stretch of decent weather in this part of the world.  March 2012 we had a long sunny and warm spell of weather and it seems to have been wet and windy ever since. Today was no exception as there was a stiff wind and frequent heavy showers about as we set off from Killarney and headed into the Gap of Dunloe with the intention of climbing Purple Mountain. We drove into the Gap as far as Cushnavally Lake where we parked up and changed and set off up the little lane  past "Turnpike Rock" until we were just past Black Lough when we turned left and made our way up the steep ground towards Glas Loch. This afforded frequent scrambly sections and we enjoyed picking out the best and most interesting bits along the way. This was also a first chance for me to break in my new boots. I had been looking for a lightweight pair of boots that would also be able for rough ground and also be able to take a crampon so I opted for La Sportiva Trango Alp boots which seemed to tick almost all of the boxes.

Nice scrambly sections

Reduced to tears..its windy and its raining....big jessy :o)

The conditions low down were reasonably pleasant but we were in no doubt as to the strength of the wind on high as we could see the speed the clouds scudded past the summits. We emerged past the scrambly bits above the lake and we were soon following the frequent trails that headed towards the summit slopes. The wind was now strong enough to buffit us and unfortunately a shower of rain arrived at this point as well. Now we were in no doubt that summer was still some way off and the horizontal rain that felt like it would scour the skin from our faces and the gale that threatened to knock us over meant that comfort quickly disappeared. We struggled round to the leeward side of the mountain and this gave us some bit of shelter from the elements but thankfully the rain was passing and views were once again distracting us from our travails. Eventually we reached the bleak summit and here we gratefully entered the round shelter cairn. A welcome bite to eat refreshed and restored us and we were ready to set off again along the ridge towards Tomies.

Towards the Black Valley
Thankfully the weather had improved and we were now heading more or less in the direction of the wind. There was a brief discussion about cutting the route short and heading down directly to the car but we were drying out and warming up so we opted to continue to Tomies. As we went we gradually quartered around until by the time we were descending from Tomies summit we were once again heading directly into the wind. Thankfully we didn't have to contend with rain and as we got lower the ferocity of the wind eased and the temperature rose. When we reached the boggy plateau above the Colleen Ban Cottage we were delighted to see a majestic sea eagle soaring a few hundred meters away. We stopped and quietly admired the beauty and grace of this giant of the sky and the sheer size of the bird was really emphasized when a territorial raven decided it didn't like this threat to its probable nearby nest and harried the eagle until it disappeared from our view. The raven (which is a big bird in its own right) looked really small alongside the eagle and it is one of my dearest wishes that I will one day get to see really close up sighting of one of these wonderful creatures. Another great bit of news is that there is a good chance that the bird we had seen could have been one of the proud parents of the chick that recently hatched in the Killarney National Park. It is to be really hoped that this is the first successful breeding of many and in future years we be able to see indigenous birds soar in our skies.  We arrived back at the car a little windblown and very happy with our day. Yet again laughter and such a relaxed friendliness made the day just fly by and I look forward to to our next day out which will hopefully not be in the too distant future.

Looking down towards Kate Kearneys

The beautiful Gap of Dunloe