Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sneem Glorious Sneem

Last weekend I headed back to the lovely Sneem Hotel for a break with Margaret and Ruby. We rented an apartment for four nights and its such a bonus to be able to take Ruby along as well. The apartments are really well appointed and all conveniences are provided.  We prefer the self catering style of holiday as well so with a good forecast in the offing we were really looking forward to it. There is no doubt about it but when the weather is good there are few places I know to match the scenery in this beautiful part of the world.

We set off from home around 11.30 on Saturday and a nice relaxing stroll around the excellent Muckross Estate in Killarney followed by a delicious pancake on the way to Sneem saw us arrive and get settled in by 15.00. I relaxed for a while and then went for a fifty minute run on the nearby Kerry Way which loosened out the limbs nicely. Another fruitless effort at fishing finished off a lovely day.
Ladies View above Killarney

Once again, if you're going to catch nothing this isn't a bad spot to do it.

I got up after dawn on Sunday and awoke to a glorious morning. Crystal clear skies with a little fog over the waters of the Sneem River made up my mind in quick time that I would go for a short hill walk. It was wonderful to exit into the crisp frosty air and drive the short distance to the nearby mountains. What a landscape it is. I opted to climb the wonderfully named Finnaragh mountain 667 meters. I had ever only done this as part of a longer route so this would be my first time doing it on its own. I drove along the lane until about a kilometer short of Coomyanna Bridge and parked by a small plantation of forestry. I walked past the wood and at the first opportunity I set off up the open mountainside towards River Hill ( a spur that descends southeasterly from the main summit). My oh my but the ground was wet. I was almost immediately squelching through deep tufty grass and bog that sapped the energy. Soon enough things improved from awfully wet to merely very wet but I was still enjoying myself. I rose above Derryleagh with its fine lough and set off up the steep final push towards the summit. Upon reaching it I rested awhile and drank in the majesty of my surroundings. After a short rest I set off back down and was soon more than half way down. I opted to descend the wide basin to the south of River Hill in an effort to avoid the very wet ground from the start. Lets just say that this was a bit of an error and I ended up wading through waist high heather and grass which was interspersed with runnels of water and some gorse for good measure. I can attest that some of the runnels were quite deep. It was still a great way to start the day.
The view from the apartment. 

Magical misty start to the walk.

Looking into the glen

Towards Fermoyle

Lough Coumeen in Derryleagh

View back into the glen

The view West from the summit
The morning climb had only taken  two and a half hours so I was back in plenty of time for Margaret and I to make a day of it. I was keen for her to see Valentia and with the weather so good we set off. The "Ring of Kerry" is justifiably famous and anyone that was lucky enough to drive it today really got their moneys worth. The drive to Waterville was beautiful and from there we headed west into Ballinskelligs and then St Finan's Bay. Breathtaking views of the Skelligs and Puffin Island are found here. From there we climbed the hill over Ballynabloun (very testing on a bicycle) and down to Portmagee where we went "offshore" over the bridge to Valentia. We did the beautiful easy walk up to Bray head where Margaret marveled at the stunning vistas all around. Ruby was of course in her element and her biggest problem was when we stopped to take pictures etc she was impatient to keep going. It was wonderful to share this rugged wild landscape with Margaret, who knows, she might develop a taste for days like this.
The Skelligs

Puffin Island with The Skelligs beyond

Looking back from Bray Head

A family day out :o)

Picture window

On Monday I went for (what is for me at least) a big bike ride. Once again it was a beautiful morning with a touch of frost on the grass and little cloud in the sky. I set off from the hotel at 08.45 and I was soon regretting not putting more clothes on as it was decidedly clilly. Still I reckoned that I would soon warm up as I huffed and puffed along. The plan was to go first on the Killarney road and then turn left and climb over the Ballaghbeama Gap. Then down to Glencar before again turning left and climbing over the Ballaghisheen pass and heading into Waterville. From here I would return to Sneem over the pass at Beenarourke. I hadn't done much cycling this year and it was a fairly ambitious outing for me. Nevertheless I was really looking forward to it and with weather like this who wouldn't. Right from the off the climbing starts and the first climb gains 150 meters. The swift downhill towards the turnoff for Ballaghbeama was chilling but that was soon forgotten when I turned into the beautiful land that heads for the gap. Soon rugged wild scenery envelops you and I was really enjoying myself. That is until the climb to the gap starts in earnest and I was soon a splutterin wreck as I tried to keep going up the steep (13 degrees in places) slope. I made the gap without stopping but it took its toll. Still though I was pleased and the long descent towards Glencar promised plenty of respite. Respite it certainly provided for the legs but not from the cold as here I was on the shady side of the mountain and descending into a layer of chilling mist. My fingers and toes were frozen but soon enough I emerged from the mist and the sun once again gained the upper hand. The journey out to Ballaghisheen across the expanse of bog is lovely but the climb to the pass was tough. he descent was lovely in the by now warmer air and it culminates in a cycle through a lovely hazel wood. A long flat stretch eventually saw me arrive in the lovely seaside village of Waterville. I took the opportunity for a rest and a bite to eat here and just soaked in the sun and views. I was pretty tired by now and I wasn't looking forward to the near 250 meter climb from here to the next  pass. This thankfully didn't turn out to be as bad as I feared but from this point on I was into the breeze and I started to struggle badly. I wont dwell on it but lets just say I had to stop several times and it took a fair while to cover the last twenty kilometers. I need to train more. It was however one of the most beautiful cycles I had ever done and one I hope to repeat again sometime.
On the way to Ballaghbeama

Looking back down the gap

Stunning views to "The Reeks"


Heading down into the mist

Views like this offer a good excuse to stop.

The view from Ballaghisheen

A rest in Waterville

Looking down on the beautiful Derrynane

Scariff  and Deenish Islands

After the rigours of yesterday what could be nicer than a kayak trip on the Sneem River. Once again the weather was glorious and as the hotel has kayaks etc I had booked one for this morning. I set off on the mirror calm waters and set off on the beginnings of the ebb tide towards the mouth of the river some three kilometers away. It was so peaceful and beautiful and the views so great that I didn't miss the time passing. All too soon I reached Oysterbed pier and I realized that I needed to be getting back. The return was a little tougher against the tide and I had to work a fair bit harder to make progress but I eventually arrived back at the hotel slipway with tired arms but really really happy with the trip. 

All great things must end and today we had to return home. It was a wonderful break and there is no doubt about it but we will go back to one of the most beautiful places in Ireland.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Tha Valentia Half Marathon and The Wild Atlantic Way, (Well A Bit Of It).

Not a bad view from my tent at Mannix Point Campsite
This weekend I headed west to once again take part in the Valentia Island half marathon and to generally spend some time in this beautiful part of the world. I arrived in Caherciveen and checked into the excellent Mannix Point campsite. The facilities here are wonderful with a large well equipped kitchen diner area plus a large comfortable sitting room. Add to this good Wifi and it really doesn't matter what the weather is like.

Saturday October  4th;

After a good nights sleep and a leisurely start I drove out to Knightstown on the lovely island of Valentia to take part in the Half Marathon. This was my third time doing this and I was hoping to do reasonably well as I had run a 10 mile race in Killarney the previous Saturday and I was pleased with my time of 74 minutes 46 seconds so I was hoping for something around 1 hour 40 minutes today.
On arriving in the village it was disappointing to see such a small turnout for the run. Only around sixty took part this year but I guess the fact that it is a tough course, therefore not conducive to fast times keeps some runners away but this is a pity as it is a stunningly beautiful course with wonderful coastal scenery to draw the eye all about. This provides some welcome distraction from the rigours of the run. An excellent Tshirt, a protein shake plus a nice little carry bag was all provided for the entry fee of 20 euro so it was good value as well. One gripe is that this year they didn't put out any mile markers which was a bit naughty. The weather was windy with passing squalls and there was a decidedly Autumnal feel to the day. I was more careful this year not to go off too quickly and I tried to "listen to my body" as the race progressed. It worked to a certain extent but I was still struggling a bit by half way and the last few miles were quite tough. A lady in front of me was struggling and sometimes broke into a walk and as I neared her she asked if she could run the remainder with me. I was only delighted and her company and conversation until the finished helped to keep me going. She put on a bit of speed towards the finish and encouraged and cajoled me to keep up. She nearly killed me but she was great fun, Many thanks Elyane from Listowel.
Tempestuous seas by the lighthouse

The Skelligs

A big drop (over 400ft) from overhanging cliffs

Theres no rainbow without a little rain

The Valentia lifeboat powering out to sea

The Blasket Islands from the tower

Beautiful Bray Head

Everywhere spectacular cliffs

A great place to enjoy a walk.

After the run I got changed and went for a walk up to Bray Head for a "warm down". The weather was actually quite lovely now and the dark blue tormented sea looked wonderful. It was fairly windy but not too strong and I have seldom enjoyed a walk more. I took my time and walked past the old lookout tower all the way to the furthest reached of the head. Near the end there is a section of overhanging cliff where the drop beneath your feet is a full 500 feet. Airy stuff indeed. It was lovely to see plenty Choughs around and about and their distinctive calls filled the air. As I walked back to the tower I could see the Valentia lifeboat speeding out from Port Magee. Its hugely powerful engines made a big contrail and it powered through the rough seas spectacularly as it went to the rescue. It was followed shortly afterwards be the large rescue helicopter. We are fortunate indeed to have such good people and services in this country. And here I was with just a few aches and pains after a fun-run.

Sunday October 5th;

Today I awoke to much stronger winds and the showers of rain were more ferocious than yesterday. There was no evidence of blue sky and little promise of any appearing so I abandoned my original plan of going for a cycle (especially since I had left my waterproof cycling jacket at home) and opted instead for a hill walk on the nearby mountain Knocknadobar 690 meters. I had never been on it and it promised to offer me new sights places to see. It was also not too long an outing,(about 9 kilometers) so I wouldn't be too committing if the weather really turned bad as was forecast for the afternoon. I headed once again for Coonanna Harbour (where I had another unsuccessful fishing session on Friday evening) and I parked by a roadside "Grotto"(an enclosed religious statue) where I set off up the southwest ridge. For the first few hundred meters I had to negotiate a fair bit of gorse and I was regretting not putting long socks on and leaving my boots at home as the odd spine pierces the sides of my trail runners and scrope my ankles. Thankfully things soon improved and the gorse was replaced with grass and short heather. Unfortunately it was about now that another squall caught up with me and I was quickly drenched. I didn't mind however as it wasn't cold and I was actually enjoying the wildness of it all. And wild it certainly got, wow it had been a while since I was on the hills when the wind was so strong and at times it was really buffeting me about. My jacket was flapping madly and loudly (despite being nicely synched in) and I even started to wonder if it might tear, but it withstood the elements. There is a stations of the cross up the side of the mountain and I believe that several "pilgrimages or prayer sessions" are held on the mountain each year. On the summit there is a huge crudely built cross which provided a spectacular culmination to the stations (14 crosses in all). I was loving the outing and I was feeling strong despite the rigours of yesterday. I had reached the top in 1 hour 15 minutes without overextending myself and I actually jogged across the broad summit slopes to the north top about 1.5 kilometers away and just 80 meters lower. A nice descent on good ground (and into the wind and much fun) saw me all the way down to the foreshore of the harbour just over two hours after starting out. Here I was more sheltered from the elements and I enjoyed the almost balmy feeling as I went the 1.5 kilometers to my car. I arrived back dry and just as another squall arrived very pleased and invigorated by my jaunt and once again I returned home enchanted by a stunning part of the world.
Bad weather on the way

Coonanna Harbour

Stunning views back towards Caherciveen

Towards the summit

The final crosses

This must be around twenty feet high

Looking Northwest

Enjoying the "quiet" of the harbour