Friday 31st July
The pressure was on. My efforts from yesterday had given me a fighting chance to reach Clonegal by Saturday. While this goal meant that I would have the glory of saying that I completed the Way in five nights and six days walking, I would also have the pleasure of staying in the hotel that I had booked for that night. For, despite my injury, I hadn’t yet cancelled my reservation. This would all be possible if I could at least make it to Tinahely before the sun was out this evening. This hope, that had once seemed bleak, now seemed to
With a now practised hand I dismantled my tent and packed away my belongings into my new rucksack quickly and efficiently. Unbelievably, flies still assailed the area only hastening my efforts to get out. I did not pause for a drink of water until I was further uphill. Uphill was the best way of describing this section of the way. My guidebook had advised resting for the night at Iron Bridge due to the inevitable slow progress of the ascent, but I knew, thanks to my early start, that I should be at the Iron Bridge by mid-day. Fortunately, the fire from yesterday still burned through me, carrying me through these tedious hills.
Eventually, the sun rose over the hills and scorched the earth beneath my feet so that any time the path wove out of the fly infested forests I was beaten down by its rays. Placing one foot in front of the other I walked on and on as sweat streamed down my face and splashed onto the baked ground. It seemed that false horizons gave way to another false horizon, and I feared to check my map unless my spirits became sodden. The more I walked the more the view, that would have been magnificent in other circumstances for I was rounding Slieve Maan, shimmered- like a still, wavering painting.
Panting but still determined I unbeknown summited Carriskashane and began the descent. Suddenly, below me, I spotted what appeared to be a tent. My first impressions solidified the further I walked. My thoughts were that it belonged to the girls from last night and that they were not awake yet, but I was proved wrong for it did not belong to the girls at all. I had reached the final hut of the Way that was Mucklagh and outside of it, on a provided picnic bench, a group of teenagers were feasting. I realised that this was the group that I had been playing leapfrog with on day two before they had eventually caught up with me on day three when my rucksack had caved in on me on that dreadful clearing. That was the last time they had passed me, and I did not expect to see them again, for I believed that they would finish the Way long before me. The fact that I had caught up with them now was at least some consolation that I was still in the game.
“You’re the group that I passed before aren’t you?” I greeted them on my approach.
“Yes, we saw you a few days before,” replied one of them.
“Then it seems our paths have a habit of crossing,” I joked. Gratefully I stepped into the welcome shade of the hut and slung my rucksack off my shoulder. I then stripped off a layer so that I was down to my under armour and used my outer layer to mop the sweat off my face.
“I’m guessing you guys are doing the Way to?” We then broke off into conversation. To my surprise, they were not teenagers at all but in their early twenties. I was genuinely interested to hear what they had to say, and we entertained each other about ourselves. They were students from nearby universities and members of their respective mountaineering societies- something I could relate to- and had met each other through it, although two of them had already been friends since high school. They had decided to do the Way for fun just as I had.
“I plan to make it to Tinahely by the end of the day,” I said, “I need to resupply.” The early morning trek in the intensive heat had drained me of precious water, and the supplies I had salvaged from my old rucksack were already dwindling. I did not want to think about the consequences of not reaching Tinahely in time before the shops closed.
“There’s a water system behind the hut,” One of the girls said.
“Really?” I looked at her in disbelief.
“Yes, just turn the tap below the barrel. It’s rainwater so you’ll have to purify it. Have you got a method of purification with you?” She asked. I shook my head.
“That’s ok, you can borrow some of mine. Just let me know when you have your bottles refilled.”
“You are very kind, thank-you,” and I meant it. I did not know it yet, but for the coming day, the amount of water I currently possessed was insufficient.
Using the barrel outside, I filled my bottles and splashed some of it around my sweat crusted face and hair. It felt refreshing and I delighted in its cool temperature. After washing, I heated some porridge and went to take a photograph of the valley sprawled out behind the cabin. To my dismay I realised that my phone refused to turn on. The on and off button had somehow come loose and had fallen off. With the pressure of something thin, however, it would stubbornly activate. Although, in hindsight, this only damaged it further. It is here that I must apologise for the failure of my phone to my readers for it was the reason that I could not decorate the remainder of the blog with photos.
The remainder of the day, after passing the Iron Bridge once I had come off Carrickashane, although long in distance, proved uneventful. The lack of gradient bore me along swiftly and I was met with little challenge. Once, when rounding Sheilstown Hill, a blanket of mist descended, blurring my horizons, and the weather threatened to turn. On this climb, I briefly considered disposing of my two carrier bags to hasten my progress against this downpour that at the time seemed perpetual. But as soon as the idea entered my head I dismissed it for intuition told me that this was the last challenge before Tinahely. I was largely right. From this hill I was met with country roads and narrow lanes. Before long, I entered farmers territory and tractors trundled past to be accompanied by their distinctive smell of fresh fertiliser. In the afternoon, the sun had returned to its full strength and the trail drew me into undulating grassy hills that were flocked with horned sheep. From experience, I knew that these males, especially in their packs, were not to be intimidated. So, I passed them as bovine as possible. All the while my feet, for the first time in my journey, began to protest. I was positive by this stage that I had developed more than a few blisters that would have to be tended.
By the evening I had accomplished my goal of reaching Tinahely. Since Roundwood this was the only town I had encountered and it was a relief to have shops and restaurants at my disposal again as well as some civilisation. After I got chatting to a local, I was pointed in the direction of Murphy’s Hotel. Murphy’s did not disappoint. In a corner of this cosy establishment, I tucked into a delicious beef burger and washed it down with two cokes as I lusted over the prospect of booking a room right here. The idea of further trekking for a campsite was daunting on my swollen feet. After paying for my meal I went to a Centra for a coffee. From then I would plan my next move. In fact, I spent the rest of my evening here. I got to know a girl behind the counter, and we chatted for what must have been over an hour for there was a seating area at the side. On my journey, I had come to realise that in these isolated villages and towns, a wandering nomad was a fresh sight and I was generally looked upon with interest.
My phone was long dead by this stage and would not turn on despite my attempts to charge it. The time had come for me to stop relying on it and I was now left with the bare survival necessities that were the good old compass and map. As I sipped at my coffee and scoffed a few sweet doughnuts, the girl and I poured over the map. I soon found that it proved useful to have a local at my side.
“There’s a car park nearby, and behind it there’s a forest. You can camp there. The area is deserted at this time of night. If I you know where the railway is you’ll find it.” As she went away to serve a customer I ran my finger over the map in search of this spot. When I was convinced that I had found it the students with whom I had made friends with earlier entered. They approached and we got caught up on our separate journeys before discussing the day that lay ahead tomorrow- the final leg of the journey to Clonegal.
“We’re so close now,” I breathed with relish as we pondered over the map. These were seasoned navigators and could read the map like a book, “It’s within our grasp.”
Before leaving the Centra I got the girl behind the counter to leave a message for my mum via Facebook messenger. It was a forlorn hope that she would receive it, but my best option considering her personal phone number was lost upon me. By 9pm I had reached the forest that the local had described and it proved to be a delight for my last campsite. In the darkness, it was obscured by the public eye and the ground was luxuriously flat once cleared of twigs and bramble that lined the floor. What was more was that there were no infuriating midges. When my tent was set up and I was lying comfortably inside my sleeping bag I indulged in the map once more with the beam of my head torch. I was a religious zealot, and this was my devotion. This crusade had cost me lots. Money, a rucksack, my phone and finally, it was near over.
“So close,” I repeated. “So close now.”