Imagine, if you will, a game of two halves…

We stop at the junction of the Dublin Way and the Wicklow Way. Jarlath points up towards a little cairn of rocks. He lets me know this is Fairy Castle, and beyond, Three Rock. Here might be an option for me to deviate from the Way this June. The narrow path follows a low stone wall. The climb would put manners on you. But that is not for us today. There are four of us out on the trails, and the surroundings are inspiring. Whilst much of the snow from earlier in the week has melted lower down, up here in the higher altitudes, there is still much to be found up around Tibradden where we have parked. And once above the treeline, the views are wondrous.

It’s a perfect day for a run, what with the thick snow underfoot and the mild weather as a counterbalance. The thaw is definitely setting in as water pours off the mountainside, forming deep pools along the track, and a day or so later our run would be a different challenge. But this morning it was glorious. Under the thick cover of the pines, the snow is patchy, but once out into the clearings and open paths, there is enough snow to bury your shoes and beyond. The sun peeks out on occasion, and the light through the trees makes for a picture postcard scene at every turn. Somewhere deep in the woods, we can hear deer calling.

Of course, I have left my phone in the car, so you will just have to take my word for it…

The family home, Blackcastle, through the frozen windscreen of my car

The snow run will take some beating, as memorable runs go, although last Friday’s epic adventure comes close, albeit for different reasons. On the morning of Patrick’s Day, five of us set out from the Wicklow Gap near one of the mining sites. You can read lots more here, and indeed, it’s a fascinating account of an industry that began over two hundred years ago and has since all but vanished. This particular mining operation dug and processed lead ore. Little is left of the infrastructure above ground; it would be interesting to know what remains of the mines below but that’s for another day.

We are doing a recce with an IMRA runner who is taking on the Glacial Lakes race next month, and it’s quite the challenge; a marathon distance that involves a lot of serious climbing on an unmarked course. It requires orienteering skills, and each runner must carry a map and compass, and various other items, including mobile phones, jackets and food. It’s not something I would be able to tackle this year. Maybe next year, if I still have a pair of functioning knees.

A short section of the Miner’s Way trail took us up the Wicklow Gap for a few hundred metres, and then we crossed the road and headed up towards Tonelagee. Wikipedia helpfully translates this as Tóin le Gaoith, or backside to the wind, but here in Ireland, we would always say ‘arse to the wind’. And if you climb the third highest peak in the Wicklow Mountains, you might understand the wind reference. We weren’t trying to summit this mountain, however, but find Lough Ouler, one of the highest corrie lakes in the country, which is tucked in directly behind the peak.

Once we cleared the first col, or saddle, we skirted around the eastern side of the peak which for most of the time was lost in the clouds. We squelched through some heavy terrain; lots of heather and boggy pools. We took stock of our situation and after some head-scratching and map-reading, the considered opinion from the one of our group (the one who knew the area well and was an experienced map-reader) was that we had overshot our destination and needed to head westwards. The visibility was poor, and it seemed counter-intuitive to be climbing up to find a lake, but that was the read from the map. So up we went. The rain came down and the visibility dropped even further. At one point, there was a break in the mist and cloud and we could briefly spy two hikers on a ridge ahead of us, before they were swallowed by the foggy soup, snatching away our thin sliver of direction and perspective.

Up ahead, it seemed a little brighter. It suggested there was a ridge in front of us, and a drop beyond. Sure enough, after more slogging away on the northern flank of Tonelagee, the heavy mist partially lifted and Lough Ouler appeared like something from Avalon and the tales of King Arthur. We had already been out much longer than planned, and we were all soaked to the skin. Rain jackets had been donned since we emerged from the car, but lightweight running jackets are really only shower-proof. And as any runner out there knows from experience, if you wear something that is totally waterproof, then it keeps as much water in as it keeps out, and you are going to get wet either way.

Above and below: Lough Ouler corrie lake

We had come this far, so it was agreed we would drop down the last climb to the shoreline so we could at least say we had really fulfilled our mission. And now it was time to head home, and as this was a recce, the plan was not to retrace our somewhat wayward steps but rather to climb in a more direct route for the next race control point. So it was a steady climb out of the coombe, and another slog in a clockwise direction, contouring around Tonelagee’s skirts at a continuous elevation.

We were heading into the teeth of the wind, and the worst of the weather, but on the plus side, we couldn’t get any wetter! Only thing to do now was keep moving, and try and keep an easy pace amongst the poor footing. Thick heather, sneaky bog pools, rivulets, granite boulders; it was quite the obstacle course, and few paths to speak of. But the weather lifted eventually, and suddenly the Wicklow Gap appeared below us, and we could see our destination; the top car park at the head of the valley.

Heading down the southern flank of Tonelagee, into the Wicklow Gap

By this stage, we were picking our own route down the southern flank and eventually we all rendezvoused at the agreed spot, and then took Kevin’s Way down the valley, avoiding the road. I hadn’t appreciated how far up the Gap we had travelled, and the final leg of our journey took longer than expected. But it was on a track of sorts, and whilst much of it was muddy and rocky, and tricky to navigate, there were stretches of packed gravel and grit, and for a brief moment, it was enjoyable to be able to pick up the pace without the fear of plunging into a bog hole or turning your ankle in the heather.

Some of the ruins from the lead mines
The Wicklow Gap, Glendasan Valley and River
Some bearded geezer…

That said, it was even more enjoyable to finally get the clean, dry gear out of the boot of the car and begin to feel human again. We all changed and soon got on the road, though a few miles later, we had a flat tyre and had to root out the spare. But it was a small glitch in an otherwise exciting morning. Our longer than planned run meant I missed the parade back home in Leixlip, but the crew had agreed to put on a barbecue, so I was in plenty of time for a few burgers! It was nice to spend an hour or two back over at the station.

Later that evening, our band, Cool Hand Luke, played at The Salmon Leap Inn once more, and it was a fun night out. Needless to say, the crowd already had taken on quite a few jars before we even kicked off, so at one point, I thought some of the manic dancers might crash land in on top of us. We escaped unscathed, and a good night was had.

It’s that geezer again, this time with a guitar. Is there no beginning to this man’s talents?
Me and my Aussie mate, Dale

The following day was one of telly and rugby. There was the small matter of a Grand Slam for Ireland to win. In fairness to England, they showed up with some serious intent to spoil the St. Patrick’s weekend party, but we got the job done. The scoreline probably flattered us a little, but in the end, I don’t think anyone could deny that we were the best side in the tournament.

The final energetic act of the weekend (for me, anyway) was to pick up Gary at 8.30am this morning and head over to Donadea. He suggested we do the outer trail loop in the forest. It was a decent workout and Gary kept the pace honest. I wore my new Saucony Peregrines and they did a good job over what was a very muddy track with a lot of slippy tree roots. We made it back to the car in about 45 minutes, and despite an earlier suggestion that we might cool down with a loop of the main trail (about 5k), we both agreed to call it a day.

Odi cares not for hill-running

In terms of training and progress, there’s a bit done, and a lot more to do. My knees are feeling the pressure from all that pounding downhill, but I’ll keep an eye on them and try and up the mileage whilst avoiding too much stress. I am off my cruising weight, which is roughly where I like to be after a good few months of running. That’s somewhere around 77 kilos, and I’m at least 4 over that as we speak. So work to do there as well. In fairness, I’ve been enjoying the good life since Christmas. It’s time to ease off on the take-outs and eat some more muesli.

Happy and positive training out there, folks.

8 thoughts on “Imagine, if you will, a game of two halves…

  1. You know it’s only after rereading the post this morning that I realise I’ve been mispronouncing Tonelagee for years. For some reason in my head it was Tongalee… no wonder you looked confused when I said it the other day! 🤣

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The pics of your trail runs are always charming, but this new crop of wild Ireland photos are to die for. Must be way harder on the knees, though, no? Still, burgers, pints, and music cure all ills, I expect. What a grand time! I’m St. Paddy’s Day green with envy.

    Liked by 1 person

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