I had a less than gentle reminder of the vagaries of hill-running as regards just how long it can take. Or perhaps just how hard it can be to judge timings; either way, a useful lesson for the upcoming venture along the Wicklow Way. This was last weekend, when a number of family members met up in Glendalough to scatter the ashes of my Auntie Gráinne. Gráinne was my Dad’s sister, and with my Dad’s passing, only one remains of the large family: Auntie Emer (or The Matriarch, as I like to call her now). Thankfully, Emer was able to make it, along with a good number of relations.
This was a get-together many months in the planning, not least as Gráinne’s daughter and family were coming from Los Angeles. The original plan was for Saturday, but the weather was poor. Fortunately, everyone who was hoping to attend could go the following day, and so a time was chosen, and we all crossed our fingers for a bit of sunshine.
It’s a good hour for me to drive to Glendalough, and so I decided to get there a few hours early and walk The Spinc (from the Irish meaning ‘pointed rock’). This is a relatively short but striking looped walk around the upper lake of Glendalough. It’s one Saoirse and I have done before, but it’s been a while, so it seemed like a good opportunity to get some exercise in, as I was short a run or two.
I set off after ten in the morning, but already the car park was getting busy, so I knew the others were going to have difficulty finding spaces. The hardest part of the route is at the start, as you must climb out of the valley floor and ascend the shoulder of the ridge overlooking the lake below. The highest section is at the end of the ridge, and tops out at over 500 metres. The views are stunning, and fortunately for all concerned, the weather was lovely.
As I was descending towards the Glenealo Valley and river (which fills the glaciated lakes below), my phone rang. It was cousin Siobháin. Where are you, she asks? I’m out walking, I reply. Oh, that’s nice… well, I’m here now, in the coffee shop by the car park. Okay, I tell her, I’ll see you shortly… what time is it? It’s five to, she replies.
Five to, I think. That gives me over an hour to get back. That’s plenty of time, as I’m nearly halfway there, so only have about three kilometres to cover. And then I check my phone. It’s five to twelve. We are supposed to be meeting at twelve. I’ve somehow made a complete bollocks of my timing. Nothing for it but to switch into runner mode. Alas, I am not really geared for running (nor do I have a Superman outfit on) but I do have my Peregrines on my feet, so that’s a bonus. I try and hotfoot the last few kilometres, which is tricky enough for the first leg of this hasty journey, because the drop down into the Miner’s Village is along one of the rockiest sections of any trail you’ll ever do. I was risking a sprained ankle, but I didn’t want to be the cause of a delay to proceedings. I made it there in about twenty minutes, and of course, we ended up waiting for some late arrivals. If nothing else, it gave me a chance to cool down. (And not that you are vaguely interested, but part of my poor timekeeping was due to the fact that the trailhead was over a mile from the car park, but I hadn’t factored that in…).
The scattering took place in a lovely wooded spot overlooking the lake, and we sang The Parting Glass (not as beautifully as this version, mind you), and then we all shared our favourite memories of Gráinne. I hope when we get to do Dad’s ashes later this year that the weather will look down on us as favourably, and that there will be some music too.
During the week, we have two funerals. One of the things that stayed with me after my Dad’s service was how hugely comforting it was that people made the effort to attend. I know there were many who would have been there anyway, as they were family, or close friends of my Dad. But there were others who there really to support me, and some travelled a long way that morning just to be there, and then returned home again afterwards for work commitments. I made a little commitment of my own, thereafter, which was that I would do my utmost to attend any funerals of family and friends. And all credit to the good lord above, but he has tested that promise several times since, and I hope he lays off soon. I’ve been at four funerals since my Dad passed. The most recent was by far the most tragic; the first three were all friend’s dads, just like mine. Friends I went to school with, or locals. But like my Dad, of a decent age. But the funeral on Thursday last was a young man of thirty-four, and it’s been an incredibly sad time for everyone, not least his wife and family, and his own Mum, Dad and sister.
So yes, I may be something of an agnostic, but perhaps you could ease off on the funerals, there, big man?
It’s Easter weekend, so the media is full of news about the Good Friday Agreement that is now twenty-five years old. That alone makes me feel rather old, too, but that’s small beer in comparison to the relative peace it obtained for the north. And long may it last. Gary had suggested we do another recce run along the Wicklow Way, so on Monday morning, it was an early start once more. Porridge down, hydration vest filled, and off to the trailhead in Carlow. I have chosen to run from south to north, which is not the normal direction for the Way, but I want to finish in Dublin, and in particular, run past Three Rock and Dad’s old homestead. Not for the first time, I have a sobering reminder of the distance I am taking on in June, as the journey down takes the guts of an hour and a half (and towards the end, we are even in County Wexford, albeit briefly). The rain is spilling down, too, so we might be in for a long day at the office.
A couple of weeks ago, Gary and I took on the first leg out of Dublin, and worked out where to detour off the route to find Three Rock and a trail through Ticknock Forest to get onto Ticknock Road. Today we would be tackling the other end of the Way. The benefit of having two cars is that you can cover much more ground on foot. We left Gary’s car at the crossroads where we had planned to finish, and drove back to Clonegal in mine.
We set off shortly after ten am, and headed off on the first stretch, which is on roads. Quite a bit of this early part of the Way is indeed on roads, but they are quiet enough. Indeed, I know it was Easter Monday morning, but I could count the number of vehicles that passed us on one hand. We knew this, though, so both of us were wearing road running shoes. The weather was promising, too. The rain had cleared, and the sun was peeking out from the clouds on occasion.
Our first off-road section arrives at a place called Urelands Hill. This is a typical uplands area dominated by planted Sitka spruce. So we are on rough fire roads. Garmin reckons we reach the giddy heights of about 266 metres before we drop out of the trees and once again find ourselves on the road. We wind on northwards for a bit before the Way takes a sharp right, and we are facing the more impressive 420 metre-high Aghowle Upper. We hope we don’t have to summit this, and although that proves to be the case, the climb is arduous enough nonetheless (359 metres), and I am in a sweat by the time we reach the top of the trail. But the views are worth it.
We are back on fire roads and in amongst the plantations of spruce, and then we find ourselves on the roads once more. The Way here is really ‘lumpy’, to use my friend’s expression. And the legs are getting a little tired, so some of the steeper downhills are as taxing as the climbs. But the two biggest climbs are behind us now, and the brief shower has passed over and the sun is back out again. I remark to Gary that much of the country is just like this; windy roads, small homes and farms, and fields and hedges.
We both know our destination is approaching, but perhaps this knowledge is a bad thing, as we both expect the crossroads to be around the next corner, but the next corner just brings more road.
Finally, we begin a steep descent, and we know that the finish is close. And sure enough, there is the car park, Gary’s car, a change of clothes, and most importantly, The Dying Cow pub.
I grab my stuff and pop into the loo to change, and soon we are in what is one of the smallest bars in the world, drinking tea, munching on Tayto crisps, and scoffing chocolate biscuits. As any long distance runner knows, it’s vital to replace all those lost salts and sugars as soon as possible! Then it’s sad farewell to this lovely spot, and back to pick up my car, and then home. 16 miles all told, and a great day out.
In other news: well, just thought I’d give a shout out to a local runner. I spotted this mention of him in our local newspaper, The Liffey Champion. Pictured above, near the end of another fantastic race in which he clocked a sub-44 minute time. I’m no slouch, but my best 10k is 43:57 in 2018, and I thought that was pretty good. I can safely say without fear of contradiction that I will not be anywhere near that time if and when I hit 70. Brian is epic, and a gentleman to boot!
RIP Matt, you will be sorely missed.
2 thoughts on “A scattering”
Cruel enough when death comes in threes — but in fives? I got verklempt just reading about it. Listening to “The Parting Glass” got me downright teary.
Lovely spot though, and lovely that so many could be in attendance. (Also lovely you have the skills to cover kilometers in a relatively short span of time…)
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As a resting place, Glendalough is hard to beat. Lots of little nook and crannies. But yes, it would be preferable not to have to go through any more parting for now.