I am the woman of Beara Foul am I that was fair; Gold-embroidered smocks I had, Now in rags am scarcely clad. From the Lament of the Hag of Beara, translated By Stephen Gwynn. The rest of my day’s travels was a strange personal odyssey into mist and myth beginning with a short spin […]
My descent from the mountain was exhilarating, taking the direct route, balancing like a trapeze artist on a narrow sloping fin of red sandstone until it petered out and I found myself searching through the thick grass with my feet, hoping not to slip in to an underground stream and I would land once more on the next slice of exposed red rock and I would tiptoe downward on its smooth pavement until it also ran out and slipped into another trough of green sedge. Like a memory from the year before I assumed the practised skills of traversing this kind of red sandstone topography. Sadly that first Sunday climb up little Knockatee would remain my only single walking victory in the Caha mountains for the whole week.
I was back to the security of the motor car and all its lack of intrepid ambition. My one fix of being alone in nature and “silent upon a peak” would remain just that, my one fix of exalted solitude for the rest of the day. I drove back down to the Sunday swelling traffic on the R571now congregating like bees at the junction of Lauragh even though my alpine descent to the tropical vegetation beneath me was a vertiginous pleasure that I only experienced ,as no vehicle followed or confronted me in my 2nd gear downhill plunge. I sped through the cross roads of Lauragh and I then crawled along the flat 4km twisting narrow lane to “Josie’s” restaurant, a place that promised on Trip Advisor “a healthy afternoon lunch overlooking a scenic view of Glenmore Lake”. As I drove into the restaurant’s gravelled car park filled with parents shouting at their gambolling children I felt a deep sense of betrayal within my breast like an elite mountaineer being forced to eat fish and chips at a flat popular seaside resort.
“Josie’s” establishment was a flash to the past. It was made up of a bungalow built fifty years previously on a rise affording a view 400metres back from the lake. It still looked like the bungalow it once was with a myriad of extensions that could revert easily to domestic use when the summer season was over. It also had an empty barn. The galvanised roof was painted green. The dining room was small and pokey but was relieved by a sunroom, the sunroom with the view. The sunroom was filled with assorted small tables surrounded with chairs, all clinging to the edge of the room close to the small surrounding sunlit windows. The bigger table was occupied by a day tripping family, happily with no small children so I sat at the other modest table. Under the table cloth I almost expected that it was made of Formica. It was fish and chips with salad that I chose from the hand written menu. It was adequate. The bream was fresh. The chips were freshly cooked and the salad was healthy even though I longed for a sauce but the whole meal reminded me of a meal that my mother might have cooked for me over fifty years ago. The bespectacled waitress in jeans was young and friendly, probably a local girl, working for summer here before she headed back to a third level college in Limerick or Cork in September. “Josie” the middle aged proprietor presumably, and who probably cooked the meals came intermittently, looking around the room and speaking quietly to the waitress.
The other table was so close that it brought back all those cringing experiences of adolescence when you sat in an overcrowded caff hoping that you didn’t spill the tea from the metal teapot all over the tablecloth. You invariably did, your face turning to the colour of the tea. There was today indeed one young representative teenager there at this table coolly checking his phone so he played no part in the conversation. There was a very old lady at the table who seemed to be the centre of attention as if this was her treat, like a day out, a Sunday drive ending with lunch at “Josie’s”. Sitting beside her was a chattering happy woman whom I thought must have been the old lady’s daughter. The two other women were younger, late twenties or early thirties so they were the next generation, the children of the chattering woman.
While this might have been cringing for me as an adolescent but as an old man it was all quite charming. I was left alone to eat my meal. The party barely acknowledged my presence even though the chattering mother kept on as a kind of slogan that she wished she had a man.
“Oh I would love to have a man.” She would sigh at the end of each anecdote.
After one particular repeat of this quip I mischievously raised my hand above my downturned head as if responding like a bold child in a classroom looking for attention.
“Present!” I called.
I saw her smiling over at me. One of the younger women, the dark haired physically strong individual exuding a sense of muscular athleticism joined in with her mother’s theme of finding a mate when she related an incident that in her cycle over the Healy Pass that day, a local scenic attraction, that she was stopped at the side of the road by an old farmer who spoke of his loneliness and wished to God that the young woman would be down living with him in his little houseen.
She laughed at the memory of it and her mother asked her what she said to the old farmer.
“Oh I told him that he could go to the Philippines where he could come home with a young attractive wife.”
“What did he say to that?” Her mother laughing at the thought of the strange proposal to her daughter.
“Oh do you know you are right there girl, for there are many farmers around here who have taken that particular journey but it is not for me, girl. I would rather have one of the homespun variety like yourself. “The party, except the silent adolescent, all chuckled at the thought of it.
I paid for the meal, standing up at the door of the dining room leading into the kitchen.
To exit with some grace as a gentleman and not to be thought of as the stuck-up diner at the other table I turned to them and enquired from the cyclist , the one nearest in likeminded philosophic endeavour to me , as to why she was cycling over the Healy Pass that day.
“It was a way of preparing the ground for I am involved in a charity cycle run in October over The Healy Pass. I am halfway through my cycle route today and I arranged to meet my family here”. She explained.
I congratulated her and wished her well on her upcoming charity cycle and in a spirit of the sharing that had now broken out amongst us I spoke of my own afternoon’s climb up Knockatee Mountain.
“Oh you are a climber! “The mother suddenly shouted. “I am from Wicklow town and oh I would have loved to have been with you”.
The group did not seem to be embarrassed. I smiled, bowed to the table and left.
In the 1800’s romantic poets like William Wordsworth, landscape painters like William Turner captured the awe experienced by high places. After all the well-marked fields, the metalled roads, the passing traffic, the barking dogs, the cows, the tractors driving in and out you find you are alone in the mountains and you seem to step back into something primordial and you may as well be a terrified animist or a wary hunter seeking great antlered deer as the clouds open on beetling cliffs and the sun rewards you in a miraculous shaft of light, secret shining lakes. Those are the views when you pause, they are like rare rewards given to you after all your constant trudging through bog and your tip toeing on sedge mounds and stones , a pleasure you remind yourself few others would aspire to or experience. You are really alone .These are wild places where you could get lost and if you sprain or twist an ankle all that alone vulnerability impresses upon you, concentrates your mind and your eyes on those white stakes tracing the way ethereally ahead of you over these blank spaces. I have my map constantly at hand to realise that, that inviting track to the left is not to be climbed as it leads to a cul-de–sac mountain that is off my track. My track is marked on the map in dashed red lines as heading to and crossing a traverse of the Caha ridge leading southward onto the outward cliffs of the Sugarloaf. It is a clear day and I have the reassurance of matching the ground with my mental construct on the map. I stop just below the junction of my ascending ridge with the Caha ridge. It is the same ridge that I have been with ever since I left Glengarriff at noon. It is just before you reach the apex of the top that often the greatest view is to be realised and one half of all that was close and incomprehensible at the foot of the mountain now is revealed and one half of all that you can possibly see, everything north, the enfolding circle of the Caha mountains back around to where Glengarriff is hidden below and the pale blue sea is block ended by the enfolding rocky ribs of the Sugar loaf’s cliffs.
My stop has one of those awe inspiring views favoured by hill walking books and magazines where the lonely hillwalker, stick in support is pictured beside a great promontory gazing at the beetling cliffs of a mountain beyond. Edmund Burke named that feeling in the 18thc for the first time as the Sublime. It will be my highlight for the day, what Wordsworth I remember from my school day poetry book called
“A sense sublime…..
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns?
And the round ocean and the living air…
A lover of the meadows and the woods
And mountains; ……
The guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.”
It is good you feel that someone has captured that unique emotion in great rolling iambic metre, capturing a time and movement back then when a whole pilgrimage of back to nature was launched and preached to the city dwellers. Yet it is an aspirational, even bourgeois call, a call that motivates men and women to seek out unique eye framing scenes of the countryside, each remembered view to be carried home and pondered on like a trophy. The trophy in this digital age can be captured in a million pixels on the viewer’s mobile phone.
“They flash upon the inward eye which is the bliss of solitude”.
Source: A Sunday Walk in Wicklow Rain.
Source: Borrowed Scenery.
Source: The Foxgloves.