Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Historical Trail

This is not a difficult hike

One reason I love where I live is the seemingly endless places where I can go for a walk. Despite Ireland's reputation for rain the real truth is that there are very few days it rains all day and most days definitely have more sun that rain. Also its rarely too hot or too cold to walk.

If you enjoy hiking, Ireland is a paradise and just a couple of miles from me is a connection to the "Historical Way", by far my favourite hill walking trails in Ireland and possibly one of the easiest for walkers despite providing some of the most spectacular views.

The Historical Trail is 56kms(35miles) in length and, conveniently, it is a trail that is a circular route. To do all of it I suggest allowing a very comfortable 25 hours, 5 hours a day over 5 days to allow for rests, breaks, lunches and diversions to some spectacular ancient megalithic, bronze age, celtic and early Christian sites.

The starting point is usually Boyle, a lovely small traditional Irish town with its own abundance of ancient interests such as the Boyle Abbey with its intriguing sheela na gig and green man carvings.

Discovering Carrowkeel

I then suggest walking the trail in a clockwise direction and this will first take you up through the Curlew Mountains and the battlefield of 1599 that ended a nine year war between the Red Earl Hugh O'Donnell who has an alliance with the Irish clans of Connaught and Hugh O'Neil who had a strong alliance with the English. The O'Neil and O'Donnell friction had been around for several hundred years before, way back into dispute of the high kingship seat of Tara. In this skirmish the Connaught people won.

From the Curlew mountains the trail continues north and follows the old Red Earl Road then east and north east through a pleasant woodland path before opening up at the base of the Bricklieve Mountains. North and north east through canyons of the Bricklieve mountains will take you through some of the most stunning scenes of Ireland that cannot be seen from any road.

An essential diversion at the north of the Bricklieve Mountains is the famous townland of Carrowkeel home of 14 megalithic cairns, more than 5500 years old and many other ancient sites including many stone circle remains of both ancient ceremonial and domestic sites. Some say the cairns were positioned according to a solar system map, alignments are fascinating, and there is a "bottomless" pit within a fault in the rock. If the weather is good and views are clear you will want to spend a whole day exploring here. If the weather is not so good you can always arrange for me to return you here in my minibus during a later day in your hike. Approaching Carrowkeel along the historical trail from the south is, in my opinion, the most dramatic way to approach here.

Take a break at the donkey sanctuary

Leaving Carrowkeel and the Brickleive Mountains the Trail heads north east towards the village of Castlebaldwin. Well before you descend into the village you will pass a very remote donkey sanctuary where the owner welcomes passers by to visit the donkeys, show some love, stroke their ears etc. The donkeys and small ponies do appreciate the attention plus its a wonderful chance to get to know donkeys a bit closer. Sue Paling is the owner of this "Sathya Sai" Sanctuary. If you are carrying some spare loot, please leave some with Sue as a donation for her work.

At this point my may like a diversion to Ceis Corran mountains and the legendary Keash Caves and Morrigan's cairn. As a hiking adventure this requires either another day or I could provide a tour with my minibus. While in the area you should always include some time around this remarkable mountain that was once surrounded by seven early Christian monastic sites.

Castlebaldwin is a small but fast growing village. Cleverley Mill provides lovely dining in the evening and holds an interesting history of its own. I'm not sure if they do lunches in summer. Worth checking. The petrol station in the village has a very adequate store, toilets and cafe, though, as well as friendly service and help.

Following the Tuatha De Dannan

The Trail then heads north east beside the north end of the beautiful Lough Arrow that you should have seen a complete aerial view of from Carrowkeel. You will cross the historical and legend packed River Unshin and head towards the legendary Moytura Plain, full of legends of the Tuatha De Dannan's second battle of Moytura. At this north end you should divert from the trail to Heapstown Cairn and to Lough na Sool, lake of the eye, where the evil eye of Balor was knocked out of his head by Lugh's spear, some say slingshot, and burned a hole in the earth. This later filled with water, but sometimes, like during this year of 2006, the lake dissapears to reveal the burned hole.

Back on the trail you will head south east and pass many ancient sites connected to the Tuatha De Dannan such as Labby Rock, a portal cairn where the De Dannan king Nuada was laid to rest, Lugh's seat, a broken cairn on top of Seleweeney Hill with remarkable views and "The Stones Of Samhain" a remarkable line of mysterious tall teeth like stones and rectangle pillars that are also called "Balor's Teeth". Within this is the remains of a very ancient megalithic court cairn. If you detour from the Trail there are several more cairns, mounds and stones of several ancient sacred sites. However, if possible, its best to time your hike across Seleweeney Hill, looking over the Moytura Plain, around sunset to capture not only a dramatic sunset that shadows Carrowkeel, Ceis Corran and Lough Arrow but to be immersed in the pastel pinks, mauves, greens and greys that surround the event.

Leaving Moytura south of Highwood, you may be pleased to know that the rest of the Trail does not include any more hillwalking, but you are nowhere near the end of beautiful scenery. The Trail heads east to the lively village of Ballyfarnon, good for any refreshment. You will then head south east again towards Keadue.

Lough Meelagh

On the way to Keadue, the Trail follows the northern shore of the beautiful Lough Meelagh where you will pass the Holy Well of St. Lassier, a lady who became a saint through her abilities to heal blind people to see again. Across the road at the foot of the Kilronan Mountain, where legends speak of the Tuatha De Dannan arriving in Ireland on clouds that burst into mists on the mountain, the famous blind harper and composer Turlough O'Carolan is buried. Quite a paradox to be buried across the road of the saint who healed blind people. Turlough's first composition was called Sidhe Beg, Sidhe Mor dedicated to the fairy legends that followed the Tuatha De Dannan tales.

The Trail continues around Lough Meelagh and into the village of Keedue at least to visit the O'Carolan memorial park and a wonderful example of an ancient sweat house which were the hospitals of ancient times. There is a wonderful display of how these sweat houses were used.

Back to the Trail at Lough Meelagh you pass by some beautiful crannogs, man made islands for homes as a protection from visitors with the plague. A small diversion will lead you to substantial remains of a court cairn, and then once you are west of the lough the Trail turns more than ninety degrees south through several woodland trails to the village of Knockvicar. At Knockvicar ask locals how to get to the "Bishop's Seat" an interesting ruin beside a lock on the Boyle waterway. This was said to have been one of only two early Christian Bishop's Palaces in Ireland. It was destroyed by the reigning bishop during the time of the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland as he did not want the site ruled by their incoming Christian religion. There's also some later dark history, but I'll let the locals tell you that.

Lough Key

From Knockvicar the Trail heads west along the beautiful wooded coastline of the very historical Lough Key and through the fairy like Lough Key Park. This is near the end of the Historical Trail and worth spending some quality time in. Suggestions are to rent a boat or go on one of the Lough Key boat cruises if they are running. If you rent a boat try taking it up the park's "hidden" canal system built by the Rockingham family in the 18th century, I believe. There is the beautiful gothic "Fairy Bridge" and several ancient "fairy rings". A new visitor's centre will shortly issue information literature as well as provide welcome beverages and snacks.

Leaving Lough Key Park is a mere 30 minute hike back into Boyle town, passing a very symbolic gate arch as you leave the park and enter the boundary of the town.

As you will know you can cover many miles around Ireland in a hired car but you may never see even half or even experience a quarter of "Ireland" as you could by hiking the "Historical Trail".

This is something you could do any time of the year, either do the whole Trail in a week, or come back for two short breaks. I can assist you with accommodation and minibus transportation to and from your accommodation and the Trail as well as transportation to and from evening ceilis, theatre and performances, so you do not have to worry about how much Guinness and Irish whisky you may drink.

Some folks like to end a day's hike with a spa, health massage, or meditation, which can be arranged

Getting from Dublin to Boyle is very easy, fast, comfortable and low cost by train. If you arrive or leave Ireland to or from Knock and Shannon airports I can make transport arrangements for you.

You can do this with a budget of € 60 to € 160 a day, € 80 to €100 being average, to cover your accommodation, meals and extra transport depending what level of accommodation, meals and extra activities you go for.

This is a wonderful healthy green vacation or short break idea for any time of the year.

Please get in touch with me to make arrangements

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