Though I’m from Mayo you wouldn’t think it at times. I had to look up Finny on the map after googling it and being sent to the U.S. The trouble with technology is it thinks globally and not locally like me. I rang Mr. Joyce not once but twice to make sure the lake district walk was going ahead and I was on the right route travelling from Claremorris to Ballinrobe through Clonbur and onto Finny a few kilometres further on between Lough Mask and Lough Corrib for the start of our walk in the Partry mountains. Maumtrasna was our destination that day and we set off in glorious sunshine putting on sun cream and soon striping down to one rather than the typical three layers one needs.
While walking can be a relatively inexpensive form of exercise one can also spend a fortune on equipment when all you need is a fairly decent rain jacket, good boots and in general stuff that is waterproof. It’s probably more important to have more than less as you can always take off what you have to put on in the first place but if you find yourself freezing to death on the mountains it’s because you’ve failed to properly prepare for all eventualities and in Ireland on the mountains you need to be ready for the four seasons in one day. Having begun walking in earnest last year I’ve built up a collection of maps and equipment that is still pretty basic. I’ve gone out in the right weather for me so I generally come home with a bit of colour on my cheeks and a healthy glow.
There’s no need to blow a thousand euros when you can go to supermarkets like Aldi and pick up some of the stuff you need relatively cheap. It won’t last a life time but nothing does nowadays. Look after it and you’ll get a good few years. Take it for granted and like any relationship that isn’t shown a bit of TLC it'll die more quickly. Enough lecturing, let’s walk. We followed the road and turned in on a path that brought us towards our destination. I was in the company of seven others all with a bit of walking experience and no one had a map but me. This was the leader's backyard and he had been up here before so didn’t need to worry about losing his way even in the clouds. However I’m learning to read maps and would like to lead so it's important for me to have my map and compass at hand and to stop and look around me. I was going to time the ascent but forgot when we stopped for lunch to turn my stopwatch on again. It’s probably better to look at your watch before you begin and when you come down again. That’s the length of your journey when your logging it in your notebook and one should also take into account the time it takes you to get there and home again because that’s really what a day in the mountains means. I needed to drive approximately 40kms as the crows flies but when your driving or walking in the mountains you don’t travel directly from A to B. It’s more like the stages of any journey, starting with the decision to go on the journey in the first place. Once that decision is made one has to prepare. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail as the saying goes. You usually begin by checking the weather forecast for that day and then you choose what to wear. I tend to throw more things than I need into my bag or into the back of my little camper van. This means that when I get to wherever I’m going I'm prepared for all eventualities.
Come spring I’m usually ready to be on the road again and it’s hard even on a day like today to be stuck inside because work keeps getting in the way. I could of course be writing in the back of my van today with or without a laptop but I’m also looking after an aged parent and doing things on the internet. As I said earlier, natural progress and technology seems to oblige me to stay put or move in a certain way when I’d rather be free from the shackles of mortality. C’est la vie.
Maybe because we or at least I spend so much time in front of a screen it’s almost more customary to communicate with people through a screen. I notice now if someone calls me unexpectedly or I don’t know the number on my screen I don’t always answer if I’m not feeling socially inclined to talk to them. It’s a different story when face to face with somebody as we’re communicating without necessarily speaking by the way we walk. I like to walk alone for a time and gradually begin to clear my thoughts and breathe in the fresh air and open up once again to what is natural within: curiosity of the world around me. I spoke to everybody but listen more readily than talk and intervene when something or someone strikes me as engaging. I find I learn a lot more saying less and just observing although if we all did that perhaps it would lead to suspicious minds. We are social creatures after all and gifted with possibility of abstract thought and many means of communicating with ourselves both the past and the present. Then there’s the rest of our natural environment and it’s hard to believe that there still exists areas where we haven’t yet thread or left our indelible footprint. From the top of Maumtrasna one can see south as far as Clare and in the opposite direction as far as Achill probably although I remember most seeing Croagh Patrick from what we’d normally consider behind.You’d hardly consider it a peak or know of it's steep and stony rise to the little chapel on top if it weren’t for the visible scar that continues to mar this beautiful and holy mountain, which can be seen from afar.
There was no great difficulty get to the top of Maumtrasna and it’s easy to know you’ve reached the spot height because of the concrete column on top albeit weather beaten.
We made our made down the valley that lies between Maumtrasna and Buckaun following the Srahnalong river that flows into lough Mask. We parted company with it’s lovely little waterfalls and pools which I would have gladly dipped my sweaty feet in had I been leading. Nothing was stopping me really but the lack of a towel as we weren’t rushing but I’ll get a chance to dip my feet into the river again as I’ll definitely be going back there again in the company of other friends.
There is quite a lot to see from the heights but what is impressive and relieves the pressure on the knees as you descend is to look around at the steep rock faces both sides of you and the sheep whom you always see in the strangest of places picking there way across these stony faces. Some never make their way down again falling to their death and thus the walls and fences we found in the strangest of places. After all why would you be bothered building a wall at the top of mountain but to stop people and sheep from going to close to the edge on a cloudy day and with a strong gust of wind meeting their end. The only other thing crying in the wind apart from the birds are those foolhardy sheep and people pausing and posing in places they shouldn't be. I miss in some ways not taking my camera with me but it obliges me to pay closer attention to the memory etched in my body and not captured virtually.
Walking in the mountains leaves a lasting physical experience for days to come. I feel a little tired today but not because of the climb or the game of badminton afterwards but from staying up much later than I normally would to wind down more than anything else from a day of exercise in the heaven and the depressing return to civilisation with all its competitiveness and conflict.
Maybe that’s why I find such solace in the hills and mountain far from the madding crowd. I must read this book once again just to see if Hardy captures that feeling or whether my writing can one day emulate the great writers that inspire us to keep seeking new routes to inner peace. It’s probably this that I search for more than happiness or beautiful scenery to cope with the constant negativity one has to absorb from society and in particular the media. Long live my silent friends the hills and mountains of Ireland.