Irish Independent Walk of the Week Christopher Somerville
18 June 2011
‘So what do you actually go walking for? What’s the point of it?’ A tricky question, this, and one I’m often asked. Usually I give a more or less throwaway reply. Oh well, fresh air and exercise, keeps the old mind ticking over, better than sitting in a chair – that sort of thing. But as my 100th Irish Independent Walk of the Week began to appear round the bend, I gave it some proper thought. What actually is the point of going walking for pleasure? What does that pleasure really consist of, if you break it down? To put it in a nutshell: what should a good walk have, in order for it to ring my bell?
Here’s the list I came up with, in no special order.
• Gorgeous scenery
• A bit of a challenge
• Time to stand (or sit) and stare
• The company of good friends
• Lots of stories, nonsense, craic and laughter
• A route that gets you back where you started…
• … to a welcoming bar…
• … where the craic continues
Where’s the place to put all that together? Why, the Glen of Aherlow, Tipperary’s own slice of heaven, with my sister and cousins all gathered for a few days of walking and talking and quaffing and laughing in full view of the Galty Mountains, an east-west spread as inspiring to look at as any in Ireland. What better spot for the centenary walk – and who better to lead us to glory than Michael Moroney, man of a thousand walks and a thousand-and-one tall tales?
‘Believe only half of what you hear on this walk,’ said Michael, leading us off from Aherlow House Hotel, ‘because I haven’t my pills taken.’ Good advice. We heard a great deal as we tramped up through the woods, moonshine spun from nonsense on the one hand, and fascinating snippets of history on the other – red squirrels and their eating habits, Folklore Commission, the Hanging Tree where men were executed for stealing potatoes, the ruined house, the poitín still. ‘Oh God,’ spluttered Cousin Dermot, pointing at Cousin Vicky, ‘she once poured a whole bottle of vintage poitín into a plum crumble, thinking it was flavouring. Great crumble, though, I must admit.’
On this walk through the woods I got to know my antipodean Cousin Richard’s daughter Jessie. What was Cousin Jessie studying at Canberra? ‘Chaucer.’ What on earth job would that fit her for? We decided on plumbing. ‘At least,’ hazarded Jessie, ‘I’ll be able to write you a poem about what’s wrong with your pipes.’ The scurrilous little rhyme that she then came up with can’t be committed to print, but it was bloody funny.
At the statue of Christ the King we stood silent in admiration of the Galtees rising as pale and beautiful as pre-Raphaelite hills across the misty Glen of Aherlow. Michael sang us a morsel of ‘Sweet Aherlow’, with the mountains as a backdrop to validate every word of the song. Michael’s better half Joan told a tale of how he’d climbed Galtymore, the peak of the range, by moonlight, and phoned his brother down in the vale, two-and-a-half thousand feet below, to tell him he’d forgotten to switch off the lights.
Mighty craic, and mighty was the view from Rock an Thorabh, Bull Rock, up on the ridge above Christ the King, a giant prospect north over Tipperary town and the dairy-rich Golden Vale. We heard of Diarmuid and Gráinne the passionate runaways, of the jealousy of Fionn MacCumhaill and the hatchet hurled to split Bull Rock in two. There indeed was the split in the mighty boulder – who would doubt the tale?
Back down at Aherlow House once more, sitting on the terrace in the sun with cups of tea in front of us and a pint of Guinness in prospect, I looked round the laughing, wind-freshened faces. If ever a justification for walking was needed, here it was in all its breadth and depth. A walk fit to cap the first hundred – and to kick-start the second.
WAY TO GO
MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 74. Looped Walk trail cards 37b (‘Bianconi Loop’) and 37d (‘Rock an Thorabh Loop’) are downloadable at discoverireland.ie/walking, or available at Aherlow House Hotel or Glen of Aherlow Failte Society (see below)
TRAVEL: M8 (Jct 9), N74 to Tipperary; R664 to Glen of Aherlow; Aherlow House Hotel signed on right in 4 miles/6 km. Park at hotel.
WALK: Back up road for 200m; fork right through Glen of Aherlow Nature Park, following Bianconi Loop (blue arrow) through woods to Christ The King statue and lookout. From here follow Rock an Thorabh Loop (red arrows) through Carrigeenina Woods on forestry road for 1¼ miles (2 km) to crossroads where Millennium Stone Loop (blue arrows) merges with Rock an Thorabh Loop. Sharp left on forest path (blue/red arrows) to Rock an Thorabh lookout. Continue to R664 road; left for 100 m; right down road to Aherlow House Hotel.
LENGTH: 5 miles/8 km – allow 2-2½ hours
CONDITIONS: Forest tracks.
REFRESHMENTS: Picnic at Rock an Thorabh
ACCOMMODATION: Aherlow House Hotel and Lodges, Glen of Aherlow, Tipperary (062-56153; aherlowhouse.ie) – very welcoming, efficient, walker-friendly hotel, a hub of walking.
WALKING in IRELAND: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.discoverireland.ie/walking.
BOOK: Christopher’s book Walking in Ireland (Ebury Press) contains 50 of his favourite Irish Independent walks.
INFORMATION: Glen of Aherlow Fáilte Society (063-56331; aherlow.com)