Well, I had the good fortune to kiss the famous Blarney Stone this week on my wanderings, so, apologies in advance if I’ve blathered on even more than usual but Ireland’s lush beauty is enough to bring out the poet in all of us…

Ok, here goes…

Roadside sculpture on the way to Cork

Roadside sculpture on the way to Cork

Day 189 to 191

The Gaelic word for friend is Anam Cara, which roughly translates as ‘soul sharer’.

A common image in many Irish villages

A common image in many Irish villages

Walking through Ireland it’s as if the whole country shares its soul with you – whether via druid stones or Celtic churches; smashed castles, virgin statues or even chirpy Guinness ads.

An even more common image in many Irish villages

An even more common image in many Irish villages

The shifting landscape is at once harsh but gorgeous, ancient yet alive and intimate.

The people are sharers too. Two nights ago a lovely family allowed me to camp at Leaping Salmon Farm and fed me breakfast.

Camping at Leaping Salmon Farm

Camping at Leaping Salmon Farm

Last night in Macroom, I was deeply touched, when septagenarian couple, Con and Maisie, after I asked a good place to camp, told me I could stay in their spare room. So trusting and good hearted of them, it made my day.

Con and Maisie kindly let me stay at their home in Macroom

Con and Maisie kindly let me stay at their home in Macroom

In America I was often put up by families but wondered if this would be the case in Europe. Happy that it is, so far.

Conor, a jolly dry stone waller

Conor, a jolly dry stone waller

Ireland never stops making me smile. I had a good yarn today with a dry stone waller, Conor, near the village of Dripsey.

Conor explained that Dripsey was once famous for having the shortest St Patrick’s Day parade in the world, a mere 25 yards.

‘The parade stretched between two neighbouring pubs,’ Conor told me. ‘Thousands came from all over. The odd pony or sheep would wander into the bars too.’

The famous parade stopped eight years ago when one of the pubs, The Lee Valley Inn, shut.

‘A sad day,’ said Conor. ‘It was a great craic.’

Unlike America, where I was thrashing myself to walk coast to coast before my visa expired, Ireland poses no such punishing schedule.

Though I am still clipping along at a fair pace – I covered 50 miles the last three days, much of it hilly – it’s way less than in the Deep South.

I’m able to soak up my surroundings more: smell the roses – sniff the shamrocks!

The road to Blarney

The road to Blarney

Having now reached the town of Blarney I look forward to kissing the fabled Blarney Stone tomorrow and attaining the gift of the gab.

In a local shop I overheard a young girl shout at her brother: ‘You’re too gobby! Kiss the Shut Up stone instead!’ Classic!

 

About to pucker up and kiss the Blarney Stone

About to pucker up and kiss the Blarney Stone

Day 192

This morning I kissed the Blarney Stone. Now you’ll never shut me up!

Legend has it the Blarney Stone gives the gift of eloquence to all who kiss it. Forever. (Must send these stone smooching shots to my publisher!) The stone was a gift from a grateful witch who was saved from drowning by the one time owner of Blarney Castle.

Others say the stone was payback from Scottish hero, Robert the Bruce, after Irish troops helped him defeat the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

The stone is rare, ultra smooth, blue limestone, unlike the rest of the castle, which, built in the mid 1400s, is coarse grey limestone.

One thing is for sure, it’s one hell of a tricky thing to kiss. It makes that kooky, upside down kiss Spiderman once did look like a doddle.

To reach the famed stone, you have to hang from the castle top on two iron rails, suspend your upper body in mid air, and pucker up, while being clung onto by an explosively bearded castle guide called Saemus. And yes, that’s not a sentence I’m ever likely to repeat.

It reminded me briefly of my first bungee jump, except then, no-one was hanging on to me. In fact, shaking in terror, wildly as a malaria victim, I had to be gently pushed.

Funny how things that terrify us – a bungee jump, a first kiss – can make us so euphoric afterwards, all the better for their fleeting intensity.

Rhubarb leaves, one of the many toxic flora in the Poison Garden at Blarney Castle

Rhubarb leaves, one of the many toxic flora in the Poison Garden at Blarney Castle

Having explored the rest of the castle, including a Poison Garden full of deadly flora – rhubarb leaves, mandrake and poppies (heroin, the most toxic drug of all), I walked on to Cork.

After a week of sunshine the weather finally broke as I passed Cork Cathedral. Fortunately, I’ve been able to dry out at the cosy Kinlay House Hostel.

I’m spending two days in Cork to route plan, MOT Koko and organise some fundraising events for the three charities during my upcoming UK stint.

Loving my hike across Ireland but so looking forward to seeing family and friends and walking through that familiar, heart singing place, that impossible place… that place called home.

 

The loneliest tent in Jasmine Valley campsite

The loneliest tent in Jasmine Valley campsite

Day 195 to 197

Under Irish skies, the loneliest of tents…

When I pitched up at the Jasmine Valley campsite I was the sole visitor.

‘Ciunas gang uaigneas’ is a poetic Gaelic phrase that often sums up my state of mind on the road: ‘quietness without loneliness.’ (Thanks Al Humphreys – do check out his blog if you don’t already).

I’d be lying if I said I never got lonely on this walk, at times it bites hard, really hard.

But this is very rare. Most of the time I’m not alone – memories, ideas, faces, songs, quirky lists eg) top 3 books where the author travels with a dog, swirl around my head.

But, more than anything, there’s other people. And, in Ireland, someone always pops up.

Like that night camping, after an hour, Patrick and Saoirse (a lovely Irish name, pronounced Ser-sha, meaning freedom), rocked up in a mini-van.

A father and daughter combo, him early 50s, her early 20s, we all had a good laugh about the camp shower, which took a token, and whirred crazily like a dentist’s drill, before spurting out glacially cold water for 3 minutes then boil your pants off scalding water for 10 seconds.

Patrick and Saoirse’s camaraderie, their bickering and laughter, reminded me of happy times travelling with my daughter, Eliza.

Again, two nights ago, I was walking along beautiful and blustery Youghal harbour seeking a place to camp on the beach.

A perfect spot to camp with the lights of Youghal Harbour winking in the distance

A perfect spot to camp with the lights of Youghal Harbour winking in the distance

A local, Sue, told me that at high tide the beach is always submerged, but I was welcome to camp in her garden.

Soon the tent was up in a perfect spot and I was having tea and biscuits with Sue, her husband Kevin, and son, Sam.

Sue, Kevin and Sam, who kindly let me camp in their garden in Youghal

Sue, Kevin and Sam, who kindly let me camp in their garden in Youghal

So kind of them.

Later, I met Martin, a jolly, multi tasking, life boatman, musician and pest controller with his lovely girlfriend, Cat.

Martin told me it takes over a year to train to be a life boatman. He loves it but it’s tough, and due to this, the maximum age is now 55, despite volunteers constantly being needed.

Yesterday I walked 20 miles to coastal town Dungarvan, the ocean always on my right. It was these waters the Titanic ploughed through, having set sail from Cobh harbour, near Cork, on April 11th, 1912.

Looking out to sea, thinking about that great ship and all those hopeful souls on board, did make me feel a little lonely…

 

Koko in a jungly section of the Green Way, a traffic free dream path stretching 30 miles between Dungarvan and Waterford

Koko in a jungly section of the Green Way, a traffic free dream path stretching 30 miles between Dungarvan and Waterford

Day 198 to 199

I’m walking around the world!

Sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe my own spectacular luck, especially over the last days.

This jungly scene was shot on the Green Way, nearly 30 miles of car-free trail stretching all the way to Waterford, passing sea cliffs and ancient viaducts, hills grazed by plump dairy cows and tunnels full of secrets.

A tunnel on the Green Way is awash with rather wonderful stone messages, codes and secrets

A tunnel on the Green Way is awash with rather wonderful stone messages, codes and secrets

A magical landscape peppered with some of the friendliest folk on earth the Green Way is a source of great local pride.

Walkers, runners, cyclists, Mums pushing babies, chatty tourists, schoolkids on skate boards, elderly couples hand in hand…all of them enjoy the Green Way in the early miles, but as the track weaves away from the sea, nature gets wilder, more luxuriant, its secrets harder won.

With my lovely sister, Fanny, who joined me walking for a bit of the Green Way

With my lovely sister, Fanny, who joined me walking for a bit of the Green Way

I was doubly blessed to hike a stretch with my sister, Fanny, who tracked me down near the village of Kilmacthomas and later bought fish and chips and helped me, amidst much laughter, covertly set up camp in a paddock fringing the trail.

That night in my soggy tent, birdsong all around, I marvelled at the simple joy of walking in nature.

So many of the people I’d seen on the Green Way had been blissed out, lost in thought, in exertion, in the moment, as if all struck by some grand enchantment.

It’s no wonder traffic-less trails are springing up over Ireland, its gorgeous landscape screams out for them, but elsewhere too: it’s now possible to hike great swathes of Canada and Patagonia this way.

And yet, in much of the ‘car is king’ West, we still walk on average less than half a paltry mile a week.

More pleasingly, pilgrimage, ignored for centuries, is now back, but less faith driven, more a call to the wild.

Incredibly, in 1986 less than a dozen pilgrims walked the famous Camino across Spain. Last year that number had swelled to over a quarter of a million.

The Kalahari bushmen believe that once their footsteps have vanished from the earth, that is the end of them.

What a beautiful epitaph.

Special thanks to all at Leaping Salmon Farm, to Conor and Maisie in Macroom, to all at the Kinlay House Hostel in Cork, to sister, Fan, and bro-in-law, Shaun, to Suzanne Cotter, Kevin, Sam and Lara for all their kindness in Youghal and to Martin, Cat and Noreen, to the Coach House Cafe in Kilmacthomas for letting me camp in their paddock, and to all at the wonderful Portree Hostel in Waterford. Thanks too, to Humberto for his generous charity donation and best of luck to Tom Finchett, Paul Skone, Arvind Sharma and all the brave souls now taking part in the brilliant Endeavour India.

Plans are afoot to have a fundraising walk for the three charities I’m walking for, in Oxford on June 8, for family, friends and supporters, so keep it free if you’d like to join. It’s the one weekend Eliza can make, so will be lovely she can join.

I may have a Koko 2 by then, a bigger hiking capsule I can sleep in, but more on that next time…

Many thanks and best of luck with whatever you’re tackling this week.

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