Saturday, 7 May 2011


The words were written in pencil on a piece of paper placed on top of the body.

Whatever about another portentious Scandanavian fictional detection opening, the weather today made you expect some nasty business to be lurking in the fog. Just thirty metre visibility as cold and humid air sat, glued to the hill. I know the distance because I paced it after the dog leapt out in front of an oncoming car that had no lights and was traveling so fast that it emerged from the white curtain in the same instant it was upon us. We heard it coming yet had no sense of its direction, the noise scattered off stony walls that bound either side of the road. The dog spun on the lead and helicopter like, ended up at my feet as I caught a sheepish wave of apology or gratitude from the mindless driver. Not that any of us haven't done the same in the mundanity of our own lives.

The bluebells on Roches Hill are fading into the growing bracken, now fully 18 inches taller in just two weeks. The blue tinge beneath the fog was eerie yet somehow painterly, if that's a word.

Gus, the dog and I traipsed down to the beach and spent about 30 minutes walking in the rounded beach rubble before heading back up into the fog of low lying cloud. We passed the old and tiny Church of St. Leinin (often written like the Russian who was no saint), in use for 800 years until the seventeenth century when it fell into a disrepair that infers some sense of antiquity and grace to Killiney - Cill Iníon Léinin - church of the daughters of Leinin.

It was a long day for me that started in west London initially with a drive to Redhill in Surrey to collect bread from our favorite Chalk Hills Bakery, then past East Grinstead to collect the car with its new windscreen, disks and tyres from Munich Legends. We then drove from Crowborough to Holyhead arriving one hour late having lost an hour and a half behind some bad 'incidents' including a vehicle fire on the M6 near Stoke. So we missed the Jonathan Swift fast ferry at 1715 and had to rebook onto the Ulysses at 240 am. We found a hotel room (the kind that supplies both room key and TV remote at reception), grabbing a Sri Lankan influenced dinner at Mala's, all in Holyhead, before catching three hours sleep. Then, out the fire escape by prior arrangement since all doors are locked at 1am, we emerged to drive past a brace of ambulances arriving at a drunken melee where folk were still fighting on the streets. We were the last to board the ferry not because we were late but because there were so few cars on this the biggest ferry in Europe. Eventually, we emerged bleary eyed in Dublin at 615. An easy crossing made awkward only by the hour.

My knees were sore after the 440 mile drive, I was short sleep but thought it a good idea to walk in a vague simulation of the Three Peaks which happens this day week. This is my last blog until then and I'm sure it will be a few days after the event when I compose and publish the last blog of all. Custard pies and air the ticket raffle are the last events before we set off. An amazing milestone of £13,000 was reached this week and who knows, maybe we'll reach £15,000 with donations from the readers of this blog, if there are any.

It was James Ellroy who wrote about shooting up by TV light in American Tabloid.

Sunday, 1 May 2011


I had a wonderful drive from Dublin to Lisvarrinane in Cork to start (and end) the day. A trip to walk in The Galtee Mountains with the Ballyhoura Bears as part of The Ballyhoura Walking Festival. I had seen it mentioned in the papers a few months ago and decided if I was in Ireland and the weather was at all good, I would do their Seven Peak Challenge as the last big fitness test before the Scottish Three Peaks.

Atop Farbreaga
I made it up Farbreaga, Greenane, Galtybeg and Galtymore. Four peaks of the seven possible. After six and half hours, I was relieved that our guides took us down, leaving Slievecushnabinnia, Carrignabinnia and Lyracappul for another day. The Ballyhoura Bears were so welcoming and hostpitable that I intend to return. I was sorry for them that only twenty five people turned up for a walk that had drawn ninety in the past though someone told me over three hundred had registered for the overall walking festival (reduced numbers perhaps due to competing walking events and the unusual alignment of Easter and May Day giving people the opportunity for two week holidays, like me).

The Old Red Sandstones and Conglomerates being heavily jointed form blocky, rectangular shapes that contrast with the rounded granites I'm used to walking in Dublin and Wicklow. The soft heather, mossy, boggy ground was a tougher walking surface than I am conditioned for - too many degrees of rotation for ankles, knees and hips. The weather was good. Yes it was windy at times. Yes it drizzled on and off throughout the first five hours. Yes it was cold at times. Yes it was hazy. But from the top of the mountains, the views of the coums was exhilarating - lunch overlooking Muskry, snacks over Borheen and Diheen and then over Curra, some random walker was handing out Barley Water sweets saying they gave great energy boosts. A group of Chinese walkers sitting in the shelter of Galtybeg seemed incongruous at first sight because I was with locals who were more mountain goat than bear. 

Borheen Lough
I was last up most of the climbs, slower than the sweeper would have wanted. I zig-zagged my way up and eventually down. But on the other surfaces I was well able to stay at the front (of the slowest group, mind). People offered me their walking poles ('all our best walkers use them'). I was offered food and sweets and lots of verbal encouragement. I asked one lady how often she did this walk and was stunned when she said two and maybe three times a week. Then I began to feel a lot better, this being my first. I was among people who helped saying I was lucky it was not raining, it's often much wetter underfoot, the wind at your back is better than in front.  Meeting these people, it was as if "their lives had been one long vigorous walk". It seems OK to quote from Elizabeth Bowen ('The Easter Egg Party' 1938) because of her links with Farahy just the other side of Mitchelstown.

Munster's loss to the Harlequins in the League seemed more important than Leinster's fantastic win in the Heineken Cup Semi Final. I later listened to full pub cheers, with tea and ham sandwich in hand, when Kilkenny hurlers scored a goal against Dublin. Dan Breen has a memorial across the road from the muster point at Moroney's pub in Lisvarrinane - even the civil war didn't seem that long ago today. While Dublin felt a long way off, the M8 motorway was said to be the only good thing to result from The Celtic Tiger.

Friday, 29 April 2011


The trial was irretrievably over; everything that could be said had been said, but he had never doubted that he would lose.

Sugar Loaf
An opening from a recently heralded trio of books that were all the more curious for being published posthumously.  And a walk that was just too long for my companion. At ten, following a sleepover with almost no sleep, 7.5 km climbing up towards Djouce from Curtlestown via the Glencree River was just too much. The scenery at the splendid lookout to Powerscourt Waterfall didn't matter once the tiredness took over and that happened at 7.5 km which meant there was still 7.5 km to walk back to the car. Mostly downhill but still way too much especially since it the entire walk took over five hours. Still, we had a memorable picnic in a hollow tree.

The walk didn't kill him but herons, trout in the streams, grazing deer, our first cuckoo and kestrels were lost in his tiredness. I've said sorry. So has he.

There were some shameful things to see in the Glencree River; beer cans, shopping trolleys, plastic bags and assorted discards left by careless people. And then as we were watching little trout darting in the light dappled waters, a rubber suited, river walking troupe appeared - they seemed to be panning for gold - their activity seemed barbaric when you consider the wildlife in that protected beauty spot. 

VS Naipul told us that men who are nothing have no place in our world in opening A Bend in the River (back in blog 12, Forge).

Thursday, 28 April 2011


Tom and the Perfectionist sit in the designated waiting area of Gate 23, Terminal two, Lester B. Pearson International airport.

Among the more odd books I've read recently, Tom and the Perfectionist will be obscure unless you've heard about it. Whereas I suspect many have read The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger that opened in the cool marble library that smelled of carpet cleaner back in the Proxigee post in late March.

Today was a short walk to Killiney beach with the dog. Clear and photogenic, I used the iPhone to capture dandelions while Gus was off harrying other walkers by the shore. I was trapped by a problem with my car that prevented a drive to the mountains. There were lots of other things to do so the walk was only five km.

Monday, 25 April 2011


Robert Frost made his visit in November of 1960, just a week after the general election.

A 30 km walk (without a break) on another section of the Wicklow Way; 15 km each way from the head of the Ow River to Mangans, the car parked in the same spot as the last walk. I have to say it was boring. Very boring. It started with a climb through beech and the occasional azalea in Ballyteige Lodge and then along roads into Coilte plantations of larch and spruce. After that first hour, most of the walk was on sealed blacktop; hard on the eyes and feet, both. There was some respite in the form of the odd pretty glade, some soft views across green fields of sheep with lambs, often framed in yellow blooming gorse. It was not raining; a small mercy. I seem to have climbed 860 m which could explain why it took me thirty minutes more than the five hours I had expected. And I walked the last 30 minutes without GPS - not sure why it was lost again; seems to happen when the iPhone roams to the Vodafone network.

By far the most interesting thing was the diversity of mountain and townland names; Ballinagappege Mountain, Carrigamuck, Knockanooker, Knocknashamroge, Corndog, Ballycumber and Coolafunshoge, where I turned back, just short of Tinahely.

I saw only eleven other walkers, two runners and two cyclists in the whole walk. Proof that it was too boring to waste a public holiday unless of course, you were going from one interesting section to another.

And on closing, another opening: it was in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale that Samuel and Mary Kent slept through the first line.

Saturday, 23 April 2011


Kilroy was here?
Maria hardly registered what was happening during the funeral.

This, the 27th post opens with yet another Scandanavian crime writer. Robert Clinch, who rolled out of bed to open the 15th post was from Double Whammy by Carl Hiaasen.

The goal of this walk was 25 km in 5 hours or less. It also needed some climbs and so I chose the Wicklow Way, south from Drumgoff. To get there, I drove up the Avoca Valley from Arklow to park at Ballyteige, beside the Ow River. And walked Ballyteige to Drumgoff and back. And I did it in 5 hours. Exactly despite the loss of phone and GPS signal that confused the Walkmeter.

I followed a Merlin, or pigeon hawk for a short while. It was flying fast and hugging the ground, trapped by the walled road and the overhead enclosing tree canopy. I hadn't seen one for over thirty years and doubted my recollection of its habits until I checked the books.

I came upon a bus tour of geriatric but cheery hill walkers who all said hello. I lost my enthusiasm for their greetings after twenty-five hellos as they passed me in single file on rocky ground. I saw few other people which surprised me considering how beautiful it was.

Thursday, 21 April 2011


The August heat was slipping away with the day.

Another crime novel opening. And we can close the heat felt by the Parisians in the opening line of Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky, from the Skyline post in Februrary.

MiniMan checks the compass
Which is not to say the walk up Kippure was on a hot day - it was warm, the gauge in the car registered 23 C. The absolute highlight was the group of a dozen Sika deer that appeared as we crossed a stream. They lay, sat and stood and watched us for about twenty minutes before I got greedy for a closer photo. We watched two head butting and could hear the rattle of their horns though it seemed to be amicable sparring rather than any aggressive dominant male thing.

If the deer were a highlight, the dumped computers and other appliances on the edge of the Wicklow Mountains National Park was a disgraceful nadir. I thought we'd tidied this up and moved on.

At the summit, we crossed the county border between Dublin and Wicklow several times. We admired the hazy view as we snacked on BLT sandwiches (which is when I learned that MiniMan would not eat lettuce or tomato). The huge communications antenna fingered the sky above us, tethered by some serious cables, all of which is the ugly side of being in a wilderness that is only 15 minutes from a city of one million people.

We covered 10 km in about 5 hours, an ascent of 350 m. The deer reappeared on the descent as did some snipe, several we heard creeching on a skylark sound stage, one we saw zigging and zagging away from us.