As promised, a complete write-up of the Wicklow Way with a full bit of information and tips should you find yourself on the east side of the Emerald Isle. This is a long post so, uh, deal wid it.
The Trail Itself
According to my guidebook, the trail takes about 5 to 7 days in either direction and runs approximately 132km. I began in Marlay Park, Dublin, and hit Clonegal (official start/end town) by the middle of the sixth day, averaging about 25km a day give or take. The longest I walked in one day was 32km and the shortest was 20km. This makes the Wicklow Way a decent way to spend a week of vacation without being too concerned about time. It also forms part of the E8 Walking Trails throughout Europe, bleeding into the South Leinster Way which takes you further southwest into Ireland.
If you begin in Dublin proper, prepare yourself for you immediately begin hiking upwards on mostly forested trails and rocky paths. You begin at sea level and before you know it, you’re almost 600m in the air. It doesn’t sound like much, especially to my American readers, but this is in the course of a single day – the constant ascending and descending in the first few days are taxing. Especially if you’re a fatbody like me who hasn’t hiked proper in several years. Continue reading “Walking the Wicklow Way”
There is far more than a nugget of truth in that statement, folks, lemme tell you.
Tomorrow marks my last day on the Wicklow Way (and I’ll have a review/write up later) and each day has been a wonderful blessing. The first day, though my fatbody wasn’t quite ready for the strains, was still an enjoyable success. Throughout the week, I have seen a great many sights Ireland has to offer and I’m floored by such a pristine country. Here’s a few shots (more to come):
But that isn’t the point of this post, to inundate you with photos of the Wicklow Way, no, far from it. The purpose of this post is to sing the praises of that lovable scamp Gavin of Butlers Byrne B&B in Aughrim and his incredible penchant for Irish hospitality.
Aughrim is about 8km off the Way so it’s a bit of a walk after a long day. No matter, for Gavin offered to pick me up and drive me to his joint. Immediately upon entering his beautiful B&B pad, he set out cookies biscuits and coffee for me whilst giving me the skinny on the local sporting teams, horsemanship, and the Way. We were chatting as if we were old chums; the conversation immediately picked up as soon as I had finished my hot shower and changed into my less smelly clothing. And before I knew it, Gavin was taking me to the pub!
Oh, Irish pubs! If there’s such a thing as Heaven on Earth, I do believe I found it. The Guinness was cold and constant – it is good for you, after all – and the locals were genuinely kind and intrigued. He introduced me to damn near everyone and they all asked how I was finding Ireland. Really kind people, these Irish. Helping to explain local sports to the ignorant American.
But Guinness, let’s go there for a moment. I was told a typical night meant around 10 pints of Guinness, which is a) quite expensive back home and b) the way I want to die. As my brother has famously declared, “Every beer is a sandwich,” to which I must add, “but a pint of Guinness is a hero.” I had 5 or 6 pints (quiet night) because I had to walk in the morning, but let me tell you, I was neither hungover nor hungry when I awoke today.
You see, I drank so much Guinness and laughed till my sides hurt that by the time I awoke for a full Irish breakfast (you haven’t lived until you’ve tried this; Gavin makes a mean black pudding) my body had almost completely rejuvenated from the grueling day before. The black liquid gave strength to my stiff legs, filled my belly for the entire day, and was the proverbial carrot dangling from the stick, guiding me towards the next pub town. If you’re ever going on a long haul walk, get yourself a pint.
After Gavin’s famous full Irish, he dropped me off where he originally picked me up, and, after many well-wishes and thank yous, I set once more upon the trail. But I will never forget the kindness I found at Butlers Byrne B&B courtesy of Gavin. If you’re ever in the area, look him up. You won’t be disappointed.
Now then, this monkey is off to find a pint!
*At the time of writing, their link was delivering a 403 message but check back on the reg*
When most people learned I was headed to Ireland, I was met with the usual. “Oh you’ve just got to go the Irish Alcoholic Producer of International Fame’s brewery/distillery!” Which is all well and good, because I welcome wholesome advice, but there is plenty more to see in Ireland than just getting smashed before a +2000km walk. Ireland isn’t just about booze (though I do love my booze) for my love of fine architecture and culture trumped my desire to have pint after pint – I can buy Irish booze back home. As a new mate of mine just said, “You can have great Guinness in any part of Ireland.”
That being said, I did go to the Guinness Storehouse because I am a huge fan of Guinness and would happily drown in the stuff.
Now then, I hear you ask, if you had the entire day in Dublin and you didn’t go get smashhammered, what did you do?
Why, churches of course!
I absolutely love looking at these architectural marvels of ages long past. My family once visited the cathedral in Fribourg, Swissland, and our guide explained that most of the timbers used required 80+ years to mature. Imagine, then, being a medieval master builder and knowing that the work you are crafting won’t be finished until long after you’ve passed, yet the building itself has immortalized you forever.
It’s simply beautiful when you stop and realize that fact.
Today skyscrapers go up in several years and are torn down to be replaced in just as many decades. But these churches, these monuments to ages long past, have been standing tall for centuries, a living embodiment to the stubbornness of belief, and the beauty of Nature coupled with the tenacity of mankind. You don’t need be Catholic or heretic Protestant or anything, really, to simply enjoy these beautiful buildings of old.
Now then, enough jibber jabber, here’s some bitchin’ old churches right in Dublin proper, lad.
The Cathedral of Saint Patrick, that lovable Englishman who killed snakes and pagans alike! I did not go into this church because they charged an entry fee and I am fundamentally opposed to paying for entry into a house of God. However, the layout is delightfully Gothic and the grounds are very enjoyable. I could get used to this green grass stuff.
Church of the Blessed Virgin and Saint John the Baptist. Why have one church per saint when you can just double up, eh? This one is near my hostel and I see it every time I walk outside the door. The busy street in front isn’t so bueno, but the decor and layout are absolutely stunning.
This wall dates back to the Anglo-Norman conquest of the late 1100s and is one of the last remnants of said wall. This wall is older than the United States x3, to put it into perspective. When we have long crumbled into the dust of history, comrades, what will our ancestors look upon and marvel?
Of course the first church I stopped at was the Church of Saint James (yeah, that Saint James). The building was erected in the 1800s so it is scarcely old by European standards. According to the placard on the outside, the chap who designed this building fathered two of the leaders of the Easter Uprising. Bravo!
The Gathering of Pilgrims has come to a rousing conclusion with many a tearful farewell and promises to keep in touch. This blog will hopefully allow me to maintain some connections because I am actually pretty terrible at writing emails reliably. Letters, however, are another story and I can (and will) write those on the reg for some special Roses. Maybe even call once in a while too.
Well, I’ve been in lovely Ireland for approximately three hours now and the rain has yet to stop. Oh sure, it might slow down for a bit, maybe even suspend itself mid-drop to give the illusion of stopping, but this lovely country is either blessed or cursed by the machinations of the Rain God(s). Through the constant gray mist and perpetual showers, I have seen some rather green (and soaked) fields and interesting (yet soaked) architecture. Just on my block (Quay Street), I can see the steeples of at least four churches. And we’re talkin’ steeples here, mind, not the jibber jabber us Americans are used to – these are churches!
I’ve shacked up in the Four Courts Hostel now for the next two nights: one to recover from jet lag and excessive airplane travel and one to play tourist in the city of Dublin itself. After all, I want to look inside all of those steeples I can glimpse here and there through the downpour. It’s a lovely city, Dublin, and I really do look forward to exploring it, camera in tow, Guinness on draft.
Now then, I need to sleep and recuperate. I am a very tired monkey, after all. Cheers for now.
Tonight at the Gathering of Pilgrims, to round out the night, they showed a film to us about one man’s journey to complete the Camino. This man, Phil, was diagnosed with cancer and, per his doctors, will more than likely perish from this. I will admit that heart strings were pulled and tears were shed as I watched this short film. It was, simply, beautiful.
The film (which you can find here and on Facebook) was partly brought into fruition through the machinations of one of my fellow hospitaleras. It was actually shown at the SXSW festival earlier this year for you Austin types. My new acquaintance is the one on the far left; the director, who spoke about her film, is on the far right.
This film, Phil’s Camino, tells the very moving tale about a man destined to die yet is determined to finish his walk to Santiago. I really cannot express enough how beautiful this is to me. My mother had breast cancer (yet she beat the ever living shit out of it) so this film really hit home for me. Perhaps it was the wine, more than likely the heart strings being tugged, but this was the first film in a very long time to make me shed some saline. It is moving to watch his family and friends support his decision to walk, and very possibly die, on Camino.
Even in his finite time on the Earth, Phil seizes the day and strides forth, walking about the Camino as he fulfills his pledge even as cancer ravages his body. This documentary film showcases one of the many reasons people take to Camino and how that affects them and their loved ones back home. It is very well done, and the fact that the crew were in tow available for questioning made it even more endearing.
Through tears and broken voice, I hugged the director and her staff, thanking them for their incredible film and the potential impact it would have on future (and past) pilgrims. Yes, my mother survived the cancer, but what family isn’t touched by this horrendous decay? In Phil’s Camino, they brought life to death and made a memorable film for people to enjoy, or rather, take heed.
Go. Go forth and seize that day. Take to Camino, take to the road, and seize whatever day you’ve set aside for yourself. There is no time like the present, so it goes, and you never know when the Reaper comes. In that regard, go. Just go.
If you can spare a few bucks, please donate to this film and get the message out. It’s a worthy investment, a beautiful tale, and something worth spreading.
Training with the American Pilgrims is still going well. There are so many wonderful people here to meet and speak with – truly a pilgrim’s paradise. Here’s just a few of the photos I’ve taken of the event (I’m no photographer).
As part of the hospitalero training, we had to make a communal dinner for approximately 25 people. That bitchin’ cheese arrangement? Yeah, I did that.
The nature and grounds are of the shrine itself. It is a very beautiful place. You don’t even realize St. Louis is right around the corner. It’s serene and peaceful here.
After a final night of schmoozing and drinking with the family, I boarded my first plane at approximately 6AM to begin the next chapter in my wandering lifestyle. My heart was heavy for I was leaving a great many things behind me – the sort of things a man doesn’t want to let go of – but my journey had to begin with this first step.
Two flights and a train ride later, here I am in Illinois at the Our Lady of the Snows chapel, ready to begin some hospitalero training courtesy of the American Pilgrims on the Camino. Already I’ve met a smattering of delightful folks I’m eager to spend the week with – seems like plenty of stories to be heard and shared. It has been a hell of a day and I’m quite an exhausted monkey, but I felt the need to share my thoughts (and packing list) before I became too embroiled in the week’s upcoming events.
Without further ado, let us go over The Packing List.
The bag pictured to the left holds all of my gear for the next few months (excluding the things I’ll be wearing day-to-day). It’s a nice bag, an REI model in the M/L range my brother was kind enough to let me borrow. The rain cover was a bit dull so I spruced it up with a positive message: To the ends of the Earth. Because, really, this bag is going places.
In all, I am carrying the following and justifying them thusly:
2 Pairs of Clothing (Shirts, socks, pant/short combo, and drawers)
1 Rain Coat (ponchos are too heavy and cumbersome; this pulls double duty in colder temperatures)
1 Hippie Blanket (a silly sheet you find at Ren Faires you can fold into various articles of clothing; versatile, lightweight, and fits any occasion)
Hiking Boots and Jesus Sandals (walk hard, play hard)
1 Hat and Bandanna (they go on my head)
1 Microfiber Towel (lightweight, dries fast, doubles as an extra blanket)
1 ASUS T100 2-in-1 Tablet (the better to blog with)
1 Fujifilm XP80 Camera (to inundate you with photos; also impervious to much of Nature’s wrath)
2 leather-bound journals (one to keep track of personal thoughts and reflections, the other to document Camino itself and her nuances)
1 Fanny Pack (replete with cash, passports, paper, and exclusive Euro vibes)
1 Canteen (you put water in it)
And that’s it. Everything, excluding the water, comes out to approximately 11 pounds. A good rule of thumb for long distance hiking is to carry about 10% of your weight max. Me being a fatass, that number would be closer to 17 pounds; however, my being a badass ensures this number is far lower and easier to carry. Trust me – you don’t need most things you think you might need when you’re out and about. As my brother said, “Ounces equal poundses.” You have to carry every last ounce so be mindful of that when packing.
After months of planning and prepping, hell, it is difficult to believe the day has finally arrived. Will some days suck? Absolutely. Will my fatbody protest in impotent rage? Of course. Will the experience be worth it? Damn right.
Now then, I am off to find some grub that isn’t coffee, shave my pathetic neckbeard, and hopefully get myself a nap. Until next time, comrades.
Oh and here’s the cutest picture you’ll see today: