boy racer skid marks near the Fanning Pass in the Slieve Blooms
Heroes in tall tales who are stuck in tricky situations are sometimes, famously, able to leap to freedom with just one bound.
We by contrast are not jumping suddenly into a state of freedom but are gradually, gradually, returning to it.
The promised land, the state of nirvana, is the normality that existed before the virus escaped from China, radically changing our lives.
Allowing inter-county travel was a big step forward and now we are able to buy beer in pubs again. Indoor drinking will be allowed from July 5. My heart goes out to all publicans who have been compelled to keep their doors closed so long, and to all the regulars for whom the pub is an essential outlet. As well as being physically cruel, Covid has also of course been mentally brutal. The deprivation of essential social outlets such as one's favourite pub is a type of mental barbarism. Human beings are not designed for such segregation and cut-off.
It's fantastic sensing the positive change in the country's mood, all thanks to the vaccines. I could see it during the weekend up in the hills. There was a noticeable increase in foot traffic in the Slieve Blooms.
It was like heaven in Glendine East when I parked there on Sunday morning. The sensation of sunshine and warmth on the body was delicious. I put on a new pair of walking boots and, with my dog leading the way, set off up the slopes at a decent pace.
It can be a hard task finding the right pair of boots for your hillwalking hobby and I had just bought a pair which advertised themselves as being “comfort fit”. The six hour hike I was undertaking would see if the advertising claim was true or not. The week before I had done it in the wrong pair of boots and by the end I was not enjoying myself as my feet were in some pain.
Soon the sweat was running into my eyes and my shirt was soaked. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. I began to feel really great, because in response to the climb my body was releasing feel-good chemicals. At the same time my brain was shedding itself of its weight of stresses and anxieties.
When I reached Clear Lake high on the wide plateau at the top of the range, I met two middle-aged women who were chatting to two young men on motorbikes. The men claimed that Clear Lake was bottomless. I didn't contradict them but I have heard it said that it's in fact only ten metres deep. Clear Lake is the only natural body of water in the Blooms, and it describes a small circle in the great expanse of blanket bog. Some people have speculated that it might have been created by a meteorite and it's hard to escape this conclusion when you are standing beside it.
The two women were very friendly and said they were doing a recce for a walking group who they would be guiding later in the month. They asked my advice for possible walks from Clear Lake. I gave my tuppence worth while they listened patiently (it's always great to come across patient listeners; so often one comes across fidgety-type people who finish your sentences and simply can't decently listen). “The choices, the variations, are endless,” I told them. The two men set off on their dirt bikes following a very boggy trail across the top of the range. I thought it highly likely that they would get stuck in the extremely soft ground, but they didn't. There was lots of brown earth flying and great revving of engines, but they kept going and soon were out of sight. I breathed a sigh of relief when I could no longer hear them. Blessed peace returned. I paused for a moment and simply enjoyed the silence, the beautiful silence of a remote upland bathed by the warm sun.
After a couple of hours I came to Fanning Pass (named after my grandfather), placed a couple of large rocks in my rucksack and lugged them up to the top of Ard Erin where they joined the other rocks of the summit cairn. I have been building up this cairn in recent months. Why? Well, it's good exercise, a challenge and it's creating something.
I met several groups of people on Ard Erin. It was the first time I had seen anybody up there in a long time, signifying the welcome change in the nation's mood. There were two young men sitting on the cairn on the top of the hill, both friendly and both looking happy (probably, I felt, because of the magic of their surroundings). Unfortunately as we sat there engaged in a few pleasantries, the silence was broken again by the familiar sound of boy racers doing their thing down in Glendine East. There's a wide part of the road near the top of the valley where they like to congregate and do handbrake turns and doughnuts, leaving black marks on the road. They also leave a lot of rubbish behind them. Sometimes as you drive by they will shout at you. Some of them seem alright young lads, but others are oozing arrogance.
Continuing, my route dropped down into Glenamoon (a very remote place where I never see anybody), including a steep patch where I had to hold onto tree roots; then a long forest track back to the car. Arriving at the car my feet felt fine. “Perfect,” I happily thought. “They are indeed comfort fit.” As I removed my boots I could hear the pleasurable sound of the cuckoo, perhaps the same cuckoo which I first heard in this valley two months previously.
I heard another cuckoo an hour later when I was standing beside my father's grave, saying a prayer. The old graveyard in Clonoghill is a lovely place, with stone walls, yew trees and aesthetically-pleasing gravestones. I much prefer it to the new cemetery across the road. In matters of aesthetics our ancestors were often superior to us.
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