Tramore to Derry
Approaching the quaint village of Inistioge
Dublin to the River Shannon was not enough, so as you see in previous pages, I came back six months later and walked on to Galway Bay. Those two walks fueled my madness about walking and hiking in Europe, so they were followed by the 800 km Camino de Santiago pilgrimage from France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain (2006 and 2007), then Hadrian’s Wall walk in the UK (2007).
Now, if a fella has walked across Ireland, east to west, shouldn’t he lace up his hiking shoes again and hoof it north to south (or south to north)?
This is the brief story of those walks that allowed me to finish an important goal—to walk not only the width of the country but its length as well. It starts in the Fall of 2007 when my cousin and I flew into Dublin from the UK after walking across England along Hadrian’s Wall path, an official national foot path. Suffice it to say it was probably the shortest route from the North Sea at Tynemouth to Bowness on Solway near the Irish Sea. Credit us not with being lazy for choosing the shortest distance across the country, but with being smart!
Here was the plan when we got to Ireland: We would follow the Barrow Way to the South Leinster Way and after walking it for a couple days, shift over to a road walk and on to Tramore. I ordered the Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 scale topographical maps for the entire route, which I meticulously laid out at home with my maps spread out over the floor. There was no marked way running the full distance from Monasterevin to Tramore. But by piecing together segments of two ways (the Barrow and the South Leinster) with some back country lanes and a major road or two, we could get to Tramore. The truly difficult part was finding the right combination of back roads that led in the general direction of Waterford (and Tramore). If I were in a car or on a bicycle, I would have chosen a different combination of roads to get there. But on foot, the deciding factor was always finding a B&B along the route. There are few things more disheartening, not to mention painful on blistered feet, than to be forced to add a two, three, four or more miles to a day’s walk just to get to the night’s lodging. So there were instances along the road walk segment that I chose a longer route just because a B&B or guesthouse was available. Then to making planning for the walk from home even more dicey, I felt compelled to call ahead and make reservations for each night along our route. Some B&Bs didn’t answer their phones or didn’t have web sites. So part of the planning was a series of phone calls from home in the States to assure that at the end of each day’s walk we’d have a place to lay our heads. So did I learn my lesson on that Grand Canal walk about four years earlier?
My cousin prepares to photograph the approaching canal boat on the Barrow Canal
My notes for the north-south walk are much skimpier than what I’ve offered about the Grand Canal Way. If you would like more information about any segment of my walk, email me at Grandcanalhiker@aol.com and I’ll do my best to help.
Stage 1—Monasterevin to Tramore. September 2007
21 September--On a cool overcast day, the bus from Dublin dropped us off in the middle of Monasterevin about a block from a café. Peering into the window we could see some plates full of that good Irish breakfast food I enjoy so much. So after justifying our indulgence on the long walk ahead, we began this stage of my north-south walk just after 10 am. Monasterevin straddles the Barrow Canal, which here and for most of its course, follows a generally north-south orientation. That alignment is ideal for anyone seeking a foot route lying generally north-south. But regrettably it offers a water-side foot path covering only a fraction of the full Tramore to Derry route.
Destination today is Athy, about 14 miles south. It’s a pleasant walk, and about as long as we would have wanted to walk given our late starting time that morning. Athy appeared as a fairly sizeable town on my maps, so I opted to trust to luck and scout out B&Bs and guesthouses once we arrived. (See above—Did I learn my lesson on the Grand Canal walk?). My cousin and I walked into town, looked around for possibly an hour or so and found nothing. We saw a new hotel down one street, walked in an inquired about a room. Ninety Euros each ! Politely we left. A few blocks away, we saw a man driving slowly through a parking lot, motioned to him and asked him if he knew anything about local lodging. He said he knew of a B&B not far from his home and offered to give us a lift. He dropped us off and thanks to him we had a place to stay on our first night on our Monasterevin to Tramore walk. Our kind helper had no way of knowing that this unapproved B&B was the only one of two accommodations during my many weeks in Republic and the North that I felt I got a bad deal. So on 21 Sept., so much for learning my lesson!
22 September--After a 7:30 breakfast at our B&B we stopped at a supermarket to stock up on snacks for the day, partially drained my bank account back home when I used the ATM machine, and then left Athy at 8:10. We returned to the Barrow Way, which sliced through the town. A quite beautiful day with some sun and the temperatures in the low to upper teens Celsius. Mid morning we came upon one of those minor footpath conditions that causes more chuckles than challenges. Ahead us for an hour or more lay a newly scrapped path that following a recent rain became a couple miles of mud. It was neat mud--still smooth and flat on its top; no one had been unwise enough to tread on it before us. There was almost no escaping it. Step off to the left or the right and the foot lands in small puddles of water. So the choice often was the sticky mud or the cold water. That soon passed and when we sat down for break we took our shoes off and washed off the encrusted mud.
Carlow was our lunch stop. It is a surprisingly bustling town and at a hotel restaurant we had a delicious roast beef lunch.
Today was a long day, probably 24 or 25 miles. It was about 7:15 when we at last arrived at Knockrigg House in the community of Wells south of Bagenalstown. And what a wonderfully hospitable host and hostess. We were treated to sandwiches, tea and coffee. Both of us were quite tired, with wet feet and dirty clothes.
Is this Graiguenamanagh?
23 September--After another one of those huge full Irish breakfasts--and this was one of the best--we packed up our newly washed clothes and the host, Sean, drove us to the bridge at the edge of Bagenalstown to begin another day on the Barrow Way. It was almost 8:45 when our feet hit the path. The day was mostly overcast, but the skies cleared from time to time. Around 11 am we stopped at a Spar convenience store and bought some juice and energy bars. By 3 pm we arrived in Graiguenamanagh and phoned for directions to Ballyogan House. We were hoofing it a little slowly now, after yesterday's long day so it was another 90 minutes before we got to this beautiful house on a little country lane. The proprietress's daughter prepared some hot tea and offered biscuits and great conversation. Her mother was in town helping with the book festival. Later in the evening we enjoyed a nice dinner of omelette, salad, soup and home made blueberry pie. A fitting end to a 17-18 mile day.
24 September--What can I say about these breakfasts? Another wonderful meal, this time with a superb selection of fruit. The hostess packed some left over bread and added some cheese to give us a great mid-morning snack. Today was a short walk day, so we ate breakfast at 9 am and it was 9:50 before we left the B&B. The owner drove us to a point on a hill just above town where we started the day. The weather was a little dreary part of the day, with a couple insignificant little showers, not enough to get us really wet. We were now on the South Leinster Way.
We climbed up and around Brandon Hill using some wide forest roads. The distance to our destination, Inistioge, was only about 10 miles. But at a critical juncture on the trail, we chose the wrong option and found ourselves walking more south than west-southwest as the map showed we should be moving. My cousin had a better sense of direction here than I did and expressed his feelings that we were heading in the wrong direction. Now off the path, and walking down a country lane, a young farmer confirmed we had missed our turn and gave us directions to town. At 3:30 we arrived in the Irish story-book quaint town of Inistioge and checked into a room at Woodstock Arms in the middle of the village. In the hotel pub below our room, I had a drink and a ham and cheese sandwich.
25 September--The Woodstock Hotel owner's wife was our breakfast cook, and while we were enjoying our meal, she recommended that we take a 15-minute walk up the hill to the ruins of an historic castle. Since this was another fairly short day, when we finished breakfast we traipsed up the hill through the woods and gazed back at the tiny village of Inistioge through the windows of the castle ruins.
Sign in the woods directing us to the castle, now in ruins
Back down in the village, our cook and hostess offered to drive us to the top of the nearby hill to give us a head start on the day. She also gave us some unsettling news: a walker from Waterford who passed through here just three months earlier told her that the South Leinster Way south of here was so overgrown with weeds that it was hard to follow. We looked over our maps, saw an alternative route off the South Leinster Way, and chose to take some old country lanes for our day's walk into Mullinavat instead of risking getting lost. This was our 15th day away, more than half of that time hiking along Hadrian's Wall Path in the UK, so our sore feet ruled the day: take the easy route, the sure thing. The clouds dropped a few light showers on us through the day, but nothing that required much time in our rain ponchos. For Ireland, this still wasn't a rainy day.
Now no longer on the South Leinster Way, we began our road walk. These were truly back lanes and vehicles were rare and never driving fast. About two miles from Mullinavat we passed a farm lady at her roadside mailbox and struck up a conversation. She was frequent and passionate walker, she said, and was taken by our story of walking from Monasterevin to Tramore. Two minutes later she invited us in for tea, cake and biscuits and a little bit of story telling about her town of Mullinavat. Now back home, my cousin relates this story of the lady's hospitality to two "strange" Americans walking through her country as an example of the wonderful people of Ireland. I was walking very gently now. A miserably bad blister had developed forward of the ball of my left foot.
Our respite for the night in Mullinavat
We arrived at the Rising Sun, a roadside guest house, restaurant and pub at just before 2 pm. I did the best to doctor the blistered foot. After a nap, we had drinks in the bar and then dinner at 5:30.
26 September--We were in no hurry this morning. Today's walk to Waterford was only about 10 miles, most of it on back roads. We headed out west for about a mile and a half along a road that was also signposted as part of the South Leinster Way, then turned south on back lane. It was a circuitous walk, but we were attempting to avoid the main highway; nonetheless we had a mile or so on the highway but it had a hard shoulder and was quite safe. We had no reservations in Waterford, feeling that our lodging options would be many in a city that size. But with my blisters and my cousin's minor foot problems we chose to check into the Days Inn on the quay immediately across the bridge. Neither of us felt like searching further.
27 September--Ah! Our last day! The southern (or southeastern) coast and our final destination was but a few sore-feet hours away. So after breakfast at the Days Inn, we struck out again. Wisely, the clerk at the hotel advised us not to take the back roads because there was so much development along them they would be busy and dangerous. I didn't have a detailed topo map of the road system from Waterford to Tramore so we took a few wrong turns before we found our way through the city of Waterford to the main road to Tramore. It had hard shoulders or sidewalks all the way to Tramore. Our plan for the day was to walk to Tramore and take a bus back to Waterford and on to Dublin. So we had no need for our backpacks. On sore feet we arrived at the beach at Tramore and found a restaurant. After a meal and "photo ops" on the beach, we found a decent beach-side bar and had a bit of Jack Daniels in celebration of two Tennesseans completing the walk from Monasterevin. We needed to get back to Dublin that night for a flight home the next day, so we boarded a local bus in Tramore, picked up our backpacks during our layover in Waterford, hopped another bus, and were dropped off in Dublin just before dark. We were back at the Aston Hotel by nightfall. (That hotel is now a hostel <Sept 08>)
Our destination--The beach at Tramore!!
Stage 2—Monasterevin to Cootehill. May 2008
(March 2011--Please check back soon after I’ve added photos for Stage 2 and Stage 3)
I returned to Ireland in May to walk north this time, starting in Monesterevin and aiming for somewhere around the border between the Republic and the North. I had no intentions of going all the way to Derry, leaving that final stage to a more leisurely end in September, giving me more time in the Fall to savor completion of my hiking and walking goal for Ireland.
The luck of the Irish...and their descendants...sometimes does run out. And it did in May 2008 as I headed out for the middle segment of my three-stage walk covering the length of the Emerald Isle.
24 May--After a night in Dublin I took the 7:30 am bus to Monesterevin, arriving at 8:45. I passed up the great breakfast and in a few minutes found the Barrow Way going northward. The day was overcast with temperatures around 15. The towpath surface was easy on the feet. I was alone all morning, seeing only a man walking his dog. By 11:30 my soft surface walk was over for a while, and I left the Way heading for a night in Edenderry. I had an excellent lunch of traditional Irish breakfast fry in the small village of Rathangan located on the Way.
My easy hoofing it on the soft-surfaced Barrow Way was now over. I took a road, almost straight as an arrow, through some rather uninspiring flat terrain. On my map the road looked as an unimportant road with little through traffic. But it was busy with cars and trucks, including more than anyone's share of Mercedes. And this was peat bog country without the appearance of the prosperity to support fine cars! The traffic made these 10 or so miles a real chore. I probably stepped off the roadway, and carefully at that, more than 200 times. There was little or no shoulder of any sort so I had to walk on the roadway itself. The first hour on this busy road seemed to last forever. As I looked at the landmarks on my map and saw them on the ground, I stayed in almost disbelief that I was covering so little distance in an hour. From time to time I passed narrow gauge industrial railroads slicing into the peat bogs on either side of the road.
After what seemed like endless hours of this constantly stepping off the roadway, remaining carefully in place on what little grass I could find, then hoping back onto the road, I arrived at the Grand Canal. It was 3:20 pm. And this was an auspicious little spot on the great island of Ireland for me. It was the cross hairs of my east-west and my north-south walks. On September 26, 2003 I first passed this way, walking east to west along the Grand Canal. Now almost 5 years later, I am here again, this time walking northward on a different journey. Under no circumstances would I have ever thought back in 2003 that I would be here again, this time attempting to walk the length of the island.
I began to have some minor foot discomfort already on this first day out. So here at the crosshairs of my Irish walking goal, I checked my feet and lay down in the grass on the top of the aqueduct. By 3:50 I was on my feet again and Edenderry was in sight just a couple miles ahead.
By 4:30 I found the Auburn Lodge where I had reservations for the night. I relished the coffee and biscuits so warmly offered. But now as I checked my feet again I found a blister on the upper ball of my right foot! I had placed some moleskin on the balls of my feet as a preventative measure before leaving Dublin this morning and it seems to have been a terrible idea. The blister had formed just above, toward the toes, of where I placed the moleskin.
After showering I walked around town and not finding a modest priced restaurant, settled for a better one, watched soccer on TV and drank some Bulmer's.
25 May--I shoved off at 8am after a fine breakfast and into a cold and blustery wind. A mile or so west of town I turned north onto a narrow country road with very little traffic early but increasing as the morning wore on. I found myself in Kinnegad at 11:30 and ready for a pub lunch. Forty-five minutes later I was on the road again, heading almost due north and on my way to the Royal Canal, the next important landmark feature. The Royal generally parallels the Grand but veers west northwesterly while the Grand follows a more true westerly route.
I was at the Royal and its softer surface by 3pm and headed west toward Mullingar. Now I am back on a peaceful walk away from traffic and on surface meant for people on foot. It was warmer, but extremely windy. The blister on my right foot was troubling me so I stopped several times to attempt a modest fix and changed sock liners. I continued on along the Royal Canal Way and at 4:45 I asked a canal walker for directions into Mullingar and Westmeath Motors, where I was to look for my night's B&B up a nearby side street. He said I had gone too far and should have gotten off the way earlier. It was my good luck that he offered me a ride to the auto business and a found the B&B in a nice residential area just a couple blocks away. Plied with some welcome coffee and homemade dark bread, I rested for an hour before grabbing a snack at a nearby convenience store. Returning to the B&B the owner so kindly suggested I could save a mile or two on my way out of Mullingar by slicing through some of the nearby neighborhoods instead of following the main streets. I was ready for anything to make the next day's walk easier. About two hours before I had arrived in Mullingar I began to feel some discomfort on the shin of my right leg. Blister...shin splint...and this was only day two. This was disturbing.
26 May--After last night's ride through the neighborhoods so as to cut off some unnecessary walking, I was off again, but this time with some minor shin splint discomfort. As the walk continued the hurt subsided, but the blister bothered me most of the day.
For the first time I had spells with no traffic for several minutes. I hoped my hours of fighting traffic were over. On this my third day on this stage, the scenery improved and was quite beautiful with rolling hills and bright green fields. The further north I walked that day the more pleasing the scenery.
Today was my "Day of Doubt" as I called my musings about my foot and leg problems. To add to those worries, just minutes into the day's walk I felt a slight pain on the top of my left foot. I checked my foot, my shoe, my socks and could find no reason for the hurt so I changed into my second pair of shoes. Now with my Solomon shoes on that foot-top discomfort disappeared but it seemed my left foot rolled inward. I had an Aircast on it to support my ankle which was a bit puny from plantar fasciitis, so I took it off.
I must have looked that morning like I knew my way around; over the course of an hour or so two cars stopped and asked directions to Collinstown. For one, I admitted my ignorance but to the other I gave some directions, which unfortunately turned out wrong. I got into Collinstown at 1:30, grabbed some fried chicken and spicy fries at a convenience store then sat on a park bench in the middle of town with my fast food. On my way out of town I noticed some young people seated outside a pub enjoying a drink. I recognized one of the men as the recipient of my bad directions, so we had a good laugh about it. He was well underway to an afternoon of joviality and offered to buy me a drink but I needed to continue northward.
I was heading today for a B&B just north of the town of Fore. The countryside here was rolling and well-manicured, lush and green. Soon I arrived at a lake with a small picnic area and park so I plopped down on the grass and snoozed for a few minutes. My map showed a possible short cut into Fore so I decided to risk it. It was a worthy risk and by 3:15 I entered the town of Fore. But, ah, no stores were open and I had no food in my backpack. I turned north out of the village, and past the ruins of a priory. My shin splint now was painful. Each step was a strain.
I walked up the country lane to the Hounslow House at 3:40, iced down my shin and washed my clothes. The "Day of Doubt" ended in my considerable discomfort and concern that it would be not just difficult but unwise to continue for many more days.
27 May--I ate late, around 8:00 am, so the walk started at 8:30 through a back lane leading away from the Hounslow House, a B&B on a large property that still operated as a farm. I was now walking in my Solomon shoes, but this morning what seemed to be a raised bone on the top of my left foot began to be painful, just as it had been when wearing my Merrills. I started the day with my Airsole inserts, but soon took them off. Then my shoe began to press on my left ankle bone, adding yet another woe. These were shoes I had hiked for hundreds of miles wearing, so I was perplexed about these new problems.
North of Fore today and the town of Virginia is my destination. As if foot problems were not enough, as the day drew on traffic got worse and worse. This time it included large double-sized dump trucks laden with gravel. Hopping on and off the roadway was an every minute or two task...and there was little grass to step into for refuge. I soon found that the source of the many heavy dump trucks was a gravel quarry just a few meters off the road. It was miserable walking.
The first village north of Fore is Old Castle, about 7 miles from my day's start. The shin splint started out fine but deteriorated as I walked. At 11:00 I found Old Castle, stopped at a pharmacy and bought some NSAID gel to rub on my leg. After a quick lunch of cold cuts, eggs and slaw, milk and a sweet roll at a service station/Spar store I rubbed the gel on my leg. The relief was only temporary. I stayed there was some time resting, and left for the final 7 or so miles to Innisfree east of Virginia sometime around 12:15.
Today I seemed to tire quickly. I stopped regularly and lay down in the grass at entrances to farm properties. A slight mist--and occasionally a light spitting rain--fell after lunch. I put on my rain poncho but really didn't need it. By 3:00 pm I was in Virginia and called home to report that I was well and still kicking. Fifteen minutes later I was at Innisfree, a B&B on the road to Bailieborough. No dinner tonight.
28 May--The B&B owners, Nellie and Vincent were almost 80 and almost 90 and had operated the accommodations for six years.
Last night I decided on a major change to my next two days. From my overnight here just east of Virginia to my next planned stop was 22 miles, not an unusual distance for me. But with my leg and foot problems I decided to break those 22 miles to Cootehill into two days. So at 8:00 am after a rather small breakfast (following no meal the night before) Vincent drove me in his Audi to the western edge of Bailieborough. Only 8 or so miles behind me lay the Innisfree B&B where I had arranged to return for one more night. I had called ahead to Cootehill to shift forward my arrival there by one day. So just before 9:00 am I stepped out of the car, turned around and began the short walk back to the bed and breakfast. I needed no backpack but I did have my poncho with me in the event of rain, which seemed on its way. The night before a light rain fell, the grass and and road were wet, and so I walked through some light morning mist. Even though the distance was short, the walk was drudgery. The roadway narrowed in several places and the lanes virtually abutted vine-covered stone walls. I had to carefully plan my steps, being sure I could safely reach a grassy shoulder before the next car or truck approached.
I fortunately had my topo maps with me and took note of a side road paralleling the main Virginia-Bailieborough road. That side road, bereft of any traffic, was the good break I needed. By 11:40 the B&B was in sight and bed rest was on its way. I napped and applied some ointment to my shin splint and doctored my blister. Just before 2:00 pm I walked back into the village and spotting a simple family style restaurant stopped in for a delicious shepherd's pie. I stepped into another pharmacy and bought some pads for my feet, more ointment for my shin splint and candy to jump start the next day's walk to Cootehill. By 3:15 I was back at the B&B and spent the rest of the day and evening resting.
29 May--After another light breakfast and settling my bill with the B&B (which included a 30 euro charge for two short rides into Bailieborough) I was off again in Vincent's Audi. By 8:30 I was back on my feet a bit west of Bailieborough but close enough to see the town's taller church buildings. The foot and leg discomfort wasn't so bothersome this morning and the sun broke through early in the day, later clouding up. As the hours passed the shin splint and blister grew more painful; I stopped often, sat down and massaged my lower right leg and with great frustration tried to ease my blister misery with a different blister cover. On and off through the day my left shoe seemed to eat into my ankle. I stopped so often that it was 11:30 before I got to Canningstown. In the local convenience store I bought a ham sandwich and some milk; the curb outside the store was my dining table. I changed sock liners hoping to get some relief for my sore feet.
I was now just six or seven miles from Cootehill where I had reservations at yet another B&B. My feet and leg miseries certainly affected my disposition and may have dulled my senses. After a couple miles I began to lose sense of just exactly where I was on the road to Cootehill. My highly detailed topographical map which showed lanes leading up to farm houses, elevations of hills, and even shapes of little farm ponds, didn't seem to match the territory I was passing through. In retrospect that was not a great time to decide to take a short cut I found on my map. But with so much discomfort I needed to cut out any unnecessary steps. So I left the main Canningstown-Cootehill road, still heading north toward Cootehill, but on an old back road. Soon I was scanning my maps and the terrain around me every few minutes because the two didn't seem to match up. Several times I was forced to choose between options when I reached an intersection. After a half hour or so I became really concerned that nothing looked on the map like it did on the ground. The skies were so overcast that I couldn't get a confident sense of where the sun and the west were--which if generally over my left shoulder would tell me I was heading northward and toward Cootehill. But the little glimmer of slightly lighter skies were over my right shoulder. That can't be right. Then I remembered I had a compass with me. I took it out, looked at it, shook it a few times, believing surely it wasn't working anymore. For a few seconds I seriously believed that my compass was wrong! Then I remembered I passed a house under construction a hundred yards back, so I turned around and returned to the house. Sheepishly I asked one of the construction workers which direction I should be going to get to Cootehill. He raised his arm and pointed. I had been going the wrong direction. He told me where I should turn off the back road to get back on the main road to Cootehill. For the next hour or so I literally shook my head as I looked at my map and couldn't figure out how I had turned around and started walking in the opposite direction. What dismayed me the most was realizing that at some point I had to have actually crossed the main road in order to start walking southward. I still haven't figured out where I goofed up.
Around 4 pm I arrived in Cootehill, after adding close to an hour more to my miserable day's journey. Of course, the B&B wasn't easy to find; it was on the outer edge of town off yet a different road. My 45 minutes wandering around and through the town looking for my nite's rest were frustrating and painful. When I got to the Beeches B&B, a note on the door said the owner would return at 5 pm so I dropped my backpack and laid down on the slopping lawn in from of the house. I was nodding off when the owner drove up.
A day before I noticed the shin splint was worsening and a swollen ankle had developed just below. Now in the B&B, showering and doctoring myself I saw that the ankle had swollen even more.
It was decision time. The "Day of Doubt" musings of my third day were now prophetic. It was unwise to further aggravate a series of miserable leg, ankle and foot problems. Over a light snack I asked the B&B owner if the town was served by a bus that could get me back to Dublin. It was. What a great sense of relief. The next morning she drove me into town and I boarded a bus in the direction of Dublin.
The luck of the Irish heritage walker took a temporary holiday.
Stage 3—Cootehill to Derry. September 2008
(March 2011—Please check back soon after I have added photos for Stages 2 and 3.)
18 September--Today is a pre-walk day, a day to get me to my "trailhead," a B&B in the small border town of Cootehill. I checked out of the Days Inn Talbot Street before noon and boarded the bus at 12:30 to Cavan, a layover town on my way to Cootehill. I had a three hour layover in Cavan so I walked around town, got a bite to eat and sat, just relaxing, in the bus station lobby. A middle-aged man soon struck up a conversation and when I said I was staying the night at the Beeches B&B in Cootehill, he insisted that I should take a taxi from the bus stop in town to the B&B, believing I shouldn't walk there. No amount of explaining to him that my purpose for being in Ireland was to walk seemed to register with him. After a couple minutes conversation, with neither of us fully understanding the other, he called up someone on his mobile phone talked to him for a few seconds then pushed the phone over to my mouth. Laughing, I told the person on the phone that I didn't need a taxi and I appreciated his and his friend's help. I saw a little more humour in this episode than I should have I guess, but it did keep me smiling so he certainly had to know I was doing just fine.
The bus left Cavan at 4:15 so about 45 minutes later I was back in downtown Cootehill. The walk this time to the Beeches seemed much shorter than that same walk in May. A light drizzle fell and it rained during the night. This was angling tournament time and five anglers were in the B&B and when I arrived; I took the last room. I slept well, and the next morning as I struck off for the final leg of the north-south journey, the B&B hostess commented on how much better I looked than I did in May when I arrived at her doorstep in considerable pain and misery. Oh, so right.
19 September--I left the Beeches at 8:35 after stuffing myself yet one more morning. It was overcast and a bit damp. By 9 am I left the north end of Cootehill on my way along a lightly traveled road to Clones. By 10 am I was in the village of Drum and 30 minutes later I arrived at a "Y" intersection. Now I was finding almost no traffic as I walked along a narrow 14 ' lane with rolling fields on either side. I sensed just a slight discomfort of plantar fasciitis on my left foot that surfaced irregularly. I also experienced a slight discomfort in my left hip that faded as I continued to walk. With my history of miserable blisters, I walked with moleskin on the balls of my feet and over some of my toes. The last three or four miles into Clones were on a main route also marked as a cycle way. Traffic was light. I walked into Clones at 1 pm and found the Lennardarms Hotel on the right as I entered the town. A half hour later I had a decent lunch at the hotel pub, then took a long nap and washed some socks.
That evening I sat up at the bar in the hotel pub and ordered a light meal and some Jameson. To the right of me were two brothers in for a drink or two and some supper. They marveled at my story of walking through Ireland and in what must be an honored Irish tradition, bought me several more drinks of whiskey, this time, some of the pub's best. As they left I started chatting with a man to my left, a web designer, who as a former Army man relished looking at my maps. I had my route across the hills marked on my maps. He looked it over but recommended a better route, he said, one that involved a less challenging climb. With some good conversation and walk-routing advise, it was 10:30 before I got to bed.
20 September--For my 8:30 breakfast I was the only person in the hotel dining room. I heard the 9:00 am chimes from the local church as I walked through town northward again. Unsure of the right road to take when several appeared and it was difficult to relate the map info to what was on the ground, I decided to ask a man out on his morning walk if I was on the right road to Clones. I was fairly certain I was but he pointed in another direction. We bantered back and forth, looking at the choices at the intersection then at the map. Finally he relented and agreed that I was right. Just like back home, locals often give poor directions. I arrived at the border with Northern Ireland at 9:20. Checking my map, it appeared that I walked in the UK for about 15 minutes then I was back in the Republic. I noticed the pavement in the North was poorer quality and the hedges along the roadside had not been trimmed as neatly. I attributed the lower maintenance levels to the awkwardness of servicing this little enclave. The road crossed the national boundaries a time or two again so I was in one country and then in the other throughout the morning. Traffic fortunately was light all day. A little before 11 am I stopped at a convenience store for a Sprite. It was a gorgeous day; I learned it was the nicest day in about a month. The temperature rose to about 23 c. Now around 11:30, I arrived at a decision point--would I follow last night's pub friend's advice and take the road to the left or my original routing, to the right? The roadside sign pointed to Fivemiletown, my destination, to the right. Well, the weather was nice and sunny and I was making good time, so I opted for my original route which would take me up over the hills. I had been told this road offered some beautiful views down into the valleys. A bit after noon, after a bit of huffing and puffing, I arrived at a picnic area just below the top, and climbing up a dirt path to the cairn at the summit, relaxed and consumed the ham and cheese sandwich the hotel had prepared for me that morning. It was a good choice of routes. But now, so early into my walk to Derry, I began to have problems with my left little toe. I attempted to doctor it three times that afternoon.
All day today, I enjoyed the bright sunny views through the hilly terrain. Most of the day's walk was up and down, but never steep, and not difficult. The jacket came off and so did my long sleeve shirt. By the time I arrived at Fivemiletown I was a bit tired and my toe was bothersome. I had reservations at a B&B, but the night before while still in Clones, I phoned ahead three times and got no answer. At 4 pm I walked into Fivemiletown, and called once again. This time the B&B owner's son answered and explained that his mother had gone to England but had arranged for me to say at a friend's B&B. He picked me up in his car and drove a few blocks to a residence smack dab in the middle of town. The very kind and hospitable hostess offered me tea, scones and a ham sandwich. Later that evening I went out for a pizza and saved some for tomorrow's snack. I washed a few clothes and with some embarrassment, hung them in the window that looked out toward the rear of the house.
21 September--This was Sunday and after another great breakfast I was off again at 8:30 in a cold fog. Today's route took me north over some hills topped with a wind farm. The climb upward was gentle to moderate through denuded rolling hills. Almost no traffic. By 10 am the top of my left foot starting hurting so I stopped to rub it vigorously with some ointment and while my shoe was off, rubbed my arch. Both irritants improved. I got to Fintona at 12:15 and downed the three slices of pizza I had left over from last night. I bought two Sprites, one to save for later in the afternoon. A lady walking her dog stopped for a chat and told me the tragic story of a group of ladies who, for a fund-raiser, went on a 20-mile walk a few years ago. One of the ladies died on the walk.
Today was cooler with light clouds. My left little toe was getting quite painful so I stopped at least five times during the day to attempt to deal with it. So it was with great relief that I arrived at Tally Keel House, on the far southern edge of Omagh, at 3:45. This was one of the most beautiful and charming B&Bs I have ever stayed in. Its lush gardens had been featured on BBC1 andBBC2, the hostess told me. While enjoying some tea and homemade shortbread, the hostess told me she was a painter (the artistic version) and her husband was retired but out of intellectual interest was working on a masters in migration studies. I enjoyed my chats with them both.
22 September--I was only two or three miles from Omagh, a planned stay-over city, so I arranged to sleep in and enjoy a late, leisurely breakfast. The night before in a conversation about what I would like for breakfast, the hostess asked if I would like some porridge. I told her I really wasn't sure what porridge was; but that in my many years of reading English literature in school, I understood it was a mainstay of breakfasts in England (and Ireland). So the next morning, out came a heaping bowl of porridge, enough for a workingman's breakfast, PLUS all the other elements of a full Irish breakfast, full "fry," she called it. The porridge she served was oatmeal back in the States. Arranged on the table were several servings of fresh fruit as well. What a feast! At 9:45 I headed north again, toward Omagh. The initial discomfort of the blistered toe calmed down after the first mile. I was too early to check into my B&B so I went to the public library and emailed family back home. Lunch was a good dish of lasagna in a Main St cafeteria. I wandered around town, found the tourist office in the Art Center and learned where I could find a launderette. I dropped off a few days of dirty clothes. The city centre was bustling and even though it was Monday, high school age kids were everywhere. I had learned the night before that school was out today, celebrating Tyrone's win in the hugely important Gaelic Football championship game on Sunday. A bit before 2 pm I found Ashview House, a spotlessly clean and neat B&B in a residential in the eastern section of the city. The owner was an engineer who worked for years in Africa and Cyprus. The sitting room was filled with mementoes of their life and work there. Before this bright clear and cool day ended, I walked a quarter mile to a good restaurant for steak and a pint of Guinness.
23 September--After a 9:00 breakfast I was off again on foot at 9:30. I walked back westward into town and then took a northerly route on a road marked as part of the national cycle way. That durn left little toe gave me some discomfort for the first 45 minutes but then the pain went away; I could always feel the toe was there, but it stopped hurting. I walked along the dedicated cycle path, an 8 foot hard surfaced strip parallel to the roadway, for about two miles. Then I shifted over to a narrow lane with little traffic. I stopped frequently today, sometimes lying down so I could put my feet up. I began to feel a hot spot developing on the inside of the little toe on my right foot so I slathered some petroleum jelly on it to minimize the friction. Now I was passing through some of the prettiest countryside yet, with its rolling hills and bright green fields. I was on the wrong side of the river to visit the Irish-American Folk Park.
Around 2 pm I arrived in Newtownstewart and stopped for a light lunch of pasta with a small salad. I shouldn't have been, but I was already a bit tired. I walked on past Newtownstewart and after asking for directions, found my B&B, the Crosh House, about a mile and a half east of town. That last half mile to the B&B was along a narrow winding and well-travelled road with almost no decent shoulder making it the most dangerous segment of my trip. I found the B&B at 3:20, showered and napped. Later I fixed some tea and ate some cookies and went without a supper. I was too pooped to walk back into town and back. Tomorrow I planned to stay with friends in Lifford, so I called to let them know I was progressing on schedule. I heard some terribly sad news: the friend's mother-in-law had passed away just a few days earlier.
24 September--I wasn't in a hurry to leave so I ate a bit late again, around 9:00. I walked back westward toward Newtownstewart then struck out north on the cycle way again. These back roads were quite pleasant for walking. After strolling on for a couple miles and seeing virtually no traffic, I soon learned why: the road was closed for bridge replacement. I gingerly approached the construction workers and asked if I could walk on through. Fortunately they motioned me on, saving me many miles of back tracking along a detour. For some reason today's walk seemed longer than the map showed, but the countryside continued to be beautiful with one pleasant view after another. My left toe was hurting again, and just to keep a sense of symmetry, my right little toe was giving me trouble too. I walked into the city of Strabane about 2 pm and asked directions to Lifford. I followed a riverside path and shortly found the landmark roundabout lined with several "tinnies," metal artwork statues maybe 15 feet high in music-playing poses. They were all outfitted with Tyrone football gear honoring their proud win a couple days earlier. At a truck stop restaurant between Strabane and Lifford, I gulped down a late lunch. A few minutes later I was over the river bridge and back into the Republic. My friend's directions to his mother-in-law's house were right on the mark, and I arrived at 3:20 quite tired. This wonderful family was still grieving and all the deceased's grown children were there at the house. They welcomed me, fixed a tasty dinner and then drove to a pub in Strabane for the drinks before driving on to Derry to spend the night with one of the family members. It was a bit after midnight before I settled in for the night.
25 September--Even though I was in my destination city, I didn't get there honestly--the last 15 miles were by car last night. So my friend's wife arranged to drive me back to Lifford so I could start that last leg of the journey on foot. At 8:45 I began the final day of the Tramore to Derry walk. By now the little toes on both feet were painful so I stopped several times during the day attempting fixes using various remedies that I kept in my backpack. There were times when the pain alternated from one little toe to the other, and times when both hurt. I was now back on the well-marked national cycle way on the west side of the river. The main road between Strabane/Lifford and Derry was on the east side, but I was advised it was too dangerous for walking.
The scenery on this last day was again serenely mellow and Irish-beautiful. For much of the morning I followed the contours of the hills, and to the east looked down into the valley with the little river running through it. Often the scene before me appeared as a quilt-like pattern with lush green grass, fence rows, and nice houses. This was a long day, probably 18 miles to my destination, the family home just south of Derry where I spent last night. My feet hurt all day long. At 12:30 I stopped in a St.Johnstown convenience store, picked up two prepared sandwiches and had my lunch sitting on the curb outside. By 3:30 I reached a trail path developed from an abandoned rail line which was close to, and paralleled the river. It was straight, well-maintained and litter-free.
As on Stage 2 of my walk the length of the island, my last day was foot-sore, tiring and peppered with rest stops. So it was a late 5:15 by the time I reached the bridge in Derry. But just 45 minutes later I found my way up the steps to the friend's relative's house. After showering, a wonderful dinner with their family, and yet more hours of conversation and the legendary Irish hospitality, I hit the sack at 10:30, my goal satisfied at last.