Croagh Patrick

25th September 2018. Croagh Patrick Mountain, Co. Mayo, Ireland.

Situated 8 km from the well equipped town of Westport, Croagh Patrick (Cruach Phádraig in Irish Gaelic) is a renowned place of pilgrimage, the Holy Mountain. Once a year on the last Sunday in July – Reek Sunday- and the Friday before – Garland Friday – Masses are held at the summit where the Chapel is situated and in the car park at the bottom, with 1000s attending from all over the country.

Designated a national shrine, Saint Patrick is said to have fasted for 40 days and nights up there in 441 AD and used the Black Bell (now on the Chapel) to banish the demons from the surrounding valley (Log na nDeamhan, Hollow of the Demons) ) and beyond.

The mountain can be reached by a number of entrances, however there is an information centre, toilets and cafe (with wonderful looking cakes) by the aforementioned car park. This way there is first a set of steps and the imposing statue of St. P, followed by slate rocks and a water course before the path proper.

I approached from behind my air bnb Teach na Croithe and walked westwards along the Commonage where the Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail runs (a 62 km / 38.5 miles walk starting from Balla and ending at Murrisk where the ascent starts). The wind was incredibly strong and there was heavy cloud cover, but no rain at the start.

Ireland’s iconic green

The light quality was as stunning as the previous evening despite there being no sun. It somehow highlighted the colours of the landscape: the bright and bold green which Ireland sits on; the copper Autumnal bracken; ebony blackberries; and almost-magenta heather. The peat is a duller black, the moss a pale scarlet and the sheep and stones white as can be. I stumbled over bronzed rocks and squelched through petrol-peaty bogs as the draughts blew at my left shoulder.

Clad warmly in layers of hiking gear, a hat as well as a hood at times, and armed with my trusty green (children’s) poles, I was as sensibly equipped as I could have possibly been.

A caochan, for instance, is “a slender moor-stream obscured by vegetation such that it is virtually hidden from sight”. From Robert Macfarlanevs Guardian article.

And yet I didn’t make it. Such disappointment.

Earlier I had asked 2 men who were coming down (a chatty one from the Netherlands here on business, and an Irishman who said he hadn’t walked much recently) if it was possible to reach the top and they said yes. Further on I had been warned by a woman with a triathlon top on that there was no visibility at the top and to be seriously careful given I was on my own.

It was some of the hardest climbing I have done. The wind was at gale force coming right at me and so I was slow and it was hard work. My head hurt from the onslaught, but I took mini rests and was determined.

The way snakes around the slopes, pale grey in the distance, and is covered with whiter boulders and small stones making it slippery. For most of the time the light black pointed peak (765 metres / 2519 feet of it) was on my right, the goal.

I reached a large cairn (pile of stones) and a tall unexplained metal frame, but by this time I simply could not stand up: even sitting on my bottom the wind blew me along which was scary; when I planted my poles on the ground as anchors, the ends were blown off. I retreated from the path and hunkered down to see if it would abate. I tried 3 times to move on upwards but to no avail. I had to give up.

This was a new sort of pilgrimage challenge for me – how to deal with the disappointment of not attaining my aim. I had made the journey from Sligo (58 miles / 93 kms and 2 buses) the day before and had booked two nights using the air bnb voucher the organisation gave me for being a double Superhost. My attitude has always been that the journey is the important part, not the destination, however I knew I also always preferred to trek from a to b to c, reaching a new destination every night. I had thoroughly enjoyed the first hour before I turned into the wind; I had quite liked the the second part of the climb, the tough part, perhaps more because it really pushed me and I was enthusiastic about the amazing views I saw when I looked back.

See the rainbow!

Though taken up with putting one foot in front of the other, my mind had strayed occasionally to the summit with the church I had seen in the photos. I guessed I would be able to see 360 degrees worth of Ireland if the mist lifted.

Looking back to Clew Bay, 365 islands, one for every day of the year

And I got none of that – except in my imagination. I was forced to turn tail and slide down. The huge and sudden bursts almost knocked me forwards and I was concerned that more people were passing me going up, most of whom had trainers, no poles, sometimes no coat or hat. I worried for one very young woman. Perhaps, I had reasoned, heavier men could withstand the weather, or maybe those with stronger legs?

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Suffice to say that by the time I was on the level the rain was lashing, the wind was damaging plants even at sea level and my legs were shaking. The kind woman I asked said I had done the right thing.

Lucky for me, 50 minutes later, I was under a hot shower! Maybe I will try again another time – good excuse to revisit this beautiful part of the world.
a caochan, for instance, is “a slender moor-stream obscured by vegetation such that it is virtually hidden from sight”

Heritage Trail link

Croagh Patrick link

St Patrick link

Via Sacra – Day 6

Via Sacra pilgrimage from Vienna to Mariazell, Austria. 10th October 2017. Day 6. The second half of Stage 3.

On foot with my backpack. It was 6 hours of spectacular climbs, rushing rivers, scary footbridges, and astonishing views, all in sparkling Autumn surroundings.

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A reminder that this is a spiritual journey.

Route: Türnitz (Gasthaus ‘Goldener Lowe’ where I spent the night and had breakfast), 2.5 hours to Falken Ravine, then Ulreichsberg, Ebenbaueralm, and Annaberg.

‘If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.’ Thich Nhat Hanh.

 

 

 

As I left Türnitz at 8.15am with its prettily decorated houses, I was minded of some early reads which have walking in them and which I still have a clear sense of. My mother read to us and gave us books throughout our childhood, and I am very grateful for the enjoyment she encouraged.  ‘Mary Jones and Her Bible’ was one I often returned to for some reason. Mary (16 December 1784 – 28 December 1864) was a Welsh girl who saved her pennies and then, at the age of fifteen, walked twenty-six miles barefoot across mountainous countryside to buy a copy of the Welsh Bible because she did not have one. I think it was her determination which impressed me, and it was a rare true story of a young girl’s strength.

Then there was ‘Heidi’ by Johanna Spyri. Heidi was another girl with spunk (though fictitious this time), who also lived in the mountains, not in Wales (UK) but in one of Austria’s many adjoining countries, Switzerland, where I was headed at the end of this trip. I had not thought about these tales for many years, but now I wonder what effect they had on me at an impressionable age.

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My first view of the mountains, later in the day, after the climb which was ahead.
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I wore boots for this walk.

I followed the River Traisen out of town and focused on the tiny lovely things around me: a small, darting bird, dark with a white throat; dams and pools with fish just visible in slow motion under the surface; tiny waterfalls; the sun on the back of my neck; a quarry creating a natural bathing pool; the water jostling and stressing in its rush; trunks and stalks blackened from the old year.

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Small streams feeding into the Traisen at intervals.
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A strawberry flower nestling amongst the dry stalks.
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Jade coloured water again and luscious lichen.

I was living a real life folk tale: First traverse the land…

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I had no idea what was to come.

…visit sacred places along the way….

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One of the many wayside shrines.
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Ecce Homo – Behold the Man.

… Ford the river five times (twice the socks and boots had to come off, 3 times it was a matter of balancing precariously on the tips of rocks which weren’t submerged and hoping I would not topple because once I start to go the weight of the rucksack takes me all the way!)

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You can see how fast the water was rushing by the fact that my camera could not get it into focus. A tottering traverse!

Carry your worldly goods on your back looking carefully for signs.

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The wee red and white stripes are not always that easy to locate.

There will be obstacles on your path.

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Many wooden bridges to manage the ravines.
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Some of them slippery from the wet and not a little hairy.

Finally climb the Three Sacred Mountains (this is truely what they are called) and only then will you…. what? Achieve enlightenment / win the heart of your true love / be forgiven?

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My heart sang as I watched the leaves meander to the ground which was itself glowing golden and bronze; as I observed the white waters cascade and crash between dark green rocks.

As I hike, I am constantly reflecting on what I am about, travelling through countries, going on foot wherever I can. Why am I drawn to this life? And I wonder if it might be that it is easier to do this in foreign countries rather than at home; in a place where no-one knows me and I seem to be easily welcomed. In Spain, for example, they said yes when I asked to stay, and let me sleep on the floor and then gave me an apple to take away with me in the morning. Simplicity. Nothing expected from me except human courtesy and attention, although I always offer Shiatsu.

I have an urge to do this, to keep on walking, treading ancient pathways, like The Sisters of Mercy, a non-cloistered institute where the ‘walking nuns’ cared for the poor outside a convent; or the blind practitioners of Anma (Japanese folk massage, linked closely to Shiatsu) ‘who were often nomadic, earning their keep in mobile massage capacities…. in the 19th century’ (ref. Wikipedia). It seems that another woman I read and re-read about in my childhood, Helen Keller, interceded on behalf of these practitioners after they were banned from practicing during the Occupation of Japan after World War II, and managed to overturn that edict.

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Colour, marvellous colours, all around.

As I climb higher, there are the deep blue mountains in the distance. I take one of those  videos entitled ‘here’s some of my silence!’

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The pilgrimage church sanctified to St. Anna, 1217.

It was a steep descent out of the forest  and then a climb back up to Annaberg, perched high on a mountain of its own, where a funeral procession was reaching the Pilgrim’s church. In 1985 I arrived in a Sicilian mountain village by bus (many years before my walking days) in the middle of a wedding, and in Naples a week before I had almost interrupted an ordination ceremony for bishops in the only open venue due to the Holy holiday. However, this was the first funeral.

Most bars and cafes were closed for the village event and people were in traditional Austrian dress playing folk music. After a cup of green tea and a slice of cake, I made my way down the other side taking one of my short-cuts to save my tired back which meant crawling through undergrowth and squeezing under barbed wire – a bad idea which I do not recommend.

The Junges Hotel did not seem to have the booking. Strange. Until it transpired that I was not at the youth hostel, but at a much more expensive establishment next to the ski lift. As always I was treated with immense kindness. I was bundled into a van, and driven up the way I had just come, past the church again, and down (in fact only a small way from my original forest exit earlier) to the right place.

What a setting! Green slopes, grand trees, spire towering above in Annaberg.

There was no-one at reception although crowds of children played behind the building. I sat and waited and was eventually assigned my bed. The kitchens were full of preparations for the evening meal so I could not use them (although one kind man did pass me a flask of hot water over the counter). The wifi was intermittent, and what a lot of energy such large school groups create. As I was the only solo adult traveller and, moreover, in a dormitory of my own, they did not know I was there so in the end I had to ask them to quieten down in the corridor (2am), but they were very well mannered and friendly in response.

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Annaberg and its Catholic Church, from the youth hostel, taken the next morning.

 

If you want the youth hostel, be careful not to go here by mistake: Junges Hotel, Annaberg. https://www.annaberg.info/beherberger/a-junges-hotel-annaberg