I had two plans today. The first was to hike in the national park near Killarney (Cill Airne) (Cill is “church” in Gaelic). The second was to see Moll’s Gap, the Gap of Dunloe (another mountain pass) and a little bit of the Ring of Kerry.
Well… I just hiked the park. I think I walked more than 20 km today.
I pulled into the first parking lot I could find marked “Killarney National Park” and got my gear together. I’d made use of utensils at my B&B this morning and had premade my hummus wraps, so that made carrying them way less messy. There were horse-and-trap rides (jaunting cars) waiting to take fares, but I was bound and determined to do this under my own power. So I ran across the highway N71 (you didn’t hear that, Mom) and started strolling in to Killarney National Park. No admission, just wandered in. No parking fee either.
Instead of taking the slightly paved pathway, I took a smaller, more “organic” footpath by Lough Leane. I realized later that it was better to stick to footpaths because the jaunting cars drive on the paved paths and you have to step off to give them right of way.
And that’s when I was engulfed by the humid greenery of the park. Leaves are just unfurled and are still growing, but yet so much is so green. I walked along the lake, where a lot of the trees still seemed pretty young, and my footpath intersected with the paved path and a signpost pointing to Muckross Abbey. I had the general idea I wanted to see the Torc Waterfall while I was here, so I was trying to aim in that sort of direction. I knew that the Muckross Abbey and Muckross Estate were before that, so I thought I’d stop by on my travels. I wasn’t in a huge hurry.
Muckross Abbey was a ruined Franciscan friary with two gigantic and impressive yew trees. One was right out front, and the other was in a courtyard that, when I was pacing around the square sunken hallway and looking over the low wall into the raised courtyard and tree, I couldn’t help but think I’d seen something like this before. Of course, turn it all into pixels and there’s a courtyard like this in Stormwind (geek humour). I hopped the wall to go touch the giant yew. Eventually it will outgrow that large opening and may start pushing at the walls. Or the park may prune it so it doesn’t. I’m not sure how that sort of historical site management works.
I climbed some more spiral stone staircases and walked through the rooms that the friars would have used daily. It’s a remarkably intact site, so it must be relatively new. I wandered around the graveyard and there were some new burials there (2012) so it is clearly still an active site as well.
Then a followed a couple of girls up another footpath and found myself on a paved path (this time with cars too). I just kept walking “against traffic” and hopping off onto the grass. I passed by the Traditional Farms, which show how farming was done in Ireland in the 1930s. Which doesn’t seem that long ago, but that’s 80 years – farming technology has changed.
I eventually turned a corner and started walking towards a huge manor house like something out of Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice. It was Muckross House, a 19th century mansion. I didn’t pay the admission fee to go and see the inside of it, but it looked grand. There was scaffolding up on the one corner of it so I wasn’t able to get a good clean photo of the outside.
I was now 2 km from the Torc Waterfall, and so I kept on walking. I passed onto a walking path to get out if the way of the jaunting cars again and was enclosed in the forest once more. Very few people were out, so it was like I had the forest to myself. Divine. The humid understory scent of trees, leaves, the tang of resinous pine, the gurgle of little rills and streams, the complex songs of the little birds flitting through the underbrush. It occurred to me that the pattern the ivy makes as it weaves itself over the trees could have inspired Celtic knotwork designs.
In order to get up to Torc Waterfall, I ended up on a rated walking path. The moderate and easy overlapped a bit, with the moderate taking slightly steeper hills. I kept to the moderate path, also because the hard path had loads of warnings on it and was about 2 hours longer than the moderate one. But I followed the running stream all the way up to Torc Waterfall. Majestic.
I took many shots, as the clouds covered and uncovered the sun, letting me play with different lighting effects with the running water. I know a lot of photographers like the running stream, longer exposure blending for waterfalls, but I like seeing the shape the falling water is taking that very instant so I like the quick exposures. After that, I turned around and there was a stone stairway up.
For those who know, that first really special graded climb on Wolf Trail in Gatineau Park, think that but longer. The stairs helped for footing, but I was still climbing the side of Torc Mountain. And climbing. And climbing. And puffing and sweating.
I believe I was on the bottom right hand stretch of the yellow dotted path, right before the turn. This was the “go up the side of the mountain so you can walk across it to get back down to the bottom” part and honestly, it was the toughest part of the whole walk. But I did it, huffing like I was running a race.
It started to cloud over as I was coming back down the mountain side (Torc Mtn is 535m tall). I got a few more shots before I put my camera in my backpack, just in case.
I had just crossed another portion of highway and was passing by a little farm, where a workhorse was busily munching the close cropped grass of its paddock when it curiously perked its ears and went to the fence to look further back in the yard. And there was a little old farmer “sneaking up” on his German Shepherd, who was lying on the ground with something in its mouth, watching him. His back was arched, his hands were up in an almost cartoon villain pose and he was taking exaggerated slow steps towards the dog. He circled around behind it and the dog rolled over on its back, still holding whatever it was in its mouth and the farmer leaned down to give the dog a belly rub.
I laughed and walked a few more steps and looked left. And saw two deer frozen like statues watching me, right out in the open. They were so still, I thought for a moment they were statues just put up so that tourists would know what it would be to see these elusive red deer. Until one of them moved and I said out loud, “Oh! They’re real!” I’d already been taking pictures of them but then I tried to get a few more before they fully disappeared.
It was when I was heading back to Muckross House that the rain hit. My hood was up and I was thankful for my real rain jacket. I quickly stopped by the cafe there to see if I could get a take away tea or something but I didn’t see any take away cups. I popped into the gift shop and was able to find three of the books published by the Blaskett Island folks I learned about yesterday. Since I finished my novel a couple of days ago, I thought I’d pick up a couple to read while I’m here. The lady at the cash told me that “her generation” had Peig as compulsory reading in Gaelic during their high school so they kind of resented it. I’m sure I’d feel the same way about some of the Canadian greats we had to read. I also picked up The Islandman, both in English for now.
Then I started trudging back to my car beyond Muckross Abbey. I passed by a sign saying 5 km to Killarney but I hadn’t parked that far away. It just felt like it at that point. But then I looked across the field and stopped dead on the paved pathway. There lay six red deer, just having an afternoon snooze. I wrestled my camera back out of my backpack and took some photos, and was able to do more, slightly closer, after I’d passed a copse of trees. Amazing way to end my hike.
I took out my last wrap and ate it while passing through the forest by way of the same walking path as before. And I found a horseshoe on the path back to Muckross Abbey. Someone had thrown a shoe. I picked it up because I thought if wouldn’t do either the horses or the traps any favours if they ran over it, and carried if for a while trying to think of what to do with it. I didn’t need to bring it back with me. No one needs a used horseshoe. And it was heavy. I didn’t think it went with the B&B’s decor, so I propped it up along the fence, open side up to keep the luck in, and left it for someone else.
I was raining for at least the last hundred metres leading up to the highway where I’d have to run across to get my car. No wonder the path was deserted – only my car and one other was left in the parking lot. And then the sky opened up just as I was diving into my car. It even was a heavy rain/hail mix again as I was coming in to Tralee. I had to slow right down to be able to see and at one point I pulled over. And then it was done and the sun was shining.
Tomorrow I’ll be making my way to Galway, via County Clare and the Cliffs of Moher. :)