I’ve never been on a walk that I didn’t enjoy… with the possible exception of this one.
I’d set myself the challenge of completing this epic 150 mile walk across Ireland as part of my 10 Challenges 4 Cancer. The plan was to complete the walk in 7 days to then enjoy a day or rest in Dublin. But we all know what happens to the best laid plans…
The trip started well enough as my girlfriend, Amy, decided she’d join me. We chose the Grand Canal route – which links a good portion of the way between Galway and Dublin as we thought it would provide a scenic focal point for the walk. But this decision was to backfire as we discovered that the well photographed scenic part of the Grand Canal only lasted for a mile or so around Shannon Harbour. Beyond that lay mile upon mile of featureless landscapes through the wilderness of Ireland. The footpaths were rarely paved, often muddy and at times ankle deep in bog. And the towns were incredibly sparse which made finding food regularly enough to maintain energy levels very difficult.
Furthermore, the week we’d chosen to undertake this walk was the one when the Arctic storm hit the UK. Although we didn’t get much snow, we did get torrential rain and the gale force, ice cold wind blowing us backwards for most of the week. Temperatures rarely rose above a few degrees in the day, and dropped well below zero at night. This made camping (with only cheap sleeping bags) very unpleasant.
But apart from the Arctic storm, the monotonous landscape, the carrying of bags way over the recommended weight limit, the difficulty in finding food, and, of course, the incessant blisters and joint and muscle pain…. apart from all of that… the walk was still an adventure to remember, and an achievement to be proud of.
So after several months to recover from the trauma, here’s a short video capturing our experience (but not nearly doing justice to the pain!)…
With hindsight, we’re able to look back on this walk and laugh. It’s certainly an experience we’re both glad we undertook, and completed. But it was undoubtedly one of the toughest experiences of both of our lives. Very rarely did we actually enjoy the walk itself but, as with any adventure, there were highlights. The coastal walk from Galway, spending St. Patrick’s Day drinking Guinness in an Irish pub, the food (when we could find somewhere that sold it) and above all the wonderful people of Ireland. It really was the people that we met along our way that made this adventure special, despite the various tribulations.
The couple who gave us a double sleeping bag to help us keep warm for a night, the kind man in the pub who gave generously as soon as he found out what we were doing, the guesthouse owner who offered to shuttle us so we could have a day walking without bags, the lady who pulled over to offer a lift and then donated €10 when we reluctantly declined, the B&B owner who brought us sandwiches when we were in too much pain to walk to get food – these moments which reminded us of the warmth of human nature were the ones we will treasure from our epic journey.
I’d like to say a special thank you to Amy for joining me on this challenge. Despite the fact that only a few months earlier she needed a knee operation following a riding accident, she put up with the added pain and never once was tempted to give up on the challenge. Here’s hoping this experience doesn’t put her joining me on further microadventures in the future!
If you’re a glutton for punishment, and are interesting in walking this route yourself, here is a breakdown of what we covered each day:
Day 1 – Galway Harbour to Athenry (approx. 15 miles)
Day 2 – Athenry to Kilconnell (approx. 18 miles)
Day 3 – Kilconnell to Banagher (approx. 22 miles)
Day 4 – Banagher – Pollagh (approx. 18 miles)
Day 5 – Pollagh to Ballycommon (approx. 17 miles)
Day 6 – Ballycommon to Edenderry (approx. 16 miles)
Day 7 – Edenderry to Sallins (approx. 21 miles)
Day 8 – Sallins to Dublin Sea Locks (approx. 21 miles)
Make sure you stay with Gerry and Maria at the Ballycommon House near Tullamore. Our stay here was one of the highlights of our trip and their offer of a shuttle service gave us a much needed day without carrying the bags!