COVID hit Ireland and like most other people destroyed any travel plans this year. Disappointed I decided there was no reason to despair, I live in a beautiful and exciting place and I decided it was time to travel and discover more of Ireland.
Exploring my city
In the first couple of months, I couldn’t travel far from my house, so it was time to explore Dublin. When you live in a city for long enough, you forget about all the wonderful things you can do. Walking stretches of the canal I had always planned to walk, walking through neighbourhoods I never knew about and discovering monuments I never knew existed was an unexpected treat.
Capital cities located on the coast are fantastic. You have an outstanding balance of city life and city breaks, trips to the beaches are glorious, but nothing felt better than trips to the ‘Forty Foot’ where I got to rekindle my love for open water swimming. The freezing cold water never failed to take my breath away, but the swim always provided a fantastic feeling when coming out. There is a perfect cycle lane that goes up the coast to one of my favourite villages, Howth a beautiful harbour only an hours cycle out of Dublin city centre.
I never knew Dublin had mountains and walking trails in the city, so I discovered new paths and admired the city from a different view. One day in the summer when restrictions eased, I decided to walk the Dublin Mountains Way, a 26 mile (42km) walking trail through the Dublin Mountains. It was a stunning walk bringing fond memories of the previous summer when I hiked the Camino de Santiago. What I learnt from the walk is that it doesn’t matter how well the route is signposted I will still get lost and the next time I decide to walk 26 miles, I will do it over two days as I wasn’t able to walk correctly for a couple of weeks. Despite living in Dublin for a while, I feel there is so much more to discover and despite spending this unexpected time discovering the city I live in, I feel maybe I don’t know it at all, which is very exciting.
As time went on, I could leave the city and explore other cities. I visited Belfast and it felt terrific to be in another city. It felt weird only travelling 2 hours from Dublin and changing currency it felt like I was travelling abroad to unknown land again. I see city breaks as a great opportunity to relax and see as much as possible and learn about the city and its history. It’s dark and troubled past haunts the city, however, it creates a fascinating city break brimmed with history and events that are still in people’s memories.
My visit to Limerick felt like we were living through better times, streets full of people, shops back open and industries running again. The city is full of history, castles, river walks, great food and drink. It was a great change from being in Dublin.
In July a friend and I walked up Galtymore, the 12th biggest mountain in Ireland and is 1 of 13 Furths (mountains over 3000ft) located in County Tipperary. What a stunning walk! Surrounded by forests, heather, bogs and steep slopes, the hike was worth every minute of pain and effort for the beautiful views along the way. The walk was another gentle reminder that I have a terrible sense of direction. Sweat constantly dripping down my face, I never thought my COVID shaved head would create a problem on the mountains, it turns out hair is a good mop as it absorbs the mountain workout sweats. The Irish bipolar weather couldn’t make its mind up if it wanted to rain or shine, I thought I was prepared, armed with my waterproof and woolly hat but I was surprised when I got a sunburnt face. Tired and worn out, I had never been so happy to see a cross that was erected at the top of its peak.
One weekend I jumped onto my bike and set off around Connemara National Park and I fell in love with the place. Connemara’s bleak and beautiful landscape and it’s deep browns and greens on uneven surfaces was mesmerizing. The National Park reminds me of past adventures in Iceland due to the gorgeous lakes, the vast, rugged landscape and the huge rocky mountains as a backdrop. The ride never got boring. My eyes were fixed on the beauty in front of me, my mind wandered drifting from different worlds keeping well away from reality while singing out loud with no one to hear my horrendous singing voice.
The county of Wicklow is connected to the Dublin transport system, making it easy to get away from city life and into the mountains to explore some of the beautiful sights. Wicklow could be my favourite county in Ireland because it is full of mountains, cycle routes, stunning scenic views and is a county full of adventure.
On one sunny summer day, I cycled The Sally Gap, one of Ireland’s finest scenic roads. The windy roads among a spread of bogs, intertwined between tall mountains. This high mountain pass was made during the 1798 rebellion by the British Army looking to flush rebels from the hills. The hills were tiring, but the scenery was worth it. The cycle was stunning with a few stop-offs on the way. Glendalough is a beautiful valley with many walking trails that take you all around the area past two great lakes and a 6th-century monastery. Powerscourt is a large country estate renowned for its house (originally a 13th-century castle), landscaped gardens and its stunning 121-meter waterfall.
During this COVID period, I took a few mountain walks and now I’ve started exploring, I can’t stop, there is still so much more to see. There are so many routes to be explored, 39 mountain peaks to conquer, the county is a hiker’s dream.
Around the Mourne Mountains
Many years ago I cycled around the whole of Northern Ireland but was slightly gutted that I didn’t get the chance to cycle around the Mourne Mountains, I felt this was my opportunity. The 53 miles (85km) lap from Newry around the Mourne Mountains was breathtaking. The surroundings are stunning, the heather and moss-covered peaks made you think you were in another world. It was the same landscape that inspired CS Lewis to create the magical land of Narnia.
A weekend away with friends, alcohol flowing never fails to push the COVID blues away (social distancing of course). Killarney is a small town in County Kerry to the west of the country. The Killarney National Park surrounds the town. It is home to Lough Leane, Ross Castle, Muckross House and Abbey, MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, Lakes of Killarney, Purple Mountain, Gap of Dunloe, Mangerton Mountain and Torc Waterfall. There’s so much you could do here, but it is also a great little town to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life to eat out, laugh with great company, have far too much to drink and try to forget our COVID problems.
My travel plans last summer may have been ruined, but I have learnt that taking advantage of the situation can be as rewarding. Getting to know the country I Iive in has been great fun. Adventure is everywhere. We don’t need to go far to foreign lands to have an adventure. COVID isn’t over but I look forward to the adventures I can have in Ireland this year.
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