Days 9 - 11 of Tough Soles!
The Monaghan Way was our second trail to walk. At about 56.5km it was a 3 day linear walk, starting in Clontibret and finishing in Inniskeen, Co. Monaghan.
Day 1 -
Carl's parents kindly gave us a lift to Clontibret (thank you!), where we found what is becoming the usual starting point of Irish trails: the metropolis of a crossroads with a petrol station and possible splattering of houses. Being a long enough drive from Roscommon to Clontibret, we didn't start walking until late afternoon, with the trail itself beginning on country roads. At a guess, we made it around 10km down the trail that evening. Because it was on quiet country roads it meant that when it came time to find a camp site we weren't being offered a lot of options. And it was cold that evening.
Eventually we mastered the courage to walk up a farmer's driveway and ask him if we could camp on his land. Thankfully his answer went along the lines of: "have your pick of a field! Jump in wherever you fancy, there's nothing out there that'll bite you tonight". Which was probably the nicest answer we will ever get from someone, so thanks Mr. Farmer.
Also, I wasn't kidding when I said it was cold. That night it dropped to -3°C. Having brought a 2 season sleeping bag (a light bag with a comfort rating of 9°C), I wore everything I owned going to bed. It wasn't enough to sleep, but it was enough to not get sick.
The morning frost definitely got us moving fairly quickly, even if it was sleepily.
Day 2 -
It wasn't until the second day that I really understood what people meant about cows being curious animals. Surely you could say that about any animal, and it would be at least kind-of true? Cows are definitely special in this regard however. And Monaghan has a lot of cows - we met at least 30 cows for every 1 person we saw. So while this trail is technically 50% on road, our cow encounters are so memorable that they have all but wiped my memory of any road walking.
Dairy cows were ok - they tried to eat my boots and steal my water bottle, but didn't bother running or shaking their heads in scary manners. Bullocks ...
I'm still not on talking terms with bullocks. It doesn't matter if they hear you coming or not, because once they see you there is no other target of their interest. That was the day I started developing a great arm-flapping-noise-shouting technique that stops them in their tracks for a moment. Sometimes a sneaky stick was added to make my arms longer and the effect more widespread. By the end of day two I was pretty sure I could be a half decent farm hand. As long as the cattle continued to be oblivious to the fact that I was about a 10th of their size, and have no way of actually stopping them.
With my main cow points made I can now move onto discussing the trail again.
Day 2 saw us walk a further 21km to Castleblayney, which was the end of "stage one" of the Way. If you were planning on doing this walk in two days and staying in Castleblayney as your midpoint I'd advise giving yourself as long a day as possible, as it is a full 30 with plenty of hills (and a few nice views that are nice to linger for). If you're planning of doing it over one or two, do note that there's nowhere in that 30km to buy food or stop for coffee, so bring enough to last however long you need.
After our first week of walking being the reliable flatness of a canal, walking through land with hills was a bit of a shock to the system. The magical forces of nature that power Irish hill walking manage to make sure that you spend at least twice as much time ascending hills than descending. Our winding route eventually paid off, and reminded us why "hill-walking" is such a popular thing: Views.
At about 20km in, the trail tops out on a forestry hill that gives fantastic views of both the Morne mountains to the north, and your first glimpse of Castleblayney a little south of you.
There is quite a bit of road walking on the way into Castleblayney, but the surrounding area is full of lakes which have their own walks and loops (if you have the energy to go for an extra stroll). It was only as we were entering the town that we realised that the Cycle Against Suicide bike tour was also going to be arriving into Castleblayney that evening. (If you don't know about the Cycle, all you do need to know is that: it's ok not to feel ok, and it's absolutely ok to ask for help.)
After our first night had been below freezing we had been wistfully thinking of pillows and central heating, but on seeing the cycle signs assumed all the accommodation would be given over to the cycle. We did some instant pasta shopping and carried on out of the town. It was only just as we were leaving the town that a lady was leaving her B&B, and we asked if she had any rooms free. She did, and even though it was over what we wanted to pay (€66 for a double room), we were so exhausted that we took it.
It was a shame we were so exhausted, because we ended up waddling up the stairs with our heavy bags, and then quietly curling up on the bed and falling asleep instantly,
Day 3 -
The trail leaving Castleblayney wasn't great - specifically because it wasn't a trail, but a fairly major road. On the maps it looks like it would actually be possible to walk one of the lake loops out of the town and rejoin the main trail a few kilometres on, meaning less time spent walking in the hard shoulder. (We didn't check, but let me know if you do!)
Once onto smaller roads we stopped and took the drone for a fly over the lakes and islands that pocketed the land around. However, with the sky threatening to rain we kept it quick, packed up and kept going.
Shortly after we were back on trails and walking along the waters-edge of the very same lakes, skipping stones and being very grateful towards the landowners that had opened their fields to wanderers like us.
Some more road trudging and breathless hill tops later, I was looking at our maps in mild disappointment. On it there was a symbol that was missing in the legend, but at a guess I'd hoped it meant we'd be walking along an old railway line. We were definitely through the first section of it, and nothing around us had changed. A littler later we walked under a strange bridge, and I assumed that it was related to my missing train track, which was probably around here somewhere, but not exactly where we were walking.
I said so to Carl.
And of course, because I had vocalised my thoughts, the world worked to prove me wrong. 20 meters after walking under the odd bridge, I noticed a small lipped wall rising out of the ground to our right. Which quickly turned into a platform complete with the ruin of a small station house.
The trail does follow the lines of an old railway. The first couple of Kilometres of the line have now become a small country road, but after a while you do separate and end up walking on grass several feet above the surrounding area. It's very overgrown, and no tracks are visible, but it is definitely the track. We even came across a second platform.
An added bonus is that it is probably the most direct walking route the trail makers could have picked through the surrounding area, with field (*cough* with cows *cough*) walking kept to a minimum.
The trail ends in Inniskeen, a small rural village. It's Irish culture nugget is that it was the birth place and home of poet Patrick Kavanagh. His grave is also there. The inscription on his cross will connect with any walker.
That night we stayed in Glenevan House. Rose, the lady who runs the B&B, was incredibly nice, especially as we just arrived on her doorstep with no prior notice. It was pretty much a perfect place to stay that night, as the trail ended within view of the front door.
There's an old mill down behind the house too that was fun to wander and wonder around for a while.
The next day Rose even gave us a lift to Dundalk (thanks again Rose!). If you've any questions about the Monaghan Way, or any of the walks, let me know!