While rare elsewhere, there is a lot of bog in Ireland, and it isn’t the easiest thing to hike through. Every Irish person who goes hiking knows what a bog is - and they know so well, that it is easy to forget or not realise how rare bogland is on a global scale.
Along our wandering we’ve met a couple of tourists who had never experienced bog before, and had spent time researching beforehand what exactly they’d encounter when walking through one in Ireland. More recently at an artist talk in Dublin, one of the visiting artists had to ask what turf was. Having spent most of the last two summers either drowning or roasting in the bog lands, I feel like I’ve acquired enough of the basics to give some useful information.
First off, I’m going to share a tweet I saw (quite a few) months ago that broke down some terms I’d never really understood the difference of:
a BOG is a wetland that's acidic
a FEN is a wetland that's alkaline
a SWAMP is a wetland that's vegetation consists of trees or other (large) woody plants
a MARSH is a wetland with other forms of vegetation.
From this tweet I looked up what a Heath was, which is apparently an area of land very similar to a bog in that is has acidic soils; and a march because it has low growing vegetation. However, a heaths are typically hard and dry (particularly in summer), with low fertility, often sandy and are very free-draining.
I’d always known there was a difference, but throughout the many hiking blog posts that I’ve written, I have referred bogs with many, many incorrect names. I’m just going to say it falls under the general creative ignorance licence, and hope I haven’t caused any poor travellers to fall into a wetland that they were expecting to be sandy.
The word bog derives from Bogach – meaning soft. And soft is a pretty accurate description. In Ireland there are two main types of bog - Raised Bogs, and Blanket Bogs. Blanket Bogs are usually found in the more mountainous regions in the west of Ireland, needing high rainfall and low temperatures to develop. Raised Bogs originate in former lake basins and are concentrated to the midlands of the country.
The memory of the bog that will stay with me forever, is being out with my grandad when he was bagging turf. He told me to stick my finger in the bog, and then taste it. He said it so convincingly that I thought it would almost be pleasant. I was not prepared for that bitter, acidic burst in my month. I don’t know if I ever remember my grandad laughing so much.
How to Cross a Bog:
When we’re walking on roads or forest trails, our pace is typically 4 to 5 km/hr. When we enter a bog our pace quickly drops to a max of 3km, and has (on dismal days) dropped to less than 2km/hr. Learning to read your way across a bog takes less time than you might think, but the process itself is still slow. If you can, for your first few bog trips go out with someone who has plenty of experience crossing bogs - they can help you find stable tracks, and be there to help you back up if you sink a bit!
Crossing a bog is like playing one of those childhood games where you pretend the floor is lava and try to traverse your way around a room by jumping onto “floating” cushions and furniture. In a bog, you are picking your way across by linking up the more solid spots that can support you, while avoiding the particularly wet bits that might swallow your boots (or more!). What can happen, as you stare at the ground and make sure that your feet go on the right spots, is that you start to drift off in the wrong direction. It’s important to realise when a specific route is pulling you too far off trail and turn back to find a new path - instead of trying to play a more and more elaborate game of twister.
As well as getting lost, it’s import to consider the environmental impact of your route across the bog - peat is a delicate ecosystem, and the widening of tracks can have negative impacts on the flora and fauna of the area. Plenty to think about as you try to not get covered in heavy mud!
If the moss on the ground is bright green, that typically means it’s a very wet patch. Where the bog looks almost smooth and is dark brown is also a sign of wet peat, and you will probably sink through. If you see a pool of water, please avoid it as it is impossible to tell how deep it is. We’ve found that the best footing are the visibly dry tufts of grass and heather that poke up from the ground like miniature hills. Aim for sections that look really well dried out, and take breaks when you find a large enough island to comfortably survey the world from.
It’s important to wear full length paths when crossing a bog - the heather is rough on the skin, and the plants and swampy water there are home to thousands of insects. I can’t imagine anything much worse than being slowly eaten alive while painstakingly slowly crossing a tricky section of bog. The ground is very uneven, so boots are best to help keep your ankles upright. The boots also mean that if you do sink a small bit in certain sections your feet won’t become immediately soaking wet.
A remedy for wet feet and boots are waterproof socks. I don’t own a pair myself yet, but I’ve had so many trusted friends recommend them to me that I’ve decided to invest in a pair for next winter.
Bogs are a great place to use walking/trekking poles, as you can test the ground around you!
- Gaiters are knee high extensions to your hiking boots - almost. They’re not impervious to everything, but they are great gear to stop the rain from running down into your boots, and offer a lot of extra protection from heather, general bog scrub and insects.
- Waterproof over pants are also a great extra layer of defence! They keep the rain and bugs out, but can be quite hot and stuffy in warm weather.
Bogs in Ireland tend to be quite empty places, and if lined with forests it is likely you’ll see deer droppings. It’s always a good idea to check yourself over after crossing bogs to make sure you haven’t picked up any unwanted “hitch-hikers”; currently in Ireland there is a lot of talk around ticks and Lyme disease. Deer (and other wild animals) can carry ticks, who spread the disease, without being affected by the disease. The warning signs for a lyme disease infection is when the bite area swells with rings that look like a bullseye/target. If you are unsure get it checked by a professional!
Some great blogs / other information:
We’ve made our own Tough Soles maps! These maps are free to use, remix, and redistribute under CC-BY 4.0. All you need to do is attribute us!
Here are all the maps we’ve made.
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