Day 33 - 44: The Miners Way & Historical Trail / by ellie berry

 While we were walking the Miners Way I made the mistake of not writing anything for this blog, or taking any proper notes. The whole trail was amazing, and is one of our favourite trails of Ireland. 
In a way, it's probably not too bad that I'm writing this late - if I had written it day by day it would be neverending as the trail was just so enjoyable. Thanks to everyone in Roscommon who helps and maintains the Way. 

With Carl's sore knee, we decided to go rest up at his parents, spending day 33 travelling from Carrick-on-Suir to Roscommon. We then took days 34 and 35 as rest days. By day 36 we were excited to get walking again - especially Carl, as our next trail was one that builds many dizzying loops around his parent's home. 

The Miners Way and Historical Trail Overview:

  • Official length: 118km
  • What we walked: 160km
  • Historical Trail difficulty: 1.5/5
  • Miner's Way difficulty: 3.2/5
  • Trail Quality: 5/5
  • Views/area: 5/5
  • Camping: unknown, probably possible
  • Public transport: very easy to get to Boyle

 The shape of the Miners Way & Historical Trail is one of the more awkward shapes to try and walk every meter of. We broke this into eight easy days.

Day 5: Keadue - Geevagh
Day 6: Geevagh - highest split
Day 7: Arigna - outside Drumkeeran
Day 8: outside Drumkeeran - Dowra

Day 1: Drumshanbo - Keadue
Day 2: Keadue - Boyle
Day 3: Boyle - Castlebaldwin
Day 4: Castlebaldwin - Ballyfarnan

The trail's full name is The Miner's Way & Historical Trail. The "Historical Trail" section is the lower half of the trail, and is a more leisurely walk with plenty of history and buildings. The "Miner's Way" part, the top half, is a lot more strenuous walking and brings you over more mountains. Both sections are really great. In general, people just refer to it as the miner's way.

For our first day we had a special guest - Delia, Carl's sister. From Drumshanbo to Arigna the walk was nice and gentle, mostly grassy lanes, with only a couple of quiet backroads. The first major push was going up from Arigna village to the Arigna mining experience: that was a well defined hill. The view from the top was pretty amazing though, and it only got better the further we went. First however - the mining experience has a café, so of course we stopped. 

The next section over the Arigna hills/mountains was beautiful - it's worth mentioning that it's a beautiful bog, and therefore a couple of us brought the bog with us in soggy socks and shoes.  The views continued to be stunning for the whole boggy mountain crossing, our decent bringing us along some more grassy forgotten lanes through farmland and small backroads. 

Aside - I wonder how many times I'll have typed "backroads" by the end of this. I try and vary it up by using "lanes/country roads" but if you can think of any other ways of saying the same thing do let me know

The walk from there into Keadue was fairly short, and that's where we ended Day 1. 

Day 2 was from Keadue to Boyle and, as is becoming our unfortunate tagline, we started late that day. 
Leaving Keadue we came to Lough Meelagh, where the trail splits in a few directions. We went south towards Boyle. A few meters along the trail we came to Knockranny Court tomb (3500 - 2000 b.c.), one of many in that area. The trail went along easy boardwalk and twisty forest trails, down to the lakeside. Following the shore for a while, we reached a gorgeous old house sitting on a hillside. It was unlived in, apart from 4 donkeys who followed us through the field until we had to part ways. 

The trail continued through some more perfect forest, and then met a short road section. There was a small walkway built into the hedge for a section, were was came across an Alpaca farm. It was not what I expected to have peering through the fence at us. 

A little while afterwards we came to a section of trail that said it was closed just for the day. We were pretty disappointed - what were the chances we would hit something closed for a day!
Then a passing local stopped and told us that it was closed because of a land ownership dispute, and that we could continue walking through, it was just going to look like a bit of a building site for some of it.  

After that, we followed some more small lanes into Lough key Forest Park. It was extremely picturesque, the lake dotted with vibrant islands, and even castle ruins sitting proudly out on one of them. The place was great. Sadly we got there too late to get coffee. 

The trail continued on through the forest park, crossing a fairy bridge from 1826 (need to check date!) which had the most erratic stone work - apparently it when built it was styled to look old, and now just looked magical. 

Shortly after that we were walking through trees with huge boughs that called to be sat in. From our slightly lofty vantage point we watched a dog try and bring half a tree with him as a stick for fetch (and getting caught between other trees. It was hilarious and adorable. I wish we could bring a dog). His owner had to pursuade him that a smaller stick would be more fun.
Eventually we continued on our way, knowing that our final stop for the day wasn't too far away. As we were walking through the forest car park, the dog owner stopped her car and told us that she followed our blog about the walks. And neither of us knew what to say. This encounter was something that we had both hoped would happen at some point on the walks, but not for many more months, if at all. We were gob-smacked. I think we stammered out a few sentences, and parted ways. It put us over the moon. The last few kilometres into Boyle sailed passed as we skipped and danced our way along the lanes. Looking back I feel a little foolish, but I'm still super happy that someone recognised us, and stopped to say hi. I only wish we had been a little less shell shocked. Thanks again to Adrianne.  

On the way to Boyle you pass through a number of large gatehouses, which are the only things that remind you of just how large this estate once was.   

Day three saw us walk from Boyle to Castlebaldwin. Leaving Boyle we walked out along a road that went up a hill, and saw some more donkeys. They're really becoming our best friends. 

 We then continued up another hill but this time through a bog. Thankfully all the signposting and styles are painted bright yellow (not just Elvis!), so making our way through was easy. The bog turned into forested bog, and we were making steady progress until we came across a few trees that had fallen across the trail. The forest was so thick the easiest way forward was to climb over them - which left me pulling twigs out of my hair for a day or two. 

Eventually we reached the Devil's Bite. It's a impressive U-shaped valley that looks like a bite out of the edge of the mountain. We hiked up the stand-alone "bitten off" section, then down into the bite and up the other side. The land was dotted with low stone walls and a couple of wind swept trees. 

After walking through the bite I thought that would be the highlight of the day in the bag. What I didn't realise was that this then lead onto Carrowkeel. 
Carrowkeel is a mountain featuring another U-shaped valley, but a couple of orders of magnitude larger than the devils bite. It was incredibly impressive walking through the valley, with the mountains growing larger on either side as we went. Towards the end of the valley the trail continues straight, but to go to the top of Carrowkeel and see the megalithic passage tombs you can turn right and climb up and round to the top. Now this was stunning. Really incredible. We sat here for a while and just stared. 

Have you ever seen such a breath-taking view that is so saturated with textures and colours and geography that you're mind just can't process it all? Well I had one of those moments there. Carl didn't get what I was talking about, but maybe other people have experienced it. There was just so much there that I wanted to remember, and so much to see that every time I moved my eyes the last bit was being overwritten because there was just too much. Anyway. 

Day 4: Castlebaldwin - Ballyfarnan
Leaving Castlebaldwin we walked up hill to Cromleach Lodge (a closed hotel), and walked into the woods behind it. Through the woods yellow dots were painted on trees to guide your way, turning the walk into a mini spot-the-dot maze. It was surprisingly fun. Continuing our upward assent we arrived at a summit stone, where again we were met with an amazing view. Roscommon has so many low to medium hills and lakes that climbing to the top of any of them gives gorgeous and unique views every time. 

The walk went through fields in the area - but not actually through the fields as there was a fenced off section for walkers. Those sections are the best. I got to walk past all the cows and smile at them across the wire, feeling brave with the simplest of barriers between us. 

Day 5: Keadue - Geevagh
Definitely one of our shorter days, we started back at Keadue and walked up to Lough Meelagh, this time walking the top of the bottom loop, and finishing the "Historical Trail" section of the walk. 

We had only barely started walking for the day when we decided to take a quick detour to see the grave of Turlough O'Carolan, a very famous blind Irish harp player. While making our way through the grave yard an older man came over to us and asked if we were looking for anyone in particular. On hearing Turlough's name he became animated and excited, telling us Turlough O'Carolan's life story, as well as his evolvement with setting up the local harp festival that commemorates O'Carolan. He had such enthusiasm and respect for the harper, we couldn't not stay and talk for a while. After an hour and a half of conversation we moved on. 

Not too much further on the trail brings you into the grounds of Kilronan Castle. The entrance gate we passed through was made in the same style as the fairy bridge in Lough Key forest park, the rock so erratic that it looked like it was from a fairytale. 

The Castle grounds were gorgeous to walk through, even if my hay fever had my eyes watering so much that everything was a slight blur. At the castle you can go in and have coffee and food - or if you are a walker with golden lined pockets you could consider staying a night. I felt a little out of place in my nike shorts and hiking boots. 

The trail doesn't quite go into Geevagh but turns north just before it. We walked into Geevagh as our finish point for the day, and can confirm it is a pub on a junction with surrounding houses - a standard Irish village. 

I think it's about here were we left for a weekend to go visit my Dad for his birthday. I think its flattering that I thought he was younger than he was. Happy Birthday, again.

Day 6: Geevagh - highest split

The next few days are the harder days in a stamina perspective. The Miner's Way half is definitely a more strenuous walk. We would walk along cliff edges, then descend to the valley floor, and climb back up the other side. There was plenty of perfect forest walking, and the bogs weren't too wet.  

Day 7: Arigna - outside Drumkeeran
Arigna is wonderful to walk around going either direction. And - don't forget there's that café. So more coffee was bought.

The most memorable part of that day was walking through the wind farm. We were approaching the high split again, but across the mountains from a new angle. The climbs were steep, and after crossing a couple of bogs we were approaching the wind farm. I kept stopping to take photos as I assumed we would be turning away from it at any moment. But closer and closer until we were walking right underneath them. Quite literally. I could feel the whoosh of the blades above my head. It's quite humbling, and more than a little scary if I'm honest. These huge stoic structures slowly but powerfully turning on and on.

The decent from the split then brings you past a waterfall that I've forgotten the name of, but Rebecca had showed us. I'd recommend descending the stairs to see it. We continued on a bit further than we planned, almost making it to Drumkeeran. We camped that night in one of the most midge-infested forests I've come across. My lower back was eaten alive while we put up the tent. It was from then on that I always made sure to tuck all my layers into one another.

Day 8: outside Drumkeeran - Dowra

Drumkeeran fulfilled our coffee needs that morning, and the stretch from there to Dowra was fairly uneventful. It must have been enoyable, as I don't remember anything bad, but I don't really remember much the other way either. We did come across some scratched out signs for the Leitrim Way, which is currently under redevelopment (the work has only just about started, so not sure what that means for us walking it).

Dowra was an enjoyable finish point, and provided us with a pint to celebrate finishing the longest trail we'd walked so far.
The trail can definitely be walked in one, maybe two fewer days than we did it in, but it was really nice to walk it slowly and enjoy it. Big thanks to Carl's parents and his sister's family for hosting us and driving us so many places. it was great to stay with you all.

As always, there is so much more that I could write and have probably forgotten even more. If you've walked it let us know what you think! Next walk is the Cavan Way.