The Highwayman Challenge 2017

The Highwayman Challenge 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Highwayman Challenge 2017

Dragging myself out of the bed at 6.00am on a Saturday, a quick look out the window tells me that its calm and dry but fog is hanging low. It could be worse.
My bandit friend Douglas Reid (BleckCra) and co-pilot Helen winged in at 7.15am having driven from Armagh to act as sweeper on the A walk I was leading. Coffee and lots of it.
Arriving at registration at 7.45am (Fair play to Tom Fitzgerald and the Parents Association gang who had the Burco boiler on since 6.30am!) we found 3 Mountainviews members were already there and waiting. More coffee.
More hardy souls trickled in and by 8.40 we had 17 for the A walk on the Bus heading for the start point appropriately enough at the sheep pens near Crow Hill.
We were greeted by thick fog and a damp wind, after a quick word on the dos and don’ts off we went. A guided challenge walk like this is a bit of an unknown animal so we were conscious of paying particular attention to how our walkers performed at the start.
A steady climb to the plateau of Knockshanahullion gave us the measure of the group and no one was found wanting. At this stage we headed north off the Blackwater Way for the summit of Knockshanahullion passing the standing stones in thick fog. It was the first experience for some of the walkers of navigating in pea soup across featureless bog, but we managed just fine and after a brief look around the summit we headed south to re-join the Blackwater Way.
Downhill east then heading generally for Knockalougha, can we stop for a bite to eat I was asked, “no “said I “we want you to experience the full misery of a challenge walk, eat while you’re moving “so off we rocked leaving a few perplexed faces.
Next stop was the forest covered top of Knockalougha South, after beating through a boggy forest ride to reach the recently constructed stone highway. A sandwich break? No chance eat as you walk. Downhill then past the emergency drop out point (no one did). Back on the Blackwater way and then south over 1.5kms of featureless bog on part of the old Knockclugga looped walk which seems to be recovering from extensive quad bike damage caused 2 years ago. As we descended towards the forest track the fog finally lifted allowing us to see the waterfalls the mark the source of the river Araglin and south to the low hills of Waterford and Cork across the valley.

 


Through the forestry then, another half-whispered suggestion of a break? A response from someone in the group “don’t bother asking, they won’t stop”, they’re getting the hang of it now.
Onto a dreaded bit of tarmac and back uphill to our start point at the sheep pens where the C walk has arrived and are having their briefing before the off. Finally we decide to give the A team a break of 15 minutes but everyone’s in good spirits and chewing at the bit to get moving again.
On then past Farbreaga and Crow Hill feeling the original Highwayman Willy Brennans breath on the back of our necks or was it BleckCra saying “come on tae feck” under his breath? Down through the woods at Doon where we met a horse and rider coming up against us. How do you know you’re a local? You know the name of the horse as well as the rider. On over Carran Hill and Knockaneagh on the roads and tracks used by Brennan to cross between his hunting grounds on the Dublin-Cork coach road to the Waterford -Clonmel coach road at the Vee.

 

 

Extensive views now on this stretch of the Blackwater way, that runs at nearly 300 meters above sea level, over most of North Cork to the Ballyhouras and the Nagles with the Boggeraghs beyond as the afternoon brightened. Corrin cross and the ruins of Castle Cooke, once home to the Condon family before it was lost in the Cromwellian wars, to the south west.
We’re on the home stretch now and we can taste the tea and beef stew waiting for us at the community hall. Down through Gortnaskehy and the chat increases, the cycling club member says this is fecking harder than the Ring Of Kerry cycle, more money in selling bees rather than honey, the perils of summit bagging for your marriage, early starts and the demise of the A walk at walking festivals all feature.
We hit the hall at very respectable time of 3.33pm after 6.5hrs on the hoof covering 30 kms with a thirst and a hunger that was only satisfied by gallons of hot coffee and plates of Brendan’s delicious stew and spuds.
The C walk had already been (at 3.00pm) and left and had over 100 walkers lead by locals Liam Finn and Tom Fitzgerald, the B walk came in at 4.30pm with 52 walkers led by Ian and Shauna McDonnell and Ger Harold of Mallow Scouts. 
Great to see what a small community can do when they come together, a really enjoyable and well organised one-day event to test the waters for future longer outings we hope.

 

Many Thanks to All,
John Fitzgerald.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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