Heading to SW Ireland

Sept 11,12 to Dublin

Late leaving Calgary I was re-directed from Toronto to London and then Dublin, arriving at about 3:00 pm, four hours late.  A taxi dropped me off at my warm showers host at a little after 4:00.   Eoin (pronounced Owen) is a 39 year old student who luckily had spent time as a bike mechanic.  My derailleur extender was broken in transport. Eoin spent a couple hour fabricating a fix.  It was about 8:00 by the time we pronounced the bike as good as can be and off we went for pizza.

Sept 13, to Laragh

I cycled into central Dublin to test the bike and to pick up a small Ireland road atlas. The bike was fine for now, but to cover me Eoin found an extender on Amazon and had it delivered to a bike shop near Cork.  About noon I said my goodbyes and followed Eoin’s directions to get out of town heading south into the Wicklow hills.  It was mostly painted bike trails in Dublin but once clear of the city onto the R roads I was sharing the two lane road with fairly heavy traffic.  The riding was fine as the traffic is fairly slow.  About half way out I moved onto a quieter road suggested by Eoin.  It was more hard work as the quiet roads may be even steeper than the R roads.  I pushed up one hill.

I had a bowl of soup and bread at Roundwood and then on into Laragh.  I had no reservation and was considering tucking into the woods in my tent but the wind was up and the rain coming in.  I checked into the local hotel and talked them down to 75 Euro.

From Laragh it is 3 km up to the old monastery at Glendalough.  I had a nice 5 km walk around the ruins and cemetery and then on up to the lough (lake) itself.  There is a nice round tower here, an integral part of the monk’s defence from Viking attack.  Glendalough was attacked four times; I don’t know how effective their defence was.  I took some nice pictures of a Grey Heron in the river flowing out of the lough.


The weather, my hotel meals, dinner and breakfast, and stay have convinced me that I won’t be tenting much until things improve.

Sept 14, to Gorey

That sentiment was reinforced in the morning when I suited up in my rain gear and stepped into a steady drizzle.  The ride south was wonderful.  Deep forest and serpentine roads with very few cars.  I was worrying a bit about hills but my bike seemed to handle them fine.  Through Rathdrum and on towards Aughrim.  My target was Kilkenny.  I had picked a route through to the SW coast in part based upon the regions where I could create a route out of small roads.

As I was whizzing down one of the continuous hills I passed what I will call a gypsy wagon. Four little people sitting abreast on the bench of a covered wagon pulled by a single horse.  I was going too fast to stop for a picture but my wave was returned by all four.

And then my bike gave up.  As I was shifting gears they screeched loudly, my rear wheel seized and I abruptly came to rest.  The makeshift extender had bent turning the derailleur into the wheel.  Nothing on the wheel seemed to be damaged but the derailleur was toast, and nothing I could do would work.  After fussing a bit I started to walk.  I was hoping for a bus but as I had yet to see one knew this was unlikely.  A road sign indicated that I was still 10 km from Aughrim.  I began sitting on the bike and pushing with one foot, and I lucked onto a few down hills.  I guess it took an hour and a half to get into town, but there was no bike shop.

A small town bike shop wouldn’t be much help getting a fix, but I thought they might help get me riding, so now I found a sheltered spot and began trying to do it myself.  The idea was to take out some chain links in effect making a one speed bike.  I had just broken the chain, removed the links to get to the length I wanted and was struggling to put it together when the couple whose driveway I was using came out to see what was up.

I guess I didn’t look very adept as they suggested that they could drive me into a bike shop.  No arm twisting was necessary and so we went into their house, had some tea and began phoning bike shops.  The fourth one we called figured they would be able to help.  So off we went.

Fifteen minutes later the bike guy had dug around in his stuff and found everything we would need, including the bike extender.  I walked down to the closest hotel, negotiated a 110 E stay on this busy Friday night and two hours later and another 300E poorer I had a newly tuned bike.  Big money, but no effective time lost.  Gorey was off of my initial route and so now I created a new one.

Sept 15, to Duncannon

Having dug pretty deeply into my funds with expensive hotels and my bike repair I thought I had better make some advance bookings.  My new route would head towards the Viking cities of Wexford and Waterford.  I made a reservation at Duncannon and would ride fairly busy R roads to get there.

After a big breakfast that is a part of all accommodation here and an hour and a half on the busy R road I had a nice coffee break and a warm up.  An then an hour later a 2 km detour got me to the Wexford Wildfowl reserve.  The mud flats along the coast where the reserve is are interestingly called slops.  Notable for geese I saw Greylags and Barnacles.  I also saw a lovely little European Robin, which keeps popping up on this ride.

I rode through the middle of Wexford, stopping only to get a record keeping picture, and then on to Wellingtonbridge for soup and bread that is becoming my lunch break meal of choice.  Duncannon is across the bay from Waterford and my B&B was 45E.

Sept 16, to Dungarvan

I’m still not getting away very early as the weather is so poor.  I had a 5 km ride to a ferry and then another 15 km into the centre of Waterford.  Both legs had a good climb.  Waterford sits up the bay where the Barrow River empties into the sea.  No doubt a well-protected harbour for the Vikings who ended up creating Ireland’s first town here.  There is a group of museums in a cluster called The Viking triangle, but I was headed to the Waterford Greenway.  It was Sunday and the sun had finally revealed itself.

The Waterford Greenway is a destination rails-to-trails conversion.  It is 47 km long, there are bike rental outlets at the two ends, Waterford and Dungarvan and at places along the way.  Not only was the sun shining but the wind was down and of course the normal rolling hills had been flattened for the railway.  Now in place of the big dips there were tunnels and bridges, most made a hundred years ago.  I went slowly, savouring the car free riding and mostly continuous company of cyclists and walkers.  As it was Sunday there were many families.  I had my coffee stop at a railway station for the 5 or 6 km segment of tiny railway that runs for the benefits of families.  I had a breakfast bagel and soup at a stop with at least 100 cyclists.  Along the way I got more pictures of a European Robin, the Knockmealdown Mountains near Dervla Murphy’s home and some shore birds near Dungarvan.  My pub dinner on this night was shared with dozens of other cyclists.  A Truly lovely day.

Sept 17, to Cobh

My B&B in Dungarvan was on the outskirts of Dungarvan and that set my route for the day.  The challenge of finding quiet roads is significant.  Because of my location I chose to head west on N72, The N roads are a step above the R roads, but as it turned out it was less busy than the R roads of a couple of days ago.  The wind and rain were back but, rain-geared up, on I went.  I stopped for coffee at Lismore, the home of Dervla Murphy.  Spectacular Lismore Castle, still a private residence, rises above the Blackwater River.  It was nice enough for me to pull out my camera in the rain.

As I turned south onto some R roads the wind picked up but the traffic almost disappeared for more than an hour.  I got back into traffic as I neared Cobh (pronounced Cove).  Cobh looks onto the sea across a passage or two from Cork, Ireland’s second city.  Cobh is famous as the last port the Titanic touched before heading off to disaster.

Sept 18, to Glengariff

More rain and heavier wind.  I had a 5 km ride to a ferry and then along a bay to Carrigaline where I picked up my spare derailleur extender from the bike shop we had it sent to.  I now continued on heading west.  I got as far as Bandon and then rather than spending the night I caught a bus to Glengarriff.  The forecast if for 50 to 85 km winds for the next few days.  I didn’t want to get stuck in Bandon if the forecast holds.  I have booked myself in to a Glengarriff B&B for two nights and will go walking for a day before heading out onto the Beara Peninsula, the first of the Peninsulas  on the west coast that I want to ride.

Until today except for my bike failure day I was riding 65-90 km a day, sleeping in nice places with great breakfasts, having mostly pub dinners.  Over half of my time I have spent on quiet hilly roads.  I have not taken many pictures because of the wind and rain, but I would say I am really enjoying the ride and the Irish atmosphere.

Sept 19 in Glengarriff

The wind was ferocious over night, but it wasn’t that bad during the day and it never did rain.  The breakfast is served late in my B&B so I wasn’t out walking until about 10.  I made my way to a vantage point where I could look out over the bay but vantage points also don’t have much protection from the wind.  The walk I chose was through something called Glengarriff Woods, perfect for a windy day.  I walked on a series of forest trails for about four hours.  It was quite lovely.

Another rainy windy day is forecast for tomorrow, so my bike trip out onto the Beara Peninsula looks challenging, but on I will go. The next week or so will be heading north through Kerry experiencing these peninsulas and possibly some of the towns along the way.  The weather will kind of dictate what I will do.


Posted in cycling, Ireland | 2 Comments

I’m heading to Ireland

“For the Love of Ireland”, by Susan Cahill, is a compendium of Irish literature that I stumbled upon in preparation for my next soft adventure.  Not only did it give me an easy broad access to the genre but each story segment was followed by brief author biographies and a description of the part of the country where the author was from or the story touched on.  Perfect for my superficial needs.

Visiting the Ireland I have encountered through literature and film is one of the goals of this trip. I have and have had many works by Irish authors and was able to refresh my leaky memory by digging into my own Library.  Probably my favourite Irish author is Dervla Murphy, not a fiction writer, but a wonderful travel writer whose adventures have taken her by bike, donkey, on foot to many parts of the world.  I believe she is still alive (she would be about 87) and I think I know where she lives… but alas… I am who I am, but you never know.

I have also found some succinct easy to digest histories of Ireland.  I anguished at the domination and mistreatment by the English over the last thousand years; I suffered through plague, potato famine and migrations that continually drained the country of its people; I became frustrated with the eternal catholic-protestant hatreds wondering whether they persist because of Irish obstinacy or are the cause of it.

Netflix and Youtube gave me access to some of the old movies about Ireland that stimulated an interest in the wonderful Irish characters portrayed and in the lush green country depicted.

Once I have made a final commitment (usually a plane ticket purchase) to visit a place my reading intensifies and my interest in all things about the place grows.  I would lose much of the value I gain from my travel adventures if I just threw a dart at my map of the world and headed off without the research.  The downside of this trip is that when I bought my plane tickets a few months ago I underestimated how much my interests would grow with my research.

I only booked five weeks, from Sept 11 to Oct 16, thinking that would be adequate to cycle loosely around the outside of the island.  Now it looks like to touch on many of the places of interest it will be about 3500 km leaving little time to stop for a day or two along the way or to do a few longer walks.  I will not worry too much about which things I will have to cut out until I am on the way, but some things will obviously have to be sacrificed.  I do hope to do a few posts along the way so, until then ….

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Shikoku Ohenro – Final

May 1st and 2nd Closing the loop

It is 40+ km from Temple 88 to Temple1. I would take 2 days. I left my minshuku below Temple 88 early and soon the Ohenro signs led me on to a final forest path where I lost much of the 600 meters that I would need to lose today. When this final trail finished it was onto quiet country roads. I had a lot of contemplation to get through on this day. I was now finally feeling very healthy and I had a chance to ruminate on the previous 46 days.

I only slightly regret that I had to ride about 125 km of the walk. I probably made up that difference in poor navigation, wandering around looking for accommodation or food and heading off in search of some other attraction. But then so do the other henro who are doing the walk. There is so much that I would do differently were I to get a chance to start over. But that is all hind-sight now. The easy feeling that I had during the last two weeks, even with knee troubles, are what I would attempt to replicate for the whole trip. That is a very idealistic notion but I believe those who do this trip a number of times would get to that point. Obsessing over all the logistics of the day to day challenge of this walk greatly reduces the value of the walk, and experience would reduce the need for.. But all in all the walk was very valuable to me. I certainly feel pretty good about the walking I was able to do and the experiences I had were priceless. This is a trip that will stay with me for a long time to come.

I got down into the valley about noon and found a Family Mart where I had a break. I still had another hour past Temple 10 and 9 to get to my business Hotel. The next day, reversing my first day’s walk back to Temple 1 was a bit emotional as I recognized different spots and recalled the trouble I had following the route that seems so easy now. I have now completed the circuit. I got another stamp in my book and soaked up the ambience for about an hour before getting the train into Tokushima and my hotel.

I had to kill one more day in Tokushima and so I walked up and saw the Awa Odori. The most popular street dancing festival in Japan occurs in October in tokushima it is called the Awa Odori. It dates back some hundreds of years and has evolved with the passage of time. But it’s very attractive and a lot of fun. The dance is so popular that throughout the year they have daily presentations in an auditorium. This was a real family affair and as part of the show kids , old people and even 76 year old Canadians are invited up to try the dance

I spent the night at a Henro House near Temple 1. The next morning the man in charge arranged for a middle-aged woman to go back to Temple 1 with me to go through the temple visit process. It was a bit late for me but it was nice to get a little explanation. After that the man drove me to a big famous Shinto shrine and we went through the process for Shinto temples. And then he drove me to the bus stop where I caught the bus to Osaka.

May 4-6 Osaka

I was just killing time in Osaka. Is it is so out of sync with my Shikoku walk that it took me sometime to adjust. The first morning I walked about 2 hours before many people hit the streets to get to Osaka Castle. Other than that my time in Osaka was spent waiting for my appetite to allow for another meal. There must have been a thousand places to eat within a few minutes of where I stayed. The challenge on Ohenro was often where to find something to eat. My challenge here was which one to pick. I found Osaka far too big to even try to see.

May 7-9 Koyasan
A two hour train ride, the final 15 minutes of which is a cog-train, gets you to Koyasan at close to 900 m. It was cold, windy and raining when I arrived and stayed that way. This is a temple town created by Kobo Daishi 1200 years ago as the centre for Japanese Shingon Buddhism. The mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, who the adherents claim is blessed with everlasting life is here. The mausoleum complex is called Okuno-in. It includes a two km long cemetery dating back those 1200 years, said to contain 200,000 funereal artifacts. It is set in a cedar forest with trees over 200 years old, which are the youngsters in this ancient place. Henro, to begin or to end their pilgrimage come to Koyasan and in particular to Okuno-in to offer their walk to Kobo Daishi. It is the final part of my orei-mairi, the wrapping-up so to speak.

There are about 40 temples at which you can stay, Shukubo, at Koyasan, and they are all heavily booked and a good fifty percent more expensive than any other places I have stayed here. You attend service in the morning and eat vegetarian. I would think only a small number of people here were henro. It reminded me more of a less commercialized Banff than any other place.

Of the other places I visited here Kongobu-ji was next most important. It is the head temple for Shingon Buddhism. Of note here is the largest stone garden in Japan. I have been thinking of these gardens as Zen gardens, but I guess they are not exclusively so.

I was quite moved when I got the final nokyos in my nokyocho from Kongobuji and Okunoin. The monk at Okunoin who did the caligraphy leafed through my book, looked at me and then congratulated me in both Japanese and English

To completely finish the experience I took trains to Wakayama, a port city below Koyasan and then the next day, May 10, a ferry back to Shikoku. The ferries were more basic and trains would not be invented for 1000 years but Kobo Daishi and 1000s of pilgrims since have navigated their way around this pilgrimage and then across to Koyasan. Each would have had their own experiences and gained value in unique ways. While not one of the devout I can now understand a small part of why pilgrimage is pursued.

Just to wrap up a bit. I was less prepared for this trip than for most of my trips in the last few years. I did not figure out how I would be spending each night until I was into the trip. As a result I carried too much in the way of sleeping equipment and cold weather clothing. I probably should have brought a smaller camera. Using a tablet to send these posts was adequate but less satisfying for me then the laptop that I normally carry. Even with a separate keyboard I did not enjoy the writing as well. The other problem with this system is that I I didn’t set up photo editing and so I’m less happy with the pictures that I have attached to the posts.

Those issues aside, it was still wonderful. Perhaps I should do another one…

Posted in Japan, Pilgrimage | 1 Comment

Ohenro – Final Days

Since my last post my knee has improved as I found a way to walk it back to 80%.  I have been able to complete the walk to all of the 88 Shikoku Temples.  I still have more to do, get back to Temple 1 and then extend the pilgrimage to Koyasan, near Osaka. There will possibly be one more post on this trip

April 24th day 40
After a number of full walking days the rest of the trip will be shorter days. I am using more days than I need on Ohenro rather than having too many days after Ohenro. I will be going from 20 – 25 km days to 15 – 20 kilometer days. There are still a number mountainous days even some henro-korogashi sections remaining but I look forward to those days.

After the morning service at # 75, Zentsuji, and a late breakfast it was off to a rural side-street day. There were three temples 76, 77 and 78 to visit. Number 78 had particularly nice gardens. Along the way I had stopped for early morning coffee and then for a late morning hour and a half early lunch during which I made a Skype call to Julie in Calgary. This could be part of my approach for easier walking days, long breaks during the walk.

I arrived at my accommodation at 2:00. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I was quoted 1000 yen to stay. This is less than a quarter of what I normally pay for accommodation-only places. I was not given a room when I arrived but was invited in to a sitting area and was offered tea. It was now raining quite steadily so my plans to head out to find a restaurant were put on hold. Over the next couple of hours both Peter and young German Chris along with a Japanese boy arrived. We were still all sitting in the living room with the owner while his wife brought us tea and snacks. Along the way we each took our turn in the hot bath.

Somehow we found that there was another room with four sleeping mats. Peter and I wanted to go out to find something to eat. The woman said that the closest restaurant was too far walk in the rain so she would drive us. So off we went with the plan to walk back. We had a nice visit and dinner but it was still raining so, as she had asked, we called and she came to pick us up.

In the morning we had a full Japanese breakfast and she also packed a rice ball lunch. When it was time to leave we were asked for 1000 yen. This was at least a 5 to 6000 yen night. Peter and I tried to pay more but were refused. This is obviously a zenkonyado of sorts, where people offer free or low cost accomodation to henro.

April 25th day 41
My first short day was reasonably successful. I had a long mid-day break, I missed the afternoon rain and had a nice evening. This next day was not as enjoyable or rewarding. I visited Temples 79 and 80 but was unable to find a nice stop during the day, so I arrived at my minshuku before noon. My minshuku hostess didn’t turn up until 3:00, so I hung around temple 80 and sat in a couple of little restaurants longer than I wished.

But she made up for it when she did arrive. She immediately got my clothes off and washed them, the meals were great and when I was able to get her to understand my agenda she completed my bookings through to Temple 88. This latter task was assisted by the quiet man I had been connecting with since Temple 38. This would be the last i would see him now as I was moving onto the slow track.

April 26, Day 42
This next day involved two mountain temples, 81 and 82, a little henro-korogashi and lots of forest. I was enjoying my walk a little too much and missed the first turnoff. To shorten the story a bit, I got a ride with a car-henro, walked part of the trail twice including the climb to the highest point, missed another part and only walked about an extra km or two.

I connected with Peter at 81 just after he tripped on a chain across a road that he didn’t notice. He scraped his knees and nose and loosened a bridge. I guess I’m not the only one doing these things. There was a nice long trail down off the plateau leading onto the back streets below. I went through an area where they were making bonzai trees and watched an ancient man setting up to begin work.

The next day a couple of hours zig-zaging into Takamatsu got me to Temple 83 where I made another navigation blunder. I took the wrong major feeder road which meant the short 14 km morning became 17 km. Still I left my bag at my business hotel at noon and spent 3 ½ hours in Ritsurin Gardens, a great way to break up the day.

Peter, also spending the night at the same hotel, came in delighted that he got the two front teeth on his bridge glued back on for 1000 yen, about $10. We had a final dinner and beer together as he is taking a couple of days off here to go to one of the small islands. Like me he has extra time and is finding ways to kill days.

April 28th Day 44

Trying something a little different Peter and I had a late breakfast together and I left at 8:30. I walked for a couple of hours heading towards my next Temple but my first destination was Shikoku-mura Village. This is a Heritage Village with many old buildings gathered together on the side of the mountain that I would be climbing to get to Temple 84.

It was not too much out of the way but I spent two hours there and so by the time I made my way back to the henro trail it was afternoon. The trail was an easy broad but steep walkway. I began to realize the penalty for getting a late start. The muggy heat was tough to handle and I paid for it when faced with the rough henro-korogashi trail leading down from the mountain. After some super market oranges at the bottom I began the gradual uphill that would ultimately lead to the next Mountain Temple.

But I was looking for my minshuku for the night. This minshuku was not providing dinner but there was an udon restaurant close by that I hoped to find. It seemed to me that I was just getting into an industrial area that on this late Saturday afternoon wouldn’t have any restaurants open. In a concrete yard a guy was still working and I asked him if he knew where the restaurant was. He pointed a way through their yard on to the next street over. And there was one of the nicest restaurants I have seen so far. I had a high-end udon set meal with a liter and a half of beer, feeling quite happy with how smart I am. Or should I say it is better to be lucky than smart.

My minshuku was just a few minutes away. The elderly couple running the place where very nice and could speak pretty good English because they have a son who went to school in Edmonton. It was here that I encountered the smartest toilet I have seen. When I opened the door the seat raised itself and after I did my business I pushed the Eco button, it flushed and the toilet seat lowered itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if it also scrubbed down my splatters as well.

In the morning it only took half an hour to get the rest of the way up the mountain to Temple 85. I love the temples early in the morning. The air is so fresh, very few people around, the birds are singing and the light is special. The way off of this mountain, in contrast to yesterday’s rough trail, was a switch backing paved narrow road. An hour or so later about two and a half hours after I had left my minshuku my host pulled up beside me in a car. He smiled and held a small plastic bag out for me. In it we’re two osamefuda, the little name slips that I leave at each Temple. He must have been driving around for the last couple of hours trying to find me to return them. Much of the henro trail is on quiet little streets or even car free paths where he would not be able to find me. These two little sheets of paper are worth about $0.01 each and I have lots of them and that would have been apparent to him as well. Yet another example of the kindness and generosity of the Japanese people.

As the day went on I visited Temple 86 which was very rough and disheveled but had an elegant zen garden tucked away behind one of the buildings. Such a contrast. Around noon I went wandering again leaving the henro trail to find something to eat. The restaurant in my book was closed and so I ended up eating in a super market. This little deviation took an hour and a half. It is lucky I have lots of time. My day ended at a minshuku beside Temple 87.

April 30th Day 46
The long approach climb heading for the final nancho Temple took about two and a half hours. Along the way I stopped in at Maeyama Ohenro Koryu Salon. This is a fairly significant three or four room Museum of things related to Ohenro. I filled in some forms for their data base, looked at the displays and was given lots of ossetai. I also received a certificate celebrating my completion of ohenro and I guess I go into the record books. Once over two and a half hours of ever smaller roads the rough paths began. In my mind this section had some of the roughest henro-korogashi of the whole trip. There was some Hands-On-The-Rocks scrambling to get over a little summit at about 770 m and then a very rough trail that took me another hour to get down to the final Temple number 88, arriving at about noon.

I spent an hour just sitting at this final Temple trying to digest the last 46 days. My walking is not over yet, as I will add on a little orei-mairi. I don’t quite know all of the aspects of orei-mairi, but for me it means taking two days to walk back to temple 1 to more or less complete the circuit. And then a few days later I will travel to Koyasan near Osaka for a few days. Koyasan is a the burial place for Kobo Daishi, and probably the most important Buddhist site in Japan These concluding activities are to complete or to re-visit the experience. To others orei-mairi might mean repeating the trip, or doing it backwards. But let’s not talk of those. For now I am just dealing with having finished my Ohenro.

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Into the Final Dojo (Nirvana)

Leaving Matsuyama saddled with a bad knee resulted in a few days of transport assistance, but I was able to work through that and have found a cadence that removes the need .  The end is near.

April 16th day 32
At 7:30 I left the Matsuyama youth hostel with the idea of seeing how far I could walk on my bum knee. It began to hurt early so I got the train for about a 20-minute ride. This left me with a 4 kilometer walk to Temple 52, set into a small forest after a short climbt. I met Rob from New York, only my second American. He was beginning a 3 week mini-ohenro, having been here and done temples before. He had come by taxi and will do a combination of walking and public transport. I never saw him again.
It was another 3 kilometer walk to get to 53 , a small urban temple. I arrived at my hostel at about 1:00 to a sign on the door directing me to go visit the Onsen. This was not something I objected to so I spent two hours having a snack and soaking in a selection of pools looking out onto the Seto Inland Sea.

The hostel owner is an interesting guy running this place as an independent hostel. He is a dog lover, a pack rat and an experimental cook. I was joined by Chris a young German boy about to set out on a short Ohenro after 3 months working here on farms. Our cuisine was an artful mix of Western and Japanese. In the morning we were offered western or japanese and we chose western. The result included freshly baked honey bread that was a real treat.

April 17th day 33

I was much happier with this day. It was a bit overcast which made walking more pleasant. Temples 54, 55, 56 and 57 are 3 to 4 km apart spread about Imabari City. Parts of the walk took me through some enormous cemeteries. I was able to regulate my walking speed so that my knee did not act up too much. Part of the solution seems to involve stopping from time to time. At midday I actually stopped for lunch something I don’t often do. On this day I used Skype to call Lilly as midday here connects with Calgary in the early evening.

Temple 57 is on the outskirts of Imabari and from there it was a lovely hour walk up into the mountains to Temple 58 where I had booked a Shukubo; temple accomodation. I arrived at 2 so I had a nice recuperation from my 17 km walk. I felt a little bit better, now hoping that if I can walk this kind of distance each day, supplemented by some transport, I should be able to get my Ohenro done. My leg was quite tired but I’m pretty sure I’m not doing any damage.

There are a few differences when staying at a Shukubo. Possibly most notably is that the food is vegetarian. I think it is still very tasty but for me maybe not quite as fulfilling. At this Temple the bath was more like an Onsen with room for five or six people. Another difference is that big tour buses often book into the temples. On this day a bus arrived at about 6:30 with possibly 50 people and everything now centered around the needs of the tour. The final difference is that there is often a Buddhist service. The service on this vsit was in the morning before breakfast. I attended and enjoyed the chanting and much of what happened. But then the monk just started talking to the group. Naturally it was in Japanese and so I left after a bit. The downside of the stay was that I didn’t get away from the temple until about 7:30 an hour later than normal.

It took an hour and a half to drop down out of the forest to temple 59 the final Imabari temple. From there I walked another 45 minutes to get a train that moved me on up the road a ways. I was now going to try something a little different. I spent the rest of the day visiting temples 64, 63, 62 and 61, backwards in other words. Unique among the temples visited so far was Temple 61 which is a big modern temple. I don’t know much about why this one is so different.

I then checked into Ryokan Komatsu for two nights. The reason for skipping Temple 60 is that it is a full day up and back from Komatsu where I would be spending the night. Getting in in the afternoon I had time to do temples 61 to 64. I chose to do them in reverse order because 61 was closest to my ryokan. This was a very good place to spend two nights for a number of reasons but the food was a prime reason. Dinner each night was a hot pot with different ingredients the second night.

April 19th day 35 – Yokomineji, Temple 60
I left for temple 60 at 6:30 finding my way out of town onto to a little used trail. The trail was indicated in my Shikoku Guide but is not the main trail that people take to go up to Temple 60. So I was not getting little ohenro signs that I’ve come to depend upon so much. It was an hour into the walk before I was confident that I was on the trail. My trail started out as what seemed to be logging roads climbing up into the forest. I was happy when my trail merged with the normal foot path coming from 59 and the regular henro signs began to appear. This would be a lovely day; 18 km, rising to 750m, possibly 1000m up and down, 6 ½ hours.. I was carrying a light pack and even with my awkward gait made good speed. I had a long lunch break at Yokomineji. I found it very peaceful and I was happy my knee did as well as it did.

April 20th Day 36
I’m hoping this might be my last transport day. I took the train about 25 km and walked another 10 positioning myself for the mountain trails. At my minshuku were Stein from Denmark and Peter from Holland who I met at Komatsu

April 21st day 37
I was able to pick up the henro trail leaving town up to the base of the mountain. And then I lost it for a while and never was confident that I was on the trail until Temple 65 appeared. This Temple is about 300 meters above the sea and the town down below. Peter and Stein caught up to me here just as I was leaving on a quiet mountain road that never did lose much altitude. Again there were no henro signs. I started to head up a road that I knew was wrong so I turned around and finally did find a little henro sign and then a hut. As I was sitting in this hut with three young kids and their dog Peter and Stein arrived. For the rest of the day I was on course again.

There was a fairly significant drop down into another Valley and then as the afternoon heat began to get to me we had to climb to and through an 800 m tunnel that was one of the worst yet. But just on the other side Stein and I stopped in a roadside restaurant and had a wonderful bowl of udon. Peter who was trying to get to the next Temple carried on. The minshuku Stein and I were staying was only another half hour. I checked into minshuku Okada at 1:10. Within the hour I had my bath, washed my clothes and was sitting in my housecoat in the yard having a beer. Even though it was an early day it was still over 20 km and very tiring.
Also in the minshuku was a mountain guide with two female clients. He was guiding them around Ohenro in sections. Tomorrow we would take on the climb to 926m Temple 66, the highest point on the circuit and one of the nancho temples

April 22 Day 38
The trail continued down for about 15 minutes and then began the torturous uphill. This was the Henro-korogashi part. Nothing very dangerous but a real calf stretching hour and some. Stein passed me about half way up. It would be nice to be 68 again, or maybe I can blame it on my knee. We arrived at temple 66 at 8:15. Peter was still there. He had used the tsuyada or free accomodation that some temples have. There is usually no bedding or mats and only sometimes are baths available; in this case Peter didn’t get either.

On the way up to 66 I left Ehime, the Dojo of Enlightenment and entered Kagawa, the Dojo of Nirvana, the last leg of my journey. 

The part of this day I was anxious about was the two hours down, but the trail was not quite as steep and I was only a little slower then going up. One more nancho temple behind me. Onto the quiet rural roads I had another 8 km to Temple 67 followed by 9 more to my minshuku that was close to temples 68 and 69 that share a courtyard. This may have been the toughest of my final days.

April 23rd day 39
This was a 25 km per day but flat except for one small part. I would visit temples 70, 71, 72, 73, 74 and 75. Temple 71 rose about 200 m above the flat and it involved multiple sets of stairs going up and a lovely bamboo forest trail coming down. Other than that the day was spent mostly on quiet neighborhood streets. With all of the temples to visit there wasn’t much need to stop along the way. Pleasantly, I was stopped five times for ossetai which included an orange, two rice balls, candy, and two glasses of tea. I think this is the most ossetai I have had in a day to date. It was a lovely day but still tiring as it is has been hot the last few days.

Peter, Stein and I all had Shukubo at temple 75, Zentsuji, certainly the largest and most important of the 88 Shikoku temples. It was where Kukai was born and as a result the temple complex must number twenty or so buildings. At the morning service there were seven monks involved. Normally there has been just one.

From here Stein will take off as he leaves May 1. I will slow down to stretch out my time. I am beginning to develop a plan for my remaining days.

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Stalled in Matsuyama

After a number of days of feeling great and making good progress I buggered my knee.  I had planned on taking a day off in Matsuyama anyway.  Now I am hoping for body as well as mental recuperation.

April 9th Day 26 – To Uwajima
This was a non-temple day. I followed the highway for a while and then onto a trail that climbed over a pass to get by a 1.7 km tunnel. Trails like this are both a pleasure and a problem. They are slower and more taxing but I walk better on them, I think they are easier on my body parts and they are certainly more enjoyable. At least for me. I have met a few flatland Europeans lately that don’t agree

My accomodation was again too early and so as I entered Uwajima I decided to head up a moderate hill to Uwajima-jo (castle) and a nice view of the city and harbour . Built about 400 years ago the castle was never burned down and so is one of the few original castles in Japan. On my last visit I visited many castles and I was again surprised at how big they look from the outside but how small they are inside.

My accomodation was without meals again and so I stopped twice during my walk through Uwajima to eat and chew up some time. This was my least expensive accomodation yet but the lady was so nice. She brought lots of snacks and took my clothes to wash. It was a nice change from the full ryokan meal deal.

The next day I visited temples 41, 42 and 43. As usual when I don’t have a provided breakfast I am under way early, and so even with 7 km to start I was at the first temple at 7:30. The walk to the next Temple included a road with long rows of tulips. At Temple 42 I met at a Dutch woman , Angela, that I would bump into over the next days.
I really enjoyed the next significant trail that climbed over a high ridge dropping back down after a good four hours of trail walking which even included a tunnel.

I was pretty bagged as I laboured up the road to 43. So I was somewhat surprised when a voice from a car called out “Ken”. It was Jessica from Colorado who I had last seen two weeks ago. Her feet had almost finished her. She was now riding with a Japanese car henro. They were off to 44. It would take me two days to get there. I had a nice final trail walk over the ridge down into town where I was again treated to a “let me wash your clothes while you have your bath and then come for your 10 course dinner”. The nice side to life as a henro staying in booked accomodation.

April 11th Day 28

This was another long road walk that didn’t turn out very well. To break up the morning I had a coffee in a Family Mart, one of the day’s few treats . The highlight of the day was going to be another trail walk over a tunnel. But I got to the tunnel and there was no trail. Looking more closely at my map I realized I should have picked up the turnoff down the hill a ways. I wrestled with the idea of going back but there’s something in my DNA that does not allow that. The 1100 meter walk through the tunnel wasn’t actually that bad. The big mistake that I made was going a bit too fast down the 8 or 9 km steep busy road that just would not stop.

I struggled on through Ozu and onto Uchico with a knee tightening as I went. The only saving grace for the day was the minshuku. This one is run as a restaurant with the minshuku on a second story. The whole place was very nicely decorated and maintained. In the restaurant the owner had an impressive collection of manga books and a collection of model cars that had taken 20 years so far. I have been at times using Skype to book ahead each day but if I think there will be issues I get my host to help. He turned out to be a gem. After all options for the next day failed my host and I worked out a 40 km day that began with a 10 km bus ride. He also gave me a pack of stick on cold patches for my knee.

In the morning, after a western breakfast for a change, my host helped me get onto a school bus with instructions to the driver where to let me off. The part of the route that I bused over was the ugly busy road part. I began walking as the roads became quiet mountain roads. After about 4 hours the tiny road became a trail and finally topped off at 800m, the highest yet on this walk. Along the way I connected with Angela from a few days ago. My knee was bothering me but I was hoping it would resolve itself.

We dropped down into the next valley and up again to Temple 44, the halfway point of my walk, temple wise. Angela caught up again as I was leaving 44 for the final 4 km up through the forest over a smaller pass to a large purpose-bulit minshuku. Probably twenty five henro were here. Lots of machines for clothes, a toilet in every room. Quite a change. I had dinner with Angela and Irma from Switzerland. This was a very good day for me but the knee is a niggling issue. On the trails it is not bad but on pavement I struggle. There is not much doubt now about what is best for me.

I booked another 30 km day for tomorrow that I know I shouldn’t do. I will have to find a bus at some point.

April 13th day 30
Without a pack I was away at 6:30. Within 5 minutes I found the trail that left the road and rose onto a ridge. It was a lovely up and down walk for two and a half hours to Temple 45. Dropping down from the ridge I passed some minor temples before the main temples. It made for a very different approach. The temples are also different in that they are nestled up against a cliff face. The normal approach to this temple is a very long set of steps up from the valley. For aruki-henro, if you find the trail, you drop down from above. Neat.

I had an hour and a half walk along quiet roads back to my minshuku to pick up my pack. Now I had to work on my knee. I caught two buses on up the road toward Temple 46. The second bus dropped me and one other henro at a stop high above the valley. From here it was 4 km, 1 hour walk down the rest of the way into the Matsuyama valley and around to Temple 46. The fast guy that I met a few days ago pounding up the trail past me was wolfing down a quick lunch at 46. He said he had another 15 km to go and was going to up his days to 40 km.

I walked across the street and checked into my minshuku. It is even larger than last night. We are now on the outskirts Matsuyama, maybe that’s what’s happening as we come close to the big city. I only walked 15 of 30 km today. I hope it helps.

April 14th Day 31
This was a 15 km half-day. I am walking into the center of Matsuyama. Along the way I will visit temples 47 48 49 50 and 51. My knee is no better after my night’s rest but at least I can walk slowly and there are no significant hills.  I am trying to be careful. It is all City Street walking often on quiet roads but also on busy small roads with no sidewalk. As automobiles began to take over in these old cities the pedestrian world suffered. At least, unlike in Kochi, it is not hot and the temples are more or less strung out in a straight line.

Yesterday after leaving Temple 45 I walked some with a henro from Hokkaido. I loved his chuckle as we attempted to communicate. Today at each temple, there he was. He greeted me each time with his chuckle. He walks faster but spends longer at each temple. He will now get away on me and I will not have his smile and chuckle to look forward to.

Temple 51 is one of the key temples of the circuit. I visited this Temple in 2010 and I have been looking forward to a revisit. It is also about a 10-minute walk to the hostel where I am booked in for two nights in the hope that my knee will recover a bit. A further 10 minutes from the hostel is Dogo Onsen. This is Japan’s oldest onsen, some say dating back 2000 years. I hobbled down to see if my recollections from eight years ago were accurate. They were, over priced compared to others but still worth it because of it’s history.

Now I have a day off to see what happens.

After a day off my knee is certainly better, if not perfect. Tomorrow I’m off again. One day at a time. 


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Leaving Kochi Prefecture – Finally

The dojo of Ascetic Training (Kochi) was pretty hard for me. But the infection from my blisters finally cleard up, I took a few short bus rides to deal with my poor accomodation planning and yesterday I escaped from Kochi.  Today I passsed the 600 km point and so I guess I am getting thing figured.

April 3rd day 20
There was a thick mist as I left the lovely ryokan near Temple 37. Shortly after I was stopped by a classic older Japanese man who was talking to a young female henro. The man was collecting henro signatures which I gave him in exchange for pictures and some candy ossetai. I connected with the woman a few times over the next few days. She seemed to speak reasonable English but Sylvie later on told me that she really didn’t understand very much, but said hei (yes) a lot.

After less than an hour along the highway Ohenro signs led onto a switch-backing downhill forest trail off of the plateau bypassing a series of tunnels. Back to the highway again we soon came to an onsen called Saga that is popular with campers as they can stay in a nice henro hut in the parking lot and use the onsen. The route left the main highway now for a delightful secondary road where I was passed by one vehicle in an hour. I was going slowly, taking a few pictures when I was caught by Sylvie from Switzerland who I had first encountered in Kochi. We walked together for a while but she was on a tear and I needed a shoes-off-for-a -while break.

The hardest part of the day is from 1 to 3. It is hot, the traffic is bad, the feet are tired. My first 30+ km day in a while finished waiting from 3 to 4:15 for the minshuku owner to turn up. Still, using machines I got my walking clothes washed and dried before dinner. The owner and his wife, who did the cooking sitting behind a bar, must have been over 100. He forgot to bring the miso at night and to fill the rice cooker in the morning. Usually dinner includes 5 or 6 bites of sashimi, this dinner had 20. Strange place. A contrast to the elegant service of the previous night.

The next day between highway sessions in the morning and afternoon most of the day was spent going through a large park and then on a long secondary road. At around 2 I sat down for a bowl udon and while in the self indulgent mood decided to take a bus the final 5 km, which included a 1.6 km long tunnel. I have begun to hate the tunnels as the faint light and roaring motor noise seems to exaggerate my poor sense of balance.

Getting off the bus and heading into my minshuku I seemed to be entering a seedy bar but I was welcomed and the host immediately started the tub running. I had some strategizing to do here so I was hoping for a nice place. In the next two hours before dinner I had made some decisions while I hand-washed clothes and soaked in the tub.

At dinner Sylvie turned up fresh from the tub. She seemed very pleased to see me. She had been spooked by appearances when she arrived as well. When a nice woman began bringing food out she relaxed further. Apparently the rough male world she encountered upon entering the bar like atmosphere was pretty threatening.

We began sharing approaches for the next few days. From here it is 27 km to temple 38 at Cape Ashizuri and then the shortest way on is right back to where we are. I had decided to take the day to walk down to the temple and then take the bus back, leaving my pack here and spending a second night in this minshuku heading on north the next day. Temple 38 is the South end of our walk.

Sylvie plans to walk down to 38 and spend 2 nights there. She is burned out and the next day will be a heavy rain day according to forecasts. So we agreed that we would do the next day together.

We started walking at 630. I had my camera my nokyocho and an anorak. My hostess found a small pack that was perfect. She also gave us a nice lunchtime snack. I was by now very happy with my place for the two nights. Half of the walk was on highway the rest on trails or small roads. The sea was almost always there. It was fun walking and talking for a change. It took us six hours which included two short breaks. The forecasted showers only lasted about half an hour. After our respective temple processes we had a coffee together, Sylvie went to check-in at the temple and I caught the bus back to my minshuku. At dinner I met another new foreign henro, Stein from Denmark. We discussed how we would each deal with the heavy rains of tomorrow.

April 6th Day 23

It wasn’t raining at 615 so off I went heading north now. I walked for an hour and a half on a misty morning to the point at which the walking route left the bus route. It had begun to sputter, decision made, so a short bus ride followed by an even shorter train ride put me 6 km from temple 39, the last one in Kochi Prefecture, and my booked minshuku. It was now raining and would continue all day. I’m not sure if I would have been any wetter if I had walked all the way but it would have been 2 hours later getting into the hot tub.

After an easy afternoon dinner was with 3 middle aged henro, only one walking I think. I got in trouble with the hostess when I snuck out to the covered veranda for my wet rain gear which by now had shed most of the water. The trouble was I did not put on outdoor slippers I just went out in my bare feet. There are separate slippers for outdoors, indoors in the hallway and in the toilet. And you don’t wear any slippers in the bedroom. My trouble is that my feet are too wide to fit in any of them so I often don’t use any rather than shuffling around with just a few toes stuffed in.

April 7th Day 24
The rain had stopped over night but it was now quite cold. There was a short half hour forest walk to get down from Temple 39 to the highway. It took another hour and a half to walk along the highway and through a fairly large town. I was watching the henro signs very carefully because there was major deviation from the highway. A lovely forest trail went from sea level on a very steep path up to about 400 m. With this kind of steep trail I’m always more worried about coming down. In this case the downhill was very wide and gradual with not too many rocks and roots to trip me up. The trail soon became a paved path and ultimately led to the highway. Happily a Lawson’s convenience store was right there and I had a bit to eat. Normally I don’t eat during the day because I’m expecting a good dinner. But tonight’s accommodation at Temple 40 is without dinner.

It took another 3 hours on very quiet roads to connect back to the highway for the final 45 minutes into town and to Temple 40. I had put my anorak on near the top and if anything I was still too cold as I was finishing the day. I had walked into a cold headwind the whole day that sapped all my energy. It was only 2:30 when I arrived at the temple but it felt much later.

Sadly I now had to walk back out onto the deserted streets to find something to eat. No restaurants were open so I had to settle for Noodles in Styrofoam . Quite a come down from ryokan fare.

April 8th day 25

The wind whistling up the street at 6 was not very encouraging. I stopped at the first convenience store for coffee, a banana and a cup of yogurt. I had decided that I would take the coastal route rather than the mountain route on the section. In part the decision was based upon the cold wind on the mountain tops that I had got yesterday and the wind was just as strong and cold this morning.

After two and a half hours of walking the picturesque coast I came to an Onsen that I had noticed in my book. I had an hour to wait before it opened but I made the decision that my cold bones needed some attention. There was a nice park where I could watch birds, mostly ducks, cranes and a few cormorants. The Onsen was great. Three pools including a cold pool and a sauna. I spend an hour warming myself and another hour feeding myself at their very popular restaurant on this Sunday morning.

Back out on the road I walked another three hours and then took a bus for the final 5 km to my ryokan. I had decided when I chose to go to the Onsen that a bus would finish off the day for me. Yesterday I didn’t need a bus although it was hard enough that one might have been warranted. Today was easy enough that I could easily have got along without the bus. I’m not sure what my approach will be for the days ahead but I plan on enjoying the days and getting lots of walking.

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