Completing the Circle – Into Dublin

I am doing this final post on Ireland after having been home in Calgary for a few days.

Oct 7, to Belfast

My favourable wind and good weather came to an end.  It was not a long ride from the cosy B&B in Whitehead but it was made more challenging by the wind and rain.  My B&B host, Dave had me watching for a bike trail that meant half the ride into the centre of Belfast was traffic free. 

I arrived a bit before noon and found a restaurant/pub with a foyer where I parked my bike so we were both out of the rain.  A good long stay and I was almost able to get dry enough to warm up.  As my Cell connection is a bit flaky in N Ireland finding the B&B apartment amongst the row housing was a bit complicated, but it worked out and I was able to get in early and into some dry clothes.

The rain never let u so I didn’t have much motivation to go very far afield to visit things in Belfast.  George’s Market was close and so that is where I spent my free time.  Mostly food and kitsch kiosks but the rain had brought people in so things were active and good people watching.

I had an early rib dinner and then into bed.

Oct 8, to Newcastle

More wind and rain greeted me on a fairly minor road out of Belfast.  The hills added to the challenge and so when I joined the busy road at Ballynahinch my soup and warming stop felt pretty good.  The second half of the day, on flatter busier roads was quite a bit easier, although the weather didn’t improve.

Newcastle is a beach town with white sand on the curving bay fronting much of the main road.  The main attractions for me were the Mourne Mountains rising above the town.  My hotel was quite cheap but my room looked over the bay.  I was struck by the deep sea colours. My first beer in town was in a lovely many roomed traditional hotel with warm wood décor and fireplaces that had real fires.  In nicer weather it would be a nice spot to stay.

Oct 9,10 The Mournes

I had picked out The Mourne Lodge, a hostel/B&B in a small town called Atticall, in which to spend two nights in hopes of some walking.  My route was picked from a biking in Ireland book.  It chose some very small back roads on which I had to push my bike three times, more than on the whole rest of the trip combined.  Luckily it was also my shortest day as I had a stop on the way. 

A short side road leads into “The Silent Valley” encircled by a ring of mountains called the Mourne  Wall.  I locked my bike up and walked for an hour mostly on some of the many forest trails in the park.  I did get up to the reservoir in the centre of the park, from where I could look around the ring of mountains that make up the wall.  I probably had time to get up one of them that afternoon, but my bike would have been unattended for too long and the wind was too strong for me.

A few kms later I got to the lodge/hostel where I had booked a room.  Meread, the woman who runs the place had kindly left a note in the entry welcoming me and telling me which room was mine so happily I was into my room early.  I used the kitchen to make lunch, food bought from a store close by.  There was no pub in the tiny town.  I had pre-arranged for breakfast and dinner for my two days.  This was a very nice place to spend a little extra time. Meread cooked my meals and ate with me.  I was her only food customer during this time, the other guests mostly cooked for themselves or drove down the road to the nearest town that was too far to go for me. 

During my first afternoon I walked one of the rock fence bordered roads up to one of the little passes where I took pictures across fields, the village and farms to the Mournes in the north.  I could easily be happy just walking these kinds of roads.  After about an hour a car came along and stopped.  The guy inside just wanted to talk.  I could understand much of what he said but I thought he was telling me Jack Kennedy had been up to the same point as I had gone to.  Kennedy’s Irish connection was in Wexford and I think he went there on his visit, but who knows.

The next day, a full day, I went the other direction, up into the Mournes proper.  I spent five hours walking about 15 km initially along more roads where I snapped a shot of a nice little wagtail on a stone fence.

I headed up onto a small mountain until the wind drove me down.  I then snuck across a series of farmers’ fields all enclosed by rock walls.  I rock hopped across two small streams and climbed over about five big steel gates.  The rock walls didn’t look very inviting to climb on. They are just loosely built and would probably topple if you climbed on them.  “Canadian Trespasser buried in rocks in the Mournes.” I was successful in making a loop walk out of the day in an area that wasn’t too inviting for such walking.  If I had wanted to get on my bike again I could have ridden back into the Silent Valley for more defined and accepted walking.  A great day away from the road.

Oct 11, to Dundalk

My riding days are shorter now as I booked accommodation to get me to Dublin by Oct 13.  And it is OK because the wind is now a strong headwind usually filled with rain.  Leaving Atticall I had a fairly short 12 km downhill run to a ferry crossing.  I was heading to Carlingford, recommended by Sarah, an Irish yoga friend.  I got into Carlingford and saw enough to wish I had planned on staying.

But, the rain hit and I was off to Dundalk in time for a late lunch and then I fiddled around town until my neighbourhood B&B let me in. 

Oct 12, to Newgrange

The forecast for this day was for a bad storm with 50 gusting to 80kph winds.  I had 60 km to do.  The wind was up near the 50 kph as I left Dundalk, but I don’t think I got any of the gusts and no rain to start.  It was very slow going, but the road on this day was quite flat so that helped a bit.  Coffee and break conversation at Dunleer centred on why on earth people would be out on a bike on a day like this when they didn’t have to.  It was a bit hard to answer that one.  In the coffee shop it felt like I was in the eye of a tornado, knowing that I would get hit again when heading back out.

And then it got worse. The full brunt of the storm, now with rain, hit after my break.  I had to get into Drogheda and then a further 6 km to a hotel I had booked near the Newgrange Neolithic (late stone age) site. I stood dripping in the hotel bar for about 15 minutes until they got my room ready.  And then I came back for soup and beer hoping at least the rain would let up so that I could go visit Newgrange.  When I arrived it seemed futile.

But after a wait of about two hours the rain was less and so I rode another 3 km to the visitor centre and it began to clear a bit.  I purchased tickets for the centre and the tour to Newgrange, the most significant of the three Neolithic sites accessible from the Centre.  Newgrange has a large “passage tomb” that is unique among late stone age sites.   The tomb is a large circular earth and rock mound with a 35m entry passage to three tomb enclosures.  Each year on Dec 21 at about 9:00 am the sun shines in through a “light passage” to the back of the tomb.   If you want to come to Newgrange and see this happen there is room for about 50 people over the couple of days around Dec 21 to enter the tomb and wait for the sun to find its way down the passage to hit them. The trouble is about 20,000 people apply. The window above the entry is where the dec 21 sun finds its way down the passage.

There are two other major sites close by with more of the Megalithic structures like I had seen at my two earlier visits here in Ireland.  The people living 5000 years ago had a much more sophisticated life than I realized.  They were more than the roving hunter-gatherers I had assumed.  These sites and hundreds of others around Europe were occupied often for 100s of years and they show a society that was fairly advanced.

Oct 13, to Dublin

Steady wind and rain greeted me on my final day riding into Dublin.  I had a mid-ride coffee break where I waited more than an hour hoping it would let up.  It finally began to lessen as I entered Dublin.  I lucked into a fairly good approach to the city.  There was a nice wide shoulder to the road and as it became city a bike/bus lane was to be had most of the way.  I stopped for a beer in the city and gave Google the address for my warm-showers host Eoin’s (Pronounced Owen) parents house where I had a visit, some scrambled eggs and picked up keys for Eoin’s converted garage/apartment where I would be spending my final three nights.

Oct 14-16 Dublin

I would have two full sunny warm days to visit Dublin.  I cycled about 40 km around the city.  Eoin lives near the town centre so it was easy to get around.  As the weather was pretty nice I didn’t visit a lot of museums.  The one I did dealt with pre-historic to medieval times.  Of most interest to me was the section that dealt with the “Bog-People” of which there is almost nothing known.  They also had a significant section on the Vikings.

I spent some time on the Trinity University campus but could not get into its famous Library.  But mostly I just enjoyed riding around.  Dublin is a nice bike city.  Painted bike lanes proliferate and there are lots of scenic areas. 

I ran into James Joyce holding forth in the middle of town and Frank Kavanagh sitting on a bench, I believe composing a new poem.  Fall showed itself along the canals.

My second day I spent the morning at the Guinness Brewery.  It is a seven or eight story museum and demonstration of all thing related to the history and process of building “a pint of Guinness”.  I thought it is very well done and I believe it is one of the top attractions in Ireland.

I came to enjoy Guinness while here and it was nice to see that one of the innovators in the production of Guinness was a mathematician.  It is not only judges who “like to drink beer”. Our not very free beer was served on the top floor with 360 degree views of the city and the distant Wicklow Mountains.

That night Eoin’s parents Frank and Irene (spelt very differently in Irish) took us out for a final dinner and the next day Frank kindly drove me and my big bike bag to the airport.  I have only had two “warm showers” experiences.  Last year in Frankfurt and Eoin in Dublin.  Both were exceptional experiences.

This has been a great trip.  The cycling was challenging and rewarding. I found the Irish drivers with whom I shared the road to be exceptionally patient.  Never did I feel threatened.  I think it might be my first trip in some time that nothing went wrong with my body.  The beer and food were excellent.  I stayed mostly in hostels, then B&Bs and I think 4 hotels.  My tent never saw the light of day.  It was definitely colder, windier, and wetter than I had expected.  I didn’t keep accurate count of the kms I notched; I think between 2000 and 2500.  Looking at my map I see that I stayed much closer to the sea than I had initially thought.  I had at one time hoped to get well into the centre as well. 

 

All for now…Talk to you on my next adventure, wherever that might be.

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Ireland, Over the Top

Sept 28, to Westport

Cold and pretty clear as I climbed the hill heading out of Clifden, near the outer-end of Connemara. The hostel hostess had made a full breakfast for me, much beyond the normal continental style offered in most hostels.  Like the road into Connemara from Galway yesterday there were quite a few lakes and even more hills, as I would spend the day riding north through and eventually out of Connemara.  With the clear skies I was able to take a few pictures.  The hills are quite barren of trees, much the same as I have seen whenever close to the sea on the west side of Ireland.  But they still have their beauty and beckon the walker in me.  But I am headed north, still under the notion that I have to keep going while the weather permits. 

The road dropped from the hills down to a long fjord where I stopped in Leenane for soup and bread.  I had an option here to take a quieter road through the mountains, but as it would more than double my remaining riding for the day I gave it a miss.  The road I chose rose steadily from the fjord to a high flat area again; and it wasn’t very busy anyways.  As I was approaching the end of the day I noticed a high bald peak with a predominant trail leading up to its summit.  In town I would confirm that this is Croagh Patrick.  In less windy times or when I was more moved to take a day off rather than moving on I would be stopping to do this pilgrimage to celebrate Ireland’s Patron Saint.

I naturally arrived in Westport a couple of hours before the hostel would open.  But it is a nice town with a good information centre and a quiet scenic river at the bottom of the main streets.  This hostel, 35E up from the normal 20E or so I have been paying is in a lovely old historic mill.  The girl at the reception desk was French and helped me into a nice room with a bottom bunk.  There were three other young French girls supposedly helping.  Two lounged around the common room busy with their cells not connecting with people at all.  In the morning I stood outside for about ten minutes before one of them sullenly came out of an adjoining room, opened the common room and the room where my bike had been stored and then resumed her cell phone work. 

I had some nice bread and jam and hit the road.  The first real negative experience on this trip. 

Sept 29, to Ballina

My route to Ballina was not very direct.  It started on a 12 km section of the Westport Greenway.  I had so much enjoyment on my Waterford Greenway experience I decided to redo part of that at any rate.  Much of this Greenway was away from the road as at Waterford but here the trail was mostly fine black cinder, which still ran well on my moderately skinny tires.   Unfortunately it wasn’t much of a ride for me.  I think the full Greenway is about 40 km, but only 12 were in the direction I wanted.

The rest of the day’s ride was on very quiet R and L roads.  At times I was so isolated, sometimes heading in quite the wrong direction that I wondered if the road was correct.  But as usual just before noon about 12 km short of my destination I popped out into Crossmolina where I was able to find a supermarket with a sit down deli where I could have my mid-day soup and a break.

It was Saturday and the streets of Ballina were packed as I came into town.  I had had no luck finding a reasonable place online, the information office was closed until 2:00, and a hotel told me only one hotel had any room left and the quote I got from them was 149E.  I decided there was no use waiting for the Information people to tell me the same thing.  I went back online and booked an 80E B&B.  When I have been riding all day and then stop I start to get cold.  The sun never seems to be out but the wind is always at work and even the little sweat that I generate chills when I stop.  So I want to get out of my wet stuff into a hot shower as soon as possible.

As it turned out, the place I booked was 4km out of town, which means that if I was unable to get in I would have to ride back into town to find a pub to sit in.  Often hostels and B&B don’t let you in until 3:00 or 4:00.  As it turned out, just as I pulled into the B&B yard at about 2:00 Breege (Bridy), as it turned out my hostess was called, pulled up in her car and was more than happy to let me into my room.  She only took cash and so she drove me back into town to find an ATM and then later she took me about 4km in the other direction for a wonderful roast lamb in a pub and picked me up again when I was through.  To top it all off, as if this was not enough, she washed all of my clothes and then reduced the price to 70E for everything.  Every now and then it is great to use a B&B, especially one as nice as the Breege’s place.

Sept 30, to Sligo

A full Irish breakfast with all the coffee I can drink.  Another benefit of using B&Bs.  Joining me for breakfast were four members of a ten person group from PEI on a ten day adventure tour of the north.  Their guide was a young extreme adventure racer who lived in Ballina and who one of the group had met on a business trip.  They were travelling by bus to locations where they would bike, hike or kayak.  The four I saw would be in their fifties and for them it had been a very rewarding trip.  They had one day left.

The cold west wind was in full force as I hit the road and I was going east appreciating the reward from so many days of fighting against it.  After too short a time I turned north so it did not help as much.  When I stopped for my soup I had already gone 50 km and it was still only 11:00. Often I just need to get out of the cold for a while. 

A little later as I neared Sligo I turned west off of my route into the wind for a while. I was heading to Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery.  A lovely farmyard type setting for a number of Dolmen, burial mounds and stone circles. They date from about 3000 BC.  It is hard to make much sense of them or to imagine why people at that time put so much effort into creating these structures.  They exist all over N. Europe and seem to have a high degree of consistency.   For me it was a nice hour walk through the fields.

In Sligo I had my most basic hostel yet.  It was a rough place but the owner who I had contacted by phone was nice enough to let me in early.  This was the final Ryder Cup day, so I found the downtown section and spent a couple of hours in a pub watching the shellacking Europe laid on the US.

The only time in Sligo until I was in bed that I was warm was when I was in the pub.  If I lived in Ireland I guess I might become addicted to sitting in the pubs; they are always warm.  It is interesting that when I have a very good evening experience like in Ballina I have a poor one the next night and it works the other way as well.

Oct 1, to Donegal Town

Leaving Sligo Hostel without breakfast it took 20 km before I found supermarket in hopes of something hot to eat and especially to drink.  This one did not have a sit-down section so I had a fruit drink and coffee sitting outside.  This was not helping to warm me much.  In Ballyshannon a further 25km along I had a small Irish breakfast and sat for an hour.

I am not describing the country much as I roll along these days because there is a sameness to the rolling hills, the often busy roads and the grey cold days.  I love the physical act of riding, even when fighting the winds but the only birds I see are Crows and sometimes seagulls.  I enjoy the little towns where I stop to eat or drink, but mostly I just sail through them. 

As usual I pulled into Donegal, my destination town far too early (1:00) to expect the hostel to be open.  The central square (diamond they are often called) was very busy with tour bus visitors and I did a slow walk around before settling on a coffee shop for a rest and read.  In my e-guide to Ireland they mentioned a river walk that took part of an hour, but I couldn’t get into the foreboding castle.  The hostel is 1.5 km out and again I was lucky; at about 2:45 the hostess was there and she let me into my room.  This in contrast to the Sligo hostel was a lovely place.

Oct 2&3, Derry

I had a full Irish breakfast that I was unable to finish in a service station on the way out of town.  My first 30 km to Ballyboffey (love the names) were on a wide busy highway that had a generous shoulder most of the way.   It had rained all night but the day began to clear as I was riding.  The morning took me over a fairly high pass on the nice road but then as I came down at high speeds the roadwork began and all that early work did not return a fast down-hill.

The rest of the day after Ballyboffey were spent on quiet roads.  At 11:00 I stopped at Raphoe for lunch and was given a tip on a nice side road.  But when I tried to find it I must have missed my turn and it added a few extra kms.  Still it was lovely riding.

I came into Derry (Londonderry) along the River Foyle, which becomes a tidal estuary as it enters the city.  It is quite wide and the first thing of note as I approached the centre of the city was a new meandering foot bridge called the Peace Bridge.  I had pushed quite hard on this day not real certain how far I had to go and I noted that it was only 1:15.  So again I had coffee and a treat for a while and then phoned the hostel and the young guy running it gracefully agreed to let me in early.

By this time I had already decided that I would take an extra day here.  There are quite a few things that I was interested in and it had been eight days since my last break.   I would get to quite a few things on my first afternoon and then I cleaned up on my interest list the next day.

There is still a non-violent resistance to the British in parts of Northern Ireland and some of that resides in Derry.  To begin with there is an on-going issue about the name.  London was added to the Derry some two hundred years ago by the British occupiers.  In road signage the London part will often be scratched out.  I was most interested in a district called Bogside.  At one time this was where the poor Catholics lived and it became the centre of the resistance.  There are about twenty paintings on buildings reflecting the struggles.  They were initially done during “the Troubles” as they were called.  The British army would remove them and they would reappear.  Today they represent a history of that period.  A critical period was about 1971 when people were killed in the streets and some of the murals represent those events.  One painful one is the painting of a 14 year old girl who was out with friends collecting things for a school project when she was shot.  The painting has a butterfly symbolizing the need for peace and at her feet were a few small stones which she had collected for her project.

The inner city is surrounded by a 17th century wall that is still intact.  The nicest parts of the city are within the walls.  I walked the walls twice.

Oct 4, to Portrush

Leaving the big city I was on another big busy road with periodic shoulder for a couple of hours.  After my morning coffee break I moved onto a likely looking minor road B201.  It turned out to be famous with local cyclists I found out a few days later.  I never did have to push my bike up any of the many big long hills but I was very close on more than one occasion.  This road was probably about 5km shorter than an alternative but it probably took me an extra hour because of the climbing.  Still it was great.  The views were not that impressive but the riding was.

Portrush is a seaport town famous for its Golf Course, for its surfing and as the beginning of the Giant’s Causeway road.  I didn’t get to see much there because as I pulled in it began to rain, so I sat in a coffee shop until 3:00 when the hostel began to take registrations.

This hostel has been named the best hostel in N.Ireland on more than one occasion.  Everything about it was well thought out, and so it was a nice stay.

Oct 5, to Ballycastle

I was off as usual about 8:30 on a cold and brilliantly sunny morning.  On this day I would ride 40 km and get to my next stop at 4:00.  Obviously a very different kind of day.

I was barely out of Portrush when I stopped first to have a look at the Royal Portrush Golf Course.  I had read that summer fees are 190L (pounds), dropping to 100 in Oct and 60 in Nov.  It is the site of the 2019 British Open.  A links style course running along the white sand beach. I couldn’t see much, but it looked immaculate.  There were already golfers out, dressed in their winter garb.

Next I stopped at Dunluce Castle.  It was not open but I just wanted to see the setting anyways.  It sits on the edge of a cliff.  Apparently it was last in use in 1639 when seven servants who were preparing the evening meal and the kitchen they were in plunged down to the sea.  I’m not sure when the gentry noticed that the meal wasn’t coming, but as there weren’t take-outs in those days they had to move to town.

I went through Bushmills the site of the oldest licensed distillery in the world, dating back to 1608.  There are tours but it was a little early in the day for me.

So, on to the Giant’s Causeway.  I spent about two hours walking along the trails to the different areas where the polygonal basalt columns are found.  I had been to two similar locations with these kinds of formations: On the John Muir Trail in California and at Svartifoss in Iceland.   There are many places around the world where they occur.  They are formed when water pours into molten lava with certain characteristics.  But the story here is different.  They were formed here by a Giant, Finn McCool who was making a pathway to Scotland to take on another Giant over there.  When he saw how big the Scot Giant was he beat a hasty retreat and destroyed most of the Causeway.  I may not have the whole story but it seems plausible..

Heading back onto the road I was caught by a local cyclist and we rode together for about half an hour.  He was the one who told me about the nature of B201 that I stumbled on.  He, interestingly, was able to identify my as Canadian more or less immediately and passed on more local knowledge.

I had a steak and kidney pie early in the afternoon at Ballintoy and then stopped occasionally to take pictures of the sea coast and then again at an overview of Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.  For 7.5L you can walk across this bridge to prove how brave you are.  I had already paid 10L for parking and entry to Giants Causeway when I didn’t have a car and where the walk doesn’t actually cost anything, thus proving I am not very bright.  I also decided that riding a bike on busy highways is enough of a bravery test for me, I didn’t need another.

All told, while this has been my shortest riding day of this trip it has also been one of the best.  In part the weather was superb but the scenery along the Antrim coast is spectacular.  As I said there was no need to sit around and wait for the hostel to open today.  Oh, and today I did have to push my bike up one hill, the first time since the first day. 

At Ballycastle I had fish and chips made right on the wharf ostensibly caught that day.  On the way back to my hostel I was struck by the Geese heading into the sky.

Oct 6, to Whitehead

Off on another cold but sunny morning.  I was taking highway A2, the Coastal Highway.  It began with some long climbs and drops into the headlands.  It was lovely country and great riding.  After a final drop to the sea and a morning coffee the road stuck to the sea the rest of the day. Normally sea coast riding is a lot of up and down but for about 60 km the highway was literally a few meters above tide line.  And the wind was with me except when in the many bays where the wind bounced back by the cliffs made me work a little harder.  But most of the time I was sailing along on a nice smooth road over 30 kph.  Heaven must be like this. 

These last two days along then Antrim Coast have certainly been the nicest for me on this trip so far.  Today I rode more than twice as far as yesterday and took two hours less time to do it.  Both days were lovely.  The one because of all the neat places to visit the other because of the exhilaration of flying down the scenic coastline.

My B&B hosts in Whitehead were great, good visiting and great facility.  Whitehead is a funny town with the train station cutting through town with most track crossings being pedestrian.  There are also some great painted houses here.

Tomorrow I will head into Belfast for one night and then on to my last leg to Dublin.  Since my last post I have had almost no rain and most of the wind was tailwind.  I wonder if someone was listening to all of the complaining I was doing for the first two weeks.

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Northwards up the Irish West Coast

Sept 20, to Kenmare

Heading out onto the Beara Peninsula it was raining again.  It cannot possibly go two days without rain.  It was now heavier than I have had it before.  And then as I was coming down a hill about an hour out that squishy rear wheel feeling.  I walked down a bit farther to a coffee/art house.  I needed some cover to fix my tire.  Pushing my bike around behind the building I found a partially covered wood-shed and moving some garbage bins I got in out of the rain.  Another pin-prick hole with no apparent perpetrator.  I put my remaining good tube in and tried to fix the punctured tube.  The patch would not stay in the damp air.

At my road junction I had a hot coffee and bought rubber cleaning gloves to cover my riding gloves.  The ride up to Healy Pass was quite enjoyable.  The grade was a very steady 5-6%, rising above the trees into alpine type environment.  At the junction I had left almost all traffic behind. I was only passed by two or three cars so it was all quite peaceful.  There were many switch-backs to get me to the pass.  I snapped a shot or two at the top and then began the long plunge back down to sea level

Near the bottom I stopped again for photos and was passed by about six antique cars, all but one driving with no top in this silly weather for such activity.  Don’t they know that it is too cold and miserable to be out in the open on days like this.

There was another significant climb yet to do before I sailed into Kenmare and found room in the local hostel.  I bought an extra spare tube, almost lost my helmet.  I had ridden away from the visitor centre with it sitting loosely on my panniers.  It fell off soon after taking off and I finally found it a few hours lately where some kind soul had I assume picked it up from street and placed it on a bench.  I also bought some light walking shoes as my waterproof shoes were soaked from the all-day rain and would take some drying out.  I obviously had not expected things quite this bad when planning for the trip.

Dinner that night was in a pub where two young people were playing Trad; that is traditional Irish music.  She on a violin and he on a flute or a little hand accordion.  Great stuff.

Sept 21, to Cahersiveen

No rain but a cold west wind as I was heading out to ride the Ring of Kerry.  It would take me two days, and the headwind would be from the West as I was going out and then it turned to be from the East as I was coming back  the next day.  The only difference was the second day brought rain.  Such is Ireland I guess.  My first day was quite long and tough, but I seemed to be riding well and so it felt good.  As usual I stopped mid-morning for coffee and a snack by a nice river-side restaurant.

The end of the Kerry Peninsula is where Daniel O’Connell was from.  In the early 1800s he began to bring the Irish Catholics into the political arena.   I think many think of him as the father of Ireland, even though it still took over a hundred years for them to gain control.

After I turned the corner at the end of the peninsula coffee and hot rhubarb crisp at Waterville.  In Cahersiveen I got into the hostel not long after an old Englishman, living in Dublin, arrived.  I had spent the night with him in Kenmare and he had taken the bus. He was going to spend four nights at this hostel and would take a rented bike into places where there are still native plants growing.  He paints them in situ and is as stressed by the rain as I am because it is too humid for his paints to work.

Sept 22, to Killarney

I was going to skip Killarney turning at the bottom of the bay onto the Dingle Peninsula but with the rain and the forecast for two more days I backtracked a bit to Killarney. I was tired of riding the wind and rain with my head down, rain hood up not seeing much of anything.  Dingle would have to wait for another time.

Sept 23, in Killarney

Another rest day, after only three days of riding.  But as I was not particularly in need of a mental rest it felt a bit of a waste.  I saw what I wanted of the town in about two hours.  I did cycle into the national park and walked up to Torc Falls  and had a look out over the Killarney Lakes but I would rather be riding.  I did buy some nice merino wool long undies which I now do not know how I did without.

Sept 24, to Kilrush

I now felt the need to head north in a big way.  It seemed that I had been stuck down in the SW corner far too long.  I picked a route heading straight north and went hard.  It was to be a mostly sunny very cold day, compounded by the wind which was naturally out of the north.  I stopped only once mid-morning for coffee and to get warm.  I had a ferry crossing the bay the river Shannon flows into which I made just as it was pulling out.  As a result I had my afternoon soup in Kilrush after finishing riding for the day.

At the hostel I visited with an old Frenchman doing a slow drive around Ireland.  He was in the hostel with me in Killarney. Once you see someone for a second time you are old friends and you can sit for a good visit.  He provided the wine and cheese; I provided the Irish Whisky.  We shared our fare with a young girl from New Zealand who is on a seven day cycle from Galway to Dingle.  I hope she makes it but she is very slow and can’t ride the busier roads which are not really that busy and are much shorter than the route she favours.

Sept 25, to Lisdoonvarna

Grey and blustery day, but no-where near as cold because the wind is finally from the south.  After two weeks I finally have a wind-assisted day.  I did not have very far to ride as I planned on hitting the Cliffs of Moher, one of the must-visit places for me.  It is also one of the most visited sites in Ireland and so I would walk along the cliffs getting my pictures carefully excluding the thousands of others doing the same thing.  In a way the grey windy day fit in well with the foreboding black cliffs dropping into the rough North Atlantic.

The downside of this day for me was another flat tire just before I reached the cliffs and another just after as I somehow buggered fixing the first one.  I am now worried about my tire situation and wonder if I have some fault in my rear wheel as I can find no reason for all the flats I am having.  I went past little Doolin hoping for a bike shop in larger Lisdoonvarna.  Neither place has 1000 residents.  I checked into a big hostel and was told that Doolin has the bike shop.

I was approached by a strange woman in the hostel about coming to the Trad in one of the local pubs.  I told her I would likely see her there, but when I went for dinner I must have chosen the wrong pub, she and her friends were not there.  The next day I was told to stay away from Lisdoon, as locals call it, at this time because a yearly “match-making” event is on which brings out the crazies.

Sept 26, to Galway

I headed out in thick fog onto some very small roads leading into an area called the Burren.  It is a windswept limestone region with very few people.  Drawing me into the Burren in addition to the tiny roads is the “Poulnabrone Dolmen”.  It is one of the countless pre-historic sites in this part of Ireland.  This particular structure, dating from about 3000BC, seemed to act as a burial site for a small number of people.  I was drawn to this site by the object itself and by the remote location.  It was here that I was warned to stay away from match making.

From the Dolmen I had a big drop down across this strange limestone environment to the coast where I had one final flat on my way into Galway. I now realized that the culprit is a spoke that pokes through, likely when I hit a bump at just the right, or should I say wrong time.  I noticed that the hole was in the same place on each of a number of my tube patches.

Around the corner from my hostel in Galway I found a bike shop who did some fine work on my bike, including giving me a whole new set of replacement tubes, adding an extra rim tape to the wheel, a little derailleur tuning.  We will see how it all works out.

Sept 27, to Clifden

I’m heading to Connemara.  It took about 45 minutes to clear Galway.  The sun was out and my old friend the headwind was back.  Heading west into Connemara it is not unusual to expect a west wind I guess.  After my coffee stop, about an hour and a bit it, some mist began to form, but not enough to motivate me to put my rain stuff on.  As the day went on there was never any real rain, but the mist was thick enough to cause drips from my helmet and I gradually became soaked.  Lesson learned.

Part way into the day I watched for and found “the quiet man bridge”.  The Quiet Man, with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara was filmed in the Connemara and it has become one of the attractions for tourists.  The bridge is just off of the road I was taking into the Connemara.  I had considered taking a road that goes through the town of Cong, the site of much more of the movie, but I just settled for the bridge.  I thought it was pretty nice.

Nearing Clifden I did stop for a few more pictures.  I went past many lovely settings on this day, but the damp mist was too uncomfortable for me to be stopping much.

In this segment I have been staying almost exclusively in hostels but have continued eating mostly in pubs.  I have been happy with both.  The riding has been tough with wind and rain almost constant.  My bike troubles have been problematic but still I am enjoying it.  Hopefully a main problem has been fixed.  I am riding a mix of busy main roads and quiet secondary roads.  I need to get on the main roads when I want to put some distance behind me, but the drivers have been very good and I do not feel overly stressed when on busy roads.  All is good.

 

Posted in cycling, Ireland | 7 Comments

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.

8

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.

 

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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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