Work off seasonal over-indulgence with a blissful Christmas walk

Sat, Dec 19, 2009, 00:00

TRUE TIREDNESS is now the rarest experience. Of course, we all say we’re exhausted, but what we really mean is we’ve “had it” with being a wage slave, tidying up after the kids, or with customer service hotlines that “value our calls”, just enough to leave us holding endlessly.

But there is another more wholesome fatigue our forefathers knew all too well but we seldom experience. It’s the genuine tiredness that comes from physical activity – like that special laid-back lethargy that descends blissfully after completing an invigorating winter walk. And wilderness walking is truly one of our most rewarding activities for this time of year, not just because it offers wholesome exercise, crisp air and access to beguiling landscapes but also because it requires us to forego hibernating indoors and get out instead to celebrate the best our coldest months can offer.

Then there is the other attraction of winter walking – the fact that mostly we do it in company. There is a camaraderie and cheer about it that is particularly close and convivial – a shared bond that lasts. Over the yuletide holidays, our most popular upland areas take on the aspect of vibrant human anthills and a special comradeship develops. New friendships come easily on wintry mountainsides and you don’t need chat-up lines or clever one-liners for the shared outdoor challenge quickly diminishes social barriers.

It all comes with the upland – the striving, the tiredness, the camaraderie, the cheer. But these are really only codicils to its true value – that of forsaking the world of choice and comfort and entering a simpler place without logjams. The now rare experience of travelling on foot reduces us to our true insignificance and allows an appreciation of the landscape in its true proportions. In the uplands we reconnect with nature and these wide open spaces bid us surrender our strivings, our images of perfection and see things in perspective. They remind us that we are playthings of elemental forces and while we may learn to cope with the natural world we never conquer it and it is fruitless to even try.

And the final bonus is guilt-free enjoyment of simpler pleasures. With daylight drowning in the west, most of us will head for a hostelry and into a unique atmosphere. Tired, thirsty and high on the spirit of the hills, it’s hardly surprising that these elements coalesce to form an irrepressible sense of well-being and good humour. We may wrestle briefly with our conscience about the wisdom of indulgence, but invariably we win. And so its sugar-drenched hot whiskies, heaped sambos, warm buttered scones, scalding coffee and good company – for truly satisfying food now comes without remorse as the carbohydrate cost has already been paid in calories and sweat.

So get your legs working again this Christmas season on one of the “oven-ready” festive walks listed below. Your circulation will pump satisfyingly on these memorable outings that lie resolutely beyond the reach of wealth.

Ramble with reindeer (Dec 20)

ARC Cancer Support Centre would appreciate even “weenchie” donations while guaranteeing you a fantastic time on tomorrow’s annual Santa’s Reindeer Walk. It takes place on Djouce Mountain, Co Wicklow, and, weather permitting, there will be a stop for carol singing and a special “Ceremony of the Light” in memory of friends and family. Afterwards, there is mulled wine and mince pies, with experienced hillwalkers then having the option of continuing to the mountain summit. Meet at Crone car park (near Powerscourt Waterfall) at 10am sharp. Contact Grainne at 087-2055566 if you intend participating.

Become a pilgrim (Dec 26)

The Tóchar Phádraig was originally an ancient chariot road and later a penitential path to Croagh Patrick. On St Stephen’s Day you can recreate this pilgrim journey on a four-hour organised walk that follows 17km of this prehistoric route between Aughagower and Ballintubber Abbey, Co Mayo. This is a low-level walk traversing fields, minor roads and pathways that are redolent with antiquities and historic echoes. The meeting point is Ballintubber Abbey at 11am and participants will then be transported to the start point. Further information from Ballintubber Abbey office, tel: 094-9030934

LARCC with the Devil (Dec 27)

A demon is once reputed to have taken an angry bite from the summit of Tipperary’s Devil’s Bit Mountain, thereby reducing its height considerably. But it’s an ill wind . . . Thanks to the Devil’s work, you can now reach this unpretentious summit with modest effort while helping the LARCC organisation provide support services for cancer victims. Your compensation is a charming view, good company and the added bonus of complimentary hot toddies afterwards in convivial pub atmosphere. This popular annual walk leaves from outside the Templemore Arms Hotel at 10.30am with a shorter ramble departing at noon. Further information from Clare at 0504-32333 or 086-8734665.

High for Chernobyl (Dec 27, 28)

Chernobyl Children’s Aid annual fundraising event takes place this year in Wicklow’s picturesque Glendalough with walks for all levels of ability. You can choose a strenuous 14km outing departing at 11am, a less demanding walk taking in the Wicklow Way that leaves at 11.30am, or a 4km boardwalk to the lakes that is buggy-and wheelchair-friendly, and sets out at 1:30pm. Walks start and finish at the Glendalough Hotel and your reward for helping children in need is mulled wine, mince pies, hot chocolate and live music by the fireside. Contact Jean at 086-0601418 or e-mail jstaceyotoole@yahoo.ie

O’er lakes and fells (Dec 28)

Killarney folk have been given a splendid geographic hand and they play it well. They are now providing an opportunity to experience the best of the Kerry outback on a four-and-a-half hour walk to the summit of Torc Mountain, which isn’t terribly high by local standards, but still offers some of the county’s most sublime views. Meeting point is Torc Waterfall at 10am. The cost is €10 and the walk must be booked at least 24 hours in advance with Walk Killarney, tel: 1850-566466, killarney.ie/walkkillarney – but keep checking the website for weather updates.

See off the Noughties (Dec 30)

Make it your last ramble of the Noughties by joining Hilltop Treks for a four-hour moderate Christmas walk with a festive theme, including mulled wine and mince pies to help you on your way. Along the route you will encounter dry stone walls, Ireland’s highest waterfall, the summit of Maulin mountain and splendid views. The start point is Crone Wood car park (near Enniskerry, Co Wicklow) at 11am. Participation costs €20 for adults, children €10. A family ticket is €50. Further information: James, 087-7849599; info@hilltoptreks.ie.