Walking guides a runner for presents


MAGAN'S WORLD: MANCHÁN MAGAN'stales of a travel addict

I’VE STRUCK upon an ingenious idea – so dastardly simple and yet potent. I want everyone to give everyone else an Irish walking guide as a present this Christmas. You and I and everyone we know will give everyone else – children, grannies, bosses, spouses and postmen – a walking guide to a particular Irish county, region, mountain range, river system or stretch of coastline.

We won’t be thanked for it. Walking guides bring with them the threat of exertion, and worse, the suggestion that the donor reckons you need physical exercise. The books may well languish on a shelf, or moulder in a car boot for a while but, eventually, someone with a guide to the Mourne Mountains or the midland canal towpaths will find themselves in these places with a few hours to spare and they’ll dig out the guide and suddenly the magic will begin.

The moment a person decides to leave the known tarmac world behind and head out on a trail a fundamental shift occurs. We reconnect with our surroundings – the rocks, rivers, sea and soil from which we are made. For hundreds of thousands of years we’ve slaked our thirsts in the rivers and lakes of this land, heated our bones with the dried sods of its bogs and reared our young on milk, cheese and meat produced from the grass of its earth.

It is hard to overestimate the depth of our connection to it. The mere fact of tramping through the land realigns us with all that.

It always amazes me how quickly the endorphins kick in on a walk, sparking a sense of expansion in the mind and soul. The rational brain must loathe this. It’s why it always seeks to scupper any potential walk – questioning whether the ground isn’t too wet, time is tight, the trail is inadequately marked, or the likelihood of rain. It fears abandoning the security of one’s car and of roads and shops and houses, but also wishes to dissuade us from reconnecting with something bigger than itself, finding freedom beyond the tyranny of its tangled thoughts.

FOR A LONG time, walking guides were such a minority interest in Ireland that they consisted mostly of crudely-stapled home-typed pamphlets sold beneath the counter in dusty newsagents.

Now Collins Press has a glorious range of small and glossy-paged guides, ideal for bringing out on a trail. Its walking guide to Connemara and Mayo by Paul Phelan has had me tracking back and forth across the country to try out more of its walks this autumn, and Northern Ireland - A Walking Guideby Helen Fairbairn includes everything from short woodland strolls to coastal hikes and challenging rugged mountain climbs.

In the same series there is also The Burren the Aran Islands - A Walking Guideby Tony Kirby, which ranges from two-hour strolls to eight-hour forced marches.

O’Brien Press has shown an equally laudable interest in walking, most notably with its series of guides by the visionary environmental biologist Kevin Corcoran. His West Cork Walks, West of Ireland Walksand Kerry Walksall combine beautiful prose, genuinely captivating insights, and thoroughly reliable facts about the terrain and route of each walk.

It should be mentioned that this supplement has also championed walking trials since its inception. John G O’Dwyer’s articles in these pages have frequently sent me hurtling across the country to try out a new trail. And it’s only fair to include a rival newspaper’s walking writer, Christopher Sommerville, whose book Walking in Ireland - 50 walks through the heart and soul of Ireland(Ebury, 2011) offers pretty much what the title promises.

I’m off to get my teenage niece a hiking guide to Macgillycuddy’s Reeks and her young brother the book of the Wicklow Way. They are sure to “heart” them, big time.