Now that the spring is easing into summer, the days are getting longer and many of us are thinking of finding those boots in the attic and heading out into the countryside to fill our lungs with fresh air.
But where to go and what to do? Perhaps it’s more to do with frame of mind than actual location; getting the most out of where you are and what you encounter.
We’d like to share the following piece with you, written by George O’Keefe, a lover of nature, a photographer, and a writer of well-crafted observations. He really portrays so well the beautiful, peaceful joy of being in the countryside, and can express his love of the outdoors and in particular Crow Hill, in such a personal way.
The location he visits is Crow Hill, on sheet 74 of OSi’s Discovery Series, seen here in the mid-left of the map, near Farbreaga Mountain in the Knockmealdowns. It’s not so very far from his home in Fermoy, County Cork. The ITM grid coordinates are: 597119E, 609032W. But really there are hundreds of similar havens of peace around Ireland – get a Discovery Series map and find one of your own!
Here’s the same location, as seen on OSi’s new GeoHive web service www.geohive.ie, where you can overlay different data sources to get alternate perspectives of the place that you’re interested in. This service is free of charge, well worth having a look at, and can be accessed via your PC, laptop or smartphone.
But no matter how you view the map, there’s just no substitute for actually being there; as good as we are, OSi can’t map the wind in your hair.
So get off the couch!
By George O’Keefe
Nestled into the South back of the Knockmealdown mountains, high on the Araglin hills, this bit of countryside has become a good friend to me this summer and now I think I know why. I keep returning to this place. It seems to have found a way into my heart. On first glance there seems to be nothing here, yet I find it beautiful and refreshing in its emptiness.
Emptiness! I don’t think so. It may appear that way at first but once you get familiar with it, it’s anything but empty. There is purity and a richness here which I must try to explain.
I pull in off the mountain road and park at the old rickety gate were I’m often greeted by the stare of a very cross looking sparrow hawk. Perched on one post, this beautiful but very efficient predator monitors her hunting ground contemplating her next meal. She is not happy to see me and is off before I get a chance to admire her. I immediately start to feel the excitement of the walk ahead, as I love the sense of wild remoteness of this place. Out of my car, booted up, I climb the rickety gate and I’m on my way.
Already I’m beginning to feel free of the everyday things my urban life dictates and I’m very excited about what the next one, two or three hours have in store me. What will I see? Which direction will I take? Who cares? I have a strong, yet welcome sense of vulnerability here. Here I am no more important than the passing raven or the fleeting hare. Here I am the boss of nothing, I have no say, no yield right of way, no ownership and I’m cool with that. My safety depends on my sure footedness, weather conditions and my dreadful sense of direction. I’m on my own and I feel free, very free.
Once off the main track and only using the narrow channels through the corridors of heather I am guided only by the view of Crow Hill. There is a mixture of soft turf channels, hard rocky pathways and carpets of deep-pile magenta heather and I get to choose which I want to walk on. The hill is patterned by this vascular system of little vein-like tracks left behind by rain runoff, grazing mountain sheep and the odd wanderer like myself.
Slowly I’m being elevated out of my man-made patterned landscape below, up into a random wilderness, beautiful and refreshing in its barrenness. Nature has shaped this landscape and there is an amazing sense of freedom in its isolation. It feels so pure, so clean and so honest. I am now fully connected with it and I feel so lucky to have the ability to come here and to have an appreciation for it. I feel fantastic and I don’t want it to end anytime soon.
As I walk I become entranced by the views, the light, the air and the smells. The clouds overhead move gently along in the breeze and their great shadows race passed me effortlessly crossing the mountains and valleys, morphing into different shapes and caressing the land as they pass, embracing it like an old friend.
My mind is a whirl from trying to take it all in and my legs are working away on autopilot, pounding away to a rhythm of their own, making ground at their own pace and loving every step. Suddenly my trance is disturbed by a fleeting skylark as it leaps from the heather. For a moment my heartbeat matches his fluttering wings and I’m suddenly shocked into consciousness. I smile and consider his life here on this isolated mountainside and why he chose to live here and I think to myself, well chosen my dear friend!
It’s not long, at least it appears that way, before I’m on the summit of the hill and I’m greeted by the stunning views. To the North are the majestic Galtee Mountains, standing guard over Cork and Tipp and to the East are the smoother, greener Knockmealdowns, a walker’s paradise and Christian settlement. Below me to the South is the wild and beautiful Araglin landscape and to the West is the green tapestry of the agriculturally rich Golden Vale, a beautifully patterned bountiful landscape. While I am here to escape my routine rituals, one can’t help but be impressed by the genius of generations of people who have shaped the landscape below me. Hundreds of square miles of forestry and farmland, roads, houses, villages and towns. A testament to generations of human endeavour and ingenuity.
I sit for a while and enjoy. I start to consider and appreciate all I have, my family, my friends, my health and my ability to come to these places. But now it’s time for my return journey and I must decide my route back. More often than not I will head northeast and join the forestry below me where I am regularly treated to the very distinctive sounds of the Cuckoo. I will almost definitely startle a few pheasants and the odd red grouse and, if I’m really lucky, I’ll catch sight of a grazing deer or two.
You will find Crow Hill on Discovery Series sheet 74 and we’ve added links to adjoining maps also.
All too soon, I’m back at the rickety gate. No hawk this time for she has moved to a new hunting ground. Just a few weather haggard, hardy mountain sheep which were grazing peacefully, until startled by my unwelcome return. This is where my car awaits to bring me back to my urban, organised life. Back to the rules. But at least now I am recharged, revitalised and equipped to take on whatever the day has in store for me.
So, if you feel a little trapped, if you feel the need to taste a little freedom or the urge to sample a bit of the Araglin wilderness, take control and come talk to me, come walk with me and let the mountain set you free.