Coast To Coast in Ireland: The Road to Muckross Abbey

Breakfast is a worrisome time. It had been a restless night nursing my banged-up knee. Every bend, no matter how slight, was accompanied with a sharp sting at the joint. Constant tossing and repositioning myself in bed, trying to find that magic spot where the pain would go away, only seemed to magnify it. I am now entertaining unwelcome thoughts of delaying our walk for a day. A visit to the doctor seems like a wise course of action.

But an irrational need to keep going ultimately trumps reason. As I push away from the breakfast table, fuelled for the day by eggs, bacon and coffee, I am determined to walk, to see how it will go. After all, this day is guaranteed as easy as pie. Just 20 kilometres, all downhill and all on paved country roads.

Gail knows nothing of this, of course. Sure, she is aware I am hurting. It’s hard to hide a distinct limp as I drag my stiff, injured leg down the stairs for breakfast. But my thoughts of visiting a doctor are unshared thoughts. Being the voice of reason, she would have insisted we stop and have my knee looked at. I need to keep my male option to be unreasonable open.

Our amiable host drives us back to Shrone so we can continue our journey westward. It all looks so encouraging as we hoist our packs. Clear blue skies, a few fluffy clouds and a warm sun make for a promising start. But the first few steps are less auspicious. Bending the knee, even slightly, is painful. Going down hill, as gentle as it is, just makes things worse. I resort to swinging my leg out with each step, trying to keep it straight and stiff. It is ungainly and slow.

It doesn’t take more than a kilometre to realize I need to work through the pain and bend that knee if there is any hope of continuing the walk. And, after another kilometre or so of walking in a normal fashion, the pain subsides substantially. I am back to my normal walking gait, with only a tinge of ache. My gamble has paid off!

Today’s route is not a part of any trail system. Rather it is an ad-hoc connector of small country roads linking the end of the Blackwater Way at Shrone to our next trail, the Kerry Way.

Some walkers object to road walking. Not rugged enough, I suppose. Gail and I actually enjoy it, especially after a hard day of trekking through bogs. We can walk at a quick pace. We can concentrate more on the scenery than our foothold. And there are those quirky outposts of civilization that pop up on even the smallest roadway.

Like the tidy farmhouse with a small replica of the house mounted on a pole in the front yard. Or a conversation with a donkey. Or the discovery, on a narrow road with little traffic, of a substantial monument to “…the armed attack on British forces by the Flying Column of Kerry No. 2 Brigade I.R.A. at Headford Junction on 21 March 1921 where two gallant soldiers died in the cause of Irish freedom.”

Or the passing tractor.

We are eating our pack lunches, comfortably perched on the side of a quiet country road and offer the usual “Hi” gesture of an open hand as he passes. In Ireland, this is an unabating exchange of polite greetings between walker and passing drivers. But this driver pulls over a few metres on and shuts down his tractor. All is quiet for a few minutes and we are wondering what trouble we might be in. Are we on private property?

Eventually he slides down from his perch and saunters over. He’s a jovial guy, slightly paunchy and dressed for work in torn, field-worn clothes and high rubber boots. And he’s a free-flowing conversationalist, as are all Irish folk. As we eat our sandwiches, he kicks off a wide ranging conversation about our travels, our equipment, our lunch, where we are going, where we came from. He finally decides it’s time to move on. The tractor chugs off down the road and around the bend, disappearing from view but leaving two Canadians with a uniquely Irish encounter.

The journey continues with any thoughts of an aching knee fading under the warm sun. And it gets better as we approach our destination, Muckross Abbey.

Farmland gradually gives way to verdant woods as we enter Killarney National Park. We weave our way along manicured trails until the stone walls of the ruined Franciscan enclave appear. It’s a substantial set of ruins despite a history of siege, destruction and rebuilding that started in 1448 and ended in 1652 with the Cromwellian purge. Stone tracery of slender Gothic windows survive in the roofless remains. The twisted neck of an ancient yew tree still dominates an intact cloister.

A bus takes us into the bustling tourist town of Killarney, our place of rest for the evening. And an opportunity to buy a new set of walking sticks to replace those that met their demise just a day ago. It is also a good place to have my knee looked at. But it feels fine. A few twinges when it slightly twists, but nothing substantial.

So we head off for dinner. Killarney is very near the west coast of Ireland and the fish is fresh and plentiful. We can taste the end of our walk, just four days away, on that same west coast.





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