My first true ramble of Summer 2020

I am lucky enough to live in the Northern Irish countryside and have been out enjoying nature as much as possible during Covid-19. It has been great for exercise but mostly for my mental health during these stressful and uncertain times.

I have been out a lot on short, local walks but have mostly been focusing on running so I haven’t been on many hikes, so I finally made time for a proper ramble last weekend. It rained all day, of course, what else would you expect during June in Ireland, but there was a break in weather in the late afternoon so I jumped at the opportunity to get outdoors. I headed to Kilbroney Forest Park with the aim of reaching the Trig Point on the summit of Slieve Martin. The weather was fair; mostly dry but windy. I felt the full force of the wind as soon as I reached the Trig Point, and it was one of those experiences of quite literally being knocked back on my feet and taking my breath away. The view was beautiful, no matter the weather and was well worth the sparse rain I had to walk through. The skies were dark and moody over the shores of Carlingford Lough, threatening lightning that never came.

I was overcome with a strong sense of calm, gratitude and curiosity, I knew that I wasn’t ready to head home so I spotted a small trail among the Bog-Cotton filled Heather and began to follow it. I started to spot beautiful wildflowers like Common Cow-Wheat and Heath Speedwell and most exciting of all was the Lichen. I spent a lot of time last Summer collecting Lichen in Canada and it has really sprouted a passion to explore the species we have here. The Cladonia Lichens are the most interesting and my favourite so it was great to spot some Cladonia chlorophaea, Cladonia coniocraea and Cladonia floerkeana on tree stumps along the path. I followed this path, not knowing where it would lead and it was beautiful but after a while, I realized that it was a mountain biking trail so I shouldn’t have been walking on it but couldn’t find away off without heading back the whole way. Luckily it was late in the evening and there were no bikers using the path so I had it all to myself. The dark clouds cleared up and the wind died down a little as I carefully continued on. I watched the birds flying high above me and the ones that flew out of the heather close to my feet. I finally found myself on a forestry road, which took me through a sea of tall Pine trees and eventually led me back to where I had parked my car. I must admit, I wish I was brave enough to be a mountain biker because they have some of the best trails in Kilbroney Forest Park.

My own definition of a ramble is going out for a walk or a hike and just letting your curiosity control your destination. I like the feeling of not knowing exactly where I will end up and what I will find.

Get outdoors. Get a little lost. Find your path. Repeat.

Grotto Canyon Trail: Canmore, Alberta.

On a recent trip to the Canadian Rockies I decided to visit the Grotto Canyon Trail, close to Canmore, Alberta. I have seen many photos across social media of this trail during Winter and I was excited to visit it.

Of course I looked up the trail online to find out more information and I found a lot of recommendations for the use of cleats or studded footwear due to the slippery ice, and I immediately said “…..Awk, I’m sure it will be grand”. This is a typical Irish response to most things, where we ignore perfectly good advice and just hope for the best!!

The first part of the trial is through a sparsely forested area and the terrain is pretty good but as soon as I got to the canyon and saw the frozen river, I immediately regretted my decision. The sun was shining and any ice not in the shade was starting to melt and was extremely slippery. I was able to walk most of the trail but struggled as I got towards the end where the waterfall is located. I was annoyed at myself to be able to get so far and then having to give up. I did not give up without a bit of a fight, I tried to walk further but it was a bit of a disaster and I had the bruised knees to prove it.

Where I stopped, I could see the frozen waterfall at the end of the trail and could even spot some ice climbers scaling it. I even got to witness some extremely comical falls that I wish I captured on my camera!!

The sights from within the canyon are amazing, especially on a beautiful sunny Winter day. I was lucky to spot some wildlife along the trail; there were lots of Squirrels and Chipmunks scurrying around on the ground and in the trees and I spotted my very first Bald Eagle as it swooped high above the canyon. When walking within the deep canyon walls, I could hear the echo of other hikers, the wildlife and even the falling of melting snow from the tall pines that lined the top of the canyon.

This spot is simply amazing during Winter and I would recommend anyone in the Alberta area to give it a try, just DON’T FORGET YOUR CLEATS!! i