The Wild Atlantic Way is magnificent beauty at its best. The ruggedness of the Karoo combined with the generosity of the Garden Route. It offers the intrepid explorer 2500km of coastline tracing nine counties of the Republic of Ireland.
It’s not a big distance as the crow flies, but you’re not a crow. So take your time and travel slowly.
Travel slowly enough to trace thin tracks that look like they’re going through farm houses only to veer around in the last meter before the front door. Slow enough to sit open-mouthed at the Cliffs of Moher, and dance a jig on the Ring of Kerry. Deviate in Donegal and down to Dingle where the right thing to do is to warm a bench in a music pub and let your fears fall upward. Meander along the Mizen and sit with your own shadow at a standing stone. Don’t barrel past Ballylickey, Brandyhall or the Bere Peninsula. Take time in Tralee.
Travel slow, slow, slow enough to remember who you wanted to be so that you feel small and full at the same time.
Eat potatoes in every form – regardless of the season, the Irish spud is famous for good reason. If you order three veggies with your meal, you stand a good chance of getting mash, roast and chips. But don’t rush to choose now – you might prefer champ or boiled or baked? And would you like your chips shoe-string, hand cut or chunky? And which spud would you fancy: Record, Kerr’s Pink, Queens, Golden Wonder, Maris Piper, or my personal favourite, the Rooster? There’s no rush when it comes to this critical choice, so slow down and contemplate which combo of carbs you crave.
If you’re into more than tea, the Wild Way is afloat in craft gin, Murphey’s Stout and Paddy’s Whiskey. Yes, with an ‘e’ – that’s how it should be. If you’re like our super-healthy editor, stop at any stream and drink water so crisp your pipes will feel 10 years cleaner.
The Wild Atlantic Way is a place to tame your ‘To Do’ list and temper the insatiable supervisory god of duty. There you can reign in your priorities and recover your ability to choose the life you lead.
When you stand anywhere on the Way and look over the Wild Atlantic, you’re facing the view that two million emigrants from the Emerald Isle eyeballed before seeking greener pastures in North America in the mid-nineteenth century.
But while they escaped the devastating potato famine, they also sacrificed one of the sweetest sanctuaries for the human spirit. For there is no greener green than the North, West and Southern Coasts of Ireland. It’s no wonder so many people claim an Irish past and abundant Americans come “home” each year to find their roots. Wonderfully, they are bid welcome with open arms.
This brings us, Dear Reader, to make the somewhat large leap to the topic of trail running. I warn you: it’s like the Newlands Stream in full flood – I’m not quite sure I’m going to manage the jump. But if you stretch with me I think we’ll make it.
I was trying to tell the business manager down at the bank about my latest expedition of part of the coastline when we discovered our mutual love of running.
Admittedly, mine was a rambling tale about getting lost on a back track somewhere above Unionhall. But before I could recommend Dinty Collins’ as the place to have a decent T-Bone even though the old man has sold the pub to Martin and Rose, the Bank Man waved his wrist at me to witness his wonderful watch that measures All Things. He evaluates everything, he tells me. Including how fast crows fly.
So I never did get to tell him about the 1960 Massey Ferguson 35 on which my new friend Pádraig drove off after he set me back in the right direction. Or about the smooth sample of his home-distilled Poitín (like Irish witblitz made from potatoes) to ease my thirst along the way.
Some road runners tell stories to distract each other from the impact of the tar they’re trying to tame. By contrast, we run trails to make our story slow and solid. We want to immerse ourselves in the environment, not conquer it. We want to experience every step fully. We want it to duck under trunks and notice the small mushrooms growing there. We choose to tour the terrain, not travel across it fast.
The winding, unpredictable adventure beyond 3G signal is where our sport was born. Old gnarled trees were our midwife. With our siblings, Mud-On-Shoes and Water-From-Streams, we got lost in nature. That is where we come from and it is the shore to which we must return if we want to truly find our roots and recover ourselves.
A real Irish pub has no TV because it is full of friends. They call strangers “friends you haven’t met yet.”
The next time you hit the trail, leave your watch behind. Come home to the rugged, generous magnificent beauty of running a track sans gadgets to measure speed. Reduce your pace and increase your density. Look around. Explore the wild way.