Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Take to the hills

This week's Independent News & Media regional newspapers' column.

Michael Commane
On the Sunday of Holy Week I climbed Djouce in the Wicklow Hills. Djouce is 725 metres high. I have walked it a number of times but every time it’s an all-new experience. The name comes from the Irish word Dioghais, meaning ‘fortified height’.

I have said it before in this column, I will be forever grateful to the Dominicans for introducing me to the hills. Back in the day it was the cusom of the Dominican house of studies that students went walking in the hills on Thursdays. The priory in Tallaght was perfectly situated as a starting point for escapades into the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains. All that was required were a pair of legs and a bicycle and good health too of course.

My friend who comes walking with me is an Englishman and he has a great knowledge of the Irish mountainscape. I leave all the technical aspects to him but I usually have a compass in my pocket in case anything should ever go wrong.

Our Sunday on Djouce was simply magic: visibility was great. One of those special days in Ireland when we could see all around us. Below was Vartry Reservoir and in the distance we could see Turlough Hill.

I’m always somewhat hesitant in heading out. I need some cajoling and persuasion but once out I just feel the wonder of it all.

Walking in the hills has a special grace and excitement about it, indeed, walking in any sort of open space offers one endless possibilities: the things we see and hear. That day on Djouce on the way down we spotted high in the sky a kestrel. It hovered for a second or two and then quickly began to flutter its wings. It was clear that it saw its prey down below and was about to swoop.

We usually stop for food close to the top of a mountain but on Sunday the wind was too strong and cold and there was no shelter. So we left our ‘dining’ until we were back down at the foot of the mountain. Honestly, the joy of sitting down with a sandwich and a flask of tea after a pleasant walk is close to perfection.

Besides all the fun, walking strengthens your heart, lowers disease risk and reduces the chances catching type two diabetes by approximately 60 per cent and regular walkers are 20 per cent less likely to develop cancer of the colon, breast or womb. And of course it helps you lose weight too. It also boosts your mood. It’s the perfect elixir for body and soul. And that sense of exhilaration when the job is completed is simply fantastic.

We are racing towards summer. The days are long, we have close to 16 hours daylight, growth is bursting open in front of our eyes. So, why not go out and enjoy it. There is nowhere in Ireland too far from the sea, a mountain, a lake, a canal or river.

But never walk in the hills on your own. Like everything in life, especially the great things, it’s essential we respect the countryside.

Be sensible, it's always advisable to bring waterproofs, and a packed lunch adds to the adventure element of the walk and besides that, it’s most likely you are going to be hungry and thirsty too. But never any alcohol. Plan your walk in advance and it’s always a good idea that someone walking with you knows the area. Foolhardiness is not for the mountain, for nowhere in the great outdoors. And the golden rule, never leave a trace.

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