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Live from St Patrick's Way

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#1
My job involves a considerable amount of international travel. Disruptive though this often is to my home life, it does afford me the very occasional opportunity to take a couple of days en route to one assignment or another and put in a little time on pilgrimage.

Thus it is that I find myself at the moment on my way to Ireland. I have some work to do in London and Paris over the next couple of weeks. But Dublin is a major airline hub, and an obvious place to make European connections. More concretely for my purposes, it's convenient to the starting-point for St Patrick's Way.

Don't feel bad if you've never heard of this one. It's a very recent initiative, launched in 2015 by a Camino de Santiago veteran named Alan Graham. He thought it would be a nice idea to have an Irish equivalent, honouring the saint who brought Christianity to Ireland in the early fifth century AD. Several possible Patrician sites could in principle be included along such a trail—the Hill of Slane in the east of the country, where Patrick supposedly kindled a huge bonfire symbolising the light of Christianity; the mountain called Croagh Patrick in the west, where he allegedly spent forty days fasting and which, each year, thousands still ascend barefoot on the last day of July to pray at the summit. Alan Graham, however, selected Eamhain Mhacha or Navan Fort, just outside the northern town of Armagh, as his starting-point and Downpatrick, 132 km away by a somewhat circuitous route through the Mourne Mountains, as the final destination. The former is where St Patrick is said to have established his first permanent church site, and is the reason that Armagh remains the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland—the town in which both the Catholic and Anglican primates have their sees. The latter, it is claimed, is where he is buried.

As you'll have gathered from the profusion of qualifiers in the foregoing paragraph, the historicity of most aspects of St Patrick's life is disputed. We know from his own autobiography the details of how he became a really serious Christian and what brought him back to Ireland, to which he had been kidnapped as a teenage boy, to minister to the people there. Everything after that is legend, the earliest of which was recorded a couple of centuries after his presumed death. My guess is that the likelihood of Downpatrick being his actual gravesite is on more or less the same scale as Santiago de Compostela being that of St James—not beyond the realm of possibility, but a proposition the factuality of which must remain shrouded in doubt. However, that hardly matters. For those who engage in these things for religious reasons, the purpose of a pilgrimage is to serve God and to revere the memory of His servants, and that can be done very effectively with this route regardless of where the physical location of St Patrick's bones may be.

At all events, Alan Graham found enthusiastic collaborators in the Northern Ireland Tourist Board for his idea, and three years ago, after much preparatory work, the trail was declared open for business. In many respects it follows the Iberian pattern. One can obtain from the visitors' centre at Navan Fort the equivalent of a credencial (or may simply download one gratis from the internet), and there are ten places along the way where self-service sellos can be obtained. At the end, I gather, this can be cashed in for a (secular) certificate of completion at the local tourist office. A kind of Brierley-guide, complete with Ordnance Survey maps and accommodation suggestions, is also available on the NITB web-site. Lastly, I understand that at least some parts of the trail have been waymarked with the familiar yellow arrow on a blue background, though because St Patrick's Way often parallels established hiking routes like the Dundrum Coastal Path, it's advisable to know the symbols for these also.

But there are differences too, the most important being the availability of accommodation. Nothing like an albergue-network exists in Northern Ireland, meaning that the pilgrim is obliged to rely on private establishments—hotels, guesthouses or bed-and-breakfast places—for overnight stops. These are not cheap: a single wayfarer can expect to be paying a minimum of STG 40/EUR 50 a night, even in low season. (Armagh does have a youth hostel, one of just four in Northern Ireland: regrettably it's closed between October and March.) Moreover, it's vanishingly unlikely that the pilgrim can expect company, at least until the concept has gained a greater public profile. I've found only two online descriptions over the past three years by people who have walked the trail, leading me to believe that the number who complete it annually can probably be measured in double digits—and perhaps not very high ones at that.

As regards staging, the official guide suggests a ten-day itinerary, which is leisurely indeed. The number I have available to me is four: this weekend, and two additional days I'm scavenging from my professional duties on the understanding that I'll be paying them back later in the month in the form of overtime. I'm planning, then, to overnight at Newry (33 km); Spelga Dam (31 km); the seaside town of Newcastle (30 km); and Downpatrick itself (38 km). Then a dash to Belfast airport for an early-morning flight to Paris, where I will, finally, be about my employer's business.

It's not a lot of time, but based on Iberian experience, it ought to be manageable. Only two complicating factors arise at the moment. The first is the shortness of the days. People often forget how far to the north Ireland really is. Armagh is on the same line of latitude as the Aleutian islands of southern Alaska, which means that the hours of daylight, at this time of year, are few indeed. Specifically, the sun will be up for a little more than seven and a half hours. Because I don't want to whistle past the countryside in a blur of motion, a fair amount of my early-morning travels on the trail will be in darkness, which always ramps up the degree of difficulty.

The other potential problem will be a familiar one to those who have read on this site about my former peregrinations across Spain and Portugal. For the past eighteen months my left heel has been affected by a tiresomely persistent case of plantar fasciitis; it has its good months and bad ones. Thus far January is turning out to be a very bad one indeed; every footstep since Christmas has hurt, seriously if not cripplingly. I've no idea if it will stand up to the rigours of one long day on the trail, far less four in succession.

However, there's only one way to find out. I'm looking forward to putting it to the test.
 
Last edited:
Camino(s) past & future
The Camino Frances 2005
The Portugese Camino 2014
The Camino Ingles Easter 2015
The Camino Ingles April 2016
The Camino del Norte/The Primitivo 2016
#2
Thank you for posting, very interesting to read. I have always wanted to go walking i Ireland and St Patrick's Way could be an option. I have to do more research on accommodation to make sure there will be a bed every night. That and the weather are two main factors for not hiking in Ireland.
I hope your heel won't bother you too much. Plantar fasciitis can be very painful as you mention in your post.
Please keep the Forum updated on your progress. And the weather.
All the best to you.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#5
One thing that can be said in favour of St Patrick's Way is that getting to the starting point is a great deal more straightforward than trailing down to SJPP. I arrived at Dublin Airport this morning, and found an express 'bus (Translink, £10 sterling one way) awaiting me at the adjacent coach station. This departed with disconcerting punctuality and, ninety minutes later, decanted me in the centre of the tiny city of Armagh, a hundred and twenty kilometres to the north-northwest.

The first order of business was to make my way to the point of departure of St Patrick's Way at Eamhain Mhacha (anglicised as "Navan Fort"), about 5 km to the west of town. This is fairly easily accomplished, via a heavily-trafficked country road that does, however, have a pedestrian footpath along its entire length. The site features a visitors' centre, restaurant and gift-shop. At the latter, a pair of charming employees presented me, free of charge, with a very professional-looking credencial, a small green booklet much like the Iberian version produced by the Camino Society of Ireland. Its precise purpose is a little obscure, inasmuch as there are no albergues here to which it could grant access. But pilgrims may nevertheless mark their progress by using the stamping equipment (in reality, small paper-embossing machines) that are located at strategic points along the route. The staff at the visitors' centre were a little cagey when I inquired about the numbers of people undertaking the pilgrimage. Inasmuch as they perform the same service as the pilgrims' office at SJPP, I thought they'd have some approximate idea of this, based on how many credencials they hand out. But they diplomatically sidestepped the subject, referring me to the county council for further particulars. It's not something of importance, to be sure. I was merely indulging my idle curiosity.

Eamhain Mhacha is definitely worth a visit. Remarkably, access is not restricted in any way: one can just wander in off the wooded path, and I found several people walking their dogs there. It was a significant enough site to feature on Ptolemy's map in the second century AD. Contrary to its English name, the one thing on which the experts seem to agree is that it was never a fort. Its centrepiece is a large mound, some 40m in diameter, at the top of a hill from which excellent views can be obtained of the countryside in all directions. In 95 BC—the date can be precisely fixed from dendrochronological analysis—the people living there built an enormous structure featuring 280 oak posts set vertically in concentric circles. This was then deliberately burned, probably as part of a religious ceremony of some kind, and huge quantities of earth and limestone rock were piled on top of the remains to make what is believed to be a massive open-air altar. I'm given to understand that nothing quite like it exists anywhere else in the world. What it was intended for is still a mystery, but in light of the scale of the logistical operation involved in building it, the people responsible for it evidently took what they were doing with immense seriousness.

After I had finished scrambling over the site, I returned to the centre of Armagh via a quiet and narrow rural lane, completing a loop of around 11 km. I wasn't able to see any waymarking for most of the journey, but because the two cathedrals—one Anglican, one Catholic, each only a few hundred metres from the other—dominate the skyline, it would be hard to get off track. Closer to town, some effort has clearly been made to mark out the route. Paving stones bearing the symbol of St Patrick's Way—a stylised bishop's mitre and crozier—have been set into the pavement along certain streets, and small directional arrows featuring the same symbol also appear from time to time. My initial impression, though, is that the waymarking is not yet sufficient for navigational purposes, and that a fair amount of map-reading will be required on this trip.

On the positive side, the weather is a great deal more temperate than one might expect. Ireland is warmed by the Gulf Stream, an ocean current that flows northeast from Mexico and occasionally causes a bewildered tuna, several thousand kilometres from home, to be trawled up by boats fishing off the south coast. It also produces the incongruous spectacle of palm trees flourishing in suburban gardens and rosemary flowering in mid-January. At the moment the temperature is 13C, which is about as warm as it was when I walked the Portugués Central exactly two years ago. Rain is always a possibility, of course—they say that in this country it rains twice a week, once for three days and the other time for four days. But although the sky is overcast, I haven't encountered more than a few sprinkles as yet, nor temperatures that would cause me to fish my long underwear out from the recesses of my backpack. Today, one could have walked in shirtsleeves in perfect comfort, at least as long as one is moving.

I'm roosting tonight in the Charlemont Arms, whose best feature is its location, and will start early tomorrow for the border town of Newry, first striking east as far as the southern outskirts of the village of Tandragee and then turning due south via Scarva along the Newry Canal Towpath. The eastward leg looks awkward from the navigational point of view, involving many twists and turns marked by junctions that seem to have largely theoretical place-names. I'm hoping I won't get too far off track.
 
Last edited:
Camino(s) past & future
The Camino Frances 2005
The Portugese Camino 2014
The Camino Ingles Easter 2015
The Camino Ingles April 2016
The Camino del Norte/The Primitivo 2016
#6
Hi, thanks for the update. Are you using a map?
 
Camino(s) past & future
Via dela plata, via Francigena
#7
My job involves a considerable amount of international travel. Disruptive though this often is to my home life, it does afford me the very occasional opportunity to take a couple of days en route to one assignment or another and put in a little time on pilgrimage.

Thus it is that I find myself at the moment on my way to Ireland. I have some work to do in London and Paris over the next couple of weeks. But Dublin is a major airline hub, and an obvious place to make European connections. More concretely for my purposes, it's convenient to the starting-point for St Patrick's Way.

Don't feel bad if you've never heard of this one. It's a very recent initiative, launched in 2015 by a Camino de Santiago veteran named Alan Graham. He thought it would be a nice idea to have an Irish equivalent, honouring the saint who brought Christianity to Ireland in the early fifth century AD. Several possible Patrician sites could in principle be included along such a trail—the Hill of Slane in the east of the country, where Patrick supposedly kindled a huge bonfire symbolising the light of Christianity; the mountain called Croagh Patrick in the west, where he allegedly spent forty days fasting and which, each year, thousands still ascend barefoot on the last day of July to pray at the summit. Alan Graham, however, selected Eamhain Mhacha or Navan Fort, just outside the northern town of Armagh, as his starting-point and Downpatrick, 132 km away by a somewhat circuitous route through the Mourne Mountains, as the final destination. The former is where St Patrick is said to have established his first permanent church site, and is the reason that Armagh remains the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland—the town in which both the Catholic and Anglican primates have their sees. The latter, it is claimed, is where he is buried.

As you'll have gathered from the profusion of qualifiers in the foregoing paragraph, the historicity of most aspects of St Patrick's life is disputed. We know from his own autobiography the details of how he became a really serious Christian and what brought him back to Ireland, to which he had been kidnapped as a teenage boy, to minister to the people there. Everything after that is legend, the earliest of which was recorded a couple of centuries after his presumed death. My guess is that the likelihood of Downpatrick being his actual gravesite is on more or less the same scale as Santiago de Compostela being that of St James—not beyond the realm of possibility, but a proposition the factuality of which must remain shrouded in doubt. However, that hardly matters. For those who engage in these things for religious reasons, the purpose of a pilgrimage is to serve God and to revere the memory of His servants, and that can be done very effectively with this route regardless of where the physical location of St Patrick's bones may be.

At all events, Alan Graham found enthusiastic collaborators in the Northern Ireland Tourist Board for his idea, and three years ago, after much preparatory work, the trail was declared open for business. In many respects it follows the Iberian pattern. One can obtain from the visitors' centre at Navan Fort the equivalent of a credencial (or may simply download one gratis from the internet), and there are ten places along the way where self-service sellos can be obtained. At the end, I gather, this can be cashed in for a (secular) certificate of completion at the local tourist office. A kind of Brierley-guide, complete with Ordnance Survey maps and accommodation suggestions, is also available on the NITB web-site. Lastly, I understand that at least some parts of the trail have been waymarked with the familiar yellow arrow on a blue background, though because St Patrick's Way often parallels established hiking routes like the Dundrum Coastal Path, it's advisable to know the symbols for these also.

But there are differences too, the most important being the availability of accommodation. Nothing like an albergue-network exists in Northern Ireland, meaning that the pilgrim is obliged to rely on private establishments—hotels, guesthouses or bed-and-breakfast places—for overnight stops. These are not cheap: a single wayfarer can expect to be paying a minimum of STG 40/EUR 50 a night, even in low season. (Armagh does have a youth hostel, one of just four in Northern Ireland: regrettably it's closed between October and March.) Moreover, it's vanishingly unlikely that the pilgrim can expect company, at least until the concept has gained a greater public profile. I've found only two online descriptions over the past three years by people who have walked the trail, leading me to believe that the number who complete it annually can probably be measured in double digits—and perhaps not very high ones at that.

As regards staging, the official guide suggests a ten-day itinerary, which is leisurely indeed. The number I have available to me is four: this weekend, and two additional days I'm scavenging from my professional duties on the understanding that I'll be paying them back later in the month in the form of overtime. I'm planning, then, to overnight at Newry (33 km); Spelga Dam (31 km); the seaside town of Newcastle (30 km); and Downpatrick itself (38 km). Then a dash to Belfast airport for an early-morning flight to Paris, where I will, finally, be about my employer's business.

It's not a lot of time, but based on Iberian experience, it ought to be manageable. Only two complicating factors arise at the moment. The first is the shortness of the days. People often forget how far to the north Ireland really is. Armagh is on the same line of latitude as the Aleutian islands of southern Alaska, which means that the hours of daylight, at this time of year, are few indeed. Specifically, the sun will be up for a little more than seven and a half hours. Because I don't want to whistle past the countryside in a blur of motion, a fair amount of my early-morning travels on the trail will be in darkness, which always ramps up the degree of difficulty.

The other potential problem will be a familiar one to those who have read on this site about my former peregrinations across Spain and Portugal. For the past eighteen months my left heel has been affected by a tiresomely persistent case of plantar fasciitis; it has its good months and bad ones. Thus far January is turning out to be a very bad one indeed; every footstep since Christmas has hurt, seriously if not cripplingly. I've no idea if it will stand up to the rigours of one long day on the trail, far less four in succession.

However, there's only one way to find out. I'm looking forward to putting it to the test.
That’s brilliant. I live in Drogheda, and work in Dundalk. I love it when I head north, and at the first hills I can see are the Mountains of Mourne in the distance. Walking there will be wonderful! Don’t concern yourself with the weather, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Will follow with interest. I was in a Newcastle hotel once, suddenly there was frenetic activity, the appearance of security, and Princess Ann walked in ! She was speaking at a Coaching conference there. I was walking and staying in the area, lovely...but will put this route on my to do list for sure !
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#8
Breakfast in this part of the world is a hefty meal indeed. For most people it's a heart attack on a plate; for the pilgrim facing a long day of physical effort it's just what the doctor ordered. Pork sausages, bacon, eggs, potato cake, soda bread and a great deal more…I worked my way methodically through the lot of it. This was the only meal I was to have today, and despite the exertions that were to follow, I never felt the need of another one.

I didn't have much expectation for the waymarking on this trip, which was as well when I tried to find my way out of Armagh city. It's quite straightforward if you use the map provided in the official NITB guide, but nothing along the route itself indicates that you're heading in the right direction. Briefly, one hikes down to the thirteenth-century ruins of a Franciscan abbey (well worth seeing in its own right) at the public park known as the Palace Demesne, and then follows the road for Newry and Dublin, which is both busy and well signposted, up a steepish hill.

The tricky part comes when one must then turn left in an easterly direction to pick up the trail proper. Nothing indicates where this turn is to be made; or at any rate, if some indication is provided, I missed it despite looking extremely carefully for it. The NITB guide, which includes Ordnance Survey route maps of questionable value (road names are rarely given), seems to show that much of today's leg overlays National Cycle Route no. 91, part of a network of low-traffic trails for those on two wheels. When I came across a sign pointing the way to route 91, therefore, I followed it, into a pleasant wooded area.

Unfortunately the signs for route 91 quickly petered out in their turn. I soon found myself confronted with a bewildering variety of forest paths, in an area aptly bearing the name of Folly Glen. Using my compass I was able to strike out in a more or less eastwardly direction for a while, but then all the paths began converging to the north. None of the several locals I encountered walking their dogs was able to shed any light on the matter; all wanted to send me back to the middle of town so that I could do the sensible thing and take a 'bus to my destination. Finally, after a frustrating half-hour, I popped out on the road to Hamiltonsbawn, a route that was indeed depicted on the NITB map. It was about a kilometre north of where I needed to be, but at least headed in approximately the right direction. Reasoning that beggars cannot be choosers, I took it.

And indeed it was the right decision in the circumstances. My alternative route did have the shortcoming of lacking a footpath, but Irish drivers are accustomed to sharing the road with non-vehicular users. As long as one observes the sensible precaution of staying well to the right and walking against the traffic—you can see them; they can see you—there's no danger. In Portugal this would be a life-threatening experience; in Ireland the drivers merely alter their course a courteous twelve inches away from the kerb to give pedestrians a little breathing room. Nor did I have to mix it with the vehicles for very long. After about four kilometres, I came across the little road to Retarnet that, I saw, would put me back on track. Turning to the right, I followed it to the next crossroads, where I was pleased to see that Derryraine Road, a.k.a. Cycle Route 91, was waiting for me.

As indeed was St Patrick's Way. When I discovered a route-marker at Mullaghbrack a short distance further on—the first I had encountered since leaving Armagh ten kilometres previously—I viewed it as an unexpected bonus. But the route now proceeded to make up in the comprehensiveness of its waymarking for any shortcomings it had displayed in that respect to this point. For the rest of the day, it was fully up to Iberian standards, with the exception of just a couple of ambiguous spots—one a Y-junction outside Markethill—where it was necessary to engage in a degree of educated guesswork.

The countryside itself consists of quiet, rolling hills, very much reminiscent of the first couple of days of the Primitivo outside Oviedo. Unlike that trail it is hard-surfaced along its entire length: mostly narrow asphalted lanes, wide enough to admit only a single car at a time (if two encounter each other going in opposite directions, one will back up to the nearest spot where it's possible to pull in a little and allow the other to pass). Encountering anything four- or even two-wheeled, though, is a rarity. As soon as I left the Hamiltonsbawn road I came across almost no vehicular traffic, beyond the very occasional tractor chugging its way from one field to another. This is sheep country for the most part: many pregnant ewes were contentedly browsing the hillsides and I was surprised to see that a couple had already lambed despite it being only mid-January. Othewise the vegetation consists largely of clumps of yellow gorse and the occasional stand of birch trees, planted to act as a windbreak. One thing to bear in mind, though, is that for the first twenty kilometres or so, one passes no commercial establishments of any kind, nor anywhere to fill a water-bottle. Stock up in both respects before leaving Armagh.

After passing through the microscopic village of Clare, the trail leaves Cycle Route 91 and heads uphill and to the left, proceeding by a series of twists and turns to the Newry Canal Towpath southeast of the village of Tandragee, which it decorously bypasses. For those combining two days' stages into one, as I am, this latter section is much the less interesting part of the route. Navigational problems are no longer possible. An asphalted walking path, much patronised by local people, heads straight as an arrow southward, sandwiched between the Newry Canal and the Belfast-to-Dublin railway line. The canal itself, an eighteenth-century waterway that was driven into bankruptcy by the advent of the steam train, now has the appearance of a drainage ditch, being both narrow and not much deeper than half a metre along much of its length. But for those who are beginning to flag at the end of a long day, the path has the merit of being completely flat as well as undeviating. Again, commercial amenities are few and far between. One can leave the towpath at the small village of Scarva where, to my disappointment, the visitors' centre and tearooms are closed (but a small pub with an open fire provides some compensation) or, more practically, the comparative metropolis of Poyntzpass five kilometres or so further south, which has all the Chinese takeaways and chip shops for which the heart of man could wish. Other than that, it's a matter of contenting oneself in patience until one reaches the destination at Newry, a large town of some 30,000 souls with a thriving commercial centre.

My impression of the first full day of St Patrick's Way is that it's a viable pilgrimage route even at this early stage of its development. In terms of scenery there has been relatively little of note thus far, though I'm promised more appealing visual elements once I get into the mountain stages. So far as the choice of route is concerned, clearly a decision was made to separate the wayfarer from vehicular traffic as much as possible, making full use of rural Ireland's superabundance of narrow and isolated country lanes. This has the unfortunate byproduct of determinedly steering the pilgrim away from even those places conveniently to hand (Markethill, Tandragee) where the Hibernian equivalent of a cup of café con leche might be obtained. In fact, between leaving Armagh and striking Scarva, I didn't come across a single place where it might be possible for the weary traveller to sit down for a moment without getting wet, muddy, or both. That will probably have to be revisited if the concept should take off. As we've seen in Iberia, a considerable element in establishing and maintaining the viability of a pilgrimate route is the degree of buy-in, pun intended, from the local commercial community that it obtains. But there are good raw materials with which to work here, and a surprising amount of the preliminary leg-work has already been done.
 
Last edited:
Camino(s) past & future
Via dela plata, via Francigena
#9
Breakfast in this part of the world is a hefty meal indeed. For most people it's a heart attack on a plate; for the pilgrim facing a long day of physical effort it's just what the doctor ordered. Pork sausages, bacon, eggs, potato cake, soda bread and a great deal more…I worked my way methodically through the lot of it. This was the only meal I was to have today, and despite the exertions that were to follow, I never felt the need of another one.

I didn't have much expectation for the waymarking on this trip, which was as well when I tried to find my way out of Armagh city. It's quite straightforward if you use the map provided in the official NITB guide, but nothing along the route itself indicates that you're heading in the right direction. Briefly, one hikes down to the thirteenth-century ruins of a Franciscan abbey (well worth seeing in its own right) at the public park known as the Palace Demesne, and then follows the road for Newry and Dublin, which is both busy and well signposted, up a steepish hill.

The tricky part comes when one must then turn left in an easterly direction to pick up the trail proper. Nothing indicates where this turn is to be made; or at any rate, if some indication is provided, I missed it despite looking extremely carefully for it. The NITB guide, which includes Ordnance Survey route maps of questionable value (road names are rarely given), seems to show that much of today's leg overlays National Cycle Route no. 91, part of a network of low-traffic trails for those on two wheels. When I came across a sign pointing the way to route 91, therefore, I followed it, into a pleasant wooded area.

Unfortunately the signs for route 91 quickly petered out in their turn. I soon found myself confronted with a bewildering variety of forest paths, in an area aptly bearing the name of Folly Glen. Using my compass I was able to strike out in a more or less eastwardly direction for a while, but then all the paths began converging to the north. None of the several locals I encountered walking their dogs was able to shed any light on the matter; all wanted to send me back to the middle of town so that I could do the sensible thing and take a 'bus to my destination. Finally, after a frustrating half-hour, I popped out on the road to Hamiltonsbawn, a route that was indeed depicted on the NITB map. It was about a kilometre north of where I needed to be, but at least headed in approximately the right direction. Reasoning that beggars cannot be choosers, I took it.

And indeed it was the right decision in the circumstances. My alternative route did have the shortcoming of lacking a footpath, but Irish drivers are accustomed to sharing the road with non-vehicular users. As long as one observes the sensible precaution of staying well to the right and walking against the traffic—you can see them; they can see you—there's no danger. In Portugal this would be a life-threatening experience; in Ireland the drivers merely alter their course a courteous twelve inches away from the kerb to give pedestrians a little breathing room. Nor did I have to mix it with the vehicles for very long. After about four kilometres, I came across the little road to Retarnet that, I saw, would put me back on track. Turning to the right, I followed it to the next crossroads, where I was pleased to see that Derryraine Road, a.k.a. Cycle Route 91, was waiting for me.

As indeed was St Patrick's Way. When I discovered a route-marker at Mullaghbrack a short distance further on—the first I had encountered since leaving Armagh ten kilometres previously—I viewed it as an unexpected bonus. But the route now proceeded to make up in the comprehensiveness of its waymarking for any shortcomings it had displayed in that respect to this point. For the rest of the day, it was fully up to Iberian standards, with the exception of just a couple of ambiguous spots—one a Y-junction outside Markethill—where it was necessary to engage in a degree of educated guesswork.

The countryside itself consists of quiet, rolling hills, very much reminiscent of the first couple of days of the Primitivo outside Oviedo. Unlike that trail it is hard-surfaced along its entire length: mostly narrow asphalted lanes, wide enough to admit only a single car at a time (if two encounter each other going in opposite directions, one will back up to the nearest spot where it's possible to pull in a little and allow the other to pass). Encountering anything four- or even two-wheeled, though, is a rarity. As soon as I left the Hamiltonsbawn road I came across almost no vehicular traffic, beyond the very occasional tractor chugging its way from one field to another. This is sheep country for the most part: many pregnant ewes were contentedly browsing the hillsides and I was surprised to see that a couple had already lambed despite it being only mid-January. Othewise the vegetation consists largely of clumps of yellow gorse and the occasional stand of birch trees, planted to act as a windbreak. One thing to bear in mind, though, is that for the first twenty kilometres or so, one passes no commercial establishments of any kind, nor anywhere to fill a water-bottle. Stock up in both respects before leaving Armagh.

After passing through the microscopic village of Clare, the trail leaves Cycle Route 91 and heads uphill and to the left, proceeding by a series of twists and turns to the Newry Canal Towpath southeast of the village of Tandragee, which it decorously bypasses. For those combining two days' stages into one, as I am, this latter section is much the less interesting part of the route. Navigational problems are no longer possible. An asphalted walking path, much patronised by local people, heads straight as an arrow southward, sandwiched between the Newry Canal and the Belfast-to-Dublin railway line. The canal itself, an eighteenth-century waterway that was driven into bankruptcy by the advent of the steam train, now has the appearance of a drainage ditch, being both narrow and not much deeper than half a metre along much of its length. But for those who are beginning to flag at the end of a long day, the path has the merit of being completely flat as well as undeviating. Again, commercial amenities are few and far between. One can leave the towpath at the small village of Scarva where, to my disappointment, the visitors' centre and tearooms are closed (but a small pub with an open fire provides some compensation) or, more practically, the comparative metropolis of Poyntzpass five kilometres or so further south, which has all the Chinese takeaways and chip shops for which the heart of man could wish. Other than that, it's a matter of contenting oneself in patience until one reaches the destination at Newry, a large town of some 30,000 souls with a thriving commercial centre.

My impression of the first full day of St Patrick's Way is that it's a viable pilgrimage route even at this early stage of its development. In terms of scenery there has been relatively little of note thus far, though I'm promised more appealing visual elements once I get into the mountain stages. So far as the choice of route is concerned, clearly a decision was made to separate the wayfarer from vehicular traffic as much as possible, making full use of rural Ireland's superabundance of narrow and isolated country lanes. This has the unfortunate byproduct of determinedly steering the pilgrim away from even those places conveniently to hand (Markethill, Tandragee) where the Hibernian equivalent of a cup of café con leche might be obtained. In fact, between leaving Armagh and striking Scarva, I didn't come across a single place where it might be possible for the weary traveller to sit down for a moment without getting wet, muddy, or both. That will probably have to be revisited if the concept should take off. As we've seen in Iberia, a considerable element in establishing and maintaining the viability of a pilgrimate route is the degree of buy-in, pun intended, from the local commercial community that it obtains. But there are good raw materials with which to work here, and a surprising amount of the preliminary leg-work has already been done.
Following with interest ! It is a very quiet, yet for you, a mild time of the year to be walking in Irish countryside. No, the scenery is not at its best. Bare trees, a permanently wet and muddy track, with little by the way of flowers or even agriculture to look at....yet ! I’ve been out for my usual Sunday walk, slightly south of you...in the area around Annagassan. A misty, windy typical January morning, though people are saying it’s so mild that daffodils and crocuses are budding and grass is growing. The fields are emerald green. In a few months there will be gold, as the rapeseed plant flourishes and bursts forth. It’s not until early May that the trees go crazy all at once and the blossoms are out. A beautiful sight to behold!
 

edandjoan

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
St. Gallen to Muxia
2012-2018
#10
We did not walk the designated St. Partrick's Pilgrimage. We were walking from the south and though the Commemara. Our last stop before climbing the mountain was at a quaint B&B and she drove us to a location to the south and we made our accent. Quite a climb with our packs on our back and odd looks from others making the climb as they didn't understand why we carried a pack. We were invited to mass by a group that had climbed that day.
We found the Irish very friendly and more than ready to give us a ride as we walked along their country side. Some times we took them up on the offer.
We were fascinated as we flew home,from Dublin back to the USA and we could see the Croag Patrick from the sky.
Hope you have a wonderful adventure.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#11
After a long sleep at the Belmont Hall in Newry (£45 single; centrally located; very cold) I heard Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral – naturally – and set off on today's leg, which was to terminate a little to the west of Spelga Dam, via Rostrevor. Effectively this involves walking two sides of an inverted equilateral triangle, 15 km or so to the south-east, and then approximately the same distance north-east, winding up 15 km due east of where one started. I'm not quite sure why the hypotenuse has been ignored – a country road runs straight between point of origin and destination – unless it is either to separate walkers from vehicular traffic or to add length to the route overall.

It's a little easier getting out of Newry than it was Armagh, but there's a pitfall for the unwary nonetheless. The approved method takes you first to Bagenal's Castle, a local landmark that's well signposted and easily found. From there, though, it's necessary resolutely to ignore the large brown-and-white sign marked "St Patrick's Trail," pointing you to the right and across the Dublin Bridge. I've no idea why it's there, but it's sending people in precisely the wrong direction. Instead one must continue south from Bagenal's Castle. Quite soon, an inconspicuous route-marker high on a lamp-post will set the pilgrim on the correct path, turning left along Abbey Way and up Courtney Hill, in the general direction of Ballyholland.

Thereafter the route-marking is generally good, a couple of significant hiccups aside. As was the case yesterday, it proceeds along narrow asphalted roads, mostly a single lane in width but with occasional two-lane stretches. Either way, encountering vehicular traffic is a comparative rarity. Ascents and descents are continuous and considerably steeper than previously. None, though, is particularly challenging: just enough to give the experienced pilgrim occasional reminders of gut-busting climbs up the Picos de Europa or the Trás-Os Montes. These are the foothills of the Mourne Mountains—nothing to do with mourning—and although I doubt that I was much higher than about 400m at any time today, they do open up the countryside, especially on the second half of the leg to Rostrevor.

We've now moved from sheep to cattle country. Herefords, mostly, with the occasional Aberdeen Angus to give variety. I didn't see any of the Friesians that are so much a feature of the rest of Ireland here. It's also clearly a significant horse-breeding region. While no riders were in evidence, lots of horses were out in paddocks, all of them sensibly jacketed against what by early afternoon was blowing up into a half-gale.

Despite this, it has obviously been a mild winter in these parts. Quite a few snowdrops were in bloom, in a part of the world that gets little snow, and I was seeing plenty of flowering hellebore and clematis in the gardens that I passed. Even the grass looked lush and long.

As for the weather, there's a saying in these parts that if what you're seeing isn't congenial to you, wait for fifteen minutes and you'll have something more to your liking. That was certainly true today. It was chilly, grey and drizzly as I left Newry. By the time I got to the top of Courtney Hill the cloud base had lifted at least a thousand feet above the terrain. Later on, brief but sharp showers would soak the back of my backpack—and the back of my neck—only to come to an instant halt the moment I stopped to pull out my raingear. Five minutes after that the wind would have blasted me and my possessions completely dry. Then a little bit of sun, followed by yet more rain. I suppose this could be annoying to some people; for myself, possessing as I do a short attention-span, I found it enjoyable and even exhilarating. Crossing the uplands along Carrick Road I saw, a short distance to my left, the tightest and most sharply defined rainbow I've ever encountered in my life. The points where they touched the ground can't have been more than half a kilometre apart. So close was I that I also learned why the mythological crocks of gold that supposedly lie at the ends of these things are so difficult to find. The whole shooting match shifts as you approach, so that no sooner have you begun digging than you're already supposed to be doing so somewhere else.

I ran into a goodly number walkers on the descent into Rostrevor, most of them local residents who were working off the effects of Sunday lunch. One of the things I learned from them is that nobody here has ever heard of St Patrick's Way. This isn't too surprising. The waymarkers are small and inconspicuous—easily spotted by those who are looking for them, but readily overlooked by those who aren't. But the same pattern I observed yesterday was again in evidence. The route has been deliberately chosen to bypass all forms of civilisation. I'm not sure that that's a wise decision. In the first place, it ramps up the degree of difficulty to an unnecessary extent. With nowhere to obtain food or water along a fifteen-to-twenty-kilometre stretch, all supplies must be obtained in advance and carried along the way. Nor is there anywhere even to sit down for a moment—not a flat rock or a tree stump, far less anything more elaborate. About three hours in, I spread my waterproof backpack cover on a sodden bank and perched uncomfortably there while I ate my sandwiches, no better option having presented itself. Lastly, bathroom facilities are conspicuous by their absence. I'm fortunate to have a reasonably capacious bladder, but for a lot of pilgrims, a five-hour hike between one toilet and another is likely to pose insurmountable difficulties. It's not even the case that there are convenient bushes behind which to disappear. The terrain along this part of the Mournes is exposed, and one is rarely out of sight of a farmhouse or rural dwelling. I suppose that at least this is a cure for the white-tissue problem that plagues so much of the Camino de Santiago. But it was a reminder to me of how much of the success of a pilgrimage route consists of the kind of invisible infrastructure one doesn't notice until it's not there. On St Patrick's Way, even a couple of rudimentary plank benches set down at the halfway point of each day's leg would make a big difference.

Rostrevor is a pretty little town of about 2,000 people and eight pubs. I had coffee at the largest of them, the Rostrevor Inn, which also offered an attractive dinner menu. Unfortunately, my habitual pilgrimage-induced anorexia precluded my taking advantage of it. I was also facing something of a time crunch for the final leg of the day to my night-stop east of Hilltown, some 12 km away. Most of this proceeds along tracks through the Rostrevor Forest via the pedestrian entrance at the Fairy Glen; turning right after 7 km or so to traverse the pass between Rocky Mountain and Tornamrock; and then making a loop around the west side of Hen Mountain to emerge on the Kilkeel Road near the Spelga Pass. With the daylight fading fast, I didn't like the sound of this at all. I carry with me good sources of illumination, and independent back-ups, but trying to pick my way through an unfamiliar wooded area with the certainty of being in pitch darkness when I'd have to make a couple of pivotal turns in the mountains seemed to be at best a recipe for spending the night outdoors, and at worst a good way of falling off something. Regretfully but firmly I ditched the idea of trying to follow the official path. On the other hand a narrow paved thoroughfare, the Newtown Road, proceeded almost directly to my destination. Putting on my high-visibility jacket, I set out along this one instead.

I'm convinced it was the right decision. After a day of indifferent weather, the sky finally cleared, and a half-moon and abundant starlight provided at least a little illumination, enough for me to see the outline of a ridge-line to my right. But I was getting fairly tired by this point, and starting to drag my feet slightly even on a firm surface. Stumbling over rocks and hunting for a medallion-sized waymarker in the dark definitely would not have been the way to go. When I finally reached my bed-and-breakfast establishment on the Kilkeel Road, two and a half hours later, I was more than ready for my night's sleep.
 
Last edited:

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés, 2016; Português Central, 2017; Port. Interior, 2017; Primitivo, 2018; Port. Coastal, 2018.
#13
Waking up this morning at my B&B (Clonmurr, £40, first-rate; highly recommended), I was shocked and saddened to learn the news mentioned by Helen O'Shaughnessy above. Yesterday afternoon, in two separate incidents, a pair of hikers lost their lives in the Mournes: one on Wee Binnian, the other on Slieve Commedagh. Each is only about 6 km from where I spent the night, to the southeast and due east, respectively. Both of the men who died were highly experienced hill-walkers, with many years' familiarity of this mountain range.

Just as soberingly, neither of the hills on which they died is a formidable obstacle. Wee Binnian, as its name suggests, is a fairly low hill, its summit being just 450m (about 1,500') above sea level. Slieve Commedagh is a bit higher, at 750m or thereabouts, but in many parts of the world such modest bumps in the landscape might not rate their own place-names. However, people tend to underestimate the hazards even of relatively unimpressive uplands. Just as a good functional definition of "deep water" is anything that rises more than an inch above one's upper lip when standing on tiptoe, so the definition of a dangerous slope is anything that will cause death or serious injury if one falls off it, even if that's only fifteen or twenty feet.

These considerations were much on my mind as I struck eastwards, with Hen Mountain close to my right, to rejoin the trail near Glenlaveagh Bridge. The road there ascended steadily, and as the sun rose above the mountain, I was able to look back the way I had come and see the countryside spread out like a three-dimensional map below me. The view was magnificent; the visibility unlimited; and for company I had a retinue of some of the roundest and woolliest sheep I had ever seen meandering beside the road and browsing the grass verges as they went. Sheep in general are easily startled creatures; these were made of sterner stuff, paying me not the slightest attention as I walked past, or occasionally around, them.

A stile enables pedestrians to leave the road and start climbing the mountains proper. Hopping over it, I started to work my way clockwise around the slopes of Spelga, Spaltha and Butter Mountains. On this section the SPW overlaps the Ulster Way, a long-distance hiking route, and parallels the Mourne Wall, a 22-mile-long dry stone barrier constructed during the early twentieth century to keep sheep away from the many reservoirs in the area. Sheep there certainly are aplenty. Lots of them were watching me curiously as I made my way along, and the quantity of their droppings on the slopes was truly incredible.

No defined trail as such exists on this part of the SPW, and the waymarkers, such as they were, simply pointed out the general direction in which to orient oneself. It occurred to me that if anything bad were to happen on this trip, it would be here. The going is not tremendously difficult, but in essence one finds oneself picking one's way across rough terrain over land that always slopes in one direction—downhill to one's left—and usually two, inasmuch as it's necessary to climb and descend in a forward direction as well. From time to time, mountain streams appear that must be forded, which usually involves heading uphill to find a narrower crossing-point. It's necessary to watch carefully where one is putting one's feet, especially the left (downgoing) one, because even a sprained ankle would leave the lone traveller in some difficulty. I'm not a gambling man, but I'd be willing to bet a reasonable chunk of small change that I was the only person to walk this route today. I was also keeping one eye cocked at the sky, and noting that whereas I had started the day in brilliant sunshine, a heavy overcast had blown up from the south-west and the tops of the mountains were already obscured in cloud.

Somewhere along the way I got off track. After two kilometers or so, a second waymarker set into a plank crossing one of the larger streams gave me the approximate direction in which to head—north-east, more or less—and that was the last one I was to see. I continued heading that way, but after about fifteen minutes found the terrain becoming considerably more challenging. A couple of the slopes I was now having to scramble up were a damn sight steeper than anything one finds on the way to Orisson on the first day of the Francés, requiring the use of hands as well as feet to stay upright. I wasn't especially worried about falling; if that had happened, very likely I'd simply have slid muddily to the bottom and be required to try again, with a bruise or two as a reminder to be more careful. But it seemed to me that this was becoming more demanding than the typical, or even the atypical, pilgrimage route tended to call for, inviting the question of whether that was in fact what I was still doing.

The answer was provided for me when I came across a branch of the Mourne Wall blocking my way, with no very obvious indication of what ought to be done next. Scaling it would have been easy enough, but that would simply have left me on the other side and as much at sea, navigationally, as on this one. So I turned right and climbed up to the top of the mountain to orient myself. This wasn't too difficult. Checking my map, I could easily see the town of Kilcoo off to my left, about 7 km away. In fact, according to the map, I was more or less where I was supposed to be. But nothing resembling a trail or a trail-marker was within visual range, and spending the early afternoon floundering around in the scrub looking for it didn't seem like a profitable use of my limited daylight hours. About a kilometre below me, I could see a country road oriented more or less north-south. It occurred to me that I would be in a much better position to pinpoint my location if I were standing on it. So I bounced my way downhill off the mountain, now covered thickly in heather; trespassed across somebody's sheep pasture; and climbed a barred gate to get to the road. A passing driver confirmed what I had suspected about my whereabouts and airily waved away my apologies for crossing the sheepfield, which was in fact his. By backtracking the road for some five hundred metres, I was able to regain the trail northeast of the Fofanny reservoir and resume my progress in the direction of my night-stop at Newcastle.

As adventures go, this was a minor one indeed. I was not truly lost, in the sense of not being able to fix my location to within half a kilometre or so, nor was I ever in any actual danger. Visibility was good; the weather, although lowering, was well within tolerances; and I had a compass, a full bottle of water, warm and rainproof gear, and plenty of daylight. Lastly, I've a good deal of experience walking in sparsely populated areas, or those that are completely deserted.

Many, and perhaps most, pilgrims, however, do not tick off all those boxes. I managed to lose my direction by missing a turn that should have sent me to the south at some point. Whether I failed to see a waymarker, or whether one that had been placed there is now missing, hardly matters. The fact is that it was easy to do. And an incautious pilgrim, in like circumstances, could quickly find him- or herself in real trouble. It mightn't occur to such a person to check the weather before setting out, and to postpone or abandon that leg if conditions aren't favourable. The typical pilgrim probably doesn't carry a magnetic compass, which is far more suitable in these situations than even the smartest of smartphones because (i) it never drops the signal, and (ii) it doesn't run out of electricity. A person who could alert the authorities in the event of the pilgrim being overdue after dark may not have been briefed in advance. Lastly, nothing in the NITB guide indicates to the wayfarer that this is a section of the route where careful contingency planning is a definite necessity. All of these things, I believe, should go into a rethink of the way in which the SPW is conceived and publicised.

In any case, the rest of the day was uneventful, and relatively uninteresting. Having reoriented myself, it was simply a matter of heading northeast down from the uplands and, by an unnecessarily serpentine route through the Tollymore Forest Park, which is quite pretty in its later stages, making my way into the seaside resort of Newcastle. Probably this town wears an entirely different face in the summer months. On a Monday evening in January it presented a fairly grim aspect. I foolishly took a short nap as soon as I arrived at the Avoca Hotel (£34 single, probably best avoided) and, when I went out for dinner shortly after 20:00, found that the entire town had closed down while I slept, barring a couple of pubs and one or two take-away restaurants about which the least said, the better. Still, that was entirely my own fault. He who ignores the sensible pilgrim rule of pouncing on whatever may be required as soon as it presents itself has only himself to blame for any unmet needs that may result therefrom.
 
Last edited:
Camino(s) past & future
Frances(2006) portugues(2013)San Salvador (2017)
#14
Waking up this morning at my B&B (Clonmurr, £40, first-rate; highly recommended), I was shocked and saddened to learn the news mentioned by Helen O'Shaughnessy above. Yesterday afternoon, in two separate incidents, a pair of hikers lost their lives in the Mournes: one on Wee Binnian, the other on Slieve Commedagh. Each is only about 6 km from where I spent the night, to the southeast and due east, respectively. Both of the men who died were highly experienced hill-walkers, with many years' familiarity of this mountain range.

Just as soberingly, neither of the hills on which they died is a formidable obstacle. Wee Binnian, as its name suggests, is a fairly low hill, its summit being just 450m (about 1,500') above sea level. Slieve Commedagh is a bit higher, at 750m or thereabouts, but in many parts of the world such modest bumps in the landscape might not rate their own place-names. However, people tend to underestimate the hazards even of relatively unimpressive uplands. Just as a good functional definition of "deep water" is anything that rises more than an inch above one's upper lip when standing on tiptoe, so the definition of a dangerous slope is anything that will cause death or serious injury if one falls off it, even if that's only fifteen or twenty feet.

These considerations were much on my mind as I struck eastwards, with Hen Mountain close to my right, to rejoin the trail near Glenlaveagh Bridge. The road there ascended steadily, and as the sun rose above the mountain, I was able to look back the way I had come and see the countryside spread out like a three-dimensional map below me. The view was magnificent; the visibility unlimited; and for company I had a retinue of some of the roundest and woolliest sheep I had ever seen meandering beside the road and browsing the grass verges as they went. Sheep in general are easily startled creatures; these were made of sterner stuff, paying me not the slightest attention as I walked past, or occasionally around, them.

A stile enables pedestrians to leave the road and start climbing the mountains proper. Hopping over it, I started to work my way clockwise around the slopes of Spelga, Spaltha and Butter Mountains. On this section the SPW overlaps the Ulster Way, a long-distance hiking route, and parallels the Mourne Wall, a 22-mile-long dry stone wall built during the early twentieth century to keep sheep away from the many reservoirs in the area. Sheep there certainly are aplenty. Lots of them were watching me curiously as I made my way along, and the quantity of their droppings on the slopes was truly incredible.

No defined trail as such exists on this part of the SPW, and the waymarkers, such as they were, simply pointed out the general direction in which to orient oneself. It occurred to me that if anything bad were to happen on this trip, it would be here. The going is not tremendously difficult, but in essence one is picking one's way along rough terrain along land that always slopes in one direction—downhill to one's left—and usually two, inasmuch as it's necessary to climb and descend in a forward direction as well. From time to time, mountain streams appear that must be forded. It's necessary to watch carefully where one is putting one's feet, especially the left (downgoing) one, because even a sprained ankle would leave one in some difficulty. I'm not a gambling man, but I'd be willing to bet a reasonable chunk of small change that I was the only person to walk this route today. I was also keeping one eye cocked at the sky, and noting that whereas I had started the day in brilliant sunshine, a heavy overcast had blown up from the south-west and the tops of the mountains were already obscured in cloud.

Somewhere along the way I got off track. After two kilometers or so, a waymarker set into a plank crossing one of the larger streams gave me the approximate direction in which to head—north-east, more or less—and that was the last one I saw. I continued heading that way, but after about fifteen minutes found the terrain becoming considerably more challenging. A couple of the slopes I was now having to scramble up were a damn sight steeper than anything one finds on the way to Orisson on the first day of the Francés, requiring the use of hands as well as feet to stay upright. I wasn't especially worried about falling; if that had happened, very likely I'd simply have slid muddily to the bottom and had to try again, with a bruise or two as a reminder to be more careful. But it seemed to me that this was becoming more demanding than the typical, or even the atypical, pilgrimage route tended to call for, inviting the question of whether that was in fact what I was still doing.

The decision was made for me when I came across a branch of the Mourne Wall blocking my way, with no very obvious indication of what ought to be done next. Scaling it would have been easy enough, but that would simply have left me on the other side and as much at sea, navigationally, as on this one. So I turned right and climbed up to the top of the mountain to orient myself. This wasn't too difficult. Checking my map, I could easily see the town of Kilcoo off to my left, about 7 km away. In fact, according to the map, I was more or less where I was supposed to be. But nothing resembling a trail or a trail-marker was within visual range, and spending the early afternoon floundering around in the heather looking for it didn't seem like a profitable use of my limited daylight hours. About a kilometre below me, I could see a country road oriented more or less north-south. It occurred to me that I would be in a much better position to pinpoint my location if I were standing on it. So I bounced my way downhill off the mountain, now covered thickly in heather; trespassed across somebody's sheep pasture; and climbed a barred gate to get to the road. A passing driver confirmed what I had suspected about my whereabouts and airily waved off my apologies for crossing the sheepfield, which was in fact his. By backtracking the road for five hundred metres or so, I was able to regain the trail northeast of the Fofanny reservoir.

As adventures go, this was a minor one indeed. I was not truly lost, in the sense of not being able to fix my location to within half a kilometre or so, nor was I ever in any actual danger. Visibility was good; the weather, although lowering, was well within tolerances; and I had a compass, a full bottle of water, warm and rainproof gear, and plenty of daylight. Lastly, I've a good deal of experience walking in sparsely populated areas, or those that are completely deserted.

Many, and perhaps most, pilgrims, however, do not tick off all those boxes. I managed to lose my direction by missing a turn that should have sent me to the south at some point. Whether I failed to see a waymarker, or whether one that had been placed there is now missing, hardly matters. The fact is that it was easy to do. And an incautious pilgrim, in like circumstances, could quickly find himself or herself in real trouble. It mightn't occur to such a person to check the weather before setting out, and to postpone or abandon that leg if conditions aren't favourable. The pilgrim probably doesn't carry a magnetic compass, which is far more suitable in these situations than even the smartest of smartphones because (i) it never loses the signal, and (ii) it doesn't run out of electricity. A person who could alert the authorities in the event of the pilgrim being overdue after dark may not have been briefed in advance. Lastly, nothing in the NITB guide indicates to the wayfarer that this is a section of the route where careful contingency planning is a definite necessity. All of these things, I believe, should go into a rethink of the way in which the SPW is being conceived and publicised.

In any event, the rest of the day was uneventful, and relatively uninteresting. Having reoriented myself, it was simply a matter of heading northeast down from the uplands and, by an unnecessarily serpentine route, through the Tollymore Forest Park, which is quite pretty in its later stages, into the seaside resort of Newcastle. Probably this town wears an entirely different face in the summer months. On a Monday evening in January it presented a fairly grim aspect. I foolishly took a short nap as soon as I arrived at the Avoca Hotel (£34 single, probably best avoided) and, when I went out for dinner shortly after 20:00, found that the entire town had closed down while I slept, barring a couple of pubs and one or take-away restaurants about which the least said, the better. Still, that was entirely my own fault. He who ignores the sensible pilgrim rule of pouncing on whatever may be required as soon as it presents itself has only himself to blame for any unmet needs that may result therefrom.
Thanks, Aurigny. While I have never walked the way, I am slightly familiar with the area, as I know Armagh fairly well, and also the Carlingford area, just across the Lough from Rostrevor. You paint a vivid picture with your words.
 
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