What’s That I Hear You Say? I’ve Been Back From Ireland For Ages and STILL Haven’t Finished These Blog Posts?! Yes I’m Rubbish!

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The Last Leg of The Wicklow Way

With our tents packed up we couldn’t quite believe that this would be our final day of hiking. By the evening we would have completed 100 miles, The Wicklow Way, in just 5 days! For two inexperienced hikers this would be a massive feat. I’m really glad we got to stay in this beautiful little town. It was so quaint with the bunting everywhere and the small local shops.

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We headed off in the direction of our final destination, Clonegal. Just 15 miles to go. The sun was shining and the path was mostly flat, which was lovely. However, even with such flat terrain, after 4 days of intense hiking our bodies were struggling. Every sign we passed we were counting down the miles and trying to predict how long we had left. After the first 5 miles we took cover from the midday sun and let our feet breathe. The thick socks and crazy heat had caused my feet to break out in heat rash. Grim! I let my feet enjoy the breeze and wriggle room for a while until the sun started its long decent. As much as I didn’t want to I had to put my poor feeties back in their boot cages ready for the next 10 miles. Just 10 miles to go!

We hit a long straight road, it was so long that we couldn’t even see where it would end. These past two road walking days were very different to the earlier days. Not only because of the terrain, but the effect that this terrain had on our motivation and our moods. The paths were easier on our bodies, but the views were not as breathtaking and distracting from the task of hiking. My feet were happy for the Tarmac below them, but my brain missed the valleys, the breeze whipping my hair across my face and the challenges of getting across to the next map marker.

About half way down this long old road a car passed us and pulled over just ahead. A very kind lady offered us a lift to the next town. We looked at each and then back at her, our heads slowly turned to the comfy empty seats that lay just behind her. It was so tempting but we had come too far to bail now. We thanked her but declined the offer. As she drove away we wondered whether we had made the right decision. I’m happy to say we did.

At the next junction we decided to have a little lunch break. Gas cooker, flavoured rice, water…done! I lay back on my bag, just listening to the sound of the world go by, staring at the sparse clouds that littered the sky. I was actually starting to enjoy this outdoor living. I kind of felt like I did when I was travelling round Asia. Nothing to worry about but getting to our next destination. I am really looking forward to planning our BIG travelling adventure. We still haven’t ironed out the details…but we will be very soon.

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After packing up our lunch things, we headed down the road and reached a cross roads. Were my eyes deceiving me?! Could it be? There was a sign for Clonegal and it actually said “1 mile to go”. If we could have sprinted there we would have. We did pick up the pace a little though…well as much as our legs would actually let us.

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Before we knew it, there it was “Welcome to Clonegal” We hugged the sign with such excitement! We’d only gone and bloody done it!! 100 miles in 5 days! We had completed The Wicklow Way!

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With no pubs open, what with it being in the middle of the afternoon in a tiny village we parked up on a bench next to this gorgeous river and admired our surroundings. Such a lovely little place to finish our hiking adventure in.

We were informed by some fellow Wicklow Way hikers that the only place where we would be able to catch a coach to Cork, was in a town 4 miles away! The thought of walking another 4 miles sent shivers through my body. The two hikers were staying over night in Clonegal and getting up early to head to Bunclody. We couldn’t face getting up super super early for another morning of walking and we just wanted to kind of get it out the way. So with our bags and boots back on we headed south. This time however we wouldn’t be turning down any lift offers and actually stuck our thumbs out to hitch a ride. I have never done this in my life and never thought I would!

After about 10 minutes of cars passing us by I gave up on the idea of this actually working. I kept sticking my thumb out though, just in case. As we struggled up a steep hill a small car passed us….and actually pulled over at the top. It had only gone and bloody worked. Irish people…you guys rock!!! This guy, probably around my age, was also heading to Bunclody and said he was happy to take us! YES! So we all got chatting…you know, the usual conversation questions. Where have you been? Names? Where have you come from? When I mentioned Essex he looked back at me in the review mirror:

“You don’t live near Bas Vegas do you?”

Now only people from Essex seem to know of and ever call Basildon Festival Leisure Park, Bas Vegas!

“Er…I actually don’t live that far from there. How do you know of Bas Vegas?”

It turns out he had lived in London and Kent for years and had often visited friends in Basildon. I mentioned I went to university in Kent and…small bloody world…we had both gone to the same art institute around the same time.

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He was a wicked guy and told us the best places to head to for dinner and areas to avoid when he dropped us off. Driver man, who ever you are, I thank you dearly!

After dinner the guy behind the bar told us of a park that we could camp in that wouldn’t be any trouble. This was my least favourite wild camp of them all. It wasn’t like a foresty park, it was a football/rugby park where a lot of people walked their dogs and carried out their evening jogs. I didn’t feel sheltered from prying eyes and felt very uneasy as I got into my tent. Nick kindly gave me some weapons to help me feel safer. A mini shovel and a swiss army knife that looked like it had come out of a Christmas cracker, I think it did actually come out of a cracker last year. It would have to do! I fell asleep hugging my defensive weapons of choice.

I felt much better in the morning once all my stuff was packed up and my wild camping days had come to an end. The next part of our holiday was much more traditional in the way of a city break. A coach to Cork to take in the sights, the food and the local booze!

Hiking mission – DONE!

-MooFace-

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Day 3 & 4 – A Tough Old Slog

Sorry for the delay in my blog posts, I know I said I wouldn’t drag these out but these last couple of weeks have been just plain crazy hectic! Still trying to find the balance between working, socialising, blogging and I now have two new skills I want to learn but I will reveal these in another blog. Ooooo intrigued? So to continue with these Irish adventures…

Day 3: Lough Dan – Glenmalure

I awoke slightly groggy, cold and keen to get packed up and back on the road. I accidentally didn’t zip my sleeping bag up fully, so the chill woke me up during the wee hours of the morning. I also made the mistake of placing my backpack at the bottom of tent so I wasn’t able to stretch out fully. Something I duly noted for my next wild camp. Once up and packed away and with our tummies rumbling we decided we wanted some proper grub for brunch so we headed off in the direction of Laragh. After some food we would then continue onwards to Glenmalure. The flies returned with a vengeance and tormented us for the first hour of up hill climbing. It was safe to say that I wasn’t in the best of moods.

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After the climb we steeply descended into a little forested area just outside Laragh. A quaint wooden bridge crossed a pretty little river and we decided to explore this beautiful spot and clambered over the rocks for a cheeky photo opportunity.

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Laragh is a small picturesque village with only about 360 residents along with many Wicklow way hikers coming and going. Not far down the road we found a lovely little restaurant with outdoor seating so chucked off our bags, took a seat and ordered two pints of Guinness without even perusing the menu. Our first genuine Irish Guinnesses and my god did they taste good. I ordered lasagne, garlic bread and chips for lunch and it tasted like the best food I’d ever eaten. Screw you Nutrigrain bars!!! I sat there with a gigantic grin on my face as I enjoyed my gorgeous carbtastic meal.

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Content in the moment, chatting away about the journey so far and enjoying each sip of the stouty goodness, we soon forgot where we were and our mission for the day. We still had 15 odd miles to cover before the sun went down. We begrudgingly downed the remainder of our pints, paid the bill and got back on the road.

I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep, my achy legs or my belly full of Guinness but I struggled! It may have been all these things?! The Wicklow Way crosses the main valley floor in Glendalough and the gradual incline soon turns into a strenuous steep climb up large stone steps along side the Poulanass waterfall. I didn’t even have the strength to admire this view, which was such a shame. I just kept my head down, the sweat joining my tired tears as they dripped off my nose. I had to really push myself up to the top. Once past the waterfall the path continued to climb but not at such a dramatic gradient. Nick saw my tear-stained face and suggested we took a break. He asked me what was wrong and I literally just burst out crying. I had no energy, no drive and the number of miles we still had to cover over the next couple of days was really playing on my mind.

“I don’t think I’m going to be able to do this. I’m so tired and my legs and feet are killing me”

After a cuddle and a nutrigrain bar I had calmed down enough to carry on. This was a tough day. The path just continued to climb, weaving back and forth, snaking up the mountain side. The gigantic trees seemed to home in on us, blocking any form of view and restricting any glimpse of a potential peak. I could see that Nick was starting to struggle too. We were so tired and the lack of view and conversation meant we only had one thing to think about and that was walking. One foot in front of the other. With the silence that surrounded us, our footsteps sounded like a marching beat. We tried to keep to this rhythm and pace to keep us going. Left, Right, Left, Right, Keep, Going, Keep, Going!

After what felt like a lifetime the trees started to thin and eventually gave way to the most refreshing chill and the breathtaking view of the valleys far below.

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At the beginning of this climb, down in the valley, we were surrounded by hundreds of day walkers, bagless and carefree. As we ventured further and further up the numbers dwindled and people were replaced with sheep. Greeting us with their baaass and one even decided to follow us for a bit. This brought back memories of going to Wales when I was younger. My auntie and uncle lived in a small seaside town, but they lived further up a mountain track. After dinners we would often take walks up into the mountains to walk off the yummy food and feed the local sheep.

My silent prayers were answered and the path started to descend down these giant stone steps. I let gravity do its thing and let the weight of the day carry me to the bottom of the next valley. Suddenly we came across a road and that meant only one thing…we were close to Glenmalure, our stop for the day! We were meant to be wild camping that evening but we both had had such a strenuous day that we caved as soon as we saw the sign for the Glenmalure Lodge.

“I don’t care what it costs, I will put it on my credit card. I just need a shower and a nice comfy bed for the night” I said to Nick

It was the cutest little place and our room was actually rather large with a power shower and a bed so comfortable I almost forfeited going to dinner to just lie there. I’m glad I didn’t though. This image below was my burger…..how awesome is that?! Not just a normal burger, a burger with all the tasty trimmings piled on top. We spent the evening eating, drinking and celebrating finishing such a tough day.

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Day 4: Glenmalure – Tinahely (The Big One)

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I slept soooooo well and felt 100 times better about what lay ahead of us. After a lovely breakfast we headed out into the sunshine and made our way…UP! aw man you had to be kidding me!! Yep we headed up hill to our first peak of the day. This was also another scorcher of a day (I thought Ireland was supposed to be rainy and cold). There wasn’t much shade about so any we did come across we would take shelter and rehydrated.

This climb only lasted about 45 mins which was very short compared to yesterday. A breeze decided to join us and I felt in good spirits. I eyed up the path ahead and knew today would be a beautiful one.

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I looked over to see Nick’s head down and pain on his face. His boots had caused many blisters from the previous days and even though they were bandaged up the pain was obvious. I tried to keep the conversation light to take his mind off it until I knew he just wanted some peace and quiet to push through. I popped my headphones in and just passed through the miles, walking in time with the tunes.

At around 1pm we came across a little patch of grass next to the road with little boulders to perch our bums on. We thought it was probably a good idea to get out of the sun and refuel for the second half of the day. Nick seemed to perk up as his feet gave up complaining so much, knowing they would not be getting any rest any time soon. After a little Irish jig in the road, no kidding, we thought best to carry on.

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I love the homes they have around this area of Ireland. They are either these perfect, American looking houses with massive drives, show home style gardens and panoramic views or they are these cute cottages painted in cray cray colours. Look at the one below. Now I love the colour green but I would never think to myself…I’m going to paint my entire cottage and surrounding walls bright green. Hats off to this home owner though. So many different colours were dotted around the tiny villages, I loved it! It reminded me a bit of The Wizard of Oz.

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After we hit the 20 mile mark I realised that this was the furthest I’ve ever walked in one go. The pain in my toes and my shins was getting worse but I continued to hobble along knowing I only had a couple more miles to go! I could just about lift my feet off the floor. When I saw the sign for Tinahely I almost cried. When I saw the pub I actually did cry. These were tears of joy and pain at the same time.

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The barman in the pub was such a gem, he showed us to a table and brought us two big pints of water straight away along with 2 menus. I ordered Guinness and beef stew and Nick ordered fish and chips. It was GORGEOUS! It was so rich and filling. Really perked me up after completing this 22 mile day!

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Camp

The barman asked if we already had somewhere booked for the night. When we told him we were looking to camp he very kindly informed us of a field near by that a lot of Wicklow Way hikers stayed in with no trouble at all. I’m still taken aback by the kindness and generosity of the Irish folk. I can’t imagine being able to wild camp so easily in England. As the sun started to descend we pitched our tents and got ourselves ready for bed. It was a little weird camping in a field where people could see us so easily. The sound of cars passing over the bridge reminded me a little of home and it wasn’t long before I curled my tired achy feet into my sleeping bag (backpack at the side of me this time :p) and drifted off into the land of nod.

Only 1 more day of walking to go…1 more day.

To be continued…

-MooFace-

Day 2 – I see pride, I see power, I see a badass mother who don’t take no crap off of nobody

I woke up pretty much in the same position I fell asleep in, I was that tired. It took a while for my brain to re adjust and remember where I was and what went on the day before. As I stretched, my achy muscles soon jogged my memory of the 20 miles we’d completed previously. Instead of getting up straight away, I decided to just lie back and enjoy the feeling of being stationary and relaxed. I knew today was going to be tough with my already achy limbs.

The grey clouds soon dispersed and left us with a glorious sunny start to the day. With our bellies full and sunscreen applied we headed downhill to pick up the Wicklow Way where we’d left off. We were told that day 2 of the route was the most beautiful and this seemed to be true from the get go.

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Our route took us through a leafy forest path down a very welcoming hill. With the sun on our faces and a gentle breeze keeping us cool, we were both really excited about the day ahead. We knew it would get tough but with such a beautiful start it made us realise why we chose to take on this challenge.

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As we took on our first winding up hill climb of the day, we paused to look back over where we had come from. Down in the valley we could see the Knockree Hostel below, planted in the hillside amongst the greenery. Even after only an hour of walking, we had come so far already. We rounded a corner and the path levelled out. The cliff edge slowly revealed a secret as we drew closer to the edge. An amazing waterfall lay in the valley. I could see people milling around it, having picnics and dipping their toes in the icy water. We were really hoping the path would take us down to it, would have been such a lovely stop for lunch. Sadly the path crept around it, keeping us high in the mountains.

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We headed down our next rocky hill and came across this beautiful spot for a quick lunch break. If we had known the day before that this area was here we probably would have carried on a little bit further to reach it. It would have been the perfect wild camping spot, and there was evidence that people had had the same idea. It was a grassy area, flat enough for the tents and was right next to the Glencree river. It was really picturesque. With my bag off my back and my shoes off, I let my toes wriggle in the breeze. I leaned back, with a Nutrigrain bar in hand and my eyes closed. I was content in the world at that very moment.

Before we left, we took the opportunity to fill up our water bottles. Being such a warm day, we seemed to be racing through our supplies. It was lovely and cold and crystal clear. We did add a chlorine tablet though just to be on the safe side, didn’t want to risk any dodgy stomachs whilst out in the middle of no where, hehe. Feeling refreshed and stocked we continued on our path. Our next challenge: getting up through Powerscourt Paddock and up Djouce Mountain. Not quite to the 700m peak but close at about 650-655m.

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As we hiked, we chatted. We chatted about all kinds of things along the way: from future travels plans, to films we liked, food, friends and family…but we kind of got distracted. It wasn’t until we reached the bottom of a hill that we decided to check the guide book. Silly Sallys! Our surroundings didn’t seem to match what we were reading in front of us. Luckily we came across a couple who pointed back up…way up, where we had just come from. We had missed out turning and was forced to bow our heads and struggle back up the hillside. We had added 2 miles onto our day. This may not seem much but when the next part of the trek is up a 650m steep gradient, those 2 miles feel like 10 :p

We found that shouting out a bit of Cool Runnings helped us get to the top. We’re so weird sometimes ha ha.

I see pride, I see power, I see a badass mother who don’t take no crap off of nobody

We did make it though, we may have been over taken by mountain bikers (how did they do that?!) but we made it. We quickly dumped our bags and fell into a heap on the floor. My god was it beautiful up there! We could see for miles. The peak had been conquered. Errr or so we thought….

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…we turned the corner of the mountain to see that the path was continuing to climb. Shit! We still had about 100m to climb. ha ha. This path was very thin and hugged the mountain side. Sheep stood on tiny rock platforms, hopping around making it look so effortless. We could hear the sound of water running and checked our depleting water bottles. We’d stumbled across the source of a stream, coming straight out from the rocks. Again it was crystal clear and so refreshing to drink, no need for a purifying tablet this time.

The path became a lot easier once it turned into wooden sleepers that carved our path ahead. They trailed off over the edge of the mountain and out of sight.

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These sleepers took us all the way to the other side of Djouce Mountain to a spectacular view overlooking Lough Tay. Perfect photo opportunity as you can see. Poses at the ready…

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We took a short break here, the sun was warm but luckily we had the wind flowing up over the mountains to keep up cool. We took a seat and admired the gorgeous view. Peace and quiet, just the sound of the wind rustling our hair. Sadly this lough was a little out of our path but we were hoping to reach Lough Dan to pitch our tents beside that night. It had been a long day and we were looking forward to getting our shoes off and eating a ‘cooked’ meal.

It was surprising to see how much deforestation was going on within the Wicklow way. We were often passing acres of stumps, which was sad to see. The next description of our route instructed us to follow the sleepers down the hill and through a forest until we reached the road. We could see down the mountain side, see the sleepers, see the road but there wasn’t a single tree either side of this path. Even though new trees had been planted in the empty patches, it would take decades before the forest would be restored to its former glory and then I’m guessing these would be cut down as well. Just seems such a shame.

As we hit the road the tiredness started to kick in. My feet started to burn and my muscles were pleading for the end of the day. We had the chance to follow the road and head straight to a campsite in Roundwood, however we both agreed that we had come that far and we might as well stick to the route and wild camp as planned. I was rather nervous about my first experience wild camping. I was worried that we would get woken in the early hours of the morning by an angry farmer kicking us off their land (understandably of course). Nick pointed out possible locations along the way, but I was nervous by neighbouring houses so we carried on in the direction of Lough Dan.

As we passed through a field on the way to the lough we found ourselves in a large open space with what looked like faded patches of grass caused by tents. There was a water tap and even a pub style bench. This was a campsite…but with no one around. It wasn’t long before we realised we had stumbled across a campsite used by girl guides and boy scouts but was evidently closed for the week. With no one around we picked a spot near the back. Even though it was clear that nobody was going to come across us, I still found myself talking in a whispered tone.

Nick was keen to pitch the tents first but I was still nervous about being found so we agreed to wait a little longer for it to get a little darker. It was dinner time. A gourmet meal of super noodles. It may not look like much but my god it hit the spot. After a day of Nutrigrain bars, noodles was a welcoming dinner.

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Now the only problem with this campsite was the midges. Loads of them, and flies…everywhere. I tried covering my face with my checkered shirt whilst I pitched my tent but I couldn’t take much more of it. As soon as our tents were pitched and our belongings were slung inside we dived in to escape the hordes.

Me and Nick decided (much to my dismay) that we would take a 1 man tent each. They were lighter to carry and evenly carried between the both of us. Luckily, pitched right next to each other, we could still easily chat. Not that the conversation carried on for long. We were both so exhausted from our brilliant day that our voices soon descended into silence.

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“Nick do you think someone is coming?! What if they find us? What if they mug us?”

I woke Nick up. Whilst clutching my sleeping bag, I tried to listen out for footsteps approaching but I could only hear the sound of my heart beating fast in my chest.

“Don’t you worry, no one is coming, no one will find us here. Go to sleep, sweet dreams”

I soon relaxed and the tiredness swept over me. Before I knew it I was fast asleep. Nick on the other hand was then kept awake for the next 10 minutes by my snoring. Oops!!!

To Be Continued…

-MooFace-

Can You Guinness Where I’m Heading To?

The last time me and the fella got post holiday blues we found ourselves in the door way of STA travel with our debit cards in our hands and adventure in our hearts. We spontaneously booked a pair of return flights for Bangkok with the plan to spend 6 1/2 weeks travelling through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and back to the Thai islands to finish of our whistle stop tour. This was actually before getting it approved at work. “Yes that’s approved, you two can book your flights now” Ermmm yeah sure, it’s not like we had already done that, that would be crazy, right?!

If you’d like to read all about those adventures you can find them on my fella’s blog that I used to share with him before I ventured out into the world of moo. His writing is hilarious and very clever, I’m sure you’ll enjoy sugartothebrain. You’ll have to venture back to late 2012 early 2013 for these shenanigans…but feel free to read through his other stuff as well.

So this week it wasn’t so much holiday blues but constant work blues. After a pretty stressful end/start to this year, only managing to find time for a short break in Paris before literally getting back and moving flat, we haven’t stopped working since. Our Asia adventure meant that upon returning early last year we were only left with 6 working days to last us 11 months!! 11 months!!!! In our industry even having bank holidays off is a rare gem of a treat. When the New Year bells tolled we were blessed once again with 20 whole glorious days to take. Flashes of white sandy beaches, cocktails by the pool and reading my kindle in the sunshine flashed before my eyes. I could already feel the sun on my skin. However because we are saving for our BIG adventure, our holidays this year would have to be small and budgeted. It is now July and it got to the point where we both just needed a week off, away from our dark office rooms and bright monitors to get some fresh air, recharge our batteries and clear our minds of particle caches, render farm errors and deadlines.

Let’s walk across Ireland”

Said my fella with such eagerness. He got so excited by this idea that he pretty much started planning it in his head before I even had a chance to process this challenge. He wasn’t surprised to have his idea met by a wide eyed vacant look.

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Walk across Ireland….as a holiday….for 7 days. Was he mad? He tried doing this a few years ago but decided to do it in October when the weather was atrocious. I still remember his daily texts about rain, blisters and cold nights in his tent. This was not really my idea of a holiday.

He knew it would take much persuading to get me to agree to do this, but he has some kind of special ability to sell ideas to me. 90% of the time I’m so glad he has as they have turned out to be brilliant ideas. At work I was bombarded with google map links, pictures of rolling green hills and idyllic locations that we could see on our way and many messages telling me how amazing it would be. He was slowly changing my mind. Mmm it could be quite nice to get out the city and go exploring. There he did it, before I knew it we had the week booked off and the coach tickets purchased.

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So…the plan of action. We will be catching a coach there on a Friday afternoon. My plan is to take many packets of sweets, some tunes and maybe a couple of travel sickness tablets to help me nod off. My friends will agree when I say I don’t really need these, I can sleep through anything and anywhere much to their annoyance, but just to be on the safe side. I need to be full of energy when we get there. We shall arrive in Dublin in the wee hours of the Saturday morning where, after a can of redbull, we shall venture south and head straight out of the city. Hopefully the sun would have just graced us with it’s presence so this should be a nice start to the adventure. Our route will hopefully take us 7 days, down past Wicklow Mountains National Park, through Waterford and with any luck end up in Cork the following Saturday. After a day of exploring this city, and a night in a hotel with an actual BED, we will be heading back to Dublin on the train for our last day of Irish antics before getting the coach back to foggy London town. Arriving at 8am Monday we will be going straight to work HA HA! Sounds crazy right?

I am beyond nervous though. When I was younger I never went on camping holidays and at festivals I am always one of the weirdos who is up at 6am with a terrible hangover just so I can get a warm shower. We will be wild camping, each having a solo tent (this bummed me out a little at first) so toilet facilities and showers will have to be au natural in the wilderness. I really need to locate my unused she-wee that I bought for travels.

The world is your toilet Steph!

– My fella

I’m annoyingly not one of those people that look good in the wilderness. I can’t seem to get away with having greasy hair and a baby wiped face. My barnett doesn’t go all wavy and beachy like and me trying to attempt a french braid is liking asking a dog to separate skittles. I may have to ask one of my talented friends at work to do it before I leave and try and keep it in for the whole 7 days, just layering on the dry shampoo each morning. Think this will work? Me neither ha ha.

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So I’ve purchased a few essentials: a pair of hiking boots, waterproof trousers (it’s Ireland, I’m bound to need these), a waterproof jacket, a nice warm fleece for those chillier evenings and a new sleeping bag as my current one is so old and thin that I might as well wrap myself in cling film, would probably work better. I’ve picked up my travelling backpack and have made a neat little hiking pile on the floor of our flat. I have to admit, as nervous as I am, I am rather excited. A whole week, just me and him and the friendly people of Ireland that we meet along the way.

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So what do you guys think? Any camping style advice? Any Irish sites we should visit along the way? Anybody actually done this before? All comments/advice are very welcome.

-MooFace-