The next part of my journey would take me to Westport in County Mayo through the gorgeous Delphi Valley. There were no cars in sight just me, my bike and sheep on a lonely stretch of road peacefully cycling through a valley of mountains. You don’t realize how few songs you know all the words to until you’re alone for an extended period of time, and then you find yourself cursing the fact that you never learnt the verses to ‘I Believe I Can Fly’. It was such a lovely cycle, I wasn’t even bothered that I’d lost my phone signal completely (rendering my GPS non-functional) because luckily for me some clever people had decided that the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ should have clear signs indicating its direction. The signs became beacons of hope and strength in times of desperation. However, in cases where my phone failed and no signs were in sight I would just look out for that large body of water (the ocean) that should have definitely been somewhere to my left.
After I arrived in the Old Mill Hostel in Westport I went straight to my 12 bed dorm room, packed a small bag of the only clean clothes I had remaining and went straight to the shower. In good faith and utter naivety, I stripped down and placed my clothes at a reasonable distance from the shower-head. I was then required to stand there, naked and helpless, as the mighty burst of water from the shower-head somehow missed my body entirely and proceeded to hydrate the remainder of my clean clothes.
Westport is a quaint little town. I had heard that there was a pub owned by a man called Matt Molloy (from the Chieftains), that had fantastic music so I left the hostel donning my half drenched clothing to check it out. I was joined by some fellow hostellers including a super lovely lawyer from my very own hometown! We discovered our geographical kinship when I caught her spreading some Vegemite on toast. Sure fire way to catch an Aussie! Matt Molloys pub was brilliant. Traditional Irish music inside and some American country music out the back. Country music is pretty popular in local pubs and you find out very quickly that Bruce Springsteen, or ‘The Boss’, makes an absolute killing in Ireland.
During my cycle I avoided looking up things to do in each town but relied more on the suggestions of my family, locals or fellow hostellers. This sometimes resulted in some abstract day plans. I had been told about County Mayo’s third highest mountain and the holiest mountain in Ireland, known as ‘Croagh Patrick’, and determined that hiking up it would be a productive way to spend my only day in Westport.
Every year hoards of people take an annual pilgrimage up the mountain in honor of Saint Patrick who, according to tradition, spent 40 days fasting on the summit (copied almost word for word from Wikipedia). There are many that do it bare footed! My new Aussie friend and I decided to do the hike together with shoes on our feet and so we were dropped at the base by a generous fellow hosteller. The weather forecast described a delectable sunny day, instilling in us hope for the journey ahead. The skies were a LITTLE grayer than I imagined for a sunny day but who was I to judge the viability of Irish weather forecasts.
After we had overcome the excitement involved in renting a stick (an actual stick, it was awesome), we started our hike. Always a fan of unnecessary challenges, I decided to carry a 1.5 litre drink bottle of water in my right hand, whilst holding the super cool looking climbing stick in my left. It did not take long for me to regret this decision and question my relationship with the Irish weather forecasters as a thick layer of fog, strong winds and rain rolled in. It was then a matter of carrying this drink bottle whilst trying not to fall over, as neither hand was available to protect me from the ground. It didn’t help that three quarters of the way up, you reach a section of the mountain I can only describe as like trying to walk across a ball pit that is on an incline. Loose stones cover the final and most grueling part of the climb and as you climb the stones shift and give way under your feet.
We continued on regardless, struggling against the wind and rain with no view of the surrounding landscape as the fog thickened. My beautiful Aussie friend was a hiking champion and so stopped every few meters or so to wait for her inexperienced, sluggish counterpart. I tried in vain to not to let my self esteem crumble as I was passed by a myriad of children and elderly people who did not share my ‘end of days’ attitude to exercise. We slowly made our way up, ignoring and gaining no hope from the people informing us that we were “right around the corner!” or “about 10 minutes away from the summit!”. So many lies. We reached the top wet and triumphant. The descent was a nightmare on the calves, and I cant say it made the next day’s cycle to Achill Island any easier but it was totally worth it and I highly recommend people/masochists climb this beast of a mountain.
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