The Big Read: The Long and Winding Road to the Cavan Club
Camino my backside, says Barry Egan. It's got to be Cavan.
Only saying. My wife walked the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain a few years ago. She said, and she is not an especially judgemental woman, that its views were almost banal compared to what we experienced recently walking in the Cavan Burren; the near consciousness-altering magnificence of the landscapes - the mountains and lakes, the ancient megalithic sites and the dark woods and marshes straight out of a scene from Game Of Thrones, the rugged, unspoiled archaeological beauty of it all. The magic of nature surrounded us everywhere we walked in our mucky walking shoes.
It was lashing rain during the car journey down but things boded well when Billie Holiday sang on the hastily made CD compilation for the trip: "Don't threaten me with love, baby. Let's just go walking in the rain."
We arrived at around 6pm, checked into the lovely Radisson Blu Farnham Estate & Resort, and went for a dip in the swimming pool with a tres chic outdoor infinity hydrotherapy pool. With the sun overhead, we swam, James Bond-like, through the little gateway in the indoor pool and out into the open - breathing in the scenery and fresh air as we did so.
Towelled-off and dressed once more, we then went for a walk around the extensive grounds of the hotel and the nearby woodlands. At this stage, we had more than worked up an appetite for our evening meal in the hotel's Botanica restaurant.
We had some seasonal, local produce (salmon for me, and the best of steak for herself) followed by a drink or two in the very trendy Wine Goose Cellar Bar in the basement of the Great House afterwards.
We were up at dawn the next morning for our walk. (It was my wife's idea - there was no talk of a lie-in.) The special joy of getting up at dawn to go for a walk - breathing in fresh air and the rays of a new sun - was somewhat lessened by the fact that I had a hangover. But 90 minutes of gentle walking in the nearby woods performed an exorcism on the whiskey-demons in my head. Then we returned to the Radisson Blu for brekkie.
I was famished. I'm not made for this walking malarkey. Famous last words, in truth, because the walk we were to go on later that afternoon was possibly the longest, the most gruelling and in the end, the most rewarding/exhilarating walk of any description I've ever been on. Compared to the light higgledy-piggledy meander earlier that morning, this six-hour trek around the Cavan countryside was like a great march into the unknown, into history. I actually thought my lungs were about to give out as we walked up what seemed to be endless hillsides. What made it slightly more painful was when I overheard people say that this was a moderate-to-easy trek.
The moaning of an unfit ginger whinger notwithstanding, once you stay with it eventually something wonderful happens to you, first physiologically and then psychologically.
There is something magical about the isolation, about this part of the world in general (our guide told us that this part of Ireland has been home for Neolithic, Bronze Age, Celtic, Norman and Early Christian peoples. Your man Cromwell and his wrecking crew came by this way in 1653.)
You feel alive again. You just breath it all in, as you enter some sort of mystic wonderland. You have these mad existential conversations in your head, primarily because up here on the Cuilcagh Mountain, you feel part of the universe not the rat race. It was great to be totally cut off from life in Dublin, from debates about Garth Brooks, from ESB bills.
The only electricity was the spiritual electricity coming off the cinematic hills and forest paths, to say nothing of the ancient stones put there by our ancestors ... the megalithic tombs, stone circles and the pre-bog walls, whatever about the rocks formed over 330m years ago during, I was told, the Carboniferous Period.
OK, the poor legs were walked off us but hey, we were in the midst of something ineluctably beautiful, that had a profound effect on the senses. That beautiful sense of being alive is magnified when you hear the sound of the birds on the trees in the mountain sing. It put you in mind of what Maya Angelou once said: "A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.'
We were singing a song of our own when we eventually arrived in the lovely village of Blacklion, on the border, at 6pm. There was soup and sandwiches in the local hall. I have never been so delighted to see a bowl of soup in my life. Talk about chicken soup for the soul.
Three hours later, having showered and freshened-up in the particularly lovely Farnham View Bed and Breakfast just outside Cavan town, we were sitting down for a much-needed glass of wine each in the splendour of the Olde Post Inn. The owner of our lovely B&B, Jane Crowe, left her kids with her husband PJ to very kindly drive us to the restaurant in the sleepy village of Cloverhill, near Cavan Town.
I must have looked like a zombie I was so tired when I walked with my wife - who doesn't do tiredness or whingeing, unlike me - into the restaurant. I have to say two hours later I was feeling on top of the world once more, after possibly the best meal I've ever had in Ireland - courtesy of Gearoid and Tara Lynch's restaurant in a cool old stone building that was a post office until 1974.
I had the most exquisite fish ever, sea-bass, and she had the juiciest steak ever, followed by desserts so delish that we quite possibly undid all the good work of the six hour walk earlier that day. But you have to live a little, don't you? Well, we sat in the elegant lounge afterwards and drank wine - my wife because she was finishing off a lovely meal; me to numb the pain of my legs.
The following morning, Jean had a hearty breakfast for us before we set off on our way back to the big smoke. We stopped off for one last swim in the infinity outdoor pool in the Radisson Blu Farnham Estate hotel, and said a private goodbye to the Burren from our watery oasis.
Our legs will take us back one day.
Barry Egan took part in the Cavan section of the Lakelands Walking Festival (www.lakelandswalking.com) which promotes three walking festivals annually in Fermanagh, Leitrim and Cavan. The final festival of the year will be held in Fermanagh in October 2014. New walking trails have been developed in all three counties and are open all year round. For further details of walking in Cavan check out www.thisiscavan.ie. Barry stayed in the Farnham Estate Golf & Spa resort. The resort is currently offering a mid-week golf night including B&B, one round of golf, and unlimited use of the indoor and outdoor infinity pool, water mint thermal suite, relaxation rooms and gymnasium from €79.50 per person sharing www.farnhamestate.ie Phone: (049) 437 7700 Farnham View Bed & Breakfast / Self Catering 00353 (0)49 4380773 firstname.lastname@example.org