Spring into action and appreciate the delights and glory of rambling
With all that I've written over the past 18 months or so on the joys and benefits of walking, it surprises me that I haven't really touched upon the dark side up until now. By which I mean not the hidden evils or dangers of the pedestrian arts, but the very real frustrations of not being able to go out for a walk.
Without undertaking any serious statistical investigation, I feel safe in speculating that over the past month or so, national net miles walked per head (the indicator that we in the business use to measure walking levels) has taken a bit of a hammering.
You wouldn't send a dog out in this weather; at least not unless you fancy pulling him out of a tree later, so you and Rex are probably exchanging some pretty moody looks by this stage. Your own coat isn't as glossy as it was, either.
For the first time in my life, I'm starting to feel the need, rather than the mere desire or inclination, to walk. I'd never really thought of my little habit in that way before, never having been incarcerated, hospitalised or otherwise immobilised for long, but I've taken to gazing out, trance-like, at the weather, working my way through the biscuits and dreaming of happy rambles.
Perhaps I needed the reminder that what had seemed almost a right, occasionally an obligation, is actually a privilege, and at the moment, like countless others, I'm feeling distinctly underprivileged. This must be what it's like living above the Arctic Circle; I don't suppose Rex Rexsson gets to chase too many sticks at this time of year, but at least he gets to eat puffins.
Never mind, I won't die from lack of walking, and neither will you – whatever I may have implied in previous columns. There are certain risks, to be sure; but they're manageable as long as we lay off the flapjacks.
Spring will come, Atlantis will rise from the Bog of Allen and by the time Irish Water declares its first hosepipe ban, all this will seem like weeks ago. And then what walks we'll have.
This morning, I received a call from a chap who plans to start walking from Wicklow to Galway next month. I admire his optimism and applaud the spirit that simply will not give best to the so-called mighty forces of nature.
Go Sam, and send me a postcard from the low-lying fields of Athenry once you've forded them.
My guilty secret is that in a room upstairs I have a stepping machine. I hate it almost as much as I hate the turbo-trainer from which my bike hasn't moved in months, but I'm using it.
With every unnatural elliptical stride it reminds me that I love walking. Sure, I yearn for fitness, fresh air and eternal youth, but all that is nothing against the simple pleasure of stepping out, gradh geal mo croide.
This too will pass and, in the meantime, let us become masters of opportunity, watching and listening for those moments, however brief, when we can spring again into the great outdoors and delight in what we have; made all the more precious by its temporary loss.
It works for Rex; for him the future is full of sticks. Walk in the now – or if you can't, live for later.
Conor O'Hagan is editor of the bi-monthly Walking World Ireland magazine. www.walkingworldireland.com
Walk of the Week: Bonaveen Walking Trails, Co Galway
Ascent: 10m Trailhead: Car park, Portumna Forest Park Distance: 10.5k Time: 2hrs Difficulty: Moderate
Portumna Forest Park is adjacent to Portumna on the northern shore of Lough Derg. It can be found on discovery map number 53, grid reference M 838 037. There are forest and lakeside walks, a car park, toilet facilities and observation points.
This trail is the longest loop in the Forest Park, covering its western side, including the wonderful Bonaveen Point section by the lake.
This loop brings the visitor into a multitude of diversity including mature Scots pine forest and open lakeshore environments. It ventures into areas of the park previously unexplored by visitors.
The trail starts northwards from the car-park on a single track (narrow and twisty in places) and heads into large stands of Scots pine. It then winds through mature beech forest and younger mixed broadleaves bringing you around the top of Portumna Golf Club.
You will pass through deer gates in high fences, designed to keep the deer from entering onto the golf course. When you reach the golf club's car park, cross directly over while watching for traffic entering and leaving the car park.
The next section brings you above a large turlough on the western end of the park. This is a feature typical of low-lying limestone areas where the water table fluctuates throughout the year.
In winter, this is a haven for water fowl such as duck, waterhen and cranes. It leads onto a forest road to the south of the golf club and brings you near the disused Bonaveen harbour and onto the long section around the lakeshore.
This is some of the most attractive landscape in the park with great views out over the expanse of Lough Derg; a very busy area for pleasure craft in the summer.
This trail is open to bad weather at times and can be quite exposed, so be prepared with suitable clothing and footwear.
On the return leg from the lake, you can link into the green waymarked loop of the Rinmaher trail to give a four-hour walk or two-hour cycle of the full trails in the park.