'There are other ways to have an adventure' - How Ireland’s local walkers are changing communities, one step at a time
Walking is booming, but it's still about slowing down and having heart-to-hearts
You’ve heard of Couch to 5k. But what about Couch to Cuilcagh?
That’s the challenge a group of Cavan walkers set themselves recently — starting from scratch and working through six weeks of walks, weigh-ins, zumba and circuit training before summiting the 665m Cuilcagh Mountain (above).
“We conquered Cuilcagh,” as Eileen Gormley of the Killeshandra Leaguers GAA club told me. “It was the most beautiful day that ever came... it was like the good Lord saying we should be out walking.”
Eileen was one of those, along with Stephen King, Patricia Dolan and local GP Dr Joan Ahern, who led the group of 54. Ranging in age from teens to 70s, the idea was to promote health, wellbeing and social inclusion, and all had lunch on the summit before descending for the bus home.
“We were so excited,” Eileen says. “We were like children.”
I love that term, ‘Couch to Cuilcagh’. And I wouldn’t have heard it had I not taken a time-out in Templeport, Co Cavan, last week.
There, strolling with locals after the launch of the Cavan Walking Festival (see more things to do in Cavan), walking started to work its gentle magic. Devices and screens were stowed away, boots began clumping off the bohareen, and chats sparked up.
Walking is booming right now — from wearable tech to waymarked ways. But at its core, it’s still about slowing down, hitting a natural pace and having heart-to-hearts. It’s nourishment, no matter how you look at it.
“The biggest screen in your life is the one in front of your eyes,” as another walker, Noel Gumley, put it.
Ours was a short trail, around 1.6km out and back from Templeport Community Centre. But like most walks, it soon became a little universe unto itself.
To a bleeping soundtrack of birdsong, I learned that the road once formed part of the Cavan-Leitrim railway. A young walker, eight-year-old Max Rofé, made me a dreamcatcher from twigs and wild grass while his mum, Isabel, told me how locals had rebooted this ‘Golden Way’ by clearing seven trucks of rubbish with the help of Cavan County Council.
“It was absolutely diabolical,” she said, describing the removal of fly-tipped fridges, satellite dishes and even toilets from the ditches and hedgerows.
“If people see rubbish, they just dump more.”
Today, the Old Railway Line has been reborn, and is precisely the kind of off-radar landscape Fáilte Ireland talked about when launching its new Midlands tourism brand — Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands — last week.
Activities are not all about adrenaline. “There are other ways to have an adventure,” as Virginia local, Joan Keating, put it.
There are walkers like Eileen, Noel, Max, Isabel and Joan all over Ireland. Pooling cars, working WhatsApp groups, quietly promoting community spirit (Couch to Cuilcagh is now an annual event, and the group meets every Sunday for stroll).
Change can start in the smallest of ways, by putting one foot in front of the other.
Read more:24 Hours in Cavan: A perfect day in Ireland's Hidden Heartlands