Croagh Patrick is a mountain in the west of Ireland, not far from Westport. It’s a holy mountain and a place of pilgrimage as Saint Patrick reputedly fasted on the summit for forty days in the fifth century. Well that’s the guidebook stuff covered – thank you Wikipedia.
Having travelled over to Ireland to visit family for years now, it had been suggested that we all climb the mountain together, on Reek Sunday, which is the one day of the year that thousands of people do it. We kept talking about this, but never actually got organised – until now.
Lady Hughes and myself flew over to Dublin and stayed with family in Slane before driving across Ireland to meet up with everyone else in Clifden. We had one brief stop half-way in Athlone where we met up with my brother Peter and his family for lunch and a quick look at the castle and the Shannon River.
In Clifden we all stayed in the same guesthouse, fourteen of us in total including four small children. It sounds hectic but it was actually very chilled.
On Sunday we drove through beautiful Connemara to the mountain, not really sure what was waiting for us. Most of our group travelled light, in running gear and trainers, but with my years of hiking experience I went prepared, with rucksack, boots, food, first aid and camera kit. This, along with the fact I’m really unfit, meant they all left me for dust within minutes. The only consolation was that they all got mild hyperthermia, waiting for me at the top.
Croagh Patrick is 764 metres high and the climb is classed as moderate. I found it fairly tough, mainly because the upper sections are steep and full of loose boulders as well as the numbers of people on the day going up and coming down – also, did I mention that I’m not very fit at the moment?
In some parts I was struggling to find a solid foothold and all the time people are stumbling and sliding around you. Having said that, the atmosphere was great, we were really lucky with the weather and the views were stunning.
One impressive sight was all the devout Catholics climbing the mountain in bare feet, some of them had painted their toenails specially for the occasion. A more depressing one was when I was overtaken by an 82 year old lady who was being held up by two men – but hey, she didn’t have a rucksack and camera to carry.
On the top there is a chapel and a priest delivering mass from, what looked like a bay window. On one side of the chapel there was a doorway for confessions and on the other a doorway for holy communion. By the time I got up there (approx. 2 hours – not bad going) the summit was shrouded in cloud and the rest of my family were shivering and keen to get moving again. Clare and myself put on our anoraks and settled down for a bite to eat as they all abandoned us for the warmer lower reaches.
As we recharged our batteries, the cloud lifted and we were rewarded with gorgeous views over Clew Bay with its 365 islands (one for every day of the year). I strolled around a bit and took a few pictures before we eventually packed up and started the careful descent.
Back in Clifden we had another great night out, celebrating our ascent and swapping stories about the various sights we’d seen, including the English mother, and her son who sat down and refused to move another step. She was trying to get him to stay with the mountain rescue, who had a team every hundred yards, but he was having none of it and they started having a bit of a domestic on the steepest section.
Driving back to Dublin, we stopped off in Athlone again for a bite to eat and a better look round the castle. We said our goodbyes and headed off to the airport.
It was wonderful to catch up with all the family, especially my sister Rachel, who had come over from Perth, Australia. Connemara is stunningly beautiful and we had a great time, especially climbing Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday – that’s an experience I’ll always remember. I suppose we’ll have to come up with a new adventure for us all now – but I’ll just let my knees recover from this one first I think.