Day 1 - Monday: Coffeed and sconed at Mellon Country Inn, sun shining, ankles bared we set forth for Donegal. What could go wrong? Somehow we managed to overshoot the planned lake walk, undershoot the published destination of Biddy O'Barnes and take a route more suited to the Grand National or SAS training with a forest of fallen trees to negotiate. The shorter legged Cedars limboed under the obstacles whilst the longer legged variety hurdled (or slithered) over them. Eventually a 'Beecher's Brook' log jam meant the only way forward was on rear ends down a precipitous slope ending in a river. Time for lunch and a rethink. Steps retraced, early arrival at Mill Park forcing us to sit in the sunshine sipping a drink until the rooms were ready. What an inconvenience!
Day 2 - Tuesday: Our day began with a team talk, giving directions to the various walks and outlining the options available. There was then a dash for the revolving doors, clutching our brown paper bags, followed by a "Le Mans" type start as cars dispersed in every direction. Some reached their destination on time, others eventually arrived and some may still be out there! Weather damp and miserable but enveloped in our wet-weather gear off we set climbing above Lough Eske, the rain increasing with the altitude. A local farmer/Bluestack rambler warned against taking our planned route and suggested a less boggy track higher up but as we entered the cumulo nimbus at the top of the hill there was an element of rebellion amongst the ranks. It was back to base camp for the majority while Mike's groupies disappeared into the clouds where there were rivers to be forded and clothes to be even more soaked. Meanwhile, back at the hotel, there were fun and games indoors with a fiercely contested game of bridge where a very excited Kathleen out-trumped Dorothy to emerge an unexpected, though worthy, winner - an achievement that will be long remembered. Even more memorable, or perhaps I should say more difficult to forget, was Tom Mackey's evening rendition of 'Happy Birthday, Mr President' in the manner of Marilyn Monroe.
Day 3 - Wednesday: Sunshine and showers in the forecast so it was the Creevy coastal path from Rossnowlagh Beach to Ballyshannon with a mountain walk back at the Barnesmore Gap for the less vertically challenged. At Rossnowlagh a search for car parks, preferably with toilets, ensued. Mission accomplished, beach walked, now for coastal path. It took another local farmer to inform us that the next section of path had a large sign with an equally large X through the word walkers. A 4km walk along a busy road to rejoin the path was discounted - a wise decision as 40 Over Active People(s) milling about in the traffic would not have been a good idea. Those starting at Ballyshannon also found their route blocked - time for another rethink. Restarting from Creevy Pier resulted in lovely coastal walks in each direction in the sunshine. It was by sheer luck that Gordon and the two Toms, who had started at Ballyshannon, were reunited with their better halves. But Gordon's luck wasn't to last later that night - even going topless failed to inspire his team to win the top prize at Mike's quiz.
Day 4 - Thursday: True to form a convoy of cars began the day with a trip around several car parks before alighting in the carpark of the Glen Head Tavern in Glencolmkille ... at least so we were told as in the thick mist and rain it could have been anywhere. Gerry, being almost a native, pointed us in the general direction of up. Lillian wasn't so sure! Quite a steep climb at one point meant a breakaway group decided to take the shorter Drum Loop. Guess what? The shorter route became the longer route and those on the 'longer' Tower Loop trek were enjoying a drink in the pub when the others returned wet, tired and hungry as they hadn't even time to stop for lunch! The only certainty of the day was that everyone got wet and the only things that proved to be completely waterproof were Paddy's legs. In the evening we enjoyed a singsong and recitations by various talented walkers back at the hotel while those who paid a visit to a local pub were piped home in the wee small hours by Gaby.
Day 5 - Friday: Our final day and Mike offered a short walk along the Sruell Gap to the Grey Mare's Tale waterfall, "the equal of anything you might see in Switzerland". However, after performing impromptu reels and jigs to Gaby's traditional bagpiped send off, most of us were too exhausted to take up his offer, some choosing to follow in the footsteps of the medieval pilgrims at Lough Derg instead. Looking back, the Mill Park hotel was first class - great location, excellent food and service. Gordon has already enquired about booking it for next year. After all we now have an intimate knowledge of car parks within a 30 mile radius and can always repeat the walks a different way! So it's huge thanks to Gordon, John, Mike, Ruth and all other helpers who made everything possible despite many difficulties. Such a pity the Jim W. took ill during the trip. It was great to have Gerry on the team to help. Here's wishing Jim a speedy recovery - as Brian and Joe can verify, Letterkenny Hospital has served Cedars well.
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