Lost and Found Again -- European Escapades

Trip Start Mar 01, 2005
Trip End May 20, 2005

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Flag of Ireland  ,
Saturday, May 14, 2005

A silver car rolls by and approaches the two hikers deep in discussion at a pullover on the outskirts of Cardiff's Brecon Beacon National Park. Without hesitation the window rolls down and the man leans out.

"Hey, are you two Canadian?"

The question seemed a little odd to the two travellers, stranded a good three miles from where they were supposed to be and torn between hitch-hiking or gutting out the rest of the long walk on their sore feet. There were no flags on their bags and no way this guy could've overheard their accents.

"Ummm, yeah. Why's that?" rebuts the male strapped with a large backpack that has melded into his body over the past 10 hours of trekking up and down various peaks and around grazing sheep.

"Well, there's a young lady up at a parking area up ahead going a little crazy over her lost friends and how she doesn't know where they are."

That could be no other than the fiery blonde Irish girl known as Jo, who had been bouncing back and forth between parking lots for the past hour, trying to find any info on where her lost visitors could be. Just 11 hours earlier she had dropped them off deep in the parkland with a map, a compass, and a cell phone lacking reception. Her first thoughts as the fearless Canadians whipped out their map and gazed at the vast forest land surrounding them: "They are so going to get lost!"

It turned out she was right... sorta. We knew where we were. It just wasn't where we were supposed to be.

The unnamed fellow hiker quickly shuffled some stuff around in the backseat of his car to make some room. As they took a seat, their bodies groaned with pain from a day's hiking. Most of the pulsing came from the last two hours spent blazing their own trail through uneven terrain marred by various pesky weeds that just ached to take out an ankle or two. Even the sheep looked like they'd just seen humans for the first time.


The Brecon Beacons were amazing. The hike started out alongside a small river highlighted by several waterfalls. Beautiful old mossy stone fences sidled the other side of the path. We eventually emerged from the forest to find a lack of trails to follow but a heady helping of sheep grazing by the river in a grassy valley. Nonetheless, the map trail pointed us to this location so we stopped for a bite not 10 metres from a family of sheep locked in deep stare. (They don't even give you privacy when you're peeing... very nosy, those sheep.)

Looking off in the distance towards some towering peaks, Erin asked something along the lines of, "We don't have to climb those do we."

"Ummm, of course not. I think we go around those," I say, and the hike continues onwards towards the towering peaks. Sometimes a little deception is needed in order to gain compliance and make the ultimate goal, which she admits was well worth it. I mean, I didn't know exactly which peaks she was looking at, so I can plead innocence.

We ascended our first peak not 30 minutes later, bumping into a group of high school kids shocked that we were hiking these peaks for fun. Two of the girls were defiantly dragged up the first peak by their instructor. By the look of their tears and sounds of their sobbing, a wild guess says they weren't having fun in the great outdoors. Meh, maybe they'll understand it when they're older. While they whined, we wined and dined by ourselves on top of the peak with a dangerous combo of delicious water and scrumptious pre-made sandwiches. OK, the meal may not have been the most romantic, but the astounding panoramas and gorgeous weather more than made up for it.

Deep, dark shadows were cast across the valleys and swallowed up the cliffs as the sun continued its rotation behind the pillowy white clouds hovering in the sky overhead. Streams of water tumbled off cliffs and goats grazed at 75 degree angles. A full rotation would often reveal no other signs of human life to be found. No cars, no houses, no TVs, no cell phones, no murmured conversations. Just the peaceful silence of nature at work, occasionally interrupted by the bleat of a startled sheep.

Our forays off the trodden path onto the rolling green hills or stepping out onto a rocky ledge jutting out the side of a cliff face sometimes made you feel like a pioneer exploring the land for the first time. The urge to have the odd run mimicking William Wallace in Braveheart could not be suppressed. Cheesy, I know. But also a necessity as we climbed towards our second and third peaks that left you breathless at both the views they afforded and because of the steep inclines. Apparently pastries and marathon sight-seeing don't get one in shape like they used to. A pity.

Things only went awry when we followed our camera instead of the trail, in pursuit of a wild horse. Somewhere along the way, mischievous sheep must've filled in the small dirt trail behind us with weeds and crab grass because it suddenly disappeared. Instead of backtracking, we went forward in search of the trail, thinking we were still making progress. Instead, we found land undisturbed by humans and sheep that looked shocked to see us there. We walked until we found a "less steep" decline to the highway along a forest line. Unfortunately it also took us out of cell phone range, so I had to climb back up the cliff side with the phone to try to get ahold of Jo. I managed to phone her mom in Belfast, but never got to clear up our locations with Jo. Hence the man who picked up his prized Canadians and delivered us to our caretaker. Thanks dude.


I managed to talk Erin into biking the Aran Islands with me not five days later, still full of aches and pains. Silly girl! Just doesn't learn, does she? And so, we rented bikes and explored the island of Innishmore on two wheels. With a deep interest in attempting to avoid the tourist traps and exploring the natural beauty of the land, we went forth to the "pufting holes." Almost all the other bikes and tours went the other way, not even thinking of the small points of interest highlighted on our map. Perfect... that is, until we found out why.

The nondescript path to the pufting holes ended abruptly at some rock fences. These man-made fences are centuries old and crisscross the land to separate it into smaller plots. They also derail any supposed paths. Worried about the possibility of being shot by a farmer or mauled by a goat, we decided to stop two power walkers who happened to be in the vicinity.

"Oh yeah, just go right over the fences. Leave your bikes there and they'll be fine," they said.
"Over the fences? Are you sure?"
"Oh yeah, they're well worth it too."

And so, we dropped the bikes and started hiking over fences, past the largest cows I've ever seen and families of goats. On the other side of the island, past the 10 or 15 fences we hopped, we were rewarded with spectacular cliffs that suddenly dropped off into the crashing waters 20 metres below. It was time to kick back with a Guinness and have lunch, the Irish way.

The powerful winds and waves tunnel into the cliff side, constantly chiseling away at the rock facade and making it fall under its own weight. It's here that small pockets in the cliffs create large sprays of water referred to as pufts. With the tide momentarily out, we climbed down to check out the remaining tide pools. But most of the time we just stayed warm in each other's arms and enjoyed the vistas before returning the bikes and taking the ferry back to our B&B.

Once again, doing things the hard way paid off with spades of memories that will be different from all of those who followed the well-trodden route.

Scott and Erin
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