The Hart Walk

(by Brian Searson, from the IMC Journal 1989-93)
An attempt at walking from Terenure, Dublin, to Lugnaquilla and back in less than 24 hours.

The origin of the Hart Walk was a fifty guinea wager allegedly by the naturalist R M Barrington (a fine walker himself) that Hart could not walk from Terenure tram terminus to the summit of Lugnaquilla and back in under 24 hours. It seems to have been specified that one way could be by road but the other had to be over the hills. Hart, accompanied by Sir Frederick Cullinan, left Terenure at 10.58pm on 20th June 1886 and arrived back at 10.48pm the next evening. The details of the timing were recorded by Hart on the 1" map which he used. This was in the possession of the late J B Malone. The fastest recorded time ia 17 hours 39 minutes by Gaffney and Rice in 1976. (Information from article by Joss Lynam in Mountain Log No. 27, Autumn 1986)

Friday, 27 April 1990, 9.58 p.m. and suddenly I am under way. The first of many moments of truth arrived. The planning and preparing for an attempt on the 75 mile Hart Walk (Terenure to Lugnaquilla and back) had reached completion. The walking began. Wearing hiking gear and carrying a well-filled rucksack, I felt slightly strange in the city streets. Aware of the passage of people and vehicles, but determined not to be distracted by them, I slowly began to leave the footpaths and street-lit areas behind. Killakee Car Park provided a final panoramic view of the Dublin lights stretching from Tallaght to Howth. The gloom crept in rapidly on turning my back to the city and facing the Military Road.

Being smothered in cloud the mast on Kippure was not to be seen. Vague shapes of other hills, like the Tonduffs and Sugar Loaf, could be discerned. A few cars passed by. What were the occupants’ thoughts. A lone walker at the midnight hour! A chilly and keen wind blew on the stretch towards Glencree. Time for gloves and a balaclava. Lough Bray and the first time check. The tension was eased. I was 13 minutes ahead of schedule. Whereas for a wager in 1886 Hart’s target time for the walk was 24 hours, I had, foolishly or otherwise, set myself a schedule for a completion time of 20 hours. The first steps were taken, the first stage completed.

The stretch to Sally Gap, familiar from various Lug walks, slipped by easily. Beyond the next high point of the road at 1634 ft a new scene unfolded. An array of hills seen in silhouette stretched from Luggala to the Brockagh Ridge. How wonderful to behold as all the while unseen black tarmac drifted gently by. A startling sound intruded on my consciousness just before the Oasis. Repeated again and I guessed it was deer giving voice. The invisible but expected encounter with Glenmacnass Waterfall began as a whisper of sound. Rapidly reaching its full intensity, it then slowly faded as the road led downhill and away to a lower level.

Only a few stars were visible in the night sky. Their absence meant cloud. But how much and at what level, I asked myself. No answer was forthcoming and my eyelids got heavy. My pace felt comfortable and trance-like. What would be the official charge for sleep-walking on a public roadway! My eyes opened and I found myself on the left of the road centre-line, having been constantly to the right of it. Must keep my ears open, though no cars have passed either way since Glencree.

Laragh at last, and I sat at a picnic table; time for a sandwich and hot tea. I recalled another day at the same table being harassed by wasps looking for a share of an ice-cream cone! A street lamp nearby caused me to squint. But in its light I was pleased to find the schedule was being maintained. The next stage to Drumgoff with its rises and falls, twists and turns was to take a slight edge off the time gained. But nothing detracted from the novelty of witnessing the dawning of a new day. Just beyond the Shay Elliott memorial the eastern sky developed a faint paleness on the horizon. This grew imperceptibly for a while. Then suddenly the first streaks of light were stretching out across the sky with inky bands of cloud above. Stopping, I turned around and gazed, intent on capturing this magical moment of daybreak as the sun slowly dispersed the shadows of night. Yes, I was glad to have set out on this pilgrimage.

Changing from runners to boots at Drumgoff, I set off towards Lug very conscious of the different terrain and the long climb ahead. It took quite a while to get into the right rhythm after 7 hours or so on the roads. Shortly after 7 a.m. I reached the summit and had another breakfast. Only patchy cloud was encountered during the ascent but map and compass were required for the descent. I found myself stumbling along, out of tune with the undulations and slope of the ground for the first while. I was getting annoyed too with conditions, being obliged to keep a constant eye on the compass vaguely seen through fogged-up spectacles. Soon my anger became directed on the job at hand and movement became more fluid, more purposeful. The usual landmarks of Camenabologue and Table Track were passed with barely a nod in acknowledgement. Steadily I ate into the remains of the first mountain stage, delighting in the freedom of pushing the pace in a definite direction, towards each immediate if invisible goal. In due course Conavalla and Lough Firrib were met and then the Wicklow Gap, which turned out to be the first cloud-free mountain area. I was delighted to find a gain of 33 minutes had been made on the stage from Lug. Time in hand; it might well be required.

A break was needed before the climb to Tonelagee, unrelenting in its steepness and unforgiving of tired legs and fatigued mind. Already the time in hand was being nibbled away. Pushing along on compass bearing to boggy cols and boggy plateaus brought me to Mullaghcleevaun with no further time gained, or lost either. On nearing the surfaced road after the long descent from Mullaghcleevaun, the enveloping veil of cloud began to thin out. Relief at last. Map and compass were finally put away. My eyes could now start focussing on a real horizon rather than a guessed-at object. The spell of solitude and soliloquy was broken on requesting water at a house along the road. The children complied while I chatted to their father working in the garden. The next break was taken at Ballysmuttan Bridge where time in hand had surprisingly increased to 1 hour and 5 minutes.

Time for runners again, so wet boots and socks were stored in the rucksack and the first tentative steps of the final road stage began. Slowly, it seemed, my feet adjusted to the lighter, dried footwear and gradually the road-walking pace returned. By Stone Cross the descents seemed as tiring as the ascents of the road, but the city was now in view. The final goal was a mere 7 miles away!

Passing by the familiar entrance to Bohernabreena Water works and the River Dodder, the road led on to Bridget Burke’s Pub. Becoming increasingly aware of people and traffic (it was after all Saturday afternoon and sunny at that), my reveries and concentration were interrupted. Faces at a bus-stop and cyclists on the footpath became noticeable.

Suddenly I felt out of place, out of pace. It took a while coming to terms with this sensation of strangeness. It eased on wolfing down a few biscuits and stopping for a drink of water. A sense of balance returned as one foot was deliberately made to follow the other. I was actually moving again.

Templeogue Bridge and then the village, vaguely distracting in their familiarity, were soon reached. Unable to recall how far it was to Terenure I knew deep down that it just had to be kept going. Terenure College, my Alma Mater, was passed. Then the quiet green area with tall deciduous trees beyond. The public library, the crossroads at Terenure. the 15 Tram Station – and it was over.

Yes, it was now 4.39 p.m.-. it took 18 hours and 41 minutes in all. And so after a moment of thankful reflection, after a cool drink and some chocolate, how do I get home!