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June 2019
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2005-10-25 Lugnaquilla delivers beginners buzz

It was a perfect summer day. I was on top of Irelands second highest mountain  Lugnaquilla (926m / 3039 ft.)  on top of the world.


All around me, sun and cloud shadow spotlit highlights from this awesome expanse  sleepy Glenmalure, the meandering Avonmore and Avonbeg, Wicklow Head and its bank of wind turbines utilising the Irish sea breezes, the tranquil Vale of Avoca/Ballykissangel, the sunny south-east coastal stretch, the military lands and artillery range of the Glen of Imaal with its 1798 secrets in the shadow of Keadeen, the magnificent Wicklow Gap, Turlough Hill, Glendalough, Laragh, and the Blessington Lakes.

The buzz from having climbed to the lofty summit of Lugnaquilla, to look down on the counties of Wicklow, Wexford, Carlow, Kildare and Dublin was satisfying in the extreme.

Two and a half hours previously I had set off with my hill-walking companions from Donard village, accompanied intermittently by their boisterous Spaniel/Collie-cross. Previously, we had conquered the summits of Church and Table.

As we stood on top of Camarahill in blazing summer heat, ahead of us Lugnaquilla was too luring.

Ill-prepared, with no sun-cream and little water, we set off across the gently inclined shoulder linking us to the final stages of our Lugnaquilla ascent. It was that final stage which, not surprisingly, proved the toughest.

Just when I thought I had reached the summit, I discovered I was on a false peak, and still had to stagger the final approach to the top. As I lay on the grass, atop Irelands second highest mountain, I spared a thought for Robin Cook, who had died only weeks before while hill-walking in Scotland.

In the UK, hillwalking is practially a national institution. In Scotland, the sport of Munro-bagging grows in popularity all the time. Named after Sir Hugh Munro, a Munro is any mountain over 3000 ft. There are 277 listed in the UK and Ireland, of which Lugnaquilla is one.

But as hillwalkers go, I am a beginner. I love to be at one with this wild and beautiful countryside of ours, to escape the city to rural solitude. Walking is the easiest, safest and cheapest form of exercise, helping to reduce stress, burn calories, and achieve cardiovascular fitness.

Walking can be done anytime/anywhere and can be a sociable exercise. Whether you are on board a gym treadmill listening to Mozart or watching Judge Judy, or just making your way to work, walking is one of the easiest ways of enjoying a cheap buzz, while improving circulation, reducing the risk of exposure to several of the big killer diseases.

If you can build a little incline into your walk, you will reap more benefits, burn fat and build muscle. "Hill-walk Ireland" offer a variety of treks, though there is a bias towards Wicklow and Dublin. Beginners ought to start gently and build their fitness levels. Some prefer Nordic walking, and employ poles, though I never really got that myself. As you climb, lean forward slightly, keep your head level, chin up, abdominals contracted and chest raised for maximum benefit.

Of course, unlike me, you ought to be suitably equipped, with a small rucksack, carrying extra clothes, water, waterproof gear, a torch, first-aid kit, a map and compass, and some energy-rich-snacks. Denims are not recommended as they become lethal when wet, and of course, it is of huge importance to invest in good hill-walking boots.

Lugnaquilla is described as essential climbing for all dedicated hill-walkers and a hard, full-days climb, and is not recommended in poor visibility because of the dangerous cliffs, north and south of the summit. On the way down, my legs were turning to jelly and my complexion, from a healthy pink to a more shocking one.

A 70-year-old man walked past me, saying that it was much nicer up there today, compared to last Thursday. I glared at him, as he stole my thunder and put me in my place. Several others boasted that they had gone via several other peaks en route. But nothing was going to upstage my beginners buzz!