I find myself writing condolences messages on a daily basis at the moment, and it’s been like this for the past few weeks. It makes my heart so heavy. People are suffering. A vaccine will not prevent the grieving for people who we have lost. But the vaccine will prevent further loss, and that’s a good thing. Is it crass to celebrate this life-saving technology in the face of all this death? I know from my own past experiences of grief that we humans are strange and complex creatures. I laughed at my father’s wake as many times as I cried. We embrace joy, hang on it, lean on it in our dark moments. I wonder if this is why those off-the-wall daft or uplifting moments in life now stand out so much.
Take the “I am not a cat” episode on YouTube this week – that had me crying with laughter and I watched and rewatched it over and over.
And there’s Jersulema dance – the first one I saw was this one – It made me smile so much.
But when the Irish Gardaí did it, I was overwhelmed with a suite of emotions that I can’t even put names to, but pride and joy were definitely two of them. Check out the dancing horses!
So it may seem like a strange question, but what has brought you joy during this lockdown?
For me, it’s been dawn walking. And I’ve posted about this before, but today I want to share the routes I do the most. Perhaps it doesn’t make for interesting reading if you are based elsewhere, (e.g. California) but maybe the photographs will transport you to a different (colder) place on this planet. In fact, if you live just 11 miles up the road, technically this walk will be out of reach too. Still, for those readers who are based in Armagh, I hope I present a new place to explore until the world opens up again.
So I’m going to describe two walks – the Stormy Hill Loop (1.8 miles) and the Rock Road – Ballyards – Stormy Hill Loop (4.35 miles). The second one is a longer version of the first, and so it depends on how fit and energetic you feel as to which route you might go for.
Both routes begin at the junction of the Rock Road and the Keady Road in Armagh. There’s a place to park here. On a cold winter’s morning, the mere sight of the Glaze & Roll Expresso Bar (or the coffee wagon as we call it) warms my heart.
But it’s the delicious coffee and hot chocolate that warms my hands and tummy on the frigid winter mornings.
The traybakes are to die for.
So warm drink in hand, put Armagh City behind you, and turn right onto the Rock Road. Over the past few months, I’ve walked this road at dawn meeting the same cast of characters populating the route. It feels a little like a Mauve Binchy novel! I often see (and scratch the ears of) the same adorable doggies and chat with a retired postie who visits the beautiful little graveyard every day. At around 8 am there is the clip-clop of horses as a local horse trainer puts his magnificent charges through their paces.
Once you get past the built-up new developments (which are worth a wee wander if you want to stretch out your walking and have a nosy) the pavement ends, and you will have to walk on the road. Be careful of cars. Around you, the landscape opens up into sweeping fields of grass and rolling hills. A whitewashed wall on your right signals the turn off to Stormy Hill. The white house and farm buildings on the corner are known locally as the Red Barns.
Here you have two options:
- Stormy Hill Loop (1.8miles)
For the shorter route, you can turn right up the hill. The steep gradient will get the heart pumping, but it’s the new builds on the Stormy Hill that will really take your breath away. Shove your envy to one side and just admire, or look right towards Armagh and take in the views of the Cathedral spires on the horizon – beautiful!
The lane ends at the Monaghan Road. The footpath here is broad, and although the road is fast, the walk back into town is now much safer with this established footpath than perhaps it was in years gone by. On either side are the flat green fields of the Callan River flood plain. In warmer weather, watch out for rabbits in these fields but at the moment you might get a glimpse of the current resident – Ba Ba Black Sheep – the cutest wee black lamb (in the background of this shot).
Follow the Monaghan Road back to where it meets the Keady Road at Mullan’s Spar and turn right to complete the loop to take you back to the Expresso Bar at the top of the Rock Road
2. Rock Road – Ballyards – Stormy Hill Loop (4.35 miles)
At the Red Barns, you can stay on the Rock Road for the longer (more picturesque) loop. You’ll pass a little graveyard on the right. It is a peaceful place and worth a visit if you like that kind of thing. Strolling up the Rock Road the gradient steepens, and you come to a turn off on the right-hand side. You’ll see two gates and three pillars. This is where you turn right off the Rock Road. It’s a charming wee lane that doesn’t seem to have a name on the maps. Two big hills, one after the other gets the heart rate going. The stone bridge in the hollow between them is a lovely spot to rest, and take in the scenery of the Butterwater River. You might even see the grey heron on his fishing spot, and the area is also popular with Little Egrets. Overhead you might see a Common Buzzard circling as it hunts for prey. The fields are home to sheep, and the lambs are already appearing.
At other times of the year, you might see horses and even a foal.
At the top of the second steep hill is a chicken farm. When you get this far, you can rest assured that it’s downhill and flat for the next couple of miles (until you get to the last hill – Stormy Hill). At the crossroads turn right and follow the Callan River, crossing over it on a nicely restored stone bridge damaged last autumn by a car that took the curve too quickly!
The Callan River winds along the next stretch and accompanies you into the cute village of Milford.
Stay on the same road until it takes you to the busy Monaghan Road. Turn right, back in towards Armagh on the wide footpath, crossing once more over the Callan River on the blue-railing bridge. You might see horses in the field to your right. The next turn on the right is the Stormy hill. If you have had enough hills, you can stay on the Monaghan Road, turning right at the Keady road to return to the start. Or you can haul yourself up over the Stormy hill for that last vista of Armagh City before joining the Rock Road again at the Red Barns and turning left back to the Keady Road.
Either way, you’ll have earned your treat from the Expresso Bar for sure.
If you’re reading this and you’re from Armagh, please drop a line in the comments (either here or on Social Media) and let me know what you favourite walking route is around the city.
Take care and stay safe