My father used to spend a lot of time in the mountains, but hadn’t done any serious climbing since he had his second hip replaced this time last year. On the top of Carrauntoohil and Cumín na Péiste, I got wistful text messages from him asking me what it was like and to pelt rocks at tourists for him.
There is nothing wrong with Dad’s fitness and he is particularly steady with a walking stick, so I worked on him to try something a bit more challenging. He seemed reluctant; at least, he came up with any number of reasons to put it off. Really: he says a few prayers every now and then – it’s not as if he’s tied to a desk.
I was thrilled when Dad said he’d like to walk up to Curraghmore Lake, just underneath Carrauntoohil, and suggested the following Monday.
The drive the Bridha Valley is stunning: a single-track road winds its way up a gorge and tops out at Bealach Béama with sheer rocks on either side. Unfortunately, halfway up we got stuck behind a Bentley, which in turn got stuck behind a herd of cows. After a while, it became evident that the cows were fugitives; there was nobody driving them.
Half an hour later, I was fed up with the Bentley jamming on the brakes every time a cow chewed cud aggressively. He was obviously nervous about having his gleaming car licked by a cow, or lashed with a tail. When we came to a narrow(er) stretch of track, I applied the handbrake and dashed up to the Bentley. I knocked on the window.
“Hi, ah- oh, how are you? Nice weather we’re having. Where you off to today? Just here for a holiday, eh? Oh, Glenbeigh is lovely, yes. Listen, I was wondering, would you mind pulling in when you have a chance and letting me go ahead? My husband’s an expert on passing cows.”
“Oh, no problem,” said the driver. “I wanted to do that myself, but missus wouldn’t let me.”
The Bentley pulled over and I nudged through the cows, instructed by Andrew: “Ok, zoom up behind them really fast and then swerve to the left.”
We eventually reached the head of the Bridha Valley and got ready to go. Dad did a couple of creaky squat-thrusts.
I was terribly nervous for Dad, but he set off strongly. Every few hundred metres I checked to see if he was ok, but it seemed superfluous when I had to catch him up to pose the question. The man leaped from rock to rock and forded streams in single bounds. I was tremendously proud.
“This is my dad. He has two false hips,” I said to everyone we met.
“Er Niamhie, maybe your father doesn’t want you telling everyone,” said Andrew.
It took us shortly over an hour to reach the lake. As we ate our lunch it started to drizzle, but we had waterproofs and a flask of coffee, and Dad wouldn’t have considered it a Walk if he hadn’t battled headwinds.
We were back at the car, when a man pulled up and wandered over. He was waiting for three people who had set off from the other side of the saddle two hours before. Andrew managed to pick out the group as they passed the bottom of a rock face.
“Why don’t you go and meet them?” I asked the man. “There’s a clear track.”
“Oh no, I don’t do that kinda stuff,” he said. “Ah have a false hip.”
“Well, I have TWO false hips,” said my father, and maybe only I could hear the ‘na na nana na’ hanging unspoken in the air.
I considered The American’s size more an impediment than the false hip, but inspired by my father’s restraint, I resisted saying so