King of the hills

Last week, your correspondent lifted the lid on behalf of all us blow-ins in Edenvale, the pedestrians paradise in Castlebridge that really does have a touch of Eden to it. It is abundantly clear that Wexford folk do not want its outsiders getting wind of Edenvale. The natives clearly desire to keep such a delight to themselves.

At least they cannot throw a veil of secrecy over one of the most attractive alternatives - Tara Hill. A hunk of a volcanic rock sticking up 800 feet above the surrounding countryside is an all too obvious landmark.

Pretending it does not exist is not a runner, so those who man the inner Model circle have had to consider devious strategies to keep strays such as me at a distance. The best they have come up with so far is a programme of confusing the enemy, given that we birds of passage cannot be kept completely at bay.

For starters, it is difficult for the curious outsider to find out where best to start any ascent of Tara Hill. The best I can offer is that you proceed along the road from Gorey to Ballymoney, you may spy a sign engraved on a rock on a Y-junction with an arrow advertising Tara Hill. This is easy, you may be thinking to yourself. You would be wrong.

A public car park has been created for the express use of ramblers looking for a base camp from which to explore the hill. Unfortunately, no-one had cared to erect, install or otherwise arrange proper directions for tourists, Sunday drivers, dog walkers and other visitors.

It is by purest chance that I can advise you to take the first turn left off the road as indicated by the rock at the previous previous. Let the big beech tree be your guide. A few hundred yards up this minor road is the car park, with a map of Tara Hill up on a notice board. Oh, Glory be! Except that this map is more confusing than the manual 'usually in Slovenian' that comes with a set of flat-pack cupboards.
For starters, this masterpiece of the cartographer's art does not bear the critical words 'You are here' to assist in getting bearings. Then there is the scale, suggesting that two inches on the chart is roughly equivalent to 0.025 of a mile of real real estate. At that rate the map is almost as big as the area that it purports to cover, which is patently nonsensical.

The exact location of Gorey and Ballymoney are left vague, while the most readily identified feature of the locality, the Irish Sea, is completely omitted. Perhaps, just perhaps, we are at 'Hill Lane Car Park and Wheelchair Access'. The existence of the car park cannot be denied but wheelchair access to what? Surreal.

On the other hand, it is encouraging to note that this strange map suggests there are walks marked out on Tara Hill, though again the measurements do no inspire confidence. There is no obvious reason why a complete circuit of the area should take an hour, while a short trek across the territory in the middle is likely to require an hour and a half.

Maybe this discrepancy can be accounted for by the wildlife in the woods. One derivation offered of the name Tara Hill is that it comes from the Irish Torchoill, translated as the hill of the wild bear. Encounters with grizzlers would no doubt add appreciably to journey times.

To hell with it, we will risk a saunter along the road marked vehicular cul-de-sac, past Bessie's thatched cottage. Putting thoughts of bears to the back of our minds, we are tempted by a timber post marked with a red arrow to venture into the forest. Arriving at a junction in the woods, we find that red has been overtaken by blue. Then, at the next crossroads, blue is replaced by yellow. Madness in a world gone consistent.

Already dwindling confidence in the system is further undermined by a growing suspicion that some of the red markers are actually pink, while some of the other red markers must be maroon. In other words, there are two red routes, not just one, At one stage, we conclude in our addlement: "Some one has been moving the posts around.'

The red, blue and yellow routes intertwine chaotically. A one hour stroll becomes a two hour trek in a mood of mounting panic. It is purely by chance that we stumble on the road that leads us back to the car park. The whole experience had been akin to being locked in a slowly turning tumble drier.
The compensation of such rampant confusion is delivered in the form of some of the prettiest countryside imaginable. At times, Tara Hill feels like the most remotest Rockies. At others, it breaks out on to the likes of Flat Rock where the view south towards Courtown is breathtaking. Stumbling down a rough track, we are offered a terrific tunnel vision of Kilmichael Point framed by parallel lines of conifers. Sensational.

The notion of wheelchair access hinted at on the magical map is definitely not delivered on the ground. The red (or is it pink) arrows take us over hulking great boulders. The track around this section is barely an eighteen inch wide strip of mud, with untrimmed brambles creeping in from either side.
Still, it is worth the odd scratch. Though we never attained the summit and never figured out our blue from our yellow, this was a most bracing experience. The inner circle may not want us to enjoy this slice of wonderful Wexford but we will be back for second helpings as soon as we can.

Courtesy of David Medcalf and the Wexford People
February 2006