Friday, July 24, 2009

Climbing Croagh Patrick

Mayo Mountain Rescue Team has advised for the first time that pilgrims climbing Croagh Patrick this weekend (Reek Sunday is this Sunday) should wear some shoes heading up the holy mountain, which is, by the way, quite a tough climb.

The first time I tried climbing it (just for fun, not for religious reasons) was two years ago and didn't even make it half way up. The mist started coming down, which combined with the crowds, the rocky path and the lack of decent walking shoes made the experience a bit of a nightmare. By the time we got to the B&B we were all soaking wet and miserably disappointed. Failed attempt.

Last year was a different story. Two factors helped the successful mission: it was an unusually glorious June bank holiday weekend and we took the road less travelled to finally reach the top (it had to be done at any cost!).

A great starting point is Westport Camping, where we were staying by chance. Just outside of Murrisk, this is a brilliant spot located at the foot of Croagh Patrick further, south from the official and crowded starting point. The camping place is cheap, friendly and just 5-10 min walk to the beach, which is definitely a bonus. Climbing from that side of the mountain was the best thing we could have ever done: no crowds, no painfully rocky paths (actually, no paths whatsoever!), no race to the top... it was just perfect, while still tiring. We had to dodge some bullocks on the way out from the camping area but sure, that just added to the wild off-piste feeling of the whole experience.

Reaching the top was a relief and a privilege, since they don't get may sunny and warm days like that in County Mayo - and the views of Clew Bay and its little islands on a clear day are just amazing - and totally worth the climb.

Heading back down the usual crowded path felt like a triumph, having at last climbed the holy mountain of Ireland - and having managed to avoid the crowds.

Still, a speedy barefoot woman in her 70s overtaking me on the way down left me thinking for a few days ... I really hope she is wearing some shoes this year.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Saturday mornings at the Gorey Farmers Market

Humans are creatures of habits. We find great comfort in some of our little routines. I love Gorey on sunny Saturday mornings. The buzz of the main street and all the people going about their business, shopping, chatting, walking their kids- in the summer, Gorey's Saturday mornings are particularly upbeat.

Part of the appeal of those Saturday mornings is the farmers market down in Esmonde Street. It is one of the comforting routines I have acquired. A very tasty habit.

First there is Martin and his fish van. He is the most cheerful man, always a big smile on. It is the best fish you can get in the area, by far. Variety depends on: a- how early you arrive, b- the time of the year and the weather. There is always the usual favourites (and maybe not very eco friendly) cod, haddock, hake and salmon, but sole, mussels, prawns, sea bass and monkfish are often regulars too.

Then, we move on to O'Neills quality meats, where we alternate between the organic or free range chicken and some lamb and organic mince beef. The chickens go quickly, so the earlier the better.

The falafel stall is next and this is UNMISABLE. They are the best falafel wraps I have ever tried and has become my staple Saturday brunch. Unfortunately, the Lebanese family that runs the stall is on holidays in Lebanon for three weeks now... and I am missing my fix of chickpea delight...

The next stall is the vegetables one, run by a Ferns family. They have great local produce at very good prices. They also sell plants in the spring for your own garden: courgettes, toms, peppers, lettuce... their own vegetables and their local apples (once they are out) are the best.

The cheese stall has a good selection of Irish cheeses and some other European favourites (such as Manchego...). The market also has a couple of stalls for free range eggs, breads (the olive and oregano one is amazing), crafts, chutneys and, in the summer, French crepes and a burgers. The local Greens Berry farm tends to have a stall once the famous Wexford strawberries are out.

The Organic Farm, from Co Wicklow, also has a pretty big stall, where you can stock on tasty fruit (in the past couple of weeks, cherries have been a big sensation), ususally imported but organic. Avocados, grapefruit, oranges, apricots, plums, fair trade bananas...

just the thought of it, it's making me hungry...

During the boom years, people seemed to find farmers markets across the country a bit over-priced and overly trendy. But I don't think this is the case, at least in the Gorey one. Good quality food has to sell at a price that shows exactly that: the quality you are buying... You can try and compare but you'll find that you'll probably pay the same or more in the supermarket for similar produce.

The Gorey farmers market is on from 9 until 2pm every Saturday. But you might find other similar near you (I doubt they have the same falafels though!):