Scribbles of a curious wanderer along the way of St Declan
Setting out is not covering miles of land or sea or travelling faster than the speed of light.
It is first and foremost opening ourselves to other people, trying to get to know them, going out to meet them…It is possible to travel alone,
but the good traveller knows that the journey is human life and life needs company.
(Dom Helder Camara)
Make a pact with yourself to walk a Camino some time in your life. Once you take that first step out into the unknown, you will want to keep going. It is more than just an adventure. It is an odyssey of sorts that draws you beyond the safer sanctuaries you have left behind to a space the world cannot reach. The way of St Declan has been over 1,500 years in the making. Voyagers from times past have carved their footprint in the land; labourers, pilgrims, rebels, saints, adventurers – each with a story we may never know. As you leave the ancient citadel on the hill in Cashel behind, you sense the spirit of those who have passed this way before. It is we who follow in their steps. Their imprints show us the way.
The moment you set out from the Rock of Cashel you know you’ll need to draw on every fibre of your being to make it all the way to Ardmore some 115km away. It’s just you, your backpack, your companions and the universe. So much of what you once depended on no longer matters. Your phone is safely tucked away. The world can wait. This time is your time! St Declan’s Way delivers more than it asks of you. It pushes you to the limits of your endurance and demands an honesty from you but somehow you make it. There’s a life force that carries you, an elemental bond with a universe that reveals its beauty around every bend. There’s no need to force the pace. Getting there matters but so too the steps in between!
The Camino is all about the people you get to share it with. It’s the company that keeps you going just when you feel the fatigue kick in. When you’re walking, you find your own cadence. You walk to the beat that suits you. It pays to slow down on occasion and enjoy the camaraderie of a fellow traveller. It is then the magic happens. Before you know it, they know someone you know and the connection is made. You will meet people you may never meet again, yet, something happens that stays with you long after you’ve returned home. Their story so often sheds a unique light on your own. It’s as though they speak a truth you were meant to hear. You hardly realise you’re scaling the Knockmealdowns at its highest point and about to descend through the woods into Mount Melleray. On Camino, the chats are everything.
It’s good to take a little time on your own too along the way. There’s no need to reason, analyse or think. Just you alone in the universe. As you blaze your solitary trail, it’s like stepping outside yourself for a moment and watching all that has happened in your life pass before you like flickered reels on an old film. It is strangely cathartic to stare in the face all that once defined you and accept it for what it is. Beautiful and all as your story may be, there is pain in there too. Every one of us knows what it feels like to have to pick up the pieces and start all over again. The Camino of life can be the toughest of them all. But it does not have to defeat you. The stream you pass has stepping stones, each resisting the tumult of the waters, each stoic in its self defence, each inviting you to make your way home.
St Declan’s Way has a little bit of everything – castles, forts, holy wells and hallowed vaults, streams, rivers, mountains, vales; each echoing to timeless strains barely audible to the passer-by. It’s as though past and present collide in perfect symphony to open up the wonder of nature in ways you may not have noticed before. It’s simply magical to walk by the water’s edge alongside the River Blackwater as you leave Lismore en route to Cappoquin. Just 2 kilometers of exquisite beauty and peace. The Castle we leave behind still beats to the pulse of a bygone time. It retains its mystique, its mesmeric charm; its lofty walls privy to stories the passing world may never hear. In the distance, silent silhouettes emerge from shades of dawn as anglers take their place along the river bank. They stand there, still, focused, shrouded in the mystery that surrounds them, oblivious to the curious observer from afar. Lines cast ripple outwards in great, gentle waves to somewhere deep inside. It touches you to the core. You’ve got to be there to sense it!
We pass this way but once. Prophets tell us that we never quite walk into the same stream twice. The texture changes with the changing tides of time in a nod to all that has happened in between. Yet the river moves with a reassuring calm, unswerving in its course. It pays to slow the pace and listen. In the stillness, you sense you are not alone. The silence lingers. Here, beyond the noise and restlessness of the world, you find peace in every step. What once burdened you surrenders to something deeper. Swallows descend in telepathic streams as if to rouse you from your reverie and remind you of all that awaits in the days ahead. Time to get a move on! The mist lifts and a pathway, once obscured, becomes clear again.
The final day along St Declan’s Way is as liberating as it gets. By now, your muscles are conditioned to the demands of the task and they work on autopilot. They ache a little but you have that spring in your step needed to make it to the end. The sea appears on the horizon and stays there elusively beyond your reach until you arrive on the beach at Ardmore some two hours later. It’s good to take your hiking boots off and feel the cool water massage your feet. We retrieve the child-like wonder of it all as if for the very first time. Our footprints linger until the tides roll in to shore. We climb the holy hill and rest awhile in solitude beneath the tower. It feels good!
Arrive on Camino open to discovering something new about your place in the universe. The great outdoors have a way of nudging you in the right direction. It’s better to simply let go of your presumptions about life for a while and let the journey itself take hold of you. Dare to take that first step. You’ll be glad you did!
‘Dare to Be’
When a new day begins, dare to smile gratefully.
When there is darkness, dare to be the first to shine a light.
When there is injustice, dare to be the first to condemn it.
When something seems difficult, dare to do it anyway.
When life seems to beat you down, dare to fight back.
When there seems to be no hope, dare to find some.
When you’re feeling tired, dare to keep going.
When times are tough, dare to be tougher.
When love hurts you, dare to love again.
When someone is hurting, dare to help them heal.
When another is lost, dare to help them find the way.
When a friend falls, dare to be the first to extend a hand.
When you cross paths with another, dare to make them smile.
When you feel great, dare to help someone else feel great too.
When the day has ended, dare to feel as you’ve done your best.
Dare to be the best you can –
At all times, Dare to be!
This Sunday, August 29th 2021, we lead our first group along St Declan’s Way. We look forward to sharing the path with our friends from Celbridge. After all the uncertainties of the last 18 months, it’s great to be back. In late September we lead a group from Our Lady’s Hospice and into next year we look forward to welcoming groups from around Ireland, Norway and the States. For further information, check out www.waterfordcamino.com You can contact Phil and Elaine directly on firstname.lastname@example.org