Littered with curses


After all that mid-winter grumbling you might have assumed that the walking season would be well under way by now. But no. Dunno what I’ve been doing with my time but it doesn’t seem to have involved muttering ‘Ticket, map, water, purse’ under my breath while pulling on absurdly oversized waterproofs. But that’s set to change now that I have booked all the B&Bs and railway tickets for the next big trip. I. Cannot. Wait. Injustafewweeks the adventure begins.

The appetite was whetted (and wetted, as it happens) last weekend on a trip to Ireland. For all the years and years I lived there, I never visited Glendalough – never did much walking at all, in fact. The finger is pointed away from vague laziness and towards appalling public transport provision in Ireland, which renders large chunks of the country out of reach for the carless. But last weekend I was with Emily, and Emily has a car. So off we went. The forecast was bad – we’d both been woken in the night by the sound of rain, a first, said Emily, in the three years they’ve lived in that house – but we’d said we were walking and rules is rules.

Glorious, glorious spot: mossy lichens, ancient trees, waterfall and lakes; those early monks must have looked at that valley and thought that God had led them there. It’s a pull up to the top from the lakes, by which time we were well into the lowering cloud and heavy rain. Did you know it could rain inside a cloud? It came as a surprise to us, anyway.

But there was a fly in the ointment – two, really, and quite possibly not unrelated – large groups of boisterous Euroteens, and heavy sprinkles of orange peel beside the path and across the bog. On closer attention it was orange peel, tissues, sweet wrappers and plastic bottles. Now, usually it’s Emily giving out about stuff – politics, society, education policy, the church – about which she can build quite a head of steam. But this time she was uncharacteristically mute as I went on and on about littering. And on and on and on. Until it struck me that if you don’t do something to solve a problem then you probably forfeit complaining rights.

So, because the other world-famous beauty spots I’ve visited aren’t crapped on by their purported admirers, for the first time in my life I felt obliged to pick litter on a walk. It wasn’t such a penance; since I couldn’t look around because of the heavy-rain-in-the-cloud mashup – no heart-stopping views of the Glenealo Valley for us – I thought I might as well keep my eyes on the bog and collect rubbish as I went.

By the end I’d filled a carrier bag with crud and my own heart with self-righteousness. And yet, even after this wonderful walk, I was no nearer answering the question that formed the heart of my first blast at a blameless Emily: What the fuck is wrong with people?


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