The fifteen mile hike from Kyle's farm house to Glenmalure is a long slow climb through the Carrickashane Mountain. As the elevation rises the pilgrims have the opportunity to look back on the southern region of Ireland where the farms are demarcated by stone walls; tidy, lush green pastures of restive cows with their calves and the wondering sheep and lambs that blanket the rolling hills and valleys. Today's walk moves the hikers from the grasslands into the forests. The elevation of every hill gives way to the strain of demanding mountains of limestone and quartz.
The miles of the previous two days and the ache of climbing mountains began to show a bit on Vox Peregrini. Instead of walking in small chatty groups, a long silent line formed up every contiguous hill. Just as the burning muscles of one hill eases, the next climb begins. Vox Peregrini is little aware that this will be the pattern for the remainder of their trek along the Wicklow Way.
I have walked the Way from both directions, now my fifth journey along the Wicklow, the second starting from the south. Going from Clonegal to Dublin, I have found, is the most satisfying. The stunning scenery combined with rewarding challenges are to be found more prevalent in the final four days.
The great joy of walking with folks on their first pilgrimage, especially in Ireland, is that I am reminded of the beauty of what I might just walk past. This is the first journey across Ireland for most of Vox Peregrini 2017 and they stop to take pictures of the landscape and one another at points I had forgotten that I, too, had stopped to ponder in awe.
At the halfway point of the day, before the more strenuous part of the walk began, John Wiles, creator of Vox Peregrini and musical director, called his wife, Pastor Amy Wiles, to offer a blessing for us. She had given this blessing to Vox 2015 at this point, and I personally found it most poignant. Her well timed and inspiring words moved the group into a long held silence that allowed the wind to speak through the flowing ancient pines.
This was also a day to recognize that the Irish also farm the forest. The stark reality of deforestation is abrupt to an innocent pilgrim. Even with the evidence of appropriate forest management and replanting, the image of walking where others have made holy pilgrimage is tarnished. Little is lost in the conversation among Vox Peregrini when they gather for a breather, to bandage forming blisters, and treat aching knees.
These are the days where life conversations brew, those revisiting past clouds and those discerning sunny days that could emerge. These long paths of solitude produce the possibility of coming along side a fellow pilgrim for contemplation that I find painfully rewarding.
Day three ends oddly at the Wicklow Way halfway marker. We stop for the obligatory photo taken by a fellow pilgrim from Germany walking in the opposite direction. And such a moment gives Vox the opportunity to sing "Blackbird." To stand among these gifted singers in a privilege, one I don't take for granted, no matter how many times I hear them. Equally, though, I am fascinated to watch the reaction of the sole pilgrim who stands amongst them, being sung to, personally, as if courted by a choir of lovers. Without exception, each solitary soul is visibly moved, some to tears others to great joy, and at some point I heard this young man join in - that was reciprocal love.