We awoke on July 14th to brilliant blue skies, broken by small clouds high in the sky, ideal weather to start off the Tipp Top Challenge. The Tipp Top Challenge takes place over 5 consecutive weekends taking in the high points of 5 iconic mountain in Tipperary. First up is the Devil’s Bit, so we followed the google maps co ordinates to our check in point at Inch Community Centre.
The eager participants were ready to take advantage of the exceptional weather being experienced with the hottest summer for over 40 years as over 80% of the participants had descended on the tiny hamlet of Inch well before check in time, relaxing, chatting and soaking up some rays of sunshine.
With everybody checked in we went to the Devil’s Bit car park in Barnane to commence our hike to the summit of the iconic Devil’s Bit mountain. From the car park it is visible to see the “Devil’s Bite”. Legend has it that the Devil in a vicious fight with St. Patrick got really angry and bit a large chunk of the mountain and spat it down to where the Rock of Cashel now stands. Alas, legend and reality rarely the twain shall meet, as the stone at the Rock of Cashel is made of limestone whereas the stone at the Devil’s Bit is of the sandstone variety.
50 strong, off we set for the summit which comes in at 478m. To the experienced hiker this might seem like little more than a bump but for many participants this was going to be their Everest. As many of our walkers were participating in our Couch 2 Mountain Top program, they have been building up their fitness and experience of hillwalking by availing of some of the many weekly walks organised by Siul Eile volunteers. The program gradually brings participants from flat walking to introducing them to hills which get a bit steeper each week. Not only were the participants getting fitter they were being brought on a tour of their local area with all these amazing walks (usually an hour to an hour and a half), the program also showcased the fabulous views, flowing streams, hidden castles and secret forest pathways being uncovered each week.
So off we set on our trip to the top. Those new to mountain walking were wondering what they had got themselves into as the Devil’s Bit walk had a nice bite in it as the 1st kilometre had plenty of puffing and panting till we came to the T junction on the path, we gathered here for a little stop and admired the imposing Cardens Folly tower in the background.
On we went following the National Trail waymarked signs for the Devil’s Bit Loop as wondered through forest land into lovely shaded areas until we turned a corner and the vista in front of totally opened up to show Lough Derg, North Tipperary and beyond. The cross erected in 1954 to celebrate the Marian year is now clearly visible and drawing us in like a magnet. The next bit of the challenge involves clambering some rocks to reach the top where the cross is erected. This might have caused a few nerves to be frayed in some but this was quickly allayed with the stunning panoramic views on display that really shows Tipperary in all its glory, not many green fields on display due to the recent drought but amazing views in all directions. Here we relaxed for another pit stop, enjoyed a little snack while picking out all the visible landmarks. Mountains galore were on view, in the distance we could make out the Wicklow Mountains, more visible were the Blackstair Mountains and really clearly were Slievenamon, Comeraghs, Knockmealdowns, Galtees and Keeper Hill and to the north were the serene waters of Lough Derg.
After gazing at the views in ideal weather conditions, the challenge still wasn’t over as we still had to reach the high point of the mountain. In order to go up further we had to go down first which meant clambering through more rocks and then navigating a steep descent down a very eroded, dry and dusty path, where one false move could end up in a domino effect of 50 walkers rolling down the hill. Gladly everyone was foot perfect and delicately made their way off the steep descent. Then we took a left turn that brought us through the “Devil’s Bite” to bring us to the high point of the mountain, where once again we enjoyed beautiful views most noticeably picking out the town of Templemore below us.
Now it was time to descend back down to the car park and reminisce on a fabulous journey experienced by the vast majority of our entourage for the very first time. We made the short journey back to Inch Community Centre to enjoy some home baked delights including chocolate, sponge and coffee cakes as well as Guinness bread that went down a treat.
The pride and smiles etched on peoples faces was only matched by the organisers Siul Eile as we reflected on our own journey over the last two years. We started off in Clogheen and Burncourt with a Couch 2 Mountain Top program and have now spread to many more communities in Tipperary including Duhill, Ballylooby, Ballyporeen, Goatenbridge, Ardfinnan, Newcastle, Clonmel, Inch, Drom and Nenagh with a wide variety of walking programs and challenges throughout the year including the aforementioned Couch 2 Mountain Top, Howshecuttin walking program, Community Hall Crawl, Neck of the Woods, Riverside Ramble, Tipp Top Challenge and coming soon the Get Fit in Tipp Challenge. With over 60,000kms walked by over 1500 participants over the last two years and more communities in the pipeline to bring Siul Eile to their area this story has plenty more mileage left in it yet!