We asked one of our most intrepid and regular guided hiking clients why they love Ireland so much and keep coming back year after year to our Emerald Green Island.
Name: Gloria Wagner Surber
Where’s Home: Glade Spring, Virginia, USA, a town of about 1, 500, located in the southwest corner of Virginia.
Favorite hike in the world: I’ve hiked in some of the most beautiful places in the world (Hawaii, California, Utah, Maine, Oregon, Nova Scotia, Costa Rica, St. John USVI, Ireland, England, etc.), but I’ll have to say that my part of the world has some of my favorite hikes. My hometown is about 13 miles from the Appalachian Trail, a marked hiking trail extending 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Also near me is the Great Channels, a 20-acre labyrinth of sandstone formed during the last ice age, creating an otherworldly experience. Additionally, we have beautiful states parks in Virginia and in other nearby states. But, if I had to pick my favorite among all of these, I guess I would have to say that it’s the hike to Le Conte Lodge, the highest guest lodge in the eastern United States, located just below the summit of Mt. Le Conte at an elevation of about 6,400 feet. The Lodge is accessible only by hiking and is the only place in the Great Smoky Mountains (Tennessee) where a visitor can sleep overnight in a permanent structure. There are five hiking trails that lead to the Lodge, ranging in length from 5 miles up to 9.1 miles. I have hiked to Le Conte Lodge five times now, covering all five of the hiking trails.
Favorite hike in Ireland: I’ve been to Ireland nine times and have had wonderful hikes on every trip—from walks along beaches, to meanderings through sheep fields and along rock walls, to scrambles over mountains with unbelievable views out to sea. But, I would have to say that Macha Na Bo “The Way of the Cow” on the way to Annascaul remains one of my favorites. I’ve done this hike twice and both experiences were pure magic — the beautiful narrow valley with the green jagged mountain ridges on both sides, the many beautiful cascading waterfalls, and the remains of the famine village down below (with the story of the women who walked across the mountain each week to buy provisions). As we made our way over the rocky path along the lake, and down to the tarmac, we finished the hike both times at the South Pole Pub in Annascaul, made famous by the Antarctic hero, Tom Crean. I just don’t believe that any hike could top this one!
Any Family/Spiritual Connection to Ireland?
My paternal great-grandmother was Frances Mariah Donnelly. Her ancestors immigrated from Dublin to America during the American Revolution.
What prompted you to visit Ireland the first time?
I went to Ireland for the first time in 2009 with three friends. I had been researching the trip for some time and once I had decided on the location (Doolin–because of it’s connection to Irish music and its remoteness) and found flights at unbelievable prices, I convinced three of my hiking friends to join me. We had a wonderful week, staying in a cottage overlooking the Cliffs of Moher, hiking each day, eating in the pubs each evening, enjoying local music, and soaking up the Irish way of life.
What was your impression of Ireland when you first arrived? I can’t say why I was so pulled to visit Ireland, except to say that the moment I looked out over the landscape on that first day, I felt like I had come home. The landscape was just as beautiful as I had always imagined.
Why did you decide on a hiking holiday in Ireland? Why did you choose Ireland Walk Hike Bike? Why have you come again and again?
Hiking is always a part of my travel. In 2013, I returned to Ireland, this time with my friend, Martha. She and I spent the week in Dingle, taking walks out from the town on our own and with the Dingle Hillwalkers. One day, we walked to the top of Mt. Brandon, visiting all the stations of the cross. By this time, I knew that two visits were not enough and I began to look for companies which offered hiking in small groups. I knew I would more than likely be coming alone on my next trip, so the opportunity for a guided group hike was appealing. In my search for such a company, I found Linda and Southwest Walks Ireland. In 2014, she suggested that I join a small group of women on a week which would be spent on Sherkin Island, Cape Clear, and Sheep’s Head Peninsula.After that trip, I was definitely hooked! Friends and acquaintances sometimes tease me about coming to Ireland so often and wonder why I don’t visit other places with my hiking friends. I tell them–I’m not quite sure. I just can’t stop going!
Was there one thing that stuck out in your mind that you remembered fondly of your first or subsequent visit?
There are hundreds of things that I remember fondly. Reading through my travel journal brings it all back, as if I’m right there once again. Among them—conversations with people I’ve met, unique Irish expressions, kind and meaningful gestures by locals, spectacular scenery at every turn……
What did you make of the Irish people?
I’ve had many wonderful conversations with the Irish people, who I find to be welcoming, friendly, and generous. On one such experience, walking from Dingle town to Dunquinn, my friend Martha and I passed a man working in his garden. We stopped and talked with him a good while. Tony was his name. He was 68 years old. He said “that in 15 years (even if all went well) that he would be over in the Ventry graveyard.” As we were walking away, I heard him chuckle to himself, saying “well, there ye go….” That conversation has stuck with me over the years. On my next trip to Dingle, I took that same route hoping to see Tony in his garden as we passed. Another example—in 2017, we met Sean on Inishmore as he was working in his potato garden. He told us that he had lived on Inishmore his whole life, had honeymooned in Boston, and that he and his wife had raised three children who now lived in other parts of Ireland.
What did you think of Irish food, culture, folklore heritage and traditions?
I love the Irish food, especially the pub food. Among my favorite food memories– a delicious apple pie in Doolin at O’Connor’s Pub and the best fish chowder at the Boat Yard Restaurant in Dingle. As for the Irish heritage, traditions, and folklore, I try to write in my travel journals all the rich stories I hear on my trips.
Have there been any “pinch yourself moments” when out on a hike?
Believe me when I say that I have “pinch yourself moments” on every hike in Ireland. I always feel so grateful to have the opportunity to visit this wonderful country and actually soak in everything about it. When you’re walking you see and experience so much that you would otherwise miss –the slant of light through the window of an old cottage, the butterflies flitting among the wildflowers, the formations in the clouds above you, the gentle breeze on your face.
“What do you tell your friends & family about your tour when you arrive back home?
I tell my friends and family all this and more. I try to convey to them the joy that I have felt on my trips. I’ve managed to convince several of them and they have chosen to join me in Ireland.