john

Jun 092012
 

A walk with Pat Liddy is the best way in the world to get to know Dublin from the inside out.

And if you can’t secure the company of Pat, complete with large black fedora and 1,001 stories, then his book Walking Dublin is a pretty good substitute – erudite, chatty and a thoroughly entertaining guide, like the man himself.

I’d earmarked his Dalkey and Killiney Hill ramble for a slack morning one fine day, and when the right weather came along – cold, windy and clear to the skyline – I disembarked at Dalkey’s DART station muffled up, Liddy in hand, heading for the heights. Dalkey has somehow held onto its air of a small seaside town, in spite of the tiger mansions pressing in from the hills with their plate glass, cupolas and fierce guardian gates.

Out along the coast road Coliemore Harbour slumbered, the slap of glass-green waves on its granite slipway the loudest sound. Across the water on Dalkey Island the grey stone Martello tower stood out against a pale sky with fiery streaks low to the horizon and the ruins of St Begnet’s Church half-invisible against the green and grey rocks. A little group of black guillemots with distinctive white wing patches bobbed off the pier, and a flight of brent geese went hurrying south, their dark wings a blur against the water.

In tiny Sorrento Park I found a memorial mosaic to Elizabethan composer John Dowland ‘whose heavenly touch upon the lute doth ravish human sense.’ The portrait had been defaced, literally – the great man’s face had been crudely bashed off by some selfish ignoramus. But Dowland’s slender ceramic hands still plucked at his lute. From the summit of the park I surveyed the Irish Bay of Naples from the summit of the park – out over the Victorian perfection of Sorrento Terrace in its colour wash of strawberry, peach and lemon, round Killiney Bay with fantasy villas piled on the wooded hillside above the grey ribbon of the Vico Road, the Wicklow Hills hidden and revealed by drifting cloud, the Sugarloaves peaked and sharp, and down on the coast the round knobbly lump of Bray Head.

Halfway up the Vico Road I took to the Cat’s Ladder, a concertina of steps climbing the hillside; then on up a dusty walled laneway to the old signal tower on Dalkey Hill. A clink of pitons far below betrayed the presence of young rock climbers tackling the all-but-sheer walls of Dalkey granite quarry. Their orange-helmeted heads inched upwards, and the reassuring cries of the instructors came echoing up. ‘Come on, there, Siobhan – easy now… that’s it, across with the left foot … no, the other one, Siobhan!’

The path dipped downhill past a grove of Scots pine, then rose from a saddle of lower ground by steps and stony sections through a mossy woodland to the obelisk on Killiney Hill. Here was the full 360o view – the Wicklow Mountains a sea of peaks in the south, and northwards the city laid out in a many-coloured sprawl around Dublin Bay, from the praying-mantis arms of Dun Laoghaire harbour to the miniature Gibraltar of the Howth peninsula.

I sat in one of the obelisk alcoves, admiring the prospect of Wicklow and chatting to a lady with a dog. ‘A rescue dog,’ she said, ‘he was fished out of the canal, tied up to drown in a plastic bag.’ Yet with the application of a little loving care, said its companion, the dog was now as trusting and friendly as could be. So there’s hope for us all.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 50; detailed map/instructions in Walking Dublin by Pat Liddy (see below).

TRAVEL: DART or Bus 8 to Dalkey; M50 Jct 14-16.

WALK DIRECTIONS: From Dalkey DART station, follow St Mary’s Terrace to cross 5-way junction. St Mary’s Terrace bends right into Coliemore Road (‘Coast Road’). On past Coliemore Harbour. On sharp right bend by Sorrento Terrace, right into Sorrento Park; path to summit viewpoint. Down to leave park below bandstand. Right to junction, left up Vico Road. In 500m, by Gothic ‘Strawberry Hill’ house on left, cross road; up ‘Cat’s Ladder’ steps. At top, left for 30m; by ‘Mount Henry’, right up narrow laneway to signal station on Dalkey Hill. On past aircraft beacon, down with wall and pine grove on right. Across path crossing; on up to obelisk on Killiney Hill. Down path with sea on left; follow it past Tower Lodge, car park and playground to Killiney Hill Road. Right; pass The Metals crossing; right along Cunningham Road. At bottom, left to Dalkey DART station.

LENGTH: 6.75 km/4 miles – allow 2 hours or more

GRADE: Moderate

CONDITIONS: Pavements, tracks, paths. Plenty of steps!

DON’T MISS:
colourful fishing boats in Dalkey Harbour, and view to Dalkey Island
Sorrento Park’s mosaic of John Dowland, and the view over Killiney Bay
View from obelisk on Killiney Hill over the Wicklow Hills and Dublin Bay.

REFRESHMENTS: Picnic at the obelisk on Killiney Hill

ACCOMMODATION: Fitzpatrick’s Castle Hotel, Dalkey (01-230-5400, www.fitzpatrickcastle.com) – a splendid, opulent hotel, friendly and helpful too. From 89 euros dble B&B

GUIDEBOOK: Walking Dublin by Pat Liddy (New Holland) – one of 24 great walks in and around the capital, by expert Pat (01-832-9406; 087-905-2480; www.walkingtours.ie)

WALKING in IRELAND: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.discoverireland.ie/walking.

BOOK: Christopher’s book Walking in Ireland (Ebury Press) contains 50 of his favourite Irish Independent walks.

TIC: Dalkey Castle, Castle Street (01-285-8366)

 Posted by at 2:32 pm
May 262012
 

An ominous sky arched over Blacklion, a bouncy-looking featherbed of clouds, billows and hollows of grey extending across the Cavan-Fermanagh border. Not that the prospect of rain would deter Oliver Usher, gently humorous walker and knowledgeable ponderer of the natural world, nor his rambling chum Ellen Graney, energetic bagger of peaks and devourer of mighty long distances. As things turned out, we took all day to cover only a handful of miles along the Cavan Way.

Topping the road out of Blacklion we were immediately into beautiful hilly country, with the great tent shape of Cuilcagh Mountain dominating the view ahead and the humps of the Ox Mountains rising away in the west. In the farmyard at Ture stood the rusty cast-iron frame of a heavy old clothes mangle. ‘It’s a good few years since I caught my fingers in that!’ smiled the farmer as he waved us away up the lane.

As we climbed, a wide view opened to the north over Lough Macnean Upper and its flotilla of thickly wooded islets. Up above abandoned Corratirrim farmhouse we were out on the open hillside, walking over sedgy grass and limestone pavement dotted with wind-stunted orchids and brilliant blue tongues of milkwort. ‘See these beautiful stone walls?’ said Oliver. ‘Each stone picked specifically for its shape, to fit exactly with the others.’

On over heather and bilberry, to enter the coniferous plantation that masks the secrets of County Cavan’s own Burren region. Neolithic man must have sensed an extraordinary spiritual resonance in this steep landscape of knolls and hollows, because the Burren is crowded with ancient ritual and burial sites, some swallowed by the trees, others standing in plain view.

In the heart of the forest a slope of huge scattered rocks forms a boulder grave. The multi-ton capstone of the Calf House dolmen (a local farmer once penned his cattle within) lies tilted into the earth. The massive, mossy slabs of the Tulaigh an Ghobáin wedge tomb stand silent in a clearing. Within hailing distance lies the Giant’s Grave, another wedge tomb, largely intact, a hundred feet long, with its five capstones still in place. Sight-lines connected all the tombs of this prehistoric necropolis before the trees interrupted them. Nowadays one stands and stares, revolving ancient mysteries on the imagination’s palate.

Other treasures lay signposted among the trees. We rocked the Rocking Stone, sat in the giant stone Druid’s Chair and admired the Ring Marked Stone. Then it was out of the forest and steeply down a slope, to Manragh and a country road between old-fashioned hayfields thick with ragged robin, docks and buttercups.

On past Legeelan crossroads with its beehive-shaped sweathouse, a primitive kill-or-cure sauna for sufferers of agues and pains. Over marshy fields scented with fragrant orchids and bog myrtle, where rare greater butterfly orchids grew ten a penny. And down, finally, to the Shannon Pot, where Ireland’s mighty major river ran lustily forth from its wide source pool. A last look at the dimpling water, as dark as copper, and we turned our backs to the arriving rain and headed for the car.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery Sheet 26; map/instructions downloadable at discoverireland.ie/walking or irishtrails.ie.

TRAVEL: (2 cars): N16 or A4 to Blacklion; N16 towards Manorhamilton. On outskirts of Blacklion, left on R206. Follow ‘Glangevlin, Cavan, Shannon Pot’ for 5 miles (8 km); then left (brown ‘Shannon Pot’ sign) to Shannon Pot car park. Leave 1 car; return in the other to Blacklion.

WALK DIRECTIONS: At crossroads, turn up beside Enzo’s (‘Cavan Way’/CW). In 3 miles (1 km), left (CW yellow arrow and ‘walking man’ symbol) along lane past Ture, up to Corratirrim. Pass house; bear right up open ground with wall on right (CW). Nearing forestry, right over stile (CW); right along forest edge; left over stile (CW). Woodland path to forest road; left (CW, ‘Burren’). Follow CW past ‘Lost Valley’ fingerpost; past Boulder Grave and Ghobáin’s Mound (signed left and right – both worth a detour); to Calf House dolmen on right. Left here (CW) on grassy track, following Giant’s Leap Wedge Tomb/CW, to pass Wedge Tomb, Druid’s Chair, Ring Marked Stone (all signed). CW turns left over wall; steeply down slope (CWs). Just before white house, bear right (CW) to road at Manragh. Follow road to Legeelan crossroads (sweathouse on right, 100 m up lane opposite). Left at Legeelan crossroads; in 300m pass church; ignore ‘Garvagh Lake’ to left and keep ahead for 1 mile, passing Mullaghboy turn on left. Just after rough lane (‘West Cavan Gun Club’ notice) on left, right over stile. Follow CWs over boggy meadows, through forestry and on to car park. Left to visit Shannon Pot; return to car park.

LENGTH: 8½ miles with detours/14 km: allow 4–5 hours

GRADE: Moderate

CONDITIONS: Parts are very boggy; waterproof footwear advised.

DON’T MISS:
Wonderful flowery uplands above Corratirrim
Fragrant and greater butterfly orchids (June onwards) between Mullaghboy and Shannon Pot
Megalithic tombs in the Burren Forest.

REFRESHMENTS: Macnean’s of Blacklion (dinner Wed-Sun, lunch Sun). Try their ballotine of rabbit or braised shoulder of venison – tiptop Irish ingredients and cooking (071-985-3022; nevenmaguire.com).

BEST PICNIC SPOT: On the slopes above either Corratirrim or Manragh

ACCOMMODATION: Clancy’s of Glenfarne (071-985-3116; clancysofglenfarne.com) – extremely welcoming and helpful. 2 nights dble B&B, dinner, packed lunches, 119 euros p.p.

GUIDED WALKS: Oliver Usher (086-170-6767, oliverusher@ireland.com)

WALKING in IRELAND: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.discoverireland.ie/walking.

CAVAN TIC: 049-433-1942; cavantourism.com

 Posted by at 2:44 pm
May 052012
 

There are few rivers as diverse and exciting as the Nore in its course between Bennettsbridge and Kilkenny – at one moment flowing slow and stately at ambling pace, the next minute charging round a bend in a flurry of white horses, or seething loudly down the lumps and bumps of derelict mill weir with enough force and commotion to drown anyone unlucky enough to tumble in.


The Nore can abruptly rise, too, flooding the adjacent meadows in quick time.

Near Bennettsbridge the river flows through a flattish part of Co. Kilkenny, green countryside with a gentle roll to it. The handsome stone curve of the little town’s seven-arch bridge has withstood the rages and tempers of the Nore for some 250 years. We stood admiring it, looking through the arches to the tall old mill that houses Nicholas Mosse’s pottery. Evidence of recent floods lay all around – thick stands of rushes with their feet in fleets of water out in the middle of the meadow, and a draggle of sticks and straws caught high in the willow branches beside the river.

We walked upstream against the river’s flow, watching a cormorant hurrying up the valley like a black torpedo bomber, following the line of the Nore. The water slipped silently by, the colour of tarnished copper, carrying twigs, strings of bubbles and nonchalantly sailing mallard drakes. Under the swish and thump of the M9 bridge and on in a tunnel of hawthorns where long-tailed tits flirted their sterns and a chaffinch with a brilliant rose-pink breast sidled down a branch before flying off. Half-fallen willows leaned long pale arms into the water, as if for support.

‘Good God,’ Jane called out suddenly, ‘what’s that?’ A heavy splash into the river right under our feet was followed by the appearance of a sleek brown back, curving like a dolphin’s before vanishing. ‘Otter!’ A neat round head emerged a little way upriver. The otter swam ahead of us along the bank, pushing a bow-wave in front, then ducked into a tangle of vegetation. Out flew three mallards, quacking in terror. We stood stock still, but the otter had gone to ground. An episode that you could never plan for, the kind of moment that leaves a sweet taste in the mouth and a flutter in the senses.

Letting out our breath and grinning like lottery winners, we walked on through riverside woods where daffodils were just pushing their yellow crinkly flowers out from tight green buds. Celandines were beginning to show shiny yellow stars among the ground ivy, and we passed a solitary clump of crocuses whose long purple petals lay half open to give a glimpse of a brilliant orange stigma far down in the long throat of each flower. A pair of kingfishers darted out from an overhang of the river bank and sped downriver in twin flashes of electric blue.

Rock faces of the famous Kilkenny marble formed walls like railway cutting sides between which the Nore began to race and bounce down a succession of broken weirs. This powerful stretch of the river was very heavily used by water mills in times past – some drove the machinery that cut the marble ready for the polishers, others ground corn or made paper. We passed their skeleton hulks, one after another, blank windows rising six storeys high, walls tottering, roofs long gone, stones squared and grooved by nameless millwrights to hold the long-forgotten machinery that ground, cut and sawed out Kilkenny’s industrial prosperity for several centuries. Now the Nore mills stand lost like fairytale castles, each in its own enchanted thicket.

Nearing Kilkenny, I spied a piece of graffiti that revealed a dark secret. Naughty Dylan woz ‘ere with Becca – but also, on another occasion, with Ruth. Both girls luvd Dylan. Bit of a tangle to sort out there, my rash friend.

The view ahead showed a foaming weir laden with trees dumped along its lip by floods on the Nore. Above it rose the houses of Kilkenny. It was the end of one of the most delectable river walks in Ireland, an unfolding tale of kingfishers, otters, Sleeping Beauty castles and wicked young princelings – pure distillation of magic in the floodlands of Kilkenny.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 67; downloadable map/instructions, apps etc from trailkilkenny.ie.

TRAVEL: Rail (irishrail.ie) or bus (buseireann.ie) to Kilkenny. Road: M9 Jcts 8 or 9, N10 to Kilkenny. On to Bennettsbridge – Kilbride Coaches (051-423633); R700 by car; taxi 1850-444546.

WALK DIRECTIONS: In Bennettsbridge, down steps beside Tynan’s Butcher; turn right along River Nore, following green arrows. Nearing Kilkenny, join road for short section, then back to river. Under N10 and on into Kilkenny. Continue down Maudlin Street; at end, left down John Street. Cross river; up Rose Inn Street to Kilkenny Castle.

LENGTH: 12 km/7 ½ miles – allow 3 hours

GRADE: Easy

CONDITIONS: Well-marked footpath

DON’T MISS:
18th-century, 7-arch bridge at Bennettsbridge
Romantic, tumbledown mills on the Nore
Wildlife – bring binoculars (otters, kingfishers, etc).

REFRESHMENTS: Zuni, Patrick Street (056-772-3999) – one of Kilkenny’s best restaurants; try their roast rabbit and the squid and chorizo salad.

BEST PICNIC SPOT: By the Nore mills

ACCOMMODATION: Pembroke Hotel, Kilkenny (056-778-3500; kilkennypembrokehotel.com; from 79 euros dble B&) – delightful, friendly boutique hotel right in the centre of Kilkenny.

WALKING in IRELAND: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.discoverireland.ie/walking.
Slieve Bloom Walking Festival, Co Laois: 4-7 May (087-774-9281; 086-821-0056; www.slievebloom.ie)

KILKENNY TOURIST OFFICE: 056-775-1500; southeastireland.com

TRAIL KILKENNY: 056-775-2111; www.trailkilkenny.ie

 Posted by at 8:47 am
Apr 072012
 

‘Here we are in Gleann-na-gCreabhar, the Glen of the Woodcocks,’ said Michael Lewis, reaching inside his bag. ‘So …’ and with a flourish he pulled out a woodcock, a real one, sleek and beautiful on its taxidermist’s stand.
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We all gasped and grinned – Jim Flynn, Fergal Somers, Jane and myself – at this magician’s sleight of hand. Perhaps we should have expected something of the sort. When you’ve taught the children of Anglesboro, and their children, for 38 years, as Michael did, you’re bound to have a little something up your sleeve to tickle the imagination of your audience.

Michael knows, better than most, the farms and farmers, the laneways and hills of this north-west corner of the Galty Mountains. Jim has the same knowledge and feel for the neighbouring Ballyhoura hills. And Fergal is a new broom brought in to sweep some energy and imagination into the leisure activities of both mountain ranges, which saddle the borders of Limerick and Tipperary. Setting off up Paradise Hill with the three of them felt like a walk with a gathering of tutelary spirits.

Fieldfares were hopping in the ash trees as we followed the lane out of Anglesboro. ‘A great sign of winter,’ said Michael. ‘I love to see them.’ Standing stones rose weathered and stumpy in the fields, which ran in neatly hedged rectangles down to the rushy townland of Barnagurraha. Liam Lynch was born in a house down there in 1893, and died 29 years later in the Knockmealdown Mountains as IRA Chief of Staff, shot in a gun battle. A tall monument by the roadside showed his likeness, a thinker’s face above a simple line: ‘Your epitaph is your glorious service, Liam.’

Up on the steep hillside above the village we paused to look out north and west across an immensity of small fields and woodland patches, the Glen of Aherlow running away to the north-east under the sloping hummock of Slievenamuck. Michael pointed out the long straight line of a famine road, its course cutting as straight and artificial as a die across the grain of the landscape.

We climbed on up Paradise Hill by way of a precipitous old turf road. Local men once inched down here the rough sleds on which they brought the dried turf down from the turbary slopes of An Teampaillín, the ‘mountain of the little temple’ that looms over Paradise Hill. A turn of the forest road brought us a southward view down through a vee-shaped cleft to Mitchelstown, the pale patch of the town’s enormous Aldi distribution centre as large and reflective as a lake.

The Celestial Scene-Shifter had been busy piling up grey clouds in the west, and now turned his attention to Paradise Hill. As we reached the summit of the walk under An Teampaillín the mist slid across and the rain and wind came hammering in on its coat tails, setting the hill streams gurgling and making me wish, as so often, for patent windscreen wipers on my spectacles.

We climbed a stile and skeltered down the eastern face of the mountain, slipping in damp green sphagnum patches; then back down the muddy old turf road with Michael throwing out snippets of local history and legend – ‘That field once changed hands for a bag of meal and an overcoat… They used to cut the young furze, pound it up with a heavy spade and feed it to the horses… A local saying about the worth of land was, “Gold under furze, silver under rushes, famine under heather”.’

Talking and laughing, we went on down the slopes of Paradise Hill. The ground mist came creeping at our heels, while high above us the shoulders of An Teampaillín shrugged themselves free of the cloud at last to give us a glimpse of the mountain’s beautiful, cairn-crowned head.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland Discoverer 74; downloadable map/instructions at discoverireland.ie/walking.

TRAVEL: M8 Jct 12 to Mitchelstown; R513 towards Kilfinane; in 2 km, R513 (‘Ballylanders’); in 4 km, right to Anglesboro. Park at trailhead – Community Centre car park on right.

WALK DIRECTIONS: Ahead past Galtee View pub and Lane’s shop. Follow road (‘Paradise Hill Loop’; green arrows/GA). In 1.5 km, opposite farmhouse on left with green corrugated gates and buildings, fork right through gate (GA) up zigzag track. On 2nd left bend, ahead up hedge (GA). Over ladder stile at top; right along forest path, ascending to a summit, then descending. Below Temple Hill, right (GA); in 100m, right (GA) on stony track. In 1.5 km, Benard Loop turns right (purple arrow), but keep ahead here (‘Paradise Hill’, GA). In 400 m, left (PA, GA) on stony track up to summit and on down. In 1.5 km, on left bend, cross stile (GA) onto open mountain. Left downhill beside fence. At bottom, left over stile (GA); right along track; retrace outward course to Anglesboro.

LENGTH: 12.5 km/7½ miles – allow 3-4 hours

GRADE: Moderate

DON’T MISS:
View from Temple Hill north-east up Glen of Aherlow
View south over Mitchelstown and Knockaceol, and west to the Ballyhouras

REFRESHMENTS: Picnic (from Lane’s shop, Anglesboro); drink at Galtee View pub, Anglesboro.

BEST PICNIC SPOT: Slopes of An Teampaillín

ACCOMMODATION: Deebert House Hotel, Kilmallock, Co. Limerick (063-31200; deeberthousehotel.com; from 75 euros dble B&B, special offers available).

GUIDE LEAFLETS: National Loop cards from Ballyhoura Failte TIC, Main Street, Kilfinane (063-91300)

INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop walks and walking festival: discoverireland.ie/walking.

Ballyhoura Walks Festival information www.ballyhouracountry.com

Paradise Hill Looped walk – information

http://www.discoverireland.ie/Activities-Adventure/paradise-hill-loop/80868

map

http://tcsinfoland.ireland.ie/content/Multimedia/Attachments/749_86AParadiseHillLoop.pdf

 

 Posted by at 3:19 pm
Mar 302012
 

The last Kilmaneen Farmhouse breakfast I’d had must have been seven years ago; but I’d never forgotten it.


Not that I’d classify myself as a greedy gannet, exactly – but some things in life stay with you, and that array of home-baked scones, fresh fruit and a kind of magic treacly bread/cake/ambrosia type of thing was one of them. This time, with a good walk in the Knockmealdowns in prospect, Jane and I did the most important meal of the day even more justice. What with that and with chatting of walking, farming and a thousand other things with our hosts, Kevin and Ber O’Donnell, we didn’t really get under way till noon.

It was a cold and sunny afternoon, with a milky blue sky over the Knockmealdowns. These glorious mountains lie spread out for admiration right at Kevin and Ber’s back door. The higher we went from the trailhead through the forest, the better the prospect out north over the Galtees – Galtymore like a heavenly tent, Galtybeg a throne for the clouds – and the Comeraghs bulking pale blue in drifting cloud to the east, with the big calm curve of Sliabh na mBan lying at the edge of sight beyond.

Between these mountain ranges stretches the flat Tipperary plain of grazing land zigzagged with hedges and tufted with woods. As we stood and stared, a crunch of boots behind us heralded Kevin O’Donnell, come to walk a step of the path with us. Sal and Dora, his diminutive dogs of uncertain lineage (‘Jack Russells? Corgis? God knows!’), scampered alongside, play-fighting all the way.

Coniferous forests have crept up to cover the flanks of Crohan West since the April day in 1923 when Liam Lynch, Chief of Staff of the old IRA, met his end in a gun fight on the mountain. We found the tall Lynch monument in a clearing, flanked by four sculpted Irish wolfhounds. Sal and Dora did not approve. Up went their hackles, and they yapped and growled until Kevin lifted them up for a reassuring sniff of the inexplicably silent and motionless hounds on the stone plinths, who stared with magnificent indifference over their cross little heads.

Back on the main track of the walk we went gently up the incline, looking ahead to another in the succession of superb mountain views – a high brown ridge rising to the peaked summit of Knockmealdown itself, hanging over an unseen and unnamed lake cradled in a deep corrie under the shoulder of the mountain. Bags full of young conifers lay beside the track, and soon we came past a group of Coillte workers digging in the saplings. Here Jane and I said goodbye to Kevin and his two lady friends, and went on into the cleft of one of those secret valleys which are a speciality of the Knockmealdowns. This hollow in the hills was empty of people, silent except for the murmuring of the wind in the forest, beautifully lonely and cradled by high peaks – the rugged dinosaur back of Crohan West and the breast-shaped dome over Kildanoge; big clotted balls of frogspawn floating in the ditches and puddles, like a mass of staring, alien eyes; crimson heather, creamy moor grass, sombre green spruce and a wink of silver from a river too small for the map to put a name on.

At the head of the valley the track turned sharply back, climbing to a breathtaking prospect of the western Galtees framed in the vee of the valley. A fox-red sparrowhawk skimmed among the trees on quick stiff wings. Down we went through a slab of cold air trapped among mature conifers where star mosses and liverworts crowded round every trickling stream. The mountain torrent joined the Glengallen River far down in the valley, and we followed its steep banks all the way back to the trailhead.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery Sheet 74; downloadable map/instructions at discoverireland.ie/walking

TRAVEL: From Clonmel (N24), R665 to Ardfinnan; left on minor roads to Goatenbridge. Follow brown ‘Trailhead’ fingerpost towards Knockmealdown Mts. Tarmac road gives way to rough road; follow it to T-junction. Right to car park beside trailhead map.

WALK DIRECTIONS: Returning to T-junction, keep ahead (‘Liam Lynch Loop’, purple arrow/PA) past brown Munster Way sign. Then simply follow PAs round this well-marked Loop Walk.
NB: Liam Lynch monument is poorly signposted. To reach it, follow walk for 3 km/2 miles to 2nd right-hand hairpin bend, just past ‘Liam Lynch monument’ sign. Leave Loop Walk here, keeping straight on from bend; monument is on your right in 250 m. Return to bend and resume walk.

LENGTH: 7½ miles/12 km – allow 3 hours

GRADE: Easy

CONDITIONS: Good forest roads all the way

DON’T MISS:
Liam Lynch monument, built in 1935 in shape of a round tower
Spectacular views of Knockmealdown ridge from track above monument
Long views from track below monument to the Galty and Comeragh Mts.

REFRESHMENTS: Picnic – at picnic table in valley under Kildanoge

ACCOMMODATION: Kilmaneen Farmhouse (052-613-6231; kilmaneen.com; 80 euros dble B&B), one of Ireland’s friendliest and classiest B&B – Ber and Kevin O’Donnell are very knowledgeable local walkers.

WALKING in IRELAND: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.discoverireland.ie/walking.
Knockmealdown Crossing: 14 April – walks for all abilities (clonmelhillwalking.org)
An Caminó 3-day pilgrim route – details on Kilmaneen Farmhouse blog.
Tinahely Walking Festival, South Wicklow: 14-15 April (tinahely.ie)

BOOK: Christopher’s book Walking in Ireland (Ebury Press) contains 50 of his favourite Irish Independent walks.

TOURIST OFFICE: Sarsfield Street, Clonmel (052-612-2960); discoverireland.ie/tipperary10

 Posted by at 8:29 am
Mar 172012
 

On a cool, still morning, five of us set out from Durrow – local historians and ‘men of Durrow’ Sean Conroy and Noel Mooney, Sean’s sister Ann Lanigan (Co. Laois’s Rural Recreation Officer), Jane and myself – all ready to tackle the newly refurbished Dunmore Loop walk around Durrow’s green and pleasant countryside.
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Let’s face it – most self-respecting walkers would scarcely cast a glance in the direction of low-lying little Laois. But frankly, most self-respecting walkers need a bit of a slap, because in Durrow and its guardian rivers Nore, Gully and Erkina the walking world has got an unregarded treasure.

The grey stone 18th-century mansion of Castle Durrow Hotel looks down from its ridge across the Erkina towards the White Lady, a ghost-haunted obelisk on a green eminence. Down the lawns to join our rambling party came Peter Stokes, owner of the castle, a man happy to welcome one and all to enjoy his grounds and gardens, and keen to get his guests out walking Durrow’s river banks and woods. This need to share their good fortune in living in a beautiful spot seems endemic to Durrow folk, and a visiting walker can only rejoice at that.

We followed the Erkina River west through thick reedbeds and dense woodlands now being restored by Coillte to their natural status of wet carr woodlands where mosses thrive and fungi sprout. The old forests of Durrow, ‘plain of the oak’, were so dense in the 18th century that the outlaw captain Jeremiah Grant and his ruffian gang could hide out there in impunity (and his treasure is still buried in these woods, some say). But the early days of Independence saw mass felling of the local demesne woods, which are only now being properly cared for.

We crossed the Erkina by a footbridge and followed the path through woods of ash and silver birch. From the country lane beyond there was a magnificent view back over the fields to Castle Durrow on its ridge. ‘First time I saw it,’ said Peter, ‘the gates were chained shut, the avenue was completely overgrown and the house was rotten from top to bottom. I could stand in the basement and see the sky. Restoring it has been a nightmare and a dream come true, you know – more of the latter really…’

In among the slender beech trees of Dunmore Wood, knotty roots gripped the black earth. We met the River Nore and followed it to the tumble of mossy stones and barred cellar entrance of what was once Dunmore House. ‘I used to play in those cellars as a boy, when the old house was still standing as a ruin,’ mused Sean, staring down the hole in the ground. Dunmore was one of those country houses that suffered death by neglect, unroofed in the early 20th century to escape payment of rates, then left to rot until it could literally be knocked over with a bulldozer.

The Nore ran fast and slick under banks of crimson dogwood. The wooded path gave way to a lovely green stretch of open fields by the confluence of Nore and Erkina, overlooked by the eerie ruin of Knockatrina House, all empty gables and tall chimneys enclosed by a garden wall. A muddy stretch where dayglo orange fungi glowed among the leaf litter like fairies’ galoshes, and a pause by the monument to the long defunct Durrow Brick industry. Then we were easing downhill into Durrow, with the prospect of lunch at the castle to spur on weary feet.

WAY TO GO:
MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 60; downloadable map/instructions at www.discoverireland.ie/walking; mobile app downloadable at everytrail.com
GPS: satmap.com
TRAVEL: Bus Service 8 (Cork-Cashel-Dublin; buseireann.ie)
Road: M7, N77 to Durrow
WALK DIRECTIONS: Through Castle Durrow gates and up drive; in 100m, right past gate; follow ‘Dunmore Loop’, green arrows/GA. Path beside Erkina River; in 1km, right across footbridge (GA); on through woods to reach country road. Ahead to R434, left (GA) for 200m; right (GA) along L1652. In 300m demesne wall appears on left; in another 50m, left through wall (GA); on through Dunmore Wood. At forest road, left (GA); follow this for 4.5km (GAs) across River Gully, through Dunmore Wood and beside River Nore to New Bridge. Cross N77 here; on beside Nore. Below Knockatrina House ruin, bear right away from river; cross stile, left into woods (GA) to N77. Cross it; turn right for 150m to Durrow Brick monument. Left through barrier just beyond; right up forest track. Continue to road, right into Durrow; left at T-junction into village centre.
CONDITIONS: 15 km/9 miles (4 hours); easy; some muddy stretches in woodland.
DON’T MISS:
celandines and bluebells in the woods
eerie ruin of Knockatrina House, built for Robert Flower (1836-1919), heir of the Castle Durrow estates
REFRESHMENTS: Bob’s Bar, Durrow (087-616-5484 or 057-873-6630 for stout and chat; Castle Arms for soup and sandwiches); Castle Durrow Hotel tearoom open later this year.
BEST PICNIC SPOT: In meadows beside River Nore
ACCOMMODATION:
Castle Arms Hotel (057-873-6117; castlearmshotel.ie; 100 euros dble) and Ashbrook Arms Townhouse (057-874-0989; ashbrookarms.com; 100 euros dble) – two friendly family-run hotels in village centre.
Castle Durrow Hotel (057-873-6555; castledurrow.com; 210 euros dble dinner, B&B) – grand surroundings, warm atmosphere.
WALKING in IRELAND: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.discoverireland.ie/walking.
TOURIST OFFICE: Portlaoise (057-862-1178); laoistourism.ie
INFORMATION: Launch of Leafy Loop Walks, Durrow (March 18); Dawn Chorus in Dunmore Wood (5am, May 6); Laois Walks Festival (July 1-27) – contact Ann Lanigan (057-866-1900; annlanigan@laoispartnership.ie)

 Posted by at 4:15 pm
Feb 202010
 

The forest track led us steadily uphill between dark walls of spruce, pine and fir. The information panels along the trail were excellent, a treasure-house of rural lore, natural history and geology.

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“Bird life of Mount Hillary: the Golden Eagle,” suggests the signboard down in Banteer village. Now that might be a slight economy with the truth. Golden eagles haven’t been spotted over north Cork for the past century. But the noble king of the birds does at least still lend its name to the mountain, transliterated as ‘Hillary’: Cnoc an Fhiolair, or Eagle Mount, pride of the ancient barony of Duhallow.

Waiting for Jane and me at the trailhead above Banteer were Tim Ring of Irish Rural Development Duhallow, along with his two colleagues Danny Sheehan and John McCarthy. It was IRD Duhallow that set up three trails around the Coillte-owned woodlands on Mount Hillary, and it’s local people like Danny and John, under the auspices of the Rural Social Scheme who got out there with digger, sign boards and waymark posts to lay out the trails on the ground.

The RSS has around 2,600 participants all over Ireland, the three men told us as we climbed the forest roads — not just making hiking trails, but mending, painting, insulating and turning their hands-on skills to whatever needs doing. It’s a remarkable scheme, and not nearly enough celebrated.

The forest track led us steadily uphill between dark walls of spruce, pine and fir. The information panels along the trail were excellent, a treasure-house of rural lore, natural history and geology. We learned of the folding of old red sandstone, of how young walkers could make a dreamcatcher from willow and feathers, of rowan-berry cures for gout, scurvy and the squitters. Magnificent views began to open northwards across the plains of Duhallow to the long grey backs of the Mullaghareirk, Ballyhoura and Galtee ranges out on the skyline.

From the top of a steep bank Danny pointed. “See the line of the old road?” It ran away across the land below, an ancient highway 30 yards wide between thick hedges, ice gleaming in the ruts, its purpose now forgotten. “They’d maybe have driven cattle up it,” hazarded Danny, “and over Mount Hillary to market in Cork or Macroom.”

These northerly Cork farmlands have always been good dairying and cattle-raising country. But recent policies and pressures have produced tough times for those who run traditional family farms. Danny’s is a dairying set-up, and he has seen prices for his milk fall to 20c a litre. John raises suckler cows on land that’s mostly bog, and he speaks of plummeting beef prices. Luckily, the RSS has been able to employ both men’s energy and practical talents.

Near the top of the trail Danny, John and Tim wished us well and went off about their own business. Jane and I forged on up a muddy track, to top out on the summit of Mount Hillary at 1,283ft (391m) among a clutter of telecommunications masts. A little apart stood a venerable prototype, its ladder rungs rotted, its wires drifting in the wind, skeletal and black.

A chill breeze out of the east nipped our cheeks as we sat in the heather and took in the southward view, a rolling sea of hill crests and slopes broken by the Boggeragh hills and the far-off mountains of Derrynasaggart.

It was one of those winter views that could hold you rooted for ever. There was no fairy music under the hill, though — just the melancholy pipe of the wind in the skeleton masts.

 Posted by at 9:17 pm
Dec 052009
 

On the hillside at the end of the valley road we turned round and round, spellbound, as Michael named the peaks and hollows of a stunning panorama.

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Breakfast at Hanora’s Cottage — now that’s a god-like start to a misty day among the Comeragh Mountains. Is there a cosier centre of warmth and cheer in Co Waterford? When Mary Wall and her husband Seamus first came to live here in the Nire Valley in 1967, Hanora’s Cottage was just that, a little cottage of two rooms hardly altered since it was built for Seamus’s great-grandparents.
Seamus has sadly passed on, and Mary runs the much-extended and modernised house with her son Eoin and his wife Judith. But Hanora’s Cottage continues to burnish the lamp of hospitality, just as Seamus would have wished.

It was Michael Hickey who turned up at eight on the dot to take Jane and me walking in the mountains — a man of his hands (some of the beautiful woodwork in Hanora’s Cottage is of his crafting), and a man of the hills whom you would trust to take you there and lead you back through all winds and weathers.

On the hillside at the end of the valley road we turned round and round, spellbound, as Michael named the peaks and hollows of a stunning panorama for us — westward to the golden Galtees and darkly clouded Knockmealdowns across the border in Tipperary, south to the nearer Tooreen ridge with its component high corries of Coumfea, the Deer Hollow, and Curraghduff, the Black Moor that shelters the twin loughs of Sgilloge.

For 500 million years, the wind and rain, frost and sun have been slowly moulding these sandstone conglomerate mountains with their winking white chips of quartz. Michael pointed out standing stones and ancient burial barrows across the hillsides far below, and the talk turned to the long tide-like movements of time, the rise and fall of civilizations and of modes of burial and commemoration. “The eternal question we go on asking down the years,” mused Michael as he stared over the valley. “Why do we have to age? Why do we have to leave?”

We followed a sedgy old green road, studded with stones and marked with white posts, eastward towards The Gap, a saddle of ground between Knockanaffrin, the Mass Hill, and Knockaunapeebra, the Little Hill of the Piper. Who was the piper? Michael didn’t know; but he did have a great saucy story of Fionn MacCumhaill and the women of Sliabh na mBan, at which we laughed like hyenas as we walked the track among sheep whose red flock-marks had run in the rain to dye their fleeces the campest of pinks.

From The Gap the view east was immense, way across Waterford and Kilkenny into Carlow and Wexford, wave upon wave of steel-blue hills floating in mist and running on towards Mount Leinster and the Blackstairs. “This is why I come out walking,” said Michael. “For me it’s a necessity. All my days I’ve had to be outside, walking these hills,” and he looked around like a man drawing in the very breath of life.

Turning our backs on this magical prospect at last, we forged steeply uphill over knolls and dips, by crusty outcrops of black rock. Mist began to swirl across, but with a fence as guide we were soon up on the spine of Knockanaffrin, balanced gingerly at the very rim of a scoop of sheer cliffs and looking down on Lough Coumduala lying 500 feet below, pear-shaped, with the muted gleam of a polished bronze mirror. Beyond rose the blue hills, each an island lapped by a river of mist.

Descending the steep breast of the Mass Hill, Michael Hickey flung out an arm to embrace Comeraghs, Galtees and Knockmealdowns. “If only people would lift their eyes from working 24 hours a day and look what’s there for the taking, they’d all be out walking.”

 Posted by at 9:11 pm