jane

Apr 082014
 

Dungonnell Way, Glenariff, Co Antrim, N. Ireland

Mist was hanging tattered curtains from the unseen rims of Glenariff as we drove up the twisting road from Waterfoot. The glen’s waterfalls showed as white threads tangling into wind-blown ropes down tall chutes in the basalt cliffs. At the top of the glen the moorland village of Cargan lay in a hollow below mountain slopes that we sensed rather than saw.

Along the road we walked from Cargan, cattle lay in the stone-walled fields, each cow preserving her own dry patch. We passed a rough-cut, square-topped standing stone half-hidden under an ornamental tree in a cottage garden, and turned along a lane that led past mountain farms towards Dungonnell Reservoir. Every farm gate held its black and white guardian collie, head cocked low and sideways, a picture of acute alertness and suspicion. Three magnificently horned sheep watched us across their field wall, stamping the grass and shaking mist-drops from their coats like dogs.

Dungonnell Reservoir, opened in 1971, lay curved in an elbow of low hills, its architecture suitably functional for the austere era it was built. Beyond the reservoir we left the road and crossed a strip of the Garron Plateau’s blanket bog, lushly sodden peat starred with pale pink marsh orchids. Down in Crockaharnan Forest all was still and dark among the long avenues of spruce, under which shone carpets of brilliant crimson and luminescent green sphagnum moss. Goldcrests squeaked in tiny voices among the treetops, and the mist trickled thin and milky between the pale trunks of the trees.

We crossed the road to Waterfoot, then the one to Cushendall, and were back in the foggy forest on a flint-surfaced path among horsetail plants, jointed and bristly like bright green bottlebrushes. A tiny brown frog sprang from stone to stone until it vanished in among the grass tussocks, where every sedge seed hung enclosed in the magnifying bowl of a water drop. It was an Antrim cloud-forest, seething soundlessly under the invisible slopes of Trostan mountain.

At the forest gate Artie O’Brien and his little Cairn terrier Zimba offered us a lift in their car along the mountain road and back to Cargan. Shall I confess that we took it? Well – I won’t tell, if Artie won’t. Zimba, you can keep your mouth shut, too.

Start: Cargan village, Glenariff, Co. Antrim, BT43 6RB (OSNI ref D 169189)

Getting there: Bus – service 150 (translink.co.uk/Services), Ballymena-Cushendun. Road – Cargan is on A43 Ballymena-Waterfoot road.

Walk (9 and a half miles, easy, OSNI Discoverer Sheet 9; downloadable  map, directions at walkni.com; NB – online map, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): Head down street towards Ballymena. Left along Gortnageeragh Road. In 600m, round right bend; in 200m, left along Dungonnell Road (‘Dungonnell Walk’/DW waymark arrow) for nearly 3 miles. 400m past north end of reservoir, beyond notice-board on right bend, left (198185, DW) into forest. In half a mile, left at T-junction (203194, DW); in 1 mile, reach A43 (191207). Right for 100m; left (DW) into forest. Follow DW to B14 at Essathohan Bridge (191217). Right beside road; left onto road, back across bridge (DW); in 200m, right over stile by gate (DW) into forest. In 400m, left at T-junction (187220, DW); in 1 mile, ahead along road (180206). In 2 miles, left (157187); in 700m, left (159180) along Legragane Road into Cargan.

Lunch: Greenhills pub/chip shop, Cargan (028-2175-8743)

Accommodation: Londonderry Arms, Carnlough, BT44 0EU (028-2888-5255; glensofantrim.com) – cheerful family-run hotel with sea views.

Info:  walkni.com; satmap.com, nitb.com

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 Posted by at 12:45 pm
Apr 092013
 

Sheila the sheepdog came grinning up to us as we put on our boots outside the Sliabh Beagh Hotel. ‘She’s not long back from maternity leave,’ Paddy Sherry told us, ‘but she’ll be coming with us.’ Was she his? ‘Ah, no,’ said Paddy, ‘but she won’t let anyone leave her out of a walk.’

A true word. Sheila proved an excellent leader, guiding us unerringly across the squashy southern skirts of Sliabh Beagh, the low mountain of damp blanket bogs and hollows that rises where three counties meet – Fermanagh, Tyrone, and Monaghan where the Tra Walk is set. Sheila had little to say for herself. The same couldn’t be said of Paddy Sherry, a man who rejoices in introducing walkers to the hidden crannies of his native country, and isn’t afraid to share its myths, geology, history and wildlife delights with all comers. Paddy and others in the local community work like Trojans to bring life and a bit of prosperity to their often disregarded area – everything from building their own Sliabh Beagh Hotel and Tourism Centre (the hub of the community hereabouts) to laying out a whole system of country walks.

We set out up a lane between the small fields of late-cut hay so typical of Monaghan’s back-country farms. The verges were a spatter of wild flowers – gold St John’s wort, pink and white dog roses, tall purple thistles, pink bursts of ragged robin and tall common spotted orchids of every hue between white and mauve. A donkey in an adjacent field let off a tremendous klaxon of a bray that made us all jump and giggle.

The lane snaked to and fro, gradually gaining height through thickets of young alder and silver birch, to bring us out at last into the open blanket bog that spreads itself far and wide on the slopes of Sliabh Beagh. ‘As a young lad I used to dread father saying he was going to the bog,’ Paddy said, ‘because I knew that’d be it for the summer – I’d be baked, frozen, soaked to the skin or ate alive by midges! It’s only recently that I’ve seen the bog for what it is – magic and beautiful, a place for wildlife to be undisturbed, a place for solitude. I call it my psychiatrist’s chair, you know…’

The psychiatrist’s chair today was adorned with golden stars of bog asphodel, butterfly orchids and milkmaid, the pale springtime bloom that some call cuckoo flower or lady’s smock. ‘We all owe the bog our water,’ said Paddy, ‘this is where it all comes from,’ and we believed him as we squelched and skidded across the brilliant red and green sphagnum, as soaked as any sponge, and hurdled ditches glinting black and oily with deep bog water. ‘I bring kids up here and get them to jump in there,’ Paddy told us. ‘They come out black all over, wellies full, and laughing fit to burst. That’s the way to get them to appreciate all this – hands on.’

A juicy, sloppy track beside gunmetal-grey Lough Antrawer and we were dropping down the long road home, with distant Slieve Gullion and the rolling high ground of Cavan spread before us to sweeten the way back to Knockatallon.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 18, 27; also ‘Sliabh Beagh’ map (from Sliabh Beagh Development Association, 028-6775-1918, sliabhbeagh.org); map/route card from Sliabh Beagh Hotel (see below).
GPS: satmap.com

TRAVEL: From Monaghan Town, N54 towards Clones. Right on outskirts of town on R186 (‘Balinode, Scotstown, Sliabh Beagh’). Through Balinode to Scotstown; over crossroads in Scotstown; in 500m, right on minor road for 3 miles/5 km to T-junction at Strathnahincha Bridge, Drumcoo. Left to Sliabh Beagh Hotel.

WALK DIRECTIONS: From Sliabh Beagh Hotel, right down road. In ½ mile/0.8 km, at left bend before bridge, turn right (Tra Walk’/TW). In ¾ mile/1.5 km, at turning circle (TW post 36), right past iron post up grass path. In 250 m keep ahead (not left fork). Path ascends; in 400 m fork left (TW post 38 on left) for nearly 1 mile (1.5 km), passing radio mast at summit of Stramacilroy townland. At crossroads of paths with green/black metal barriers, right (TW post). In ¾ mile (1.5 km), right at TW post 40. In ½ mile (0.7 km), just past quarry, Sliabh Beagh Way goes left across footbridge; but you keep following stony track of TW. At Lough Antrawer stay left of fence along left side of lake, then follow succession of TW posts across wet bogland (beware deep ditches!) and 2 metal bridges, up to stony road (TW post 51). Right for 2 miles to road near Strathnahincha Bridge; right to Sliabh Beagh Hotel.

LENGTH: 7½ miles/12 km; allow 3-4 hours

GRADE: Easy

CONDITIONS: Mostly lanes and good forests/bog roads; very wet and sloppy around Lough Antrawer. Watch out for deep ditches near the lough!

DON’T MISS…!
• Sensational flowers of the bog
• Wonderful views south over Slieve Gullion and Monaghan/Cavan countryside

REFRESHMENTS/ACCOMMODATION/INFORMATION: Sliabh Beagh Hotel and Tourism Centre, Knockatallon, Co. Monaghan (047-89014; knockatallon.com/Accommodation) – friendly, well-informed community hotel, the hub of walking and social activity locally. €70 dble B&B

BEST PICNIC SPOT: Picnic tables at Knockanearla quarry

GUIDED WALKS: Paddy Sherry, Boots ‘n’ Bogs (087-252-5457; paddyparaban@eircom.net).

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

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

INFORMATION: Monaghan Tourist Office (047-81122;
discoverireland.ie/places-to-go-location/monaghan

csomerville@independent.ie

Words: 917

 Posted by at 2:20 pm
Apr 092013
 

In the evening there was a feast of a session at the Highlands Hotel in Glenties – a fiddler with hands like animated hams giving it all he’d got, a guitar player chopping out chords as thick as slices of brown bread, and a woman in a white cap pouring out sweet and sour songs. But we couldn’t stay late. We had to be up betimes to meet Inga Bock, Co. Donegal’s German-born but Irish-hearted Rural Recreation Officer, for a step out along the Bluestack Way.

Poor Harry, Inga’s ancient and characterful terrier, was condemned to stay guarding his mistress’s van for the day – there would be cattle and sheep along the path. The Bluestack Way is a mountain route for much of its length, but today’s section between Glenties and Ardara runs in the gentle agricultural countryside of the Owenea River, all grazing meadows, brackeny bogs and flowery riverbanks.

We walked out of Glenties along a country road between verges thick with horsetails and trails of wild raspberries, sweet and sharp on the tongue. Drifts of feathery bog cotton spread across the peaty flatlands where a bog road ribboned away for miles in an undulating line, straight to the horizon. The knobbly west Donegal hills rose on either hand, with the green cleft of Glengesh opening ahead into larger mountains, westward towards the coast under a streaky blue and white sky.

We turned off the bog road and followed the Bluestack Way along the cattle-poached banks of the Owenea River. ‘Kingfisher country,’ said Inga, ‘rare enough round here, but I have seen them.’ Pods of yellow rattle hung among the tall grasses, and we flicked them with our fingers to hear the ripe seeds rattle within – the traditional method for farmers to assess when the hay was ready for cutting.

The piers of an old turf railway crossed the river. Beside it ran a former Bord na Mona bridge, all rusty girders and rotted timbers. A former Turf Board employee, Inga said, had kept it creosoted and beautifully maintained, for pride and pleasure, long after his retirement. He’d died, and within 5 years the strong old structure had given up the ghost. This warm midday the sun-dried planks were basking platforms for lizards, and for damselflies with enamel-bright bodies of crimson and azure blue.

The peat-brown water of the Owenea swung and eddied round dark mossy rocks. A sinuous river of deep pools and quiet backwaters under alders and willows, perfect for salmon and trout fishing. Perfect for idling by, too. On a bend above crumbly cliffs riddled with sandmartin holes we perched on Inga’s Picnic Rock, a rough boulder provided with handy natural seats, and munched our lunch – oatcakes and Bendick’s Bittermints, the perfect nutritional balance. An elderly angler fished the Owenea from a little gravelly beach opposite, the very picture of contentment in absorption as he cast and recast, his line flashing in the sun like electric wire.

The Bluestack Way turned south-west and ran beside the Owenea towards a mighty prospect of mountains, from rugged Crocknapeast and Mulmosog round to the rising spine and quartzite screes of dominant Slievetooey. We brushed through clumps of fragrant bog myrtle and came down a back-country road into Ardara, the little town lying at the feet of the hills with Loughros Point and Bay stretching out towards white sandhills and a dark green sea. Back in Glenties, Harry would be waiting to sink his three remaining teeth into a late lunch of doggie granules. For us, there was still time enough for crab claws in Nancy’s pub, and a rerun of our delectable walk through the boglands and meadows of wild West Donegal.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 10, 11; downloadable map/instructions at irishtrails.ie.
GPS: satmap.com

TRAVEL:
Bus – Bus Eireann (074-912-1309, buseireann.ie) or McGeehan (074-954-6150; mcgeehancoaches.com) between Ardara and Glenties – check before travelling!)
Road: N56 to Ardara, leave one car there: N56 to Glenties. Park in the town.

WALK DIRECTIONS: Bluestack Way (BW) is signposted off Glenties main street opposite Limelight Niteclub. Follow minor road (Clós Naomh Chonaill) out of town (BW, yellow ‘walking man’ symbols and yellow arrows; brown ‘Ardara’ signs). At T-junction, left along road. In 2 km/1⅓ miles, left through gate (BW) down stony track between fields. In 200 m, right opposite stone barn (BW) along left bank of ditch. In 150m cross Owenea River; follow BW along left bank. In 1 km (0.6 miles) recross river, follow BW along right bank. In 4 km/2½ miles approx., recross at small pumping station; follow rough tarmac road to R261; left into Ardara.

LENGTH: 12 km/7½ miles – allow 3 hours

GRADE: Easy

DON’T MISS:
• Watching trout rise in dark pools of the Owenea River
• Half-buried rails of the old bog railway
• Stunning view of coast and mountains as you approach Ardara

REFRESHMENTS: Nancy’s pub, Ardara (074-954-1187) – try their succulent crab claws and proper traditional Irish stew.

BEST PICNIC SPOT: Inga’s Rock by Owenea River (OS of I ref G754928).

ACCOMMODATION: Highlands Hotel, Glenties (074-955-1111; highlandshotel.ie). Steak and session night – Thursdays. From €90 dble B&B (ask about deals).

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

Sliabh Liag Hillwalking Club, Donegal (086-606-3923; www.sliabhliagwalkers.com) – walk on last Sunday of every month

Free Bluestack Way App: http://www.everytrail.com/guide/the-bluestack-way-app

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

INFORMATION: Donegal Tourist Office (074-972-1148)
discoverireland.ie/northwest; donegaldirect.com

csomerville@independent.ie

Words: 897

 Posted by at 2:16 pm
Apr 092013
 

There’s wet weather, and there’s rain, and there’s a soft sort of a day. And then there’s the kind of a day that can come seething across the borders of Sligo and Roscommon – cold, wind, a running sky, and bursts of whatever it is that lies between rain, mist and the bloody nuisance of a moisture that has you pulling your anorak hood back and forth, your zip up and down, your backpack on and off.

A day in the car, sulking and steaming up the windows? Or a day in the Bricklieve Mountains, walking the Historic Trail from Ballinafad to Castlebaldwin, exploring the megalithic mysteries of the passage graves at Carrowkeel, getting a few miles and a good soaking under our belts? Well, no contest … we put on the rain armour and got out there, trudging from Ballinafad up a stone-walled boreen thick with ragged robin and bramble flowers.

Cattle bellowed from the green hummocky hill of Maelahoo, sheep cropped the waterlogged fields with that immemorial sheepy patience in adversity, and raindrops hung fat and pendulous from the honeysuckle flowers in the hedges. Close inspection showed the holes in the rust-orange tin roofs of hard-to-work hill farms left to the rain and wind, a sign of our times. We stopped at the crest of the boreen to look back over Ballinafad tucked around its stream running down through trees to Lough Arrow, a maze of wooded promontories. Beyond it in the east Lough Allen glinted at the foot of Sliabh an Iarainn, a pale bulk under clouds drifting crabwise with their heavy freight of rain.

The boreen gave onto an open hillside of lush grass and tall thistles, where the path snaked around before dipping into a great canyon walled with pale limestone cliffs, unsuspected until we were on its brink. Down in the bottom of the cleft were tiny fields that had once been worth someone’s while to wall off carefully one from the other, now abandoned to heath spotted orchids and clumps of eyebright. Up on the far rim of the canyon our track wound among peat hags before settling for a hard-surfaced northward course through the heart of the Bricklieve Mountain – uplands, really, with gently domed tops where our ancestors built the fabulous necropolis that we now call Carrowkeel.

The northern edge of the Bricklieve range juts out into the south Sligo lowlands in a series of prows, each with its round tomb as a focal point. At Carrowkeel they are concentrated on the hilltop, 14 passage graves with stone lintels and kerbs under vast mounds of limestone rubble. One of the first we explored had a double lintel, the upper one framing a slit to admit a gleam of setting sun at midsummer solstice. You can see exactly why primitive people – any people with a deep connection to their landscape, for that matter – would bury their great ones up here, close to the sky and dominating the world with those pale stone mounds standing high. Maybe they were not even great ones – who can know, at this remove?

The rain sifted and spat across Carrowkeel. We crouched in the doorway of one of the cairns, speculating and conjecturing, until white curls of mist began to drift into the necropolis and creep round the cairns. It was time to take the downward path. As we came down from the cairns the mist drew back, the rain swept off southward, and a forty-mile view sprang out of nowhere – Ox and Dartry Mountains, lakes, fields, woods and towns, all honeyed in sunlight like a gift you never expected, suddenly laid right at your feet.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 25, 33; downloadable map, instructions from irishtrails.ie.
GPS: Satmap.com

TRAVEL: Bus (buseireann.ie) service 23 (Dublin-Sligo) to Ballinafad.
Road – Ballinafad is signed off N4 between Boyle and Collooney.
Return from Castlebaldwin to Ballinafad by bus, 2-car trick, or Boyle Taxis (087-610-5111, 086-176-8681).

WALK DIRECTIONS: From Ballinafad go under N4; immediately right along lane beside N4; first left up hill road. In 1.25 km/¾ mile, opposite farmyard on left, right up gravel lane (Historical Trail/HT logo of walking man). Lane soon becomes walled boreen; follow it and HT uphill for 1.5 km/1 mile. At top, bear left out of boreen; follow HT across ravine; up far slope, over stiles and on across open moor on clear track for 1.25 km/¾ mile to right turn signed ‘Carrowkeel’. Detour to megalithic cemetery; return to HT. Continue to T-junction; turn right (HT). In 0.7 km/ ½ mile, at gate of donkey sanctuary, left over stile; follow HT through fields, then ahead along lane for 1.5 km/1 mile to T-junction. Right into Castlebaldwin.

LENGTH: 8½ miles/13.7 km – allow 4-5 hours

GRADE: Moderate

DON’T MISS…
• Views east over Lough Arrow, Lough Key, Lough Allen and Sliabh an Iarainn
• Carrowkeel megalithic cemetery
• Donkey sanctuary

REFRESHMENTS: McDermott’s pub, Castlebaldwin (071-916-5132) for soup and sandwiches, or Mayfly pub in Ballinafad (071-966-6198).

PICNIC SPOT: Carrowkeel megalithic site (always open)

ACCOMMODATION: Frances McDonagh, Lough Key House, Boyle (071-966-2161; loughkeyhouse.com) – from €84 dble B&B (2 weekend nights + dinner, €113 pp). Wonderful hospitable house, sensational breakfast (home made bread, superb marmalade and jam, etc).
WALKING in IRELAND: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.discoverireland.ie/walking and www.coillte.ie

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

INFORMATION: Boyle Tourist Office (071-966-2145)

csomerville@independent.ie

Words: 910

 Posted by at 1:16 pm
Apr 092013
 

Slish Wood and Lough Gill, Co. Sligo

Lough Gill, calm and beautiful, fills the valley between the rugged mountains of Killerry and Keelogyboy a little east of Sligo town. The dragon-shaped lake is thickly wooded, especially along the south shore where ancient Slish Wood runs steeply down the lower slopes of Killerry to meet the water among big mossy boulders.

On this morning of sun and blue sky over Sligo – the first for weeks – Jane and I were lucky to have the company of Deirdre Kennedy, the energetic and highly effective Rural Recreation Officer for Sligo and Leitrim. It’s Deirdre and her dozen or so fellow RROs who juggle the budgets, the schemes, the practicalities and the hopes and fears of walkers, farmers and landowners into the ever-growing nationwide network of Waymarked Ways and Looped Walks.

Slish Wood looked beautiful today, the sunlight filtering down through glass-green beech leaves among the ash, oaks and tall Scots pine. Shaded by trees, the path ran along the lake shore, giving tantalising glimpses out between the boulders and loughs to the long upturned boat shape of Benbulben. The mountain’s scores of water-cut gullies fell vertically in deep shadow from the flat summit plateau, then angled outwards in a great green skirt to merge into the plain at the foot of the mountain.

‘You’d want to sleep the night out in Slish Wood,’ said Jane, ‘and wake up with the red squirrels and pine martens, and look out to see that view.’ That was the very notion that occurred to W.B. Yeats when, a moody teenager in his Uncle George Pollexfen’s house in the 1870s, he decided to mooch off and spend the night being pure and poetic in Slish Wood. When he got home the next day, pouchy-eyed and exhausted after a sleepless night, the saucy maid-servant couldn’t resist teasing the priggish young Dubliner. ‘She believed,’ wrote Yeats, ‘I had spent the night in a different fashion and had invented the excuse to deceive my uncle, and would say to my great embarrassment, for I was as prudish as an old maid, “And you had good right to be fatigued!”’

Soon the track left Slish Wood and climbed by duckboards and black peaty stretches over a soft green bog starred with golden bog asphodel. At the summit rocks we halted to take on board the view – the ‘Sleeping Warrior’ of Keelogyboy, his head and toes upturned beyond the lake, lumpy Killery at our backs, the button of Queen Medbh’s tomb on top of Knocknarea in the west, and out on the eastern skyline the long rising seal’s profile of Sliabh an Iarainn.

The track dipped down through Cullentra’s Millennium Wood (a tree planted for every household in Co. Sligo) and came through a field with a baby donkey (aaah! sweeet!) to the lake shore opposite white-faced Parke’s Castle. A couple of hundred yards out into the lough lay the round, tree-smothered islet of Inishfree – Yeats’s ‘Lake Isle of Innisfree’, inspiration for his best-known poem when he was a lonely expatriate in 1880s London. ‘While walking through Fleet Street, very homesick,’ Yeats reminisced in The Trembling of the Veil, ‘I heard a little tinkle of water and saw a fountain in a shop-window which balanced a little ball upon its jet, and began to remember lake water…’

The dream of peace and simplicity, the bean rows and the small cabin of clay and wattles in the bee-loud glade, ring a universal bell; and we all felt its tug, too, standing on the slipway and watching the royal blue lake lap the little isle.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 25; downloadable map/instructions at irishtrails.ie or sligowalks.ie.
GPS: satmap.com

TRAVEL: Leave Sligo on N4 Collooney road; R287 towards Dromahair; follow brown ‘Inishfree’ and ‘Cullentra’ signs to car park marked ‘Yeats Country Tour Location 8’, just before Inishfree slipway/viewpoint (OS ref G 770329). Leave one car here; return in other the way you came for about 11 km/7 miles. Just before sharp left bend on Bunowen Bay, marked with ‘caution – bend’ symbol, turn right (OS ref G 738314) into Slish Wood car park (brown forestry symbol; Coillte ‘Slishwood’ sign).

WALK DIRECTIONS: Facing R287, turn right along track beside lake. In 2 km/1¼ miles, keep left at ‘Forest Walk’ sign, following yellow arrows/walking man symbol beside lake, out of wood over boggy ground, down through Cullentra Wood to pass through 2 fields to a road (769329). Left to slipway and Inishfree viewpoint, return up road for 100m to car park.

LENGTH: 4.8 km/3 miles – allow 1½ hours

GRADE: Easy

CONDITIONS: Bog section can be sloppy after rain.

DON’T MISS:
• Superb views all round from highest part of bog section
• Slipway viewpoint to Lake Isle of Inishfree
• Cute donkeys in fields near slipway

REFRESHMENTS: Riverbank Inn, Dromahair (071-91-64934; riverbankrestaurant.ie) for lunch snacks; Eala Bhan Restaurant, Sligo (071-914-5823; ealabhan.ie) for an excellent dinner – old favourites (steak, surf ‘n’ turf) with plenty of style.

BEST PICNIC SPOT: Bog path summit, on the rocks.

ACCOMMODATION: Sligo Park Hotel, Sligo (071-919-0400; sligoparkhotel.com) – modern, comfortable and welcoming.

GUIDE BOOKLET: ‘Sligo Walking Guide’ from Sligo TIC (071-916-1201; sligo.ie; discoverireland.ie/Places-To-Go/Sligo); sligowalks.ie

WALKING in IRELAND: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.discoverireland.ie/walking and www.coillte.ie
This walk is based on http://www.discoverireland.ie/Activities-Adventure/slish-wood/14132

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

csomerville@independent.ie

Words: 993

 Posted by at 1:11 pm
Apr 092013
 

Published in the Irish Independent on 11th. April 2013
Inagh Valley to Killary Harbour, Western Way, Co Galway

When that inevitable Martian invader demands, ‘Show me, Earthling, the best view in the romantic west,’ I’ll kit him out in a pair of walking boots (do Martians have legs? – they’d better had) and march him out along the Western Way, where it rises and curves over from the Inagh Valley to the shores of Killary Harbour. On a bright Connemara day, with sprinkling showers marching across every fifteen minutes and brilliant slabs of sunshine in between, you just cannot beat the all-round prospect of the Twelve Bens, the Maumturks and the Mweelrea range in all their majesty.

Setting off up a bog track from the Inagh valley road, it took about ten steps for the sensational beauty of these hills of central Connemara to be revealed – Benbaun and Benbrack and Diamond Hill forming the western wall of the valley, Letterbreckaun’s sharp prow the east flank, and a gleam of Lough Inagh in the south. The two mountain ranges are so dissimilar in effect – the Twelve Bens each distinct and shapely, the Maumturks one vast whaleback upheaval – but every peak glints and gleams with quartzite outcrops, like so many mirrors pocketed into the turf and heather.

Houses lie dwarfed at the feet of these mountains, adding to the lofty impression that the map heights – 729 m at the peak of Benbaun, the highest – don’t really warrant. The Maumturks in particular have a quality of wildness about them that’s palpable, though hard to pin down. Their crumpled western faces looked down blankly over the wide bogland I was crossing, where neat conical stacks of hand-cut turf awaited the tractor and trailer, and stands of half a dozen individual sods were carefully piled criss-cross to let the drying wind circulate among them. Pink rosettes of lousewort and coconut scented gorse in full yellow flower flanked the puddled bog road, whose pools of last night’s rainwater reflected the blue and grey Connemara sky.

I crossed a loudly chattering river and passed a farm with a range of sheds all knocked together out of wood and corrugated iron, simple but entirely fit for purpose. The farmer was coming up the track with his two sheepdogs.

‘Nice morning!’

‘’Tis!’

The Western Way, well marked and surfaced, swung away from the bog road and forged north through scrub of birch and willow and plantations of young green conifers. Fir trees sported long pink-brown buds at the tips of their sprigs, like strawberry chocolate Christmas candles. Up on the slopes of the Maumturks lambs cried, ‘Maaa! Maaa!’ and scampered about in search of their mothers. The faint but clear call of a cuckoo came from the edge of the plantation as a token of spring.

The forest smelt of pine resin, coconut and mint. Beside the track huge leaves of giant hogweed were unfolding, the toxic stems blistered and thorny, the flowers like bristly crimson and green bottle brushes. The stony track crossed the Glencraff River and left the trees to run along the mountainside, where the steepness of the lazybed strips and the large number of ruined houses were a stark reminder of the tough lives lived by hundreds on these long-deserted townlands.

Now the Western Way rose to the best view of all, west down the narrows of Killary Harbour under cloud-darkened Mweelrea to the humped silhouette of Inishturk lying out at sea in honey-coloured sunlight. Five minutes later it was the high, rugged bowl of Mweelrea in brilliant gold light, and Inishturk dark and stormy. A few brief words with Scott and Christine from Chicago – the picture of glowing health and youthful love, starting out to walk the Western Way as lightly and hopefully as any yellow brick road – and then I followed the old track down to where Leenaun lay along the steel-blue inlet under the green elephant backs of the mountains.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery Sheet 37; downloadable map/instructions at discoverireland.ie/walking or irishtrails.ie.

TRAVEL: R334 Recess road off N59, 9 km from Letterfrack and 11 km from Leenaun; in 2 km, park carefully where bog road crosses R334 (with houses on right under Minnaunmore mountain).

WALK DIRECTIONS: Turn left (east) along bog road towards Maumturk Mountains. In 2 km (1.5 miles) pass farmhouse; in 200 m, where Western Way fingerpost points on ahead, turn left over a stile and follow Western Way (yellow arrows and ‘walking man’ symbols) for 8 km / 5 miles, crossing Glencraff River and a road at Tullyconor, to reach N59. Turn right along it for 1.75 km (1 mile) into Leenaun.

LENGTH: 12.5 km/8 miles – allow 4 hours

GRADE: Easy

CONDITIONS: Forest and bog roads; some boggy parts; boots advisable. No dogs allowed – sheep country!

DON’T MISS:
• Sensational views of 12 Bens and Maumturks from the bog and forest roads
• Views of Mweelrea, Killary Harbour and Inishturk from Western Way beyond Tullyconor
• Ancient lazybed ridges that stripe the mountains around Killary Harbour.

REFRESHMENTS: Hamilton’s, Leenaun (095-42234); seafood chowder, soup and toasties are all good.

PICNIC SPOT: By the Western Way overlooking Killary Harbour

ACCOMMODATION: For walking the Western Way in mid-Connemara – Nonaím Lodge, Glann, Oughterard, Co Galway (085-763-4830; fishingcorrib.com) – peaceful, comfortable, stunning views of Lough Corrib.

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

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

INFO: Oughterard Tourist Office (091-552808); discoverireland.ie/Places-To-Go/Galway

www.christophersomerville.co.uk
csomerville@independent.ie

Words: 912

 Posted by at 12:57 pm
Apr 092013
 

North Kerry’s hidden glen of Glanageenty, tucked into a side pocket of the Stack’s Mountains near Tralee, is known as the Sherwood Forest of Munster, and this short walk in the woods shows you exactly why. An Irish Robin Hood, a hunted man looking for a refuge from his enemies, could hardly do better than flee to this narrow canyon, squeezed down between two tall hillsides, well watered by a mountain stream, thickly wooded, and – well on into the last century – inhabited by folk who really didn’t care a rap for what went on in the world outside.

On the roadside near the start of the walk we found a simple plaque monument to Gerald Fitzgerald, 15th (or maybe 16th, depending on where you stand) Earl of Desmond, a man so confident of his place in the order of things in Tudor times that he defied English rule in various forms of rebellion. For his self-belief – or arrogance, some would say – Desmond was clapped into the Tower of London at least twice, harried, hunted and brought to bay finally in the glen as a fugitive with just four followers left on 11 November 1583. Maurice Moriarity, who killed him on this spot, was well rewarded by Queen Elizabeth I; Desmond’s severed head was spiked to London Bridge as a warning to others.

It was hard to imagine the desperation and the bloody end of the Earl of Desmond on such a bright, blowy spring day as this, with chiffchaffs and chaffinches carolling away in the budding sallies along the stream. In the shade of conifers along the narrow valley bottom we found clumps of wood sorrel with nodding white and purple heads, dots of yellow pimpernel, primroses not yet gone over, and violets of every hue from delicate porcelain white to lilac.

A great feature of this walk is the number of information plaques telling of various heroes of the region, including two Ballymacelligott men – marathon runner Tom McCarthy, and cyclist Dan Ahern who ‘swept through the Irish cycling ranks like a tornado.’ And how about cyclist Billy Griffin and his formidable sporting sons? – Paul, ‘King of the Mountains 2004’ in the cycling Tour of Crete; John, who won the Dingle Marathon of 2009 at the age of fifty; and Liam who, after numerous triumphs in track and field in the 1980s, ‘retired to take up fishing’ – and went right on winning championships at that!

From Dan Ahern Bridge we followed a detour path through bluebell glades and stands of gorse exuding buttery smells of coconut, to find the modest plaque that recounts the deeds of Captain Robert Monteith around the time of the 1916 Easter Rising. Another Glanageenty fugitive after the capture of his companion Sir Roger Casement at Banna Strand, Monteith holed up here in the remote cottage of Sean Thaigh Óg Lenihan, a hermit with a grizzled beard and keen, hawk-like eyes who hid the wanted man until he could be smuggled away to Limerick and, eventually, the USA.

The secret garden in the glen where Sean Thaigh and Robert Monteith hid out is a beautiful spot, peaceful, green and full of bird song. It was hard to tear ourselves away. But back across Dan Ahern Bridge and up on the crest of the hill we had our reward – an absolutely mind-blowing vista out west to the rolling Slieve Mish, the mountainous spine of the Dingle peninsula, and in the south the great slate-dark humps and hollows of Macgillycuddy’s Reek’s, the nape of Carrantuohil sprinkled white with freshly fallen snow.

I’m sure the Griffin Bros could have sprung across and up there before lunchtime. But we were content to gaze and gasp in sheer delight as we walked the homeward path with Glanageenty Glen running green and hidden at our feet.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery Sheet 71; downloadable map/instructions at discoverireland.ie/walking.
GPS: Satmap.com

TRAVEL: From Tralee, N69/N21 Castleisland road. In 9 km (6 miles), left at O’Riada’s bar on L2014. Follow brown ‘Trailhead’ fingerposts. Park at start of walk (signed).

WALK DIRECTIONS: Follow Glanageenty Loop green arrows (GA) along forest road. In 0.6 km descend to enter trees and cross Tom McCarthy Bridge. In 500 m cross a small green bridge; continue (GA) along streamside. At Dan Ahern’s Bridge, follow 1 km there-and-back detour to Captain Monteith’s Memorial. Back at Dan Ahern’s Bridge, cross river; up steps; follow GA to cross stile. Follow GAs along stepped path, then across felled forest ground to cross another stile. Woodland path to stony road; left (GA); in 300 m, left up steps (GA) on woodland path back to car.

LENGTH: 5.3 km/3½ miles – allow 2 hours

GRADE: Easy

CONDITIONS: Forest tracks and paths, well surfaced but sometimes muddy. A good family walk.

DON’T MISS:
• Wealth of woodland flowers: bluebells, primroses, wood sorrel, violets, wood anemones
• Monteith Memorial detour, a beautiful woodland walk to a historic spot with Easter Rising connections
• Sensational views of Slieve Mish and Macgillycuddy’s Reeks

REFRESHMENTS: O’Riada’s Bar and Restaurant, on N21 (066-713-7761)

PICNIC SPOT: By Dan Ahern’s Bridge

ACCOMMODATION: Peggy O’Shea, Bleach Farmhouse, Blennerville, Tralee, Co Kerry (066-712-1785; bleachfarmhouse.com) – €60-65 B&B. Very clean, friendly and helpful.
DINNER: Finnegan’s, Denny Street, Tralee (066-718-1400)

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

INFORMATION: Tralee Tourist Office (066-712-1288)

csomerville@independent.ie

 Posted by at 12:48 pm
Apr 072013
 

‘It’s a wonderful thing,’ mused Sean Mullan, ‘how the walking leads to the talking.’ This is such an incontrovertible truth that Sean, a much-travelled Derryman come to anchor in rugged north Donegal, has named his out-and-about-on-foot touring business ‘Walking & Talking In Ireland’. Come Irish, English, Germans or Americans – a day or two in the countryside with Sean, an ex-teacher gifted in drawing out his walking companions, and all tongues are magically loosened. That’s what Jane and I found, too, on our exploration of Rathlin Island’s road less travelled, the south-going peninsula that leads to moody and beautiful Ushet Port.

It was a good omen for the day when I found that the Rathlin ferry was Canna, an old friend last met 25 years ago when she bumped me over to Iona on a stormy day in the Hebrides. Canna gave us an easier passage this morning; Sloch na Marra, ‘valley of the sea’, the notorious rip tide in Rathlin Sound, lay as quiet as a sleeping wolf, and we landed and set off down the island road in good order.

The first thing we saw was Richard Branson’s toothy smile, flashing from an information board. In 1981 the dashing gazillionaire ditched near Rathlin Island after crossing the Atlantic in his hot air balloon. He was rescued by the Rathlin boatman, Tommy Cecil. As a thank-you, Branson generously forked out for several island amenities, including, rather appropriately, a rescue craft. If he’d been a medieval monarch in similar circumstances he’d have endowed a monastery on Rathlin in thanksgiving – St Richard’s, probably.

We called in to the excellent Boathouse visitor centre and island museum for a quick chat with Tom McDonnell and a look at his fabulous Rathlin photographs, then headed from the shore road past the shell of the kelp factory that once brought work and prosperity to the seaweed-processors of the island. Soon the harbour and buildings were behind us, and we strolled the up-and-down road past Craigmacagan and Kinkeel Loughs, beautiful sheets of still water fringed with reeds and paved with broad green lily pads.

The day held that very specific but intangible mix of peace, isolation and melancholy peculiar to islands in soft grey weather. Greylag geese cackled in the bog, a hare bounced nonchalantly along the road ahead of us, and a scarcely fledged meadow pipit sat fatly on a fence post, its feathers fluffed right out against the wind like a starlet in a mink coat.

The road curved between two hills and dipped down a bank of wild thyme to reach Ushet Port, poignant name for a rocky inlet overlooked by a house of rough stones and a kelp station in roofless ruin. Seven seals were in occupation, sprawled out on the rocks like immensely fat old clubmen after three good lunches apiece. A small flotilla of eider ducks sailed in the inlet, flightless and nervous at the height of their moulting season. Beyond across the Sound, the square-cut sheer cliffs of Fair Head loomed in dark purple, with the domed mountain of Knocklayd spread with sunshine in the south-west; while round to the east the long hills of the Mull of Kintyre rolled in sea mist, seemingly within swimming distance. If I ever find a more haunting place and prospect, I will bottle it and sell it for gold. Maybe it will be sold for gold anyway, if the rumoured half-billion barrels of oil under Rathlin Sound should one day be tapped.


Our homeward path lay along the cliff tops above basalt ledges topped with grass and spattered with pink thrift and yellow kidney vetch. Ahead stretched the western peninsula of Rathlin, an arm of white chalky limestone capped with dark chocolate basalt. We talked of birds, flowers, men, music, writers, history and happenstance. If this walk had never come to an end, I don’t think any of us would have cared a rap.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discoverer 5; downloadable map/instructions at walkni.com.
GPS: satmap.com

TRAVEL: A2 to Ballycastle, then Rathlin Island ferry (booking essential; check timetable – 028-2076-9299; rathlinballycastleferry.com).

WALK DIRECTIONS: Turn right along harbour past Boathouse Visitor Centre. Fork right past Kelp House ruin along shore road. At T-junction, right along main island road for 2.8 km (1¾ miles) to end of road at Ushet Port. Returning, in 200 m turn left through gate into RSPB Roonivoolin reserve. Left along fence, following ‘Roonivoolin Walk,’ ‘Coastal Walk’ and black/orange arrows. Optional path outside fence, reached by stiles – NB – unguarded cliff edges! Where fence ends at cliff, right inland along fence (arrows). Descend into valley between telegraph poles, aiming for waymark post on saddle of ground. Follow waymarks and grassy track, keeping Ushet Lough on right, to reach road. Left to harbour.

LENGTH: 6 miles (9.5 km) – allow 3 hours (plus bird, seal watching time)

GRADE: Easy

DON’T MISS:
• Boathouse Visitor Centre
• Kelp House and seals at Ushet Port
• Cliffs of south-west coast (take care!)

REFRESHMENTS: McCuaíg’s Bar (028-2076-0011); Manor House (see below – open 1 May – mid Oct)

BEST PICNIC SPOT: Grassy bank overlooking Ushet Port.

ACCOMMODATION: Bayview Hotel, Portballintrae, Co Antrim BT57 8RZ (028-2073-4100; bayviewhotelni.com) – ring for information on deals/packages. A great base for exploring the Causeway Coast.

 

GUIDED WALKS: Sean Mullan, Walking & Talking Ireland (074-745-9366; WalkTalkIreland.com).

INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks and Northern Ireland’s Quality Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: walkni.com; discoverireland.ie/walking

RATHLIN ISLAND (B&B accommodation, Boathouse Information Centre etc.): rathlin-island.co.uk

BALLYCASTLE TOURIST OFFICE: 028-2076-2024;
discovernorthernireland.com

csomerville@independent.ie

 Posted by at 5:44 pm
Mar 282013
 

A bright windy day on the coast of south Clare, with Doonbeg in its morning slumber. The stiff sea breeze was sending the waves thumping into the cliffs just beyond the headland, and here in the village it fluttered the football banners and brought a musical chinking from the flagpole halyards in front of Doonbeg’s big octagonal church.

The fast road from Milltown Malbay to Kilkee doesn’t make the best of starts to a walk in the countryside. But that was behind us soon enough, and we were striding out along one of those country roads so typical of these flat Clare coastal hinterlands – dead straight, possessed of a central grass strip like an unrolling Mohican, and raised as a causeway above the surrounding bogland. The fields of dark peaty soil lay tufted with sedge clumps and stands of green rushes that glinted as they seethed in the strong wind. Low ridges held the farmsteads – an ancient Dutch barn orange with rust, a house with cream-painted walls and grey slate roof, a tumbledown ruin alongside, and a man’s voice, hoarse and tremendous, shouting above the foghorn mooing of cattle in the farmyard. This is proper farming country, where every driver lifts a forefinger off the steering wheel to acknowledge you along the road.

A fine brown bull stood among his harem, a copper ring through his pink nose, staring stolidly as he watched us go by. He stared through a screen of young willow leaves like some bogland beast-god, powerful and impassive. In the opposite field a young grey colt grazed among its rushes, its mane ruffled by the wind into a stiff backward crest like an ancient Celtic warrior.

A notice nailed to a telephone pole gave us a grin: ‘Doonbeg Gun Club – No Shooting’. A candidate for the most oxymoronic announcement of all time. The tarmac lane gave way to a bog road, rutted, puddled and rough, drawing an undulating line to the horizon where seven wind turbines whirled their arms above a dark conifer forest like drowning giants. There was enough wind today to light up a small city, big blustering gusts pushing in from the north, with spits of rain in their coat tails that fell on other walkers elsewhere in these flatlands. The bog road wheeled round eastwards, and the indented hummocks of Ben Dash and Slievecallan stood ahead, looming like mini-mountains in this low-lying landscape.

The bog flowers were not fully out and engaged with the weather at this early season of the year, but there were tall delicate heads of milkmaids in milky pink and blue, and dancing heads of wind-blown bog cotton around the bog pools whose surface changed colour, steel grey to jay’s-wing blue, from one step to the next.

Now the track ran through an area of harvested bog. Machines had laid neat cuts of turf along the roadside, seven precisely measured strips per cut. Beyond were dark conical mounds of hand-cut turfs drying in the wind. ‘There’s someone out there, look,’ said sharp-eyed Jane, and we stood to watch a tiny shape on the skyline bending and straightening over a turf spade, the component figure in a timeless scene of labour in the bog.

Another bull was watching us, a thickset Hereford with a curly face, knee-deep in mud. Very slowly and ruminatively he chewed, side to side, with weighty deliberation. ‘Shall I flatten that electric fence and gate, and them with it? Ah, yerra, can’t be arsed,’ and he blinked his little pink eyes and put his great head down to tear another mouthful.

The bog road met another and swung north for Doonbeg through golden gorse and red-brown myrtle, on across the clear brown Doonbeg River. A planning notice beside the track quivered in the wind. ‘Clare Coastal Wind Power Ltd… 45 turbines… 126 metres high … plus infrastructure … in the townlands of Carrowmore South, Einagh, Moanmore North, Doonbeg, Mountrivers, Sragh and Drumellihy.’ If you love plain, unaltered, subtly beautiful, dream-provoking bogland, reader – get down to Doonbeg as quick as you can, that’s all I have to say.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery Sheet 57 or 63; downloadable map/instructions at discoverireland.ie/walking.

TRAVEL: Doonbeg is on N67 between Kilkee and Milltown Malbay. Park at church.

WALK DIRECTIONS: From church walk west (Kilkee direction) along N67 for 750 m. Left (green arrow/GA) down minor road. Dogleg over next road (GA) and on along bog road. In 1 km (⅔ mile) it bends left and continues to T-junction. Left (GA) to N67; left into Doonbeg.

LENGTH: 5 miles/8 km – allow 2 hours

GRADE: Easy

CONDITIONS: Flat bog roads; short stretch of N67

DON’T MISS:
• Views east to Ben Dash and Slievecallan
• Turf cutting activities, ancient and modern
• Wonderful colours of the iridescent bog pools and the bog flowers.

REFRESHMENTS: Plenty of choice in Doonbeg – Morrissey’s, Comerford’s and Madigan’s pubs, Tubridy’s bar/restaurant/café, and Sparrow Jack’s café.

PICNIC SPOT: Out at the turn of the bog road

ACCOMMODATION: Stella Maris Hotel, Kilkee (065-905-6455, stellamarishotel.com; €80 dble B&B, 2 nights) – long-established family hotel on the seafront.

WALKING in IRELAND: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.discoverireland.ie/walking and www.coillte.ie
This walk was based on: http://www.discoverireland.ie/Activities-Adventure/doonbeg-loop/80885

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

INFORMATION: Ennis Tourist Office: 065-682-8366; discoverireland.ie/Places-To-Go/Clare

csomerville@independent.ie

First published in FIT magazine section of the Irish Independent

 Posted by at 3:35 pm
Mar 212013
 


‘A fine day, at least we’ll hope so,’ smiled the man in the window of the Dursey Island cable car ticket office. He waved a hand northward, indicating a slate black sky marching swiftly in over the tip of the Beara Peninsula. The sea in the narrow sound between the mainland and island thrashed and heaved itself up the cliffs in feathery bursts of white foam, legacy of last night’s storm force winds and driving rain. The day might have been going to turn out fine, or not so fine, or not in the slightest bit fine; but down in outermost west Cork they keep an optimistic tongue in their heads. As it was, Jane and I got the usual mixture of four vigorous seasons in one day – and all the better for that.

It must have been a jolting old passage by boat out to Dursey before they put in the cable car in 1969. Nowadays you sway rather than toss, hanging in the little blue camouflaged cabin that hums out under the cables spanning the sound. There was plenty of straw and a fine smell of sheep in the car, even though no animals are supposed to be carried in it nowadays – health and safety, you see.

We disembarked at the northern tip of Dursey Island and the brisk north-east wind blew us on down the island’s rollercoaster of a road, a single track one with a green grass strip up the middle. Month-old lambs were bouncing around the fields, butting milk out of their mother’s udders. We watched the shepherd chasing one, slipping and sliding before he managed to corner it. He marched off towards the farmhouse with the little white creature tucked kicking under one arm.

The sea ran jade-green before the wind, its surface wrinkling into a silvery skin under the strong sunlight, its margins bashing in white froth against the black rocks of Crow Head across the sound. We stopped to listen. Nothing whatsoever, apart from the thump of the sea, the hiss of foam and a faint whistle in the wing feathers of a low-flying herring gull overhead.

Beyond the scatter of green and white houses and old stone ruins that composes Dursey’s village of Kilmichael, the road narrowed and ran as a bumpy track along a ledge towards the outer tip of the island. Someone with an acute but bizarre sense of humour had placed a ‘100 kph’ speed limit sign here. We walked on past neat old field walls, their stones laid in herringbone pattern, where the island birds perched unafraid of our presence – meadow pipits, skylarks, wheatears with white rumps, and a magnificent stonechat in his mating finery of velvet-black head, white collar and brilliant apricot breast.

Out at the tip of Dursey we paused to look down on The Calf, a small rocky island like a sea monster with the tower on its summit forming a tiny square head. Then we took to a mountain path, turning back up the spine of Dursey over heather and gorse until we topped out at the gaunt signal tower of forbidding black stone that stands at the apex of the island. The view was entirely sensational – south to The Calf and its parent islands of The Cow and The Bull in their collars of foam, north to the great dark triangles of the Skelligs on the horizon, and further round to the mountains of the Iveragh peninsula, a pale blue and golden dream of peaks and clouds. Behind us the Sheep’s Head and Mizen peninsulas stretched their long, humpy dinosaur necks out low along the southern sea in subtle quarter tones of grey and mauve.

This is a prospect to hold you all day, but not with the mother of all rainstorms slowly advancing to veil the Iveragh mountains. We skeltered down from the tower and back along the green roads under Dursey’s hilly backbone, until the wind-whipped sound and the tiny swaying cable car cabin hove in sight once more.



WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery Sheet 84; downloadable map/instructions at discoverireland.ie/walking.
GPS: satmap.com

TRAVEL: N71 (Kenmare-Bantry) to Glengarriff, R572 to Dursey Island cable car.
Cable car €8 p.p. return; timetable 0900-1030, 1430-1630, 1900-1930.

WALK DIRECTIONS: From cable car, follow island road (‘Low route’) through Ballynacallagh and Kilmichael villages, and on to end of road. Here turn right (‘Mountain route’) up spine of island to tower; follow yellow ‘walking man’ signs along green roads back to cable car.

LENGTH: 10 km/6 miles – allow 3-4 hours

GRADE: Moderate

CONDITIONS: Tarmac road, mountain paths

DON’T MISS:
• Ruins of monastic church on your left just after disembarking from the cable car
• Views over The Calf from Dursey Head, and over The Cow, The Bull and the Skelligs from the path up to the signal tower
• Small birds of the island – meadow pipits, skylarks, stonechats, pied wagtails, wrens – all unfazed by humans

REFRESHMENTS: Picnic up at the signal tower. Cup of tea at Allihies Copper Mine Museum café (April-October daily; lovely home-made cakes) – 027-73218.

ACCOMMODATION: Summer Hill B&B, Droum North, Castletownbere (027-70417) – €70 dble B&B; eat at Jack Patrick’s restaurant, Castletownbere (027-70319).

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

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

INFORMATION: Castletownbere TIC (027-70054; www.bearatourism.com)

www.christophersomerville.co.uk
map by Claire Littlejohn claire.littlejohn@btinternet.com

 Posted by at 4:29 pm