Feb 162013
 

The farmer at Eskeradooey – a proper County Tyrone hill farmer, neat, courteous and observant – was leaning on a gate at the entrance to his farmyard, a length of blue plastic piping in his hand by way of a switch. He waved us on politely. ‘We’re just bringing the sheep through now,’ he said, and true to his word there was a muted thunder of cloven hooves and sixty sheep came charging out of the field and across the yard, a sheepdog close at their heels.

‘Have you ever clipped sheep?’ the farmer asked us, rhetorically enough. One look at our soft hands must have given him the answer. ‘Well, stay here with us this morning and we’ll learn ye to clip!’ Jane and I would have been happy to do that, and our friend Inga – along for the fun today – looked ready for anything. But Harry had other things on his mind.

Harry is a wire-coated terrier, nurtured by Inga since she found him wandering the back roads of Donegal. He’s 19 years old, and thus officially superhuman. Last time we met, Harry had possessed a single, endearingly monstrous canine tooth that gave him an expression both prognathous and piratical. In the intervening year the tooth had dropped out, streamlining Harry’s snout like a disastrous overdose of botox. But he had retained enough bounce and pezazz to put to shame a dog half his age. Now rabbits, wet bog smells, sheep dung and the freedom of the hills fought for Harry’s attention as he led us away up the old mountain road from Eskeradooey.

It was a steady climb up the track, once a through route to the Owenkillew Valley and the high heart of the Sperrin Hills. Up at the saddle we stopped to take in one of the great Tyrone hill views, over the chequerboard fields of Owenkillew to the rolling, smooth-cheeked central Sperrins – Slievemore, Craignamaddy and Mullaghbane, with the higher profiles of Mullaghclogher and Mullaghasturrakeen beyond and above them, and the rounded heads of Dart Mountain and Sawel, summit of the range, looking over their shoulders in turn. Away in the north-west we were astonished to see a pure white cone, tiny and clear-cut against the sky, that looked the spit and image of Donegal’s highest peak, Mt Errigal. So it was, confirmed Inga, a resident of that county – Donegal’s finest, rising on the edge of sight some forty miles off.

The Robber’s Table, famed for its role as a rapparees’ hang-out, turned out to be no more than a flat double dome in the bog. Between the Table and the pass lay an ancient car, half-buried in peat, thoroughly squashed and smashed, its door open – a 1970s Chrysler, the kind the Professionals would have forward-rolled out of whilst cornering at high speed, .45 magnums blazing in both hands. Harry gave it a sniff, but found no glamour there. He was for questing on, the scent of something far funkier in his nostrils. But Inga, with afternoon appointments to keep, had to turn back.

Jane and I waved the two of them goodbye, and went on down into the Owenkillew Valley. Whatever farming communities once inhabited the slopes of the Robber’s Table and Curraghchosaly Mountain have all gone down the hill to the less harsh environs of the valley. The mountain is now a repository of ghost farmsteads with rusty roofs, cold chimneys and blank black windows, each with its shelter belt of wind-tattered pines or sycamores, neat huddles of buildings once snug, now stark and lifeless. You’d have to be made of stone not to feel their poignancy.

We found the parallel track back over to Lisnaharney glen, a rushy old road, wet and mossy. Long-abandoned turf banks made a giant’s geometry of the mountainside. The track led us back over the pass and down to the lower lands again, its course marked by foxgloves, gorse hedges, and swathes of grassheads in full flower – pink, mauve, milky green and pale crimson, a princely path to end the walk.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discoverer 13; downloadable map/instructions at walkni.com.
GPS: satmap.com

TRAVEL: Park at Gortin Glen Forest Park, on B48 Omagh-Gortin road (£3.50 cash). Bus: Ulsterbus 403 from Omagh

WALK DIRECTIONS: Return from car park to B48; left for 100m; right up Lisnaharney Road. In 2.2 km (1¼ miles) pass side road on right marked ‘Lisnaharney Public Right of Way’/PRW), in another 0.8 km (½ mile), turn right (‘Eskadooey PRW’). In 200m, right to farmyard at end of lane. Between buildings and farmhouse bear left up stony lane for 2.3 km (1⅓ miles) past Robber’s Table/RT and down to road. Right (‘RT’) for 0.7 km (nearly ½ mile); right up track (‘Lisnaharney PRW’, ‘RT’) past Curraghchosaly Mountain and down to road. Left for 2.2 km (1¼ miles) to B48 and forest car park.

LENGTH: 12.4 km/7½ miles

GRADE: Moderate

CONDITIONS: Rough hill track, boggy in places; gentle ascents.

DON’T MISS:
• Beautifully kept sheep and cattle on the local farms
• Spectacular view from pass near Robber’s Table – north over Owenkillew Valley to central Sperrin, north-west to Muckish and Errigal

REFRESHMENTS: Picnic at the pass near Robber’s Table

ACCOMMODATION: Mullaghmore House, Old Mountfield Road, Omagh (028-8224-2314) – £78 B&B

INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks and Northern Ireland’s Quality Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.walkni.com; www.discoverireland.ie/walking
This walk is based on: http://www.walkni.com/walks/116/robbers-table/

INFORMATION: Omagh Tourist Office – 028-8224-7831
discovernorthernireland.com

 Posted by at 4:38 pm
Feb 162013
 

Marty and Mary McGuigan stepped out of their van in a Dungiven lay-by to greet us, looking as spry as ever. It was good to see them again. Mary is a great hill-walker in her own right, and as for Marty – what that man doesn’t know about his native Sperrin Hills of Tyrone and Derry isn’t worth the knowing. Every time I’ve been walking with Marty he’s filled the day with talk, song, conjecture and jokes, and today was no sort of exception.

We drove the narrow hill road that winds up the south-west angle of Benbradagh and parked at the top of the lane. Benbradagh – Binn Bhradach, the Thief’s Mountain, no-one knows why – dominates Dungiven the way Benbulben dominates Sligo, a mighty presence at the back of the town, wedge-shaped and green as it hangs half-way up the sky. Grey slopes of bouldery scree tumble from its peak, contributing to the wild look and reputation of the mountain.

We turned north into a blustery wind and went towards the peak, scrambling over tied-up gates and walking along a roadway surfaced with old hardstanding and flanked by intriguing blocks of concrete set with rusty iron stanchions. Plainly others had been here before us, with some industrial purpose. Before we could speculate further, though, we were over the last of the gates and out on the open mountain, scattering black-faced sheep as we followed a path up towards the long escarpment that forms the summit of Benbradagh.

The wind poured up over the edge, whipping at the grasses and the wild flowers dotted among them – heath bedstraw, heartsease, trembling sky-blue harebells, clumps of wild thyme. We knelt to pinch them and sniff our fingers, while dredging up from our collective memories an old tune and the words to go with it:

“Come all you maidens brisk and gay,
All you that flourish in your prime,
Beware and take care, and keep your garden fair,
And let no man steal your bonny bunch of thyme.”

So singing, we stared at the view, one of the finest in County Derry – the sunlit lowlands around Dungiven striped with little traditional fields, the north Sperrins rolling away like sombre waves in the south-west, Lough Foyle lying north-west like a steel tongue, and tabular Muckish and conical Errigal standing out in Donegal on the western skyline.

Could the wild mountain that owns this stupendous prospect really conceal the deadly secret that the Internet websites whisper about – a nuclear bunker, built by the US Navy at the height of the Cold War? Certainly the US had a low-rise signal base, modestly concealed on a boggy plateau, constructed up here in the late 1960s to service a cluster of tall radio masts that shuttled messages to and from US Navy ships out in the North Atlantic. It also, in all probability, acted as a hotline between Pentagon and Kremlin in the dark days of the 1960s and 70s when it looked as though an itchy finger might stab the red button at any moment.

We found the remnants of the old base beside the ‘American Road’, the supply road the US Navy built to supply their station – hut bases, conduits, strange holes, chambers, vents and snipped-off wires. An eerie place, desolated and resonant with Cold War foreboding. Later I looked up Navcomsta Dungiven online, and found images of the site (see below), all the way from big blokes in donkey jackets in a sea of bog and concrete mixers, to the opening by splendid brass hats, and operation by pallid and bespectacled techies, as clever as professors with their switches and dials.

On the way back to the car, Marty McGuigan taught us how to vault a five-barred gate. Now that’s what I call clever.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discoverer 8
GPS: Satmap.com

TRAVEL: Dungiven is on A6 (Belfast-Derry) between Maghera and Claudy. Entering Dungiven from Maghera (Belfast) direction, turn right up Curragh Road past school. Continue for 4 km/2½ miles, to park at the end of the road high on Benbradagh.

WALK DIRECTIONS: Climb over the gate and turn left along stony roadway, climbing over several fastened gates. By a radio station walk ahead towards Benbradagh, keeping fence on your left. At a metal pole, left across stile; follow track up and along summit. Return same way to gate by road end; turn left here along the ‘American Road’ as far as the signal station site. Go further down the American Road if you wish (superb views), or return to car.

LENGTH: 5 km/3 miles – allow 1½ hours

GRADE: Easy

CONDITIONS: Surfaced tracks or hill paths – these could be squashy after rain.

DON’T MISS:
• View west from Benbradagh over Lough Foyle, Inishowen and the north-western Sperrin Hills
• Relics of the American signal station
• Views from the American Road towards Slemish and the Derry and Antrim Hills

REFRESHMENTS: Picnic on Benbradagh, or plenty of cafés/pubs in Dungiven.

ACCOMMODATION: Eugene and Gerardine Kielt, Laurel Villa Townhouse, Magherafelt (028-7930-1459; laurel-villa.com) – from £80 dble B&B – the famed ‘House of Poetry’, the perfect base for exploring the northern Sperrins.

US Navy Base: http://navcommsta-londonderry.freeservers.com/dgmaster.htm

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

DERRY TOURIST OFFICE: 028-7126-7284; derryvisitor.com; discovernorthernireland.com

http://www.walkni.com/Walk.aspx?ID=172

 Posted by at 4:05 pm
Sep 222012
 

Murlough National Nature Reserve, Co. Down

We could only set out in hope. The marsh fritillary butterflies, their open wings as beautiful as stained glass windows of amber and pearl, would be there, we knew, among the sand dunes of Murlough National Nature Reserve. It was the right time of year, midsummer, to see them on the wing, and the Murlough dunes behind the long curved beach at Dundrum were rich in sky-blue buttons of devil’s bit scabious, main foodplant of these delicate and very rare butterflies. But … it was raining. Clouded, grey and pelting over the crest of County Down, with the Mourne Mountains sulking under blankets of mist that they’d pulled over their shoulders instead of displaying themselves at the end of the strand in full and proper glory. Marsh fritillaries don’t like rain – why should they, these lovely creatures made for sunlight and warmth? They, like the Mournes, would be in hiding today.

So we started out into the drizzle, and of course it cleared within a few minutes. What’s more changeable than Irish weather? We didn’t see the marsh fritillaries, as things turned out. But as for what we did see…

You couldn’t imagine a more perfect habitat for wild flowers, wild birds and insects – warm, sheltered, varied, carefully protected and managed by the National Trust, with acid parts and lime-rich parts, humps and hollows facing every which way, places for the rain to pool, salty bits and sunny bits. These dunes have been slowly growing, developing, shifting and stabilising since before man learned to farm or to make bronze in Ireland. They are immensely old, hugely varied and wonderful to walk through, following a tangling maze of paths.

The first path we found led us through rough grassland thick with white dune roses, heath bedstraw, wild pansies of intense purple and yellow, fragrant woodsage. We left the nature reserve for the shore path along the tidal slabs of the Carrigs River where it pours in and out of Dundrum Inner Bay, and saw fleets of swans, drifts of mallard, and curlews stalking with high-stepping deliberation through the mud as they stabbed and burrowed with long down-curved beaks. A flotilla of sailing dinghies came heading in from the sea, bumping and grounding in the shallow channel, and a big heron jumped up from close by and took off like an old grey brolly suddenly come to life.

We crunched the pebbly shore of the bay, walking south along the inlet towards the big sandspit at the mouth where a group of grey seals lay singing, their snouts upturned like giant musical slugs to bring forth eerie echoing calls. One seal came drifting up the tideway, inspecting us as he passed, then lapsing back into the water with a rasping sigh.

The strand turned south-west and ran in a long tan curve towards the multi-coloured seafront of Newcastle. The Mournes still smoked like dampened volcanoes above the town. We idled along, picking up sea urchin exoskeletons far lighter and more fragile than any bird’s egg. Then a yellow post showed the course of a nature trail through the dunes. The sun came through the clouds. Magnificent orange and black butterflies began kettering from hollow to hollow – dark green fritillaries rather than marsh fritillaries, we reluctantly decided. It didn’t really matter a jot. We were content to walk the path through groves of Rose of Sharon, wild strawberries and royal blue viper’s bugloss, making back west and watching the mighty heads of Slieve Bearnagh, Slieve Commedagh and Slieve Donard itself break free at last into evening sunshine.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:25,000 Activity Map ‘The Mournes’, Nature Trail leaflet map (see below)

TRAVEL: ‘Murlough Beach & National Nature Reserve’ signed off A2, 1 mile out of Newcastle towards Dundrum. NT car park – free members, moderate charge non-members.

WALK DIRECTIONS: At top end of car park, left through gate; left along duckboards; in 50 m they bend right, but keep ahead on grass path by fence. The path soon turns left down steps, then on, following yellow-topped posts/YTP. At Slidderford Bridge path runs close to A2, then on along south bank of tidal Carrigs River, following yellow arrows and Lecale Way/Newcastle Way. At Downshire Bridge, don’t turn left across bridge, but bear right along road. In 100m, left (‘Newcastle Way’), then right along shore. Follow shoreline round the point, south then south-west towards the Mourne Mountains, for 2 ½ miles. At OS ref 405338, look for YTP in dunes on right, turn right inland and follow National Trail/YTPs back to car park.

LENGTH: 5 ½ miles/9 km – allow half a day to enjoy the wildlife

GRADE: Easy

CONDITIONS: At very high tide you might have to follow shoreline among the dunes rather than on the beach.

DON’T MISS:
• Wide views across Dundrum Inner Bay
• Seals basking on the sandspit at entrance to Dundrum Bay (bring binoculars)
• Sensational wild flowers and butterflies along the Nature Trail

REFRESHMENTS: Cottage Café, NT car park – great baking and nice big pots of tea. Check National Trust website for opening times

BEST PICNIC SPOT: on the beach – out of the wind!

ACCOMMODATION: Burrendale Hotel, Newcastle (028-4372-2599 www.burrendale.com ) £ 140 (but much cheaper special offers) dble B&B.

NATURE/TRAIL and OTHER LEAFLETS from NT kiosk in car park

MURLOUGH NNR: nationaltrust.org.uk

INFORMATION: As template
BOOK: As template

INFORMATION: Newcastle Tourist Office (028 4372 2222)
discovernorthernireland.com
WalkNI.com

csomerville@independent.ie

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SS_Great_Britain_stranded_in_Dundrum_Bay.jpg

 Posted by at 3:31 pm
Sep 082012
 

I first walked the Bangor Trail through north-west Mayo’s Nephin Beg mountains more than twenty years ago. Although the background memory is indelibly stamped with the harsh beauty and isolation of that 30-mile trek through Ireland’s wildest mountain range, the foreground is all one blur of rain – spotting, spitting, sluicing, steady old rain. And mist. Every time I’ve caught sight of the Nephin Beg since then, they’ve either loomed grey and insubstantial in shawls of rain, or stood cut off at the knees by mist. So it was a great moment when I pulled back the bedroom curtains in the Clew Bay Hotel down in Westport and saw wall-to-wall blue sky. Now, then!

Cathleen Fergus, County Mayo’s recently appointed Rural Recreation Officer, had given up a day of her time to come and walk the Letterkeen Loop in the southern skirts of the Nephin Beg with Jane and me, and it’s fair to say we set off from the forested valley of Srahmore in good fettle, with sun and cloud shadows chasing each other across the mountains. Wild tales could be told of the Bangor Trail, the ‘old and only road into Erris’ with its bare rocky course winding over remote hills and through valleys. The people of the Nephin Beg seldom saw a stranger, except the hardy drovers who brought cattle along the boggy mountain track between Bangor Erris and Newport mart – 64 miles there and back in hobnail boots. Cathleen’s father was a drover himself, she told us, though he’d walked the Achill Island-Newport route and never trod the Bangor Trail itself.

 

We stepped and stumbled north up the stony road, its boulders and pebbles clinking underfoot. We splashed and squelched over black peat bog seeded with stepping stones that sparkled with mica chips reflecting the sun. Mountain streams crossed the trail in boulder beds, forded with small leaps from one stone to the next. We squeezed leaf buds of bog myrtle, sniffing the pungent fragrance on our fingers, and stooped to inspect the fattest spider in the Nephin Beg, curled motionless in a self-woven gossamer hammock slung between two myrtle sprigs, her pale abdomen zigzagged with brown and black.

A mizzling gauze swept through the valley and across the conifer plantations, more like a softening of the air than rain. We topped a rise to see the ‘old and only road’ ribboning away ahead over the shoulder of the mountain. Apart from the conifers, nothing in this empty, magnificent landscape spoke of either 21st or 20th century.

Near the top of the rise the Letterkeen Loop broke away from the Bangor Trail and took us up along a line of rotted fenceposts on a very sodden and sloppy path. It rose to a saddle of ground, wound through some stubby escaped conifers and went on up to the rocky peak of Letterkeen. The view from here was sublime – north into the long bowl of gold-shouldered Nephin Beg Mountain, west and south to a great cliff-faced horseshoe of fells trending down towards Glennamong and the sleek hollow back and head of Bengorm in the south, then north-east across the vast flatland of the great bog of Bellacorick and the rise of the land towards the north Mayo coast.

We sat nibbling chicken-and-pesto sandwiches and watching a ewe standing motionless guard over her two tiny blackfaced lambs. Then it was a slip and a slide down the boggy hillside, and a crunching finish to the walk along a forest road between banks of white wood-sorrel bells, scented with pine resin and lit by shafts of sunlight slanting among the massed ranks of the trees.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery Sheet 31; downloadable map/instructions at discoverireland.ie/walking.
GPS: satmap.com

TRAVEL: N59 Newport-Mulranny road; on outskirts of Newport, turn right (‘Letterkeen, Bangor Trail’, then ‘Srahmore, Letterkeen Loop, Nephin Beg’) for 12 km/8 miles. Park at Brogan Carroll Bothy.

WALK DIRECTIONS: Follow purple arrows/PA across Altaconey River and up glen on Bangor Trail for 4 km/2⅔ miles. Lough Aroher Loop (red arrows) turns right; don’t follow this, but keep ahead along Bangor Trail for another 100 m. Then turn right (PA) off Bangor Trail, following fence posts to top of slope, then through trees and up to rocky peak. Follow PA down off peak, through forestry to track; left to descend to forest road; right to return to Brogan Carroll Bothy.

LENGTH: 10.5 km/6½ miles – allow 3-4 hours

GRADE: Moderate/hard

CONDITIONS: Bangor Trail is very stony, mountain slopes very wet and boggy; many streams, stepping stones etc. Proper hill walking clothes and boots essential. NB: No dogs allowed – sheep country!

DON’T MISS:
• Information boards on the local trails and countryside at the start
• Views west and south of Bengorm and Glennamong mountains
• Views from the rocky peak over Bellacorick Bog and much of North Mayo

REFRESHMENTS: Picnic on the peak at Letterkeen.

ACCOMMODATION: Hotel Newport, Main Street, Newport, Co Mayo (098-41155; hotelnewportmayo.com – please ring for deals); Clew Bay Hotel, James Street, Westport, Co Mayo (098-28088; clewbayhotel.com) – from €50 dinner, B&B pp.

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.

INFORMATION: Newport TIC (098-41895); countymayo.com

 Posted by at 3:32 pm
Aug 042012
 


Wind, sun and towering clouds over Connemara, Galway Bay a choppy mass of white horses, and Inisheer the shape of a pale grey currach upturned in the sea, with bursts of white spray demarcating the shoreline as we butted out aboard the Doolin ferry. It’s always a shock to remember that the three iron-grey Aran Islands, with their cracked and flower-bespattered limestone, belong politically to granite-hearted Co. Galway, rather than Co. Clare of whose Burren region they are insular outcrops.

Safely landed, and walking the north-west shore of Inisheer along a massive storm beach of grey boulders piled ten feet high, we looked across to neighbouring Inishmaan, its white houses sunlit against slaty clouds under a technicolour rainbow. A gannet wheeled on long black-tipped wings before plunging down like a dive-bomber to smack into the sea on top of some unfortunate fish.

The back of Inisheer is divided into hundreds of tiny fields, each enclosed by walls of rough stone blades and boulders so intricately positioned that they look like artists’ installations – an effect enhanced by the chinks of white, grey, blue and silver sky caught like stained glass between the stones. In the fields we found watchful horned cattle, doleful piebald horses, and such a profusion of wild flowers it was hard to know where to look first – on this spring day, primroses, bluebells, milkwort, buttercups, cowslips, early purple (and white) orchids, and just-emerging flowers of bloody cranesbill of a deep, rich, episcopal pinky-purple. Pride of the place, though, were the spring gentians – royal blue trumpets raised skywards, of a colour so vivid and intense it always takes one by surprise, spring after spring.

Tobar Éinne lay by the lane side, a beautifully kept holy well in a double curve of stone wall like a yin-yang symbol, the entrance marked by a weather-smoothed bullaun with a smidgeon of rainwater held in its hollow for a wish or blessing. The lane led us back to Cill Ghobnait on the outskirts of the village, a diminutive stone church, well over a thousand years old, with great thick walls and a tiny arched east window. Then we fumbled and wandered our way back to the south end of the island, with views widening over the waist-high stone walls, south-east to the abruptly stepped silhouette of the Cliffs of Moher, north to the crumpled blue backbone of the Maumturks and Twelve Bens against the smoking rain clouds over Connemara.

Nearer at hand, Inisheer’s lighthouse raised a black and white striped finger on the southern shore. White rollers were creaming in from an indigo sea to crash on the rim of the island. We followed the well-beaten path over the pebbles, accompanied by flights of oystercatchers with their plaintive p’cheep! of a call, towards the rusty old hulk of the freighter Plassey lying stranded for ever more on the storm beach of Inisheer’s most easterly point.

Plassey was thrown ashore during a storm in 1960 and she has lain here ever since, gradually acquiring a fiery orange coat of rust and losing chunks of herself to wind and weather. Jackdaws were strutting the bridge rails and funnel of the broken-backed hulk, and the rocks and boulders all around lay stained a rich ochre. We idled in her shadow, kicking up the pebbles, before hiking back over the hump of the island into the blast of the Galway Bay wind once more.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery Sheet 51; ‘Folding Landscapes’ 2.2 inches/mile ‘Oileáin Árann’ map; downloadable map/instructions at discoverireland.ie/walking.

TRAVEL: Ferries from Doolin (Doolin Ferries 065-707-5555; 087-958-1465) or Rossaveal (091-568903; aranislandferries.com); flights from Connemara Regional Airport, Inverin (091-593034; aerarannislands.ie)

WALK DIRECTIONS: There are 2 National Looped Walks on Inisheer – ‘Lúb Ceathú an Phoillín’ (purple arrows) and ‘Lúb Ceathú an Locha’. Most of the island can be seen in a day’s wandering along the narrow, winding lanes and boreens. If you get lost, don’t worry – head north and you’ll end up in the village.
The walk as described: From pier turn right, then uphill to T-junction. Follow ‘Fisherman’s Cottage’ past café and on along coast road, which becomes stony. Where tarmac lane comes in on left, follow it past Tobar Éinne. At next corner, left (yellow arrow) back to village. Pass Arts Centre, then first right, first left, first right by thatched barn. Carry on, to turn right past church. At Y-junction, right. First left along lane. At Y-junction, right; in 50 m, right again and follow tarmac lane. In 300 m, left by Looped Walks arrow post along green lane to tarred road. Right to south shore. Left past lighthouse (red blobs) to wreck of Plassey. Follow road back to village.

LENGTH: 12.5 km/7 ½ miles – allow at least 4 hours

GRADE: Easy

CONDITIONS: Roads, green lanes and lots of wobbly pebbles – take ankle supporting footwear.

DON’T MISS:
• Wild flowers everywhere
• Tobar Éinne holy well
• Wreck of the ‘Plassey’.

 

REFRESHMENTS: Fisherman’s Cottage café (099-75073; 087-904-2777) – try their delicious breakfasts, also fish pie and lemon posset.

PICNIC SPOT: Anywhere sheltered – it depends which way the wind’s blowing!

ACCOMMODATION: South Aran House (contact as for Fisherman’s Cottage) – €76 dble B&B – comfortable, friendly and extremely helpful.

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

BOOKS:
• Wildflowers of Ireland by Zoë Durlin (The Collins Press) – a marvellous, beautifully illustrated compendium
• Christopher’s book Walking in Ireland (Ebury Press) contains 50 of his favourite Irish Independent walks.

INFORMATION: 099-75008; inisoirr-island.com

 Posted by at 4:46 pm
Jun 162012
 

Irish Independent Walk of the Week Christopher Somerville

No 121. Bolus Head, Iveragh Peninsula, Co. Kerry

On a spring morning like this one, fantastically blowy and vigorous, with a white-toothed milky green sea and a tumultuous blue and silver sky, you really wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than down on St Finan’s Bay in south-west Kerry at the outermost tip of the Iveragh peninsula. New-born lambs tottered in the shadow of their mothers, primroses and dandelions fought silently for possession of the verges along the bumpy little back-country road to Ducalla, and altogether everything in and out of nature seemed in a conspiracy to put a big stupid smile on a walker’s face.

A great crowd turned out to mark the start of the walk – Mary Adair, Gaeltacht worker Caitlín Breathnach and Kerry’s stand-in Rural Recreation Officer Trish Deane, Rural Social Scheme workers John Joe O’Sullivan and Patrick O’Donoghue who had installed the Bolus Head Loop Walk on the ground, and Jimmy Curran and John Joe O’Sullivan (another one!), the farmers whose land we were going to be crossing today. After a lot of handshaking and mutual grinning, the actual walking party shook down into Jimmy, John Joe (RSS) and Patrick, Trisha, Jane and myself. We waved goodbye to the others and set out across the squelchy hillsides of Ducalla.

‘Just born this morning – see?’ Jimmy pointed to a lamp so new that the bright red birth string was still attached. ‘I’ve farmed and lived all my life right here,’ Jimmy said, ‘and I’m never happier than when I’m out here on these fields with that view,’ and he indicated with a sweep of his arm the wide bay, the striated green blade of Puffin Island, and the Skellig Rocks like twin castles out in the sea. ‘We’d the white-tailed sea eagles down there on the cliffs for two months last year, and I’m hoping they’ll visit again.’

At the turn of the path Jimmy decided he’d better be off to see to his lambs. He hurried away down the hillside and the rest of us faced up the spine of Ducalla Head, a narrow upward path on the cliff edge with breathtaking views down into the dark hollows of the cliffs, a tumbledown wall between us and the drop to the rocks a couple of hundred feet below. We sat out of the wind in the shelter of an ancient multi-gabled building while John Joe and Patrick, local farmers, talked of west Kerry’s recent problems of emigration and the steady draining away of bright and energetic youth with no work or prospects to hold them here.

And what of John Joe and Patrick themselves? ‘Ah, well, now…’ The modest men and women of the Rural Social Scheme would never tell you this, but their hard work and local knowledge forms the bedrock of the huge success of Ireland’s new Looped Walks. If it wasn’t for their tactful sit-downs and give-and-take discussions with sometimes reluctant landowners – people they’ve known all their lives – not to mention their hard work with spade, shovel and signpost, the Looped Walks would never have got off the drawing board onto the ground.

We stormed the last of the slope and came to the twin ruins on the crest of Bolus Head – a plain concrete lookout from the Second World War, and a far larger and starker tower of black stone just beyond, the wind howling softly through its blank windows. The crest of the hill made an atmospheric spot to stop before the homeward descent, getting our breath and looking out to the soaring spires of the Skelligs where other modest and hard-working men – the monks of the lonely rocks – once clung to their isolation in that sea-girt fortress of prayer and fasting.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery Sheet 83; downloadable map/instructions at discoverireland.ie/walking.
GPS: Satmap.com

TRAVEL: N70 to Cahersiveen; 4 km towards Waterville, R565 to Portmagee; minor road to Keel. From Keel, follow road marked ‘Baile an Sceilg’; first right past Skelligs Chocolate factory (‘Trailhead’); park by Liberator monument.

WALK DIRECTIONS: Follow purple arrows (PA) along road for 2 km to its end. Cross stile and on across hillside, then left beside fence up spine of Bolus Head to signal tower at summit (PAs). Left along fence, over ladder stile; on to cross next ladder stile. Bear left along green road, then ahead (PA) steeply down beside a fence to a gate and road; continue ahead back to monument.

LENGTH: 8.5 km/5½ miles – allow 2½-3½ hours

GRADE: Moderate/steep

CONDITIONS: Soft hillside paths; boots/walking trainers advised. One short, steep upwards section. Please do not cross fence at summit of Bolus Head; the larger ruin is private property.

DON’T MISS:
• Sensational views of the Skelligs
• Gannets diving into St Finan’s Bay for fish
• View from summit – from Beara peninsula to Inishvickillaun

REFRESHMENTS: Skellig’s Chocolate Café (066-947-9119; skelligschocolate.com): Mon-Fri 11-16.45, Sat, Sun 12-16.45.

PICNIC SPOT: Up by the ‘barracks’ on Bolus Head

ACCOMMODATION: Currane Lodge, Tarmons, Waterville, Co. Kerry (066-947-4073; curranelodge.ie; €60-70 dble B&) – Ann McCarthy’s immaculate lake-view B&B.
DINNER: Smugglers Inn, Cliff Road, Waterville (066-947-4330; thesmugglersinn.ie) – superb seafood bisque and local fish straight out of the sea.

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: Waterville TIC (066-947-4646); discoverireland.ie/Places-To-Go; ringofkerrytourism.com

csomerville@independent.ie
900 words

INFORMATION: Waterville TIC

 Posted by at 4:43 pm
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