Silver River and Paul’s Lane Loops, Slieve Bloom Mountains, Co. Offaly
It was a hell of a session in the Slieve Bloom pub in Kinnitty. Jane and I got in to Ardmore House at one in the morning, leaving our B&B hostess Chris Byrne still fiddling away with the best of them. My lips were sore from harmonica-playing, and I wasn’t the last one to bed by a very long chalk indeed. But who wouldn’t be revived and made ready to walk on a sore-headed morning by Chris’s mighty breakfasts? A dead man would spring out of bed at a sniff of her potato-and-Cashel-Blue patties.
Three guests laced up their boots afterwards – Ann Lanigan, Jane and I. Then Chris decided what the devil, she’d come along too. By the time the four of us had hooked up with the Two Gers, Hanlon and Moss – local walking legends – beside Dempsey’s pub in Cadamstown, it was looking like a mini hiking fiesta. That was quite appropriate for the Slieve Blooms; there can’t be a hill range in Ireland better provided with keen walkers. Among other initiatives they have founded the superb spring-time Slieve Bloom Walking Festival, and they’ve also devised a whole scattering of looped walks from trailheads in the skirts of the mountains. This morning we were off to tackle the Silver River Eco-Walk, a fine circuit of valley, moor, mountainside, and the forestry looked after by Coillte.
The Old Munster Road lay signposted towards the hills. ‘Slí Dála, the Way of the Messenger,’ translated Ger Hanlon. ‘This would have been the route the parliamentarians took on their way to meetings at Tara back in the ancient days.’ The old high road stretched straight to the skyline, gently rising, a strip of grass down its seldom-used centre. Two hundred years ago, travellers on the Way of the Messenger recorded a tower and a winding stair in the field opposite Letter House – the remnants of St Lughna’s monastery. Today only a tall fragment of gable remains, its stones white with lichen, rising between two thorn trees on a grassy knoll.
Beneath a massive and mossy horse chestnut nearby, the water of St Lughna’s Well ran dimpling out of an arched wellhead below an enigmatically staring stone face. Was there a pilgrimage to the well? ‘Not that I know of here – but Frochan Sunday,’ murmured Ger Moss, leaning on his stick and staring at the holy well,’ now people would still observe that with a picnic in the Slieve Blooms, though it wouldn’t be what it was when I first remember it, with thousands coming from all over the countryside in late July for a good day out and a celebration, and to pluck the blueberries.’
We crossed the Silver River and walked on under hillsides running with trickling streamlets, legacy of last night’s rain and of recent snowmelt on the heights of Slieve Bloom. Every sprig of heather and spear of rush held a row of trembling drops, sent flying in showers of glassy brilliance as we brushed against them in passing. A snipe got up with a whirr and went zigzagging away low across the moor. May Scully’s Cottage stood neat and whitewashed by the path, windows cheerfully painted scarlet under a rusty tin roof. ‘May had a cup of tea and a crack for every walker,’ remembered the Two Gers.
Up in the forestry we trod a grassy track between the sombre conifers. ‘Pine marten!’ hissed Ann, and we stopped dead to glimpse a lithe shape slinking across the path. A quiet, chesty purring, like that of a well satisfied cat, emanated from the wet hillsides where dozen of mating frogs were deep in their springtime delights. Under the trees we followed sunken paths through field walls and cottage ruins, all slathered thickly with moss, the hedge lines marked by ranks of barkless and leafless beeches – a farming community abandoned to the advance of the conifers, now smothered and forgotten in the heart of the forest.
Out in the daylight once more, we turned downhill to where a great esker or ridge of rubble, spewed forth by a melting glacier ten thousand years ago, lay cut through by the Silver River. The river ran sparkling down its glen, leaping over waterfalls and weirs, its waters no longer siphoned off to feed the mills. The Old Red Sandstone that forms the riverbed lies exposed here in great cliffs and steps of variegated rock, and we followed them down towards Cadamstown, still talking nineteen to the dozen of cabbages and kings.
WAY TO GO
MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 54; downloadable map/instructions at http://www.offaly.ie/offalyhome/visitoffaly/Active/Walking/The+Eco-Walks/ and www.discoverireland.ie/walking
Rail (www.irishrail.ie): Roscrea or Tullamore (13 miles)
Bus (www.buseireann.ie): Birr (12 miles)
Road: N7 to Mountrath, R440 to Kinnitty, R421 to Cadamstown
WALK DIRECTIONS: From Dempsey’s pub car park, Cadamstown, left over bridge; in 200m, left along Old Munster Road (signed). In half a mile, on left bend, turn right across field to St Lughna’s Monastery and Well. Continue along road; through gate, bear left down to cross river. Continue (green arrows, Slieve Bloom Way ‘walking man’) to May Scully’s Cottage. Just beyond, hairpin back left (green arrow) on forestry track. Enter trees; in ¼ mile, left (watch out for green arrows on post and tree), Follow green arrows through trees to cross Purcells’ Brook. Continue (green arrows, soon joined by red arrows) down to turn right along Silver River (red arrows), back to Cadamstown.
LENGTH: 4 miles approx: allow 2-3 hours
CONDITIONS: Green arrow waymarks. Steep and slippery along the Silver River.
DON’T MISS … !
• St Lughna’s Well and monastery
• farming landscape hidden in the forest
• waterfalls along Silver River
REFRESHMENTS: Dempsey’s pub, Cadamstown (tel 057-913-7103)
ACCOMMODATION: Ardmore House, Kinnitty, Co. Offaly (tel 057-913-7009; www.kinnitty.com) – Chris Byrne’s cooking, fiddle-playing, talking and walking are all superb! From €80 dble ensuite B&B.
SLIEVE BLOOM WALKING FESTIVAL: 1-4 May 2009
SLIEVE BLOOM WALKING INFORMATION: www.slievebloom.ie
INFORMATION: Details of local walking tour operators, plus dozens of local walks (many in the Slieve Bloom area) including Discover Ireland’s ‘National Loop Walks’ and walking festivals throughout the country: www.discoverireland.ie/walking
Tullamore Tourist Office: Tel 057-935-2617; www.midirelandtourism.ie
Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville
28 March 2009