Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville
19 September 2009
26. Glenveagh National Park, Co. Donegal
The heraldic deer on the gateposts gazed fixedly at one another as I passed between them. Maybe it was the early morning hour, but I could have sworn the left-hand stag was curling his lip, while his fellow guardian of the drive to Glenveagh Castle looked momentarily as though a bad smell had brushed his distended nostrils. With their heads held high, and a pair of real antlers fixed in each stone brow, they exuded aristocratic disdain. But that was nothing to the glare of utter disgust I received half a mile further on from the big red stag who had somehow got himself down to the shore of Lough Veagh below the drive. I’m sure he should have been safely on guard with his posse over on the wide moors of Derrylahan beyond the lough. Whatever about that, he gave a snort and cantered off, rolling his eye back to keep me under observation.
Glenveagh National Park is the pride and joy of Country Donegal, a haven not only for Ireland’s largest herd of red deer but for plants, trees, bog insects, birds and anyone of the human persuasion who loves these things. You’ll rarely walk in a more carefully preserved landscape than this. Glenveagh was acquired by the Irish nation in the 1970s and 80s after more than a century of being managed as a private sporting estate, and its mountains and lakes retain an atmosphere of existing in some delightful time-warp outside the modern world.
I strolled by the dark waters of Lough Veagh, looking out across the lake to the lumpy spine of the Derryveagh Mountains, until the turrets of Glenveagh Castle peeped out of their trees ahead. The path led through sunken gardens and flowery dells to the massive granite walls of the castle – no medieval stronghold, but a fine Big House built in Scottish baronial style in 1870-73 by one of the harshest of all landlords, John Adair. Inside the grim keep, Adair had a luxurious country house interior installed. He was notorious for having evicted 244 of his tenants in the bleak winter of 1861, in order to incorporate their land in his park. But when it came to pleasing his new American wife, Cornelia, no expense was spared.
Back along the beautiful loughside, I went down from the Visitor Centre through a Scots pine wood to emerge in the wild moorland of Derrylahan, cradled in sunlit mountains of such beauty it made me gasp. Pink fairy bonnets of lousewort spattered the bog. An electric blue dragonfly manifested itself in front of my nose, hovered there a second, then dematerialised, to reappear by magic a few feet away. Then the red deer appeared, two dozen of them, trotting with easy grace over the hillside beyond a stunted oakwood.
It was Cornelia Adair who established the red deer herd at Glenveagh after John Adair died in 1885. Local people liked her as much as they had despised her arrogant husband, it’s said. After he was gone she enhanced the little kingdom of Glenveagh with flowers, trees and the free-running deer, and everyone is the beneficiary of that generous vision today.
WAY TO GO
MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 6; map/instructions in Visitors’ Guide
Glenveagh National Park Visitor Centre is signposted on the R251 Gweedore-Letterkenny road, 10 miles/16 km east of Dunlewy).
NB A shuttle bus service (€2) operates between Glenveagh Visitor Centre and Glenveagh castle
WALK DIRECTIONS: From Glenveagh National Park Visitor Centre, turn left along tarmac drive. Pass to left of National Park headquarters, and follow drive between entrance gateposts, then beside Lough Veagh for 1½ miles to reach gates to Glenveagh Castle grounds. Go through, and follow paths through gardens to reach castle.
Return along drive to car park, and join the Derrylahan Trail (detailed in Glenveagh National Park Visitors’ Guide), with numbered guide posts. Turn left between two boulders onto path that descends through trees. Go through gate and follow path through Scots pine wood, until it leaves wood through forest gate. 30 m beyond gate, turn left along path. In another 100 m it forks; don’t take rough track that climbs straight ahead, but bear right along lower, grassy track into sedgy hollow. The gravelled path steepens to climb through a little wood and run east across moor to meet a fence. Bear right along fence; then, halfway to trees ahead, turn left through a deer gate in fence to reach a road. Right to return to car park.
LENGTH: 5 miles: allow 2½ hours
CONDITIONS: Boggy underfoot in some of the hollows and on the moor of Derrylahan; otherwise fine underfoot.
DON’T MISS … !
• Glenveagh Castle and gardens
• the red deer of Derrylahan
• fantastic views along Lough Veagh
REFRESHMENTS: Tearoom at castle (open Easter and June-September); restaurant at the Visitor Centre
GUIDE BOOKS/LEAFLETS: Visitors’ Guide, Castle Gardens guide and more, available at Glenveagh Visitor Centre
GLENVEAGH NATIONAL PARK (tel 074-913-7090, ext. 3608/9; www.glenveaghnationalpark.ie): open all year except Good Friday and Christmas week, 10-6 Mar-Oct, 10-5 Oct-Mar. Park and Visitor Centre: entrance free.
GLENVEAGH CASTLE: Castle gardens: entrance free. Castle Guided Tour: €3
INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.discoverireland.ie/walking; www.coillteoutdoors.ie
NATIONAL TRAILS DAY 2009: Sunday 4 October (www.nationaltrailsday.ie)
Tourist Office: Neil T. Blaney Road, Letterkenny (074-912-1160; www.discoverireland.ie/donegal)