Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville
24 October 2009
31. Croaghan, Co. Antrim
The sky over County Antrim was a slate grey bar pressing down on the horizon. The forest steamed. Swirling curls of mist drifted across moor and mountain. The peak of Croaghan stood wrapped in silvery, backlit cloud. Jane and I sat in the car at Altarichard as rain spattered the windows, and wondered what to do. Give up now? Have a go and hang the weather? Well – let’s do the walk back to front, starting in the forest. The trees’ll give us a bit of shelter, and Croaghan will have a chance to kick off the cloud blankets before we get there.
Rain bounced off our noses and shoulders. The forest ran with water. Every channel was a bubbling, noisy millrace under brilliant green mats of sphagnum. Fly agaric fungi raised their toxic heads under the conifers, the rim of each shining scarlet cap nibbled into lace. What could eat a fly agaric without tripping out into insanity and death? Wow, man. There must be some highly psychedelic insects in the Antrim forests.
‘A five-star wet forest, half land and half water,’ murmured Jane, picking blueberries beside the track. Each bush was hung with gleaming fruit, a raindrop pendulous from every berry. Gradually the rain slackened, and patches of blue began to spread like celestial butter across the western sky. After the deluge, the Ugly Bugs Ball. Heather and grass suddenly crawled with life: spiders with hugely swollen white abdomens, steel-blue thrips with feathery wings, fat buttery caterpillars, a lumbering black oil beetle as long as the top joint of my thumb. A small copper butterfly, sensing the sun about to emerge, opened wings of burnt orange vividly spotted with patches of deep charcoal grey.
Out in the open we splashed and slid through patches of sodden turf and heather clumps pearled with moisture, then turned in among the trees once more. Walking north on the edge of Corvarrive, a wonderful view opened out ahead across the Antrim farmlands to the domed green head of Knocklayd streaked with ancient erosion channels, and beyond the mountain the white and black cliffs of Rathlin Island out at sea a dozen miles off.
A last long stretch through spruce, up to the knees in sucking bog, the fallen boughs draped with mats of moss like shaggy green yaks, goldcrests calling seep-seep from the topmost sprigs. Then out onto the open hillside, forging up the north flank of Croaghan on a well-beaten path trickling with water, through heather bristly with old dried sprouts of bog asphodel. In clear sky on the top of Croaghan, a blasting wind and a mighty view. To the north behind the grey hummock of Knocklayd and its pimple of a summit cairn, the ghost of Rathlin sliding in and out of the grey and white slabs of rain pounding the coast. In the south a forest of wind turbines semaphoring beyond Slieveanorra. And to the west a heavenly prospect of sunlit plains, with more rain making ready to sweep in over the border from the Sperrin Hills in cloudy Tyrone.
As we squelched down over the moor on the homeward path, I all but trod on a beautifully camouflaged frog, as olive-coloured and gleaming as the mud he crouched in. One easy, remarkable jump took him ten frog-lengths away into a patch of sphagnum. There he squatted, gulping rhythmically, waiting with all the monumental patience of nature for me to move on out of his sphere.
WAY TO GO
MAP: OS of Northern Ireland 1:50,000 Discoverer 5; downloadable map/instructions (highly recommended) at www.walkni.com
A44 Ballymena towards Ballycastle; in 17 miles, right to Magherahoney; left across Bush River, first right, then first left (brown ‘Orra Scenic Route’ signs); Altarichard car park is on left in 1½ miles.
WALK DIRECTIONS: NB The walk as recommended here follows the official Croaghan loop in reverse; direction arrows are on reverse of guide posts! From car park (OSNI ref D 124293), right along road, round 2 bends; take first forest road on left (past metal gate). In 300 m it doglegs right (132297), then left (red arrows/RA, and blue arrows/BA); then runs NNW for ⅔ mile to T-junction (129306). Left (RA, BA) for 100 m (very boggy!) to post (RA, BA); right over stile to post; left for 200 m along forest edge; right (126306; RA, BA) into forest. In 200 m, left (RA, BA) up forest road. In 150 m, Blue Route turns left towards Croaghan mountain (124308; BA), but continue ahead. In 1⅓ miles, Moyle Way (MW) comes in from grassy path ahead (129327; yellow arrows); follow forest road uphill to left, and on for ½ mile. Turn left off Moyle Way (124331; RA) up side road. Where road ends, bear left (RA) up grassy ride (very boggy!) to edge of trees (117316; RA). Follow posts uphill across moorland to summit of Croaghan (118308); aim for car park 1 mile away.
LENGTH: 6 miles: allow 3 hours
CONDITIONS: Very boggy in parts after rain; wellingtons or waterproof boots!
DON’T MISS … !
• views of Knocklayd and Rathlin Island
• views from Croaghan
GUIDE BOOKLET: Guide to Walking Causeway Coast & Glens from TICs
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
Tourist Office: Mary Street, Ballycastle (028/048-2076-2024); www.causewaycoastandglens.com; www.discovernorthernireland.com