Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville
14 November 2009
34. Clogrennan Loop, Co. Carlow
‘Oh, the Clogrennan Loop is only very recently developed,’ confirmed Clare O’Shea as she drove Jane and me through the back lanes of County Carlow. ‘You’ll be pioneers today!’
Hand-in-hand with Coillte, Carlow County Development Partnership have established the short, family-friendly Clogrennan walking trail through the Clogrennan woodlands – one of the newest of Failte Ireland’s National Looped Walks – under that invaluable EU scheme the Leader programme, which provides funds for all manner of development schemes in rural areas all across Europe. One of the chief criteria for any scheme put forward for Leader funding is for local people to be closely involved, which seems to make sense on all sorts of levels.
It was part of Clare O’Shea’s brief as Development Officer for Carlow to get the trail up and running. But what began as work ended up as passion. Clare became enchanted with the beautiful woods along the flanks of Cloch an Grianán, the Stone Castle of the Sunny Place – a perfectly appropriate name, for the long hill lies facing south and east, hunching its shoulders to the bad-weather quarters of the compass.
Waiting to greet us at the start of the trail today were two keen walkers. Janice O’Donnell, neat and purposeful in flowery mac and gumboots, was involved in getting the Clogrennan walk off the ground in her capacity as supervisor of the Rural Social Scheme in County Carlow; while David Walsh of Coillte, owners of the Clogrennan woods, had come along to tell us our trees and to paint in a bit of background history.
Strong autumn sunlight slanted through the green and gold beech canopy as we set off along the path. Fallen leaves lay in a carpet of fox-brown and crimson along the verges. The lemon-and-lime of the beeches stood out dramatically against the darker background of massed Norway spruce. ‘The beeches were part of Clogrennan House’s estate way back,’ David remarked. ‘Coillte have planted spruce, and oak and larch too. But look at this,’ and he pointed out a brambly patch of hillside where feather-topped little saplings were pushing bravely up into the light. ‘Mountain ash and holly, seeding themselves. Nature’s the better planter in the long run, for sure!’
The Clogrennan woods seemed full of life. Countless wood wasps and flies hovered invisibly under the trees, the agitation of their wings producing a soothing background hum. A tiny frog went hopping across the leaves, keeping one jump ahead of my camera. David indicated deer slots in the dark mud patches of the path, and lumpy crusts of fungus that coated the black rotting wood of long-fallen boughs like splashes of clotted cream on chocolate sticks. ‘I was raised way out in the bogs of East Offaly,’ he mused, ‘and I suppose that love of nature and being outdoors you’d get from such a childhood led me to an interest in conservation and to becoming a forester.’
As we turned aside from the level track and climbed a hillside path, enormous views opened eastwards over the sunlit green hedges and fields of Carlow. Down there stood the grim old ruin of Clogrennan Castle, ivy smothering its walls, the windows black squares, a ruined face gazing empty-eyed from a collar of trees. The Wicklow Mountains and the Blackstairs, thirty miles apart, wore identical caps of slate-grey cloud; and even as we watched, the sun went out and a storm of gauzy rain came crashing across the plain, soaking the meadows and hanging brilliants along every leaf in the wood.
Soon the morning sun slid out once more. On the homeward path we turned aside through the trees to find a pretty little stone bridge spanning a stream in a damp green dingle, a lush spot where ferns ran riot and blackbird song trickled seductively.
On the way back to the car I got chatting to Janice O’Donnell. She administers the Rural Social Scheme in the region, and was delighted to praise the contribution of Tom Bolton, Noel Daly, T.J. McClean and Martin O’Neill, four Carlow men involved with the RSS. ‘It’s these men, local farmers all of them, who’ve worked so well to clear the paths in the woods. They’ve cut back the scrub, cleaned the ditches and put up the waymark posts. If it wasn’t for guys like them, and their efforts on the ground here come rain or shine, brand new walks like the Clogrennan Loop would never see the light of day at all.’
WAY TO GO
MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 61
Rail (www.irishrail.ie) to Carlow. Road: N9, Carlow towards Kilkenny; right (‘Ballinabranna’) to cross River Barrow at Millford and turn right (‘Barrow Drive’). Right at T-junction (‘Ballinabranna’); follow ‘Clogrennan Lime’ to pass quarry entrance. In 2 more miles, car park on right (‘Clogrennan National Loop’ fingerpost).
WALK DIRECTIONS: From the car parking space, follow the purple waymark arrows around the looped walk – it’s as simple as that!
LENGTH: 2½ miles: allow 1 hour
CONDITIONS: Forest tracks and paths
DON’T MISS … !
• views towards the Wicklow and Blackstairs Hills
• detour to stone bridge in its pretty dingle
REFRESHMENTS: Take a picnic
ACCOMMODATION: Avlon House, Green Lane, Dublin Road, Co. Carlow (059-917-4222; www.carlowbedandbreakfast.com) – Tom Donagher runs this immaculate and friendly B&B
INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, local walks with downloadable maps including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.discoverireland.ie/walking; www.coillteoutdoors.ie
Carlow Tourist Office: Tullow Street, Carlow (059-913-1554); www.discoverireland.ie/southeast