Search Results : County Down

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
Jul 182009
 

Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville

25 July 2009

19. Mourne Mountains, Co. Down

‘I’ll wait for the wild rose that waitin’ for me,
Where the Mountains of Mourne sw – ‘

Stop, will you! Just put a sock in it, eh! Repeat after me: ‘I WILL NOT quote that cliché of a song when writing about walking in the Mourne Mountains.’ OK? Right, proceed.

When Jane and I heard that the Chief Executive of the Mourne Heritage Trust would like to come a step of the way with us on our walk in the Mournes, we imagined a stiff-necked bureaucrat in toothbrush ‘tache and tight collar. However, Martin Carey is nothing like that. Youngish, amiable and a walker himself, he set off with us through the Gothic follies of Tollymore Forest Park and along the banks of the Shimna River, talking of how he became involved in the Trust that cares for Northern Ireland’s best-known mountains. ‘I’m born, bred and raised in these mountains, and I just wanted to see them well looked after, and also visited and used more by walkers and others – which for the 30 years of the Troubles they weren’t.’

There’s the rub. Outdoor pursuits in this delectable range overlooking the coast of County Down, so famous through Percy French’s ditty (yes, all right, I won’t … ), have been a slumbering giant. Now walkers, climbers, bikers and runners are waking up to their fabulous beauty and seductive appeal. ‘The more the merrier,’ Martin said as he bid us goodbye in the lookout grotto of The Hermitage. ‘There’s walks for all comers, all abilities here. We don’t mind sharing one bit!’

The path ran above a miniature gorge carved out by the Shimna. We hopped across a set of stepping stones and turned uphill from Altavaddy Bridge through a forest of pine and oak, where the aptly-named Cascade River came tumbling spectacularly down its rock staircase. The woodland track led high up the hillside, bringing us at last to a jaw-dropping panorama of the Mournes’ north face – the smooth back of Luke’s Mountain, the jagged and fantastically shaped summit of Bearnagh, and the tall cone of Slieve Meelmore crowned by the Mourne Wall with its pimple of a tower.

Down in the lower forest once more we found the King’s Grave. No questioning why a Bronze Age ruler should be buried just here, with such a regal mountain view spread for his spirit to contemplate. Under Clonachullion Hill three lambs and a horse put their heads through the farm gate to be patted. We climbed up the old smugglers’ path of the Trassey Track, traversed the flank of Slieve Meelmore, and came down to Meelmore Lodge full of mountain oxygen and exhilaration, just in time for tea and home-made cakes.

A bunch of teenage kids was camping at Meelmore, exploring and giggling and turning the air blue with their cheerful cursing. It was great to see and hear them there, out of doors and among the hills. May they and a lot more like them come to these mountains, to taste for themselves the delights of this piece of high country where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the …

Ah, Jaysus! Got me!

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Northern Ireland 1:50,000 Discoverer 29, or 1:25,000 Activity Map ‘The Mournes’; downloadable maps/instructions for the area at www.walkni.com

TRAVEL:
Bus (www.nirailways.co.uk): Ulsterbus to Newcastle; Mourne Rambler (July/August) or taxi (Donard Cabs 028-4372-2823; Shimna Taxis 028-4372-6030 – about £8) to Tollymore Forest Park. Return from Meelmore Lodge by Mourne Rambler or taxi.
Road: A2 to Newcastle, B180 to Tollymore Forest Park

WALK DIRECTIONS: From Lower car park (OS of NI ref J 344326), walk down lawn, under Horn Bridge (labelled), down path. Cross track (red arrow); on down; right along Shimna River. Pass The Hermitage (342322); in 320 m (¼ mile) left across stepping stones (339320). On far side red arrow points left, but go right past Meeting of the Waters across Altavaddy Bridge (336319). Immediately left uphill (Mourne Way/MW waymark) with Cascade River on left. Opposite wooden shelter, detour left down steps to see The Cascade. On up MW to cross path (333314 – MW to left, Red Route to right); keep ahead up zigag forest road. In 0.4 km (⅓ mile), left (330314 – yellow arrow/y.a.) into trees. Follow forest road for 600m (⅓ mile) to viewpoint southwards to mountains (324313).
Right here down forest road for 1.5 km (1 mile), following y.a., to path crossing (323319). Y.a. points right, but go left past MW on post to cross bridge. Follow MW for 1.5 km (1 mile) to road by farmhouse (311313). Left up Trassey Track (MW, y.a.) for 1.2 km (¾ mile), through kissing gate, up to go through another kissing gate in wall (313303). Right (MW) along wall for 500 m (⅓ mile); right over ladder stile; lane to Meelmore Lodge (306308).

LENGTH: 9.5 km (6 miles): allow 3 hours

GRADE: Moderate

CONDITIONS: Forest tracks, stony hill paths; one ford; some stiles. Walking boots.

DON’T MISS … !
• The Cascade
• View of Mournes from Trassey Track
• Meelmore Lodge home baking!

REFRESHMENTS: Meelmore Lodge, Trassey Road (028-4372-5949; www.meelmorelodge.com)

ACCOMMODATION: Mountain View, 74 Castlewellan Road, Newcastle (028-4372-2634; brianclaire@hotmail.com) – £56 dble 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
Tollymore Forest Park: leaflet guides and info – 028-4372-2428; www.forestserviceni.gov.uk)

Newcastle Tourist Office (028-4372-2222); www.mournelive.com;
www.discovernorthernireland.com

csomerville@independent.ie

 Posted by at 1:53 pm
Feb 042009
 

Knockmealdown Mountains, Co. Tipperary

Salmon and rhubarb for breakfast? Listen – when you’re setting out for a walk in the Knockmealdowns, you need a little smackerel of something under your belt. At Kilmaneen, Kevin and Bernadette O’Donnell’s farmhouse down in south-west Tipperary, there’s salmon in the scrambled eggs and rhubarb in the compote; home-made jam with the pancakes, too.

Kevin’s family have farmed the hundred-odd acres at Kilmaneen for six or seven generations. The land lies spread at the northern feet of the Knockmealdown Mountains, a beautiful lumpy line of fells whose peaks form the border between Tipperary and neighbouring County Waterford. This is all wonderful walking country, a range of mini-mountains where you can wander secret valleys all day and seldom set eyes on another walker. No wonder Kevin and Bernadette (‘Ber’ to one and all), dynamic members of their local rambling club, have become walking gurus, providers of maps and general dispensers of local lore and wisdom to the guests who stay on their farm.

Catherine the bus driver picked us up from Ryan’s pub at Graigue and rattled us up to the crossroads at Clashganny West in short order. It was an ominous day as we set out, with slaty black clouds shifting uneasily from peak to peak of the Knockmealdowns. But they did no more than spatter us on our day-long tramp of the high moorlands and forestry tracks.

‘Oh, there was a parish Mass here last Saturday,’ enthused the two ladies we met down beside the Mass Rock under Knockardbounce. ‘The farmers brought their tractors full of people and tubs of flowers. Lovely!’

The tall rock face leaned out of the hillside at a place where two streams met. ‘In Penal times the people would walk here up the watercourse so as to leave no footprints,’ Kevin said. ‘How astonished they’d be to see us celebrating so openly on these stream banks nowadays, don’t you think?’

From the Mass Rock it was on up a long slope of knee-high heather and thick tuffets of sphagnum moss. At the summit of Knockardbounce we stopped to pick blueberries and take a look around. A huge hilly view: the Galtee Mountains twenty miles to the north-west, the Comeragh range out east with the sea glinting beyond, and nearer at hand the ridge of Knockmeal rising to the high prow of Crohan West, a dark drift of cloud smoking around its summit.

With the sharp tang of blueberries on our tongues we headed north along the flanks of Knockmeal. Under the peak of Crohan West we found the cairn of some forgotten chief or clan king, his burial place marked by a vast pile of stones. Not far away lay the eerie remains of an abandoned shooting lodge. Deer were feeding when potatoes once grew, frogs squatted in the boggy ruts of the old stalking tracks, and spiders spun their fly-traps across the blank doors and windows of the old house. Nature seemed efficiently about her eternal business of erasing the marks of man.

We stopped among the trees by the Liam Lynch monument while Ber translated the Irish language tribute to the old IRA’s chief of staff, shot here on 10 April 1923. Then we went on along the Munster Way path, winding down out of the hills to Ryan’s pub and a pint of the best Guinness in Tipperary. ‘Good fellowship, a bit of crack, and the pint at the end of the day,’ murmured Kevin as he lowered his glass. ‘That’s what the best sort of walking’s all about, wouldn’t you say?’

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 74.

TRAVEL:
Clashganny West (OS ref 145100 – start of walk) is 3 miles north-west of Ballynamult (R671), and 12 miles south of Clonmel via Newcastle.
Ryan’s pub at Graigue (OS ref 042134 – end of walk) is 2½ miles east of Clogheen (R665 / R668).
A 2-car walk (leave one at either end); Kilmaneen Farmhouse can arrange transport for guests.

WALK DIRECTIONS:
From Clashganny West road junction (145100), south for 200 m, then right along rough road. After 400 m (138096 approx), left across open land for 2 miles by way of Mass Rock (at confluence of 2 streams ½ mile south, ref 135090) and summit of Knockardbounce (125088) to road at S-bend sign, 300 m north of Waterford/Tipperary county boundary (112083). Cross road; up track, through gateway; take right fork and follow forestry track (sometimes obscure) NNW along flank of Knockmeal and Crohan West for 2 miles to join Munster Way (110107). Left along Munster Way (‘walking man’ symbol, arrow waymarks) for 3 miles (passing Liam Lynch monument, 097110) to join Tipperary Heritage Way (080121). Follow this for 2 miles to fingerpost (047124), where it turns uphill. Ahead on field paths and tracks, NW for ¾ mile to road; right for 100 yd to Ryan’s pub, Graigue (042134).

LENGTH: 11 miles – allow 6-7 hours.

GRADE: Moderate / Hard

CONDITIONS: Knee-high heather on Knockardbounce; slippery stones along forestry tracks. Strenuous walk for energetic ramblers good at map-reading.

DON’T MISS … !
• breakfast at Kilmaneen
• Mass Rock under Knockardbounce
• Liam Lynch monument under Crohan West

REFRESHMENTS: None en route (take picnic); Ryan’s bar at Graigue.

ACCOMMODATION and WALKING ADVICE/GUIDE: Kevin and Ber O’Donnell, Kilmaneen Farmhouse, Newcastle, Co. Tipperary (00-353-52-36231; www.kilmaneen.com) – €80 dble B&B; deals for walkers’ groups; self-catering available.

INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, plus local walks including Discover Ireland’s ‘Loop Walks’: www.discoverireland.ie/walking.

Tourist Office: Castle car park, Cahir (052-41453)

www.christophersomerville.co.uk

first appeared in the Irish Independent on 4th April 2009

 Posted by at 12:19 pm
May 252009
 


They had all the flags out in Swatragh for the Derry County Senior Hurling Final. ‘Horse it into them, Swa!’ urged a big hand-painted banner by the roadside. Sadly, it was Dungiven who horsed it into Swatragh that particular afternoon, 0-12 to 0-8. But I don’t suppose the men of Swa ever hold back too much. Learning your hurling in the shadow of Carntogher would be an inspiration to anyone, the long sloping shoulder of mountain lying at your back like the mother of all goalies, or the great hurler Cuchulainn himself.

Down in the glen of the Altkeeran River all was sedgy, the fields dotted with rushes and the streamsides with scrub trees where long-tailed tits went pit-peet-ing among the silver birches. The old coach road along the glen gave firm footing through the turf which squelched and bounced under every incautious step. Streams ran orange from the iron minerals of the mountain, up whose green flank Jane and I turned to climb towards the Snout of the Cairn. The views widened the higher we went – the hard humpy outline of Slemish due east in Antrim, the neat grouping of Mourne peaks 60 miles off on County Down’s south-easterly skyline, and nearer at hand the rolling bulk of the Sperrin Hills across in Tyrone.

Pink conquistador helmets of lousewort clashed with virulent red sphagnum in the banks of the tumbled wall we were following. It lifted us to the shoulder of the mountain, and a track where we met our first and only walkers of the day, two men of a local townland who pointed out Slieve Gallion ten miles to the south (‘a Derry mountain, despite what you might hear’) with great precision and pride. ‘I’ve walked this path since I was a boy,’ said one, ‘and by God I will do it till the day that I die!’

Up at the Snout of the Cairn, Shane’s Leaps lay just off the path – three innocuous-looking rocks. Did that dashing and irrepressible 18th-century raparee Shane ‘Crossagh’ O’Mullan, the scar-faced outlaw whom all the ladies sighed for, really spring lightly from one to the next in the act of outwitting the lumbering English soldiery? So tales tell us, and how we like to picture such derring-do. Much more shadowed and sombre are the images the skull cinema brings up at the Emigrants’ Cairn, where the heart-stopping view to the hills of Donegal was the last that those walking over the mountains to the ships in Lough Foyle took away with them to ‘far Amerikay’.

Back across the slopes of Carntogher we went, following the boggiest of upland tracks, half peat and half puddle, past black heaps of iron-mining spoil to the top of the ridge and another most tremendous westward view, across the silver fishtail of Lough Foyle, on beyond the pale humps of Barnesmore and the Blue Stacks to the jagged spine of Errigal out at the edge of sight in western Donegal. Between Errigal and Mourne there cannot be fewer than a hundred miles. All Northern Ireland lay spread out for us, and we lingered long over this extraordinary feast.

On the way down we passed a Bronze Age cist grave, carefully labelled ‘Tuama ón Ré Chré Umha’. Now that might just mean ‘the old tomb from the Bronze Age’, but there was something about the little dark hole in the bank, slab-lined and secretive, that simply invited a taller and wilder tale. But no-one was there to tell it to us today.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Northern Ireland 1:50,000 Discoverer 8; downloadable map/instructions (highly recommended) at
http://www.walkni.com/d/walks/319/Carntogher_History_Trail.pdf; map of trail at car park.

TRAVEL:
Bus (integrated website – www.nirailways.co.uk): Ulsterbus to Maghera (3 miles) or Swatragh (3½ miles)
Road: A29 (Coleraine-Maghera); minor roads to parking place by ruined cottage at Tullykeeran Bridge (OSNI ref C 819045).

WALK DIRECTIONS (red trail): Continue along road. 100 m beyond 3rd bridge, left over stile by cylindrical gatepost (red/blue arrows); follow track for ½ mile into Altkeeran Glen (805407 approx). Turn right up path by tumbledown wall (red/blue arrows on posts). In ¾ mile, stony track crosses path (800058 approx); left (red arrow) to Snout of the Cairn viewpoint at Emigrants’ Cairn and Shane’s Leap rocks (796058).
Retrace steps for 50 yards; left at post (red arrow) along grassy track to marker post on saddle of ground; walk 400 yards left here to ridge for great view over Lough Foyle and Donegal hills; return to marker post. Continue downhill along track for 2 miles, past cist grave (824061), through gates, down to road (823055). Right (red arrow) for 2 miles to car park.

LENGTH: 5½ miles: allow 3 hours

GRADE: Moderate

CONDITIONS: Mountain hike on hill tracks – wear boots, hillwalking gear. Take binoculars for spotting waymark posts! Very boggy between Snout of the Cairn and Lough Foyle viewpoint.

DON’T MISS … !
• View from Emigrants’ Cairn and Shane’s Leap Rocks
• View over Lough Foyle from ridge
• ‘Tuama ón Ré Chré Umha’ – cist grave

REFRESHMENTS: Rafters Bar and Restaurant, Swatragh (028-7940-1206); food all day, open fire, warm welcome.

ACCOMMODATION: Laurel Villa Townhouse, 60 Church Street, Magherafelt, Co. Derry BT45 6AW (02879-301459; www.laurel-villa.com) – friendly, well-run ‘house of poets’. From £70 dble B&B.

GUIDE BOOKS/LEAFLETS: Carntogher History Trail – see ‘Maps’ above

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

INFORMATION: Magherafelt TIC (02879-631510);
www.magherafelt.gov.uk/tourism; www.discovernorthernireland.com

csomerville@independent.ie

Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville

23 May 2009

 Posted by at 12:32 pm
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 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
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
Sep 032011
 

Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville

3 September 2011

111. Lough Easkey, Ox Mountains, Co. Sligo

The first time I went walking in the Ox Mountains, I was (almost) literally blasted off them by one of the coldest springtime winds I’ve ever encountered. And when I’d last tried to walk a circuit of Lough Easkey, in the heart of the range, it had rained and blown so hard that I’d actually had to cry off, the only such occasion – so far, touch wood – in over 100 walks for the Irish Independent. So as I left a sunny north Sligo coast and headed inland, there was a bit of a sense of déja vu when I came over the crest of the mountain road and found rain clouds drawn down like a close-fitting cap of grey wool over the hills around a wind-ruffled Lough Easkey.

There is something about the Ox Mountains, the oldest rocks in County Sligo, both elemental and harsh, that seems to suit – if it doesn’t actually attract – weather to match. But then the rain fades off, the winds fall easy, the clouds and the sullen light lift, and so does your heart as you walk among the heathery Ox ridges and slopes, one of the wildest and least visited mountain ranges in Ireland.

I struggled into rain trousers, gaiters and anorak, and set off along the stony path for an anti-clockwise circuit of the lake. Rain-pearled ewes watched from among the rocks with the kind of mistrustful disdain in which mountain sheep are such specialists. A pair of sandpipers bobbed and flirted among the lake shore pebbles, their breast feathers flashing brilliant white. The strong south wind drove successions of wavelets onto the shore with a slap and rustle, filling the air with a fine mist of spray even as the rain began to die away. Everything was wet and wild, and everything was invigorating and beautiful in a bleak, stripped-to-the-bone kind of way.

Plank footbridges carried the path across loud rivulets charged to the brim with rainwater. Meadow pipits went up with a flutter, each upward swoop accompanied by a needly little call. Look! How clever we are! Flying! The hill slopes were spattered yellow and white with miniature four-petalled windmills of tormentil and a froth of heath bedstraw. Rain drops slid in slow progression down the smooth stems of sedge clumps.

I dodged across the sodden ground between dark pools and green sphagnum patches. A bootful of bog water was an inevitability, and I soon got one. But on such a day and in such a place, you laugh in the face of wet feet. That’s all just part of the fun. The wind blew and blustered at me, and I pushed back against it with the enjoyment of pent-up energy given a vigorous release.

The lichen-whitened stones of ruined houses formed rectangles in the grass and heather. The lake shore swung west to form a wide bay, above which an abandoned farmhouse looked out on a view that any true romantic would gladly pay a million poems for – wild flowers, water, mountain, cloud. I doubt many poems were written at the fireside in the houses by Lough Easkey, though. Forcing a decent living from ground as uncompromising as the Ox Mountains would be enough to send most folk early to their beds in a decidedly unromantic state of exhaustion.

Bilberry and bogbean sprays shook the last of the raindrops into the wind. Slabs of the Ox rock lay exposed among the grasses, the grey granite interlarded with thick white seams of quartzite, all contorted by ancient volcanic pressures into bends and loops like a cross-cut of some heroically coarse salami too long neglected in a giant’s lunch-bag.

Hmmm. Yes. Rather a long time since breakfast, now you mention it. I squelched down the slope, sending tiny frogs leaping for safety, and hurried along the rocky cart track that led by the shoreline from the old farm to the motor road. A big sulphur-yellow moth, its furry body and eye-marked wings drenched with rain, clung to a grass clump, waiting for the wind to dry it for flight – infinitely patient, self-sufficient and indifferent to my passing.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 24; downloadable map/instructions (highly recommended) at www.discoverireland.ie/walking.
GPS: satmap.com

TRAVEL:
N17 to Tobercurry; R294 towards Ballina; in 5½ miles (9km), right (‘Cloonacool, Mass Rock’). In 1½ miles (2 km), left (brown ‘Lough Easkey’ sign) to trailhead and car park by Lough Easkey.

WALK DIRECTIONS: Follow purple arrows/PAs along rough track by lake shore. Left across bridge; follow stiles/PAs along west shore. In 1 mile (1.5 km), skirt above ruined farmhouse in bay; descend to follow farm track along shore. Nearing cottage in shelter trees, turn right (stile, PA, yellow arrow) across open ground to road. Left along lake shore road to trailhead.

LENGTH: 4 miles (6 km): allow 2 hours

GRADE: Easy

CONDITIONS: Can be very boggy – boots/gaiters advisable

DON’T MISS … !
• ruins of old houses
• views of Ox Mountains
• contorted granite and quartz outcrops

REFRESHMENTS: Picnic

ACCOMMODATION: Murphy’s Hotel, Teeling Street, Tobercurry (071-918-5598; murphyshotel.ie) – very friendly family-run place

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.

INFORMATION:
SLIGO TIC: Temple Street, Sligo (071-916-1201); discoverireland.ie/Places-To-Go/Sligo

csomerville@independent.ie

 Posted by at 3:28 pm
Jul 022011
 

Irish Independent Walk of the Week Christopher Somerville

2 July 2011

No 102: Ballina to Castlelough, Lough Derg Way, Co. Tipperary

‘We’ve finally got most of the Lough Derg Way off-road!’ announced the press release. ‘Re-launching! Come and try out the new route!’ Jane and I couldn’t make the re-launch itself, but as soon as we had a spare day we were across to Lough Derg with the boots on (and the gloves, scarf and hat – it was a brisk enough day in West Tipperary).

Killaloe and Ballina, twin towns at either edge of the many-arched bridge that pinches in the lower waist of Lough Derg, have each a case of swollen flanks, the result of a paw-stroke or two from the Celtic tiger. Driving up the steep little lane above Ballina we looked back down green slopes up which serrated grey and white ranks of houses had crept. The eye skipped over these contemporary nodes in the landscape to settle on the pleasing huddle of multi-coloured old Killaloe, across the bridge in County Clare, with the forested arms of Slieve Bernagh rising beyond to a high bald nape of mountain. As for the great salamander-shaped waterway of Lough Derg, 30 miles from toe to tip, the pride and icon of the region – that was nowhere to be seen. The slope of the land had it hidden entirely away.

Near the crest of the road we parked and set out along a stony track across the brown shoulders of Slieve Arra. For all its modesty of height and extent, this low range of shaly, slaty hills overlooking the south-east shores of Lough Derg is wild enough, a stretch of heather and moor grass studded with bilberries, shelter for red grouse and skylarks. The nearest eminence to the lough, Tountinna, sprouts a fine crop of telecommunications masts. We stopped for a sandwich above the bright wind-rippled disc of the Black Lough, then went on to the summit and a sensational view over Lough Derg, all the more stunning for the suddenness with which it bursts on a walker coming up from the south. A sprawl of sky-blue water in a green frame of hills, scattered with white villages along the shore, making a great right-handed sweep before turning north beyond a crocodile snout of a peninsula, out and away into the haze. ‘This must be one of the best views in Ireland,’ said Jane in awe.

In a grassy clearing in the scrub below, half a dozen boulder slabs lay in a loose group. The Graves of the Leinster Men, said the notice board. Seemingly Gormlaith, wife of Brian Boru, was not too happy when she discovered that, unbeknown to her, the King of Leinster was making his way to the High King’s residence at Kincora to claim the hand of her daughter. She planned an ambush behind Brian’s back, and had the unfortunate suitor and his retinue slaughtered at this spot.

Now Laghtea rose ahead, a brown speckled neck of hill. We turned along the ridge, aiming for twin targets at the summit – the squat stump of Father Mac’s Cross, and the slender silver Millennium Cross beyond.

Father Mac’s Cross, erected in 1932 in honour of that year’s International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, only lasted a year before it toppled – too much weight of concrete and not enough steel in the core. It lies in picturesque ruin like some allegorical installation. The tall Millennium Cross harped quietly to itself, the wind thrumming in the bracing wires.

We came steeply off the ridge down an old walled lane into low pasture country. The Lough Derg Way pointed us forward, across fields towards the lake shore and the massive ruin of Castlelough Castle. Here we lingered in Castletown graveyard, admiring the tombstone of Daniel McMahon – an angel blowing the Trump of Doom, and Daniel arising from his coffin in the form of a heaven-bound skeleton with a bird’s head, its slender fingerbones already elongated in anticipation of the angel wings they’d soon be unfurling.

WAY TO GO

MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery Sheet 59; downloadable map/instructions at http://www.shannonregiontrails.ie/media/Media,10376,en.pdf

TRAVEL: M7 to Jct 27; R494 to Ballina. Pass top of road leading to bridge and Killaloe; in 200m, right (brown ‘Lough Derg Way/LDW’ fingerpost). Up mountain road for 3 km. Parking space on right, just before forestry and 200m before LDW bears right off road.

WALK: From parking space, up road for 200m, right up stony track, follow Lough Derg Way yellow arrows (LDW) across heath to road. Right (LDW) past masts to reach summit mast. On down track (LDW) to road by mast and Leinster Men’s Graves. Right for 400m, then left, following ‘Millennium Cross’ fingerpost (NB: LDW fingerpost here may be pointing wrong way!) to reach Millennium Cross. Left here, steeply downhill (LDWs) to lane. Right (LDW) for ½ mile (0.8 km); left (LDW) over stile. Follow stiles and LDWs over fields, down to cross R494. Left for 100m to lookout; right (LDW) through wooded section. In 300 m, left through shank of wood to road. Left (LDW) to pass Castletown graveyard and Castlelough Castle to Castlelough car park/picnic place.
Pick up 2nd car here, or ring taxi (Silver Cabs, 087-611-1103; or Hackney Cabs (087-314-7071)

LENGTH: 7 miles – allow 3-3½ hours

CONDITIONS: Hill paths

GRADE: Moderate (NB: Very steep descent from Millennium Cross)

REFRESHMENTS: Picnic on Laghtea Hill

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.

INFORMATION:
Killaloe Tourist Office: Killaloe Heritage Centre (061-376866)

csomerville@independent.ie

 Posted by at 3:21 pm