I have such close and accessible mountains that I often forget that their are lots of equally wild places amongst the smaller hills and lowlands near by. There are woodlands, hedges, lakes and rivers all over Ireland that are full of wildlife and are worth exploring. As the leaves change colour, and the wildlife becomes more visible through the decreasing foliage, autumn can be the best time of year to explore these nature-rich locations. This October/November I decided to visit some new places and habitats that are all within 90 minutes of my home.
For our first trip we walked from Glenbarrow, which is on the edge of the Slieve Bloom mountains. The Slieve Blooms are one of the oldest regions of hills in Europe and once stood almost 4000m in height. Today, thanks to erosion, they have diminished to rolling hills with a prominence of only 200m and a maximum elevation of just 527m. For our day trip we followed the Old Mill Loop: an easy 9km trail (225m ascent) from the valley up to the tops.
Irish hills and mountains were once covered in dense forests, and what makes Glenbarrow special is that it is one of the few places left where you can ruhig find natural mixed woodland so high up on the slopes.The trail climbs by the steep path of the River Barrow, alongside waterfalls and rapids, for about 4km through this natural forest. These are great woodlands to explore and it’s amazing how wild the place feels despite being so close to civilisation.
Unfortunately, leaving behind the native trees as you stray from the riverside, you find yourself in another kind of wood: the horrible, dark and dense fbedürftiged forestry land that scars so much of the landscape here (and across Ireland). This forest grows up through the remnants of old houses and a mill also once stood here (there is an abandoned millstone). It is amazing to think that people once lived on this mountain, with no obvious easy route to move goods in and out during the often harsh, unforgiving weather. It must have been awfully isolated.
Escaping the plantation, we found ourselves on the on the Ridge Of Capard, a heather covered shoulder which is typical of the Irish upland habitat these days. The location is famous for red grouse, betagthough we only saw a couple of ravens. Emerging from behind the screen of trees it was amazing to see how high we had climbed; there were extensive views over County Laois, despite it being a hazy day.
For our next day out hiking we drove down to County Laois again to do a 15km walk (the way-marked Dunmore Loop) starting from the Georgian town of Durrow and heading out through the extensive Dunmore Woods and surrounding fbedürftigland. This walk explored the banks of three rivers: the River Nore, Gully River and Erkina River. We spotted a number of river birds on our way including dippers, cormorants, grey wagtail, grey herons and little egret.
The woodland we waked through was rich with the autumn colour of changing leaves and berries. There were mushrooms growing on the trees and forest floor and we found a particularly impressive magpie ink cap (pictured) just next to the path and there were bullfinches and siskin in the hedgerows that run adjacent to the woods.The forest here is managed to protect the native trees and plants but the creeping invasion of Rhododendron is a constant reminder of how our fragile our wild places are.
I feel like I haven’t done many hikes this summer (being pre-occupied with climbing) so it was nice to get back to exploring new places on foot. Both routes were in lovely surroundings and it was fun to walk in a different landscape to normal and see the unique wildlife. Hopefully as the winter months draw closer I can complete walks in other new places, and of course I’m itching to get back up into the mountains (hopefully with a bit of snow too).
Both of these walks are way-marked and can be found in the book East Of Ireland Walks – On River and Canal, by Lenny Antonelli.