Knockbarron Woods are nestled in the foothills of the Slieve Blooms, just outside the village of Kinnity. More importantly, being woodlands, they were less exposed to the vicious wind chill we had just experienced on the top of the Slieve Blooms. I had all the info we needed to navigate a very pleasant-sounding 5km loop walk involving one of Ireland’s finest and most intact Esker systems, and I was determined to make sure this wasn’t a totally wasted journey. (Part 1 of 2 is here)
We parked up in a small pull-in, by the ‘Walk Starts Here’ sign, and I was delighted to see that there was a well-worn path inside the enclosure fence. Looking at the route map I’d printed off it did look like this section of the loop walk was meant to be on the road, but with a bouncy, fresh dog, I was happier to be starting off away from the road. Unfortunately, running parallel to the road, there’s a mild litter issue on this section of path, and we had to keep a sharp eye out for broken glass, which isn’t great on little dog paws, and also for discarded food waste, which is of great interest to greedy little dogs.
There was barely even a hint of the icy breeze that had just chased us off the mountains, and so I soon removed Millie’s ‘Armadillo jacket’. She was quite thankful I think! I’m not usually ‘precious’ about my dogs. They don’t wear coats, jackets or cutesy outfits as a rule. Despite appearances (undocked tails) Monty & Millie are from working stock, both parents were hunt terriers, and Millie used be a tough little thing. But she sodded off on a solitary hunting trip one freezing November night a few years ago, and despite our searching and calling until the small hours, she didn’t return home until late the next morning. Long story short, she ended up with a serious case of pleurisy, and she’s had a very low tolerance for the cold ever since. As I said, I’m not normally precious about dressing my dogs up, but I AM precious about Millie getting chilled again…so she DOES wear jackets or jumpers outside in cold weather.
To say the walk is undulating would be an understatement, there are shallow ups, there are steep ups, but they are almost all fairly short ups. There are some fabulous sections along the tops of the esker ridge. What goes up must come down, and again there are some easy downs, and there are some steep downs where you really have to look out for your footing and concentrate on keeping your balance. Lots of exposed roots and half-submerged rocks on the paths make me think that in certain conditions this could be quite a slippery affair, but for our first visit here the footing was absolutely perfect! The looped walk is brilliantly marked, clearly a lot of work has been put in to ensure that at each and every junction the easy to spot arrows make it very clear which way you need to go. There were numbered points for the Eco-Walk, which I wish I’d had the foresight to research before we came. Instead we got to each numbered Eco point and tried to guess what we were meant to be looking at, and the relevance of it. I am fairly sure we didn’t guess correctly on most of them, but we had fun at making up our own!
Sweeping carpets of green ground cover gave hints of a forthcoming bluebell explosion, and I sincerely hope to return here in May to witness their beauty. The whole way around we trod paths that looked fairly well used, and yet, for almost our entire walk we didn’t see any signs of anyone else enjoying Knockbarron with us on this day. A few laminated signs hanging off trees had us scratching our heads; both with regards to answering the various questions they posed and also as to why they were there. But harking back to my Venture Scouting days (much MUCH more fun than the 6 months I ‘endured’ with the Girl Guides) I could guess at their origins.
What we thought was the final section of the loop, on a gravelled forestry road, ultimately brought us out to a large parking area, with info boards, picnic benches and a route map showing that we still had a small stretch of public road to complete before we got back to our car. We had parked at the ‘start’ of the walk, with the mistaken belief that we had also parked in the car park. So if you do decide to come along to Knockbarron, and find the small parking area by the ‘Start’ sign, keep driving for another half mile or so, until you find the ‘proper’ car park!
I was more than amused to see the official route map, on the official info board, in the official car park, gave the official distance of the loop walk as 4km. When we did get back to the car, my Runkeeper app gave a total distance of 3.71 miles. The “4km” route was nearer to 4 miles, and was just about 6km in total. I feel I ought to add that most websites, and indeed the info board in the car park, categorise this as a ‘moderate’ walk, and some had it down as ‘easy to moderate’….but the DiscoverIreland and IrishTrails websites both list this as ‘easy’. Now don’t get me wrong, 6km wasn’t a big deal, and with my limited (so far) experience of the categorisation of the National Loop Walks I would have classed it on the Easy side of Moderate… but if a family was turning up to do this ‘easy’ 4km loop walk with small children, they might beg to differ.
We walked the last section of (quiet) lane back to our car. Our intrepid canine companion lapped at her bowl of water, whilst we cracked open the tea bags and a flask of hot water. I cannot wait to have the camper van back on the road, so that I don’t have to juggle boiling hot water, tea bags, and mugs of hot tea, on a slippery, sloping plastic dashboard! Yes there are cup holders, but the husband has those filled with useful ‘stuff’ and treasure!
On the drive home I was glowing. I’d walked further than I intended, my legs felt like they had really done some work, yet I wasn’t overly sore. As the walk progressed I was actually finding the ‘ups’ becoming easier and easier. I have absolutely idea how or why this was so, perhaps some clever-clogs can explain. But yes, the inclines and slopes were becoming more enjoyable the further we went. I felt I’d made some measurable progress, and we’d had a fabulous walk in some had discovered a real little hidden gem.
Knockbarron Woods, we’ll be back!