Wet, wild & windy in Portumna Forest

Walked: 25th January 2014

With a free Saturday for both of us, and a pretty awful weather forecast, we tentatively planned a lowland forest walk instead of heading up on to the hills.

Twitter IWN forecast

Portumna Forest Park, a 600 hectare Coillte managed recreation area, is somewhere I’ve previously enjoyed visiting with the dogs, for bikejoring and other dryland mushing exploits, but not a place I’ve been purely for walking.  It is less than 40 minutes drive from here, so I really should make more use of the place!

Portumna sits at the north end of Lough Derg, and is an historic crossing point over the River Shannon between counties Tipperary and Galway.

Portumna Forest Park - Map Board

Portumna Forest Park – Map Board

We had planned to do the Bonaveen Trail (the red route), a 10.5km looped walked around the western part of the forest park, but forestry operations had large sections of the loop closed off for ongoing works.  Undeterred we studied the map boards beside the visitor’s centre, and devised our own modified version of the looped route, which would join up with the Bonaveen Trail at a point outside of the forestry operations area.

A couple of wrong turns, where my usually excellent sense of direction let me down (the husband often calls me ‘Wife-Nav’), and we finally caught up with the correct coloured arrow markers.  On setting out the weather was bitterly cold, with a persistent heavy drizzle; the kind that saturates you almost without you realising it, so Dolly was slightly mortified to be wearing her ‘wet-weather coat’.  Despite being a gundog breed German Shorthaired Pointers don’t typically do well in cold/wet conditions, due to their lean build, short-haired coats and thin skins, and from past experience I know that Dolly can get pretty miserable fairly quickly in these conditions. So the coat went on!  However, in addition to being 100% waterproof and warm, the coat is very light and doesn’t hinder her exuberant progress in any way.

Dolly ready for rain

There were signs for a mini detour to Bonaveen Harbour, which was heavily flooded and, dare I say it, a little disappointing.  Although, perhaps that’s an unfair comment, and there might be more to see when the water levels have receded?  We did spot a small stone building, with a dead tree behind it, which from a certain angle had more than a passing resemblance to Monty Python‘s the Knights of NI, and had me chuckling unashamedly for a while, and annoying the husband with random shouts of ‘Ni!’ during the remainder of our walk…such a child!  Maybe they had finally found their shrubbery?

The weather was mostly kind to us, the drizzle lifted for a while, but inevitably the worst weather hit us whilst we were on the most exposed sections of the loop, along the shoreline of Lough Derg, where we had little or no shelter from the squally showers and gusty winds, and even hailstones at one point.  It was more than a little scary to see and hear small branches coming off the bare trees around us, and we didn’t hang around to admire the lough views, instead there was nothing for it but to put our heads down (Dolly included) and quicken our pace to get back into the relative shelter of the thicker forest.  We were more than slightly alarmed and surprised to see two men in a small row-boat out on the lough, I can’t even imagine how scary that must have been. for them  The waves were really throwing their little boat around, and at one point we lost sight of them altogether.  They were near an island so hopefully they safely made it there for some shelter, to sit out the storm.  I checked online when we got home, and for a few days afterwards, but there were no reports of missing fishermen in local press or RNLI alerts,  so we have to presume they made it home safely.

The trail took us back into the thicker forest, which afforded a little more shelter from the weather, but the cracking of tree boughs, and the occasional thud of falling branches nearby was still unnerving.  We were originally going to divert onto the Rinmaher Trail (green route on the map) and make a big loop of the entire forest park, but the weather really wasn’t pleasant, and so we stayed on the Bonaveen Trail and decided to head back to the car park.  I enjoyed spotting various fungi on our route.  I only wish I knew what half of them were, there were some spectacular formations.

Floods caused a minor diversion (as well as wet boots, socks & trousers!), but gave Dolly the opportunity for a spot of paddling.  I got thoroughly stuck at one point, with nowhere to go but into water up to my knees, so I just had to suck it up and get on with it.  We tried to walk around the flood, but other than retracing our steps completely, there was no easy way around.  So we just thought ‘feck it’ and headed straight through as best we could, much to Dolly’s delight!  Once past the flooded area, we had to negotiate some particularly fierce brambles to rejoin the path.  It was easier to carry Dolly over the thick brambles, which was just lovely after all her paddling.

The beautiful sight of a small herd of fallow deer crossing the path less than 100m in front of us meant that Dolly all but dragged us the last quarter of a mile back to the car park, and made me grateful that we had kept her firmly on her lead!  I think we’d still be out looking for her now if she’d been running free.

I didn’t take too many photos given the inclement weather, and my phone camera’s aversion to damp weather at the best of times.  This seems to have resulted in a remarkably sunny set of photos, taken during the brief moments of sun and/or dry spells.

There was so much more that I wanted to explore, but we were wet and cold, and an afternoon by the fire was a lot more appealing on that day.  However, at just under 6 miles, our visit to Portumna forest Park was an easy and rewarding way to slowly push my miles up and tell my head I can walk further each time.

I’m really looking forward to coming back in better weather, in the hopes of doing the longer route that we had planned.  Oh, and just one more thing to mention, despite the information given on the Irish Trails website, dogs are very welcome!

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