The Stoney Man – Ridge of Capard

Last Sunday was a simply beautiful day, and whilst driving back down the M7 from Kildare the day before the Slieve Blooms had been calling my name.  The Ridge of Capard looked glorious under the sun on that bright Saturday afternoon, and I knew that I’d much rather be up there, than down here, driving on the motorway.  Plans were then made, that if Sunday morning was even half as sunny as Saturday had been, we would head up to the Ridge of Capard, and pay a visit to The Stoney Man.

Situated just below the summit of Clarnahinch Mountain, some claim that The Stoney Man is the finest viewing point in the centre of Ireland, and it is often asserted that on a clear day you can see at least six counties from there.  My mother and I had made a half-hearted attempt to visit the Stoney Man previously, but time constraints on that occasion meant we had to turn back and head home that time, without reaching our goal.

As you might expect on such a sunny day, the car park was almost full when we arrived, and the steps up to the nearby viewing platform were full of families, making the most of the beautiful day to visit this popular local beauty spot.  Having been up to the viewing platform a few times, we instead took the boardwalk path off to right, out of the car park, and soon spotted our desired destination for today’s walk, The Stoney Man, way off in the distance.  Dolly had a ball leaping on and off the boardwalk, to investigate the heather and bog holes.  She miss-judged one of the bog holes at one point and, to her surprise, got much more soggy than she expected.

Dolly on boardwalkWe followed the boardwalk until it met up with the Slieve Bloom Way, where we then left the looped trails and joined Slieve Bloom Way to begin picking our way through the firmer sections of heather and bog, from marker post to marker post.  On reaching the spot where my mother and I had  been compelled to turn around on an earlier visit I was relieved to see that some bog bridges had been installed across some of the wetter, deeper sections of bog.  Given the recent dry weather and low rainfall I was surprised at how wet the ground was up there.

At a couple of different points we spotted stone piles off to our left.  I’ve come across smaller ones in various places where we’ve walked, and they always remind me of Inukshuks.  We made a small divert to visit one of them, we nicknamed this one “The Stoney Boy”.  Having seen, from a distance, another walker take a stone from the pile, presumably as a souvenir, we looked for a suitable stone to add to it instead.  The walker had walked past us, on his way back to the car park. with his rock in hand, and I’m never sure whether to say anything in these situations?

Whilst researching for info on The Stoney Man I came across this: [link to original article]

As a one-time resident of the Slieve Bloom Mountains I was always intrigued by the presence of quasi-orderly heaps of stones at various points on the mountains, the most prominent being ‘The Stoney Man’ near Capard.
Carter explains that it was customary for travellers in the area to leave a stone, the symbol of self, as one passed certain points and he references an ancient Irish tradition which tells us that five stones constitute a cairn since they represent the five old kingdoms of Ireland.

It seems that travellers in this area have been doing this for generations, and we unwittingly continued the custom by add our own ‘Symbol of Self’.  That makes me smile.

The boggy ground briefly gave way to these curious rippled rocks, and we spent a while pondering on how they might have been formed.  The Slieve Bloom mountains are claimed to be the oldest mountains in Europe, and it is understood that their height has been substantially reduced over time, by weathering, from 3,700m to 527m.  We came up with several crazy theories on these ripples, which could be totally wrong (most likely), or miraculously correct (unlikely), but neither of us are geologists, so I think there’s little point in sharing our ideas.

Rippled Rocks

Rippled Rocks

Soon enough we were back on boggy ground, but the Slieve Bloom Way trail developers had thoughtfully installed a narrow section boardwalk to take us over the worst of it, and to bring us almost all of the way up to The Stoney Man.

Nearly there...

Nearly there…

Oh boy, what a spot, what a view!  Even on a hazy day, you felt you could see the whole of Ireland, let alone the alleged six counties. Whilst snacking on our snacks and supping on our tea, we sat there…soaking up the sun and soaking up the views.  I had wanted to visit the Stoney Man for a long time, and he hadn’t let me down with his promises.  It had taken us just under an hour to get here, but we had done our fair share of dawdling and diverting to look at interesting ‘stuff’ so I’m sure it won’t take that long, next time!  It was a relatively easy hike to a spot that delivered breathtaking views, and I can see us visiting this place often in the future.

Adjacent to The Stoney Man is this deep hollow area, which previous visitors have sadly used as a rubbish bin for their fruit peel, tea bags and treat wrappers, so before we left this beautiful spot we picked up as much as we could find to bring back with us.  Leaving litter like this really does spoil the area for others, and it is potentially dangerous for wildlife. To paraphrase Leave No Trace – Ireland; if you brought it out with you, take it back with you, please!

Stoney HollowOne of the things that caused much of our dawdling on the way up was my delight at finding so much frogspawn.  It was almost literally everywhere!  If anyone is planning on dong this section of the Slieve Bloom Way in the near future, please do watch where you step, because several lady frogs have got a little confused and deposited their spawn in the middle of the path.  It may have looked like the perfect tadpole nursery when they laid them, but the tadpoles might disagree when they hatch out!

I think the last time we got out for a decent walk was in January, with crappy weather and my annoying bad hip interfering with our free time in the interim period.  So it felt mighty good to get back out on the Slieve Blooms again.  The weather was perfect, I felt good, my legs felt strong, and my hip remained pain-free. Long may it continue!

What about the middle bits?

I was absolutely delighted to get these three books as gifts last Christmas, and I’m really looking forward to exploring some new hiking and walking areas on this lovely island of Ireland.

Christmas BooksI’ve been wanting to get my sweaty paws on Kieron Gribbon’s book, “Ireland’s County High Points: A Walking Guide” for ages, and now I have my very own copy.  I don’t think I’ll be setting any records with regards to how quickly I complete all of the CHPs, unless there are records being set for the slowest, but I’m really looking forward to doing some CHP bagging in due course.  Starting with the smaller ones…obviously!

The other two books are Helen Fairbairn’s Ireland’s “Best Walks: A Walking Guide” and Joss Lynam’s “Best Irish Walks“.  These two are so far well-thumbed, but we haven’t had the chance yet to try out any of the walks detailed within, apart from a couple of locations that we’ve skirted close to on our own previous walks.  Presently the road map is being studied, alongside the walking guide books, and I hope that weekends where we’re both free, and the weather isn’t inclement, the trusty VW campervan is going to be loaded up with hiking gear and we’ll hit the road.  Walking guide books are a great way to easily explore an area where the number of walk routes, summits, attractions etc could be overwhelming…so little time, so many options. but there are also a few gems in areas that I didn’t even consider for walking, and I will enjoy discovering those too.  However, another reason I’m looking forward to going on some of the featured ‘best’ walks is to try to determine the criteria used to decide whether a walking route qualifies as a ‘best’ walk.  I say this because I was a little dismayed to find the map page in both books clearly showed a distinct lack of ‘best’ walks in any of the central areas if Ireland?  (The pattern of walking locations does also look suspiciously alike, but I won’t go into that!)

Ireland's best walks: a walking guide Helen Fairbairn - Collins - 2014 http://amzn.to/1B0coiA

Ireland’s best walks: a walking guide
Helen Fairbairn – Collins – 2014

Best Irish walks Joss Lynam - Gill & Macmillan - 2001

Best Irish walks
Joss Lynam – Gill & Macmillan – 2001

What? Nothing in the Slieve Blooms, Ireland’s oldest mountain range; nothing in the Ballyhouras, Silvermines, Slieve Aughty ranges?   No featured routes along the many miles of canals, rivers and lough systems, abundant in the Midlands and Central Plains areas?   There are, in my opinion, whole swathes of central Ireland, that may not have dramatic high summits, or wild coastal areas, but still have a breathtaking beauty in their own right, and plenty to offer anyone looking for a good walk.

Perhaps I should write my own walking guide book, with the emphasis on Ireland’s Middle Bits!  Then again, maybe I won’t…I quite like the fact that many of the places where we walk are quiet and relatively undiscovered, and maybe these treasures of the ‘middle bits’ are more enjoyable because of that fact.

Rock of Loyer Loop, Moneygall

12th October 2014

With my Hiking-Wagen still having work done, and the husband busy at work over the weekend, I wanted to find a short, local walk  so that we could grab a couple of hours out in the fresh air.  At just 4.6km in length, the new Rock of Loyer Loop walk in Moneygall ticked both those boxes.

I packed a small backpack, to carry some waterproofs as the weather was undecided about whether it wanted to rain on us or not, and in anticipation of the picnic area mentioned on the trail description, I threw in a small flask of coffee and some treats too.

The start of the walk is located adjacent to a children’s playground, and there’s a tarmacced car park there too.  A mapboard with details of the loop walk is positioned close-by on a grassy area, and across the road a small green sign on a wall indicates the direction you start off in.

Going down the lane towards the main street you can’t help but notice the proud local links to Barack Obama – a patriotically painted cottage is visible from the car park.

Patriotic Cottage - Moneygall, Co. Offaly ©The Curvy Hiker

Patriotic Cottage – Moneygall, Co. Offaly
©The Curvy Hiker

Once on main street the first business you pass is the Obama Cafe (sadly closed on our visit), and the now famous Hayes bar, where the US President poured and enjoyed a pint of Guinness in the village previously inhabited by his ancestors.

President Barack Obama talks with pub-goers as...

President Barack Obama talks with pub-goers as First Lady Michelle Obama draws a pint at Ollie Hayes pub in Moneygall, Ireland, May 23, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But history and genealogy aside, the trail takes you up main street before taking you to the right, opposite the village post office.  Keep a good eye out for the direction markers, we had printed a route map from the internet, so we knew we had to turn right, but the marker at this junction was partially hidden by thick cabling attached to the post that it’s on, and could be easy to miss!

The trail then takes you up the lane, past the church and some residential houses, and also a tumble-down abandoned cottage which I couldn’t resist checking out.

After around half a mile the signs point you off the lane and over a tall metal stile.  A “No Dogs” sign marks the point where you leave the public roads and enter on to farmland.  We had left all our dogs at home, and I will confess that I was curious to see why they might be so strict on the ‘No Dogs’ thing, but on the other side of the stile was a very narrow path bordered by barbed wire on one side, and an electric fence on the other, separating us from the cattle that were grazing peacefully in the field.  The electric fence was live – no I didn’t personally check it, but I could hear the fenceline ticking, indicating that a current was passing along it.

The trail takes you gently uphill, through fields with grazing cattle and sheep (hence the “No Dogs” signs), on clearly marked paths, and the occasional stile.  Typically we had chosen a dull, grey day for our walk, but the views down across Moneygall were lovely, and on a bright, clear day I can easily imagine that the views across the landscape would be fabulous! At one point the trail creators have thoughtfully placed a simple wooden bench; a great place to rest awhile and take in the views.

One more field to walk up through and then the trail brings you downhill, along the edge of a forest, to meet up with a gravelled farm track, via a sturdy kissing gate.  The loop arrows point you the left here, however if you need to cut the walk short for whatever reason, turning right here will take you back down into Moneygall village.  We were looking forward to checking out the picnic area, so we turned left and headed up hill.

On our way up to the picnic area we came across a ewe lamb stuck in some brambles.  Upon further investigation, she wasn’t very stuck at all, but obviously in her head she was stuck fast, and looking very miserable.  Her mother was a little way away, bleating her head off calling for her lamb.  I was able to lean over the fence and check the lamb over for any obvious injuries, but other than feeling a little cold, and a bit underweight, she seemed physically ok.  I disentangled her from the few small brambles caught in her fleece, then turned her and encouraged her to walk out into the field.  I don’t know how long she had been stuck for, but she initially seemed fairly disorientated, and the slowly began to realise that she was free again.  We carried on our way, knowing that we would be passing back this way on the return leg of the trail, and so we could check her again on our way back.

Not nearly as tangled as she thought she was...

Not nearly as tangled as she thought she was…

At the end of the track we did find the picnic area, but we were more than a little dismayed to see that it was completely fenced off with yet more electric fencing.  I wonder if the picnic area is only accessible/available during the summer months?  If so, it might be a nice gesture if the trail developers would mention it as such.  I can’t imagine the landowner wanted walkers unclipping it to gain access to the field and the picnic area, otherwise they might have made it a little more walker-friendly, so we left the fencing alone, and instead turned to trudge back down the track retracing our steps all the way back to the kissing gate where we’d first joined the track…with our untouched flask of coffee and ‘picnic snacks’.  I resisted the urge to “Hurumphf!!” as we did so.

On the plus side, the views across to the Devil’s Bit, even on a dull, grey day, was fantastic, so I can’t wait to see how the views would be on a bright, clear day…hopefully on a day where we are welcome to access the picnic area!
We also checked back in on our woolly friend on our way back past and were delighted to see her reunited with a happier looking mum!  We bumped into the sheep farmer on our way back down, and let him know about the lamb further up the hill.  She had still seemed a little dopey to me, and I was happier to head home knowing that the farmer would be checking on her.
The wind had picked up, and added to the fact that I was a little bit grumpy at not being able to access the promised picnic area, we mostly plodded back down the track with our heads down and our collars and neck warmers pulled up to our ears, but I did look up at one point to spot a ring fort on a hillside facing us.  Apologies for the poor photo, my phone struggles with distances sometimes.  Ring forts have always fascinated me, and always get me thinking about who might have lived there, how their lives might have been, and why a particular place might have been chosen for the fort.  This one appeared to command a good view down the valley and away across the midlands, and was in a good position to be able to spot incoming potential invaders I think.

At the bottom of the farm track you join a quiet country road, which brings you right back to the car park where you started.  I was absolutely stopped in my tracks by the beautiful scent coming off these stunning wild honeysuckle!

Despite my disappointment of not being able to access the picnic area (I won’t mention it again, I promise!), my overwhelming impression was that a lot of hardworking had gone into construction this looped trail, the gateways and stiles were all really well made, and can only heap praise on the trail developers for making it happen and doing such a good job…but about that picnic area..!  No, no, I promised I’d drop that subject!

Once back in the car park it seemed rude to just pile back into the car and head home, so instead we wandered around the corner, back on to the main street, and headed to Hayes’ bar for some well-earned refreshments!

The Rock of Loyer, as I understand it, is/was a rock on Loyer Hill.  In a historical geological survey document I found online ages ago, the description is given of a large limestone boulder, measuring 9 feet by 21 feet by 7½ feet, situated on the top of Loyer Hill.

If you want to test your eyes you can read all about the geology of the area at this link. http://www.geologicalmaps.net/IrishHistMapsDownload/B02080.pdf The brief mention of the rock is on page 16 of the PDF document.

Hand-drawn depiction of the Rock of Loyer.

Hand-drawn depiction of the Rock of Loyer.

I don’t *cough* make a habit of searching for historical geological documents, but I was poring over some old maps online (I do make a habit of getting absorbed in old maps!) and whilst browsing the area on the OSI website, near to a property we own, and using the 25″ historic map layer (dated 1897-1913) the words “Rock of Loyer” caught my attention and intrigued me.  Google, at the time, gave me nothing but the geological survey, which didn’t fascinate me quite as much as the maps.  However, the lack of further info on the rock did make me wonder if the Rock of Loyer was one of those things that may simply be lost to history.  But when the Rock of Loyer loop walk was launched earlier this year I was delighted that the rock was being celebrated in some small way.

I have no idea if the rock is still there, or if it may have been removed during forestry operations, but the OSI maps of years 2000 and 2005 do appear to show something in the area that may indeed be the Rock of Loyer, still in place.  By my reckoning it is in the middle of the forestry area that the trail skirts around.  If it is still there, I would absolutely love it if the trail could be developed in the future, with the agreement of the landowners, to bring walkers up to see the namesake of the trail that they are on.

Historic map link (1897-1913): http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V1,603532,680038,7,9

Map link (2000): http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V1,603529,680024,7,4

Map link (2005): http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V1,603529,680015,7,0

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!