Paul’s Lane Loop – How long IS it?

The answer according to my Runkeeper track is 2.9 miles (4.67 km)…not 6km, not 7km either…and definitely not the stated 8km.  Would love to know who and how these trail lengths are measured?

Runkeeper stats

Runkeeper stats

However, although Paul’s Lane Loop disappointed me with regard to not being as long as I’d hoped, it really was a fabulous walk – with a huge diversity of trail types and habitats to walk through, and some good uphill pulls to get the legs and lungs working hard.  At times it is rough going though, so you definitely need good boots with ankle support.

You start off uphill (of course!), heading up a quiet country lane.  After a while you turn right, continuing uphill, on a reasonably good gravel track, which soon turns into a very rough and uneven track…and continues to head upwards, until it narrows further to become a path.  I did stop a few times to catch my breath rest my legs look back down the hill and see how far up we’d come, but on the whole I was really pleased with how I felt physically and how I coped with the first 1½ miles of this outing, which was so far all uphill.

As the path eventually levelled out a few of the promised derelict remains of Bordingstown came into view.  Bordingstown was once a small village, abandoned during the Irish famine. Now all that remains are the ruins of old stone cottages, fallen down stone walls showing property boundaries and perhaps stock enclosures…and the most stunning wild fuchsia!  I wondered if the track we had just climbed was once the main route for the residents of Bordingstown to travel down to the trade routes or work in the mill found in the nearby village of Cadamstown.  The more I explore the Slieve Blooms, finding all these tucked away, largely forgotten old homesteads and townlands, the more I’m re-discovering my love of Irish history and nurturing a new-found respect for the everyday hardships of life back then.

Not far past the crumbling cottages we came across what I can only describe as a field.  Looking a little out-of-place, here on top of a hill in the Slieve Blooms,and surrounded by coniferous Coillte plantations.  It was an almost perfect triangle, with a stone wall boundary on each side, accompanied by straight lines of magnificent beech trees.  It was a clean sward of grass, with no encroaching field weeds or tree saplings.  It looked as if either someone tended it, or it was naturally keeping itself in that state?  It almost looked like it had been lifted from some large, lowland country estate, and landed here on top of a hill, in the middle of nowhere. I would love to know more about this, and about Bordingstown in general.  I assume the field is still part of the former village of Bordingstown.  The beech trees gave the area a look of grandiosity that to my mind didn’t seem in keeping with the small townland that Bordingstown seemed to be.  Although, of course, if the beech trees were here in the times when Bordingstown was presumably a flourishing townland, then they are at least 170 years old, and may not have been so tall back then? (Wikipedia’s page on beech trees intimates that, whilst beech is not native to Ireland, they were widely planted in the 18th Century, so these particular beech trees maybe nearly 300 years of age) The mighty Google has yielded nothing so far on the history of this little area, so I feel a trip to my local library is on the cards!
Just one more aside, although I’m sure you’re already bored with my raptures about these grand old trees, this website claims an informal way of judging if these beech trees could be classified as ancient (300+yrs) is to ‘hug’ them!  If they measure ‘2 adult hugs’ then there’s a good chance they could date back to the 18th century.  After my planned history-digging trip to the library, I feel a tree-hugging hike could be on the cards…me, a tree hugger…never thought Id say that!

These beech trees were physically the high point of the trail (and for the obviously secret & apparently suppressed tree-hugger in me, they may well have been emotionally the highpoint of the trail too!), and from here on the trail took us gently downhill.  Down off the top of Magherabane, and down to meet Purcell’s Brook.  We did keep a look out for the swinging gate at the head of an old mass path that we were meant to pass by, but we didn’t see it.  I think this section may have been re-routed at some point, so its possible the trail doesn’t go near it any more, or just as likely, we were totally blind to it, and walked straight past it!  We did spy amazing little groups of tiny mushrooms and fungus, making the forest floor, under the close-packed pine trees, look a little like a secret fairy underworld.

As we neared the brook we were met by an old man, standing by a quad bike with a rifle, staring out across the valley to our left.  We’d recently been re-watching RTE 1’s excellent Love/Hate series, and a mad rush of completely irrational thoughts raced through my head.  The husband manfully took the lead and told me to stay back.  However, we walked straight past him, he still had his ear-defenders on, and I honestly don’t think he was even aware we were there.  I glanced back as he walked over the small bridge nearby and headed off into the thick cover, up the other side of the valley.

The path brought us to a gateway, which lead us to open land by the banks of the Silver River, and the beautiful Silver River waterfall.  A section of well-constructed stiles, and short section of extremely slippery boardwalk guided us alongside the river and back into woodlands.  I cannot emphasise just how slippery the boardwalk was.  Whatever had been done to it to make it non-slip had seemingly made it worse.  The damp weather was undoubtedly contributing to its slick surface.  Even Monty with his leg-at-each-corner and dog pad grips was sliding about as if he was on ice, and the husband and I found ourselves gripping the much-needed handrail to stay upright.

The path took us uphill again, at some points purpose-built wooden steps had been put in, and at other points we picked our way through trees, with no obvious path to follow.   As you can imagine, my thighs absolutely loved the steps…especially the one’s that were just that little bit too high and/or too far apart to get a good ‘stair’ rhythm going.  However, all whingeing aside, the steps made what would likely have been a slippery, rooted uphill scramble much easier to negotiate, so I really cannot complain.  All the while, the Silver River ran along side us, now starting to cut through large rocky areas.

We took a mini view-point diversion across a bridge build for just that purpose.  An information board gave a little geology information on the area, and on the Silver River in general.  A couple came to the info board from the opposite direction, both wearing jeans and trainers and looking very clean, so I surmised that we couldn’t be too far from Cadamstown at this point.  Monty took a dislike to the gentleman (he’s a strange little dog sometimes!) and so we felt we couldn’t stop to read the board properly, and instead we continued back up to the main path and left the couple in peace.  Another set of wooden steps soon made an appearance and my poor thighs all but wobbled just looking at them.  I do believe I swore out loud at the thought of climbing yet another set of steps, and was mortified to find the couple not too far behind us, certainly close enough to have caught every syllable of my outburst!  To add insult to injury, at the top of the steps was a tall stile.  With legs of lead, but not wanting to embarrass myself further I grunted and groaned, and clambered over it to find ourselves in a farmer’s field.  Conscious that we had a dog with us, I did a quick scan for cattle, and then we continued down the path, right through the middle of the field.  The couple soon over took us at a very quick march, no doubt keen to get as far from this uncouth, potty-mouthed Curvy Hiker as they possibly could.

As we got closer to the gate at the bottom of the path, I was dismayed to see a rather large padlock on the gate….dismayed, not because the farmer had locked the gate, but because the stile to the side of it was simply a stone wall with a very narrow gap in it.  There was, inevitably, the comedy moment where I got stuck…and the husband was laughing too much to help me.  Fortunately for him, at this point I was laughing too!  I had already dropped my backpack off, and lowered it over the gate.  And I was slowly removing my clothing, layer by layer, in order to squeeze myself through.  Obviously these stiles aren’t designed for Curvy Hikers, and in my defence, the naturally slim husband did also find he had to breathe in, and lift up the bottom of his jacket, to get through.  I’m here, typing this now, from the comfort of our cottage…so I obviously managed to both unstick myself from the stile, and get through it eventually, but my escape efforts were very much hindered by my own laughter at the ridiculous situation!  I did manage to get through without stripping off completely thank goodness!

A little sad to see on the other side of the stile a sign stating ‘No Dogs Allowed’.  At no other point on this loop trail did we see any sign stating No Dogs, including the stile at the top of the field as we entered it.  And, indeed, on getting back to the car park, the sign board with the Loop map on it clearly states only that dogs should be kept on leads, and doesn’t state that dog’s aren’t allowed.  I know full well the issues with dogs and livestock, as well as the dangers of walking through cattle with dogs, and had instinctively looked for cattle as we entered the field.  I may think twice about repeating this walk during the summer, when the stock are likely to be grazing, and/or doing it with one of our bigger dogs who I couldn’t easily pick up and carry if I found myself in a field with cattle.  My dogs are nearly ALWAYS on leads, regardless of whether they are stockproof or not, so livestock worrying is less of a concern for me.  However I did feel bad, having walked across a field, blatantly with a dog, to find a No Dogs sign at the lower entrance.

The last section is a short stroll down the lane, back to the car park, and my well-earned flask of hot tea.  The walk hadn’t been as long as I’d have liked, or indeed had hoped for…but Paul’s Lane Loop packs a hugely varied range of scenery, landscapes and features into its 2.9 miles, and is well worth doing!

November 2013

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