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

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Brittas Loop – Clonaslee

Stunning autumnal colours welcomed us as we parked up at the trailhead in Clonaslee village, and set off on the Brittas Forest Loop.  With this riot of colour all around us I knew this particular walk was going to be lovely, and it didn’t disappoint.

The Clodiagh River kept us company for the first part of the walk, as we passed through gates and crossed stiles…so many stiles!  Even if there were no hills to speak of on this route at all, the many, many stiles gave my legs a great workout!  I don’t know the full reason behind why all these stiles are here, but I’m guessing that numerous fields adjacent to the route all have access to the river for watering their livestock, so each field had a thin strip of land running down to the river, bordered on both sides by fencing, with stiles to give access to the footpath.

We came across some strange stone-built structures, and guessed that these were the ruins of a bridge, a weir and a pump house that had previously served Brittas House (also known as Brittas Castle), as suggested on the Irish Trails website.  I am always fascinated by old structures like this, and love to explore them, trying to imagine how it might have looked when it was all in full working order.

Not far after the ruins the trail curves away from the river and starts to take you up a hill.  At the top of the hill was the (almost) obligatory gate and stile, but my legs were relieved to see that the gate was not padlocked and opened easily, bringing us out onto a farm track.  We stopped for brief chats with a local farmer, busy planting a new hedge, and then for more chats a little further along with a herd of nosey cattle, waiting near the gate for their cake rations.  It was a good place to stop for a drink of water, with pleasant views down the hill, across the fields, to the village of Clonaslee.

We crossed a quiet country lane, onto a small forest path, and continued our way through mature woodland, with some fabulous sections of old stone wall.  Presumably the original estate boundary for the nearby, and now derelict, Brittas House.  We got a little confused when we came to Brittas Lake, I think a marker arrow has dropped off a tree perhaps?  However, we decided to do a loop of this pretty little lake anyway, and we soon found our way back onto the correct path after just a little head scratching.  According to this website, Brittas Lake – which has recently been restored – was originally constructed as a reservoir for the house. Its banks are stone lined and water was pumped from the Clodiagh River.

The forest path soon gave way to a forestry road.  We did keep our eyes open for an ancient well, as indicated by the trail map on the Coillte website, but all we found that might possibly have been it was what looked like a small, overgrown ditch with a fence around it?  If this was indeed the site of an ancient well site, it may benefit from a spot of maintenance.  I’m often a little saddened when these small, but historical, sites become forgotten.

Millie’s ears pricked up at the sound barking dogs nearby and we soon found ourselves walking along a pleasant grassy ride, behind houses.  From this we supposed that we must be drawing close to Clonaslee again.  A large set of iron gates loomed before us, and I started to wonder if we’d missed another arrow marker, whilst calculating in my mind how far we might have to back-track if the gates were locked.  The huge gates were indeed locked, but there was a small slipway to one side to allow pedestrian access, phew!  We found ourselves in the middle of Clonaslee and a local resident, coming out of her house near the gates, asked us if we were lost.  I thanked her, and assured her that we were fine.   Nevertheless, that did get me wondering if we should have exited the trail through these gates at all?  It seems that we were on the correct track, according to the majority of trail descriptions and maps for this loopwalk, and that this gate was on the intended route.  However one website indicates that we should have turned left at a small wooden gate (so small/hidden that we obviously missed it and any associated arrow marker that may or may not have been there?) before we reached the houses, and instead passed by the Coillte regional offices before turning right on the public footpath/pavement by the main road.

Reminding myself to double-check the route once we got home, we carried on through the village of Clonaslee, and turned right by the bridge to bring us back up the lane alongside the Clodiagh River to the trailhead parking area.

Here are the rest of my photos…

Throughout the walk we came across numerous different types of fungi.  I only wish I knew more about identifying mushrooms and toadstools etc.  So don’t ask me what they are, but here are a selection of the best pics…and if you think you know what any of them are, please do comment 🙂

According to various online sources, Brittas House went on fire in 1942 and, despite the best efforts of the Tullamore Fire Brigade, it was almost completely destroyed.  Just for fun, here is a little bit of local history I found online regarding the demise of Brittas House, which may or may not be true…

Brittas House was empty, a caretaker lived nearby. Local lore has it that the fire was arson, started by [the] same caretaker because he was stealing the valuables inside and selling them off. The women, Alice Maud and Kathleen, [the owner’s at that time] both lived in England at that time. The story goes that one of them decided to move back to Brittas, so the caretaker set fire to the house, it burned for two days.
Source: http://eastchicagodunns.blogspot.ie/2010_04_01_archive.html

November 2013

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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Walking My Own Miles

Saw this pop up in my Twitter feed over the weekend and I simply had to reblog it!

http://twoblondeswalking.com/walk-your-own-mile/

Such a lovely idea, and really not dependant on it being a Bank Holiday Weekend.

During the week I bimble about on the local lanes with a dog or two, pretending that I’m trying to get fitter for my longer weekend excursions.  (I should rephrase that – I really am trying to get fitter, there’s no pretending there, but my progress seems negligible sometimes!).  However the route rarely varies, and the scenery mostly stays the same.  It can get more than a little boring.

English: Beer cans and bottles.

Last weekend was mostly spent walking around a 3-day music festival, carrying a daypack full of beer, anti-bac handwipes and hand sanitizer (for the portaloos!).  So this week I’m back plodding the local lanes, trying to walk off the beer and planning in my head where I’d like to explore next.  To help relieve the boredom I can now keep my eyes open for a few of the items that the Two Blondes have on their ‘Walk Your Own Mile’ list, and maybe even add a few items of my own.