The Midges of Monicknew

It all started out so well!

The internet has been teasing me with images of Monicknew Bridge and I’ve been keen to explore the area for a good while now.  The husband had a rare Monday off, so after a busy weekend for both of us, the Bocadh Lodge Loop seemed the perfect way to stretch the legs and wind down.

Bocadh Lodge Loop
Trail Start Point: Car Park
Length: 7km
Time: 2.5 hrs
Degree of Difficulty: Moderate
Metres Climb:160
OSI Map: No 54
Trail Way Marking: Red

Trail map

We parked the car, and started to change our my footwear and sort our stuff out…and then the midges arrived.

At this point the husband realised that his boots were most probably sitting in the hall at home, waiting to be put in the car! Fortunately he had a sturdy pair of walking shoes on, and we didn’t argue about who was responsible for loading HIS boots…much! Throwing everything I could grab into my rucksack, instead of carefully sorting through it, and double checking we had sufficient water and dog bowls for the hot, humid weather, I shouldered the pack and we headed off down to the bridge, anything to escape the clouds of midges that were biting us in places that midges had no business being in!

We did stop briefly on top of the bridge, to look down into the valley below…and then the midges arrived.

Walking by a forestry barrier on the far side of the bridge, the trail started to gently ascend up through the trees.  I was really pleased with how I was feeling.  Yes, it wasn’t steep, but it was uphill and I felt good.  I got into a good rhythm with both my stride and my breathing, and I was easily managing to keep going.
Not something I could have said 6 months ago!

I was dismayed to spy a fridge freezer lying in the undergrowth down to our left.  Presumably dumped by someone who clearly had no appreciation of the Leave No Trace principle.  What always confounds me when I come across mindless fly tipping like this is that after you’ve gone to all the effort of getting something like that into or onto a vehicle…why not drive it to a recycling centre?
We pondered the type of mindless person who thinks this was an appropriate way to dispose of their fridge freezer…and then the midges arrived.

My Runkeeper app came to life and announced that we had done a mile…and we were still steadily heading uphill.  A whole mile, all up hill…go me!  I said to the husband that if we saw a likely looking stopping point, we’d stop for a small breather, offer Dolly some water and water ourselves too.  It was a hot, humid day, and I was conscious of making sure that Dolly, hyperactive at the best of times, stayed properly hydrated.  She’d stopped to drink at a few springs, but although I knew it was only discoloured due to the peaty ground, I still didn’t think the water looked all that appetising!

Peaty spring water

We just about managed to get Dolly and ourselves watered…and then the midges arrived.

Setting off once more, still heading up hill.  We did pause to admire the incredible views back across the Slieve Blooms at a sharp switch back, but mindful of the midges, we didn’t pause for long!  At this point we’d joined up with the Slieve Bloom Way, and could follow the well-marked trail, relentlessly upwards and finally over the brow of the hill we’d been climbing since leaving the car park!  Whilst delighted with myself about how well I’d coped with the long pull uphill, I cannot tell you how nice it was to start going downhill at last!

14 - Still going up

Follow the arrows

Whilst enjoying the well-marked Slieve Bloom Way trails with their clearly marked arrow posts, do keep an eye out for this little marker though, it’s fairly well hidden and easy to miss!  It’s at a junction, but if you’re not necessarily expecting to turn off then it would be all too easy to go wrong here.

17 - Hidden arrow

It occurred to us at this point that we hadn’t met a single soul so far!  And then we remembered that it was Monday, instead on heading out on our usual weekend day.  Mental notes were made to remember this.  Weekends are obviously easier and more convenient, but some of the more popular locations can get a little busy.

Stopping at a location that afforded us both magnificent views, as well as somewhere to sit down in comfort, I unpacked the tea flask.  We enjoyed a cuppa and I was hunting through the rucksack for a few snacks I’d packed earlier…and then the midges arrived.

We headed off again, and soon arrived at the end of the forestry track.  We were greeted by a fancy looking metal ladder stile, with a red arrow direction marker on the other side.

Big strong stile

We crossed the stile and duly turned right as directed by the arrow, and then, sadly, the rest of this section became mostly guess-work.

There was no obvious path, and the long grass had clearly not been walked through recently.  This saddened me a little.  This had been a lovely loop walk, easy trails and tracks so far, and I wondered why it wasn’t used more often?  Maybe the rest of this loop walk would answer that for me!

Walking in a grassy area, between a wire fence to our right, and short trees to our left, we could only assume that we were still on the right path, going in the right direction.  As you might have guessed, the midges were absolutely plaguing us today.  This meant that stopping to get our bearings, work out where we were, and see on the map where we should be, wasn’t easy.  Literally, within seconds of stopping, the midges descended and made life hell.

A little further on we came across this forlorn looking arrow and presumed it was for our benefit.

24 - An arrow marker...sort of

Pushing on through the long grass, reminding myself to check ourselves and also Dolly for ticks at the end of the walk, we eventually were faced with a less fancy wooden step stile. into a field.

26 - Small flimsy stile

It was wobbly and rickety, and, all curviness aside, it didn’t feel safe at all stepping up on to it.  So, inspite of knowing better, we went over the fence to the side instead.  Sadly the barbed wire is starting to sag a little where others have clearly done the same in the past.  But I’m guessing that stile has been wobbly for a good while.

Bocadh Lodge

Bocadh Lodge

After crossing the stile fence we found ourselves stood in a field, facing what we guessed was the ruins of Bocadh Lodge.  I have tried, and failed, to find more information about Bocadh Lodge, which is a great shame.  It is named on the OSI maps, and I’d love to know more about the history of the place.  We would have explored the ruins a little, if only for the fact that we found ourselves stood in a field, with fresh looking cow pats in the grass, a dog on a lead, and absolutely no idea where we were meant to go next.  I stayed near the fence with Dolly, whilst the husband made a brief foray into the field to try to find an arrow marker…with no luck.  The ever-present midges were encouraging me to keep moving, walking in small circles, whilst keeping a wary eye out for any cattle.  The guide to the loop walk had mentioned crossing farm tracks, and leaving gates as you find them etc.  We knew from the trail map and the OSI map where we needed to get to, but we couldn’t see a way of getting there.  I spied a marker post near the lodge, and we went in that direction….only to find this:

Blank marker post

…which didn’t really help us very much!  The trail description had mentioned crossing farm tracks, but it didn’t mention going through fields?  We were starting to think we’d come the wrong way.  But I couldn’t see where or how we could have gone wrong since crossing the big green ladder stile.  whilst I had bemoaned the lack of arrows or clear path through the long grass, there really wasn’t anywhere we could have turned off.   So, conscious that we had a dog with us, and that there may be cattle somewhere in this field, we gingerly headed across the field.  Heading to the far side to find that the gap in the hedge, that we both agreed had looked a likely exit from our vantage point at the ruins, was very definitely fenced off.  We walked along the lower field perimeter looking for at the very least a gate that we knew the field must have, and finally we came across an open gap.

31 - Exit this way

It was only a short stretch across the field from the stile after all, but retracing our steps back to the stile, now knowing where the gate was, it still wasn’t easy to spot!  I don’t know if the blank marker post was a ‘work in progress’ or if the arrow marker had fallen off (we did have a quick look on the ground beneath it) but if whomever is responsible for maintaining this loop walk ever reads this blog, I heartily recommend they do some more work on their arrow markers!

Case in point being the very next set of direction arrows we found, which were way down past the gate, and would in no way have been visible from the field.  They were barely visible when you were stood beside them:

We cleared away some of the foliage hiding the direction arrows, for whomever may pass this way after us, but I fear it was a futile effort.  Our very next “which way now?” conundrum was less than 100 metres way.

Which way now?

Which way now?

Now I don’t particularly like to walk into farmyards out on walks, abandoned or otherwise, unless a direction marker clearly shows me that the trail goes that way.  Similarly, I don’t like going through chained up gates, into fields containing cattle (just out of shot to the left), unless an arrow clearly points that way!  Here we had neither, and the OSI map was telling us that to go back along the track we were on would take us quite a significant way in the wrong direction before it eventually met a road.  I especially don’t like going into a field of cattle, with no arrow to tell me that it’s OK to do so, whilst I’m out with a dog, albeit under close control on a lead.  We stood there and pondered our options for as long as we could stand the cloud of angry midges around our heads.  There was no way I was willingly going into that field with our dog, and my preference was to investigate the farm buildings.  However, the farm track we were on went through the gate and along the top hedge line of the field, so that seemed most likely.  The husband was about to head into the field, along the track to see if he could find any direction markers when the cattle suddenly became fascinated by the sound of a lawn mower starting up down the hill below them, and they gradually moved off, down the slope to investigate.  He headed off into the field and quickly came back to tell me that there was another green ladder stile at the other side of the field, and clearly the obvious route was through the gate.  He went ahead, so that if the cattle became bored with the lawn mower, and decided to check out our dog instead, I could let her go and the husband could call her across the field to him, hopefully from behind the safety of a fence, and away from me, so I could carry on across the field.  The cattle didn’t notice us until we were just ducking under the strand of electric wire at the far side of the field.  Yes, the metal ladder stile was just placed at the side of the field, but not attached to any fence?  And the only direction arrow we found was on the far side of the field, beyond the strip of electric fence.

It was an uneventful trip back to the car park from this point.  The track dropped us down to a road, and we walked along the road back to the car park.

A loop walk that had been really lovely for the first two-thirds, had become a frustrating and disappointing game of “which way now?“, and concluded with an uninspiring trudge along a winding, fast section of road.

I’m trying SO hard to reflect on how well I had felt on the looooong uphill pull, and the magnificent views that we enjoyed from the highest sections of the loop walk, but that disappointing last section just keeps popping up in my memory instead.

Monicknew is an area I do intend to return to, there’s so much more to explore, but I’ll choose my own route next time! 🙂

…and I won’t forget the midge-repellant next time either!

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…Cool woods

The evening before, we had visited the stunning Ridge of Capard.  It was late afternoon when we got there, and we simply ran out of time to fully enjoy the area.

Throughout our walk along the Ridge I had been telling Mum about the beautiful Glenbarrow falls in the valley below us, and the curious rock formations at Flat Rocks…and the satisfaction (for me!) of getting to the top of the steep section half way around.

With all this in mind, we gave more thought to planning our day trip out, and giving ourselves as much time as we felt we needed.  With our morning chores done, and with our sandwiches packed, we headed for Glenbarrow.

We had a very quick diversion to Cathole’s Falls…we’d seen the signposts on our travels the evening before, and this was another place that I’d never visited.  Once again, I mentally added this location to the never-ending list of places I want to come back to, but today we had other plans, and so after a short wander, and a little toe-dipping, we hit the road and pressed on to Glenbarrow.

I had waxed lyrical about the peace and quiet of the Glenbarrow area…and with it being mid-week I fully expected us to be the only ones there.  But TWO coachloads of schoolchildren soon dissuaded me of that idea.  Filled with the excitement of nearing the end of term, and the end of their school year, they were enjoying a day trip out.
Oddly though, and perhaps fortunately (if I’m allowed to say that?), they were loading up onto their coaches and heading away to their next destination…so we would have peace and quiet on the trails after all.

Ireland was still in the grip of a mini-heatwave, and it was ridiculously hot.  I suggested to Mum that we walk as far as the falls, and see how both we and the dogs were coping with the heat, before we decided whether to carry on or turn back.  The trail from the car park to the Falls was mostly through tree cover.  Once we pressed on from there we’d be heading towards trail sections that were in the open and afforded little shade for us to rest and cool down in.

We weren’t hunting for Geocaches this time, so we came across Flat Rocks much quicker than I’d remembered rom before.  With proper boots on this time I had much better grip on the wet rocks too.  Dolly loved being able to paddle in the shallow river sections on the rocks, and the moving water gave us a great opportunity to safely water the dogs without using up our own water resources.

Dolly on Flat Rock

The Falls themselves looked significantly different due to the lack of recent rainfall.  We found a path that almost allowed us to get into the river bed, up to the base of the Falls.  No way we could have done that on our previous visit.  I was saddened to see that a relatively recent visitor had deemed it appropriate to throw their banana skin into the falls.  Would it have been SO difficult to take their rubbish back home with them?  Judging by the freshness of it, it hadn’t been there long.  Perhaps the culprit would do well to remind themselves of the principles of Leave No Trace.

Spot the banana skin...

Spot the banana skin…

The dogs were coping well with the heat, the woods had done a great job in keeping us cool, and so we pressed on.  I wish I’d taken more photographs of our day out, but sections of the path ahead had been so muddy as to be almost impassable the last time I’d gone up here.  However, this time they were rock hard and bone dry, quite a contrast!  And much easier to walk across!  At the bottom of the dreaded ‘steep section’ we stopped to water the dogs.  Knowing that once past this spot we would be going steeply uphill, and out under the glare of the sun.  I also wanted to talk to my head about going up this steep section.  It IS only short, but it is steep (even the map calls it steep!) and I find the uneven steps at the beginning of it to be real leg-killers.  Imagine my delight at getting to the top of the section without stopping!  I won’t say I wasn’t puffing, panting, bitching and moaning…but I got up there, and I didn’t stop on the way.  And for me, that’s a small victory!

The steps to Hell

The steps to Hell

We found a tree to hide in the shade under whilst we watered the dogs, watered ourselves, got my breath back, and then we carried on along the trail.  I swear my stride had a little bounce of confidence in it, as we walked along. Smug isn’t the word I’m looking for, but I was more than a bit chuffed that I’d faced the dreaded ‘steep section’ and got  to the top relatively easily!

I had explained to Mum about the last time we did this route, and how I thought we’d taken a wrong turning.  If she was willing and up for it, I wanted to try to find the correct route, but it might a fool’s errand and it may involve turning back and re-tracing our route, back to the path that I knew would take us back to the car park.  Arriving at the junction where the route arrow points straight on, but the route map suggests we should turn right….we turned right.  And we walked.  and we walked some more.  And then we walked a bit further.  And then I got out my OSI map, and tried to work out where we were.  Where I thought we were heading, and how closely the OSI map, and our current position, correlated with the loop route map I’d snapped on my camera phone.  Fortunately my navigational skills learnt during my time with the Venture Scouts didn’t let me down.  I know I’d need a refresher course in Navigation to get myself out of trouble in the fog on a hill top…but on a clear sunny day, with fairly easy landmarks to distinguish, I soon pinpointed exactly where we were and which direction we were heading in.  By my reckoning, at the next left curve there should be a path off to the left.  I promised Mum that if there was no path, I’d give up on finding the ‘correct’ route, and we turn back and stick to the route I knew

The track started curving to the left,  The trees to our left were coming to an end, and the land ahead was opening up to be flat heathland.  And there, hidden in the undergrowth on our left, was an ‘easy-to-miss’ finger post with a route arrow on it….bingo!  Between two trees there was a narrow path taking us into deep, dark woods…we were getting hot and sweaty at that point, and those cool, dark woods could not have been more welcoming!

Deep, dark woodland path...

Deep, dark woodland path…

I was confident this was the correct path, but reassured Mum that even if it wasn’t it was heading in the right direction, and I would ensure we got back to car park…getting lost on the New Forest, just me and my horse, and finding new ways to get home had been a favourite hobby in my youth, and had given me a reasonably reliable sense of direction!

It was downhill all the way.  Steep in some sections, rough in others.  We required our poles a few times to negotiate some awkward sections, and I wouldn’t fancy it if the ground was wet or slippery…indeed Dolly and I had words a couple of times to ensure she wouldn’t pull me off-balance in her enthusiasm to explore & sniff at the limit of her Flexi lead…but it was deep, dark, silent and magical…and reminded me of exploring long-forgotten areas of the New Forest.

Soon enough, the path brought us along side a fence, which in turn dropped us down to the forestry barrier, taking us down the lane back to the car park.  The car park was empty, so I moved the camper van in under some trees, and opened all the doors to cool it off, whilst we enjoyed mugs of hot tea (humans) and bowls of cool water (canines).

I was delighted that I had got up the steep section, which had so frustrated me on my previous visit, much more easily.  Some of that was from my head knowing where the end of the ‘up’ bit was, and also, I hope, because my fitness is improving.  I was also pleased that we had also found the elusive correct trail, so the distance on my Runkeeper app corresponded more closely with the trail length on the route map, and I’d got to walk through some fabulous dark forest.
I wonder would I be brave enough to do the same forest section, in the dark…hmmm…maybe a Halloween Night Hike….well, I do get a perverse joy in deliberately scaring myself sometimes! Yet another “I want to do that” to add to my mental list.

We had enjoyed a really lovely walk, in a beautiful area, on a really hot day, and made the most of the gorgeous cool woods.