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!

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.

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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Good disappointment!

During a previous visit to the Ridge of Capard back in the Summer I recalled noting that the ‘longer’ route, on the Info Board in the Car Park, was 4km, and that the estimated walk duration was 2 hours.  I remember thinking that whilst 4km wasn’t much in distance, if the powers-that-be reckoned it should take 2 hours to complete that loop, then it must be a fairly challenging trail.

The Weather Gods aligned with the Time-Off Gods, giving us both a free Sunday, with fabulous weather, and a yearning to get our hiking boots out in the air again.  It was going to be a coin toss between going back up to the Ridge of Capard (I’ve been dying to show the husband the views from up there!) and an 8km loop walk I’ve been eyeing up for a while.  However the coin toss was no longer required when my printer spat the dummy and spewed the contents of its colour cartridge all over its internals.  Being the self-styled Queen of Over-Preparation I didn’t want to walk in an unknown area without a copy of the route and trail description, so the decision was made to head to the ridge.

The trail starts off on the familiar wooden boardwalk.  We took a small diversion up to the viewing point, and spent 5 minutes taking photographs of family groups for visiting tourists, before discretely heading off on our intended walk, without really getting a chance to enjoy the 360° views.

At the point where my previous walk route went through a gate and followed the Slieve Bloom way up over the ridge, we followed our chosen route along a gravel track.  Soon enough we came to a locked metal gate, and a metal ladder stile. I was anxiously thinking of the best way to get a 20kg, wriggling, squirmy Dolly up and over the stile (those steps are NOT very dog friendly!) when I spied a gap in the wall over to the right.  There was a bit of scramble over rocks, logs and through brambles, but it was still easier than trying to get a big dog over that stile.

The beautiful Glenbarrow valley opened up below us, and the track descended gently into it.   The info board had warned of keeping clear of ruined buildings and stone walls, and we soon came across the remnants of old stone cottages and what we assumed were small stock enclosures.  A small cottage came into to view on the left, with a small plaque on the outside wall:

Ann Clear's cottage plaque

According to this webpage, The Cones, was once home to a number of families that survived this bleak landscape. After the Irish Potato Famine, their numbers decreased from about 12 families in the 1850s to 4 families after 1911.  It is hard to imagine how anyone could scratch a living from the land around here, and I have to remind myself that these tree plantations are relatively new, and the landscape would have looked quite different back in the day.  Naughty I know, but we ignored the sign warning us to stay away from the unstable building, and had a quick peek inside.  I tried to imagine the tales that were told, sitting around the fireplace in the evening.  The views that might have been seen, down the valley, through the window.  And the lives that had passed through that cottage’s history.  I could have stayed there all day, letting my nostalgic imagination run wild, but the husband and the dog were keen to move on.

Shortly before turning sharp right, we came upon the magic tree.  Even when we were right up close to it, it was difficult to see just how it was growing at all.  It seemed to be floating in mid-air 🙂

Magic floating tree

The trail took us through a section of forestry, and then a long uphill section.  The communications mast near the car park (The Metal Man) came into view sooner than I expected, and a right turn on the trail brought us to some wooden steps…which my poor, tired thighs didn’t thank me for at the time.  The steps went over the top of a bank, and then a small section of boardwalk allowed us to traverse a small boggy, spring.  A short section of easy, flat trail brought us all too soon back to the car park!  I didn’t want to stop, really I didn’t.  I felt barely warmed up, and simply couldn’t believe we were back at the car already!  However, I knew there was a trig point somewhere near the car park, so whilst we stopped momentarily at the car for the husband to remove a layer, I double checked the OSI map again.  Back down the lane, and a left turn up a soft track brought us to quite possibly the easiest summit-top trig point.  You could pretty much drive to it if you so wished.  Breath-taking views however, and it added about a quarter of a mile onto our walk.  After a quick cup of hot tea, whilst watching a large bank of rain clouds heading in our direction, we legged it home to light the fire…

Tea with a view

I really enjoyed that, but I’m a little disappointed that it wasn’t longer or more challenging“…are words I would never have said about walking ANYWHERE a year ago!  Let alone out on the Slieve Blooms, so I allowed myself a slightly indulgent smile and reflected on the fact that my disappointment was a good thing in this instance.

From a recreational point of view – a lovely walk in a beautiful spot, on well-maintained tracks, with breath-taking views.
From a personal point of view – I wanted to breathe harder and for my muscles to hurt more…

Of course, I had hoped to make use of having a free Sunday this coming weekend, but the weather forecast is looking woeful.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind bad weather…but finding waterproof over trousers to fit me is a complete non-runner so far.  Therefore walking in heavy rain will just have to wait until I’m slimmer!