Thursday, 27 March 2014

A stunning nature walk in the Gearagh, Cork's flooded forest

  • An easy, level walk, which you can shorten or lengthen as you wish
  • Easily accessible from car-park on Macroom-Inchigeela road
  • Great variety of natural habitats, with much birdlife visible
  • A wooden hide available for bird-watchers to use
  • Much folklore about the Gearagh to add interest
  • An informative map-board at the car-park
  • Especially beautiful in Spring and Summer

 The start-point for this walk can be reached, either by car, bike or on foot, by taking the turn-off towards Inchigeela / Ballingeary just to the south of Macroom, and travelling along there for 3km. You'll see a sign on the left saying 'Gleann Alainn na Laoi', and 100m further on you turn into the large car park. (Just a note of caution : don't leave anything valuable visible in your car, eg phones / car music systems, this applies everywhere really). This is the start for the Gearagh Walk (Gearagh is from the Irish 'An Gaorthadh', meaning wooded river / river-valley).

 The full circuit of the nature reserve which I will describe is about 6.5km (4.5 miles) in length. You must climb a stile at the car park, and keep straight ahead along a wide, well-surfaced path, which crosses an old stone bridge very shortly. This is good place to get a view of the lake spreading out on either side, which was created in the 1950's by the ESB as part of the Lee Hydroelectric Scheme. One of the main channels of the Lee formerly flowed beneath these attractive arched stone bridges, and the flow through here is quite something even now (swimming strongly advised against!). Due to local efforts, what remained after the flooding of the area's post-glacial alluvial forests (unique in Ireland, very rare in Western Europe) has been preserved as a Nature Reserve since the 1970's. The densest area of oak forest and twisting channels lies upstream and is not open to visit, being quite dangerous to enter.

 Your walk continues straight ahead across more stone bridges, where you can look out for swans (quite a sight coming in to land, I saw one yesterday). This lane was formerly the main road from Macroom to Dunmanway, but now only carries walkers and some cyclists. Due to the very heavy rain we had recently, there were occasions (even earlier this week) when the path was impassable after about a quarter of a mile (about 0.4 kms) as the lake had flooded the path. But levels are now lower, I checked them today, as the waters have been run through the Carrigadrohid turbines (hydroelectric station).

 The path continues as a causeway across the lake / marshes, and look out for wood sorrel growing in the Spring (I saw some today) in the shade of trees. Eventually, after about 1.2 kms max walking along a tree-lined path, you'll reach a crossroads. You can detour to the left here for some minutes, passing on your left a large lake-like enclosed expanse of water, where lately I saw a little egret. They look initially like a heron, being quite large, but they are in fact a purely white bird. They were rare in Ireland before the late 1990's, but their numbers are growing, and they are most common in the wetlands of Co.s Cork and Waterford. They are a beautiful sight, look out for a dazzling white form by the water's edge. Continuing on the detour, you arrive at the bird hide on your left, a two-storey wooden building accessed by a gate (please close behind you) and fully open to the public. You can climb to its upper level, and, especially with binoculars, enjoy great views of the birdlife.

Returning to the cross-roads, if you want a shorter walk, say 5km (3 miles) approx., I'd suggest going left here, and walking the 1.8kms straight across to the car park at the other side, where you just retrace your steps.

 To follow a longer looped walk (with some road walking, mostly very quiet), go straight ahead down a tree-lined avenue with water on the left (at present) and fields on your left. You'll soon pass a large tree thrown over on its side by the recent gales, though it's still budding. Continuing, you'll come to a wide open field on your left, and a hedge to your right. There's a bench here (as there is near the first set of bridges) for a handy picnic stop.

 Continue a few hundred metres, and you go through a passing place by a large field gate, and continue walking along the road. This road passes by quiet countryside which borders the nature reserve. After 0.5kms, you approach a sharp (right-angle) right turn. Before this, look to left and right for bright yellow celandines, flowering now in this spot, opening their flowers wide in sunshine.

 Following the lane, the road takes another sharp turn to the left, and then in less than 0.5kms, you take a left turn. This road takes you in about 1.5kms down to the Droumcarra to Macroom back-road.
Trees are starting to bud here now, and in Autumn you'll see sloe bushes fruiting and the bright red of hawthorn fruits too. You pass Kilmichael GAA club, which has a plaque outside commemorating the first gaelic games played in Ireland in modern times, at Kilmichael grounds in 1884.

 Coming down to the larger road after this, at a T-junction, turn left and follow the road for about 1km. It's tree-lined, and you see into the wild areas of the reserve on your left. You pass a turning to Toames to your right, and just after that you turn into a car-park and cross a stile to re-enter the nature reserve. It is 3km from here straight across the reserve to where you started. There's an attractive river with gravel beach just at this little car-park.

 Notice as you walk back all the varied habitats, from marsh to open water. Ducks, often in breeding pairs at the moment, are numerous here at present. Winter is reputed to be the best time to see wintering birds here, but there's always something to see, and  it's very beautiful. The sunlit, tree-shadowed paths of late spring and summer here are a pleasure to walk. Enjoy your walking.

 Just to say, this is more a country walk than a hill walk, but I do want to cover both, and the Gearagh is a unique place for Cork and all Irish people. Finally, spare a thought for the rapparee or highwayman, Sean Rua na Gaoire, who used to live in a tree-house in the dense, now flooded, forest in the nineteenth-century, and was known as a local Robin Hood. Where his home was is now just an open expanse of water.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the wonderful description of this walk. Just wondering is it possible to walk dogs here?