Nature Notebook

SPRING SURPRISES – in plant and animal worlds

 

This is the time of the year when nature surprises.   But I hadn’t expected brother Kerry to become part of the picture.   Another curiosity?  

We were at the edge of the swamp woodland on the Library Point headland on Ross Island in Killarney National Park.

Is this a branch that has grown down and rejoined the trunk as a root?   Or is it a succor that has sprouted from the tree’s root and fused with the main trunk?

I have special memories of this sycamore tree.  As a young boy over 60 years ago I sheltered here with my father and he used his penknife to carve the letter F on the trunk.  Now  all that is to be seen is a blemish on the trunk.   In the back of my mind I have a vague thought that this might not be that tree of special memory.  Did that earlier sycamore fall?  Was this a descendant?

For months now the striking contrast between the washed-out wild grasses and the purpely-blue of Mangerton mountain.

Irish spurge on Governor’s Rock headland on Ross Island a week ago (March 15).   The common name of the spurge comes from the French ‘espurge’ meaning to purge, as the sap can have this effect if taken internally.   Spurge has been used by poachers to inflame the gills of salmon forcing them to the surface of the water where they are easily netted.   I would welcome an explanation of its Irish name ‘Bainne Caoin’.

While there were great carpets of the wood anemone and the occasional primrose, as well as an early green hue on willows in the swamp woodland, the huge, ancient beech showed no signs of spring.   The centre of the great beech is now hollow.   Every time I go to Ross Island, especially after a storm, I expect to find it has fallen.

In Muckross Gardens on Saturday (March 18) several cultivated rhododendron bushes were covered in huge blossoms.These are the reds and pinks and whites that are native of the Himalayas.  Although these don’t spread like the purple flowered rhododendron ponticum individual plants do expand hugely and need to be regularly cut back.

If you want to see Spring growing before your eyes bring along a flask of soup and a sandwich and a seat and sit down for a couple of hours by the grove of gunnera in Muckross Gardens.   In a matter of weeks it sprouts from the decayed remains of last year to have stalks and leaves of six feet or more.   If not carefully controlled gunnera spreads very actively.

The bright, light green of the heart-shaped leaves of the Katsura tree which can grow as high as 45meters/145 feet in the wild in its native Japan.   It is one of the largest hardwoods in Asia.

– Frank Lewis

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FROM THE TOP OF THE WORLD … TO FASTING GEESE!!

“There must have been a huge amount of turf cutting here during World War 11,” Colm commented as we walked through thousands of acres of bog on Knockatagglemore hill in Kilcummin last Sunday.
 
The hundreds, maybe thousands of turf banks, are now overgrown.
 
‘From this those unable or unwilling to walk can enjoy a prospect as good as any earned by the hardiest mountain climber’ is the description of the view from Knockatagglemore by Tom Barrington in his encycloepedic ‘Discovering Kerry’.
 
From across the top of the hill you felt if you stretched out south-south-east, you could almost touch the extraordinary breast-shaped Paps. Then panning west by Crohane, Bennaunmore, Mangerton, Torc, the Eagle’s Nest, Purple, Glena and Tomies.
 
Continuing along the whole range of the Reeks. If the day had been clearer the view would have gone on to Drung Hill near Kells and Knockadobar east of Caherciveen.
 
Moving north, in our line of sight directly west the haze or low cloud hid Loch na dTri gCaol and Dingle Bay all the way to the Blaskets. Now north west the whole range of the Slieve Mish Mountains. Last Sunday’s weather only allowed us see as far as Caherconree. In better conditions the view extends to Brandon at the western end of the Dingle Peninsula.
 
While the mountains are the most striking aspect of the huge panorama perhaps the most unique is the view of six lakes. I don’t know of any other single spot where one can see the three main Killarney lakes (Lower, Middle and Upper), a glimpse of Lough Guitane, as well as the much smaller Lacca and Kilbrean lakes
 
On the drive home we called to Kilcummin Old Graveyard which also has a great high view of Killarney mountains and lakes. We re-visited some of the scenes we talked about in our radio walk here at the end of January. A podcast of the programme can be heard on www.radiokerry.ie. – scroll down through The Saturday Supplement/Frank Lewis to January 28. 
 
The 12th century church of the remarkable St Cummian after whom Kilcummin is named. The thatched roof
 was set ablaze in 1652 by Cromwellian cannon fired from Finnegan’s Cross away down below.
 
‘Erected sacred to the memory of Rev Timothy Sheahan, the beloved PP of Kilcummin for 46 years, died 8th July 1850 in his 86th year.’ He is particularly remembered for his effective food distribution during famine years. Sheahan was criticised by neighbouring parish priests for refusing help to vagrant destitute people from outside Kilcummin.
 
This headstone records ‘In memory of Mary Shahan aged 18 years. Died on the eve of the family’s departure to America in 1850. This tablet is lovingly erected by her brother Maurice on his first visit to his native home 1882.’
 
This is known as ‘the famine grave’. It records the awful tragedy of a family devastated by famine, recently bereaved and Mary’s brother prospering in America.
 
The beautifully engraved headstone with the Riasc cross marks the grave of John and May Teahon. He served as principal of the nearby Coolick National School for many years. As well there are graves of famous Kerry footballers Dee O’Connor and Eugene Moriarty. And so much more.  There is a book, even a library, in every graveyard.
 
 
A week ago last Sunday the deep green of the early wild garlic leaves were already richly carpeting large areas on Ross Island.  Now is the time of year to pick the leaves for salads or as a herb flavouring.
 
Siubhan and I had gone to walk along the northern shore of Hyde’s Bay but the access path was flooded. Ross Island is my special dawn chorus place from an hour before sunrise from now until well into June.
 
The photo is of a raised area east-north-east of the estate road to the Library Point between the road to the copper mines and the road to Governor’s Rock.
 
The real secrets of Ross Island are off the road. There are many tracks to be followed and they are full of surprises. Sometimes the going can be demanding, but there are many places to rest aching legs.
 
The Magnolias are one of the great early celebrations of nature. The huge pink-white blossoms cover every inch of these large shrub-trees. They are at their very best these days, but go to see them now, before a storm, heavy rain or frost take the flowers away for another year.
 
The poet Wordsworth’s favourite flower the lesser celandine is invasive and can take over – like it is threatening to do in what is left of the lawn at Gallan Eile after the ravages of great red deer stags. When it opens in sunlight the star-like rich orange-yellow flower reminds me of the wide-eyed attention of a little girl.  To continue the parallel the flower closes in dark or rain.
But the lesser celandine is one of the first flowering heralds of spring.  It is particularly striking in large groves or thickets in woodland.
 
The daisy is everybody’s delight but the dedicated gardener does not like it in the lawn. The lawn at Gallan is lucky not to be pulled and tugged by a dedicated gardener. And the geese have plenty to eat. It is not difficult to feed sculpted birds.
 
And lesser celandine, daisy, flowering winter heathers and the occasional stag make the garden at Gallan Eile an even more interesting place from which to see cloud rising off Glena mountain.
Frank Lewis
 

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MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL !

– a natural place of endless wonder

In Rinnadinna I felt I was in a great natural cathedral … all 0.25 square kilometres (62 acres) … that is the largest yew wood in Europe, sited on the eastern half of the Muckross Peninsula, between the Middle and Lower Lakes.

The quiet and subdued light created by the evergreen cover, the occasional shaft of sunshine coming through a break in the trees …the kind of light effect sometimes created by early morning sun shining through stained glass.Catriona O’Connor’s painting of the yew woods shows the rich colours of the trees in a way that could never be captured in a photograph.

The thick carpets of mosses – at their most luxuriant at the moment – complete the cathedral-intention that only the best is good enough for God.  The carefully crafted, extensive stone walls are a mystery.

Here there are many spaces, self-contained, alone, quite cut off. Side altars.

A very occasional huge tree with a chest-height circumference of up to fourteen feet (4.25 metres) and a diameter of four feet (1.2 metres).

It is estimated that these woods first established 3,000 to 5,000 years ago.

This is not to suggest that any of the trees here are of that age. The great yew in nearby Muckross Abbey could be up to 550 years old and is clearly in the prime of life.

It is said of yew that ‘it grows for a thousand years, matures for a thousand years and is a thousand years dying’. After that it regenerates from its roots so in a sense it is everlasting. It was this that prompted the planting of yew in graveyards.

As well, perhaps, because it is poisonous, so the graveyard was less likely to be disturbed by straying animals.

There are several extensive badger’s dens in the yew woods.

Another side altar. The only fallen dead trees I found in Rinnadinna were deciduous. Had they reached a natural end or had they been poisoned by the yew – as Guido Mino de Sospiro suggests in his book ‘The Story of Yew’ which tells of a great battle between oak and yew woods here in Muckross.

Occasionally throughout the woods there are huge boulders that were dropped here at the end of the last ice age some 14,000 years ago or earlier.

The northern edge of Rinnadinna is a high shoreline on the Lower Lake looking down on a great expanse of water, islands, and the backdrop north west of the Tomies/Purple/Glena mountain ridge. Immediately underneath limestone rock worn into wonderfully sculpted shapes.

These woods are growing on creviced limestone pavement. Every step has to be watched and tested.  Roll back the thick carpets of mosses. Underneath there is bare rock. Trace the torturous path of exposed roots, desperately eeking out any scarce sustenance. These trees are really giant bonsai.

Two hours of criss-crossing Rinnadinna is only a beginning. Its secrets will not be revealed without many more hours over numbers of visits … and a great deal of study.

– Frank Lewis

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WHERE THE DEVIL FOUGHT O’DONOGHUE

– and the poet might have been inspired!

From the Muckross Arboretum car park, along the southern shore of Dundag Bay, we followed the leafy path to the headland looking down from a height on the whole expanse of Muckross Lake.

Directly west Devil’s Island stands out. It is said His Satanic Majesty on top of Mangerton Mountain (south south east) and the great Chieftain O’Donoghue over in Ross Castle were firing huge rocks at one another. One of the devil’s rocks landed here and is now Devil’s Island in Muckross Lake. He must have been getting tired – look at your map – it is a long way short of Ross!

The devil tore his rocks out of the top of Mangerton mountain, where the rock is red sandstone. But Devil’s island is limestone. Further proof of his great power!!

The hole the Devil left is now filled with a lake – called the Devil’s Punchbowl – which is said to be bottomless. We are told a man once went swimming there – and a fornight later came out in Australia.

By juniper bush, under yew, arbutus and oak we walked by the sandy Dundag shore where we swim in summer time. Along the way nine year old grandson Noah climbed the great cypress at the head of the trail.

Then to Muckross Gardens.

Already occasional rhododendron bushes are covered in white and pink blossoms.

As dramatic as the experience of the poet
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Groups of these first clarions of Spring. Brash in their yellows with enhancing oranges and whites … by the banks of the stream, around the base of trees, through the rockery.

The pink, white and red camelia flowers are beginning to come out in the covered garden – south east of the main Muckross Gardens.

Each blossom is so perfect they look as if they were made of wax.

Here, under the canopy of great oaks and Scots pine, the early flowers are proteced from the burning effect of bright sunshine after frosty nights.

Seeing the photograph of himself peering from a white rhododendron bush Noah was quick to point out “he made me go in!”

Finally through the third garden at Muckross – the extensive arboretum with trees from every continent on earth. “We planted here because we believed that the shelter, humidity and relative mildness would facilitate the growing of trees that would not normally survive out in the open in Ireland,” the father of the arboretum Cormac Foley explained. “We were able to grow trees here that would have died in the National Arboretum in New Ross.”

The endless variety make this an idea place to walk with children. Peppered with the occasional story it is even better.

– Frank Lewis

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NATURE CELEBRATES ST VALENTINE – with flowers & colour

Today Siubhan is surrounded by flowers here at Gallan. Very appropriate for St Valentine’s Day. Great banks of the pink and white winter flowering heathers are at their best. The shining yellow furze. How could roses from a shop match those?

Nature never stands still. Wet or dry, wild or calm, hot or cold – each of these changes everything all year. During the next months, weeks, days … new blossom, birds singing louder and louder and building nests .. stags shedding their antlers – that immediately start to grow again.

The white gold of the wild grasses on the commonage up the road – contrasting with the deep blues of the mountains in the background.

Standing in front of Gallan in the crystal-bright sunshine. Beyond the foreground of the colourful winter heathers, the green of the lawn – though it has suffered from marauding horses and deer.

Then the orange/brown of the withered ferns, bordered by soaring cypress conifer evergreens. Then the hilly meadow that cloaks glacial moraine. Thick woodland is the final sequence of vegetation – still winter brown larch and oak and in the background the occasional evergreen Sequoia and Douglas Fir tower above everything else.

And in the background the great bulk of blue mountain with foothills cloaked in oak now being suffocated by evergreen rhododendron.

Twice in the past ten days I have walked to Faill a’ Crann – the cliff over the trees. The hour to hour and a half hour trek from Gallan is through rising woodland – so the route never floods – though it can be wet – and is sheltered.

The low sunlight through the trees at the moment creates a special effect.

The lichen covered larch create an eerie-warm atmosphere.

From Faill a Crann the spectacular, three-dimensional panorama of the whole of Muckross lake and Lough Leane. Mangerton behind, Torc towering to the left, the imminent peaks of the Tomies, Purple, Glena ridge … the Slieve Mish faintly in the background.

All of that and you want shop flowers as well!

– Frank Lewis

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WHERE THE EARL OF DESMOND WAS BEHEADED … & Captain Robert Monteith was hidden away

The weather forecast said it would be overcast but there would be no rain.  But as I was leaving the Bernard Collins Carpark the dark clouds were almost dripping.  For the two and a half hours I was likely to be walking the Lenihan Trail it was best to wear rain gear.
The information panel just inside the entrance to Gleann na gCaointe Wood describes the area as the Sherwood Forest of Ireland.
On forest road along the open hill on the southern side of a steep, narrow valley with the greenest field along the valley floor … dense conifer wood covers the steep northern wall of the glen.
At its eastern end the road becomes a trail.  Crossing over a stream a further information panel tells that the last Earl of Desmond was beheaded here.  The place is named the vale of the wailing.
Now rising under a thick canopy of conifer wood.  By a holy well with waters, we are told, that have unique powers to satisfy thirst.
High up looking down over a great panorama of hill and wood.  A further panel tells how Captain Robert Monteith, who landed on Banna Strand with Roger Casement, evaded capture here.
Along the way … occasional primroses …
and a rich abundance of newly bloomed Hazel catkins
… by furze in full bloom.
An information panel tells that Stephen Fuller, who was the only survivor from the bloody massacre at Ballyseedy in 1923, was spirited away here.
Further illustrated panels tell of the athletic prowess of Dan Ahern and Tom McCarthy.
Now rising high on open hill with great panoramas – in the right visibility – of Tralee Bay … Killarney lakes and mountains from the Paps to Knockadobar.

What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon … and the rain that appeared imminent at the beginning never came.

– Frank Lewis

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A ZIG ZAG GIANT IN THE MONKS’ WOOD

– a story for Sarah – or other four year olds – of any age

The zig zag angles of the branches of the formidable sinuous yew at the south western end of the Monks’ Wood are extraordinary.

It looks like a grotesque giant stretching after sleep. But the zig sag stretching is not just in the arms but also in the legs. The trunk is straight. But it has no head. A figure not to come across unexpectedly especially in the half light of dusk.

In the mild moistness of last Sunday the glistening branches appeared to be bulging with muscles, particularly at the hairpin angles. This was somebody to have in your corner if there was a fight.

Maybe this was a human giant turned into a tree by some magical power.  Maybe he had cycled here on the ghost bicycle we had come across in 2016.  A year ago this looked like a bizarre piece of nature intertwining with the undergrowth. Others have disturbed it since then.  Like the ‘cyclist’ we saw last Sunday.

Maybe in a final rage, being transformed from man to tree, the giant twisted some of the other yew trees into the corkscrew/spiral shape that we see today – and that includes the great yew in Muckross Abbey.

What did the monks from the nearby abbey make of this unique yew, on their meditations, or when they tended their fruit and vegetables gardens in the fertile hollows here?

How did the yew grow like this?

The severed trunk and zig zag branches are around an open space.  Might the tree have grown around a huge boulder?  One of the great rocks dropped thousands of years ago by a melting glacier.  These huge stones are a common feature of Killarney woodlands.

But there is no huge boulder nearby that might have fallen out of the tree. And that does not explain the zig zag shapes.

Was the tree shaped in this way?  There appears to be some evidence of pruning, but that appears to be much more recent.  Nearby – but not, I think, in view of this tree – the Herbert’s had built a platform from which to admire Mr Herbert’s exotic trees from many lands.  Did they fashion the tree as a further ‘curiosity’ to entertain their visitors?

“I can’t explain the amazing shapes of the tree,” the person most familiar with these woods, horticulturist Cormac Foley, said on one of our visits here a year ago.

Then he wondered “might the yew have been twisted in this way by radiation from a falling meteor?” Like human bodies were grotesquely damaged by the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster or the dropping of atomic bombs in Japan.

Might this great yew be a relic of an ancient meteor shower? There is archaeological evidence that such things did happen with devastating consequences. It is a theory worth examining.

Frank Lewis

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Christmas Walks

A FESTIVAL OF WALKS

Christmas is a festival of walks. Eight or nine or sometimes ten days of doing a decent walk everyday. This year has been particularly good. The warm, dry, sunny weather made it exceptional.

Spurred on by the repeats of four of our radio walks … Tuesday December 27 the Derrynane Mass Path, Wednesday From Lisselton to Cnoc an Fhomhair, Thursday the Monk’s Wood, Friday the Keel Loop Walk and last Saturday a new programme Walking in Fenit. You can hear them all on the Radio Kerry podcast.

 

Christmas Eve was an unexpected bonus. Four year old grand-daughters needed to be away from shops/food/television. First to Torc Waterfall. How much further would they walk?  The two lead the way up.  Now across the Owengarriff above the waterfall.  Up through conifer woods.  Now small legs were beginning to object.  Along a track their mothers were enticed to walk with the promise of a playground in the middle of the woods.  Now no longer there.  But we got to the first great viewing point on the north face of Torc mountain.  Even in the misty, overcast conditions the great view over Middle and Lower Lakes with their backdrop of Purple mountain.  And, as the carol says, all the way home is downhill.  From car back to car was something over two hours.

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I don’t know whether the Christmas Day ten mile trek around Muckross and Dinis was a challenge for a four year old but it is one of my earliest memories. Along the southern shore of Lough Leane, through endlessly varied woodland , through the largest yew wood in Europe, under great oaks, by large conifers introduced from the Americas. The great bulk of Tomies/Purple /Glena mountains to the west. Now Lough Leane to the right and Muckross lake on the left. At Dinis the waters of Killarney’s three great lakes meet. Then hugging the southern shore of Muckross. The Park road above the main road gives high views of lake and mountain. Then skirting eastern lake shores, through Muckross Gardens, 15th century Muckross Abbey, along the funeral road. Even in the dark, misty gloom this three hour trek made Christmas dinner even more appetising.

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From Stephen’s Day there was endless sunshine.


An annual Stephen’s Day walk in recent years has been from Derrycunnihy to Kate Kearney’s. Beginning through Ireland’s most extensive ancient oak woodland. Queen Victoria’s cottage once framed the great cascade. On open moorland with high views over the Upper Lake. Then along the lake shore to where Lord Brandon ‘detained’ his unfaithful wife. Through part of the Black Valley. Along the whole length of the Gap of Dunloe, gouged out by millions of years of ice movement. High mountain cliffs on both sides. Past a series of glacial lakes. This is a walk of some five hours. The pint in Kate Kearney’s is all the more welcome and food never tasted so good.

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The Keel Loop Walk is one of the great additions of recent years.  It begins in the village of Boolteens (about 40 minutes from Gallan Eile). A short way on public road, then along the banks of the River Groin, beginning at the edge of green fields, then for an extended time on top of raised flood bank. A young alder and conifer wood on the right. Increasing banks of golden reeds cover the marshland on the eastern shore of the river Groin and then along northern and southern banks of the River Maine. The Slieve Mish mountains imminently to the north. To the south a huge range of mountains from the Cork/Kerry border to the western ocean. Now along the estuary of the Maine. The mud flats here feed wintering arctic flocks. As well great numbers of snipe use their long beaks to search for food. Look out for the Little Egret (like a small heron) and the Shell Duck – both snow white.

At Lacacalla Slip, just where the Maine flows into Loch na dTrí Caol (the lake of the three narrows)/Castlemaine Harbour, the Keel Loop Walk goes inland along a quiet bohereen. Even with numerous ‘picnic’ stops – where she presided on the top step of a stile – the distraction of bird, donkey and goat we had now been walking for over three hours and four year old Sarah had had enough. We returned along two kilometers of the unpleasantly busy and narrow R561 (Killarney/Dingle road). The second half of the Keel Loop is north of the R561 on the bare moorland of the foothills of the Slieve Mish mountains with great high panoramas over river, sea and mountain (see Nature Notebook March 16, 2016  http://www.guidekillarney.com/index.php/2016/03/16/keel-loop-walk/ ) The total walk should take about four hours.

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On Wednesday a great combination of lake, mountain and sea on a loop of the Kerry Way that circles Seefin mountain. Beginning outside the Catholic church in Glenbeigh – some 40 minutes from Gallan Eile – we walked east for 2.5 kms along the main Ring of Kerry/N70 road. The widening views of the spits of Rossbeigh, Inch & Cromane – that give Loch na dTrí Caol its name – and of Dingle Bay gave reason for stopping on the rising secondary road and looking back. Now on the level – more or less – along kilometers of green road some 200/250 feet over the whole length of Caragh Lake, in the background our highest peaks in the McGillicuddy Reeks. Now west/north west through the 300 foot high Windy Gap – south west the Coomasaharn Horseshoe.

Now north with a great high panorama of Dingle Bay, the three sandy promontories and the inner harbour with the Slieve Mish spine of the Dingle Peninsula behind. Dermot told me we were walking for three hours and twenty minutes.

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Ross island (a 15 minute drive from Gallan Eile) is ideal for both walker and stroller. It is entirely flat and heavily wooded with endless views of mountain, lake and island. The stroller can spend an hour or two covering all of the main points on the park roads. The slightly more adventurous will be hugely rewarded following all of the tracks and even venturing where there is no path at all. On Thursday it was after 1 before we started. Along the mining trail from the back of the boat dock at Ross Castle.

Now the trees are bare of leaf showing their huge complexity.

At the oldest copper mines in north western Europe picking up evidence of iron working. So many stones with green copper stain. Searching for a fragment of a Neolithic axe head. Who was the Governor that had a spectacular headland named after him. High over the northern shore of Hyde’s Bay, decayed remains of steps prepared for Queen Victoria’s 1861 visit. Huge beech trees that will cloak acres and acres of wild garlic in April and May and in October/November are luminous with Autumn colour. Library Point looks out on the ancient abbey on Innisfallen, O’Donghue’s Prison and Mouse island. Finally on the largely trackless south eastern corner that ends on the canal back to Ross Castle. Ross Island deserves a library of its own. All of that in just over three hours.

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On Friday I have the blisters that are evidence of raking the endless Autumn leaves at Gallan Eile. And then a special treat – afternoon tea in splendour of the Park Hotel in Kenmare looking down on the sea at full tide.

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On Saturday from Gallan Eile a brisk walk through conifer woods to the heights of Faill a Crann (Tree cliff). Rising up to a widening lake panorama with mountain backdrop. For the last kilometer or so the bare branches of larch trees cloaked in an appropriate seasonal decoration of lichen. At the end of the rough park road the lake/mountain/woodland panorama is most spectacular

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On Sunday several hours wandering around the large exclosure in part of our most extensive natural oak woodland in Derrycunnihy. Great varied carpets of mosses are at their luxuriant richest at the moment. Great numbers of huge rocks dropped here by melting glaciers. The huge numbers of young holly would appear to show the exclosure is successfully keeping out the deer. But every one of the young trees has been browsed. I saw one red deer hinde with her calf and the great amount of deer droppings shows there are many more. Walking over earthen ridges in an area that was carefully built up to conserve scarce soil wondering about the harshness of living here in pre-famine years. Two of the most rewarding hours in this living landscape text book.

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 I wanted to spend Monday (yesterday), the last free day, wandering the Monks’ Wood south west of Muckross Abbey (see Nature Notebook, March 7, 2016 http://www.guidekillarney.com/index.php/2016/03/07/babe-in-the-woods/ ) but an accident sent us west. We ended up at Lacacalla Slip.  It must have been after 1pm when we started walking along the flood bank that the previous Tuesday we had walked the other way around.  

Now more of the mud flats were exposed on either side of the River Maine Estuary. The lonesome whistle of flocks of snipe, who left tracks on the mud on their busy hunt for food. Great numbers of other birds including the all white Little Egret and Shell duck. Sarah learned all of ‘Ma,Ma will you buy me a ..’ By the time we reached the end of the flood bank over the River Groin it was 3.30. Sarah and Siubhan continued to Boolteens and I retraced my steps. Now the evening light was even more dramatic. Every bird song note was clear in the still of the evening. Those four year old legs had walked and run for most of three and a half hours … along the way picnicing, singing, watching bird, goat and donkey.

Surely this is what life is about?

Frank Lewis

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A ROUTE FOR A CHIEFTAIN, STEPPED FOR A QUEEN

– now in magical Autumn colour

The beech trees overhead were mesmerising in infinite shades of luminous yellows and browns.  I walked up and down, backwards and forwards.  I lay on the ground to get the full effect.  Eventually I had to drag myself away.

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Last Sunday that headland south of Library Point on Ross Island was magical.  In May this whole place is covered in white flowering wild garlic.

Leaving the estate road to Library Point I walked along the track on the northern side of Hyde’s Bay.  Across the bay the rocky outcrop of Governor’s Rock.

The several sets of crumbling stone steps indicate that at an earlier time this was a popular route developed sensitively with some considerable care.  Perhaps for the visit of Queen Victoria in 1861.

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Great erratic boulders, left behind in the ice age, evidence of a much older era, that also gouged out the basin that is now filled by lake water.

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Along the wooded way oak and yew, ash and sycamore.  A pictorial representation of moving from Summer to Autumn contrasting the evergreen leaves of the arbutus with the endless Autumn colours of the deciduous leaves.

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At the western end the captivating beech grove extends from the lake as far as the demesne road.

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On several of the more majestic beech trees initials are distinctively carved.  On at least two trees ‘JG’.  On one added ‘1940’ and on another ’31 1 ’40’.  Another tree very decoratively remembers ‘MTM’.  I wonder if the ‘J’ and ‘M’ with a bulging heart carved in between went on to live the promise.  Carving on trees happened in years gone by but is now frowned on.

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Further along the wooded track, high over the broad expanse of Lough Leane richly red-berried holly with its prickly dark green leaves, side-by side with Autumn dark browns to luminous gold … an indication of moving from Autumn to Winter.  Or, perhaps more appealingly, moving from Autumn to Christmas.

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At the furthest headland, having checked that O’Donoghue’s Library had all of its volumes, wondering how O’Donoghue managed on his prison, saluted the spirit of the monks on Innisfallen, imagined Mickey Mouse on his tiny island.  After all of that I preferred to retrace my steps than returning on the demesne road through the alder and sally of the swamp woodland.

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Looking out from Gallan Eile there is still plenty of Autumn colour in evidence.  Even after the storm of the past days and the cold evidenced by the snow-capped peaks.
– Frank Lewis

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