Keel Loop Walk

BEAUTY & BATTLE

on the Keel Look Walk

The wonders in this county of ours are endless.

I have driven the road between Castlemaine and Dingle (R561) countless times.  I have looked down on this whole coastline from the top of the Sliabh Mish mountain range.  But I never imagined the variety and richness of the Keel Loop Walk until last Sunday week.  The weather was at best broken and from time-to-time there was a downpour and stiff wind.  These past months the ravages of sea, gale and record breaking torrential rain have taken their toll.

Then we walked the route again last Sunday in idyllic weather, perfect for photographs.

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From Boolteens, after a little way on tarred road, the route walks by the ditches of several green fields. Then through marshy ground, along the top of a floodbank that looks like a natural part of the landscape, by the river Groin. Great banks of golden reeds. In the background the purpely-blue mass of the entire McGillicuddy Reeks mountain ridge.

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Then the Groin joins the estuary of the river Maine. Along the way a variety of flood protection defences. The earthen ditch the route follows. Parts of the estuary are slabbed. Some points are protected by cement. Great boulders are used. All are evidence of the never ending battle that has gone on as long as people have lived here.

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At low tide, from Autumn to Spring, the exposed mud-flats here feed great numbers of migrating water birds. As I walked snipe and oyster catcher sang, a shag cannoned just over the water and there were several other birds I could not identify.

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A break for refreshments adds something special to a walk, especially if you are three years old.

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At one point there were clumps of daffodils on the trail and in the field below. Were they planted here or or were they washed down by the river?

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The flood bank track ends at Laghtacallow Pier at the mouth of the Maine estuary. Here in earlier times cattle for Puck Fair were transported by ferry to Callinafersy Pier at the far side.

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Now along a quiet country lane. Already a rich profusion of primroses and lesser celandine – the poet Wordsworth’s favourite flower.  As well catkins are trailing from alder branches, the first tiny white flower is showing on blackthorn.

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At the top of the long lane the ruined remains of Kilgarrylander church are in the centre of Reilig na Cille/Old Keel Graveyard.

Now the route crosses the main road and rises up between tall banks where hedgerows will show ever richer growth in the weeks and months ahead.

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Our way continued to rise to the lower reaches of the Sliabh Mish mountain range, along an unsurfaced boithirin and on to open mountain.  About half way across the bare hillside a seat is the ideal place to sit and marvel at the huge panorama spread out below.

The river Maine, Loch na dTri gCaol, Dingle Bay with a backdrop of mountains from the Paps (on the Cork/Kerry border), over the Killarney mountains, along the entire Reeks Ridge and the Iveragh Mountains to the tip of the Ring of Kerry

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The walk continues across open mountain. Finally by country lane back where I saw my first lambs this year.

Back in Boolteens after a hugely rewarding three and a half hours. It could be walked more quickly. Last Sunday, greater temptation to stop, look and photograph.

– Frank Lewis

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