Nature Notebook



– 3.5 year old Sarah on the intertwined oak and yew.

Swimming in Muckross Lake at Dundag last Wednesday (June 8) was idyllic. Torc Mountain falls sheerly to the southern shore.  The great bulk of Purple Mountain to the west.

Along the northern shore scalloped light blue limestone caves.  The largest yew wood in Europe along the Muckross Peninsula.  The slopes of Torc and Glena cloaked in the purple flowered rhododendron – that is threatening the regeneration of unique oakwoods.

The sandy beach on the eastern shore continues under the gradually deepening, crystal clear clean water.  As well the weather last Wednesday was warm, calm, dry and sunny.  The water felt warm – even on this first swim of the year.

DSC00586bogcottonBog Cotton on Mangerton Common a few weeks ago

On Thursday and Friday, with 14 year old grand-daughter Nessa, conditions were slightly less attractive but still very pleasant.  There were showers on Saturday.

From mid week rising wind and dropping temperature created more bracing conditions.  On Sunday Ness helped Siubhan prepare for the stations.  Dermot and three and a half year old Sarah came with me.

If we were going to swim at all … So we started at Dundag.  Never to be outdone Sarah togged off in a spare pair of knickers.  Holding hands we walked over stones to sand until the water was up to her belly button.  She dipped.  I swam around her.  We splashed – gently.  She protested not to go but accepted “we will stay longer the next day”.

Along the Scots Pine fringed lake shore through a tunnel of rhododendron, to the Dundag headland with it’s great high view over all of the lake and its surrounds.  Here you can see the mountains from the very graphically shaped Paps of Dana (on the Cork/Kerry border) to Ireland’s highest mountains, the McGillicuddy Reeks.

Was Devil’s Island torn from the top of Mangerton Mountain by His Satanic Majesty to fire at the great chieftain O’Donoghue over at Ross Castle?  But the island is made of limestone and the top of Mangerton is red sandstone.  There are other aspects of the story that don’t fit but that is the tale told by boatmen and jarveys.  Maybe the Devil has special powers but his aim is poor – Ross is a distance away.

High over Dundag Bay with a view of Muckross House.  Then along the trail named after 17th century agronomist Arthur Young, formerly the Jackoboy’s nature trail, called after a local character or perhaps remembering a now headless stone pillar in the lake or a fleeting visit by King James II making an escape after his defeat in the Battle of the Boyne – a story told by my late father with no basis in fact.DSC00600married trees

I have walked this route hundreds of times but only last Sunday noticed a yew with its branches wrapped around and grown into a neighbouring oak, “they are married” Sarah told me!

DSC00605married treeDSC00603married tree

By huge oak and Monterey pine, across two exposed areas of bare limestone pavement increasingly cloaked. One by the native arbutus and the other by cotoneaster brought here from California. More and more yew. My two companions found a seat on a conveniently shaped yew. 


While Dermot is happy to walk anywhere Sarah likes to be off the road walking through the woods, all the better if there is a climb or two. So we picked our steps carefully over crevaced limestone covered in carpets of mosses. We agreed to hold hands on the basis “I will save you if you fall and you will save me if I fall”.

Across a wet, mucky, boggy stretch with wild grass tussocks as high as Sarah. “My boots are muddy”, I was told. The climb up a rocky outcrop compensated. Back on a track, down stone steps probably laid for the visit of Queen Victoria in 1861. By a further open damp area covered in vividly yellow wild irises (yellow flags). 

DSC00611yellow flags

We had been walking for three and a half hour when we finished, all happily tired.

– Frank Lewis

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