Christmas 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.


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.


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.


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 ) The total walk should take about four hours.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


 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 ) 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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