Bog day afternoon
Almost all the peat bogs that originally covered large areas of Europe have either completely disappeared or have been reduced to tiny enclaves, and only in Finland or here in Ireland can we still easily experience the glorious and rich flora and fauna that living peatlands can provide.
Girly Bog, between Drewstown and Ethelstown in Co Meath, is one of our remaining intact peat bogs, and a loop walk, suitable for all ages, has been laid out. It meanders through it and brings walkers close to all its wetland wonderments.
Although examples of its rich collection of wildflowers are in bloom from spring through to autumn, this route is best walked in dry weather. It’s a flat walk a little less than six kilometres long and you could race around it in an hour and a bit. I recommend that you slow down, allow plenty of time, enough to sit, and look, and listen, and maybe bring a picnic and a book to help identify wild flowers. The walk is a particularly good way to introduce children to the magic of our countryside.
From the car park follow a gravel road bounded by high hedges of elder, snowberry, ash and hawthorn as the traffic on the main road recedes behind and you enter a world apart, a wildlife heaven. Thick ropes of fragrant woodbine are wrapped around new young willow, birch and oak trees. In an open area where the old wood has been cut down and harvested, the seeds of wildflowers such as vetch, buttercups, cow parsley and fragrant meadowsweet have burst into blossom in the sunshine, to be attended by hosts of bees, hoverflies and butterflies.
At a crossroads, the route goes right on to a grassy path, bounded by broad banks of rosebay willow herb, Lus na Tine in Gaelic because it is one of the first plants to colonise open ground after a fire. Through the screen of willows to the left, a dark, russet brown bog lines the low horizon. The route continues on a soft pathway through a birchwood with an undercroft of ferns dappled with sunlight, and then through a section of high conifers.
On a gravel-paved road again the route goes left and along a wide avenue between laurels, birches, oaks and willow. The regal, purple blooms of rhododendrons relieve the greenness along here in early summer.
In the next section of harvested forestry new seedlings of birch and oak are sprouting up, beginning to establish themselves, and wild raspberries, probably escapees from a nearby country house garden, are abundant along the margins of the road, merging with red campion, dame’s violet and speedwell. The route bears left and after crossing a stile it passes along a grassy track, with common blue butterflies flitting to and fro, with the raised bog seen earlier now off to the left.
Soon the grassy track turns to cross a section of the bog. Girly Bog is of a type known as a raised bog, created over thousands of years by accumulated rainwater and specialist mosses. The main bog-building moss here is sphagnum, which can retain within its structure 25 times its weight in water. Among the varieties of plant easily identified on the bog surface today are sphagnum moss and tiny ruby red clusters of sundew, an insectivorous plant.
Continuing on the route through the bog, fringed in places with ponds and silky bog cotton, the outgoing route is rejoined at a crossroads, and returns to the car park and the real world.
GIRLY BOG LOOP WALK, KELLS, CO MEATH:
Starting Point:Drewstown Woods, 7km south west of Kells, Co Meath, just off the N52.
Distance and time:6 km, take as long as you like.
Terrain: forestry roads, gravel paths, sometimes wet.
Map:OS sheet 42