Go Walk: A hidden gem of a glen
Bogs and sheep tracks en route to a great view
Kenmare bay from Knockowen
I’ve always sworn that I’d never use the term “hidden gem” but having but recently discovered the hidden glen of Glanrastal, I find myself impelled to use it. In a peninsula with a plenitude of great glens, this one is special.
As you walk in, look up to your right to pick a route for your descent off Knockowen spur as parts of the lower slopes are covered in impenetrable shrubbery. We opted to use an old farm building about 1km in as our marker. The scale of the valley becomes apparent as you round a corner and see the broad flood plain of the Glanrastal River. On your right the land rises steeply to the formidable buttresses of Knockowen and Cushnaficulla.
Across the valley the south-facing slopes are gentler and there are numerous signs of old settlements with ancient field patterns and lazy beds running up the slopes, the mark of potato growing in pre-famine times.
The many streams flowing from the cliffs on your side of the valley are short and easy to cross. From time to time there are soggy patches to be circumvented which can be done by contouring along the bottom of the incline. As you walk further into the valley you will come closer to the edge of the meandering main river. At times it may appear easier to cross its braided channel if water levels are low; but this would be a mistake as you will have to cross back again to keep to the route that brings you up on to the towering ridge above.
Leaving the flood plain, the terrain changes to a v-shaped, steep-sided valley and you start the ascent. At first you can keep to the river bank but you have to move to a narrow sheep track about 4m above the gushing torrent. Just before the confluence with a stream flowing from Caha Lake, turn to your right and ascend over some grassy ramps.
The Caha Mountains are notoriously difficult to navigate. The great backbone of shale has been ground down by glaciation to create a confusion of low outcrops separated by boggy land. On most routes on the peninsula you have to cut across the grain of the land so it is a case of climbing or circumventing low rocky ridges, crossing a short stretch of wet boggy land, to deal with the next obstacle. Before GPS this was challenging ground for a navigator.
To our delight, we found a ridge that runs with the grain of the land and with little bog to contend with, it was an easy haul to the summit of Cushnaficulla (596m) with the dry, rough surface providing good grip.
The summit sits astride the boundary between Cork and Kerry and provides scintillating views into both counties, with Bantry Bay to the east and Kenmare Bay to the west. The ascent to Knockowen (658m) was similarly straightforward and we rested on our stony perch enjoying the views down into the glorious Glanmore Valley and out over Kilmacilloge Harbour.
The descent follows the spur that runs to the north from the peak and it provides great close-up views of the cliffs which dominate Glanrastal. Don’t attempt to drop down to the valley floor until you have gone past the last of the steep ground. Our marker building was easy to spot and we were soon back on the track with only a short walk to the car to put an end to a splendid climb that will linger long in my memory.
Map: OSI Discovery Series. Sheet 84 Start and Finish: Just beyond the end of the third-class road that leads into Glanrastal. Grid Reference 803581. How to get there: Take the R571 Kenmare as far as the church at Lauragh. Turn left on to the R574 Healy Pass/Adrigole road. Take first left, until you come to a fork after 2km. There is room to park here. The track straight ahead leads into the glen. Time: Six hours. Distance: 11km Total Ascent: 750m Suitability: Hard. Map, rain gear and walking boots. Food & Accommodation: Kenmare and surrounding villages.