Having a Tipp top time
Upperchurch is a vibrant hub for outdoor recreation, writes JOHN G O'DWYER
Unless you’re a person who changes channels immediately the news comes on, you’ll be aware that Irish tourism has had a rough time recently.
The notable exception has, however, been leisure walking. Here, overseas hikers have quadrupled as a result of greatly enhanced investment in the trails infrastructure. One of the leading communities with regard to innovation in this area is Upperchurch, Co Tipperary, which has established a well-deserved reputation as a vibrant hub for outdoor recreation.
And so my invitation to their hugely popular November Walking Festival came as a most welcome summons. Arriving in the deeply rural, upland village, I found the place awash with colourful walkers and psychedelic cyclists waiting outside the community centre for an opportunity to explore the compelling Slieve Felim landscape.
I put myself down for the Birchhill Nature Trail outing, which was billed “an easy lowland walk through farmland and woodland”. Despite a choice of seven other walks and cycles, there were almost 100 of us as – awash with happy conversation – we headed off in human avalanche behind walk leader Michael Barry. First to capture our curiosity was Templebeg Holy Well, where a meticulously maintained shrine dedicated to St Patrick had me reflecting on how powerful and ubiquitous Patrician mythology remains. Apart from relatively localised areas, where saints such as Brendan and Columba have cornered the spiritual market, Patrick enjoys super-saint status everywhere else.
Then it’s more echoes from the past at an ancient church and graveyard before we crossed fields to enter a plantation. Here the going was muddy until the route re-entered farmland and crossed the high point of Birchhill.
Then back once again among trees, I noticed a pleasing aspect was the colourful information boards that described with impressive detail the flora and fauna of the area. Later we passed by some ponds that had been scrupulously maintained to provide a wetland habitat before entering a young plantation appropriately planted with birch saplings.
Coming to a roadway we followed left and continued for about a kilometre through countryside where clearly the Celtic Tiger never came visiting. Then it was over a stile on the right and a steep descent through open farmland with the great sweep of Knockalough Hill filling the foreground.
Rejoining an ancient roadway at Rossoulty, the route looped to rejoin a laneway. Here some of the younger walkers began impatiently questioning how far to the end of the walk. This suggested to me, not boredom, but that instead they had got wind of the fact that bowls of famous Upperchurch stew now awaited in the community centre. They didn’t have long to fret, however, for soon we joined a roadway that brought us back past St Patrick’s Well and then almost immediately afterwards to the walk startpoint.
Over steaming plates of delicious stew the atmosphere was one of a huge extended family reunion. Later the conviviality extended well into the night amid the stay-awhile charm of Kinane’s renowned local hostelry.
BIRCHHILL NATURE TRAIL
Trail: Through forestry and farmland offering a rich variety of flora and fauna. Wet in places so boots and gaiters are required.
Getting there:From Thurles take the R498 for about 2km. Then follow the R503 for 11km towards Limerick. The trailhead is beside the pub on the right.
Time: 2 hours. Distance: 7km.
Map:Can be downloaded from Upperchurch.ie.