Taking the plunge

Sat, Nov 15, 2008, 00:00

Go Walk: John G O'Dwyerheads up the 'magic road' through the timeless Mahon Valley before embarking on the well-trodden footpath leading to the impressive sight of the Mahon Falls

DO YOU BELIEVE the magic went out of life the day you discovered Santa's stocking fillers came, not by reindeer delivery from Lapland, but compliments instead of a less exotic delivery from Toyland? If so, never fear, for there still exists in Co Waterford a "magic road" that evokes our earliest experiences of spine tingling wonder when confronted with what is resolutely beyond our powers of comprehension.

To relive such evocative moments past, follow the road leading to the Mahon Falls in Waterford's Comeragh Mountains (see below). At a point just beyond the entrance gate to the Falls and alongside a solitary, favours adorned, thorn bush that local tradition claims is a fairy tree, switch off your engine and put your gear shift in neutral. Very soon you will have the disconcerting experience of sitting in a car that is reversing uphill of its own accord as if towed by an invisible team of industrious leprechauns.

Now dedicated rationalists have visited here with surveying equipment and concluded that the "magic road" is merely an optical illusion. Most visitors will, however, find it hard to believe this physics-defying piece of magic is merely an illusion when they observe the amazing speed at which stationery automobiles are immediately propelled upwards.

Still mulling over the improbability of what you have seen, continue by following the roadway for about 2km into the increasingly timeless Mahon Valley. Stop at a large parking place on the left where at weekends the solitude is invariably hijacked by family groups, picnickers and casual strollers. From here its "shank's mare" all the way, starting with a well-trodden footpath leading to the Falls. When this path peters out, cross the River Mahon (with great care when water levels are high) and ascend steep but easy ground on the right hand side of the cascades.

During this ascent you will observe the waters thundering down a 55ft vertical drop into an improbably shallow pool. Surprisingly, Tramore canoeist Michael Reynolds kayaked his way down this torrent and survived unhurt to tell the tale. For most people this will come as one more piece of wonder from the Mahon Valley that is hardly believable without laying eyes on the photographic evidence at www.irishwhitewater.com. From the top of the Falls, continue ascending until it is safe to recross the Mahon River.

Now in welcome solitude, strike out west over the heathery Comeragh Plateau for about 1.5km of gently rising ground. Here the going can be somewhat tedious and you will be forced from time to time to climb into the bed of some (hopefully) dry watercourses. Your efforts are well rewarded, however, when you reach the cliffs of Coumfea and experience the breathtaking vista from above this lake-strewn corrie that gazes out over the majestic tablecloth of the renowned Nire Valley.

Now head in a southerly direction from Coumfea and continue until your way is barred by more cliffs, this time above Coumtay. Here the view is southwards but no less majestic to the Waterford coast, Dungarvan Harbour and Helvick Head.

Don't attempt to descend directly into Coumtay as much of the south and east-facing cliff is sheer and punctuated by treacherous gullies.

Instead, move left until the angle of slope eases and it is possible to safely descend into the eastern side of the Coum. Now follow downhill from the outfall of the River Tay until you are beside a ruined farmhouse secluded in a clump of trees.

Take the track leading uphill and left from here to a gate and then skirt the side of a newly-planted forest on a rougher track, which leads to a tarmacadam roadway. Follow this left and uphill to your parking place, which is just out of sight beyond the highest point of the roadway.

Mahon Falls, Co Waterford

Getting thereFrom Carrick-on-Suir, drive south on the R676 towards Dungarvan for about 18km. At Mahon Bridge, go right at a signpost for Mahon Falls and immediately right again beside a shop. After about 1.5km, turn left and continue on through an entrance with a cattle grid. You are now on the "magic road" and the fairy tree is 150m further on your left.

TimeAllow between 3.5 and 4 hours to complete the route.

SuitabilityBe aware that this is quite a challenging walk over sometimes tiring terrain on the elevated and featureless Comeragh Plateau. As always, be well equipped with warm clothing and raingear. Carry a map and compass and understand the route crosses trackless moorland where many walkers have previously become disorientated when mist descended suddenly.

MapOrdnance Survey Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery Series, Sheet 75.

AccommodationCarrigmoorna Lodge (051-291415) is a guesthouse on a working farm located near Lemybrien Village and about 5km southwest of the Mahon Falls. It offers excellent mountain views and is ideally located for exploring the Comeragh Mountains and the Waterford coastline. Otherwise, there is ample accommodation in the nearby holiday town of Dungarvan. Contact Dungarvan tourism at 058-41741 or see www.dungarvantourism.com