A pleasant hike with a high mountain feel in Tipperary
Walk for the Weekend: Bay Lough, Knockmealdowns, Co Tipperary
Bay Lough, Co Tipperary: Witch Petticoat Loose, who reputedly drowned in these brooding depths, is said to ensnare swimmers.
I recently made a languid journey down memory’s dim old avenue. Reliving my earliest upland experience, I again visited the Vee. The mere mention of this word would, at one time, have seriously quickened my youthful pulse by promising an exciting outing over the Knockmealdown Mountains to Bay Lough, Mount Melleray Abbey (for meat tea) and Clonea Beach.
To relive these memories, I began at the northern end of the Vee Gap, and followed a stony track uphill through dense vegetation. In June, the area is a riot of purple rhododendrons, with visitors coming from afar to gaze upon the luxuriant spectacle. Mostly, however, they are unaware that this seemingly attractive Asian import is a considerable pest that threatens the fragile ecosystems of many Irish woodlands.
Beyond is a place where glaciation has re-engineered the mountainside to create the lonesome curl of water known as Bay Lough. In past times I found this lake a source of spine-tingling fascination for, even in the high summer, it was rare to see bathers.
The reason, we were told, was that the ghostly hand of witch Petticoat Loose, who reputedly drowned in these brooding depths, would rise from her resting place to ensnare swimmers daring to invade her domain. I later learned that Petticoat Loose was not in fact a witch but an eccentric local woman named Mary Hannigan, whose crime was, in all probability, merely being different in misogynistic times.
Continuing upwards, I followed the pre-Famine road that once bisected the Knockmealdowns. It was here that long cars were pulled laboriously uphill by the sweating horses of the Italian emigrant Charles Bianconi. The Michael O’Leary of his day, Bianconi created Ireland’s first low-cost transport system for ordinary people. As a monument to this era, there stands at the head of the gap an odd-to-behold stone building. Here Bianconi’s horses rested after the demanding ascent.
Onwards now past a shrine to Our Lady before contouring south to join a more distinct track. This tags the arrows for the Avondu section of the Blackwater Way on a pleasant trail with forestry to the left. When the trail descends, it is my cue to go right on a switchback track heading west to where three fences intersect.
Concluding that the western Knockmealdowns are best described as an area of idiosyncratically wandering fences, I continue pursuing the waymarkers until yet another fence leads right. This useful handrail conveyed me gently upwards to point 630m, which is adorned by a cairn offering a sublime panorama east to Sugarloaf Mountain and the Knockmealdown Ridge.
I am always a little disappointed when a mountaintop hasn’t been bestowed with a name – it seems somehow demeaning of it. So, as I sit over lunch in the sunshine, I mull over an appropriate moniker. Most of the Knockmealdown summits come with the initial appellation Knock, and since this top is centrally located, I graciously bestow it with a personal title, Knockanlár (the central hill).
Pleased with myself, I begin descending north along a crest that is unhelpfully rough and heathery to eventually reach a forest. Here, the treeline conveys me east and then south before descending to regain the shores of Bay Lough. Retracing my steps, I then reflect that this part of the Knockmealdowns is hard to better for a moderate outing rewarded with a high mountain feel.
Start point: Begin from the parking place (S027 113) beside the first hairpin bend beyond Clogheen, Tipperary on the R668.
Time: 3½ hours
Suitability: Moderately challenging outing for walkers with adequate fitness and navigation skills.
Map: OSI Discovery Series, sheet 74