A Walk for the Weekend: A ramble in Ballincollig Weirs

Nature and history are intertwined in this 10km stroll

 

N ature and history are cut from the same cloth, and Ballincollig Regional Park offers both in equal measure. Known locally as the Weirs or the Powdermills, the park covers 130 acres of cultivated parkland, as well as forest, scrubland and wetlands. It also contains the remains of the Royal Gunpowder Mills, which supplied gunpowder for Napoleonic wars more than 200 years ago.

Today, with 90 per cent of the buildings intact, it’s a national monument, and Ireland’s largest industrial archaeological site.

The old buildings provide a picturesque counterpoint to the park’s outstanding natural landscapes, most of which are unfortunately disappearing at the park’s westerly end, by the Inniscarra bridge and the sluice-gates, due to works undertaken by Cork County Council.

Some of these additions – an excellent coffee stall, a playground, a wheelchair-friendly path and some spot-planting of beech trees – are undoubtedly improvements.

However, on the Heron Trail there is clear-felled scrubland, and elsewhere trees have been felled with the remaining stumps covered by unsightly black plastic. A thick grove of 30-year-old elms has been replaced with garden-centre nature. Thankfully this trend is less apparent as you move further east.

The quickest access to the wild park is by dropping down to the canal paths at the back of Scoil Barra. Sheltered by hills on the opposite northern bank of the Lee, this part of the park is wonderfully atmospheric, with ash and beech left wild, and old buildings peeping out at every turn.

I roughly follow the Ash Trail to the Weir, which was built in 1795 to divert water to the canals. It collapsed in late 2014, lowering the water levels around the park and endangering fish. Taoiseach Enda Kenny has promised €500,000 in funds for reconstruction. Today, it is masked by a Lee in full spate.

I follow the Ash Trail on the northern side of the oak field, and take a muddy path through Goat’s Island, crossing a small canal on a rickety metal grille before climbing up over a ruined wall to continue on the park’s most secluded trail, to the north of the little-used rugby field.

Here, there is nothing to see but hills, woods, grassland and an occasional ruin. It’s particularly wild (and boggy) at the meeting of the waters at the northeastern tip, where a canal spur joins the Lee.

Right on cue, a salmon leaps from the water. It’s the size of a small shark.

From here the main canal runs parallel to the river, separated by a thin causeway. It’s down this causeway I now walk: wooded hills to my left; ruined buildings to my right; a heron waiting upstream, a cormorant diving about 20 metres away, and birds of every description dancing across the path.

I return to the Powdermills Trail, making a brief woodland detour to the magazine and coalhouse buildings, before crossing the footbridge and heading west again on another Powdermills Trail causeway, come through woods past the steam stove, then rejoin the Ash Trail, before finally returning to urban life by Scoil Barra.

Start & finish Carpark behind Scoil Barra, Innishmore, Ballincollig. Grid reference 51.891006, -8.606901
How to get there Take 220 bus from Cork City or, driving, the N40-N22 South Ring Road, taking west Ballincollig exit. Drive through Greenfields and turn right to the R608, taking a left at the White Horse Inn. For wheelchair trails and playground, use Inniscarra Bridge entrance.
Time 3 hours.
Distance 10km
Ascent 10m
Suitability Easy. The Heron Trail is wheelchair-friendly
 
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