A Walk for the Weekend: Go west for spring snows

The West Galtees Walk proves an inspired choice as the winter turns to spring

At the head of the valley we find ourselves suffused by a white blanket.

At the head of the valley we find ourselves suffused by a white blanket.

 

My phone pings. Will I lead an outing for Mid Tipp Hill Walkers? Delighted. Then a nagging question: to where? It can’t be too demanding as it’s billed a moderate walk, though it can’t be facile either, as it’s for experienced ramblers. I go for the captivating circuit above Ballydavid. Ideal for a bad day, it traverses sympathetic forest tracks while still reaching high into the lonesome fastness of the East Galtees. Good choice.

Then, like many a bride on the morning of a soap opera wedding, I begin having doubts. There are rumours of spring snows further west. I dither. The prospect of snow-laden pastoral valleys, drystone walls and rounded hilltops proves irresistible: the West Galtees it is.

Donning my customer service hat, I explain that the trailhead can be difficult to find, so I arrange a rendezvous on the N8. This proves well chosen, for nobody has difficulty finding it – except me. Eventually arriving with sheepish haste, I find the group are just about to mount a search for a lost leader.

Embarrassment averted, my unpromising start is accepted with wry humour. Then, 16-strong, we amble up a lane beside the Behanagh river. Hillwalking is, of course, an “on-off pastime” and so wrapped up against anticipated cold, we soon find ourselves stopping to doff layers in the spring sunshine.

We head upwards along the Pigeonrock Valley with some expressing disappointment at the lack of snow. Putting my somewhat tattered reputation further on the line, I promise the last snows of spring will manifest themselves higher up and am, therefore, much relieved when the surrounding hillsides slowly begin presenting a Dalmatian aspect.

At the head of the valley we find ourselves suffused by a white blanket. Jackets are re-donned before we swing east and ascend the col between Knockaterriff and Lyracappul. Snow brings out the kid in most adults and snowballs are soon flying.

Lunch is at the apex of the col as we enjoy a knockout vista towards Galtymore, which today presents the aspect of a great white ship. Repast complete, the truism that snow invariably exacts a price for its surreal beauty becomes apparent. On a white speckled hillside, the descent to the Blackrock Valley proves very slippery. Some resort to “bumming it” and arrive down damp and icy-fingered but still in good humour.

We now amble along a track that meanders to where the Pigeonrock and Blackrock streams coalesce to form the Behanagh. En route, we pass a place where locals have tapped in to a mountain spring to obtain a supply that astutely circumvents water and electricity charges. Retracing our steps to the cars, we conclude that it is this resourceful spirit that has allowed populous communities to prosper in the Galtee valleys.

To get to the trailhead, leave the M8 at junction 12 and follow signs for Kilbeheny. Go through the village following the N8. Turn left at junction signed “Galteemore climb” and continue straight upwards past a water-treatment works. Immediately afterwards, go left at a Y-junction. At the next Y-junction, park and take the lane on the right.

Map: OSi, sheet 74.
Suitability: Although never terribly tough, a demanding walk that traverses high, trackless mountain terrain.
Equipment: Good footwear, adequate clothing and navigational aids required.
Time: 4 hours.
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