New wave of Slieve Bloom walks

 

Community effort has opened up and improved walks around Ireland’s oldest mountain range, writes BRENDAN BRACKEN

THE SMOOTH profile of the Slieve Bloom Mountains is a familiar sight for travellers on the M7 between Roscrea and Portlaoise. Along with France’s Massif Central, they are the oldest mountain range in Europe having been formed some 400 million years ago. They were also once the highest, rising to 3,700m, but weather has reduced them to tiddlers with the highest peak, Arderin, at 527m.

Named after mythical Connacht warrior Bladhma, who took refuge in the mountains, the Slieve Blooms extend for almost 25km across Laois and Offaly and include 27 glens and numerous rivers.

The area is increasingly popular with walkers and, due to community efforts, there are signposted walks to suit every level, explanatory boards on local flora, fauna and wildlife, and designated picnic areas.

My favourite walk in the area is one of the most beautiful in the Slieve Blooms. Starting at Glenbarrow, it leads to the Clamphole Waterfalls, the Ridge of Capard, Capard Wood and back along forest paths to Glenbarrow car park.

Walks from Glenbarrow are well signposted. There’s also a map board illustrating the Slieve Bloom Way, a 70km circuit of the mountains, and three Glenbarrow looped walks graded green (easy), blue (moderate) and yellow (hard). I took the hard one. The walk is distinguished by yellow markers while an extension has been added in the middle to create a there-and-back trek along the beautiful Ridge of Capard.

From the car park, follow the sign on the right marked “20 minutes to waterfall” and descend a narrow path with overhanging conifers. After a few minutes there is a Coillte “Glenbarrow” sign where the path turns left through tall forest. Walk along this path with the young River Barrow below on the right.

After 10 minutes you come to a clearing with a small wood hut. This is where the river starts gathering pace and marks the beginning of a beautiful stretch of the walk. Climb up along a path with rock slabs on the right. After five minutes you come to a series of waterfalls, known as the Clamphole, with the largest graced by a series of deep pools and surrounded by steep drops, and all interspersed with small willow and birch trees. It’s a magical place.

Continue from the waterfall along the path close to the river which, though muddy in spots, is compensated for by beautiful autumn colours and river sounds. After 15 minutes you come to a T junction: continue straight on following the yellow marker into a wood. Ignore the Slieve Bloom Way sign, which is a different shade of yellow and brings you across the river. Follow the signs through the wood before emerging into open country and rejoin the path which runs beside the river.

The ground here is rough, wet and covered with hidden tree stumps. Care is needed. Follow the river as it curves around with the ruins of a 19th century farmstead coming into view on the left. At the next marker, turn away from the river towards the farmstead. The next 15/20 minutes are the most difficult stretch of the walk with hidden ditches, felled trees and bog pools.

You will pass two Coillte “loose stones keep away” signs beside the farmhouse – keep it well on your left and pick up the track which leads into the wood.

The worst is now over as you pass another ruined farmstead enveloped by forestry. Continue along a wet path, strewn with wild mushrooms, which swings steeply upwards until a forest road. Cross the road and take the track opposite which, after a short sharp pull, arrives at open country at the Ridge of Capard. Ahead is a car park with signs marked Slieve Bloom Mountain Reserve illustrating the local bird life and flora of the ridge.

An hour-and-a-half into the walk and it’s a good time to stop for refreshments. Time and stamina permitting, it is worth taking the track along the Ridge of Capard to the Stoney Man and back. A wooden boardwalk has been put in place for the first stage to help preserve the blanket bog.

The walk, though wet and muddy in parts, has an airy feel about it and opens up splendid views of the midlands’ plains to the east while further to the left are the Wicklow Mountains and on to Mount Leinster and the Blackstairs Mountains. Ahead and to the west are some of the glens of the Slieve Blooms – Monicknew, Wolftrap Mountain and Glenkeen.

My destination, the Stoney Man (483m), is topped by a large 2.5-metre cairn which was perhaps used as a navigation guide or a boundary marker. Take a breather here before returning by the same path back.

Back now at the start of the ridge, turn right down the main road. Pass a large television mast on your left known as “The Metal Man”. At the third bend downhill, follow the yellow marker which brings you into Capard Wood, an old broadleaf forest of oak and beech.

This is a lovely stretch of the walk, spectacular in May with its display of bluebells, but also splendid in the autumn for the variety of mushrooms and other fungi but avoid the fairytale red mushrooms with the white spots – poisonous and hallucinogenic!

Follow the markers through the wood and then across into a smaller area of woodland before emerging onto a forest road.

There are many twists and turns for the rest of the walk, so follow the yellow markers and you will be fine.

Back on a Coillte forest road, pass by a quarry on the left and descend making a series of marked left and right turns before eventually passing through a pretty deciduous wood followed by a pink house on the left.

Five minutes later cross a barrier which leads back into Glenbarrow car park.

Route Glenbarrow loop walk

Get thereExit 15 off M7. Take R422 to Mountmellick/ Rosenallis, and 2.5km after Rosenallis turn left for Glenbarrow Waterfall.

Start/finishGlenbarrow car park.

Distance16km.

Total ascent486m.

TimeFive-and-a-half hours.

SuitabilityMedium. Marked paths all the way but some rough conditions underfoot .

MapOSI Sheet 54.

RefreshmentsSwan Bar, Clonaslee.

AccommodationBarrow View B&B, Mountmellick (057-8624316).