Meandering homewards through south Co Clare after a few days mooching around the Burren and getting totally lost while revelling in the lush hedgerows lining the tracery of narrow roads that had even the GPS bewildered, I came across a signpost for the 12 O’Clock Hills.
Such an intriguing name warranted investigation and, with time in hand, I set off to explore and discovered a small, twin-topped hill, Knockanuarha (Cnoc an Uarha), 309m and 295m high, on which trails had been developed with co-operation from landowners and Coillte and the back-breaking work of volunteers.
The twin peaks are known in the locality as the 12 O’Clocks as, it is claimed, one can tell the time by the position of the sun in relation to the summits. I assumed the name translated as the “Hill of the Hours” but when I checked on Logainm.ie, it gave the translation as “the Airy Hills”.
A short walk up the road from the car park brought me to the trail head, where barriers of hazard tape linked the trees to guide me up the trackless slope. This unusual method of way-marking was one I had not come across before and I half expected to see Chief Inspector Morse perusing a crime scene among the spindly trunks.
Farther along, a line of railway sleepers led up to a forest road. I took the lower road as I wanted to walk up beside the section of the Crag river which is included in the walks. Shaded by deciduous trees, the river’s tumbling cataracts and silent pools brought a deliciously cool interval to an afternoon of oppressive heat. Continuing upwards, I was relieved to see that the afforestation had not encroached on the summit, which is not always the case on hills of this height. It would have been a desecration to have circumscribed the view.
The contrast with the Burren could not be greater. Below me was a rich pastoral landscape generously endowed with lakes. The scope of the vista was impressive, stretching from the Shannon estuary north to the Burren hills, while to the east and south I could pick out four of Munster’s county tops. A bronze sundial has been put in place with numerous arrows pointing to other points of interest.
While soaking up the view, I speculated as to from where you could tell the time of noon. With the aid of the Ordnance Survey map, I calculated that it would be anywhere on a line due north as far as spot height 291m, four kilometres northwest of Feakle. Because the longitude of Knockanuarha is 8.5 degrees west of Greenwich, the sun would not be on that line until 12.25pm (GMT) in winter and 13.25pm (DST) in summer. It being June was I actually on the “Twenty-Five Past One Hills”? With such eccentric musings does the lone walker pass the time.
A pleasant walk down a heather-lined forest road, past the red bog with its rich diversity of flora, brought me back to the car, well pleased with my unexpected discovery. To paraphrase the old town criers: “12 O’clock and all was well.”
Map: Ordnance Survey Discovery series, sheet 58.
Start and finish: The car park at the Snaty trail head, grid reference 525 714. The main car park at the Belvoir trail head is currently closed but there is a whisper in the wind that an alternative may be in the offing.
How to get there: Kilkishen is on the R462 Sixmilebridge to Tulla road. Turn right in the village and head southeast to a T junction.
Time: Three hours.
Total ascent: 300m.
Suitability: Easy – good boots and weather-appropriate clothing.