Walk for the weekend: A Waterford ramble through mythological countryside

Mount Melleray Abbey pilgrimage takes pass through ecclesiastical countryside

Mount Melleray Abbey, Co Waterford: Cistercian monks comforted many troubled souls who journeyed here seeking consolation  before counselling and therapy gained precedence

Mount Melleray Abbey, Co Waterford: Cistercian monks comforted many troubled souls who journeyed here seeking consolation before counselling and therapy gained precedence

 

It’s a journey that invariably fills the walker with pulse-raising anticipation. The evocative traverse along lonesome Baylough in the Vee gap of the Knockmealdown Mountains is followed by a slow descent toward the magnificent Mount Melleray Abbey, Co Waterford. Here, diligent monks rendered the unforgiving uplands productive in the two centuries following the Cistercians’ return to Ireland after their post-Reformation banishment. They also comforted many troubled souls who journeyed here seeking consolation in an era before counselling and therapy.

The aim is to explore the hills that provide a dramatic backdrop to the abbey so set off through the monastery farmyard and head upward on tracks running through woodland. Signs for a hilltop cross point the way past the reservoir, which once supplied water that generated power for the abbey.

On reaching a derelict house, swing left and continue upwards on a rough track. Left along a forest roadway then brings you to a junction where another left leads to open mountainside, at a point where a car abandoned by environmental vandals now lies rusting. Now, a steepish ascent leads to the summit plateau of Knocknafallia (668m), which features a burial mound and cairn.

An outrageously photogenic vista now presents itself over the meandering Blackwater river to the silvery outline of the sea to the south. After a straightforward pass northwest over Knocknafallia’s broad plateau, descend to an embankment that segues into a wall near Knocknagnauv summit (665m). Continue downward to a col and proceed along the ancient Rian Bó Phádraig (Furrow of Patrick’s Cow), at the deliciously titled Bottleneck Pass. Legend has it that this furrow was created by the saint’s huge bovine charging upward in pursuit of a stolen calf. More likely it was shaped by travellers journeying between royal Cashel and ecclesiastical Ardmore.

Baffling illusion

Descend left on the furrow for about a kilometre before contouring left to reach Rough Glen river where two streams join and the rushing waters cascade. At a point marked by skeletal thorn bushes that have been stripped by countless winter storms, a tiny canal, laboriously dug by the industrious monks, draws water from the river while presenting the baffling illusion of flowing uphill. Known locally as “The Source”, it was built to provide Melleray with fresh water. These days its main use is as a convenient navigational waypoint for walkers when mist envelopes the uplands.

Following the canal across open mountainside brings you to a stile and then along a rough track that leads to a solid forest roadway. Here, it’s left and straight through a junction before descending right at the next intersection. Just before reaching a large turning circle, a stony path leads right and down to the ruined dwelling encountered earlier. The ramble ends beside the lovely cut-stone building of the renowned monastery, where monks provided the multitudes with a retreat from modern living while themselves cherishing the riches of owning nothing.

Start point: From Cappoquin, Co Waterford, take the R669. At the Cats pub go right. The entrance to Mount Melleray Abbey is on the left.

Suitability: Demanding walk requiring reasonable fitness. Navigation skills necessary, as the route follows high mountain terrain that is not waymarked.

Time: 3½ hours.

Map: OSi, sheet 74.

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