Walk for the Weekend: Clear Lake and Dosaun Mountain, Slieve Blooms
Way markers hand-rail me across wind-tortured moorlands - evoke haunting images of Wuthering Heights
I conclude that the central Slieve Blooms are unlikely to be so silent on my next visit.
Baunreagh at the heart of the Slieve Blooms and a perfect day for walking; yet I’m completely alone. I shouldn’t be surprised, perhaps, for the Blooms have consistently punched below their weight as a recreational hub. With much reduced stature compared with the superstar summits further west, these uplands have been likened to a flattened toothpaste tube.
This moniker may not be totally unfair, for it is undeniable that the Blooms lack soaring peaks and five-star ridges. But this makes them ideal for an innovative recreation project that will soon be trailheaded at Baunreagh. Stone-built mountain biking circuits are already under construction, with visitor facilities to follow for bikers, hikers and ramblers, including toilets, showers, carparking and a cafe.
Setting off on my ramble, I follow the waymarkers for the Slieve Bloom Way right and right again on a diagonally rising forest track. A left option then takes me to the R440. Here, arrows point the short distance to the eco-walking trailhead at Gorteenameale, where I traverse west along a woodland path.
When the main path goes left, I continue straight while enjoying expansive views across the fertile Laois countryside. The path soon peters out, but I persevere by passing a large cairn on an informal track that tags a firebreak.
Crossing a small ravine at a marker post, I gain forestry. Swinging right along the woodland edge, I then follow a track that weaves through the trees to reach open mountainside. The casual path now passes a forlorn marker, as grandstand views unfold west over Carroll’s Hill and Arderin – the highest point of the Blooms. Soon, my first objective for today’s walk makes its appearance, although, as usual, I am almost upon it before I see it.
Clear Lake is the only natural body of water in the Blooms. A lonesome curl of liquid, it is remarkable not only for the freshness of its waters (located, as they are, in the midst of blanket bog) but also for the almost perfect symmetry of its circular shoreline. Invariably, I visualise a meteorite creating this perfect ring of bright water.
Way markers now hand-rail me across wind-tortured moorlands, which unvaryingly evoke haunting images of Yorkshire and Wuthering Heights. In summer I watch out for the hen harrier, a large bird of prey that often rises peremptorily in startlingly acrobatic flight. A creature of high moorland habitats, it has declined in recent years due to changes in land use and so has been provided with a sanctuary in these upland bogs.
Gaining a low bank marking the Offaly/Laois border, I go right and follow it to the lonely but undistinguished top of Dossaun Mountain (514m). The summit compensates, however, with extensive views over Offaly and the central plain of Ireland.
Onwards now through expansive heathland until the bank deposits me on the R440. Built in the 18th century as a turnpike linking Mountrath to Kilcormac, a toll was once payable by all users. Going right, I foot the now toll-less tarmac back to Gorteenameale after a pleasant 20-minutes stroll. Then retracing my steps to Baunreagh, I conclude that the central Slieve Blooms are unlikely to be so silent on my next visit.
Clear lake and Dossaun Mountain, Slieve Blooms, Co Offaly and Co Laois
Start: From Mountrath, Co Laois follow the signs for the Slieve Bloom Mountains and Kinnity. Immediately beyond Dooley’s Cross, go right and continue to park beside the presently abandoned building at Baunreagh.
Suitability: A mostly level circuit offering unchallenging terrain but including moorland, so wear boots. Route traverses open mountainside where disorientation is possible; come prepared.
Time: 2 hours
Map: Discovery Sheet 54