Walk for the Weekend: The magic of a snowy Tipperary trail
The winter crystals encased us in a tiny world of surreal stillness in the Glen of Aherlow
‘The problem with snow is it exacts a price for its austere beauty’
There is an indefinable magic to snow. Few, indeed, will not experience some quickening of the pulse when winter crystals shroud the hilltops. With an abundance of white stuff forecast it was, therefore, in high anticipation that I headed off to join the Mid-Tipp 27th annual Holly Walk.
In Cashel, however, there wasn’t even a flake, but we received plenty of reports of snow cloaking north Tipperary and potential walkers marooned. Still, as we journeyed towards Aherlow, it was through impermeable, dispiriting mist.
Donning our gear beside the Aherlow Hotel, we had resigned ourselves to a mundane ramble in the moody half-light of a pre-Christmas afternoon when it started. Stealthily at first, a few feathery crystals flirted with our jackets; then slowly and hypnotically they multiplied. Following the arrows for the Ballinacourty Loop to the right and into woodland, it was noticeable the landscape had perceptibly whitened.
Abandoning our plans to visit Lisvernane village and the remaining buildings of the once enormous Massey/Dawson Estate, we headed uphill instead towards Slievenamuck – an eminence recalling a fearsome sow that is reputed to have been speared by no less a personage than Fionn mac Cumhaill.
Here, the trees assumed the aspect of upstanding bottlebrushes as the snow fell silently and steadfastly. At the obligatory sweet-sharing stop, everyone agreed this was turning into a Holly Walk to remember as the landscape around us became hushed in eye-watering whiteness.
With doughty perseverance, the snow muffled the sound of our footsteps as we soldiered on while encasing us in a tiny world of surreal stillness. With the natural world now fully ascendant, we forsook the arrows for the Ballinacourty Loop, and continued left by following the Dolmen Loop through darkly mysterious woodlands. Afterwards, we swept right – at a point where the Dolmen arrows went left – and followed the flanks of Slievenamuck with occasional rewarding glimpses to the whitening Glen of Aherlow below.
Onwards now past a Massrock to reach the highlight of the day. Some club members had a pitstop arranged beside the R664 and soon we were imbibing extravagant quantities of mulled wine and steaming coffee while munching cocktail sausages, sandwiches and mince pies.
The problem with snow is, however, that it exacts a price for its austere beauty. No longer generating heat through exercise, the icy breeze was quick to take full advantage and begin shivering its icy way into our bones. Then there was the danger of frozen roads after dark, so reluctantly we abandoned the remainder of our outing to Christ the King Statue and through the atmospheric Nature Park.
Instead, we headed for the sylvan serenity of Aherlow House Hotel. This hostelry, which was originally built for the Massey/Dawson family in compensation for the destruction of their great house during the Civil War, is surely one of the hidden gems of Ireland. Ideal for our purposes, we trooped inside and imbibed further hot refreshments. Is there a better way to end a winter walk than among friends and beside a roaring log fire, I reflected, while watching the snow flitting lightly beyond the windowpanes?
Glen of Aherlow, Co Tipperary
Time: 3½ hours.
Map: OSi Discovery Sheet 66.
Start & Finish: From Tipperary town take the R664 for Aherlow. Soon, after a couple of hairpin bends, the entrance to Aherlow House Hotel is signposted to the right.
Suitability: The walk offers no objective dangers and presents little navigational difficulty.