A treat for the senses

This great wilder­ness area is un­for­get­table, writes John G O’Dwyer

The Irish Times Magazine - - TRAVEL -

My of­fer­ing t his week comes from the lobby of the West­port Woods Ho­tel, where I have laid claim to the most com­fort­able arm­chair. My jus­ti­fi­ca­tion is that I had ear­lier hiked the Nephin Moun­tains and ex­plored one of Ire­land’s great wilder­ness ar­eas. If you haven’t been you re­ally should go for this is an un­for­get­table place.

This dawned upon me as I ap­proached the start of my walk for the ac­cess road seemed to al­most float above an is­land strewn lake­land. On foot, it was down a quiet lane and through a cou­ple of gates be­fore break­ing right to fol­low an in­for­mal trail to the Cloch Willy Stream. Here, it was up­hill on rea­son­ably be­nign ter­rain un­til the stream dis­ap­peared and I struck out for the col above Lough Doo and the first “wow mo­ment “of my walk.

Laid out be­low was a place where na­ture pre­vails and al­most noth­ing has been al­tered by hu­man hand. Nephin Beg stood sen­tinel to the north, while be­yond was Slieve Carr – queen of the Nephins and gen­er­ally re­garded as Ire­land’s’ re­motest moun­tain. Here, it oc­curred to me that this empty land­scape of lone­some loughs, iso­lated mount ains and blan­ket bogs might be straight from a Paul Henry paint­ing.

Up­hill, by the cliffs above Lough Doo, even­tu­ally led me to the cairn mark­ing the 582m sum­mit of Ben­gorm and into the south­ern ex­trem­ity of Bal­ly­croy Na­tional Park.

This vast un­in­hab­ited wilder­ness dom­i­nated by the Nephin range held me en­tranced for a time and put me in mind of the stark melan­cholic land­scape typ­i­cal of Scot­land’s north­ern High­lands.

So un­for­giv­ing is the ter­rain that the area his­tor­i­cally re­mained un­pop­u­lated ex­cept for a few, now aban­doned, farms along the Ban­gor Trail: an an- cient drover route that has now mor­phed into Ire­land’s most iso­lated hik­ing route. Am­bi­tious plans for the area now in­volve ceas­ing com­mer­cial forestry op­er­a­tions and cre­at­ing a net­work of back­coun­try trails for ad­ven­tur­ous walk­ers. A roller­coaster ridge runs dream­ily north­west from Ben­gorm to the 714m sum­mit of Cor­rannabin­nia ( not named on OS maps) be­fore cross­ing a most un­dream­ily ex­posed arête and de­scend­ing be­nignly to com­plete the fa­mous Glen­dahurk Horse­shoe.

I con­sid­ered giv­ing it a go but it was al­ready af­ter­noon with the weather clos­ing in, so re­luc­tantly, I be­gan de­scend­ing south. Di­rectly ahead lay Clew Bay with its in­nu­mer­able is­lands all point­ing in the same di­rec­tion hav­ing been cre­ated when a great glacier moved over the area. Be­yond lay Clare Is­land, which from this an­gle re­minded of a great ship at an­chor in the mouth of the bay.

Rain- splat­tered I de­scended a broad shoul­der to Oghillees Mass rock. Clearly, this spot was de­lib­er­ately cho­sen as an ex­cel­lent van­tage point for iden­ti­fy­ing the ap­proach of hos­tile forces dur­ing the cel­e­bra­tion of a pe­nal mass.

A track, used by the faith­ful for count­less gen­er­a­tions, led me down­hill to a bog road where I fol­lowed left the mark­ers for the Western Way. With the wind ris­ing and rain now buck­et­ing down, I was glad that these help­ful ar­rows led me un­event­fully back to my start point.

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