Offaly's Tracks & Trails
This article was published in the Offaly Independent on Sat 8th May 2021 - full text and an additional gallery of images below
Offaly’s Tracks & Trails:
It’s a warm, blue-sky day at the foothills of the Slieve Blooms. My only companions are the birds who are noisily trying to out-sing each other. The scent of honeysuckle lies heavily in the air and trees in every shade of green line the route, forming a canopy overhead. This was my introduction to the Silver River Nature Trail, a 7kms looped walk which starts and ends in Cadamstown, not far from Kinnitty.
Your starting point is the carpark in front of Dempsey’s pub: following the anti-clockwise route on the Slieve Bloom trail map is advised. I recommend downloading their excellent map before you set off - sites of significance are clearly marked and the route is well signposted throughout. Following the green arrows across the Silver River bridge, you continue by road for a short distance, turning left onto a quiet country lane. After a kilometre, the eerily derelict ruins of Letter House are just about visible on your left, camouflaged by trees and overgrown with ivy and other foliage. A carpet of bluebells lined the ground in front, adding a glorious pop of colour.
On the opposite side of the road you’ll find the ruins of St Lughna’s Monastery, and a sign points the way across the fields to Tobar Lughna, a holy well which was restored in 1995. A face carved into the rock is a striking feature.
Continuing to the end of the laneway, veer left after the gate, cross a concrete bridge and after a short incline you’ll emerge to a vast open landscape of green fields punctuated by yellow gorse and honeysuckle. A highlight on this route are the picturesque ruins of two small stone houses, now overgrown, and May Scully’s brightly painted cottage, set against a backdrop of the Slieve Blooms; an impressive vista. Horses run freely through the fields and tend to mind their own business, though a few approached shyly to say hello as I was taking photographs.
At this point the route meets the Slieve Bloom’s Way and a steep uphill forestry track to the left leads to some of the best views on the route with mountains on your left and tall fir trees on your right.
A narrow clay path eventually brings you to a verdant woodland, emerging at the other end to an ideal pitstop: a picnic area overlooking the most bucolic of landscapes on the Silver River Weir. Now might be a good time to mention bringing a packed lunch for your journey. Peavoy’s in Kinnitty offer a decent selection of sandwiches and cakes, and their coffee is good too.
After a refuel, follow the river through woodland once more. May is a wonderful time to visit when the bluebells are in full bloom. It’s a jaw-dropping sight to turn a corner and be greeted with a vibrant carpet of violets and blues.
For the remainder of this route, you are following the river: the path is narrow, rocky and mostly uphill, and can be slippery after rain. The next two landmarks of note are the Waterfall and Gorge: a short detour to your left brings you to a viewing point on a bridge with an information board telling you about the animals and birds which inhabit the area. Further on, there is a precipitous drop at the Gorge so don’t get too distracted by the dramatic views as the water thunders past.
As you leave the river bank, you’ll ascend some steps, bringing you into a vast clearing with views of the Offaly countryside. A path to your left brings you back to the carpark at the village. You might find yourself regretting those cakes from Peavoy’s as you try to squeeze through the narrow concrete stile to exit.
Kinnitty Castle & Forest looped walk:
Cadamstown and Kinnitty are both excellent hubs for walking enthusiasts with access to the Slieve Bloom Way and the Offaly Way, as well as a number of shorter looped walks. If you’re feeling energetic, you could continue your day’s walking with the Kinnitty Castle looped walk, an easy 4kms route (green markers), or the longer 8kms Glinsk Castle loop (blue markers). I opted for the former.
It’s shorter to start your walk from the car park at the Castle but another option is to park at the barrier on the main road, the R440, and walk along the banks of the Camcor River to join the start of the trailhead at the forestry entrance. It’s worth it to see the unusual single-spire wire suspension footbridge crossing the river, built c.1840, and which is hung from cast-iron columns, one of only two suspension bridges in Offaly (the other is at Birr Castle). Further on, an arched stone bridge drips with ivy as a gentle waterfall flows beneath it.
At the forest entrance, keep left at the Y-junction and follow the green arrows. This is a particularly picturesque walk tracing a tranquil route through trees. A high point comes when the trees give way to a clearing with a panorama of the Slieve Blooms ahead. A blue haze lies over the mountains forming a backdrop for much of the route, the skyline perforated with fir trees.
The late evening sun dappling through the trees on your descent is a joyous sight, and the fresh, clean mountain air does wonders for your wellbeing. From the Glenregan Forest Recreation Area, keep right and it’s an easy downhill path to the forest entrance once more.
Before you leave, it’s worth taking a detour to visit the Kinnitty Pyramid, reported to be one of a kind in Europe. A sign tells us it’s a replica of the Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt, built in the 1830s as a burial chamber for six members of the Bernard family of Kinnitty Castle. Absolutely fascinating. It can be found up a narrow laneway behind the Church of Ireland.
Trail maps can be downloaded here: https://slievebloom.ie/
For everything you need to know about Offaly, take a look at their website here https://www.visitoffaly.ie/