Welcome to Portlick Millennium Forest Trail - another unexpected treasure from this summer's explorations on our native shore. This time we were midlands-bound, seeking out what Ireland's Hidden Heartlands had to offer. Quite a lot, as it happens. There might be something to this staycation business after all.
A gloriously sunny day led us to Portlick Millennium Forest trail, following the shores of beautiful Lough Ree. What a stunning place, with native trees forming a lush green canopy overhead. The soundtrack – bird song and the hypnotic but subtle melody of water lapping at the lake’s edge – a very tranquil place. Every now and then, the trees give way to natural clearings with gorgeous views of the lake and lands beyond. Pull up a pew on some lakeside rocks, breathe deeply and take it all in. It’s nature at its best.
Even on a warm July day, the trail was not very busy which allowed for plenty of aimless wandering and skimming stones by the lake shore. It was nice not to have to vie for space with other visitors and to have the time to sit and enjoy the lovely scenery. Oh, lest I forget, also plenty of time to search for frogs, of which there are many in Portlick. Let's just say that was not my idea... My nine year old niece took great pleasure in watching us squirm while she actively sought them out.
The Millennium Forests project - history of Portlick
Portlick is one of sixteen designated Millennium Forests in Ireland, a nationwide project which commenced in 2000. The vision for this scheme was a grand one: the revival and regeneration of 1500 acres of native Irish woodlands for the enjoyment and benefit of the general populace. Once upon a time, Ireland was covered in extensive areas of forest with a broad variety of native trees. By 1900, less than 1% of the country was made up of woodland. It goes without saying that this had a huge impact on the ecosystem, and on habitats for plants and animals. This project sought to rectify that.
Today, Portlick Forest is home to a variety of native trees, mainly ash and hazel, with lesser numbers of holly, oak, whitebeam, alder, willow, hawthorn and birch. A Household Tree Scheme became part of the Millennium Forest Project. This involved one native tree being planted for every household in Ireland. At the time, a certificate was posted with details of the forest, and the location of your tree. What a wonderful idea to give the nation a sense of ownership and pride in their natural heritage, and to create a lasting legacy for future generations to enjoy.
On a sunny day, the woods take on a special quality as the light dapples softly through the trees. The Japanese have a pleasing word for this - Komorebi. It's one of my favourite things in life.
Depending on the time of year, the forest floor takes on a carpet of bluebells, woodrush, sorrel, primroses, violets, ivy or brambles. Sadly we missed bluebell season - I imagine it must look extraordinarily beautiful - but next year we'll time another visit to take in all its glory.
Location & Facilities:
Portlick is located about 5kms from the very picturesque town of Glasson and about 8kms from Athlone. There is a small car park at the entrance and public toilets conveniently situated before the start of the trail. The trail itself is a short and not very taxing walk, 5kms in total on flat ground, but there are shorter alternatives. It's perfect for kids of all ages. About 2kms in you’ll stumble upon the ruins of Whinning House in a very pretty clearing.
Portlick Castle on the other side of the lake is a 12th century tower house which is still occupied to this day.