Have you ever visited Cork's magical ‘Forgotten Forest’?

In a new 12-part series, RICHARD GORDON visits some of Cork’s natural wonders, now that we can travel outside our 5km. Today he recalls his visit to The Gearagh, West Cork’s ‘Forgotten Forest’
Have you ever visited Cork's magical ‘Forgotten Forest’?

The Gearagh.Pictures: Richard Gordon

A TRIANGLE of light sliced through the air and hovered a few feet above the enclosed road as I drove towards the southside entrance of the Gearagh.

It glittered with whizzing organisms – a sign that pollinators are awake and flowers are in bloom.

The plethora of inflorescences that are now scattered across the land will supply an abundance of nectar in the coming weeks. And, with the 5km restrictions lifted, Corkonians will be whizzing around the county much the same, satisfying our thirst for sunny spring drives to points of beauty that were beyond our reach.

The Nature Reserve sign post at The Gearagh. Pictures: Richard Gordon
The Nature Reserve sign post at The Gearagh. Pictures: Richard Gordon

My first ‘beyond-the-five’ excursion took me to the Gearagh. The air was warm and I wanted that lovely feeling of disconnect that I get from walking through the area.

As soon as you pass the rusty old nature reserve sign, there’s a distinct sense of distance from civilisation. You feel far away from any city or town, even though you’re only a few kilometres from Macroom, and yet the juncture between humanity and nature is blatant to the eye, with old farmer’s gates, worn paths and the hidden benches that are interspersed throughout.

The place has nostalgic tones for me, like a film from childhood, one where the protagonist has to venture across the countryside and they encounter different obstacles and cross-roads, hidden meadows and surprises.

For a newcomer, it can feel a little disorienting because of its vast expanse and branched network of paths. A horse and cart would seem more at home here than any new-fangled vehicle.

The quiet that’s peppered with the constant twinkling of birds draws you into the environment.

A man and his son fishing at The Gearagh.
A man and his son fishing at The Gearagh.

As I was walking up the main spinal path, I passed a father and son who were fishing and sitting on a bench. The firing of my lens punctuated their peaceful moment.

“Any fish?” I asked. He laughed, “Nothing!”

I don’t think his lack of catch fazed him one bit. Just sitting there on a beautiful evening with his son looked like the only catch that mattered.

I took a drive to a more remote part of the Gearagh, one that few ever venture into. The kind of place where a willingness to get mucky is prerequisite. I parked my car outside a farmer’s field and went to change my clothes. As it was an impromptu visit, I hadn’t my waders with me, instead I was to don a wetsuit. Then I heard a voice, “Are you alright?” It was the farmer who lived across the road.

“Ya, grand thanks, just going into the forest.”

He looked at me utterly perplexed.

“I love the forest down below, I know it’s hard to get in there, usually I have waders but I haven’t got them with me this evening. You don’t mind me parking in front of the gate, do you?”

I spoke as I awkwardly squeezed into a wetsuit and threw on a busted pair of trainers. He must’ve thought, what’s this city eejit playing at?!

His name is Ger, a lovely fella, and we chatted about the forest and how UCC students have been out conducting research on the place over the years.

The fascinating thing about this section of the Gearagh is that it’s an alluvial woodland — the only alluvial woodland, west of the River Rhine, in Europe.

A true wonder of the Irish landscape, and yet, due to its inaccessibility, it’s largely forgotten save for the odd PhD student.

Richard loves visiting the area and has been many times.
Richard loves visiting the area and has been many times.

In the heart of the woods lie fractured mounds and ridges of forest floor, sometimes held together by ancient oak roots. The River Lee penetrates through this woodland system, and it has carved out a multitude of rivers and streams that flow directly through the dense vegetation.

This is a rare kind of woodland indeed.

The water was shallow and easy to walk through. Near the banks, however, I would easily get swallowed up past my ankles and shins. This is due to the run-off of soil causing thick gloopy piles of very soft mud.

The patches of forest floor were alive with troves of wild garlic and it gave the place a bearded look as the green, floppy blades were endlessly unfurling.

Odd groupings of primrose and buttercup were seen, as were the white flowers of the wild garlic. The thunderous crack of a bird flapping its wings would intervene and blast through the silence. A heron squawked hellishly overhead at one point, circling over and over again. I think I may have been approaching her nest, so I changed my route and left the protective mother alone.

Richard said the forest floor was alive with troves of wild garlic.
Richard said the forest floor was alive with troves of wild garlic.

The light of evening was exiting so it was time for me and my mud caked lower limbs to leave too, but not for long, I’ll need my dose of the Gearagh soon again.

Note: Areas of The Gearagh are inaccessible and the public are advised to keep to the pathways for their own safety.

Next week: Richard visits Nohoval Cove

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