Exploring Natural Cork: Having such an incredible walk on your doorstep is a gift

As we continue our 12-part series Exploring Natural Cork, RICHARD GORDON visits Glengarriff Nature Reserve where he found a variety of walks
Exploring Natural Cork: Having such an incredible walk on your doorstep is a gift

Glengarriff Nature Reserve. Pictures: Richard Gordon

AS I neared the village, the water of Glengarriff Harbour could be seen seen as I flashed past points that had unobstructed views.

The village itself will make you fall in love quickly. Quill’s Woollen Market is an elegant, antiquated building covered in ivy and its car park is full of food trucks and a coffee van all summer long.

I spent a few days here in the summer of 2019, when everywhere was fully alive and buzzing with sunny enthusiasm. The pubs were open and live music was being played outside, families were walking around with gangs of kids all soaked from swimming in the blue pool, backpackers were floating through, dusting the town with their curious energy. Locals were as friendly as can be, and pints of stout were poured until the early hours — I can’t think of a more lovely summertime experience in Ireland than Glengarriff.

Sadly, as I drove through this time it wasn’t quite the same due to the lockdown, although there was still the collection of food trucks outside Quill’s.

I long for sunny days in Glengarriff, but since the joys of the village couldn’t be fully appreciated on this day, I kept driving through and turned off for Glengarriff Nature Reserve.

The area was deemed a Nature Reserve in 1991.
The area was deemed a Nature Reserve in 1991.

The White family of Bantry House acquisitioned the area as part of their estate in the 18th century. The family were responsible for some regenerative forestry and largely the area was under protection during their time. They even planted some Scot’s Pine in the 19th century which can still be seen today. After state acquisition in 1955, much commercial forestry took place until the area was deemed a Nature Reserve in 1991.

At the main car park are a green and a handful of picnic benches, but what I really enjoy about this place is the river that flows next to it. I stepped through the trees and onto the gravel and was met with the sound of a dog splashing around in the water. A favourite spot for local dog walkers, I always see an ecstatic pooch playing fetch back and forth in the shallows whenever I come here.

There are different walks for all levels, from a short river walk, to longer meadow walk and also an ascension walk.
There are different walks for all levels, from a short river walk, to longer meadow walk and also an ascension walk.

The park offers a variety of walking trails; a short river walk, a long meadow walk, or even an ascension walk which takes you up to a viewing point of Bantry Bay.

I opted for the ‘Big Meadow Walk’ and rambled my way along the riverside footpath. It was a gorgeous evening with sunshine casting shadows across the trail with silhouettes of fellow walkers appearing in the distance.

I kept walking and followed the signage for the meadow until I eventually got there, it took some time as it’s advertised as a 90 minute walk.

I encountered a very large meadow indeed. It was a slightly unique sight to my eyes as it’s an open grassland with massive trees scattered throughout, the mountains slopes were seen in the distance and walls of trees stood beyond the walking trail. It felt almost like savannah, with yellow tufts of grass blazed by sunlight and large trees scattered with their dappled shaded patches beneath. I could’ve been on safari. If a lion was sleeping under a tree, it wouldn’t have looked out of place on this particular sunny evening.

Having such an incredible walk on your doorstep is a gift
Having such an incredible walk on your doorstep is a gift

I found that feeling I adore; silence and disconnect from society. Sure, there are walking trails and gates and fences, but they blend into the environment so well it feels as if there is little human interference and the place is left to be itself.

I think this quality can bring a bit of yourself to the surface, without the clutter of screens and noise we have in our daily lives. Nature can be a real medicine in this way — an equaliser. There is no judgement from nature, only silence exploding with life.

The sun shone through the thick trees.
The sun shone through the thick trees.

I kept walking and passed a patch of birch and a small lake. A mighty collection of conifers stood high on a gradient, illuminated by rays that were filling the space between their trunks.

I saw a few extraordinarily thick pine trees, way more mature than ones I’m used to seeing, presumedly the pines that were planted more than 100 years ago.

To have such an incredible walk as this on your doorstep is such a gift, especially on evenings like this, when it had been raining all day but the sun came out for a few hours at dusk; so the park was almost empty, powerfully quiet, and perfectly peaceful.

Next week: Ballycotton Cliff Walk.

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