Surely, over the years, a distantly related American turned up demanding to kiss the Blarney Stone and visit the Cliffs of Moher during their visit? Or maybe it’s the notion that the place is a load of ole blarney designed for naive tourists that kept him away, but whatever the reason he just never got around to becoming one of the over 400,000 visitors who flock there every year.
My friend is already blessed with the gift of the gab so there is no need for him to join the queue to kiss a chunk of carboniferous limestone, but I encouraged him to go and visit anyway because every corner of the Castle and Gardens is beautiful.
There is excellent tree climbing potential for any smallies in tow (although I’m not sure that’s encouraged). You can see acorns growing on an ancient oak at the moment, there are random sculptures hidden in nooks all over the estate, friendly robins eat out of your hand and there are tyre swings and loads of areas for extended games of hide and seek.
The last time I was there, an impeccably turned out bagpiper was playing jigs and reels for the visitors. Most of the tourists were only interested in a quick selfie with him in front of the castle, but the gaggle of kids I was with did their best Riverdance moves to his music and the beauty of it all nearly brought a lump to my throat.
Blarney Castle and Gardens is one of Cork’s more headline gems and is a well-managed and manicured estate, but in the last few weeks I’ve discovered a few new pockets of nature that I had never visited before or had forgotten about completely.
These are more modest places but important, nonetheless.
Doughcloyne Laneway is a short tree-lined path accessed next to an old lodge building, now a dental practice, at the bottom of Spur Hill in Togher. I had completely forgotten that I used to walk it regularly when on primary school ‘nature walks’.
Google Maps suggested it as a walking route and as I emerged at the other end of the laneway near the Sarsfield Road roundabout, I had a flashback to 1991. A dormant memory of being interviewed by the Cork Multichannel about a school litter picking project we completed on the laneway popped up. It’s funny how a place can trigger memories that had lain untouched for 30 years.
If you cross over the Sarsfield Road roundabout, you can join another path or greenway that runs parallel to the South Link and brings you to different housing estates in Bishopstown or the Bandon Road Roundabout. It’s a really handy way to avoid busy roads if walking or cycling and up until recently I was complete unaware of its existence.
Nearby, I discovered another lovely spot - the Togher Road to Kinsale Road Greenway. This is a wilder unpaved path with a small stream on one side and the hum of the traffic on the South Link on the other.
As you walk along you pass under bridges heaving with cars and despite the proximity to busy roads the greenway feels nicely detached from the world of crazy traffic.
Other hidden pockets of nature that I’ve only just stumbled upon are Ballybrack Woods and Garryduff Woods. Ballybrack Woods or Mangala is accessed opposite the entrance to Douglas Community Centre or next to the Centra on Donnybrook Hill or off the Carrigaline Road. It is a real haven in the middle of the busy and traffic choked suburb and if you don’t live in the neighbourhood it is worth a trip for a wander around. During the hot weather it was pleasingly cool and kids are able to splash around in the gentle streams.
Garryduff Woods in Rochestown is another oasis in suburbia. Access is through old gates along the L2474 just past the Cinnamon Cottage off the Rochestown Road. Time spent immersed in nature is good for us. Forest bathing is a term to describe the health benefits of a walk in a forest taking in your surrounds and a ramble around here is very restorative.
After a lifetime of living in Cork, it’s nice to still discover new places. I’m hoping to uncover some more gems hidden right under my nose.