Laois: Finding fun on forest’s ferny floor


THE Clamp Hole stroll takes no longer than 30 minutes each way, but such is the beauty and tranquility one encounters, accompanied always by the sounds of running water, that one could linger at any given point before moving on.

This is a nature walk, in essence, presenting the various species of trees and plants that inhabit the woods along the banks of the Barrow, here near its headwaters in the Slieve Bloom Mountains. ‘Glenbarrow Eco Walk’, the route is called on the car park signboard; our walk can be extended to make a loop, going higher up the valley of the Barrow. My wife and I stopped at the waterfall at Clamp Hole, a point reachable by families. With effort, a stout pushchair could be manipulated along the path, a toddler-carrier backpack might be easier.

The woods are especially lovely in spring and summer, replete with wildflowers, with shallow pools where children can paddle, and above the three waterfalls, a dip pool deep enough for adults to cool down. However, a warning; do not bathe when the river is in spate, and be careful on the slippery rocks. But only the most inveterate urbanite would be foolish enough to come to harm.

From the car park, and head down a steep lane. At a Coillte rustic gate, we enter the woods.

Soon we can hear the gurgles of the Barrow stream below us, making its way toward the plains of the midlands to meet the Nore above New Ross and then, joined by the Suir, to enter the sea at Hook Head in Wexford.

At first, the trees are beeches but, shortly, evergreen spruces take over, closing out the light.

In forests, the best way to identify the trees above is often to look at the ground below, and take note of the leaves, catkins or cones on the forest floor. Mats of beech leaves lay in drifts on the pine needles, some 200 yards beyond the trees that shed them. No doubt the trees along the pathway formed a wind tunnel, and the leaves were carried along.

The forest floor reveals a distinct ecosystem. Here, in the half-light, pierced by sunbeams for only a few hours daily, wood sorrel, ground ivy and wild strawberries thrive. Many ferns are present, including harts tongue, called for its resemblance to the tongues of red deer stags (perhaps when brought down by hunters, their tongues were green from grazing?) along with male ferns, delicate lady ferns, hard ferns (with widely separated ‘teeth’ that look like combs) and feathery Thuidium tamariscinum, tiny, fern-like mosses amongst the dead leaves.

Above us, mossy branches are colonised by polpody ferns, epiphytes (not parasitic although growing on another plant) with little brown ‘buttons’, spore-cases, on the backs of the fronds.

Between spruce stands, we find oaks and tall Scots pines, their foliage in the crown, the upper bark warm red, the lower deeply fissured. The species became extinct here some 1,500 years ago but was reintroduced from Scotland. Nearer the water, we find alder with round, grape-size cones and green catkins, slender silver birch with shiny grey bark and hazels. I found beautiful oak leaves as large as my hand, dried and creamy brown; these were the leaves of red oaks, rare here and magnificent in autumn. Benches and picnic tables grace the way.


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