From country road to lake splendour

LOUGH CULLAUNAHEEDA AND GORTEEN BOG, CO CLARE

OUR route, part of the East Clare Way, starts with a quiet country road with grass growing up the middle, a “dual cabbageway” as a wit of my acquaintance called it. When we walked it, in January, a flock of 20 mute swans were grazing in green fields on our left.

After 0.5km, we begin to flank Lough Cullaunaheeda, partly hidden behind goat willows, osiers and alders. To our right is a swamp colonised sally trees, their branches supporting great moustaches of moss. Cullaunaheeda is a 200 acre limestone lake and one of the few Clare lakes which holds trout as well as coarse fish. These include pike weighing up to 20lbs, bream, roach, tench, rudd and some perch. Ireland has relatively few freshwater species; most were introduced from Europe during the Middle Ages. Bream was once a staple in the poor man’s diet, but is now rarely eaten.

Tall, feathery headed reeds fringe the lake, along with stands of reedmace, or bulrushes, as they mistakenly came to be known as a result of being used as a model in the famous painting “Moses in the Bulrushes”. We pass forestry gates and areas of clear-felling. Isolated silver birch remain, very tall and thin, with small clumps of foliage on the topmost branches. We pass rhododendron. Attractive stone walls are a feature in the fields and on the roadside, sometimes ivy-grown and colonised by grey Lecanora lichens, probably nearly as old as the stones themselves.

A sign says “No Overnight Parking”. Near a crossroads, a small group of houses edges the way on both sides. A sign points left for “Fishing“, and “Callaun Chain” (in Irish, “Sráid Lacha” translating as “street of lakes”), a chain of smaller catchments at the head of which is Cullaunaheeda. We go right, signposted Gorteen Farmhouse and, after passing it, we take the next right, leaving the East Clare Way.

More a lane than a road, our route now passes between big pastures, without the fat hedges seen further east in Clare; we are on the fringe of the Golden Vale. After passing a green barn with a concrete apron in front, we take a sharp right. The hills in the distance are Knockanuarha and Woodcock Hill.

About 100m along, a field on the left reveals exposed stones and ragged trees on a mound, the remains of a substantial ring fort which extends to the right of the road also; we are walking along a very ancient route. A stream flows beyond, once, no doubt a water source for the settlement. After we cross a humpback bridge, we take a sharp right where there is a “No Dumping” sign.

This is a green road, a turf-cutters’ road across bogland. At a bend, the track goes straight ahead but we continue right, with the steam alongside us. Now in open bog, we begin to see turf banks, marked with the blades of slanes, and stooks of rich, black, peat sods, some stacked on palettes. Rushes, sphagnum and gorse, along with bog myrtle, a low-growing reddish shrub, is the indigent vegetation; the midge-trapping butterwort and sundews are worth looking out for in spring and summer.

At a junction where the track left enters a boggy field, we go right, into a grassed-over lane, and arrive back on the L4090, facing Cullaunaheeda lake. We walk 1km left to reach our starting point.


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