Kerry: Hot on the trail of Ross Castle

ROSS CASTLE/DEENAGH, CO KERRY

CROSSING the wooden bridge almost opposite the cathedral we see signs indicating Deenagh Lodge and the river walk. We pass through stone gates and, immediately ahead, is the gate lodge and a pretty thatched cottage. We will follow the River Walk for a short while, and take the path to the left, passing in front of the cottage and then a small house. Ahead, the great bulk of Tomies Mountain (735m) rises on the other side of Lough Leane.

There are small cataracts and deep pools in the Deenagh, and seats here and there along the banks. We pass a second bridge. Alders line the opposite bank, typical trees of Irish watercourses.

Small brown trout sway sinuously in the gentle currents, hard to see unless they move. We cross White’s Bridge, emerging into parkland. Knockreer House is visible over the trees ahead and to our right and the spire of St Mary’s. We go left at the fingerpost saying Circular Walk.

We soon emerge from the trees into boggy fields. Up to the right is the path past Knockreer house, with a herd of small, black Kerry Cattle grazing in a nearby field. The breed are survivors of the ancient Celtic Ox, and were the only cattle in Ireland until the 9th century.

Less than four foot high, their meat is poor but the milk abundant. In ancient Ireland, wars were fought and skulls cracked over such herds, and they inspired great sagas like the Táin Bó Cuailnge, the oldest vernacular epic in Western literature.

At a crossing of paths we turn sharp left and soon come to a cattle grid, muddy in wet weather. The path now leads us through about one kilometre of the Game Wood. The lake is on our right; we will shortly have easy access to its shores. We cross another pretty bridge, turn right, and about 20 metres along, take the sign indicating Ross Castle. The path is wide, with fine views of Shehy and Tomies Mountain across the lake.

We then re-enter the swamp woodland and soon get our first open view of Lough Leane and Innisfallen Island, site of an early Christian monastery. Herons pose in stately fashion on stumps protruding from the water. There are no pike in Lough Leane, which may be the reason it has the highest numbers of brown trout recorded in an Irish fishery; there may be up to 700,000 in the lake.

Continuing along the lakeside path, we cross a small river and then reach a T-junction where we turn right, signposted Ross Castle. We cross a wooden bridge to the castle, rising unadorned and megalithic against the sky.

Restored in the last decade, it was built in the late 15th century by the O’Donoghues, the local lords, a sept of the McCarthys. Walking away from the castle, we cross the creek once more and take the road, passing the car park on our left.

About 700m along, opposite a B&B, we turn sharp left and leave the road, passing a quaint gate lodge.

We follow the paved lane, with woodland on both sides. After about 500m, we ignore a left turning, signposted Ross Castle, and continue straight ahead, across a meadow.

We recross White’s Bridge and retrace a small section of the walk to our trailhead. The mountains are behind us, dramatic against the sky, and St Mary’s spire, lit up at night, straight ahead.


Lifestyle

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