Kerry: Taking the high road on a high class route

BLACK VALLEY WALK, CO KERRY

THE drive from Moll’s Gap is dramatic and the prospects are breathtaking. About 70 people live in the valley, scattered over 7 sq kms.

We set off along the ‘high’ road, part of the Kerry Way. The Gearameen River is below us, joining the three lakes of this classic glacial valley to Killarney’s Upper Lake. As we walk up the narrow road into Cummeenduff Glen, to our right are the boulder-strewn slopes of Feabrahy and Brassel Mountain, with the massive MacGillycuddy’s Reeks further back. Ahead, beyond the lakes, Bruach na Binne fills the skyline. Below, Lower Cummeenduff Lough, with its small island.

Sheep dot the scree slopes high above us and sheep wire fences edge the way. Sometimes, in winter, one may be fortunate enough to hear and then see a flock of Greenland White-front geese in flight overhead, their cries ringing out across the sky, or swooping to the lake below, their wings half folded.

To our right, a stream cascades from the slopes of Brassel and crosses under the road; it is fed by a tarn high above. The water courses often support stands of holly.

(2) At the end of the road, we go through a gate and down a lane with all the native trees on either side, alder, hazel, holly, hawthorn, rowan; Scots pine.

Beyond a stone shed with a corrugated roof, we round a corner onto another prospect. We are now opposite the river between the two upper lakes. The track is stony, and wet.

(3) We pass through a gate leading into a forestry plantation. Here, Irish butterwort, like butter-yellow starfish, grows close to the ground, its leaves spotted with dead or dying insects soon to be dissolved and digested. It produces a beautiful purple flower.

(4) Leaving the wood, we cross a field. Lough Reagh, the highest lake, lies in the cup of the hills, the headwaters of the Gearameen rushing into it. Our path is well marked, but in wet places we have to use stepping stones.

(5) Now, a wooden style over the sheep fencing, and up a green zig-zag path towards a new bungalow. Passing it, we join an unpaved track and shortly arrive at the tarred road heading downhill, with the Cummeenduff River rushing below us on the right. Here, berry trees flourish and the laden branches of rowans, haws and hollies mix together their hundred shades of red. Soon, the first rhododendrons are seen, harbingers of doom for this lovely native woodland.

(6) We arrive on the flat and cross an old bridge with Lough Reagh on our right, Upper Cummeenduff on our left. After a second bridge, we pass a substantial farmhouse. The half built walls in the rocky fields are simply piles of cleared stones.

The roadway follows the lake shore, the water clear and brown, the bottom sandy. Boats are pulled up onto a small beach; water lilies have colonised the shallow water. A small island, near the opposite shore, is densely covered in trees. The slopes of Knocknabreeda, above, is steep. We pass the channel joining the upper and lower lakes. Boulders have fallen from the cliffs and lie on the lake shore.

(7) Now, walking beside the lower lake we pass reed beds flowering purple in late summer; dead reeds lie in drifts on the rocks, indicating the high-water mark.

As the lake finishes and we pass close to the Gearhameen River, elegant silver birch trees line the road. Soon, we reach a bridge and beyond it the wet land is colonised by bog myrtle and tussock sedge, glorious under a yellow autumn sun. Soon, we are back where we started. On clear evenings, the mountains behind us are misty, and the lakes silvery in the setting sun.


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