GARRETSTOWN WOODS AND ANCIENT DEER WALL
WE cross the road from the milk churn monument and set off on the unpaved track leading past a new, stone-fronted house on the right to the forest entrance, ahead.
The milk churns are ‘iconic’. Once a common sight at cross-roads, they recall the days of the milk lorries initiated by the local cooperative creamery. Started in the late 19th century, the creameries greatly improved the economic lot of Irish farmers, evolving into agricultural societies processing milk into butter, cooperatively purchasing seed and agricultural equipment and making short-term credit available.
From the 17th century, salted, hand-churned butter was exported in firkins from the butter markets in Cork, Waterford and Limerick. Up to the 1960s, lorries from local creameries did a daily round to collect milk left in churns by farmers at selected cross-roads. The lorries were mobile mini-creameries, carrying equipment for weighing and separating the milk.
The track takes us to a ‘barber pole’ barrier. When tree felling is in progress, warning signs, or Keep Out signs, may be in place. The forestry road ahead is surfaced with large, stone chips. The route becomes more sylvan as we walk, with forests on either side. The trees are Sitka spruce; note the smooth grey bark which peels off in disc-like plates. Since their introduction to Britain and Ireland, they have become the most extensively planted commercial tree. They grow quickly, thrive on many types of soil and deliver large quantities of excellent timber per hectare. Resistant to disease, they are also unattractive to deer and voles, which attack other conifers. Requiring abundant moisture, they flourish in our climate and that of western and northern Britain which replicates conditions in their native west coast America; the name comes from Sitka Sound in Alaska.
When the forest thins, the path side supports goat willow, rhododendron, briars and wildflowers. Just beyond are plantations of young spruce. When the rhododendron is in flower, a spectacular display edges the track on the right before we reach a barrier where we cross the public road. Opposite, we pass through another forestry barrier and enter a track rising gently between young conifer plantations. In spring and summer, wildflowers are abundant. The cushions of golden trefoil and purple-flowered foxgloves are the most striking, but look out for tiny yellow pimpernels and bright blue germander speedwell.
After the forestry road tops a low rise and begins to descend, we reach a waymark post on the left. Opposite it, on our right, is a narrow, footworn path ascending slightly. As we walk along it, notice the overgrown wall on the right, with ‘spears’ of sharp stones. At the end of this wall, as the path turns right and then left, we reach an ‘interpretation post’ from which a perspex information plaque swings out. This tells us that the wall was built circa 1750 and the purpose of the protruding stones was to prevent deer from jumping it and reaching the crop fields beyond.
As the path veers left, the forest is tall, dark and sombre, but thinned by recently fellings. The footpath soon becomes a forest track between tall conifers. It leads us to a barrier beyond which is the public road. We turn left and are shortly back at our trailhead. Start point: The N27 (airport) road from Cork becomes the R600 to Kinsale to Ballinspittle. 3km beyond Ballinspittle, we see conifer woods on our left, ending at a road going left and slightly uphill. We take this road, with the forest on our left, and continue on it until we reach a green triangle on the left, with a plinth supporting three milk churns. This is White’s Cross, our trailhead.
Difficulty: Coillte forest paths, 4km.
Map: OS 87
- For maps and information on Ordnance Survey products visit: HERE
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