Parking at the second car park, we walk back to a green gate on our right and take the rough track climbing gently beyond. When the stream on our left is in spate, it rivals the waterfalls at the valley end, and is immediately beside us.
After the second gate, the path curves around and comes to a rustic bench. Behind us, we have the sound of falling water and ahead a panoramic vista of the Gleninchaquin lakes stretching down the valley with the distant peaks of Macgillicuddy Reeks on the Iveragh Peninsula beyond. Kenmare bay, in between, is hidden by the contours of the land.
Our path now passes behind the waterfall, crossing the stream descending from Cumeenaloughaun tarn via a narrow iron bridge. We are now up high on the ridge at the ‘horseshoe end’ of the valley.
As we start down towards the larger tarn or corrie lake of Cumeenadillure, the track of loose shale is verged by gorse and heather. The lake, cupped in a half-circle between the surrounding slopes, makes a perfect picture, the waters still and deep, so sheltered as to be almost unruffled even on windy days. A rough path leads down to its shores.
As we descend toward the reception area, the lone trees on the pasture below seem so shapely that they might be topiaried. From late spring onward, they stand in verdant glory and then, in autumn, when the leaves go yellow, we have the colours of our national flag laid out below us, green pasture, golden trees, with scatterings of white sheep in between.
So perfect are the trees, that I later asked Donal Corkery, the Park Administrator, if they had been lopped or pruned. Not so; they were as nature had made them. Justly proud of the landscape which his family have owned and farmed for 130 years, he knows its geology, history and botany. The solitary trees were, he said, the few survivors of the oak forest that had once blanketed the glen but were felled for charcoal-making during the Industrial Revolution. Anywhere one turned a sod, one came upon ash, evidence of the charcoal burners. But there remained small copses, stands of birch and alder, oak and aspen following the river along the lower valley, and old woodland still clinging to the steep mountainside across the lakes.
To the left of our shaley path we see downy birch, with red bark and, on a hill beyond, a small, stone house with a thatched roof. A sign identifies it as a Heritage Site, with the restoration of a 19th century farm in progress. Visitors are welcome and a path leads to it, crossing a bridge over a stream issuing from the waterfall above. the It is hard to believe that, up to 1895 the little bothán housed a considerable family.
We descend fairly steeply towards the green fields and reach a river fed by the twin falls running over the black, wet rock above as white as the famous milk of Kerry cows. Here, we may cross a bridge, or use the stepping stones. A sign on the right indicates a path across the fields to the Reception Centre and car park. However, continuing on the track, we reach the road to our trailhead, enjoying various ‘windows’ between the trees which perfectly frame views of the waterfall across the pasture.
Start point: Leaving Kenmare on the N71 (direction Glengarriff), go right on R571, towards Castletownbere, keeping the sea on our left. Some 12km from Kenmare, a sign on the left indicates Gleninchaquin Park. Go left. After 8km, the road ends at the second car park, behind the reception centre. This is our trailhead.
Shale track. Steep stretches.
Map: OS Discovery 85
* For maps and information on ordnance survey products, visit: www.osi.ie.
A weekend of walking in the Leitrim countryside, starting with a welcome evening in the Lough Allen Hotel Bar, Drumshanbo.
For more information on walks and price see sliabhaniarainnwalkingfestival.com.
BISHOPSTOWN HILLWALKING CLUB
Apr 1: Riverstown Circuit, grade D, 5km, 2.5hrs, meet at Brook Inn, Glanmire, 7pm.
Apr 2: Knockboy North, grade B, 13km, 5.5hrs, meet Kilgarvan, 9.45am.
Apr 5: Ballymaloe Estate, on Cloyne/ Shanagarry road, grade D, 5.5km, meet Melbourn Business Park car park, 10am, or Ballymaloe Coffee Shop, 10.45am.
Apr 5: Hungry Hill/ Glas Loughs, grade B, 13km, 5hrs, meet Melbourn Business Park car park, 8.30am, or Eccles Hotel, Glengarriff, 10am.
Apr 6: Mullaghmesha Loop, grade C, 10km, 4hrs, meet Supervalu car park in Main Street, Dunmanway, 10.30am.
Apr 6: Black Valley to Brassel, via Curraghmore, Caher and Carrauntoohil, grade A, 13km, 6hrs, meet Kate Kearney’s cottage, 9.30am.