The entrance gate once led to an estate driveway; the gate pillars are three metres in height and topped by mock-Grecian urns. Passing through, we are immediately in woodland, with massive lime trees on our left, their characteristic basal shoots entirely hiding the lower trunk.
Limes are the tallest broad-leaved trees in these islands and may live for 500 years. Garretstown House and lands, including this 200 hectare woodland, was originally the property of the Kearney family established in Kinsale in the 17th century. It came into the possession of the Franks family in 1834.
A Coillte Outdoors interpretation board displays maps of two loop walks, marked in blue and orange. Our route combines sections of both. We will leave the woods to visit Templetrine Church and then go south, and rejoin the Blue forest route.
Strident bird song greets us as we set off. In the first grassy clearing, we encounter a swathe of butterburr. Its circular leaves can extend to 90cm and, in the past were used by the poor as umbrellas or sunshades. Butterburr flowers in May and June.
We take the path going right. We will be returning to this clearing via the path straight ahead. We pass the barrier pole and walk beneath trees. Ditches on either side are swathed in moss and some trees have moss wrapped like lagging around their trunks. Every common deciduous tree is represented.
Amongst the flowers, foxgloves stand tallest but the green path edges are sprinkled with golden birdsfoot trefoil, pink Herb Robert, white wild strawberries, briar flowers and sanicle, yellow tormentil and pimpernel, and vivid blue speedwell.
The ferns are still unfurling, the hard fern (dark green, like wide-toothed combs) and hart’s tongues (like waxed, pastel-green straps) rising from their winter tufts, fresh and new born. Nearby are the male ferns, reaching 150cm. in height, and the lacy-leaved lady ferns, and common bracken, its leaves growing horizontally from the bare stem.
Where the forest has been cleared, there are plantations of young conifers and of oaks. The route is elevated, and we have extensive views. Reaching a second barrier pole, we emerge onto a narrow road, empty of traffic. Templetrine church is on the rise ahead, and we soon turn right to visit it. Catholics are buried on the right (the O’s and the Macs) and Church of Ireland families on the left (the Howes, Batemans, Bowens etc). Stubs of stones mark very old graves. Two upright slabs of rough rock stand beside the gap in the wall between the old graveyard and the new cemetery below it, the letters JD hewn on one, and a cross on the other.
Returning to the narrow road, we turn right and then left at the crossroads. A short distance along we turn left onto the Coillte track, wide enough for forestry vehicles. Again, wildflowers line the way, including deep red vetch, and willowherb.
We ignore a path to the right, and then to the left, and continue on a green path, with much rhododendron in either side. The path descends to the aforementioned clearing, and our trailhead.
The N27 (airport) road from Cork becomes the R600 to Kinsale to Ballinspittle. Immediately beyond Ballinspittle we leave the R600, going sharp right, and continue straight ahead on the R604, signposted Old Head and a nearby sign for a Forest Recreation Area. A few hundred yards along, we find a parking space in front of a wooden gate with tall gate pillars.
Difficulty: On easy forest paths.
Map: OS Number 87
For maps and information on Ordnance Survey products visit: www.osi.ie
June 7 — 8: Six walks over two days taking in the rich heritage of Roscrea, one of the oldest towns in Ireland. These vary from easy walks for all the family to the more challenging ‘Obama Trail’, a 12km forest hike starting near Moneygall. Registration takes place between 9 and 10am on Saturday morning at Roscrea Scouts Hall.
June 8 — 12: To celebrate Europe’s longest driving route, The Wild Atlantic Way, a week-long walking festival will be held at its starting point in the spectacular scenery of County Donegal. There will be four walks on each day, ranging from challenging hill walks to more leisurely strolls, all set on the rugged and dramatic Atlantic coastline. Registration and introductions will take place on Sunday evening. See donegaltown.ie for further information and to book accommodation.