We cross the river and ascend a fairly steep path with occasional step, an ancient track once continuing to the far reaches of Beara. Soon, we cross a road and continue up the narrow stone steps on the other side.
After the final flight of steps, we emerge from the trees onto the summit and a breathtaking view over Glengarriff. Bare outcrops of rock crown the summit and two seats overlook the panorama. Below us we see the western spur of Bantry Bay, Glengarriff harbour, with the vast bay itself spread out to the right. At the centre of the harbour is the islet of Garvillaun, known locally as Garinish Island.
Behind us, we can see the full extent of the woodlands. They all but fill Glengarriff glen beneath the bare slopes of the Caha Mountains. This dense canopy of ancient Sessile oak forests, second in importance only to Killarney oak woods, covers 70% or more of the 300ha of the National Park.
Returning to the road below we turn left, walking through dappled shade under oak trees, the leaves of the holly gleaming like silver in the semi-darkness where they catch the sun. The squawk of a jay may be heard and the flash of its iridescent blue wings glimpsed through the trees. They are very handsome crows with a taste for acorns: oak woods are their favourite habitat in Ireland.
Briefly leaving the cover of the trees we pass a wooden gate and stile; we continue on the road, downhill. The way is speckled with light and shadow, with tall birches and oaks overhead, sphagnum and moss on the ditches. We cross the pretty Coomarkane River via a concrete bridge.
Opposite a sign for the Bantry Cycle Path, we turn sharp right, almost back on ourselves. This is wild country, with minimal human interference. We shortly reach a corner with a barrier across a path.
We will take this path but, first, it is worthwhile walking to the car park just beyond. Beside it are The Cascades, small waterfalls and a large pool. Returning to the forest path, we pass through a wooden wicket onto a green lane. We ignore paths to the left and right and, reaching a Y, we take the right fork.
At the end of the green path, we turn left onto the road via a wooden stile. We shortly leave the tarmac at a wooden gate on the right, setting off down the trail beyond. Reaching a Y-junction, we go straight ahead on the narrower track.
Almost immediately, we see a bridge with steps up to it. Our route does not cross the bridge, but goes left on a flagstone path alongside the river. The water is brown and clear and small trout or salmon parr may be seen moving sinuously with the current or shooting like arrows for the shadows.
We soon reach a wooden bridge over a small tributary. Here, we turn right at a big, spreading oak, and follow the river. This is a classic riverside walk, light and shade on the clear water, dark, still pools, and small, murmuring cascades.
The path divides at a mighty oak with twelve or more great limbs spreading from the trunk into the crown. We can go either side of it. Crossing a wooden bridge we arrive back at the car park where we began.
Start point: From Cork, we take the N71 west for 90km. At the western end of Glengarriff village, the road forks at the graveyard. We take the right fork, signposted Kenmare. We continue to the big gates at the entrance of Glengarriff Nature Reserve and walk or drive to the car park, our trailhead.
Distance/time: 6.5km/2½ hrs.
Steep climb at first; then easy going.
Map: OS Discovery 85
* For maps and information on Ordnance Survey products visit: www.osi.ie
HF WALKING CLUB, DUBLIN
Jan 22: Wednesday Walk, Dollymount Area, meet Raheny Dart Station, 10.30am, or Dollymount causeway, 11am.
Jan 25: Saturday Walk, Knockree and Maulin, meet Taney School, Sydenham Villas, Dundrum, 10am.
Jan 26: Sunday Walk, Seefin, Seefingan, and Corrig, Dublin Mountains, meet Taney School, Sydenham Villas, Dundrum, 12am BISHOPSTOWN HILLWALKING CLUB Jan 22: Wednesday Walk, Mangerton/ Esnamucky Glen, grade B, 13km, 5hrs, meet at Molly Darcy’s, 10am.
Jan 25: Saturday Walk, Stumpa an tSaimh- Heavenly Gates, grade A, 12km, 6hrs, meet Fossa Church, Killarney, 9.20am.
Jan 26: Sunday Walk, Hag’s Glen and Cronin’s Yard Loop, grade C, 9km, 4hrs, meet Fossa Church, Killarney, 10.45am.
HILLWALKERS CLUB, DUBLIN (hillwalkersclub.com)
Jan 26: Wicklow Way, 13km, meet Burgh Quay, 10am.
GALWAY WALKING CLUB (galwaywalkingclub.wordpress.com)
Jan 26: Upper Mask Loop Walk, Finney, 19km ramble on side roads, meet Omniplex, Headford Road, 9.45am.