As we count down the days to year’s end my editor suggested I might round off this last month with a review of five of my ‘favourite’ routes from the 120+ walks I’ve recorded here since 2012.
Picking ‘favourites’ is no easy job. Finally, I decided to select a memorable walk from each of five counties. In Waterford, Portlaw, a 19th century ‘model’ town, is relatively unique in Ireland. With the Curraghmore estate walk nearby, it richly rewards a visit.
After exploring Portlaw’s broad streets and neat ‘workers’ cottages’, philanthropically created by a Quaker mill-owning family, the Malcomsons, we start at the ‘clock-dial’, the roundabout in the town centre. Six roads emanate, none signposted. Passing the Marian shrine, a quiet road takes us to the impressive entrance to Curraghmore House and 100-acre estate, home of the 8th Marquis of Waterford. Walkers are welcomed all year.
Following the graveled driveway skirted by tall trees, we have the Clodagh River below on our left, occasionally with rapids. Pheasants are everywhere, unconcerned by our proximity; we saw an albino pheasant amongst them. A footbridge leads to a green path on the opposite bank; however, we continue up the driveway.
The February morning we walked there, we came upon a shooting party amongst the trees, perhaps 20 twenty men and women in deerstalker hats and Burberry jackets standing stock like statues in the rain, guns raised, waiting for birds to fly overhead, while keepers with retrievers stood by. Later, we heard volleys from the woods. Weekly game-shooting parties are held on the estate from November to January.
We see Curraghmore House ahead, and the path divides. Access to the family quarters are marked Private but the house is open to the public much of the year. Curraghmore was built by the de la Poers after their arrival in Ireland with the Norman invasion of 1169.
The original castle, with walls 4m thick, is incorporated in the impressive Victorian manor with a fine courtyard in front and flanked by low Georgian wings on both sides.
The Shell House (there is another at Ballymaloe in east Cork) was the creation of Catherine de la Poer, a teenager when she married in 1715. She carried out much re-making of the house and grounds. Apparently ship’s captains sailing out of Waterford brought the exotic shells that adorn the walls from distant shores.
We go right, continuing on the driveway. Woodland gives way to fields, with pheasants wandering everywhere. Soon, to our right, we see the old, stone buildings of the estate farm; the de la Poer Beresfords were never absentee landlords but farmed the demesne over the centuries, and grazed sheep, cattle and horses on the extensive parkland.
We pass the arched farm entrance and continue past a derelict cottage to a gate lodge where we leave the estate grounds and turn right onto a narrow road, passing a cottage with white stones on the verge.
Reaching higher ground, we have views over the estate farm and ponds alongside. We come upon an ivy-covered house ruins and a ruined church and graveyard with fine crosses.
We have magnificent views of the estate, a panorama of parkland and woods, as fine a view as anywhere in Ireland.
Back on the tarred road, we top the hill and descend steeply to the Curraghmore gates. On the short walk back to Portlaw, we pass under an enormous evergreen holm oak inside the estate walls.
Portlaw village, reached via the M8 from Cork, turning onto N24 at Cahir, in direction of Waterford. At Fiddown, take the R680 across the Suir and then a minor road to the right, signposted Portlaw.
Coming from Waterford, take the N24, in the direction of Limerick, and, at Fiddown, continue as described above. From Kilkenny, N10 to M9, to Mullinavat, then minor road to Fiddown.
A charming, loop walk on estate paths and minor roads; easy going, approx. 12km.
OS Map 75.
Dec 7: Galtys (joint with Galty Walking Club), grade A, 5 hrs, meet Cush, middle car park, 10am.
Dec 7: Ballyhoura, grade B, 4 hrs, meet Glenanaar car park, 11am.
Dec 2: Rosses Point, easy, track, beach and road, 6 miles, 3 hrs, meet Carraroe Retail Park, 10am.
Dec 6: Gleneigh, Leeane, Fawnlion; challenging, steep climbs, open mountain track and bog, 11km, 4.5 hrs, meet institute of technology car park, Sligo, 10am.
Dec 7: Mullough Mor Circuit, rough terrain, track and road, 4 hrs, meet Kilnaboy school, R476, 10:30am.
Dec 7: Glenshelan Loop, grade C, 4 hrs, meet Distillery Lane car park, Midleton, 9:30am.
Dec 7: Glenbarrow and Capard, grade B, 10 km, 4 hrs, meet Glenbarrow car park, 11am.