The waters and the wild

Irish Times, 24 November 2012

LENNY ANTONELLI encounters a trout river and deceiving mushrooms

The terrain between the northern end of Lough Corrib and the mountains of Connemara is tough to categorise. It’s a place where flat lakeland meets quartzite peaks, yet it doesn’t belong to either. The region’s folding plateaus are softer and greener than the neighbouring mountains, yet more complex and cryptic, and less walked. The stretch of the Western Way between Curraun Beg and Maam Cross offers an easy introduction to this zone of transition. Right at the end of a cul de sac winding 13km from Oughterard, the trailhead is a remote spot with few houses and a patchwork of field and forest that includes modern plantation and scraps of old woodland. The electricity network didn’t stretch here until 1975. The car park looks across a narrow neck of the lake towards the sessile oak woodland on the Hill of Doon.

The trail goes west along the boreen under Curraun Hill, past the ruins of a 19th century national school, and into a mossy conifer plantation. Hop over the stile at the end of the forest and on to the open bog.

Heading towards Lackavrea mountain, the trail crosses a footbridge and enters a vast conifer plantation near a townland known as Doirín na gCos Fuar – the small wood of the cold feet. According to cartographer Tim Robinson, local folklore says a herdsman was killed by a bull here, and all that was found of him was his feet. But Robinson says the term “cosa fuara” also referred to poor people, or newcomers to an area, so the name could have a more prosaic explanation.

The trail follows the Falamer river, where brown trout spawn in autumn and winter. The females excavate nests in the gravel bed of the river, then lays eggs that are immediately fertilised by the male. The female covers the nest, known as a redd, and the fish that hatch in spring will spend a year or so here before migrating downstream to Lough Corrib.

After the trail leaves the river, the rest of the walk to the Maam valley is a fairly dull slog through the plantation, so you could turn back now. But I decided to persevere, and the abundance of mushrooms growing beside the boardwalk was enough to hold my interest, their names as curious as their shapes and textures: the deceiver, the sulphur tuft, the sickener.

Lackavrea mountain appears through gaps in the forest. This is a rough and complex mountain, as indicated by its Irish name Leic Aimhreidh, the rugged rock-slab. The trail eventually leaves the forest over a footbridge, crosses the bog and emerges onto the road under the Maamturk mountains.

Oscar Wilde’s father William wrote about a similar journey, from the lakeland into the mountains, in his book Lough Corrib: Its shores and islands, but by boat instead of on foot.

“Steering through the narrow intricate passage under the wooded promontory of Doon, we literally leave Lough Corrib and the scenery of Mayo behind us, and pass into another region, grander, wilder and more romantic,” he wrote.


Map : Ordnance Survey Ireland, Discovery Series, Sheet 45

Start: Car park at Hill of Doon viewpoint

Finish : The trail emerges onto the R336 between Maam Cross and Maam village.

Time and distance: The full linear walk is about 9km and takes about three hours.

Suitability: Easy to moderate. Map, waterproof boots, warm clothes, rain gear, food and water essential.