'What it lacks in length, it makes up with spirit': walking the Avonmore River

A new trail in Co Wicklow explores one of Ireland’s most spectacular rivers

Irish Times, July 27, 2016

The Avonmore in Co Wicklow makes a case for being one of Ireland’s great rivers. What it lacks in length and volume, it makes up with sheer spirit, flowing wide and quick from Lough Dan to the point where it meets the Avonbeg, below Rathdrum. Together they form the Avoca. A new trail launched in April, the Avonmore Way, explores this wooded valley.

I walked it southward on a hot June day. From Trooperstown Forest (just outside Laragh), cross the bridge at the back of the car park and go right at the junction. Soon you pick up the waymarkers for the Avonmore Way as you climb through Scots Pines. In the summer heat, botanical life seemed to sprout from every crevice: bracken and gorse, hawthorn and birch, rowan and wildflowers blooming in any open space.

The trail joins a quiet road, looking eastward towards Glendalough. As the paved road veers right, the Avonmore Way stays straight on a rougher track, curving around Trooperstown Hill. After turning downhill, look out for a waymarker heading left into the woods. Then you join a forest track and emerge to a road, which you follow for about 2km – take great care walking here.

As I approached Ballylug Bridge, a huge and amorphous black cloud obscured the sky to the north. I waited for the sound of thunder, but it never came. Just beyond the bridge, the trail turns off right into more forestry.

Here the rain came in sheets of grey water, so I sheltered under spruces and waited for it to ease. There were some yellow arrows painted on the ground along my walk, but they are not part of the trail – keep with the waymarker posts. These lead you down through the forest and out to the hamlet of Clara Vale, with its pretty bridge, church and school building.

From here, the trail turns left up the road. Continue uphill until you see the Avonmore Way marker directing you into the main entrance at the ancient Clare Vale woods. While many of the tall oaks here were planted during the 19th century, at least some of this area is likely to have been under continuous forest cover since the end of the last Ice Age.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service has removed many non-native trees from here and young birches have sprung up in their place. You should keep your ears alert for the drumming sound of the great-spotted woodpecker.

The trail continues straight and eventually joins the river and, after the rains it was running fast and heavy. The Avonmore – quick and clear and flowing through deep woods, provides a glimpse of how the river valleys once looked before the country was deforested.

The trail crosses a footbridge over the Cronybyrne brook and then rejoins the Avonmore, but eventually a waymarker leads you left away from the river. The trail ascends to your finish point at the Stump of the Castle forest entrance. Rathdrum is 2km away to your right (and keep right at junctions), but be aware that this road can be busy.

Map: Map at irishtrails.ie – OSI Discovery Series sheets 56 and 62 show the area

Start: Trooperstown Forest on R755 Annamoe/Roundwood road 1.5km from Laragh. Head down forest road, go left at Avonmore Way mapboard to car park

Finish: Stump of the Castle forest entrance on road to Moneystown, 2km outside Rathdrum

Time and distance: 12km, three to four hours; ascent: 245m