Walk the woodlands and turloughs of little-known Garryland
Irish Times, 28 June, 2014
You’ve probably heard of Coole Park, the former home of Lady Gregory and setting of famous WB Yeats poems. But you might not have heard of Garryland, which is where Yeats’s hipster cousin might have hung out: it’s just around the corner but way less visited and that much harder to find.
The whole interconnected Coole-Garryland complex must be one of Ireland’s richest nature reserves, with 400 hectares of woodland, turlough, limestone pavement and grassland. But the Garryland side sees little footfall compared to Coole.
Leaving the Garryland car park, the woods along the trail are rich with hazel and ash. These trees are often found together on limestone, and they thrive here on the lowlands east of the Burren.
I recently heard a local farmer say that there’s no place on earth like the Burren in spring and, though you’re not really in the heart of the Burren here, you can sense its presence in the trees, wildflowers and rock.
The old building beside the trail, just after you enter the wood, is used as a summer roost by more than 60 lesser horseshoe bats. Close by there’s also a specially built hibernaculum, an underground chamber for the bats to hibernate in during winter.
We took a side-trail and followed it to a dead end, then continued on a rougher track into the woods. We startled two hares from the path and they hopped off, bouncing noisily through the undergrowth. All along, the trails were spotted with the scat of pine marten.
The air was so warm and sticky that Garryland felt more like primordial jungle than an Irish woodland: bugs attacked my neck, the air was thick and humid, and the wind dropped to nothing.
Later we took a side path down to the dry grassy bed of a turlough. These “disappearing lakes”, fed by groundwater during wet weather, are interwoven with the forests here, stretching their watery fingers deep into the woods. There’s nowhere else in Ireland where turloughs are so intimately associated with old woodland.
We passed a grove of oaks and one old yew, then rested on a rock in a clearing. “It looks like something out of Jurassic Park,” my walking buddy said, staring at the scene in front of us: a small turlough, surrounded by a grassy savannah that was dotted with boulders. I could see what she meant: it looked so green and primeval that we half expected Brontosaurus to emerge from behind the hawthorns.
But when the turloughs rise in wet weather, the trails flood. You probably won’t get far if you come here in mid winter, so visit in summer during a dry spell.
The full linear walk from the Garryland car park to Coole is almost 5km one-way, and you could make this much longer by exploring different side paths. This is what makes Coole-Garryland so special: there are few other places in Ireland where you can spend so long walking through woodland (unless you like walking in circles).
But the swampiness of the day seemed to call for a lazier approach. After resting we turned back, then took a different trail to another turlough fringed by steep limestone crags. Tired and thirsty, we walked back to the car park in the still May heat.
Go Walk: Garryland Woods
Map: OSI Discovery Series Sheet 52 covers the area but may not show trail details.
Start and finish: Garryland Woods car park. From Gort take the R460 towards Corofin, but turn right for Kinvara almost 1km after crossing over the motorway. Follow this minor road for 2.5km and take the first right. The car park is 1.5km up on your right hand side. Room for only a few cars.
Time and distance: My walk was 7km / 2 hours with breaks, but this can easily be made longer or shorter such is the variety of trails.
Suitability: The main paths are flat and easy, but side trails can be rougher. Go during dry weather in summer as the trails flood in wet weather / winter.
Info: Coole Park Visitor Centre (www.coolepark.ie).
Services: There are seasonal tea rooms at Coole Park and full services in Gort.