Day 8: Millstreet to Shrone
Distance: 25km Time: 9 hours including lunch and breaks
At long last! After a couple of months break for holidays, etc., we were finally getting to complete the last section of our 183km journey from Clogheen in Tipperary to Shrone in Kerry.
We opted to travel down to Cork on the Friday night and stay over in Ballyvourney (or Baile Mhúirne) before embarking on the last section of the Blackwater Way.
Now, a couple of months previously, I had looked briefly at the maps on Sports Ireland and had plotted them out on Viewranger to measure the distance. Combining the last two sections (Millstreet to Gortavehy, and Gortavehy to Shrone), I realised that the total distance was 25km. And, back then, we must have agreed that that was a reasonable distance to walk in a day because, after all, we’d walked up to 30km on other walks.
I’ll stop at this juncture to mention that:
- TERRAIN makes a big difference to the time it takes to complete a walk. A map doesn’t tell you that big heavy cows have been in a marshy field and have left their knee deep hoof prints behind them, as well as other reminders that they were there.
- The time of year needs to be taken into account. Because if you’re pushing through ferns in late summer that are waist high, with bog and occasional rocks under foot, you’re going to want to take your time.
- Weather impacts on the landscape, turning small streams into….well….bigger ones….
And, all of the above affects how tired or energetic you’re going to feel ten or fifteen kilometres into a walk.
So, having got that bit over with, here’s how we did it.
We chose to walk the last two sections in one day as follows:-
Section 1: Millstreet to Gortavehy
Distance: 11.65km. Duration: 3 hrs 17 minutes.
We had breakfast at 8am, then set off to find somewhere to park the car in Gortavehy that wouldn’t be too far off track. We found what we took to be an abandoned house with a huge clearing outside it and parked there (in hindsight, this might not have been such a good idea, but we hadn’t done our usual Google maps walkthrough of the area to find a parking space).
From there, we drove the other car back to Millstreet and began our walk from where we’d left off the last day.
Mount Leader House, Millstreet
The ruin above is what is left of Mount Leader House, Millstreet. It’s a short walk from the start of the Blackwater Way trail outside Millstreet. It must have been stunning in its day.
From NUI Galway, Landed Estates Database: ‘It was the seat of the Leader family in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was occupied by Henry Leader in 1837 and in the early 1850s. In 1944 the Irish Tourist Association Survey noted that it was owned by Nicholas Pomeroy who had bought it from the Kellehers.’
There’s a mention on Auxiliaries.com of members of the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary based at the house from May 1921 to January 1922.
And there are some fabulous photos on the Millstreet website of Mount Leader House in all its glory, roof and walls intact.
This memorial plaque to Willie Neenan sits beside the reservoir across from the house. Once again, the Millstreet website provided the information when I went looking. There’s also a write up on the prominent local sportsman in The Independent.
The Stillness of the Woods
We were tempted to scoot up to the top of Claragh mountain but decided against it as we were unsure how long the entire 25kms would take us. (Just as well we didn’t).
We followed the Duhallow Way signs into the quietness of the small forest.
Oh how beautifully refreshing and still this wooded area was before we started to skirt the base of Claragh Mountain. It also provided some shelter from the gentle rainfall that had started.
We trekked along beautiful grassy paths, soft underfoot, and bordered with large ferns, with fabulous views of the surrounding countryside.
The dark clouds over Caherbarnagh threatened us, moving gradually towards us, but, in the end, I think we were only caught by one small shower on this section of the walk.
A little over three hours later, we arrived back at my car parked outside the ‘Abandoned House’ which I had a photo of, but I’m not going to post. I’ll explain why later.
We had our bit of lunch in the car (while trying to avoid the flies), and then drove back to Millstreet to collect the other car and begin the second half of the walk.
Section 2: Gortavehy to Shrone
Distance: 13.44km. Duration: 5 hrs 51 minutes.
We drove to Shrone Church and parked a car there, then back to Gortavehy to the ‘abandoned house’ where we parked my car again. It was three o’clock in the afternoon when we began the second section. We headed off along the road until we came to a left turn up through a field with a stream running down beside us to our right. We had been walking about 40 minutes in total when we reached a stile where we needed to cross the stream. There we met three other walkers coming from the opposite direction.
The three amigos were headed to Millstreet and we were able to tell them that they’d have no problem with the walk as it was handy enough. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the same story for us. They mentioned boggy land with lots of holes, streams to cross. They said it had taken them five hours to walk the 10 kilometres from Shrone.
We decided to keep going. If we ran into trouble, or it was getting too late, we could come downhill to the road. And, besides, we said, they must have been making a mistake. It was NEVER going to take five hours to walk ten kilometres.
The first part of the track from the stream on was ok, apart from having to avoid sections where cattle had trampled their way across the hill. They were some heavy, long legged cattle from what I could see.
We were ever watchful of the dark clouds approaching, and it wasn’t long before we had to throw on the raincoats.
We stopped in this valley for a cup of coffee from the flasks, and a snack, before walking again. It had taken an hour and three quarters to follow the trail around Caherbarnagh Mountain. It was now 5:30 in the evening and we still had some ground to cover….
……and some photos to take.
This part of the Duhallow Way is fantastically beautiful, but it was tough going over uneven, marshy ground, and there were several little streams to cross that had swelled with the rain we’d had that day.
The section of ground from Shrone Mor down towards the main road was section we had most difficulty with. With the ferns being so high, and the ground so uneven, we couldn’t find the next marker and had to feel our way down the hillside. At one stage I decided to shuffle down the hill on my back side, which ended up being a big mistake. All was well and good until I reached a point where there was no ground beneath my feet and I was being swallowed by ferns. We had a bit of a laugh over it, and we’re still laughing, but it wasn’t funny at the time.
Thankfully we got to the road and crossed over, and, from thereon in back to Shrone, it was a bog traverse all the way.
The sun was setting as we came out of the bog onto the road that would take us back to Shrone Church, and we were never so glad to see sheep as we were to see these lot.
What about the Abandoned House?
We were halfway through the bog when I noticed two missed calls on my phone. It seemed to be a Cork number so I rang it back (I hadn’t heard of any Cork spammers). Imagine my surprise when a male voice answered with “Macroom Garda Station”.
That’s it, I thought. I was sure a local person had seen my car and had reported me missing. Not so. The ‘abandoned house’ that I’d parked at wasn’t an abandoned house. And a gentleman had been trying to get a digger in behind my car so that he could clear the site. The Garda was fine about it and said he’d let the man know that we were on the way back. But the poor man had to wait until we’d gotten out of the bog, into our car, and driven back the road to the house.
I was extremely apologetic to him when I arrived, and he was very nice about it and kept telling me it was fine, but I felt awful that I’d delayed him in his work. So the moral of the story is not to assume a run down house is abandoned, and make sure before you park anywhere, especially if you’re going to be gone five hours.
Yes, it took us five hours also to complete the ten kilometres from Gortavehy to Shrone. Sometimes there’s a reason a track is split up into two smaller sections.