There have been no birds in my blog since October. I looked through my files and opened one with a note saying “for revision”, a long forgotten walk along the estuary in Tramore, Co Waterford. This place is known for its great diversity of waterfowl, gull and wader species, especially in winter months, but there is a number of songbirds residing there throughout the year. I selected some photographs and was not surprised to find that all the birds were facing the same direction. They are facing the wind. They will fly into the wind using its energy and the currents.
The same like the airplanes, these Lapwings take off and land into the wind.
All young birds must learn it.
I spent hours there that day, till the golden sunset, and even after.
What I want to say is that facing the wind is an advantage. Wind is not an obstacle. Flying into the wind gives birds the lift they need, and control of flight. Birds knew this from the beginning of the World. When we face something that resists the forward motion, this might as well be the right time to fly.
February is my Blogoversary month. Thank you for your friendship and support. I love you all.
Crough [crew] Wood is a strip of wooded area on both sides of the River Mahon cascading down the lower slopes of the Comeragh Mountains on its way to the Ocean. It is a tranquil place with a slightly haunted atmosphere. The walking path is comfortable, wide and smooth. For the more adventurous walkers ( and photographers) there is a wilder version of the path lower on the river bank. It is from where all the water pictures for this blog were taken.
Sound of the tumbling waters could be mistaken for voices in the dark.
I found a few videos on Youtube, but this was the only one with the nature sounds.
The river bed looks differently depending on the weather.
When there is no rain, the grey rocks look like crushed bones.
We get back on the main path. These witches add to the atmosphere.
It is one hour before the sunset…
Some parts of the path are dark even in the day time.
Thank you for completing the full Crotty’s circle:) You can read more about River Mahon in my Magic Road blog post.
By the way, you can walk past the tree and the message and continue to the waterfall, or return to the car park, drive back to the Mahon Bridge and get yourself a hot chocolate and fresh scone with toppings in Crough Coffee – when it opens again…
There are two ways to enjoy the beauty of Coumshingaun Lough, Co Waterford. One is to take a four-hour Coumshingaun loop trail, and the other is to hike straight to the shore.
On my way to the Comeragh mountains I can see what the situation is and make a change in my plans, if necessary. It seems we will be all right today. Get ready:)
The starting point is Kilclooney Wood car park on the R676. It is roughly a 40 minutes drive from Waterford city. You can also park at the opposite side of the road and at any appropriate place, just make sure you are not obstructing the road and blocking any gates.
Walking through this dark and quiet part of the forest is one of my favorites, especially on the way back.
We join a forest road and turn right.
Finally we reach the place where the communications mast disguised as a tree used to be. In this picture, you can see the satellite antennas on the fake tree. The tree was a familiar landmark and I feel sad that it is gone and the new mast is just a mast…
At the start of our ascent, the path is steep and rocky. We might forget about photography for a while and focus on breathing instead. At least it is definitely true for me. Our first landmark is a huge rock on the skyline. To get there, we follow the track uphill, then turn sharp right, then uphill until we see the rock again, this time closer. The trail is not marked, but you won’t miss the erosion created by thousands of walking boots. To preserve the surrounding vegetation, please keep to the most distinct track.
We look back. What a view! Who can find the Lackendarra’s rock?
From here, we divide in two groups. The fit and healthy will hike to the rocky outcrop you see in the picture below, do some scramble and continue around the lake on a 4 hour loop trail.
I don’t have my own photographs from this hike. I have never put my foot on the loop trail. From here, I start sharing someone else’s materials and link them to the source. Some of the photographs can only be accessed through the links, but they are worth seeing. I chose the less-enhanced images.
This is a photograph from Reddit by user ShligoShtyle.
If you plan to brave the cliff walk some day, visit a versatile John Finn Photography blog. They have the best Walker’s Guide for the Coumshingaun cliff walk I could find, illustrated with great photography. You might find the articles from the Mountain View website very helpful too. Unfortunately, there are many misleading copy-and-paste web pages. Sometimes I have a feeling that the author is writing about something else because nothing resembles the real place. And I think a “travel writer and photographer” (allegedly working for the Lonely Planet and The Washington Post) is expected to use their own photographs for their blog, not the free Google images. At least one 😉 At least of a car park 😉
Another two photographs by Paul Hynes and Asia can be found on Google maps – I cannot share them here but they are stunning. Just click on the names.
I love this video about the Coumshingaun loop hike. Please ‘like’ and subscribe – the man is doing a great job in this difficult time.
About the pronunciation. There are two ways to spell the name of the lake. COUMSHINGAUN is the official one, and COMSHINAUN is a local name, known from the centuries ago ( information from Barry Dalby of East West Mapping). The name is pronounced like [com-shi-non] with the [shi] like in ‘ship’. It is the only pronunciation I know.
Those of you who won’t run or even hike the Coumshingaun loop, stay with me and we will have a good time simply hiking to the shore.
Keep to the track, don’t try to find a shorter way. There is none.
A look back.
We are getting closer to the coum. There is a beautiful pool of water, a miniature lake. The river bed was almost dry when the picture was taken.
Another look back.
Notice the tiny hikers to get a sense of scale.
A group of hikers on the north outcrop are finishing the loop. I want to remind you again – keep to the most distinct track.
We are nearly there. Sometimes the sky is clear, but not this time. Clouds can be dangerous when hiking the loop. Have your mobile phone charged in case you have to be rescued, and stay put until you can see your path. Accidents are not unheard of here. Even on this easy trail one can get injured.
The cliffs behind the lake rise vertically from the dark waters to an awe inspiring 1200 feet!
Detailed information about the rock (for the seasoned rock climbers) can be found here.
It is difficult to tell the size of the lake from this point. The cliffs are gigantic and seem to be very close. In fact, the lake is about half a mile long!
As to the lake’s depth – watch the video that was mentioned in the previous video I just shared.
So now we know that the lake is 164 ft/ 50 m deep. Thanks, guys!
I hear a sound and look up. An airplane! I wonder if the author of the Grounded video is back to work?
A little about the sounds in the coum – which is a natural amphitheatre. There is an echo. Also, if a bird crosses above, you will hear a buzz created by the feathers, a very loud sound that is difficult to describe. You might hear some bits of conversations between the hikers on the slopes. Every sound is loud and clear, but it probably depends on exact location of the speaker and the listener.
We hike a little higher to get a better view of the lake. As I already told you, we, the unfit, can have as much fun as anyone else here at the Coumshingaun lake.
Some people even swim here, but I heard that the water is very cold. In a windy day the water is constantly rippled in different directions. The lake looks alive. It is a dark lake, but not the ink black like Bay Lough I wrote about.
This is the Crotty’s horse cave and Lackendarra’s summer residence. I never made it that far.
What goes up, must come down 😉 We begin our return journey.
The force of gravity works in the opposite way now. It is pulling us down the slope, and we have to resist and keep our balance. The balance is quite important for me as I have a heavy camera bag on my shoulder. We take short steps sometimes walking sideways. This is a beautiful slope facing south-east, sunlit for most of the day.
We can watch sheep and birds, take pictures of the timeless hawthorn trees in no hurry now. On a sunny weekend there are many other hikers. If you enjoy solitude, choose the worst weather, like I did on my last visit when I was on my own at the lake for almost an hour.
This is a picture of an Umber-brown puffball. Nothing special about it except that it was taken in December 😉 There is also a baby puffball. I only discovered it when uploaded the picture.
A Golden waxcap, picture taken on the same hike.
Lackendarra would pick up this piece of wool and stuff it in his pillowcase.
This is the last stretch of our hike, the steep rocky path that nearly gave me a blackout on the ascent when I first visited the lake. It is a piece of cake on the way down though. I look forward to climbing the steps and walking all the way through the wood: my car is parked at the end of the road. This walk is a lovely conclusion of a great hike we had today. I hope you watched the terrific videos and didn’t have any accidents during the hike 😉
Thank you very much for being my hiking companions!
We are visiting Crotty’s places, and Coumshingaun is next on the list. I will write more about the lake in January. Today I want to tell you about a man who had lived around there most of his life, 200 years after William Crotty.
The Hermit Lackendarra.
This picture is linked to the blog of a native of KilmacthomasTom O’Brien, novelist, playwright and poet living in Hastings UK. Tom wrote the hermit’s story in 2014, sharing his own memories as he grew up in the area. My plan was to write about Lackendarra in 2019, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his settling in the Comeraghs, but none of my plans have been working since… Yet, I didn’t give up on the idea. In November, I met a solo hiker who mentioned the hermit, and I knew it was the time to finally put up a blog post.
I had never been to the hermit’s cave, but I had a map from Barry Dalby of EastWest Mapping and spotted the rock from the main road. It took a while though, but on a fine and chilly December day I was finally standing there, as close as I could get to the place. The rock looked massive, its surface was glowing in the low winter light.
Before he became known by the name of Lackendarra, Jim Fitzgerald was a young lad raised by his grandparents in the townland of Castlereagh near Lackendarra on the other side of the Comeraghs. According to Census, he was born in 1891, and it also fits with the record of his death in 1959 at the age of 68.
Jim enlisted with the Royal Irish Regiment in 1914 and was sent to Mesopotamia with the 1st Bn Connaught Rangers in 1916. In 1918, he was discharged with diagnosis “melancholia” due to suffering a severe shell shock, a broken man, physically and mentally.
Unable to fit in and keep a job, he went to the mountains looking for a place to live away from society.
After days of search, he came across a cavern in the cliff behind Coumshingaun lake. It seems the cavern was the one where William Crotty used to hide his horses and stolen cattle.
“A few nights after his arrival, he had been awakened by the piercing wails of a woman and the agonizing groans of a man. The sounds were followed by the clip-clop of hoof beats and the echoes of clashing steel. After the some time the tumult had retreated along the tunnel – way to the north, and faded away…
The unearthly noises had continued every night without any variation, until his nerves eventually forced him to depart. “I thought Crotty’s ghost was after me and I could not suppress the fear that his gander resented my presence”.
Old Jim of the Comeraghs by John Scarry, The Wide World Magazine: Vol. 118, No. 700, November 1956
Jim left the cavern, but used a cave under the fallen rocks as his summer residence.
Before I continue with the story about my hike, I want you to watch this amazing video by Tom Fitzpatrick and learn more about The Hermit Lackendarra. It is a 17 minute video and some extras, not a single minute too long. I share this video to celebrate all the kind people who took care of a stranger, a broken man, expecting nothing in return.
I parked at Kilclooney Wood car park and being a polite (and curious) person started a small talk with these two gentlemen getting ready for their hike. The weather was extremely windy and chilly. I couldn’t miss noticing their serious hiking gear which meant they were up for the 4 hour cliff hike around the lake. My Sketchers walking shoes were noticed too, and frowned upon 😉 I asked about the Hermit’s cave and got the directions.
Meet the rock climbers – educator and mountaineer Jack Bergin and director of Dunmore East Sea SchoolRobert Marchant.
I was glad I didn’t wear my Earth Spirit sandals that day… I wear them all the year round – just add an extra pair of socks in winter. They are great on the rocks and rugged terrain – I can feel the earth beneath my feet and never slip. Another good thing about them – I don’t do any damage to the soil and vegetation. It is very important for me because I often walk off the trails to take photographs. Even the Sketchers look heavy to compare with my favorite sandals.
This is an old photograph, and it was the view I expected, but there was no pine tree anymore. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was an artificial pine tree, so it definitely wasn’t cut down for timber!
I looked around in confusion, and there it was, all broken into pieces.
Now I know what the tree was made from.
Instead of walking up the slope, I continue straight ahead until the path takes me to the stone wall. Then I just follow the wall. I wouldn’t walk here in summer because of the ferns and other thick vegetation.
I look back at the coum trying to spot the brave rock climbers. I don’t feel the wind here, but I have seen the forecast… Hope they are all right…
Finally I see the Lackendarra’s Rock. It is not as close as I expected, but I wouldn’t cross the fencing. I just stand there thinking about everything I know about the man.
I look back at the coum again. It is very tempting to walk to the lake from here. It is what Lackendarra would do. There is a sheep track, and I follow it.
The sheep track is winding between the ferns. The rocks grow bigger as I come closer, and smaller again when I look back.
At this point I decide to turn left to may be join the trail. The place feels like a wind tunnel and I worry about the lads.
Robins and rabbits distracted me. It was after 3PM when I finally got to the lake. There I met another hiker, Garreth, and we exchanged some bits of information about the area. When Garreth left, I had the whole coum to myself. It was quite dark, I took a few pictures of a shallow stream and walked towards the far end of the lake. It is a half of a mile long walk, and I wouldn’t go to the caves anyway, so I just took this picture from a distance. To get a sense of scale, look at the white dots – the sheep. The Crotty’s cavern is in the centre. On the right side of the cavern the rockfall created a series of caves where Lackendarra would stay in summer.
This is an older picture. The place doesn’t change much over the seasons.
I am delighted you learned another bit of Co Waterford history. More about the lake in my next blog. And yes, the brave rock climbers returned safe and sound at the time I was done with my photography.
I hope you had a happy Christmas. There are too many people in the world haunted by their memories, fears or pain. Sometimes they are too different for us to be comfortable with. They might feel the same about us. It is a fragile territory where only a pure compassion can operate. My New Year’s wish for you is that your life is full of love, joy and prosperity, and also compassion – the key to all good in this life.
After a short break we continue our ascend to the lake. A beautiful view of the scenic valley between the cloud-clad Slievenamon and the Comeragh Mountains will follow you all the way up acquiring a map-like look as you climb higher.
In the picture below, you see the south end of the valley, a glimpse of Croughaun Hill on the right, and the Portlaw windmills in the skyline. What a view!
The bump on the top of this steep hill is The Ass’s Tail.The Ass’s Ears (and the lake) are located right behind. Instead of struggling our way up, we will wisely follow the waymarks round the hill choosing the dry grass patches between the rocks and the sheep tracks to guide us through the heather.
There are three kinds of heather in the Comeraghs, of which only one is a real heather – Ling or Calluna vulgaris. The other two are Erica – Cross-leaved heath, and the Bell heather in the picture below. Erica have plump magenta-colored flowers.
I have read that heather can live for 30 years.
The Irish weather is not always dry and sunny. Be careful around the tiny streams emerging after the rain. The incline gets steeper here – slow down, stop and take a picture 😉
Nearly there! The last stretch is my favorite.
First you see a pair of pinnacles. That’s right, they are The Ass’s Ears.
Then the lake itself appears, and it is like magic, especially when you see a redhead fairy taking a selfie.
We walk along the lake, taking in the majestic beauty of the rugged cliffs.
We will hike closer to the pinnacles to see the Crotty’s Rock.
First we take a short hike up the steep slope on the right side of the lake to get some views.
When taking this picture, I was the only human being as far as I could see in any direction.
We continue walking along the slope, sometimes with nothing more but narrow sheep tracks to help us through the thick heather.
Sometimes we need to switchback or walk around the rocks.
That’s high! 😊
Now you can see The Crotty’s Rock on the top of the pinnacle.
Another hike, this time to the left side of the lake. From here we can see the Crotty’s cave. To get there, he had to swim and use a rope to lower himself under the ground level.
The slope is very steep here, and the sheep tracks are narrow and boggy. Do the sheep ever fall off the rocks? Yes, they do.
I found some parts of the sheep skeleton – mandible and a part of the cranium.
I hope this part of the Comeragh mountains won’t change. People don’t want to drive to this lake. They want to hike there. Those who come to Ireland are not looking for luxuries. They see value in unspoiled natural scenery, a special kind of adventure. My opponents always mention the Mahon Falls, Co Waterford, as an example of successful tourist destination, but it is different, it is a former turf cutting site. Comeragh mountain lakes are precious gems, and any attempt to make them ‘touristy’ takes their value away.
Thank you for being such great walking buddies. Next time we will visit another beautiful lake.