Gleninchaquin – The Kingdom’s jewel in the heart of the Caha’s
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I had the pleasure of taking my family on holidays to Kenmare earlier this year, and while there, someone had mentioned Gleninchaquin Park to us. By the next day the name had completely escaped me, but my wife and 2 little 'uns had ventured out there with my mother-in-law while I was basking on the Ring of Kerry golf course with not a care in the world, other than the thoughts of losing a few euro to my father-in-law.
Hearing her tell of her experience on getting to Gleninchaquin, I wasn't going to pass up this chance to get there with my camera, as the descriptions of the waterfalls, walks, 19th century farmhouse, sounded too good to miss. A few days later - despite being told we were doomed - the car and the kids (Zach and Zoe) were going to end up in the lake etc. - we set off with steely determination, or at least I did, my wife being less eager following her previous visit. Once you get to the point where you turn off the Ring of Beara road, there's literally no turning back - mostly as there isn't room to swing a cat on the 'road' in to Gleninchaquin. It's easy to see why the place isn't over-run with tourists! It does seem to reach a point in the journey where you can't help but think 'This can't possibly be the right way!'.
Inevitably, there will come a point on this leg of the journey, where you come face to face with another car and so begins the battle of 'eyeballing'! You cannot afford to show even the slightest hint of weakness to the other driver. We have now perfected the knack of not backing down. God help whoever has to put their car in to reverse to find somewhere to 'pull-in' - generally a couple of hundred metres back from where you came from if you're really unlucky. We were very helpful at one point, I think it may have been on the journey back out, where we were met yet again with this situation. They gave in very easily, and struggled to get the car back to an area to pull in to, so, being ever so nice, I applied the handbrake and out we stepped to guide them back. Good deed done for the year. It is very easy to veer off the track, either in to a ditch/drain on one side, or in to a lake on the other, as the scenery on the drive to the park is simply breath-taking.
After about 25 minutes of 2nd gear driving, we arrived at the car park at the foot of the Caha mountains, where we were met by the charming husband and wife team who run this award-winning park and farm. Instructions and advice were duly issued, after which we started across the 2 field walk to the foot of the Caha mountain range to begin our ascent - bearing in mind that, firstly, Zach and Zoe, were 4 and 8 respectively and secondly, we had no comprehension of what lay before us!
Just before I get in to our adventure, here's a little information: Gleninchaquin is a long narrow coombe valley on the North West side of the Beara Peninsla, formed by glaciation approximately 70,000 years ago and changed little since. The back wall of the coombe contains a spectacular waterfall which in turn feeds the succession of lakes along the valley floor – Loughs Inchaquin, Uragh and Cloonee. Further lakes, Cummeenaloughaun and Cummeenadillure are contained in smaller hanging coombes around the waterfall with Lough Napeasta further out along the valley. Gleninchaquin is steeped in history and shows signs of having once been quite densely populated. Stone circles, standing stones, an earthen ring-fort, various burial sites and numerous fulacht fiadh where the natives would have cooked their meals can be seen today.
So, blessed by a most glorious of days, off we struck across the fields, dotted with both black and white sheep, who would glance our direction, somewhat sheepishly (these creatures see enough tourists cross their paths each week to ignore us by now). Half ways across the fields, we were lucky enough to have a wild hare run across our path - a wonderful start to our little adventure.
The ascent starts, appropriately, where the 140 metre waterfall eases out to a stream - so, much to the frustration of my companions, I had to set up tripod and snap off a few shots - just in case it was gone by the time we arrived back! Once my creative fix was temporarily satisified, we headed off to the great unknown. From here, the walk (Walk 3), takes you up the mountainside through a new woodland enclosure - a native woodland scheme of around 40 acres, finishing at Cummeenadillure Lake. To say that things were a little ominous from the outset was an understatement, as we had the equivalent of the 'are we there yet' chorus, when, after only going about 200 yards, our 4-year-old came out with 'but Mom, I'm tired already'! But not to fear, we had a cunning plan - the everlasting packet of chocolate chip cookies.
'Come on son, just a little bit more now and we'll take a cookie break', my clever wife said. Miracle of miracles, this seemed to spur, not just him on, but it also peaked my interest!
Our first 'cookie stop' on our journey, was Cummeenadillure Lake, where, once you negotiate the muck (it had been a wet couple of days previously), beautiful expanse of water appeared before you, with a pathway (admitedly quite a tricky one when you're only 4 and 8), leading down to the lake. The water was that dark, that it was like looking at a bowl of Guinness, minus the creamy top. The scenic tone had gotten off to a good start. We had passed a sign for the 19th century farmhouse on our way to the lake, but decided to save that for the next visit out here.
With morale high again, off we struck, with myself and Zach nominated to take the lead. You have never seen a child so up for the challenge, as Zach was - who had obviously decided, while munching on his cookie, that this climbing lark, was actually quite fun.
The route that we were on, led to a little confusion at some points, trying to locate the markers that guided you on the safest track to take. When the mountain flattened out in parts, it was as if she was saying 'Stop and have a look around while you're here, I promise you won't be disappointed'. To say that the views are stunning is a gross injustice to the Caha mountains. For the most part, what's waving back at you from across the Bay are the equally majestic McGillicuddy mountain range. I took copious amounts of photographs, and while I am extremely pleased with what I got from it, they honestly don't do it justice. You would need a full 360° panoramic shot to show off her full beauty.
We reached the summit (or at least our summit, after about 90 minutes) where the markers lay out before us to take us back down. Here, the signs showed the start of Walk 4 and also one pointing to the Viewing Point, which overlooks Lake Cummenaloughaun.
As we found out on the way down, coming up the mountain was the easy bit! Between trying to find solid ground for each step and holding on to my youngests hand - who unknownst to himself, was actually trying to take over the lead on occasion - led to the inevitable. How, I don't know, but I managed to trip up Zach who ended up on the deck, to see me do that slow-mo where both legs at the same time try to come level with the top of your head (cue Wiley Coyote sound effects) and after what felt like ten seconds, eventually landed arse-first on the Caha's finest marsh, which was received by my wonderful family with joyous hoots of laughter (after of course making sure I was ok!), who then proceeded to take photographic evidence of my rear! I'm glad to say that the rest of the journey down was rather uneventful, aside from a similar fate nearly repeating itself on my two wonderful ladies.
The trail, descends to the top of the waterfall, which you cross by means of a log bridge - the noise level of the water varies depending on the amount of rainfall over the past few days. All the logs for this bridge were flown up by helicopter. There is a bog area here where the methods of harvesting the peat or turf can be seen.
The final major hurdle to face (you must remember, everything was twice as time consuming/difficult, trying to make sure the small ones are ok), was an extremely steep set of steps and what looked like a dodgy handrail (but which was in fact very secure). The white and red markers led the way to this set of steps which are cut in to the rock, once safely negotiated, lead you to a charcoal pit and picnic area.
Once back on terra-firma all the was left was the short walk back to the car park, either by road, or you could detour via the 'River Walk', which is what we did. This is another stunning area of the park, which is for the most part, covered by trees, but runs along by a little river, which run in to little mini waterfalls at various stages of its journey. There are 6 walks in total at the park, so there is sure to be something for walkers of all ages and experience.
All-in-all, this was a stunning day out, only costing the price of the car park, and I would encourage anyone who is thinking about heading to Kerry on a break, to seek out this most wonderful of hidden treasures, in the heart of the Caha mountains.